Myth: A New Age

by Fangshi
Prologue
Chapter 1: A New Age
Chapter 2: The Scavenger
Chapter 3: A Temple of Lies and Truth and the Canvas City
Chapter 4: The Grand Bazaar
Chapter 5: An Evening with the Courtesan
Chapter 6: The trip into Darkness
Chapter 1: Through the Dark City
Chapter 1: The Guardhouse
Chapter 2: Homeward Bound
Chapter 3: The Library
Interlude 1: In the Hands of a Master
Chapter 4: The Incantation?
Chapter 5: Going Home
Chapter 6: The Dwarven Quarter
Chapter 7: Emptyness and Fullness
Chapter 8: The Perfect Time
Chapter 9: A Strange Reward
Chapter 10: Uninvited Guests
Chapter 11: The Lost and the Damned
Chapter 12: Aftermath
Chapter 13: Revelations
Chapter 14: Under Siege
Chapter 15: Opening Moves
Chapter 16: Won't Get Fooled Again
Chapter 17: Casualties
Chapter 18: The Hunt
Chapter 19: The Price of Power
Chapter 20: The True Price of Power
Interlude 1: Preparations
Preparations 1 (Great Figures and Artefacts)
Preparations 2 (History and Geography)
Chapter 2: The Eagle and the Crows
Chapter 1: A Parting of Ways
Chapter 2: The Eagle and the Crows
Chapter 3: Smoke on the Horizon
Chapter 4: Few Against Many
Chapter 5: Banks, Beers and Little Birdies
Chapter 6: The Black Arrows
Chapter 7: Fishing in the Dark
Interlude 1: The Honeymoon
Chapter 8: Anatomy of an Ambush
Chapter 9: An Unexpected Ambush
Chapter 10: The Raid
Chapter 11: Berandal
Chapter 12: Mind Games
Chapter 13: Hope and Hatred
Chapter 14: The Mad, Mad Mind I
Chapter 15: The Mad, Mad Mind II
Chapter 16: The Mad, Mad Minds
Chapter 17: A Strange Mind
Chapter 18: Just Another Day
Chapter 19: Blood for the Blood God?
Chapter 20: The Arrows in Flight
Chapter 21: Troubled Dreams and Sweet Nightmares
Chapter 22: Shattered Sleep
Chapter 23: Wolves at the Door
Chapter 24: Man is Man's Wolf
Chapter 25: Faith or Folly?
Chapter 26: Dark Night
Chapter 27: Desperate Times
Chapter 28: Desperate Times II
Chapter 29: Desperate Measures
Chapter 30: The Calm Before the Storm
Interlude 2: The Serpent's Maw
Chapter 31: Stormy Night
Chapter 32: To the Victors
Chapter 33: The Cost of Doing Business
Chapter 34: Streams of Whiskey
Chapter 35: Miracle Worker
Chapter 36: New Management
Chapter 37: Fighting in a Basement
Chapter 38: In for a Penny
Chapter 39: In for a Pound
Chapter 40: Where Angels Fear to Tread
Chapter 41: The Drowned Dead
Chapter 42: The Battle of Blackrock I
Chapter 43: The Battle of Blackrock II
Interlude 3: What is there in the Dark
Chapter 44: The Battle of Blackrock III
Chapter 45: The Battle of Blackrock IV
Interlude 4: The Golden Empress
Chapter 46: The Battle of Blackrock V
Chapter 47: Battle's End
Chapter 48: Pursuit
Chapter 49: They Will Sing of Horrors, Darkly
Chapter 50: Elf
Interlude 5: The Worrier King
Chapter 51: Lost or Hidden?
Chapter 52: The Second Coming
Chapter 53: Detective D
Chapter 54: The Fish and the Net
Chapter 55: A Small Misstep
Chapter 56: Silver Tongue, Bronze Fist
Chapter 57: The Five Sovereigns
Chapter 58: Fateful Meetings
Chapter 59: Questions of Trust
Chapter 60: Power Obscured
Chapter 61: Lost and Found
Interlude 6: The Price of Freedom
Chapter 62: Disappointments
Chapter 63: Changes
Interlude 7: The Great Mage
Chapter 64: Demonic Verses
Chapter 65: The Hunter
Chapter 66: Projecting
Chapter 67: The Good Neighbours
Chapter 68: Insubordination
Chapter 69: The Sea of Glass
Chapter 70: Divided Loyalties

Prologue

Chapter 1: A New Age

Prologue:

Chapter I: A New Age:

"He told me about old Muirthemne, describing it with words that seemed out of place coming from such a grizzled warrior. He spoke of its many spired palaces and monuments and the grand bazaar during each year's harvest. When I told him that I wished I could have seen the city at the height of its power, he said I might see it in my lifetime.

Then he told me that next year the Heron Guard will be reinstating the septannual tournament to fill out their ranks. Men of bravery and warriors of renown from every corner of the empire will gather to compete for the honour of joining them.

And so I came here..."

The man sitting by the fire finishes his story and the bar room erupts into applause, the ancient tavern rocks gently with the noise of approval from the gathered crowd. You have to admit the man does have a gift for storytelling and it looks like he won't be paying for his drinks tonight.

Coming from almost anyone else in that room his story would be absurd but as you sit there, staring at the figure you know every word of it to be the truth.

This man is a veteran of the last war against the Fallen Lord Soulblighter, old lieutenant to the worst villain of the last thousand years, Balor.

It was Balor that sacked the Old Empire, and just about put an end to the Kingdom of Province a mere sixty years ago.

You shake your head and take another swig from your mug. To think the events he just finished recounting occurred barely one year ago, when the pupil attempted to fulfill the ambitions of the master and wipe the lands of men from the map.

But here you sit a pint in hand, under a sturdy roof in the repopulated quarter of that old city, the jewel of the east, Muirthemne.

The Light, and humanity won out, thanks to Emperor Alric, and men like the stranger by the fire, soldiers of the Legion. And now he has come here to try his luck in the grand tournament for a position in the Emperor's own bodyguard, the Heron Guard, the best warriors in the known world.

You know who he is, but the question is who are you?


Character Creation:
Show Spoiler

Okay choice time (and no you can't be a Trow...):

Name: (feel free to supply a name of your choice, if you need suggestions we can do that too)

1. Sex (should be self explanatory):
a)male
b)female

Background:
Here is how this will work, pick your top three options, your first pick gets 3 points, second 2 and last 1. If you can't find three you like, (well then I guess I really do suck at this); no worries just pick the ones you like or try "the kid" option.

Also I am limiting you to "starting classes" so no Heron Guards, if you really want to be one you can try to win the tournament they will be holding.

Stats work on a one to ten scale, they are not absolute measures of ability per say but should help you figure out how good the classes are in relationship to one another and potential threats, (for example a Trow has a strength of 10, and an Archmage has a intelligence of 10 and so on) the stats can improve with effort but don't expect it to happen very often (maybe once a chapter, if you pick the right choices).

Your character will also have skills which are easier to acquire but no less useful, to keep this simple I will just list the skills as you get them, if it is on the list then you are proficient at it, if we need a more complicated system then that I will come up with something. Most importantly if you want to try something then let me know and I will see if it is feasible. Any questions about a skill just ask and I will try to clarify.

Oh, one last thing, the apprentice starts out with magical knowledge and an "in" into magical circles but magic is not innate in Myth. Anyone can learn provided they have the patience and someone willing to teach them (it will be harder to do with the other backgrounds however).

2. Backgrounds:

a) The Apprentice:
Str: 3/10 Dex: 4/10 Con: 5/10
Int: 7/10 Wis: 6/10 Cha: 5/10

Useful Skills:
Literacy, Language Bruig, quick learner, magical training, scholarly knowledge

Equipment:
plain clothes, spellbook, knife

Current Spells:
An assortment of utility spells and a basic attack spell, nothing special.

You did not fight in the war but rather served your master behind the front lines. Your master was harsh but fair and took good care of you, unfortunately he died in defence of the dam across the Ire River. He often told you that you had the potential to become a true great. You came to Muirthemne in pursuit of magical knowledge as even ruined it is the greatest repository of arcane knowledge in the world and home to a number of colleges and wizard circles.


b) The Veteran:
Str: 5/10 Dex: 5/10 Con: 6/10
Int: 5/10 Wis: 3/10 Cha: 6/10

Useful Skills:
Combat Knowledge, Tactics, Leadership, Literacy, Language Bruig, herbal skill

Equipment:
Broadsword, Kite Shield, Mail, Pot Helmet

You fought alright, sword and shield against the Dark. Ghôls, Souless, Thralls you fought them all but the worst were the enemy mercenaries, living men turned to the service of the Dark. Through the cold and the heat and the blood and the shit you fought on (you even lost an eye to an enemy arrow of all things). All your mates may be dead but you won and free men and women can live their lives because of your sacrifice....

And then they let you go...

So now here you are in Muirthemne searching for work and a meaning to your life...


c) The Northerner:
Str: 8/10 Dex: 6/10 Con: 7/10
Int: 2/10 Wis: 5/10 Cha: 2/10

Useful Skills:
Combat Knowledge, Tracking, Outdoorsman, Berserker Rage, Resistance to Cold, Silent, Language Berserk, Language Bruig

Equipment:
Wool Armour, Greatsword

You could hardly care less about the soft men and women of the empire. You signed up and left the "Strainer of Kraken" to fight the blasted Dark Lords and to keep your word to a dead empire. Now that the war is over perhaps you will stay and perhaps you will go but always you will search for the next great battle and always will you hold the honour of the Beserk lands close to your heart.


d) The Inventor:
Str: 5/10 Dex: 6/10 Con: 6/10
Int: 8/10 Wis: 3/10 Cha: 1/10

Useful Skills:
tinker, demolition training, friend of the dwarves, Language Bruig, Language Dwarven

Equipment:
ruined clothes, backpack with 40 improvised "dwarven" cocktails, 4 satchel charges

You sit in the corner by yourself, you almost wish the damned Fallen Lords had won, at least then you would not have to worry about your future. You are the product of one of the Emperor's attempts at modernizing the army through the introduction of dwarven weapons and knowledge. It was all going so well until on of those idiot nobles blew his own head off with one of your rifles. Now the whole program has been mothballed and you have been cast out with barely a penny to your name...


e) The Archer:
Str: 5/10 Dex: 7/10 Con: 4/10
Int: 3/10 Wis: 3/10 Cha: 8/10

Useful Skills:
Archery, keen eyes, Language Bruig, Language fir'Bolg, courtly manners, combat knowledge

Equipment:
Bow, 24 arrows, 1 fire arrow, cloth armour, knife, falchion

You had joined the archers before the war because father had demanded it. You never thought you would actually be accepted, but the fir'Bolg had seen something in you and taken you into their forests. They had taken in the spoilt child of a minor noble and turned that same spoilt child into a crack shot with a bow, and you made the Dark pay for every inch of ground they tried to take. Following the war you returned home to Strand but Soulblighter had left nothing in his wake, your family dead, your estate in ruins you set out once more to find adventure, to rebuild your family name and to win eternal fame.


f) The "Merchant"
Str 6/10 Dex 6/10 Con 5/10
Int 4/10 Wis 4/10 Cha 5/10

Useful Skills:
Combat Knowledge, gambling, born liar, thief, language bruig, language ghôl, dirty fighter

Equipment:
thick cloak, mail, round shield, broadsword

You pull the cloak closer around yourself as the stranger finishes his tale. You remember the war, you lived it, but from the other side. You were a sell sword in the pay of the Fallen Lords. You won't lie to yourself, though you lie to everyone else, you loved it even as it scared you. The nobles, the merchant lords, all those who had kicked you and beat you and ran you out of the service; well you got them back and even made a fair profit doing it.

And then one day, the mother of plagues, Shiver marched into your camp at the head of a column of Myrkridia.

And you made the mistake of looking into her eyes...

And you saw the madness and ever so much death and you ran...

In truth you still have not stopped running, maybe here in the capitol of Alric's new Cath Bruig Empire you will finally find a reason to stop.


g) The Scavenger
STR: 4/10 DEX: 5/10 CON: 6/10
INT: 6/10 WIS: 7/10 CHA: 2/10

Useful Skills:
Literacy, Magical Training, Scholarly Knowledge, Herbal Skill, Keen Eyes, Language Bruig

Equipment:
clothes, knife, spellbook, a weathered book "On the cycles of Light and Dark", a very stylish hat

Spellbook:
a variety of utility spells and simple attack spells

A life-long study of the arcane and a master with a single-minded obsession for lost artifacts hasn't made you particularly charming, but it's given you a strong constitution, a keen eye for traps, and an even keener mind for magic. Your thirst for knowledge has brought you to Muirthemne, in search for one of the Halycon Stones. Your master would also have come with you if your last excursion into a tomb didn't end with him triggering a pressure plate. Not to worry though, you haven't let the sight of his strewn entrails diminish your optimism. The only trouble here seems to be seeking out some help for your journey. For some reason, everyone seems to think your plan is insane and they don't even want to bother hearing you out.


h) The Courtesan:
Str: 1/10 Dex: 5/10 Con: 3/10
Int: 7/10 Wis: 5/10 Cha: 9/10

Skills:
Born Liar, Quick Learner, Literacy, Courtly Manners, Magical Training, Sexpert

Equipment:
Knife, fine clothes, spellbook.

Spells:
An few utility spells.

Background:
Opportunity is where you find it. Riches and nobility and stories of heroes of light battling dark lords - all of those had little meaning to you. Growing up in a city still recovering from the Fallen war six decades ago, you made a living the only way you could, taking the only opportunity you had. You sold your body, and you were good at it. To capture the nobles' attention you learnt how to speak in a way pleasing to them. To give yourself that little edge over the younger girls that joined the establishment with every passing year, you plied simple tricks of magic from the mages that favoured you. In another life you could have been a mage yourself, they said, lying in bed while you flattered their ego. You laughed. This life suited you just fine. It was one where you did not have to lift a finger for your whims to be fulfilled.

Then, Soulblighter came.

What use had the undead for a courtesan?

The city was razed. Your patrons were killed. You escaped, but just barely.

In the aftermath of that war, you wandered, travelling from town to village to town, doing what you could to stay alive. It was not aimless. You had a destination in mind. Muirthemne, crown jewel of the east. Opportunity is where you find it, and in the new Empire's seat of power, there will be plenty.


i)The Prodigy (designer's note - Male fits better for this)
STR: 3/10 DEX: 4/10 CON: 4/10
INT: 9/10 WIS: 6/10 CHA: 4/10

Useful Skills:
Quick Learner, Herbal Skill, Keen Eyes, Literacy, Language Bruig, Language Berserk

Equipment:
3 Mandrake roots, wool armour, knife

You had never quite fit in, growing up in the lands of Gower. The hearty Northmen there were known for both their great mirth and their great skill at cleaving a man in two. You were known for a dour demeanor and could barely even hold onto the massive claymores your kinsmen carried into battle, let alone cleave a man in two with it. Your peers mocked and bullied you mercilessly for your frailty, and while you ended up developing a thick skin and a stoic attitude from the abuse, you yearned for an escape.

Your salvation came in the unlikely form of Soulblighter's army. His undead had laid waste to your village to add more to their number as they marched further west. Your bolder kinsmen, aided by a token Legion force, placed you in the rearguard of the defense, seeing you as too much of a liability up front.

As they charged forward to meet the enemy, they didn't spot the wight shambling out of the riverbed.

The wounded were brought back to you and a fur-garbed Southerner with the Legion. Shaking, dismembered, and pus oozing from their festering wounds, you went to work by amputating, applying tourniquets and disinfecting wounds with what you had taught yourself of medicine.

While most of your kin had survived thanks to your efforts, rather than growing fond of you, they became more resentful. As they saw it, you had denied them an honourable death. For his part, the Southerner was in awe of your skills; a skilled healer with no formal training was unheard of in the walled, sprawling city of Muirthemne where he hailed from. As he left, slinging his shovel across his back while returning to his comrades, he urged you to seek him out in the city, should you find him. He was even kind enough to provide you with a book, though you didn't have the heart to tell him you were illiterate.

That was over a year ago. Your journey here has been long and difficult, and you've taught yourself to read in the meantime, but you've finally made it. Now to make a new life for yourself.


j) The Witch:
Str: 2/10 Dex: 6/10 Con: 4/10
Int: 8/10 Wis: 6/10 Cha: 4/10

Useful Skills:
Literacy, Language Bruig, language ghôl, quick learner, magical training, scholarly knowledge

Equipment:
thick cloak, plain clothes, spellbook, knife

Current Spells:
An assortment of utility spells and a basic attack spell, nothing special.

You pull the cloak closer around yourself as the stranger finishes his tale. You remember the war, you lived it, but from the other side. Unfortunately, for some reason your master picked the wrong side in the conflict. He was not the kindest man, but you served him faithfully. Or maybe that was fearfully. Until one day, the mother of plagues, Shiver marched into your camp at the head of a column of Myrkridia.

And you made the mistake of looking into her eyes...
And you saw the madness and ever so much death and you ran...

In truth you still have not stopped running, maybe here in the capitol of Alric's new Cath Bruig Empire you will finally find a reason to stop. You have no idea what happened to your master but it was probably (and hopefully) nothing good.

k-z) The "Kid"
Str -- Dex -- Con --
Int -- Wis -- Cha --

Useful Skills:

Equipment:

Your life is an empty book, just waiting to be written...

Don't like any of the characters well then fear not, come up with your own. You have 30pts to spend on stats, pick a reasonable equipment load out (weapon, armour) and make up a few skills. If people back it then I will see what I can do...
 

Chapter 2: The Scavenger

Chapter 2: The Scavenger

As the cheering dies down in the crowded tavern the patrons return to their own private conversations and you are once again left to your own thoughts.

You catch the barman's attention and order another pint which you take to a small booth in the corner, it is not terribly well lit but there is enough light for your purposes. In the crowded tavern you can't help feeling that you are being watched. Paranoia, not a good sign, your old master had his share of it and it is a trait you were hoping you could do without...

You place your hat on the table, reach into your pack and withdraw a worn and well read tome. Running your hands across the cover you mouth the title, "On the Cycles of the Light and the Dark: A History of Our lands and the Great War, by Professor Henry Jones". This book is the only remaining link you have to your former master, Professer Jones, formerly of the twelve of Scales, formerly of the Magical Institute of Madrigal, currently a coat of red paint adorning some long forgotten tomb. You chuckle then sigh, you will miss the old man...

Opening the tome you flip though its pages, the work is meticulously detailed, outlining the theories on the formation of the world and on the cycles of golden ages and dark ages that has characterized all of human history, though your master believed that Emperor Alric may have broken this cycle you were not so sure.

You were perhaps not the best student of history as many of the entries seem unfamiliar to you, you resolve to change that if you can, if you want to know where you should be going you will need to better know where you came from. But tonight is not the time for a history lesson, you flip through the book to the section on the Great War and Balor's sack of Muirthemne for that is the reason you came to the city; you begin to read...

"Our chronicles pick up the tale of the latest Dark lord much earlier than those of his predecessors. By 2181 A.E. Balor -the latest Leveller- thrived in the east, recruiting and creating his evil hordes. Balor enticed the Myrmidons -once proud human warriors- into volunteering for the grisly undeadhood that drives them mad to this day..."

You skip ahead past the accounts of civil wars and human concerns to the next mention of this Dark lord, Balor...

"His forces slowly assembled, undead and alive alike, and in 2431 A.E. Balor began moving west with his six Fallen Lords..."

You involuntarily shiver at the thought of them; the beautiful and cruel Shiver; the cunning and mad Deceiver; the Lurker, the twice born daughter of flood and famine; the Voiceless One, loveless child of the unwed dawn; the Watcher as terrifying as he was ancient and the greatest necromancer in history, and Soulblighter the most ambitious of the lot and the least merciful. You may not have fought in the war but traveling with your master you saw the destruction they created, reflecting on it you can't say you are sad that they met their ends... you continue to skim the text and then you find it...

"In 2431 A.E. Balor and his vast armies announced their presence in grand style, putting Muirthemne to the torch in an immense mystical blaze that created the Barrier. The twenty four century old empire of Cath Bruig collapsed overnight. Most of the population of the city died in the blaze or in the fighting that followed, the most notable of which was the Emperor himself. The Emperor aware of the end of his empire refused to flee and instead worked to hide the royal artefacts deep in the city to deny Balor the use of them in his wars further west. This last act of bravery may have prevented the demise of all the realms of men. Amongst the relics lost in the city the most important was the Ibis Crown, the symbol of the empire, but a number of lesser but also terrifying relics such as one half of the great Halcyon Stone..."

Alric may have dug out the best loot in the city but he had not found it all yet and the half of the Halcyon Stone that was in the city when it fell is still up for grabs.

That, is in fact why you are here, should be easy you figure. You just have to put together a team, evade the city guard (as unauthorized ruin diving is punished by life in prison), slip into the ruined part of the city, follow the ruins through to underneath the palace fighting off any monsters in the way and retrieve your prize... ok, you have to admit this may not be easy but the Halcyon Stone was Henry's dream and you owe it to the memory of the old man to at least make the attempt.

Based upon your research the stone when whole would give its owner full control over the wind and the weather. Now half of the stone may not be as good as the whole thing but you figure you could find some use for it, and once you get the first half you can start looking for the other piece.

Closing your tome you look around the room, it seems the inn has cleared out for the night, placing the tome gently back in your pack you put your hat back on, the brown leather pressing down upon your auburn locks, you give a wink to the barman (who doesn't quite known what to make of you in your strange outfit) and start the walk back to the tent city you are staying in; you still just can not shake that feeling of being watched.

There are no more rooms for rent in the growing city and besides if you want to find treasure hunters then this is where you will find them. Slipping into your tent you secure a noise trap across the entrance (you can never be too careful in a city like Muirthemne after all) and you drift off to sleep, visions of tomb robbing drifting through your head...

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Morning comes all too quickly and as you stretch out you notice a woman sitting crosslegged with a book on her lap, your book on her lap, her mop of red hair dangles down over her face but when she hears you she looks up at you with the greenest eyes you have ever seen. If you had to guess she is probably a few years younger than you, so early twenties perhaps.

"Oh good morning!" she exclaims, "I did not want to wake you, looked like you needed the sleep."

Great, she is one of those bubbly morning types you think, then the more important realizations start entering your head. She is in your tent, she did not set off the noise trap and it looks like she has the book open to the section on the Halcyon Stone. This could be very bad...

"My name's Brigit, what's yours?" she continues casually, hardly noticing your hesitation; "so what is this, looks important."

She holds up the book for you to see and sure enough it is your notes on the Halcyon Stone.

"Give that back you will damage it!" you snap at her.

With a shrug she gently closes the book and passes it back to you.

"No need to be so crabby...", she momentarily looks offended before a smile reappears on her face.

"Look sorry..." You start before remembering that she should not even be here, hmm, time to be diplomatic, not your strongest area mind you but worth a try, "umm... Brigit what are you doing here?"

"Oh right," she slaps herself on the forehead and assumes a more formal stance; "I am here as an official representative of Dagda, that's my da, head of the new merchant's co-prosperity consortium and he, well we, wanted to extend an invitation to you to come and have a nice meeting with us... I mean you don't have to but da would be really disappointed and so would I..." she trails off and looks at the ground.

Yeah, a "merchant's consortium", so she means a thieves guild, probably one of many in the city. They will want to use you of course but maybe they are the sort of help that you need. As you sit there in silence you can tell that Brigit is getting a bit uncomfortable, eventually she breaks the silence.

"Well, ya don't have to answer right away, if you want to meet us I will be at the tavern you were at last night for most of today, after this I have the rest of the day off you see... anyway see you."

With a wink and a hop she is gone and you are left wondering what the hell just happened.

As you get dressed you realize that you need to figure out what you want to do today, you will need help and there are plenty of options available amongst the desperate, the insane and the cutthroat castoffs of the city, alternatively you could try some of the less scrupulous magic circles. There is Brigit's guild of course or you could try some of the more professional mercenary groups in the city though they will demand gold or favours. Finally you could try petitioning the government for an official permit to comb the ruins, of course if you find the stone they will try to take it from you so that is also a concern.

You figure you will have time to pursue two leads today (one in the morning and one in the afternoon), provided you don't head to the government offices, if you do you will spend all day doing paperwork.

Your resolve to:

A)Go Legit: Go to the government offices, you will have to be careful but they have the best equipment and soldiers around. An official expedition would be the most likely to succeed but would also likely cost you the stone. You would be paid well if you succeed however and may even get an imperial commission if you play your cards right.

B)Stay Independent and look for your own leads (you can pick two):

1)Go see Brigit's guild, she seemed friendly and you could use a few thieves to pull off this expedition. Without a doubt you will have to help them but that is how the world works, a favour for a favour.

2)Discreetly canvass the adventurers in the tent city. People from all over the known world are gathered here and may well provide useful skills for your expedition. However there are good reasons why these people are here and not a member of an actual organization, they may be a little strange and you can not really trust them either.

3)Look into securing the services of a mercenary group, many of these men and women served in the Legion during the war, they have the skills but it will cost you. They can provide the most reliable muscle out of all your options with the exception of actual Imperial soldiers.

4)See if you can use some of your old master's connections to get the help of one of the less orthodox circles. The Warlocks might be able to help as they care little for Imperial laws and are only concerned with knowledge and power. Having another mage or two come along may be a great boon but if your master had taught you anything it is that every other mage is potential competition which you may have to deal with to get your prize.

5)Magic help would be nice but there is no way you are trusting the Warlocks, there is another option however, the Children of the Callieach, a fairly secretive and minor magical circle more interested in the recovery of the past for the benefit of all. They are far less powerful than the Warlocks, dealing mostly in illusions but they are an option.

C) This is the standard other choice, this choice will always be available, if you ever have a plan I would love to hear it.

Also remember that the name vote is still open so feel free to offer suggestions or vote for a name.
 

Chapter 3: A Temple of Lies and Truth and the Canvas City

Ok, this may be a long update, so get comfortable. Also the choices for this one revolve around everyone's favourite RPG past-time shopping....

Chapter 3: A Temple of Lies and Truth and the Canvas City

As you slip into your tunic and trousers you run through your options...

You don't really feel inclined to be running favours for a thieves guild, while you have nothing against them it just strikes you as too much trouble for such an uncertain reward. Besides, who is to say they would keep their word even if you did them a favour; better to go your own way.

And for the same reason the Government was completely out, you want the stone and it would be a complete shame for it to wind up in the Imperial treasury, its secrets lost on accountants and petty bureaucrats.

Pulling your hair back and up into a practical bun you wedge you hat down over your head...

You briefly consider hiring some mercenaries, after all every good mage knows the value of keeping warm bodies between you and the enemy but you quickly dismiss it. The more honest outfits would refuse to break the law while the less scrupulous may turn on you below the city, a knife in the dark is all it would take...

You put your hand on your hip and survey the room, gathering your notes and books in your pack you buckle on your knife... hmmm... you may need to pick up another weapon, a small part of you seems to think a whip would be a good idea, you will have to consider going shopping tomorrow...

What you are certain you will need is magical support, a well placed fireball can solve all sorts of problems, while more subtle magics can avoid conflict in the first place. You consider enlisting a Warlock for just a moment. There are no better combat mages in the Empire after all and yet you hesitate. The Warlocks are not known for their loyalty and if they were to turn on you well you are not certain that you could best one in a magical duel.

You rack your mind for other options... and it hits you, The Children of the Callieach, a minor circle to be sure and nowhere near as powerful as the Warlocks but also far less dangerous. As an added bonus their love for history and knowledge may just override their fear of Imperial law and the minions of the Dark. You resolve to go to their offices this very morning, and once you set your mind to something there is no stopping you...

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"What, in the name of Wyrd, do you mean I can not enter!" you demand

You are standing in the street outside the Circle's offices in the middle of a rather heated exchange with the six foot tall door guard. You could not overpower him even if you tried...

"Just as I said my lady, I am afraid you can't enter." responds the doorman with a dismissive air.

Calming yourself, you inquire; "What would be required to grant me entrance to the most noble circle of the Children of the Callieach?"

The doorman considers your request for a moment; "a formal invitation from a member of the Circle I am afraid, barring that I can think of no way for you to gain entry..." the doorman gives you one of the most smug grins you have ever had to endure.

You look at the ground and mumble; "I have money..."

Now that gets his interest for a moment before he dismisses it, as a servant of the Circle he is paid well and to cross a mage, let alone a circle of them would be suicide.

As you are about to give up a window on the second story opens and a male voice calls down into the street; "Jabber, what in the hells is all the noise about down there?"

The guard, whom you surmise must be named Jabber responds to the voice; "Just some con-artist that wants entry to the circle, don't worry sir I will rough her up something good as-"

You don't let him finish that sentence, if you can't go through this idiot you shall go above him; "I am no con-artist sir, I am a scholar and a fellow traveller seeking an audience with the Circle to propose a mutually beneficial partnership."

"Well you have my interest girl. Jabber let her through."

The guard shifts uncomfortably, he really does not want to let you in but an order is an order.

"Doctor Miosguinn's office is on the second floor, third door on the left..." he states in a clear if strained tone.

"Marvelous," you respond, "thank you for all of your help..." as you walk past the man you brush his leg and cast a minor cantrip, a small suggestion... that he has a poisonous spider in his armour.

As he screams you enter the building...

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The man that sits across from you; Miosguinn, fellow of The Children's Muirthemne branch is in his early forties and does not look anything like a mage, in fact he looks like a librarian but you know better than anyone that looks can be deceiving.

It seems you will not be able to meet with the Circle today, many of its members are out of the city but Miosguinn himself is quite interested in your proposal. It seems that the Smiths of Muirthemne are a topic near and dear to his heart and he agrees to accompany you with his apprentice Isolde. You assume that the bookish girl popping in and out of the room and giving you dirty glances must be her. She could not be more than sixteen and normally you would protest, the ruins are no place for a child but Miosguinn assures you that she is a more than capable of taking care of herself. You shrug, not your problem if the kid dies in the dark, you have warned them and that is as much responsibility as you will take in the matter.

All that he asks is that you give him any tomes or items associated with the Smiths that the expedition may recover. A reasonable request all things considered and it was always doubtful that you would find a mage that would work simply for gold. At least he does not want the stone and while you are not keen to surrender any magical item you see no real problem with this and agree.

You thank the doctor for his time and inform him that you will return in two days to collect him and his student...

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You retreat back to the local tavern, you look for Brigit to let her know you will sadly have to decline her invitation but she is nowhere to be found. You muse, maybe she was called away or she already figured it out for herself and decided to do something more productive with her time.

After a quick, and cheap, lunch in the local tavern, you think about how to spend the afternoon. You resolve to return to the tent city, talents from all over the Empire are to be found amongst the tents and you just have to find them.

As you weave amongst the tents you hear a great commotion, someone, or a group of "someones", is smashing up a tent. Turning the corner you come across quite the scene, a slim and graceful woman is standing to one side while the largest, most rotund gentleman you have ever seen proceeds to destroy her tent with a few of his cronies. A crowd of twenty odd bystanders look on.

Inching closer you can just make out their conversation, it seems he wants his money back while she is claiming she did everything that could be reasonably expected of her... hmmm... a physician perhaps?... as the thought crosses your mind the man grabs a chest and hurls it against the ground, it splinters to reveal her tools of the trade... oh, now you know what this is about, she is a whore or perhaps a courtesan down on her luck. The man must be an unsatisfied client, though looking at her you wonder how anyone could be unsatisfied with her... as these ideas roll through your head the situation continues to escalate. It seems that she is done trying to placate the man and is instead changing her strategy.

"Sir, I have offered my services to merchants and kings, wizards and poets, men and women great and small and each of them has left satisfied, if you are not happy with my services then may I suggest that the fault does not lay with me, sir." The sharpness with which she emphasizes sir cuts through the man's rage and he turns to her.

"What you try'in to say!" yells the great blob of a man.

"I am saying sir that perhaps you are lacking, perhaps your candle is a bit too short, your dagger a little blunt, your dog's head a little flea bitten, your dragon without fire, your fang chipped, your ferret lame, your mutton too tough, in short sir perhaps you are lacking!" the young, and perhaps a little foolish, courtesan replies.

The great lummox displays a look of profound confusion, as if the ladies harangue had overwhelmed his senses.

Stopping for a moment the man repeats himself; "What you try'in to say lady." His tone is flat and full of menace.

But she has completely given in to her anger, "I am saying, you waste of human flesh, you maul in man's clothing that you have the thinnest, the smallest, the most misshapen manhood I have ever had the misfortune to encounter and it is due to your minuscule member that you are unable to find satisfaction. And if that is too much for you to comprehend sir, then I will say only this... You have a small cock!"


At that moment the entire scene freezes in absolute silence, you can see it play out, you know exactly what will happen.

The insult registers in the mind of this moron, his fist balls, he will strike her. What he does not notice is the knife that has slipped out of her sleeve. Still you do not like her odds, it is none of your business of course and yet, you resolve in that moment to do something about it. A brilliant orator would talk the man down, a great warrior would beat him down, but you are neither of these things you are a mage and so you scheme. You look over the man, brown stained shirt, brown worn trousers straining against his girth and then you spot it; the most ugly belt buckle you have ever seen, solid bronze with partial gold plating and you have your plan.

Grabbing your spellbook you work quickly; Sort, no; Polish, well that is what got her in trouble; Light, useless; but there it is...

Retrieve Item a fairly useless little spell that requires a crystal clear image of what you want returned to you. Luckily the image of that belt buckle is burnt into you mind. You ready the spell and you cast it.

His fist comes up and his trousers come down, he stops in shock. You pocket the belt buckle.

And as you look you realize that she may have overstated her case a little, not a problem you were prepared for this possibility and you begin projecting an image into the minds of the crowd. Now if they had been moving, it would not work; if they were aware of your presence, it would not work; if there were more people here, it would not work. But in this case you are just able to manage it, they see exactly what the courtesan described and they begin to laugh.

The courtesan is looking around, she knows someone is casting she can feel it, must have some talent you think, you can sense her attempts to find you and her immense gratitude.

She only hesitates for a moment before launching into one of the most spirited deconstructions of a person you have ever witnessed, you almost feel the urge to write it all down, preserve it for posterity but you have to maintain absolute attention to keep up the illusion.

As the crowd turns on the man and his fellows they begin a hasty retreat, shouting curses as they run, you would not be surprised if the guy left the camp after a humiliation like that, you chuckle to yourself, your good deed for the year done.

Then you realize that she is waving you over, you try not to make eye contact but she is not giving up so eventually you walk over, she leads you into what is left of her tent and motions for you to sit in a gorgeous high-backed velvet chair. Snapping her fingers her small lamp springs to life, so she does have a little training you think congratulating yourself on your keen perception.

The two of you spend the better part of an hour in conversation, turns out that business has not been good for her and she has been forced to expand her clientele. Given the events of this afternoon she is inclined to pursue another line of work if only momentarily. She has some skill with magic and she is quick with a knife though looking at her you can tell she is not really strong enough to do real damage with one. What really impressed you was her gift for words, someone this persuasive would be a useful ally so you take a chance and explain your plan.

She seems disinterested, though polite, until you mention the vast riches and power of the Old Empire. The mention of gold and ancient artefacts is enough to get her wholehearted support and she even offers to let you use a house she owns to entertain more discreet clients. The tent, she explains was more of a store front while the "business" occurred in a more easily controlled environment. You are open to the idea and tell her that you will meet her there in two days time with any support you can muster, she gives you a password so that you may gain entry.

As you bid her goodbye she plants a kiss on your cheek, a thanks to her "brave and cunning rescuer", and says her name is Thaïs, whether that is her real name or merely an alias you are not sure.

As you continue to explore the tent city you hear the sounds of a fight and decide to head towards it. After all it worked out well the last time you think to yourself. As you enter one of the larger squares in this city of canvas and rope you come across quite a sight. A single, one-eyed warrior and a mammoth mountain of muscle wielding a greatsword are fighting back to back against a dozen men, six men circle the pair while the rest lay on the ground wounded, unconscious or perhaps dead. You wonder if you should try to help them but ultimately decide it would be better to see what they can do.

The Berserk, since you are sure that, that is what he is leaps out at the closest man. All fury and speed but with a grace and determination lost in civilized men. He is a wolf amongst dogs and the power and mastery of the blade he displays leaves little doubt that the three men he is fighting are doomed. A whirling storm of steel, the northerner hacks off the arm of the first sell sword and delivers a quick kick to the stomach of the second. He traps the blade of the third on the guard of his blade and renders him unconscious with a quick punch to the head.

Meanwhile on the other side of the square the one-eyed warrior battles against the remaining sell-swords. What the giant had in speed and bravery the warrior has is patience and positioning. He is guiding the fight and the sell-swords are dancing to his tune. A quick thrust to the throat drops one, followed by a heavy push with his shield to the other. Turning to the third sell-sword the warrior salutes him and moves to close, the sell-sword surveys his surroundings and seeing that he is the only man on his side still standing he makes a break for it... right past your extended leg. The sell-sword dives head first into the dirt and decides to take a little nap as you strike him across the back of the head.

The two men move back towards the centre of the square the Northerner practically bellows his victory to the stars while the warrior checks the dead and wounded, stabilizing those that he can and granting quick death to those too far gone.

As you approach the two men, the barbarian momentarily tenses up but then dismisses you as a threat while the warrior greets you.

He introduces himself as Gareth and the big fellow as Tyrvard... "Tyrvard of the Thunderous Blows" his companion corrects him. You offer to buy the two men a drink and they readily agree.

The three of you return to the tavern and this time you make note of its name, The Hanged Man. The barman is starting to warm up to you as you always pay up front and cause no trouble, when you wink at him this time he winks back. You get four pints, two for Tyrvard as he claims the ale of the Empire to be akin to water, and settle down in your usual booth.

Over the course of he next half-hour you outline your plan to the two men, Tyrvard agrees as soon as he hears about the danger of the task, seems he values a good fight over everything else. Gareth is a bit more hesitant but agrees when you point out that the men he just fought probably had friends and that it would be better to get out of camp for a while. You give the two men the address of Thaïs' safehouse and the password to get inside and you tell them to meet you there in two days time.

As you leave the tavern the sun is beginning to set on the horizon, as you head back to your tent you see a lone, frail figure moving from tent to tent, out of curiosity you decide to follow him. At first you think the man a thief, but from every tent he enters you hear screams and cries. Perhaps the man is a murderer you think and you resolve to investigate the situation, if there is a murderer in camp he is a danger to everyone, even you.

Following the man to the next tent you creep close to listen but instead of the sounds of struggle you hear a calm if accented voice giving instructions.

"This man has the dead rot, probably from wandering in the ruins of the city." states the calm voice, clearly.

A second and third voice try to protest but the first cuts them off; "I am not of the Empire and I am not here to enforce their laws, your friend has the dead rot, I can cure it for three silver."

Again the other two voices chime in, the first respond again; "I do not negotiate my prices."

After much grumbling about money-grubbing foreigners the second voice agrees to pay and the third voice lets out a small cry while this man, clearly a physician, gets to work.

Twenty minutes later his work is done, the first voice collects his pay and slips out of the tent so quietly that he actually surprises you as he turns the corner and walks right into you. What follows is a long string of mutual apologies and introductions. The name he gives you is One Serpent Green Talon, definitely the name of a Journeyman...

The Journeymen where an order of healers founded by the disgraced Heron Guard of the Old Empire. When Alric reforged the empire the Journeymen once more took up the mantle of the Heron Guard. And yet here is this man with a Journeyman's name and a clearly northern accent, an intriguing mystery and if there is one thing you love more than magic it is a mystery.

You offer to buy the man a drink, he declines, you offer again, again he declines, you propose tea instead and with a chuckle he accepts. Returning to the Hanged Man for the third time today the barman greets you with an amused smirk which quickly turns to a wide grin when you order a pot of tea and some biscuits. Taking up your usual position in the corner you explain the details of your plan to this pseudo-Journeyman. He is remarkably open to the idea as he has nowhere to go and has had no luck contacting the man he came to see. You give him the address and password to the safehouse and tell him to meet you in two days.

After Serpent (there is no way you are saying that mouthful of a name each time you address him) leaves you switch back over to ale and enjoy a few hours rest and relaxation after a very long day.

You return to your tent exhausted but satisfied, you have made a lot of progress and two days from now you will depart. Tomorrow you will focus on gathering supplies for the expedition given you still have almost all of your funds.

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With the morning comes a new set of choices, there are a few things you can do today, you have to shop for general goods in the morning; food, water, rope, lanterns, tents and a dozen other things will be needed to succeed at your task but there are a few other things that also need attending to.

After paying for the basics you figure you could afford to go shopping at the following locations this afternoon, the question is what sort of items would be of the most use (pick any five items from the list):


The Cleaver's Weapons Shop, you need something better than a knife; a staff, a sword, an axe, hell part of you still wants a whip for some reason and this would be the place to find it.

1) A staff/polearm: it will give you range, though you have no real skill with it, still have to learn sometime

2) A sword: the adventurer's best friend. Perhaps Gareth can teach you a few moves?

3) An Axe: it would be useful as more than a weapon, it would let you break down doors and chop big pieces of wood into little pieces of wood... truly magical

4) A Mace: what could be better for fighting the undead?

5) THE Whip: It is glorious and you don't know why but it just feels right


Old Ren's Armour Shop, you probably are not strong enough for full plate armour (not that you could afford it even if you were) but some leather armour or mail would come in handy when travelling through the ruins.

NOTE: armour does not impact spellcasting in myth, Balor wore full plate armour so you don't have to worry about that, heavy stuff may slow you down however:

6) Padded Armour: not the best but it does not limit your movement

7)Leather Armour: the happy medium

8)Mail Armour: there are monsters down there I want the best I can buy


The Wizen One's magical bazaar, you don't trust the old crone but her items are usually good:

9)Energon Cubes: think of them as little magical batteries for when you need more power

10) Scroll of Firebolt: An arrow of pure fire, it is no fireball but it is a start (cast at full potency as a scroll or memorize and get better with practice)

11) Scroll of Projection: a fake image, the better you concentrate the better it will be (same as #10)

12) 3 Mandrake Roots: used in healing magics, 3 for the price of 1

13) 5 Gleaming Wands: they force invisible enemies into the light, your little magical glowstick

14)Second-rate Tarnkappe: it is like a cloak of invisibility but for it to work you can not move and it only has three charges


Ori Three-fingers, this shop is run by a rude little dwarf. He hates small talk but his prices are fair:

15) 5 "Dwarven" Cocktails: thrown portable explosives, sure you have no experience with them but how hard could it be...

16)1 Satchel Charge: explosives, could be useful, just don't blow your hands off, place and then set off with a fire arrow or fire spell.


Blind Bob's Odds and Ends; who knows what you will find at Blind Bob's (he sure doesn't):

?) want an item that I did not list well feel free to suggest one, get enough support and you may just get it...

As always, if you have any questions just feel free to ask...
 

Chapter 4: The Grand Bazaar

Chapter 4: The Grand Bazaar

You leave the Hanged Man, a quick lunch and a pint was just what you needed. You had spent the better part of the morning purchasing supplies for your expedition and arranging for their delivery to Thaïs' safehouse. She had even sent word back that she had acquired a hand cart to move the supplies and an up to date map of the city to better plan your approach. The woman was proving to be a valuable asset indeed.

With the basics taken care of your afternoon is free and you decide to relax a bit and do some shopping. You turn your mind and your feet towards the Merchant district of the rebuilt city and passing through one of the inner gates you are met with the city of Muirthemne's Grand Bazaar in all of its glory. Whoever said that money could not buy happiness had never visited Muirthemne, anything and everything could be found at the Bazaar, for the right price of course.

Jugglers, dancers and musicians perform in the squares while throngs of shoppers mill about the stalls. Silks and canvass in every colour imaginable adorn your surroundings and the smell of spices, leather and sweat assail your nostrils. Entering the bazaar is almost as dangerous as a good dungeon crawl you think to yourself as you watch a couple from the farmlands being taken for all they are worth by an expert conman. It is a good thing that this is not your first time. You keep a careful hand on your purse as you push through the maze of bodies.

You know where you are going, you need a weapon and that means a trip to see "the Cleaver". An old friend of your master's, they adventured together in their younger days. His alias truly is ridiculous but it works; Cleaver once confided in you, over a few too many pints of ale, that his real name was Ian but he thought it lacked a little punch and showmanship is a fundamental part of the trade.

You come across his shop, set back from the main square, a very large and very fake cleaver hanging over top of the door. As you enter the big man himself greets you inquiring about your master. When you tell him the unfortunate news he expresses his sympathies and in an attempt to change the subject asks you how your knife is holding up.

"It works brilliantly, Ian." you respond with a smile; "actually that is why I am here, I need something a bit more "combat ready" for my next run."

The old weaponsmith expresses some reservations about you going out into a dungeon without Henry, instead he suggests you should find a nice guy, settle down and have a few kids.

You have to chuckle at that a little, give up the knowledge, the power, the adventure? You would rather die, some morbid little part of you chimes in that you just might get your wish.

You shake off the thought, you remind yourself to stay positive or you are beaten before you even begin. As Ian realizes you will not be discouraged he finally surrenders and instead insists on finding you something truly special.

"I will not let Henry's little girl go wandering off without the best that I have," he states with a lot of fondness and not a little concern. "Come into the back room and I will show you my best stock, don't worry we can negotiate the price."

Ian closes up the shop and leads you into the storeroom through his practice room.

In Ian's storeroom are some truly magnificent pieces, a staff with a retractable head that reveals a solid steel spear tip, a sword that Ian assures you could cut a man in half (Ian always had a slight problem with hyperbole), a light and well balanced axe, a nicely balanced mace... but none of these things really catch your attention... then you see it hanging on a hook on the far wall, the most magnificent whip you have ever seen.

Looking at it, it just feels right.

"Ian, what is the story with that whip?"

He arches an eyebrow; "That thing? Some traveler from the east brought it in here, said it was made from some sort of hopping rodent or something, I am afraid I just don't know much about whips, but that crook Azis two stalls over wanted it really bad when he saw it. Figured I would hold on to it just to screw with the man... if you want it though it is yours."

You pick up the whip and enter Ian's practice room, you begin trying to "throw" the whip, it handles beautifully, great range (you would estimate six to seven feet), good movement, the braiding is expertly done, it is damn near perfect... you know this in the core of your being but you are not sure how you know it...

Ian sells you the whip (and some of the lubricant he uses to keep it supple) for a fair price, well to be honest he is definitely cutting you a deal, you thank him and as you go to shake his hand he scoops you up in his great arms and practically squeezes the life out of you. Returning you to your feet, he wipes a tear from his eye and again warns you to be careful and tells you to come visit him more often.

Leaving Ian's shop you move to the part of the bazaar that specializes in the manufacture of armour, you are here to see old Rin. It has been years since you last saw her as neither yourself nor your master wore much in the way of armour but he always said that if you needed protection Rin was the person to ask.

You stand in the doorway looking into her shop and can hardly make out any details given the complete darkness that confronts you, you hesitate, maybe she is not in?

The voice of a woman assails you from the darkness; "Well don't just stand there in the doorway, if you are going to shop then come inside."

As you step into the darkness the door slams shut behind you and the lamps in the shop burst to light, you yelp and the voice giggles.

Thoughts rush through your head, is she a mage? Is this a trap? But you calm yourself and examine the surroundings, tiny yet strong treads run along the walls and floors. You can only just make them out due to your years of dungeon raiding, some run to the ignition devices on the lamps and some to the door. She is no mage just a squirrely old woman that likes to scare her clients, you sign in relief.

"Okay, Ren that was a great joke but come out now or I am leaving," you state in as calm a tone as you can muster

"Alright, alright; kids these days have no sense of humour. So what can I do for you?"

"I need a nice suit of armour." You examine the shelves filled with various varieties of protective wear... padded wool, plate, mail, scale, helmets, shields, gauntlets, greaves, she has it all and it is all expertly crafted. You will admit your respect for the old bat is growing.

You turn to Ren, you already know what you want, leather armour, heavy enough for protection but light enough to not limit your movements.

You tell Ren this, she nods and reaches behind the counter. She places a pair of knee high boots, gloves and a thong on the table and gives you a wide grin, "Here you are dearie, these will make you very popular I imagine."

That damn grin of hers would drive you into a rage if you were not completely aware that, that is what she wants. Instead you calm yourself and take out your purse, jingling it in front of the smith so that she can hear how full it is.

With the prospect of actual money on the table her mischievous grin instantly transforms to a polite and warm smile. "Well, why didn't you tell me you actually had money, wasting our time like that, kids are just so slow these days..."

She goes back into her store room and brings out an excellent suit of Tyrian leather, straight from the Province she promises. Ren leads you back into her fitting room and begins poking, prodding and measuring every inch of you, standard procedure for custom fitted armour but you still feel a bit violated. You figure it has something to do with the big grin she is wearing through it all.

As the two of you return to the front of the shop she is all business, she starts by quoting an exorbitant sum and you manage to haggle her down a bit but you still feel like you are being ripped off. Oh well at least the armour really is of good quality.

You arrange to have the armour delivered to Thaïs' safehouse tomorrow morning when the alterations are done. You open the door to leave but as you turn to leave the shop, Ren whistles to get you attention; "Sure you don't want the boots and smallclothes dearie?" and that damned grin reappears.

You choke down telling her off and turn to leave when the lights cut out and she whistles at you again, you turn just in time to duck a small wooden buckler that is winging its way towards your head. You pick it up off the ground and admire the quality of its craftmanship for just a moment, then Ren chimes in from the darkness, "I like you kid but you really have to work on your people skills; take the buckler, it is on the house..."

Shaking your head you step back into the light, not completely certain that it all was not a bad dream...

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It took a few more hours of weaving between customers and carts to get to the tiny alley in which the magical shops are located. Since mages prefer privacy and don't really want each other knowing what they are buying the alleyway is enshrouded in powerful illusion magics, it looks empty but you know that it is filled with mages coming and going, magic hiding the sight and the sound of them. You enter the alley and queue up to the right of a large yellow line drawn down its length, a light overhead turns green giving you the go ahead to proceed.

Your master explained the system to you once. Due to the powerful illusions in the ally you will not be able to see or hear anything living. The line flashes at points where a mage is next to it so you just have to watch the line and walk down the length of the alley till you get to your destination., since you can not see or hear the other customers you all have to follow the rules and move in the same direction. A delicious piece of irony that your own mutual mistrust leads to a system that completely hinges on trust but such are the workings of mages. As you contemplate the situation you bump into something in front of you, oops, you were not paying close enough attention to the line. You almost apologise but stop yourself, whatever it is it can't hear you anyway...

You make your way around to your stop, a large shop with two separate doors; as you approach the "in" door it is locked. Right, only one customer at a time, you wait about five minutes until the "out" door opens, for a brief second you think you can see the other customer, all tentacles and horror, but the illusions kick in and it disappears. You step into the shop and see the Old Crone herself perched behind the counter.

"Oh it is you..." she says in a neutral if strained tone, her features flat.

You match her tone and manners as best you can; "Just come to make a purchase."

She comes out from behind the counter; "Good cause I don't care for window shoppers..."

You grin just a little; "Well not like you could do anything about it..."

Now she has the smallest trace of a smile on her face; "Kid I have forgotten more about magic than you or Henry ever knew," with the mention of your master's name she drops the charade and gives you a large hug which you promptly return; "How are you kid, and where is Henry?"

You tell her about Henry's demise and she invites you into the back of the shop; "It must have been terrible child..."

"Oh Madb it was, one moment he was there and the next gone." You reply, still wounded from his passing.

You ask her about the shop and what she has been up to and Madb asks you what you have been up to and you tell her the basics, that you are on another run and that you are excited to actually be organizing this one but you leave out the bit about the stone.

If Henry was like a father to you then Madb has been like a mother but the very first thing she ever taught you was to never trust another mage without a very good reason, especially one as powerful as she is. So you lie a little and she lies a lot and you both know it and it changes nothing, you are family.

After an hour or so in conversation the "in" door shakes a little, it does not emit any sound but a line must be forming out there. Madb laughs at the thought of it and as much as she would love leaving a half-dozen archmages and eldritch monstrosities piled up outside her door she does have to return to work so you place your order. A handful of Energon cubes (you count 6), a scroll of firebolt, and 3 Mandrake roots, she also throws in a ball of regular, mundane twine for when you get lost she says with a wink.

You exchange the money for the goods and she plants a single kiss on your forehead telling you to be careful and to come back anytime you like. And with that you are back out in the silence of the alley and something bumps into you and you hurry along back out into the bazaar proper.

Your little shopping trip ate up most of the day, but you still have the evening ahead of you and you wonder what to do with it. This could be your last night above ground for a while, how do you want to spend it?

A) Gareth and Tyrvard will probably be at the bar by now, you should go drink with them, it will pass the time, keep out the cold and the dark and you may come to understand the two men better.

B) Serpent knows of a little tea house nearby that he highly recommends, you could go there and get a proper drink and something to eat, maybe the physician will also be there

C) Thaïs should be at the safehouse by now, organizing all the supplies that you sent over. You really should help her and it will give the two of you time to talk.

D) The night is yours, you go for a walk through the inhabited section of the city, if this will be your last night above ground for some time then you want to watch the stars.

E) Voter's Choice, got an idea just let me know
 

Chapter 5: An Evening with the Courtesan

Ok new update, ran a bit long, some info on magic, and I get as close to biowarean writing as I am comfortable with... there are three separate but related choices to make at the end so one vote for each of the big decisions...

Chapter 5:

An evening with the Courtesan:

As you make the long walk back from the Bazaar you run though your options for the evening since you really don't want to go back to your tent yet.

Gareth and Tyrvard are probably at the Hanged Man right now drinking half the city under the table, hopefully they have taken the time to prepare themselves instead of just drinking all of their money away. You have to admit you have never met a man like Tyrvard before and if all the men of the northern tribes are like that it is easy to see why Alric wants their support.

Gareth is a different story, he does not talk about his past much, says he fought in the war and you can believe it based on the scars and the martial aura he exudes. You are just glad to have two such warriors on your side, a little muscle to complement your magic. Still you do not really want to spend your last night above ground drinking at the Hanged Man, you have done that almost every night for the last week, it is time for a change.

You pass the teahouse that Serpent was raving about yesterday, Brown's is its name. You make a note to try it when you get back but you just do not feel like tea tonight.

As you continue on your way you realize that there is really only one place to go, well unless you just want to wander aimlessly, you chuckle at that idea, you are the "leader" of this expedition and you owe it to everyone to check over your supplies and make sure you are not missing anything.

And with that you make for the address that Thaïs gave you. Part of you expects to find nothing, that her whole act was a con and that you have ruined yourself but you shake off the idea, you remind yourself that you are a good judge of people, or at least Henry always used to say you were. You really do believe that she is on the level and she has become something of the de facto quartermaster of the expedition. You have been coordinating with her throughout the day and her help has been invaluable. You stop by one of the better shops in town and grab a few things for dinner, a savoury pie, a bottle of wine, that sort of thing. You pick up a little extra in case Thaïs is working late and wants some and you begin the walk to the safehouse.

As you reach the building you realize that it is no mere shack, in better times this would have been a coaching house. The attached stables are a little worse for wear but everything looks remarkably stable. You approach the front door and knock, you also draw your knife just in case it is a trap. After a little hesitation and noise from the other side a female voice calls from within for the password. You give it and the door unlocks, you palm the knife, as you step though the door it shuts behind you and someone side-steps behind you. You feel some sort of gadget pressed against the back of your head. The voice instructs you to turn around slowly and you comply, you sigh it is just Thaïs.

Gone are the silks and perfume of yesterday, her attire today while still of high quality is all about function, well maybe with a touch of fashion you will concede, she looks the very image of a clerk, tunic and trousers and her raven black hair in a functional ponytail.

In a casual tone you start; "Hi, Thaïs."

She seems relieved; "Oh Derryth, I was not aware that you would be by before tomorrow, you should have sent a message I could have taken your head off with this thing. Nice whip by the way, looking to get into the trade?"

"Very funny, I would have sent a messenger but it was all very spur of the moment and I wanted it to be a surprise." You reply with a quick smile, raising the bag with your dinner in it, "Also would you mind lowering that thing you have pointed at me it looks dangerous."

"I don't know, maybe I like having you at my mercy..." she gives you a grin.

You match the grin; "Well then I would be forced to draw your attention to the knife angled at your ribs."

She looks down at the knife that has slipped back into view and laughs, she lowers the "crossbow". Some gadget that a client that could not pay gave to her. She actually tried to convince her to come along on the expedition, but the inventor was adamant about leaving for the south. Said something about going where her inventions would be appreciated, Thaïs sighs and explains that the inventor really is a dear but just has no luck with people.

Turning the crossbow over in her hand she explains that it is a handheld prototype based on dwarven theory. It fires these tiny but very deadly bolts from a "magazine" inserted into the underside of the device. She demonstrates the action of the piece, loading and unloading it and you must admit the things those dwarves create truly are marvels. You remember the dinner you are carrying and ask her if she would like some. The two of you sit down to a nice warm meal.

Following the meal she gives you a tour of the facilities, there is a single horse in the stable, to pull an old supply wagon if the hand cart proves insufficient, and most of the supplies are stored in one of the lower rooms near the old loading dock. She was about half way through cataloguing it all when you arrived. You offer to help and the two of you spend the next couple of hours going over the supplies, everything looks to be in place but there are about double the herbs and medical supplies than you ordered.

Thaïs explains that she looked over the invoices for the items as they arrived and while most of the prices were fair the herbalist had dramatically overcharged you (you had suspected it but could not prove it). When the package arrived with the herbalist's apprentice she launched into a dramatic appeal to the young man's sense of honour and duty, "how dare he be a party to such vile business practices, swindling two innocent young women" the man was terribly ashamed and threw in an extra order of herbs as recompense. As Thaïs retells the story she acts out both roles as if on stage, you stifle a laugh.

As you finish the inventory and lock up the storage you return to the main house and the two of you settle down in what was once a study. You talk about your pasts, she tells you about the cities of the Province while you tell her about some of you adventures with Henry and about the old man himself. She offers her sympathies and you thank her as the conversation drifts towards the study of magic.

It seems she has had a solid training in arcane theory, she even knows a few things that you do not, but her set of spells is more suited to pleasure and luxury than hard-living and ruin raiding. The night is still young and you decide it may be a useful exercise in trust to teach her a spell. Nothing too dangerous, not that you really know anything too dangerous yet, but something which has proven to be very useful to you in the past.

When you suggest the idea she is all for it, the woman definitely has a taste for knowledge and power. You should probably be careful around her you think but then you remind yourself that she is probably thinking the same thing, and you are forced to smile. It would be nice to have a colleague that you can actually trust and talk to again now that Henry if gone, you will just have to be careful is all.

"Ok," you tell her; "let's go into the back yard and get started."

You lead her into the back and survey your surroundings, a few boxes, a bunch of empty bottles, yes this will do. You light a lamp so you will be able to see better and line up a dozen bottles. You tell her that the spell you will be teaching her is called Zap, a basic attack spell that will not do too much damage unless you get the target in a soft spot. It will often distract your attacker however and can give you time to escape. You tell her that accuracy and steady hands are of the utmost importance, you take a wide and stable stance, and you begin to focus on the bottle, describing the logical and spiritual movements required to bring about the spell. As you finish you begin firing at the bottles, twelve for twelve, you are on fire tonight and Thaïs is quite impressed.

You set up another six bottles and motion for her to try, it takes a while but she manages a shot, it misses wide, reflects of a large chunk of metal and damn near hits you. Thaïs apologies but you reassure her that the first time you tried it you had trouble too. You decide to help her a little with her stance, remembering Henry's lessons from your youth. You walk up behind her and with a little kick spread her legs out a little wider, you straighten out her shoulders and reinforce her arm, with one hand on her hip and the other on her hand you add you consciousness to hers and direct the bolt to the first bottle, a hit. She leans back into you a little and you direct her to the second bottle, again a direct hit. She gives a slight yelp of satisfaction and you believe she is getting the hang of it.

"Ready to do it on your own?" you ask; "try to hit the remaining four."

As you step away from her she focuses, it take five shots but she hits the four bottles. Not bad and the bolts she is creating are already a little stronger then yours. However you notice that she looks a little run down, even as a child you had better endurance than this, oh well as Henry used to say every caster is unique, like pretty, little, sadistic snowflakes.

Thaïs returns to your side with a rather large smile on her face, you know that feeling, that feeling of greater knowledge, greater power even a little more is so very intoxicating. Looks like you are not such a bad teacher after all, it definitely helped when you thought back to Henry's lessons though, he was a real mage and knew how to properly teach someone, you sigh; all things in time. You congratulate her on her shooting and the two of you return inside to the study.

It seems that Thaïs wants to return the favour and she brings out an old lamp and sets it on a table half way across the room. She explains that one of her clients back west (he was a wizard with not a little skill) taught her how to call up small fires and put them out, it is something that she has found to be quite useful. She demonstrates, sitting next to you on the couch she extends her arm and focuses on the lamp. It flickers to life, she gets up and snuffs it out then she repeats herself three or four times explaining the theory behind the spell. You try it but can't quite get it to work, she pouts a little stating that she must not be a very good teacher.

Trying to cheer her up you think back to the Zap spell earlier, you tell her that you copied as closely as possible the setup used by Henry to teach you the spell and that you think it really helped.

A rather mischievous smile appears on Thaïs' face, "All right let's try that."

She removes the lamp and instead stands you in front of the old fireplace, she stands next to you and raises your hand in the direction of the fireplace. Then she tells you to close your eyes and focus on the very concept of heat, agitation, the dance of unseen elements, and sure enough in your mind's eye appear two dancers. You watch them dance, and she tells you to try to speed it up, and you do, faster and faster the figures spin until it is all a blur. You think you can smell smoke but opening your eyes you do not see a flame, and you are about to turn to Thaïs to tell her so. In fact you are so focused on the spell that when she kisses you your mental control collapses, you kiss... and the fireplace explodes...

As you and Thaïs sit there on the ground, thrown back by the explosion in the fireplace she blushes a little and gives you a sheepish grin; "Well you did say to recreate the conditions under which I first learnt the spell, and I am a courtesan after all."

Fair enough, you are not really sure how you feel about the situation but it is hardly something to worry about, you think, and at any rate you now know that you can conjure fire and that feels pretty good.

You brush the soot off and help each other to your feet, she asks you why the fireplace blew up like that. Seems like she does have a few holes in her knowledge of magical theory.

You try to explain, a single mage can cast some fairly powerful spells but a group of mages can manage even more. You tell her that when you were helping her in the courtyard behind the building, you used your greater control of the spell to give her power better direction, however when she kissed you she poured a lot of extra power into a half finished spell without much control and she completely distracted you ensuring you would lose control as well. Thankfully the fireplace contained most of the flames and burnt out without doing serious or permanent damage. With a gasp she apologizes again but you tell her not to worry about it, she did not know what would happen after all.

With that little bit of adventure over with you think about returning to your tent for the night, it is probably early morning by now and it is a long walk back but you need at least a few hours of sleep. Thaïs offers you a bed for the night, just to sleep in, she adds quickly, but you are not sure if it would be a good idea all things considered.

Weighing up the advantages and disadvantages you decide to stay, you really don't want to walk through the dark back to the tent and a bed would be divine, she shows you to one of the better bedrooms and bids you goodnight. As she closes the door she again apologizes for almost blowing you up.

You use the wash basin to get cleaned up and head to bed. As you lay in bed you think about the people you have assembled for the expedition, the good doctor and his apprentice, Tyrvard and Gareth, Serpent and Thaïs and you wonder if you can or even should trust any of them. You really want to have actual friends, the way Henry and Ian trusted each other was always something you envied a little, but it is also a great way to wind up dead. Well you will just have to see what the morning holds...

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Thaïs greets you when you come downstairs, she must have been out to the shop early as breakfast is laid out in the study. She also tells you that she has taken the liberty of having your tent collected from the camp. She probably still feels a bit guilty about almost killing you, well that is a risk when it come to magic and she will have to be willing to take it if she wants to pursue that path. The two of you pass the day in conversation, your armour arrives along with a second parcel from Ren for Thaïs, a lighter suit of Tyrian leather, less protection but also easier to wear for someone unaccustomed to adventuring. It seems that Thaïs had paid a visit to the Bazaar right after you had saved her, she had placed an order for the heavily modified armour and picked up a few minor magical items in case of emergencies.

That afternoon Serpent arrives wearing padded armour, a satchel full of mandrake roots over one shoulder and his medical supplies in his pack. He also caries a knife and a shovel of all things. When you ask about it he simply responds that you never know when you may have to do a bit of digging. You and Thaïs share a look of confusion but more information is not forthcoming. The three of you spend the afternoon discussing a variety of subjects from your pasts, to politics, to magical theory. It seems that Serpent has interest in magic and the ability but has never really had a teacher, Thaïs whispers to you that the two of you should "train" him you have to laugh at the thought as the both of you are barely better off than he is.

Still it is a thought worth considering, you are all "independent" talents, in that you do not belong to a circle. You could try forming your own Circle for mutual protection and support, you know Thaïs would support the idea after last night, the woman loves knowledge and power almost as much as you do. Serpent is still a bit of a mystery however, you will have to find out who he is and what he really wants from life.

As the afternoon wears on you leave to go pick up the doctor and his apprentice, you find them outside the Children's offices, today he does look like a wizard, dressed in blue-grey robes with a wide brimmed hat. The apprentice is also dressed in similar if less ornate robes and carries a massive pack, seems he makes her carry the supplies, when she sees you she steps slightly behind her master and gives you a dirty look. You don't know why the kid hates you but it is obvious that she does.

"Doctor Miosguinn are you ready to depart?"

"Ah good, Miss Derryth, we are ready when you are."

You collect the two Children and return to the safehouse to find Gareth and Tyrvard have already arrived. Serpent and Tyrvard are standing at opposite sides of the room staring daggers at one another, Thaïs waves you over and explains. It seems that Serpent is from Gower one of the northern realms of men and he and the Beserk do not seem to like one another. He made an off hand remark about the sanity and hygiene of the Northern peoples and Tyrvard did not respond well.

She has managed to get them each to swear that they will work together during the trip and she thinks they will keep their words but she can not be sure. Great, just the sort of thing you needed, you will probably have to talk to them or get Thaïs to manage them since each is an important asset. Or you could cut one loose...

The entire group files upstairs and you lay out the potential routes you can take to the ruin once the sun goes down. In the centre of the room is Thaïs' map marked with known patrol routs, monster sightings and the points of entry...


Pick one option from each of the sets of options ( 1), 2), and 3)):

1)There are three good points of entry, you point to each of the three markers in turn:

a)The First is closest to our target, it has the highest security but will make for the shortest trip. We will have to move quietly and pack lightly to avoid patrols.

b)The Second is further out but it is the biggest entrance and one of the least secure. You can expect monsters but few patrols or other adventurers. It should not impact the length of the trip one way or another.

c)The Third is the furthest out, it will add two weeks to the trip but almost no one knows about it so there will be less resistance.


2)There is also the question of supplies, thanks to Thaïs you have options:

a) Carry everything, this is the stealthiest choice but gives you the least supplies, about half of what you bought.

b)Use the hand cart, this will let you transport most of the supplies but will slow you down if you hit rough terrain. You can not pick this if you go with 1a.

c)Use the wagon, you will be able to take all of the supplies and even be able to transfer some of the load from your packs. You will travel lighter but will still be dependent on the wagon. You can not pick this if you go with 1a.


3)There is also the question of Serpent and Tyrvard:

a)You and Thaïs will just have to manage the situation, you need both men.

b)Tell Tyrvard to leave, he won't be happy but you need the physician.

c)Tell Serpent to leave, you hate to see him go but you need the muscle
 

Chapter 6: The trip into Darkness

Chapter 6: The trip into Darkness

As you gather around the table everyone expresses an opinion. Some push for speed and stealth while others make a case for a slow and steady approach utilizing magic to cover your weaknesses. They all make good cases but ultimately it is your decision to make, without you none of these people would be here, you just hope that you are not leading them all to their deaths.

"We will use the middle passage," you inform the group.

It is the most open option striking a balance between ease of access and Imperial presence. There will probably be monsters but nothing you can not handle, you reason. You inform Gareth that you will be taking the horse and wagon, it may well be a liability but it is also an asset and if the worst happens you can always abandon it.

Doctor Miosguinn and his apprentice will stay in the back of the wagon and cover it with illusions while you and Thaïs ride in the front. Gareth and Serpent will guard either side of the wagon, if they stay close then they too will be hidden by the Doctor's spells. Tyrvard will act as a scout, partially to give him a longer leash and partially to avoid conflict with Serpent.

With their marching orders established the group gets to work and your little expedition slips out of the rear gate as the sun lazily drifts below the horizon. By the time you reach the restricted area of the city it is approaching midnight, luckily it is a full moon tonight and the light reflected by that celestial body proves sufficient to navigate the ruins by, you drive while Thaïs, holding the map, gives you directions. Miosguinn sits in the back of the wagon across from his apprentice, the two quietly chant the incantations to mask the expedition's presence. From the perspective of an outsider it would seem as if you did not even exist; all sight and sound is suppressed or manipulated.

Every now and then you catch Thaïs watching them, trying to decipher their actions and steal just a little knowledge, you might be tempted to chastise her if you were not attempting to do the same thing.

The journey to the entrance has proven largely uneventful, until you near the site. The Berserk is returning, stalking towards the wagon, a small stone in his hand. Miosguinn gave it to him so that he could locate the wagon underneath its spell, he crawls through the rubble and waits for his chance before leaping over a ruined wall and rejoining the party. He knows his trade well and you doubt any but the best trackers could follow him. It seems he has important news...

"Tyrvard, slow down and tell me what you saw." Gareth is trying to calm the northerner to get a proper report from him.

It seems he spotted a column of two hundred ghôls with a shade leading them, marching towards the city, your group should be able to avoid them given the direction they are headed in. Seems they are going to try and raid the city, it will be a bloodbath in the tent camp... still you do not like their odds, Alric is in the city with the full might of the Heron Guard. Shade or no shade they will get wiped out...

You shrug off Tyrvard's news, it just means fewer enemies for you to worry about. And then you hear it, an explosion not four blocks over, the sounds of fighting echo through the night. Maybe the ghôl advance guard ran into a group of adventurers, or an Imperial patrol. Either way the city may have warning now, hopefully they do not break the ghôls too quickly or you may have an army of them on your heels. You hurry past the sounds of battle and continue on your way to the entrance, everyone is just a little on edge in the cold, dark night.

As you near the entrance to the underground, two sets of figures race by ninety feet ahead, the first group consists of twelve stooped figures barrelling through the night, three upright shadows chase after them. The smallest of the shadows stops, raises its bow and draws an arrow, lights it and fires. One of the twelve drops dead, the arrow explodes as it makes contact with the creature's head. The other two shadows draw and fire plain arrows and two more of the creatures fall. But the remaining nine make it to the entrance and succeed in gathering aid. Twenty of these apelike horrors pour from the wound in the earth and the three shadows begin a fighting retreat. They will not make it, you think to yourself, but at least they flushed out the guards for you.

The three shadows seem to realize that they can not outrun the beasts and instead they head for higher ground, firing as they run. They are all good shots and they have reduced their attackers to twelve by the time they catch the first one. He barely has time to yell as one of the creatures, which you recognize as a ghôl, lifts a curved blade and lops off his head.

The remaining two figures have made it to higher ground and have even managed to kill a couple ghôls, they circle the pair looking for an undefended way up the incline. It is just a matter of time, you know they are dead.

Gareth however has other plans, he motions for you to stop the wagon, you do, he motions for you to get down, you do, and then he explains his plan. He wants to catch these ghôls in the open. If you allow them to kill the pair then they will return to their posts and he wants to avoid cave fighting this early in the trip. He reasons that you have the numbers and the element of surprise on your side, you are not too sure but he does have the military experience and it looks like Tyrvard is barely holding himself back from battle.

"Well Gareth, if you have a plan I would like to hear it..."

With that simple and self-assured smile of his he explains his plan, and it is not bad.

Five minutes later you, Serpent and Thaïs have every major route of escape back to the ruins covered. Unfortunately one of the archers had been killed by a thrown blade from the ghôls but the last one was putting up a good fight, lighting arrows and firing them at her assailants. You are closer now and you have been able to determine that much, the lone survivor is female, she also knows just a little magic as those are regular arrows that are exploding on impact. She has managed to reduce the number of ghôls to six, they do not seem deterred.

Gareth and Tyrvard are just about ready to spring their trap, Tyrvard leaps out first, right next to one of the ghôls, it did not even realize he was there, and with one fluid swing of his greatsword the beast's head soars through the air and lands a foot from one of its companions. As the remaining ghôls turn to face the new threat Gareth attacks from the other side, he slams into a ghôl with his shield, pinning the wiry scavenger against a piece of masonry and dispatches it with a quick thrust of his blade.

One of the creatures charges Gareth's exposed back, the lone archer drops on top of it and with a well placed strike from a long knife cuts deep into its neck, it bleeds out on the ground. Three against two, the ghôls make a break for it. If they get back into the ruins who knows how many reinforcements they could raise. Thankfully that is not a concern, one of the ghôls passes close to Serpent who springs out of hiding striking it with his shovel, it tumbles to the ground as he walks over and shatters its skull, the other is headed right past you and Thaïs. You have already set up a kill zone for it, as it runs towards you, you both spring up and fire your spells at it. She catches it right in the throat collapsing its windpipe, a kill for sure, but just to upstage her a little bit you aim for the eyes. A perfect hit, your bolt enters through one eye socket and scrambles the creatures brain as it bounces around in its skull.

"Show-off..." Thaïs says as she walks up to you and gives you a little jab in the ribs.

"Just reminding you who the master of magic is, is all." you grin at her.

"Well that would be the old man, sleeping in our wagon," she responds returning your smile; "at any rate it looks like the boys are interrogating our young friend over there we should probably see what is going on."

With all of the sentries dead the two of you meet up with Serpent and head over to Gareth and Tyrvard who are in deep conversation with the archer, well Gareth is at least, Tyrvard looks bored as he always does when not drinking, gambling or fighting.

As you get closer you realize that you know this woman, it is the thief Brigit, and despite your reluctance to help her earlier she expresses her thanks for saving her life, she gives you a quick hug before returning to Gareth's side and continuing their conversation. Seems that these things attacked her guild and she and the other two archers were to pursue the ghôls and find out where they are coming from.

She would not mind coming with you and before you can make a decision Gareth agrees, maybe you should have a word with the man about who is in charge here, you think for just a moment.

Then again it would be useful to have another warm body between you and the hordes of monsters down there and she did just kill a dozen ghôls in a running battle so all things considered you probably would have made the same offer.

Brigit, not one to stand on ceremony, says a short prayer for her companions and begins looting their bodies, grabbing their bows and arrows "just in case".

You return to the wagon and introduce Brigit to Miosguinn and his apprentice. Big surprise, Miosguinn is dismissive of her while the apprentice hates her. Come to think of it you have not seen the apprentice react favourably to anyone in the party, and honestly she gives you the creeps. Well, you think to yourself, mages are known for being peculiar, good to see the young keeping tradition alive.

As you and Thaïs return to your seats at the front of the wagon and begin the slow crawl through the ruins, Brigit takes up a position next to Gareth and the two fall back into conversation. You pass the empty sentry posts of the recently deceased ghôls without any complications and begin your long decent into the earth, one last time you look up into the sky, by Wyrd you hope you don't die down there.

Far in the distance you can hear the faint sounds of battle as the defenders of the city and the ghôl army come to blows...


-----------------------------End of Prologue----------------------------


And with that your merry little band enters into the most dangerous dungeon in the known world, will you find power, glory and fortune in the dark or will you all meet your own terrible and bloody deaths? I suppose we will find out in Chapter One: Through the Dark City...

I would love to hear any feedback you may have as I have never run one of these before, anything you liked or disliked, problems with formatting or writing, questions about the setting or anything else, suggestions, it is all appreciated. And if everyone is still actually interested in seeing more then we will pick up the story later this week after I do the promised "behind-the-scenes" update, as always thank you for reading.
 

Chapter 1: Through the Dark City

Chapter 1: The Guardhouse

Okay, beginning of chapter 1 is out. A fair number of choices at the end since I want an idea of the sort of strategy Derryth will pursue going forward, so enjoy and read all the options.

Chapter 1: The Guardhouse

Three days in...

The expedition winds its way down through the ruins of the current city and into the old bones of ancient Muirthemne. As you descend, the history of the place is written upon every stone and passage. You move past the cellars and sewers of the current city and past the rough hewn caves of the ghôls, now mostly empty save for a few stragglers that are easily dispatched.

After days of travel in near silence, weaving from one tunnel to another and always heading downward, the tunnel you are following opens to reveal a great cavern. In the darkness you can not make out just how large it is but even from the mouth of the tunnel you can see the walls of the old city of Muirthemne.

You turn to Thaïs, "Well at least we are in the right place."

"So, any idea of where exactly we can find the stone?" she replies casually.

Gareth cuts in before you can answer her question.

"If I may make a suggestion we should find a place to camp first before we start planning anything. I am sure Miosguinn and his apprentice could use a rest and most of us have been walking for hours."

A fair assessment and you think you know of the perfect place, if it is still standing. Each district should have a guardhouse which should be fairly defensible and could serve to hide your presence. The expedition passes through the old gates without any difficulty and follows your instructions to reach the local guard post.

"Yes, this should do nicely," Gareth turns to Tyrvard and Brigit and gives them their orders, the three of them get to work searching the compound for any hostile inhabitants. Seems you just have to stay with the wagons and wait for them to finish. Not exactly exciting but that is what they are here for.

The warriors finish searching the building, they open the gate to the inner courtyard and you drive your wagon in. It seems the guardhouse has not seen actual use for decades if not centuries. With everyone safely inside you lay out the next phase of the plan.

You begin, "We have to reach the secondary vaults located across the city, it is the most likely location of the stone. They are sufficiently well protected to discourage monsters and adventurers while unimportant enough to spare them from Alric's immediate attention."

"And if it is not there?" asks Gareth.

You nod and respond, "Well it is still the best place from which to expand our search, it is easy to defend and located close enough to the rest of the old palace complex that we will have easy access to the other potential locations of the stone. At any rate we will deal with that situation if the stone is in fact missing."

You decide that you need a better idea of what routes are still open to get to the secondary vault, and so you ask for volunteers. Tyrvard, as always, is ready to go; Brigit also volunteers as it is what she is best at. Finally Doctor Miosguinn volunteers to do some scouting as well, his sudden willingness to help surprises you for a moment but with no real reason to refuse his request you quickly agree.

It seems that you, Thaïs, Gareth and the unnamed apprentice as the least stealthy members of the expedition will remain at camp to get everything ready and reinforce the scouts should they encounter anything. Your time is mostly spent fighting boredom, you offer to help the apprentice but she damn near bites you so you leave her to her master's things. With the tents set up Gareth begins preparing dinner and you and Thaïs offer to help, it is simple food with little odour to avoid attracting the locals. It actually tastes fairly good to be honest and the time you spend helping the man reveals just a little of his character.

"I fought with the Legion, you see. Spend enough time around camp and you pick up a little of everything;" he tests the broth he is working on, "half the time we were operating without a baggage train, just living off the land and running from or chasing after Soulblighter's armies. The dead don't eat and out in the field those rations only last so long."

The slightest smile appears on Gareth's face as he continues, lost in his memories and addressing no one in particular, "I remember this one guy used to claim he knew forty two different ways to cook rat... can you believe that, forty two... good guy too... he, ah... he took a Soulless' javelin in the chest one morning north of Scales, bled out in a ditch. We barely had time to stop and cut off his head. So they couldn't raise him, you understand, a damn shame really..." Gareth just sort of trails off, the smile fading from his face as the camp gives way to silence.

Thankfully your scouts return moments later, seems there are three different avenues you can pursue.

Tyrvard headed to the left of the guardhouse following the old walls and found a passage big enough for the wagon, there were a lot of bones about though and he thought he could hear howling.

Brigit headed in the opposite direction from Tyrvard and came across a wide road shrouded in darkness, she did not hear anything but it was almost like the very darkness was radiating malice.

Miosguinn headed further into the old city, using his magic to hide him, he found a direct way though the city. However it runs close to an entire colony of strange hunchbacked monsters, he thinks they are completely blind and so should not be a huge problem but they seemed to be worshipping something else, something powerful, though he could not get close enough to find out what.

None of the options are particularly appealing and you all agree to leave the final decision until morning.

As you sit at one of the tables in the guardhouse, Thaïs approaches you, seems she has been pursuing that Circle idea from earlier, Serpent seems open to it and she has even convinced Brigit to join so she can show everyone how she does that thing with the arrows. She wants to know if you still want to go through with it, as the most skilled mage in this new circle a lot of the direction would have to come from you.

It is something to consider at least, however before you can give an answer Gareth calls for help from the courtyard. Fearing an attack the two of you rush out to find Tyrvard and Serpent quarrelling, seems Tyrvard has been drinking, again.

You walk up to Gareth, "Now how the hell did he get alcohol again? I though we found the last of it two days ago?"

"Beats me, I keep searching him and he keeps producing more. Can't for the life of me think of where he is getting it from. Must have a hidden still somewhere in the camp. He gets drunk and then I have to nurse him back to health, but it is kind of entertaining," the Veteran replies with equal parts confusion and admiration.

Suppressing a slight smile, something occurs to you, "Why are you looking after him when we have a doctor on hand?"

"Well-" Garth begins before Serpent cuts in...

"I do not want to get fleas Derryth that is why I refuse to treat this barbarian."

"Ai don't ha fleas ya feeble exhus fer a Gowerman, ya all soft fro Gower I knew it in ma bones..." the drunken Berserk replies.

You think he is trying to insult Serpent but between the accent and the slurred speech who really knows. Thankfully Thaïs defuses the situation by "accidently" collapsing one of the tents, the chivalrous drunk steps in to fix it and with a lot of help from Thaïs and Gareth he even succeeds. Something will have to be done about this situation though, before it goes too far.

You head towards your tent and spot the Children staring at you. That apprentice is just plain creepy and her master is not much better. Oh well another thing to deal with in the morning, you climb into your tent and sleep comes as a gentle release.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

You wake up and greet the new day with a curse on your lips.

Quite possibly your least favourite part of dungeon diving is the lack of comfortable, safe, beds. You give Thaïs a little shove so that she may join in your misery. You dress and head out to meet the... well the darkness, but this is a new day with new challenges and a variety of choices for you to make:


1) Which path to take?

a)Tyrvard's path: sure the howling is a bit off-putting but you will be fine... probably.

b)Brigit's path: it is only darkness, not like there are evil monsters out there or anything

c)Miosguinn's path: now colony of monsters does sound bad but it is also the quickest route


2) Do you want to form a Circle of mages with Thaïs, Serpent and Brigit ?

a) Yes

b) No


3)Something has to be done about Tyrvard and Serpent and you need to start with one of them:

a) Try to convince Serpent to stop antagonizing Tyrvard and give him a chance. Thaïs will try and help you with this.

b) Try and convince Tyrvard to give Serpent space and stop arguing with him. Gareth could possibly help you with this.

c) If you have a plan to reconcile the two then go ahead, freeform option.


4) Since you are surrounded by skilled individuals you can try to get one of them to help you improve your skills:

a) Learn combat skills with Gareth

b) Try and improve your drinking skills with Tyrvard (your intuition tells you this may not be the best idea in a dungeon though)

c) Learn to be more sneaky with Brigit

d) Work on your medical and herbal knowledge with Serpent

e) Become more charming and social with Thaïs

f) See if the Children will share any historical knowledge or obscure facts with you

g) Serpent and Thaïs both seem to easily grasp new knowledge, you could get them to show you how they do it.

h) Have an idea feel free to suggest it...


5) Will you respect the privacy of the Children?

a) Yes, they are allies.

b) No, they are up to something and you intend to find out.
 

Chapter 2: Homeward Bound

Chapter 2: Homeward Bound

Thaïs climbs out of the tent behind you, "So what is the plan for today, Derryth?" she asks, fidgeting with her tunic.

"Well we have to pick a route through the old city. I have been thinking and the path Brigit found yesterday seems the safest."

You really do not want to have to slip past a group of Myrkridia, if a pack mage is with them then your illusions may do you no good. For similar reasons you suppress your curiosity about the monster colony, whatever dark mysteries they are guarding will just have to remain hidden, it is simply too big of a risk.

As you cross the courtyard you spot Gareth and Serpent in conversation. As they finish Gareth enters the guardhouse and Serpent waves at you and gestures for the two of you to come speak with him. You remember what you had meant to tell Thaïs.

"About the Circle, Thaïs, the answer is yes."

Well that brought a smile to her face, she gives you a small hug and a kiss and turns to go tell Serpent. Before she goes running off however you grab her arm.

"I also need a small favour from you, we need to talk to Serpent about Tyrvard, if the two of them come to blows it will be bad for everyone."

Thaïs arches an eyebrow, "Those two? I have seen that drama play out a dozen times, just put them in a tent together and they will sort out their differences."

She has just a bit of trouble suppressing her laughter as she spits out those words of wisdom and with but a little prodding agrees to help you mediate the conflict.

The two of you make your way past the Children's tent, blue-grey smoke slowly seeps from within the tent.

"I wonder what those two are up to Derryth?"

"None of our business really as long as they do their jobs."

You will admit you are very curious yourself but they are allies. You would not like it if they were spying on you so you should extend them the same basic courtesies.

As you make your way over to Serpent you remember something else you meant to ask Thaïs. Since Serpent is here you may as well ask him too, after you greet Serpent you ask the two of them if they could help you in your attempts to better understand history, theology and the classics. They suggest that first you must understand how to learn before any real learning may take place.

"Well can you two teach me then?" Serpent seems a bit hesitant until you add, "Since I will be helping both of you with magical theory it only seems fair right?"

The realization that he is going to be part of an actual Circle changes his disposition a great deal, looking back and forth at you and Thaïs he asks in disbelief, "You mean the Circle is going to happen, I will actually be able to learn magic?"

When you nod he gives you both a great hug and for a second you think you see just a bit of the Berserk in him, but he quickly calms down.

The two of them walk off together in conversation, planning magical lessons and establishing your "curriculum". They are perhaps getting a bit too much enjoyment out of your "education" but their excitement is contagious and you can not help but smile.

You make your way to the guardhouse proper and find Brigit and Gareth in the middle of one of their deep and serious conversations. You give Brigit the good news and she damn near tackles you before running off to find Thaïs and Serpent, Gareth watches her as she goes.

Finally alone with the expedition's military expert you explain the route you wish to take, after about an hour of planning and going over the old charts the two of you agree to a plan and give the order to break camp. By now everyone knows their role and within an hour you are back on the long road into darkness...

------------------------------------------------------------

"Well, I will grant you that, that is one malicious darkness," Thaïs says with a whistle.

"I am less concerned with the darkness than with what may rest within it," is your only response.

The two of you are in your usual seats on the wagon, Gareth and Brigit are out front of the group with Miosguinn testing to see if it is safe to pass. The apprentice is sitting in the back staring a hole in the back of your head; you pretend not to notice. Tyrvard and Serpent meanwhile are arguing about some largely inconsequential matter, and then it all goes quiet.

Gareth has stepped across the barrier and is waving you through; you all light torches except for Miosguinn. The doctor's staff starts to give off a slight blue-grey glow as you enter the darkness. After half an hour of sheer boredom, a shadow crosses your path, or at least that is what it looks like.

You can hardly make it out in the gloom but it is getting closer to Tyrvard and when it springs out at him it is as a nightmare made real. You hardly have time to yell a warning before it is on him. The great warrior is completely unable to fight it and if not for the quick intervention of Gareth, the Berserk would probably be dead. The veteran jumps in hacking at the creature and he is soon joined by Brigit as well. The Shadow dies quickly but Tyrvard looks spent, you climb down and the three of you load him into the back of the wagon.

"That was a Mahir, a Shadow, the tortured soul of a long dead person. We fought a few in the war," Gareth explains as he catches his breath, "It was probably the Mahir that you all felt at the barrier, straining in the darkness, afraid to come into the light. If one of them gets a hold of you then you will be completely paralyzed. To get through this we will have to work together, stay in the light and always work in groups of two or higher."

Gareth's explanation does a lot to calm everyone, now that you know what they are you will just have to be careful.

Forty minutes later, two more shadows come sweeping out of the darkness. This time your group is ready and Brigit drops one with exploding arrows before it can close. The second reaches her but Gareth quickly frees her. Tyrvard is still in no shape to fight though, and to make matters worse, he refuses to let Serpent treat him.

Another hour, another group of shades, four this time. If not for Gareth's strategies and Serpent's mandrake roots it is doubtful you would have made it this far.

Eventually you come to a large round chamber with a pedestal in the middle and on it a crystal. As Miosguinn walks up to it to better examine it you hear a sound...

The sound of shadows swirling...

Behind you...

In front of you...

To all sides...

There must be hundreds of them...

And you think this is it...

This is how you will die...

And you have gotten all of these people killed as well...

You begin casting...

No point in holding back now...

Small darts of energy break against the tide of shadows...

You have used up half your Energon cubes...

Killed dozens of shadows...

And it does not matter

You turn to tell Thaïs you are sorry...





And the chamber fills with light...

The crystal glows now, as do a series of runes around the outside of the room, the shadows flee or are destroyed where they stand. You all turn to Miosguinn to see what he did but the doctor claims that he did not do a thing, the crystal lit itself when you started casting. Great, another mystery; exhausted, the group stops for the day so Serpent can treat your wounds and you and Gareth can look after Tyrvard.

You are all tired but the shadows pushing at the edge of your camp prevent anyone from getting any rest.

Tyrvard drinks, though you tell him not to, calms his nerves he says.

Gareth patrols the border of the camp, checking for weakness or signs of treachery from the shadows.

The Children go to their tent, as if the shadows that press in on you are of no concern.

And to pass the time your little impromptu Circle practices magic. It may seem ridiculous but you can not do anything about the shadows and if you keep thinking about it you will go insane. Better to focus your attentions where it will do some good. It really is a case of the blind leading the blind but you have an idea, a brilliant, crafty, mage-like idea.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

Thirty minutes later you have your company of would be archmages lined up near the Children's tent and you are showing them how to cast firebolt. Not that you can really cast firebolt anyway of course; you have the scroll but have not actually memorized it or anything. Of course your pupils are failing in grand fashion but then that is the point.

Thaïs knows the plan since you told it to her but she is the only one you trust to pull off a convincing act. After twenty minutes of failure Thaïs starts berating you and as the two of you argue out comes the old doctor to see what is going on. She is a much better performer than you are and her strength at this even covers for some of your weakness.

He takes up a position about halfway between his tent and your practice line and he just watches. The two of you continue to argue and once you are sure he is paying attention you order Thaïs to try casting the spell again. She makes a big production of trying and failing while you give her the least helpful advice you can think of.

Miosguinn watches it all and the slight smile on his face slowly turns to a frown. You are doing it wrong, and he knows what you have to do, to do it right and the educator in him is battling with the mage in him for supremacy. He wants to step in and he knows he should not, but after ten minutes of this inner contest he caves in and orders you to take up position at the end of the line.

What follows is a very informative lesson on the theory required to create energy projectiles. With a full "class" of students hanging on his every word he really gets carried away. The man may not be a natural teacher and by all accounts is a rather poor one, but like any mage he really likes to hear himself talk. Thaïs really indulges the man and makes sure to stroke his ego a little too, before you know it you are all casting energy bolts that crackle with electricity. It is not quite a firebolt but it is a good start and you think the four of you could build upon the theory quite nicely.

After Miosguinn retires for the night you and Thaïs explain what happened to a very confused Brigit and Serpent who are both quite impressed with your deviousness. You break for the evening and return to your tent, no sense letting the impending doom of you all keep you from a good night's rest.

----------------------------------------------------------------

Gareth spent much of the night charting the runes, the central chamber is secure, that much is sure. There is also a single passage that is still warded, but it is running in the opposite direction from your target. Gareth thinks that if you follow the warded path you may find something to help you with the shadows and Miosguinn agrees, he says he had a dream about that path and that you should follow it. Without any real option you agree.

As you wind your way down the warded path you come across a large tower. In an earlier age it would have been magnificent but much of it is ruined or in one of many stages of disrepair. The runes lead right up to the outer walls and as you follow them into the inner courtyard you are surprised to see that the tower is in fact inhabited.

A thin wisp of a girl and a great beast, all muscle and tusk, come out to meet you. Gareth identifies the beast as a maul, says he fought some in the last war, they are quick to anger and generally mean spirited but not inherently evil. He does not really wish to fight the thing.

You cluster together as the girl, maybe seventeen, approaches, " Welcome honoured guests to the last bastion of civilization in an uncivilized world, I am Amena and this is Ithapi. My mistress would like to invite you in to propose a mutually beneficial arrangement," the girl gives a low curtsy and awaits your reply.

With nowhere to go you allow Amena to lead you into the tower's main hall for an audience with her mistress.

As you enter the room you are immediately greeted by a hideous sight. Seated upon a cracked throne is a being you have only read about in stories. She sits rigidly upright and greets you with a smile, the flayed skin of human beings serve as her clothes and as her mask, she is a Fetch.

The Fetch, you remember, were sorceresses from another world. They were lured into service to the Dark Lord Balor and fought alongside him and his lieutenant Soulblighter. With their allies dead the remaining Fetch are trapped in your world and are hunted by all servants of the Light. You are tempted to simply attack the creature right here and now, but without a way past the shadows you decide to hear her out.

"Welcome, honoured magesss..." it seems she is not interested in the warriors in the party but rather is only concerned with the mages, you do not know whether to be flattered or concerned.

"I require your servicesss... and you require my help to see you past the shadowsss. As such I propose a small trade between usss..."

As the leader of the expedition you step forward to discuss terms, though Thaïs is not far behind you should a more delicate touch be required.

"What do you need from us, miss umm..."

"Call me Erisss... I wish to return home, I do not like your world and I think you would be glad to be rid of one of my kind, a stranger to these landsss... I will give you all that I have should you succeed: this tower, its richesss, this child and the beast you saw earlier, just send me home, friendsss..."

You doubt you will ever consider this thing a friend, but you are willing to hear it out.

Eris tells you that she will send you with Ithapi, Amena and three people of your choosing to a nearby library to recover an incantation she needs to finally return home. When you return you will then help her cast the spell to create a gate to her world and allow her to return home. In exchange she will give you all she owns, she can not take it with her after all. She also says that she will empty the tunnels of shadows but she refuses to say how she will do it.

The rest of the expedition must remain behind as her "guests" to ensure that you do not run off, and you do not think she will take no for an answer. Though Thaïs may be able to talk your way out of this.


Choice time:

1) The Plan:

a) You agree to the plan.

b) You have Thaïs attempt to negotiate with Eris. If she succeeds you will have to brave the shadows without protection but you can leave without a fight.

c)You do not negotiate with evil mages. You will kill the fetch and take its secrets by force... hopefully.

d) Try something else..(freeform choice)


2) If you pick 1a then you have to pick three or four people to go with you, who will they be (top three or four picks will go based on the winning vote in #4):

a) Thaïs

b) Gareth

c) Serpent

d) Tyrvard (he is still not completely recovered though, he estimates he is at about 50%)

e) Brigit

f) Miosguinn

g) the Apprentice


3) On a completely unrelated note do you want to memorize the firebolt scroll (and lose the scroll) or keep it for an emergency (use it like a consumable).

a)Memorize it so you can start practicing. (lower strength, but unlimited use based on fatigue)

b)Keep the scroll in case you need it. (higher strength, but single use)


4) Thaïs has convinced Eris to let you pick an extra person if you want, the question is should you?

a)Three people

b)Four people
 

Chapter 3: The Library

Chapter 3: The Library

"Alright, we will help you return home."

At these words Eris lets out a small cry of what you assume must be joy.

"Excellent, may our partnership prove beneficial to both of usss. Amena, child, see to the needsss of our guestsss."

With a speed that surprises you Eris is off of her throne and slips away down one of the hallways leading from the back of the chamber. Amena directs your party to your rooms in one of the adjoining structures. Seems that for tonight at least you will not have to sleep on the ground.

Of course you take your usual precautions, blocking the door, checking for illusions and secret entrances and setting up noise traps. No reason to trust your new ally any more than you have to after all.

The night is good to you, you even manage to slip out to the courtyard for a few hours to properly learn Firebolt. Quite happy with yourself you return to your room and drift off to sleep, visions of power and great riches drifting through your head.

----------------------------------------------

A full night's sleep does wonders for your disposition and you hum a short tune to yourself as you dress and head back into the main hall.

A quick survey of the hall reveals that your hostess has not decided to grace your party with her presence, she must still be in her private quarters at the back of the compound. The hall is not completely empty however, Thaïs and Serpent are standing together and arguing over something while Brigit is seated nearby chewing on dried fruit which she deftly plucks from a small sack on her lap. Tyrvard is not present but you can hear the Berserk yelling from the courtyard. No one seems particularly concerned, instead they are both staring at Serpent.

"What in the name of Wyrd is Tyrvard screaming about today?" you ask Thaïs.

"Why don't you ask our resident physician what is wrong with the man," she replies clearly annoyed at Serpent.

The physician speaks up, "Well, I may have slipped a purgative into his alcohol to aid in the healing process. To help him balance his humours you understand..." Serpent breaks off mid-sentence as Thaïs cuts him off.

"Well Tyrvard has been "purging" himself for the better part of forty minutes now, it is all I have been able to do to keep him hydrated."

With a sigh you turn to the physician, "Serpent, I thought we agreed that you would not antagonize the man?"

"Derryth I have hardly said two words to him since our conversation yesterday, I am merely attempting to aid in his recov-"

A piece of dried fruit arcs its way across the room and hits the physician right in the side of the head. Brigit stands up, marches over and begins laying into Serpent, "We all know exactly what you are try'in to do and it won't help things at all, friends should not treat each other like that!"

Serpent, equal parts ashamed and surprised by a fresh assault from this new quarter begins to apologize. As his defenses begin to collapse the two women only increase the scorn they hurl at the man. As enjoyable as it is to see them at work you do have to at least try to get these people working together again.

You clear your throat which gets their attention and assuming your most commanding tone you begin, "Brigit is right what you did has certainly not improved matters but I am certain you were only trying to help. Thankfully Serpent, fate has afforded you a brilliant opportunity to work on your bedside manner. You will stay behind with Tyrvard and the apprentice and you can nurse our Berserk back into proper fighting form. I expect a full recovery by the time I get back or you will both regret it, do you understand?"

Serpent stares at his feet, more ashamed than anything else, but nods his head. You dismiss him and ask Brigit to go round up Gareth and Miosguinn to get this whole experience over with as soon as possible.

Alone with Thaïs you continue; "I guess I need to ask you another favour."

"Let me guess, you need me to stay behind and keep those two idiots from killing each other," the way she says it, it sounds less like a question and more like unassailable fact. You both know that those two will need a proper intervention to sort them out.

"Pretty much, yeah. Think you are up to it?"

"Should not be a problem, the purgative aside they have no real reason to be enemies save for prejudice and their own egos. Give me three, maybe four days with them and they will be fine," her confidence is remarkable and quite reassuring. But will it really be that easy?

"I will also need you to keep an eye on Eris, in case she is up to something."

"Hmmm... sounds like two favours to me. Still I am sure you can find a way to make it up to me... maybe a bigger share of the loot?" she says with a wink and a sly smile.

"Thaïs, if we get out of this I may just make you a partner," you suggest with a slight chuckle.

Assuming an expression of feigned excitement she responds, "Well then hurry up and get that incantation for Eris so we can get to the riches and glory part of this expedition already!"

As she rushes you out into the courtyard you tell her not to get herself killed before you get back. Her smile softens a little at this expression of concern and she warns you not to do anything stupid, well nothing more stupid than normal at least.

You turn towards the front gate, looks like everyone is waiting near the gate. They are all ready for the signal to go ahead. Crossing the courtyard you give the order to move out and your party of six slips out through the gate and into the rubble of the old city moving across hidden rune paths that spring to life at Amena's command.

--------------------------------------------

You have seen your fair share of libraries and archives in your time. The life of a relic hunter is not all dungeon running, romance and excitement like so many people seem to think. Rather it is large stretches of hard work and boredom interspersed with moments of extreme danger and terror.

In fact much of your time with Henry was spent visiting libraries or local archives. Some were small, a single room over-top of a government outpost. Others were quite large, such as the Royal Institute's holdings in Madrigal or the great palace library of Muirthemne. Some were orderly, but these were the exceptions, most were a mess of papers and tomes which could only truly be navigated by their librarians. Part of you always thought they did it on purpose, a little job security is always useful and it is a great way to humble all those field researchers and mages...

As these memories and concerns lazily drift through your mind you turn a corner and are confronted with the building, larger than any library you have seen. It sits in the dust and gloom of ages, a reminder of just how far humanity has fallen and how far Alric will have to go to make his Empire worthy of the name Cath Bruig. It would take weeks to find the incantation through a general search, so hopefully there will be a map inside to narrow down the search a little.

Your group approaches the building sticking to the shadows and attempting to make as little noise as possible. Miosgunn further covers your approach with visual illusions and a few noise dampening spells.

Outside of the entrance to the library sit a dozen or so crooked creatures babbling in an unknown language. From where you are standing you think they are all blind but you can not be sure. Miosgunn identifies them as the same beasts he saw earlier in the center of the city. The Doctor projects a phantom noise on the other side of the street and the creatures race off in search of its origins. You slip into the building before they return and Amena orders Ithapi to begin fortifying the entrance while you head over to what you assume to be the librarian's office and begin looking for a map.

The office is a mess but a couple quick Sort spells improve the situation a bit and after several more minutes of searching you come across a map.

"Alright, here we go..." you cough a little from the dust as you pull out the blueprints for the building. "Amena, what exactly do we know about this incantation?"

The girl steps forward, looks at the map and replies, "Not much I am afraid, it could be a tome or a scroll or a tablet, the records I have come across do not record such information. It would likely be in a secure location through given its value."

"I am not so sure," interjects Doctor Miosguinn, speaking for the first time since you left Eris' tower, "It seems likely that the importance of the incantation was not known at the time or it would be in the palace library or the vaults. I suspect it will probably be buried in the general stacks, probably in a section dealing with history or theology."

Rubbing your chin, you add, "It is also possible that the librarians did not tell anyone, half of them were also mages and it may be that they simply "forgot" to inform their superiors or "lost" the incantation before it could be sent on. It would not surprise me if the head librarian kept it for personal study."

"What is that?" Brigit asks, pointing at the map.

Written in old Bruig are the words basement and storage so that is what you explain to her, "That is the entrance to the basement, Brigit, it might be down there given how much just gets thrown into storage without close inspection so it is something to consider."

Gareth, and Ithapi have no real ideas to add when it comes to finding the incantation. However, Gareth suggests that someone stays to secure the exit in case a quick escape has to be made. He also suggests that everyone travel at least in pairs to minimize the risks posed by shadows or other threats.

It is already rather late in the day so your group secures the librarian's office in order to get some rest, tomorrow you will have to search the library for the incantation, hopefully it will all go off without a hitch.

-------------------------------------------

You have a choice on what you will try to accomplish during the evening and on how you want to search the building. Keep in mind that all of your party have the basic literacy skills necessary to find the incantation with the exception of Ithapi, but only you, Miosguinn and Amena really know what you are looking for.


1. How do you want to spend your time in the evening:

a)There is not a lot of room to practice combat skills but Gareth could teach you a thing or two about leading others into battle, tactics, and how to command others.

b)Brigit is playing with a little puzzle box in the corner, when you ask her about it she explains that it helps her focus and improved her finger-work. She offers to let you try it if you want.

c)Despite traveling with the doctor for several days now you have not had an opportunity to talk. You could try to open a proper dialogue with the man and if you are successful may learn a few things about magic or history if you pay attention.

d)You hate being in the dark about Eris' motivations. Perhaps you could try talking to Amena who is currently bossing Ithapi around. Maybe the apprentice will reveal details that her master left out. Given Brigit's fairly high opinion of you and easy way with people she may be willing and able to help you with this.

e)You do not want to bother with these people. You will meditate on the nature of magic. Since you can not go anywhere you may as well practice your magical theory some more in an attempt to gain greater control over your spells.

f)Want to do something else? Name it.


2. Gareth recommends leaving one team at the door to secure it, Gareth and Ithapi are the least useful when it comes to searching so they volunteer. But would you rather have three groups searching instead?

a) Gareth and Ithapi guard the exit

b) No one guards the exit, you form three teams instead.


3. With morning the search begins and for safety sake you stay in pairs. Who do you want to travel with (naturally if 2a is chosen Gareth and Ithapi can not be chosen)?

a)Gareth: muscle and a bit of brains, best of both worlds

b)Brigit: competent, silent and resourceful she would be a definite asset

c)Miosguinn: he knows the most about magic of anyone here, better keep him close.

d)Amena: perhaps you can win the girl over... at any rate an extra set of knowledgeable eyes would help

e)Ithapi: not one for conversation but you may need the muscle


4. You look over the map and spot a number of locations where the incantation may be, where do you want to search.?

a)Rare book room: where all the most valuable tomes are kept

b)Artifact room: if it is a tablet it will probably be here

c)Main Stacks - Ancient History: the incantation would be fairly old so it might be filed here

d)Main Stacks - Theology, Planar: given its connection to Planar theory this may be the resting place of the incantation

e)Head Librarian's Office - Maybe the Head Librarian kept it close to hand

f)Basement - There are always secrets in the basement, they are not always good though...


5. Assign locations for the other team(s). (If you pick 2a then choose one, if you pick 2b then choose two.)

The way this will work is that Derryth's team gets first pick so if 4a wins then 5a is removed as a option and the next highest location is picked.

a)Rare book room: where all the most valuable tomes are kept

b)Artifact room: if it is a tablet it will probably be here

c)Main Stacks - Ancient History: the incantation would be fairly old so it might be filed here

d)Main Stacks - Theology, Planar: given its connection to Planar theory this may be the resting place of the incantation

e)Head Librarian's Office - Maybe the Head Librarian kept it close to hand

f)Basement - There are always secrets in the basement, they are not always good though...

The Circle name vote is still open, I will probably close it with the next update, choices are currently:

a) Graceless Ones/The Graceless: 2 (3) votes

b) Inept Ones/The Inept: 2 (3) votes

c) The Circle of the Lost/The Lost: 8 votes
 

Interlude 1: In the Hands of a Master

Had a bit of free time so I knocked out an "Interlude" while we wait for the votes to come in and the tie(s) to be resolved. I can not guarantee an actual update for about the next 72hrs and I did not want to leave the CYOA without an update for almost a whole week so here you go. If I do wind up having time I will try to give some sort of warning before I close the polls.

Interlude 1: In the Hands of a Master

She dreams; of power, of glory and magical might.

She dreams; of riches and fortune and a noble title.

She dreams; of love and romance and a very strange hat?

She awakes; and is met with her reality.

Trapped in the fortress of an otherworldly sorceress, alone save for a child and two fools, waiting for her promised glory and riches and a better future. Though at this point any future would be good enough for her. She knows all too well that the only likely reward for her efforts is death.

As this knowledge begins to settle around her, a shroud over her mind's eye, dimming all of her hopes and dreams she thinks back to what Derryth always says, "Dwelling on our certain demise will just drive us mad. Take something small, something you can change and focus on it. One thing at a time, one step at a time, this way you will reach your goals."

Such thoughts give a person strength, there are things she can do while she waits, things she can change, which will improve their chances of survival dramatically. Today she would set one of these changes in motion. She gets to her feet and begins to dress, drawing her brush through her raven black hair she turns to face herself in the mirror, "Alright Thaïs, let us go talk some sense into the boys."

--------------------------------------------

He sits in the main hall, in a high backed chair too large for his frail frame. He is reading when Thaïs enters the room, one of his medical texts. He is one hell of a doctor and if she can convince him to help Tyrvard the Berserk's condition should improve overnight.

"Good morning Serpent," she chooses a light and sweet tone to begin.

"Umm good morning Thaïs," the physician replies without making eye contact.

Good he is still embarrassed over his actions yesterday, this should not be too difficult. It is just a matter of figuring out an angle of attack.

Her tone shifts slightly, still sweet but now with a commanding undercurrent, "Well Serpent how is our patient doing?"

"I.. well I have not checked on him yet... I mean I had intended to do it but..."

She takes his book from him and sets it on a nearby table, returning to him and taking his hands in hers she continues, "Serpent, you have a gift, a marvelous and unique gift and we need your help. Derryth needs your help, I need your help and Tyrvard needs your help and you are the only one that can get him back on his feet. Please Serpent, help him."

She stares into his eyes, acting in every way the distressed damsel, the physician stammers out a response, "He... he will not accept my help. Even... even if I offered it too him he is too much like the fools back home... he judges me, just as they all judged me."

Well now that is an interesting piece of information. Thaïs rolls this new tidbit around in her head, getting a taste of the possibilities it opens up. After but a few moments she carefully selects her avenue of attack.

There is no point pushing him too hard now, he may break which would be a shame. However he may just be vulnerable enough right now that she can move to the heart of the matter.

"Serpent, what makes you think that Tyrvard judges you? He is not a Gowerman, he served up and down the stretch of the Cloudspine mountains and I think if you make the attempt he will be open to dialogue."

"He is a barbarian Thaïs, he is a wolf, he is like them I know it!"

Well a bit of fire in the little guy yet, best to quickly extinguish it though.

With a disarming smile and a soothing tone she continues, "You are a scholar Serpent. You want to be a mage. But how can you call yourself either with such a closed mind? You have spent barely ten minutes with the man when you are not arguing over something."

She begins to pick up pace, her temper begins to flares as she speaks, building as she attempts to convince the physician, "What do you really know about the man? You have not tried to know him but I have. Do you know that he comes not from the Twelve Duns but from the islands of the North Sea? Do you know that he had a wife and children? That she was a herbalist and that they were happy together? That he left his homeland after her death and that the loss of her is what makes him drink? That he seeks an honourable death in battle to be reunited with her? Well?"

She begins to tear up as she recounts the horrible death of Tyrvard's wife at the hands of the Trow and Serpent is speechless. He had never thought of the Berserk as an actual person, just another barbarian like those who had tormented him. Shame wells up in his breast and he asks to be excused vowing to see Tyrvard this very day and to treat him to the best of his ability.

As Serpent leaves the room a smile slowly spreads across the woman's face. "One down, one to go," she hums a little tune as she goes to find Tyrvard.

-----------------------------------------------------

The northerner has set up camp in what was once the servants' quarters. When asked he says it gives him more room to practice. As Thaïs enters the room she realizes exactly what he meant. Tyrvard sits on one of the ancient tables drinking moonshine out of a large jug. His still must be somewhere nearby but she knows a search would be pointless, when it comes to his still Tyrvard takes no chances.

No sense playing the damsel with Tyrvard, the giant respect strength and a straightforward demeanour so Thaïs hops up next to him on the table and gestures for his jug, with the jug in hand she takes large swig. The Berserk gives her a wolfish grin as she knocks back the moonshine, he patiently waits for her to return the jug and begin speaking.

"Tyrvard, I want to talk to you about Serpent," Thaïs begins, thankfully her years of experience with different clients allows her to clearly understand the Berserk despite his accent and his slightly drunken slur.

"Why? What is he going to do to me today?" Tyrvard enquires with equal parts scorn and a certain morbid curiosity.

"Today, he is going to come treat you, a real treatment this time, and I am asking you to please let him," Thaïs takes the jug again and knocks back another mouth full.

"Now why in the name of your Emperor, would I do that? He damn near killed me with his last treatment. He is rotten, I will warn you now his name is a fitting one. That snake will always bite," Tyrvard snatches back the moonshine and drains the jug of its contents.

"Now Tyrvard, from what he tells me he had a rough time growing up in Gower..."

At the mention of Gower the Berserk nods and cuts her off, "Aye, Gower is no place for real men. Bunch a weak men pretending to be Berserks there. I can see why they would pick on someone different. None of them have any confidence..."

Oh, this is almost too easy, the natural rivalry between the Berserks of the northern coast and those of Gower provides the perfect angle of approach.

"Right, so you can see why he turned out the way he did. Why I imagine if he had only had a proper role model growing up. Someone that could teach him how to be a proper Berserk..." she just sort of lets the idea hang in the air and slowly but surely he picks up on it.

"Perhaps I can teach the boy how to be a proper Berserk... but what should I start with?" The look of profound distress that crosses the man's face almost makes her smile but she holds out.

With a straight face she lays out a few more breadcrumbs for the warrior to follow, "Well he has a great knowledge of herbs and potions, perhaps he could help you with your still?"

Jumping to he feet, Tyrvard bellows this victory of imagination to the heavens, "That is a brilliant idea! When he comes to visit I will suggest just that. I will make a proper Berserk of him even if it kills me!"

Well this should be interesting if nothing else, if they can just get through the next day or two without arguing then everything should be resolved by the time Derryth returns. Maybe she really will get that raise, hell by the time this is over Derryth may just owe her an actual partnership.

Thaïs hops down from the table and heads for the door as the Berserk begins pacing, trying to come up with his very first lesson. As she reaches the door a bright smile appears on her face and she remembers one last detail.

"Oh Tyrvard," the Berserk turns to face her as she continues, "I may have told Serpent that you had a dead wife and kids, you know to get him out here..."

The Berserk at first is deeply confused by this information but gradually that wolfish smile returns to his face, "Well that is something Thaïs, you are a great mage already. You give me a whole family and kill them off in the course of a conversation. Was my wife at least beautiful?"

Thaïs returns his grin, "Gorgeous of course, she was a herbalist and the Trow killed her. Just break the truth to him slowly and feel free to blame me for it. He really is a nice young man Tyrvard, he has just had it rough is all."

The massive Berserk smiles and nods, he assures her that he will try his best for her.

With a wink and a nod she opens the door and disappears into the hallway. She can hear Serpent outside in the courtyard as she slips into a side room to avoid him. As he knocks and enters Tyrvard's quarters she gets comfortable with a small tome, she will have to be on hand for these first few "play dates" in case anything goes wrong but after that who knows.

With a happy sigh she repeats Derryth's words, "Take something small, something you can change and focus on it. One thing at a time, one step at a time, this way you will reach your goals," sitting in the gloom of the ancient building she hums a cheerful tune to herself and opening her little tome she takes another small step towards her goals.
 

Chapter 4: The Incantation?

Okay, this ran a bit long but it is finally done... whew. The choices at the end may have gotten a bit Byzantine but I prefer to give you options so here you go.

Chapter 4: The Incantation?

"So what's the plan boss?" Gareth sits next to you in one corner of the librarian's office.

Every now and then he steals a glance at Brigit when he thinks she is not looking. She sits cross-legged, the very picture of innocence, playing with her mystery cube across the room. As you sit there you have to grin as she quickly glances up and you realize that she is doing the exact same thing as well.

"Well, we have to search the library. I need you and our large friend to guard our escape while the rest of us search the building for this damn inscription," you sigh and rub your temples, "I will take Brigit up to the Head Librarian's office to look for leads and Miosguinn can take Amena to search the planar theory section, I want to know a bit more about what this ritual will do."

"You sure that is a good idea?" the veteran scratches the back of his head and gives the rogue a sidelong glance, "I mean can we really trust either of them alone?"

You don't tell him that you do not really trust any of them yet; instead you nod and continue, "Well the way I see it Miosguinn is just as dependent on us as we are on him. He will not betray us if it will get him killed as well and he has been nothing but an asset so far. As for the girl we know nothing about her and I think it is time to do a little investigating."

Gareth laughs at that, "Sorry boss, but you are not the most sociable person I have ever seen. You're as likely to piss her off as to win her over, nah scratch that you will definitely piss her off."

"Well fuck you too then," you mumble grumpily before a sly grin spreads across your face, "Actually I was thinking of asking your girlfriend to help me out."

You remember once seeing a beet in the south of the Province, damn thing was the deepest red you have ever seen, almost purple even. Right now though Gareth is giving that beet a run for its money.

The blushing warrior finally manages to stammer out a reply, "M.. m.. my girlfriend?" You gesture to Brigit who notices you both staring and gives you a friendly wave.

"Uh... yeah, Brig.. Brigit is great with people, has an easy charm to her like she won't judge you no matter what you have done..." Gareth just sort of trails off, you should probably change subjects before he bursts a blood vessel.

You ask him a few questions about what sort of defenses will be needed to secure the front door. The poor man begins to breathe again as he answers you, his analytical mind turning to the comforting task of confronting hordes of hostile monsters. Another ten minutes roll by and he has a whole plan of battle set out in case of attack, you bid him good night and go to check up on Brigit.

"Hey, Brigit," you wave to the girl as you approach. You wonder if you should not help things along a little between them, would be good for morale and you will probably all die down here anyway. Also if you give her good news she will be more likely to help out, at least that is what you tell yourself.

"Oh, hi Derryth. I was just workin on this puzzle box. Wanna try?" she holds the box up for you to examine it, "I am just not havin much luck tonight."

"Well, I can imagine it is difficult to solve if you spend half your time looking at Gareth."

She lets out a small gasp as her face flushes; you continue, "Kid I will give you a tip, if you want something in life you have to just take it. Let the guy know, I can pretty much guarantee that he feels the same way."

She beams at you and jumps up giving you a hug, "I will go talk to him right away."

You catch her arm as she tries to move past you, "Don't suppose you could hold off for a few hours? I need your help with something first, but after that I will make sure the two of you are not interrupted."

She hesitates for just a moment before agreeing, "Good, I want to find out what is going on with Eris and Amena is the best lead we have, but-"

She cuts you off, "But you are afraid you will screw it up," she gives you a big grin.

You frown, why does everyone just assume you will fail to win her over?

You grumble, "You know what, you and Gareth are perfect for each other, you're both assholes," she laughs and gives you another hug to cheer you up and the two of you head over to one of the side rooms where Amena is bossing Ithapi around.

When she sees you enter the room a frown momentarily crosses her face but it disappears as Brigit pushes past you and introduces herself to Amena. With Brigit present to keep the conversation moving in the right direction the three of you quickly fall into an easy and natural conversation as Ithapi takes a nap in the corner.

Turns out the girl has spent almost her entire life in the tower with Eris and tales of the outside world intrigue her greatly. After a few hours of regaling her with tales of your daring exploits, suitably embellished by Brigit, you feel the girl may just be open to telling you more about her mistress.

"Amena, I was wondering how exactly you came to live with Eris?"

At the question Amena tenses up a little but Brigit comes to the rescue, "Please Amena, you don't have ta tell us anything secret but we would really like to get ta know ya better. Ya know so we can become friends and all."

An idea pops into the rogue's head and she turns to you, "Oh I know maybe she can join our Circle when Eris leaves! Please Derryth," Brigit pleads and it looks like Amena is very interested in what you will say. You are not quite sure whether this is an act or a legitimate request, either way it is a definite "in" with Amena so you make some generally positive if noncommittal comments, just enough for Brigit to work with.

"Oh I know, we can have a proper interview and everything," she hops up and drags over a small desk and three chairs, she motions for Amena to sit on one side of the table while the two of you sit on the other. Ithapi opens one eye at all the noise before giving the three of you a dismissive snort and going back to sleep.

Brigit grabs a piece of board and some paper and begins to write, "Name please."

"Umm.. Amena, but you already know that," replies the slightly befuddled apprentice.

"Place of residence?" Brigit continues in her best "professional" tone.

"The umm... actually the tower does not have a name..." the poor girl looks quite confused and a bit uncomfortable by all of this so you decide to step in.

"Actually Brigit, maybe you should go talk to Gareth, I should be able to handle this interview from here," Amena looks quite relieved when Brigit agrees, hops up and skips towards the door. On the way she gives you a quick wink, the archer has given you an opportunity, now you just have to exploit it.

"So Amena how about you just tell me about yourself and what you can do, I won't pry too much, I promise," you give her a disarming smile and it seems that her earlier distrust of you is largely gone.

She fidgets a little, "Well, my earliest memories are of the tower and my mistress. She scared me as a child but she was in every way a mother to me. She gave me my education in manners, and the proper skills of a servant. She fed me, and clothed me and protected me from the shadows and the other dark things and as I grew older she brought me Ithapi to be my guardian and minder."

When you ask about him she gestures at the sleeping maul, "He is sworn to loyal service by the laws of his people and he has been nothing but kind to me through the eight years I have known him. Eris saved him from the shadows when he was but a maulet and she raised him to be my guardian and to aid me in my exploration of the ruins."

"So the shadows were already present when you were a child?"

"Yes, they have always hated me and my mistress. They are death made manifest and mistress constantly warned me against leaving the rune paths when I was younger. In fact this is the farthest I have ever been from my mistress, I am in truth a little scared."

"So then this incantation we are looking for must be awfully important to your mistress to risk such a charming apprentice?"

"Yes, it is very important, she needs it to go home and a whole circle of mages to help her cast it. I..." she hesitates for a moment," I do not know what it does, I think it is a spell to locate her world but I will not know till I see it. She is very happy to be returning home but she says I can not go with her. She says I would not survive her world, she says that she loves me and worries about me... I... I do not know if I should believe her... I... I just worry you know?"

You know exactly how that feels, in fact you are having trouble thinking of the last time you did not worry, about your choices, your allies, your friends perhaps, but it is sad to see such worry written on the face of one so young. You decide to change topics, it is clear that she will not just betray her mistress but she may know something else that may be useful.

"You are Eris' apprentice but the Fetch are all priestesses, how did she teach you magic?"

Her face brightens a little at this, a topic near and dear to her heart, "Oh, the tower has all sorts of books on magic, and history, and theology, and all sorts of things really. She would let me study them when I was done with my chores. My mistress kept the most powerful ones out of reach so I could not hurt myself and the rest was just hard work and patience. With nowhere to go and nothing much to do I read a lot."

The two of you spend the better part of the evening talking about magic and you even show her a few basic spells, Sort, Polish, even Create Fire. Nothing truly dangerous but helpful nevertheless. As you teach the kid she gradually warms up to you and in return she shows you how to create shadow repelling runes of light and how to use them to locate the hidden rune paths. You will need to practice it to really get much benefit from the spell but the ability to push back shadows will be quite useful down here.

With a warm smile you move to adjourn your little magical conference, "Well Amena I will run your application by the rest of the Circle when we get back but I will say it looks good, and I would personally love to have you join the Circle," you are not sure yourself whether or not you are lying to her, you may yet end up fighting her after all. Still no point in alienating her, and if she thinks she has a future with the group maybe she will choose you over her mistress... maybe.

As you head back to the side room you are sharing with Brigit you find the door barred, Miosguinn chimes in with an amused look on his face, staring at you over the top of a tome he is reading, "Your friend took the soldier in there a couple hours ago, I doubt they will be out till morning." He promptly goes back to ignoring you.

Great, well you will just have to use Gareth's bedding tonight. As you head over to where you last saw his pack Miosguinn speaks up again without raising his eyes from his book, "He took his things with him I am afraid. Looks like you are on the ground tonight..." and of course the old mage does not offer you his bedroll, chivalry truly is dead.

You mumble to yourself, something about "ungrateful assholes" and "docking their pay" as you pull a couple benches together and attempt to get some sleep. It is the worst night's sleep you have had in years...

-------------------------------------------------------

"So spill it kid, it better have been worth it," you rub your sore back as you and Brigit climb the stairs to the third floor and the Head Librarian's office.

"There is nothing to tell, we just talked..." she trails off a certain dreamlike quality to her voice.

"Not for almost eight hours you didn't," you cut in, you feel horrible and the idea that you suffered for nothing is driving you near to rage, "If I suffered for nothing-"

She does not let you finish, "We talked and he held me and it was beautiful Derryth, I can not thank you enough," she stops you on the second floor landing and gives you another hug.

You ignore her, warming to the subject a little you continue, "I swear kid, if you are not lying then the two of you wasted a perfect opportunity. Frankly I am a bit disgusted with both of you right now," you look over your shoulder and give her a grin.

Two stairs behind you she pokes you in the back and with a light laugh starts in on you, "Why do you keep calling me a kid anyway, there is like five years tops separating us?"

"It is as much a state of mind as anything else kid, those five years were spent in crypts and bars and libraries," you shudder at the thought of the libraries, glad that Miosguinn and Amena are suffering through the stacks instead of having to do it yourself, "Those five years represent experience, maturity, wisdom, kid maybe some day you will-"

You stop in mid-sentence as an arrow flies right over your head and skewers a three foot millipede that was attempting to ambush you. Seems that Brigit is paying just a bit more attention than you are, she grins at you, "Umm thanks Brigit," she gives you a nod and the two of you continue up the stairs.

"So what are we looking for anyway?"

"Not the faintest idea, it will be magical so we should be able to sense it if we get close enough and it will probably be in old Bruig but beyond that I will know it when I see it. Oh and before I forget do not touch anything without asking, some mages like to booby-trap their hordes and not all of the traps are physical in nature."

Fifteen minutes later the two of you are in the librarian's office, "Well let's have a look, shall we."

Everything looks fairly standard but then a mage would not leave their best items out in the open anyway. You check under the rug for trap doors, you check the draws of the librarian's desk for switches, you try the bookshelves and the busts, the lighting fixtures and the chair legs, nothing absolutely nothing... and then you see it, a small hole in the back wall. It may be a vault perhaps but how to open it, "Brigit, want to take a look at this hole, any ideas on how to open it?"

"Good thing you brought me along, I can have this open in no time," Brigit examines the hole and reaches into her pack, she pulls out a metal cylinder and presses it against the hole, the cylinder opens and a semi-solid liquid pours into the lock, with a word it solidifies.

With a confident smile she turns to you, "See us kids are good for something after all old lady," she immediately turns the handle before you can tell her to wait.

Instinctively you grab her and dive out of the way as a bolt of magic tears across the room and burns a hole in the far wall.

Lying on the floor next to you she gives you a sheepish smile, "Umm thanks Derryth."

You grin, "No problem, now we are even. So want to loot an arcane vault?"

"Do I!" she replies, all excitement and irrepressible energy.

"Ok, but be careful and no grabbing anything magical unless I say it is ok."

The vault is full of magical items, and you find what you think is your prize on the top shelf at the back. It is a small tablet covered in Old Bruig, and it is definitely a powerful planar spell but you will need to examine it further to be sure. Maybe Miosguinn will have some ideas as well. You slip the tablet into your pack and turn to see Brigit attempting to leave with a handful of magical items. As she strides confidently to the doorway she walks right into an invisible barrier and falls to the ground, blue runes appear around the door.

"What was that?" she asks as she shakily gets to her feet.

"Well based on the writing over the door there the room is sealed," you get closer to the runic inscription to continue reading, finally you turn back to Brigit, "Ok, looks like we can remove three items without setting off the barrier. It is actually an ingenious system to prevent large scale robberies while still allowing the mage to take out specific pieces."

Brigit looks a bit disappointed that she can not take everything, "Any way to disable the runes Derryth?"

You rub your chin and put a hand on your hip, "Hmm... if I had the time, Miosguinn and I could probably bypass it but it would take a few days at least and I don't really trust Eris to leave our people unharmed that long. We may be able to come back after we help Eris but who knows what could happen between now and then."

She nods, accepting the limitations, "Well alright then, I want this bow that shoots fire arrows. I am almost out of regular arrows after all those shadows, after all."

Okay, with Brigit's bow and the incantation that makes two. You can take one more item with you, surveying the room you eventually settle on an item to grab and with that the two of you return to camp.

When you return you are greeted with two types of news, bad and terrible. Seems Miosguinn and Amena ran into some trouble in the main stacks, they were attacked by a horde of overgrown arachnids and Amena was bitten by a spider before Miosguinn's calls for help attracted Ithapi to chase them away. She has a slight fever and for some reason refuses to be left alone with Miosguinn, she might be slightly delusional. Gareth has been treating her but he could definitely use a hand to cure her.

You give her the once over and improve on some of Gareth's treatments but he did a good job. She will be fine to walk and Ithapi can carry her if need be but she will not be casting for a few hours at least. Seems the two of them were not able to find anything before the spiders attacked them.

You have Miosguinn examine the tablet, sure enough it is the incantation you are looking for. It is not a full spell, instead it is used to locate another plane of existence and provide an anchor to actually open a gate. Eris must need it to find the "address" of her dimension, it really is her ticket home. Of course this means she must know the actual spell to open a gate already, and if you give her the incantation she could always return to your world. It may not be a good idea to let her return to her people after all, can you really trust the Fetch?

In addition Gareth has another problem to report.

"Seems we were right to guard the doorway, some of those sightless creatures tried to force their way in an hour ago. There were about a dozen of them and we broke them easily but they will probably be back and in greater numbers," the Veteran looks to you for direction.

Ok, choice time. Some of the choices are dependent on others but a request was made to properly plunder the library and I want to give you the opportunity to try. You have been gone two days, it will take one day to get back for those that are wondering.


1. You grabbed an item from the vault, what was it?

A. A glowing blue sword with lightning bolts etched into the hilt and blade.

B. A large round shield made of gold, it has a stylized depiction of a Fetch on it. When Brigit accidentally pointed it at you, you felt terrified.

C. A large black book, bound in dyed human flesh. Thing gives you the creeps but radiates power.

D. A collection of scrolls written in old Bruig, you recognize the symbol of the Heron Guard upon them, looking at them gives you a sense of calm and serenity.

E. An old but plain map written in old Bruig with a small notebook. The notes claim that the book leads to the resting place of one of Wyrd's Dreams. Surprisingly you think it may be genuine.

F. A little blue stone, an attached note claims that it allows the user to indefinitely breathe under water.

H. A tablet in a language you can not read, attached notes suggest it may be of Callieach origins but that can't be right, can it?

I. Some sort of gold cup, probably not good for much right?


2. Stay or Go, you need to commit yourself now. (If you pick 2A then pick two choices from 3, if you pick 2B then pick a choice from 4)

A. Stay; you want that treasure, consequences be damned

B. Leave; monsters outside, a wounded kid, and an impatient Fetch, best to leave for now


3. If you stay who does what? Derryth and Gareth will choose parties to the best of their abilities but what should be their focus? (Pick two)

A. Focus on getting the vault open

B. Focus on searching the rest of the Library for more treasure

C. Focus on defending the front door

D. Focus on something else, freeform


4. If you go there are a few options to pursue.

A. Go out the front door, you may have to fight your way past the creatures.

B. The map notes the location of a side exit on the other side of the building, you could try to use it.

C. The map also notes an exit through a passage in the basement level, it would probably let you avoid the creatures entirely.


5. Now that you have the damn thing what do you intend to do with it. You probably will not have much time to figure this out when you get back so it is better to have this all sorted out now.

A. Honour your end of the deal, give the incantation to Eris.

B. Honour your deal but do not let Eris learn the incantation, she won't like trusting you but you will not give her the ability to return and she will have to live with it.

C. Destroy the incantation, you can not risk her betraying you.

D. Corrupt the incantation and dump her out in the space between the stars where dark things will consume her and her secrets.

E. Honour your deal but corrupt the tablet just in case; if she agrees to let you cast it then proceed as in B, if she refuses then default to D (hopefully you can remember the exact incantation from memory as you will not be able to use the tablet to cast the real spell)

F. Other, freeform


6. With Amena temporarily incapacitated now would be the perfect time to kill her and Ithapi, but after getting to know her last night do you really want to murder them?

A. Yes, we must deprive Eris of every asset we can.

B. No, the kid is not an enemy and you will not just go around murdering people.
 

Chapter 5: Going Home

Chapter 5: Going Home

"So boss, what's the call? Stay or Go?" Gareth is speaking to you but you are hardly listening... your mind is somewhere else, in a bar far away over a decade ago...

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"Alright Derryth, repeat my three rules of dungeon delving," you sit in a run down little tavern in the south of the Province, Henry is across from you and like usual is testing you. But this time it is important, tomorrow you will accompany him on your very first expedition.

You take a deep breath and begin, "One: always know your exits, if you get lost you are as good as dead. Two: always go prepared, an empty canteen or bad equipment will kill you just as surely as the undead or the traps."

"Good... good, and the last," nothing pleases the old man more than knowing that you are paying attention, if you get this last one right he will probably pay for your drinks too.

You hesitate for a moment and then continue, "Umm... Three: never get greedy, you can always try again and there are plenty of relics out there but you only have the one life."

Henry positively beams at you, "Good job kid I may just make you into a professional after all!"

Sure enough, Henry paid for all the drinks that night and the two of you set out the next morning...

--------------------------------------

Wyrd, you miss the old man...

Gareth is staring at you, looks like he expects an answer, "We are leaving, the relics will still be here later but I am not risking your lives for a few more trinkets."

The veteran nods in approval, seems he agrees with your decision, "Right boss, I will get everyone moving," he spins on his heels and with a confident stride marches off barking orders.

You pack up your possessions, ensuring that the old map is properly secured in a scroll case you keep for emergencies. If this thing is what you think it is, then it could be your ticket to magical power and glory beyond your wildest dreams but it will not be terribly useful down here.

Fifteen minutes later everyone is ready to depart, you decide to slip out the side exit of the building to avoid any potential ambushes by the sightless horrors.

You are the last to leave and as you step though the exit you hear a crash from across the library, something large has just forced its way through the front door...

It is screaming in rage...

--------------------------------------

Your group slips out into the city avoiding a few patrols, thanks in no small part to Miosguinn's enchantments, before you re-enter the section of the city held by the shadows.

Amena guides you to the nearest rune path and you begin to cast but you are not alone, the shadows are aware of your presence and they are closing in around you. They move far to quickly. Brigit using her new bow begins to thin them out but there are simply too many to fight. You will have to try and cast the spell Amena taught you.

It is difficult at first but Amena guides you through it. She tells you to take a happy memory, or a dream, or a hope for the future and to focus on it. The warmth of it, the light of it, the shape and sound and feel of it and to project that happy thought, that sense of complete serenity out into the world around you. You stop and try to think of a memory, a face, something to cling to... and he comes to you...

You think of Henry and you cast...

----------------------------------------

"Who goes there?" a voice calls from over the tower's walls and a great shadow is cast against the light emanating from the tower.

Sounds like Tyrvard and he has been drinking again.

"Tyrvard? Its me Gareth, we're back! Open the damn door I don't know how much Derryth has left in her!"

The Berserk moves with a predatory quickness and grace and a moment later the doors open as your group runs inside. You can finally stop casting as you collapse against the wall. It was a trial by fire but you have mastered Amena's rune spell, the girl makes it look so easy but it is incredibly draining maintaining a connection with the rune paths.

"Haha, I knew it! Serpent doubted, but I knew a couple monsters would not claim my friends!" the Berserk has embraced Gareth and Brigit, one under each arm and is in the process of suffocating them when he spots you against the wall. Dropping them he runs over and scoops you up, swinging you through the air, "And our brave leader returns as well, this is a good day! Come Derryth have a drink with me!"

"Ah... Tyrvard... can't... breathe..." you are on the verge of blacking out as you swing through the air.

By the time he finally returns you to your feet Serpent and Thaïs have arrived.

"Derryth!" Thaïs rushes forward and throws her arms around you while Serpent takes your hand and clasps you on the shoulder. Seems they are happy to see you as well though you do wonder if it is genuine happiness or if they are merely relieved that you did not abandon them.

"It is good to see you both as well. Serpent could you please take a look at Amena, she was bitten by some sort of spider and anything you can do would be appreciated, Miosguinn can probably give you more details..." you turn, looking for Miosguinn, but he has already left to find his apprentice.

Serpent leads Amena and Ithapi away to properly check the girl, you have little doubt that she will be fine with such a skilled physician on hand.

The rest of your group heads to Tyrvard's quarters for a drink, when you arrive you find it in an even worse state than when you left. Half of the wooden structure has burnt down and collapsed and Tyrvard has set up shop in the remaining rooms.

"Tyrvard, what in Wryd's name happened to the servants' quarters?" you feel compelled to ask as you marvel at the destruction.

"Ah, well Serpent has been helping me with my still. I think we are really on to something but well one of our experiments got a little out of hand... still it made for a great batch!"

Looks like Thaïs pulled it off but you can't have the two of them blowing things up, "Tyrvard, I don't care how good it was-"

The Berserk hands you a jug, and you cautiously take a sip.

Damn, you don't know what Serpent has done to it but it is about the best thing you have ever tasted. If this whole treasure hunting thing does not work out maybe your group can open a brewery instead...

Tyrvard and Thaïs just grin at you, you stand there rendered speechless by the divine nectar in your mouth so Gareth decides to pick up where you left off, "Tyrvard, Derryth is right we can not have you-" you hand him the jug and he takes a sip.

All talk of shutting down Tyrvard's experiments ends right there...

-------------------------------------

Two days have passed since you returned with the incantation and Eris has remained locked in her quarters the entire time. This morning Amena finally gained admittance, it seems her mistress will be ready to see you this evening. But first an important decision must be reached.

"Amena, are you ready to hear the answer of this august body?" Thaïs is doing her best impression of a great archmage as your group stands behind a table in one of the side halls. Amena stands before you fidgeting.

You have gathered the Circle together to pass judgement on the girl, you had just wanted to tell her straight away but Thaïs and Brigit insisted on something a bit more spectacular for her first time.

The room is dimly lit and you all wear robes taken from one of the supply rooms in the tower. Brigit has stitched little stars and moons on them and they do not look half bad... from a distance... if you squint...

Brigit chimes in, in an ominous voice, "Are you ready to join the Circle of the Lost? To swear to uphold the traditions of this Circle and follow its laws?"

Amena definitively looks a bit intimidated by it all which brings a slight smile to your face. But this is getting to be a bit much, you give Amena a wink and interject, "Why the hell, are we called the Lost again?" you turn to Serpent, "Is this some sort of jab at my leadership?"

Serpent laughs, glad that someone else thinks this is completely stupid, "Hell you should have heard some of the other suggestions. Miosguinn wanted to call us the Inept," Brigit grunts at the reminder while Serpent turns to Thaïs, "Hey Thaïs, what was Tyrvard's suggestion yesterday?"

Thaïs coughs uncomfortably, "The... ah, Babylonian Whore Queens I believe..."

You have to chuckle at that, "What in the name of Wyrd is a Babylonian?"

Thaïs laughs, "Even he did not know, when the man drinks he comes up with the oddest things. It is like he is channelling another consciousness or something."

As the conversation continues Brigit attempts to reassert control, "We have ta finish the ceremony people!"

"Alright," you turn to Amena, "Kid you're in, if you ask nicely Brigit will even make you one of these robes. Now who wants a drink?"

Brigit sticks her tongue out at you but it is impossible for her to stay mad for long.

Amena is beaming, you don't think you have ever seen her smile so wide. She gives you all a hug and runs off to tell Ithapi, which reminds you, "Hey, what are we going to do with Ithapi?"

"What do you mean, we take him with us of course," Brigit answers, it seems she has not thought through the repercussions of walking around with a Maul in the empire.

Serpent takes a moment to consider your question before speaking, "I don't know, Mauls fought for the Dark in the last war, having him around may cause problems for us."

Brigit pouts, "But Ithapi hasn't done anything wrong, why should we abandon him."

You try and sooth her a little, "Kid I am not saying we just cut him loose or anything but we have to take into account that people will treat us differently if we have a Maul around, they may not trust us..."

Brigit grins, "We're mages Derryth, they aren't going to trust us anyway. Might as well do the right thing, ya know?"

Seems Thaïs is inclined to agree with Brigit, "He would be a very useful ally and he is completely loyal to Amena. It would not be unprecedented, the Mauls are not inherently evil and both the Warlocks and the Trow fought against us in the Great War but Alric recognizes the Warlocks and word is he is attempting to open diplomatic relations with the Trow."

She makes a good point, "Well it is not something we have to worry about in the short term, let's go get a drink and then get ready for this damn ritual.."

-------------------------------------------

"Welcome back my esteemed guestsss" the Fetch is perched upon her throne with Amena and Ithapi to either side of her.

You stand in front of your group with the incantation in hand.

"It isss time for me to return home, you have my thanksss now please give me the incantation," she gestures for you to place the incantation in her outstretched hand but you are no fool.

"I am afraid we have a number of conditions first," you take a few dozen steps forward so that you are far enough away from the rest of your group.

If she loses her temper and fries you, you do not want everyone else to get hit as well. Of course it seems Thaïs is not getting the message as she remains right beside you as you march towards the throne.

Your refusal has definitely angered the priestess, she stands and raises her arm as if to cast a spell, "You have demandsss? I will give you everything and you have demandsss? I will crush you, I will fry you, I will-"

You stop her in mid sentence as you raise your hand holding the tablet to smash it. You do not raise your voice, instead you speak calmly and with purpose, "You will cooperate, is what you will do. You are not my enemy but you will not get what you want through threats. We will not give you the incantation. We, no I, will not give you the means to open gates to any world you please. You will tell us how you plan to clear the shadows from the tunnels, you will allow us to send you home and if you do not agree then my large friend over there will kill you. Do we understand one another, Erisss?" You stress the s in her name in mockery of the priestess. You look her in the eyes and prepare to be incinerated, Thaïs takes your hand.

She would speak but this is no time for diplomacy.

Both you and the priestess know exactly where you stand.

This is a question of will.

And Eris simply does not have that sort of strength in her.

She drops back into her throne, all of her bluster and fury spent. She is helpless and if a Fetch could weep you are certain she would.

After a moment of complete silence, she lets out a sort of cackle, "Very well human, I will tell you everything."

Eris places one gloved hand on her forehead and rubs her horns, "I do not have to do a thing. The shadowsss would leave their tunnelsss as soon as we start casting the ritual.... They are here for me and the fear that I might escape them will drive them to attack the tower."

The Berserk howls from the back of the hall, "She would betray us, let me cut her down Derryth!"

But you motion for him to be quiet as she continues to explain, "It is my belief that the wardsss will hold and that we will all be fine. I have spent the last week reinforcing the runesss to ensure that the shadowsss will not get past them."

"Why would you take such pains to protect us?" Thaïs asks.

"Not you, I honestly do not care if any of you live or die but I do not wish to see Amena harmed..." she trails off and refuses to make eye contact. You wonder if it is all a show for the girl's benefit or if perhaps Eris really does care for her "child".

"Amena, knowsss how to manipulate the runesss, she can guide you through the city to wherever you need to go. I simply ask that you take her with you, let her see her world, do not leave her in the dark."

"Why are the shadows after you Eris," she has piqued your curiosity, this is such an unusual mystery that you want, no you need, to hear her story.

The Fetch is beaten, she has very little left to hide and yet she hesitates, "Sixty yearsss ago when Balor lost his war and my sistersss and I were hunted by your kind I fled into the dark under Muirthemne with six of my sistersss and in the dark we found the former inhabitantsss of the city. I am sure you have seen them, the blind creaturesss that comb the ruins. At first they wanted to devour usss, but asss we slaughtered their war partiesss they came to see us asss godsss. My sistersss and I trained hundredsss of lesser talentsss amongst them using stolen spell booksss and led them in a grand ritual to open a gate to our world. But we... I... did not know then what I know now. Without an anchor to my world we opened a gate to the space between worldsss and we let something in... and it killed, and it ate, and it killed, and it ate, until it had its fill and then it slept."

"So the shadows are the victims of this thing then?" you inquire, a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

"Yesss, it killed my sistersss, and our followersss and the creaturesss took it for a god. They worship it and sacrifice to it and that wasss how I found Amena. She must have been stolen from the surface, I do not know why I saved her. Perhaps I wasss just so tired of being alone... and the rest I am sure Amena has told you already. The shadowsss hate me for I brought this thing into your world, I would say the only thing they hate more than me is the creature itself but it is protected by an entire colony of those creatures while I am alone..." it is more than a little pathetic as the Fetch weakly pleads with you, "Please, just send me home..."

Pity, self-interest, greed, who is to say why but you choose to help her and honour your deal, "Alright, but first I want Amena and Miosguinn to check the runes, we are going to be under siege while we do this and I do not want them to fail."

-----------------------------------------

Three hours later everything is set for the ritual, the eight of you stand in a circle as you lead the ritual. Tyrvard, Ithapi and Gareth have secured the inner doors and you have applied additional wards in case something goes wrong.

Reading from the tablet you cast your mind into the ether. You pass from this world into the spaces in between, walking a path of jagged, jade and rolling memories and premonitions. You can feel the dark, incomprehensible things watching you, waiting for a mistake to grant them entry into your world, they offer you everything you have ever craved and many things you did not even know you wanted. One of them offers you Henry back and you stop for just a moment.

Miosguinn's presence in the back of your mind steadies you as he whispers cautions though the connection between you. Thaïs, next to you, encourages you to push onward as the circle of mages pours power into you.

You have established the magical structures necessary to locate Eris' world. You reach out to her mind, cold, alien but strangely understandable and she gives you her memories of the place. After thirty minutes of casting you have the location and have anchored the spell there. The rest is up to Eris. You relinquish control of the circle to her as she begins to cast, drawing from the seven of you the power needed to open a gate to her world.

Outside, the world howls in rage as the shadows race towards the tower, Gareth shouts something to Tyrvard and you catch a word... thousands... but you must focus. To break the spell off now would kill half the circle instantly.

Twenty more minutes... at first you had worried that Eris would drain you of everything you had but she shows remarkable restraint, drawing from each only to the best of their abilities. Part of you marvels at her skill as she weaves the spells necessary to create the gate.

Quickly, without anyone really noticing it she opens a gate. It shimmers before you, shades of lavender and lilac. Once more you feel her in your mind, she is passing control of the gate off to you so that she may pass through and you can feel her gratitude. Unable to speak she merely smiles at Amena and steps though.

Eris is gone but you can all see her through the portal, she waves again, but she does not see... does not know that fifteen of her sisters stand behind her. Without any clothes, even the flayed skins of your fellow man, they truly are hideous.

You expect them to greet her but this is no welcoming party. Four of them restrain her while the fifth tears out her heart and the rest make for the portal. Amena screams and you unwind the magics holding the gate together before the spell fails or the Fetch can force their way through. You push the energy from the collapsing gate through to their side triggering a massive plum coloured explosion.

Eris was not your friend but for Amena's sake you hope you killed them all.

The child lies on the floor weeping.

It seems that you can't really go home again after all...

---------------------------------------

The shadows assaulted the walls for three days and nights, giving you time to teach everyone how to cast and maintain the runes and giving them a lot of practice to perfect them. You reflect upon the last week and all told things have gone very well for you, maybe too well in fact as you wonder when the other shoe will drop. The tower is yours, as are all of Eris' worldly possessions including the girl and her Maul bodyguard. Now you have some choices to make on what to do next.


1. The Tower: it is not actually all that useful to you at present but there are a number of things you could try based upon what you want to do with it:

A)Loot the Tower: The tower itself does not interest you and you could never hold it against an army of monsters by yourselves but you want to go through Eris' quarters, the library and the vault to see what kind of loot you can find.

B) Destroy the tower: Though Eris was fairly upfront with you she was still an evil sorceress, any treasure she has will also be corrupted and the tower is worthless. Better to just raze the whole thing and be done with it.

C) Keep the tower: you have been playing around with the runes a little and you think you may be able to develop a version that can keep everyone out of the tower except for those you choose. It would take the combined efforts of your whole Circle (meaning you would have to share) but it would make a decent secret stronghold for you all and it would allow you to search the tower completely at your leisure. (if you pick this option then vote for one of the options in choice two.)

D) Do something else with the tower. freeform


2. Get help from the Children: If you chose to keep the tower you could also try and get Miosguinn to cast some illusions on it. Again this would take the form of another ritual with your whole Circle but it would help hide the tower from enemies. They won't be able to even attack your wards if they can not find it after all. (If you picked 1c then pick one of the options.)

A) Yes, get Miosguinn to help improve the tower.

B) No, you do not trust the man enough to ask.


3. Your next destination: Well where do you want to go from here?

A) Back to the library. You still want the rest of the treasure.

B) To the monster colony. You will kill the abomination and lay the shadows to rest just like some sort of hero... hopefully...

C) Onward to the Stone. From the tower you will head back into the tunnels, now that you can activate the rune roads the shadows will not be a threat.

D) A Dwarven Quarter?: According to your maps the tower is quite close to the old city's Dwarven quarter. Dwarves always have the best equipment and it may be worth a look.

E)Run away! Who are you kidding, you will never get to the stone, return to the surface with your tail between your legs.... cowards...

F) Want to go somewhere else? Where? freeform


4. Ithapi: Do you want to get rid of the Maul or keep him.

A) Keep him. He is Amena's best friend and a definite asset, you will just deal with any problems that arise as they come up.

B) Leave him. Amena won't like it but he is a liability.

C) Kill him. Well he is a Maul after all...


5. Your Slaves: Amena and Ithapi are technically your slaves, do you want to do anything about that?

A)Nope, you have no problem with owning them

B)Set them Free, she is already part of your Circle and he is sworn to her service, they are not going anywhere and they would respect the move a lot.
 

Chapter 6: The Dwarven Quarter

Okay a fairly short update this time, some choices on how to go forward and I had Derryth ask Amena about the library...

Chapter 6: The Dwarven Quarter

"A little to the left... no, no that's too far... a little higher... good, good I think we are done here!" you stand outside the walls with Itahpi and Amena guarding you while Tyrvard and Gareth dangle Brigit out over the edge of the walls.

She is applying the last of your new wards. You, of course, are supervising; using a nice little brass spyglass you found in one of the studies while you were working.

"Alright people go get some rest!" you yell to the three figures on the wall, "We will meet you inside!"

It has been a long week but you have finally finished warding the tower. It took two days of experimentation with the shadow repelling runes but together your Circle managed to modify them to repel all intruders. There is now no way into the tower unless the wards are overcome and you can't help but smile at your handiwork.

Even Miosguinn was forced to admit that you do good work. Seems you may have really impressed the old man with this one and he has even warmed to you a bit. Not enough for you to actually trust him with your new tower though, no sense getting reckless after all.

"Mistress, are we ready to return to the tower now?" it took a couple days for Amena to recover but she has been fixed to your side since then, seems she takes her duty to you very seriously.

"Yeah kid, we are done here. It would take some serious magic to break into the tower now. You and Ithapi should make sure your things are in order since we will be heading out tomorrow."

The expressionless look plastered to Amena's face lifts as she realizes that you will be taking the Maul with you, "You mean Ithapi can come with us? Oh thank you mistress, thank you!"

The girl moves to give you a hug but stops herself, she is not sure how to conduct herself now that you are her master. While it was amusing the first dozen or so times it happened it is quickly becoming annoying.

Honestly you have no real use for a slave, let alone two, and it is time you did something about this, "Kid, we need to talk," as the three of you pass through the open gates you motion for Amena to follow you into the main building, "I don't suppose I need to say it but stick close Ithapi, I want to talk to you too."

The Maul is at first a little surprised that you are acknowledging his existence but with a deep bow he replies, "As you wish my mistress."

Once inside you begin, "This whole mistress nonsense is not going to work I am afraid."

"Mistress-" both Ithapi and Amena begin before you raise a hand to silence them.

"See this is what I am talking about, this just won't do. I don't want to be anyone's mistress. No there is only one solution to all this..."

The two of them have lowered their heads, you stop for a moment and wonder just what Eris did to them that they are so afraid of displeasing their owner.

You push such thoughts from your mind and continue, "Yes there is only one thing that I can do about all of this. I am setting you both free."

At the word free it is as if you have lifted a great weight off their shoulders, a thick veil from before their eyes, they raise their heads to look at you and you can see the look in their eyes; they are amazed, simply amazed...

Amena throws herself at you, tears of joy run down her face while the Maul scoops both of you up and begins dancing, singing what you can only assume is a song of his people. He is actually a much better singer than you would have thought, the rich bass tone of his voice ringing out within the hall.

The noise draws in the rest of your group and Tyrvard never one to back down from a challenge begins singing as well.

The rest of the day is spent in merrymaking, in song, in dance and with Tyrvard's special brew. Even Miosguinn has a drink and you think you even catch the apprentice humming before she notices you and a scowl quickly materializes on her face.

It is one of the best days you can remember having in, well forever and that night you sleep the sleep of the innocent and the inebriated...

------------------------------------------

"Wait, so we will not be continuing on to our destination?" Serpent is not terribly happy with your choice at the moment.

"Well Serpent, we are right next to the old Dwarven Quarter and we are treasure hunters so..." Brigit chimes in defending you, you are all gathered around your maps in the main hall and you have just revealed your next target to the group.

"But the Dwarven Quarter is out of our way," Gareth jumps in coming to the aid of Serpent, "We should use the runes that you all have learnt to go back through the tunnels."

It seems the group is split down the middle but you are confident you can convince them. While you originally were interested solely in the Dwarven artefacts you might find, your research into the area has uncovered a significant piece of information.

With a cough you once more seize control of the conversation, "Well everyone if you would let me finish I could explain to you why we are going to the Dwarven Quarter."

You pull out a second map which reveals the tunnels under the old city and one large tunnel running from the heart of the Dwarven Quarter to the Imperial Offices of the Smiths of Muirthemne within a stone's throw of your target.

"The Dwarves often did special work for the emperors, the sort of work that can not be delivered to the palace through the front door. If the tunnels are still intact we could shave maybe a week off our trip while avoiding the shadows, the creatures and that horror in the city and any imperial patrols around the old palace complex. So we will go over there, we will take a look around and grab any artefacts we may find and if the tunnels are open than great, if not we come back," you say it with such certainty that the group does not protest and Thaïs begins the process of strengthening your case.

By the time she is done everyone is on board with the plan and you begin packing up your supplies for the road. You give the tower one more check before sealing the front door and you are off to your destination. Your party of ten slipping through the ruins towards the old Dwarven Quarter.

---------------------------------------------

You sit in your usual place on the wagon, Thaïs to one side of you and now Amena to the other. You have spent the last hour trying to think of ways to discreetly ask her about what happened at the library and you have finally found the perfect moment to act.

The Children are both temporarily up front managing the shadow repelling wards, this is the best chance you have had in a week and you decide to capitalize on it.

You turn to her, "Kid, do you mind if I ask you a question?"

She gives you an innocent smile before responding, "Not at all mist- Derryth what did you wish to know?"

"What happened to you and Miosguinn in the library?" Thaïs is leaning in now, seems she wants to know as well.

Amena frowns, "I... we were in the stacks and he saw a tome he wanted... he grabbed it... it was black and had some sort of image on it but..." it is clear that she is not upset but rather is having trouble remembering what she saw or perhaps she simply does not wish to tell you.

She shakes her head and gives you a worried smile, "Sorry Derryth, I do not know. He grabbed a book and put it in his pack and while I was watching him we were attacked by a bunch of spiders. I should have been paying closer attention. He fought... yes he fought them off and then Ithapi arrived and brought me to Sir Gareth and the rest you know. If it had not been for Miosguinn I would probably be dead," she shudders.

"That's okay kid no need to dwell on it. If you remember anything I-"

Thaïs interrupts you, "We would like to know dear. Even if the detail seems small it could be important," seems she is concerned as well.

You look at her and she gives you a nod, you will have to talk about Amena later.

Amena nods at you both, smiles weakly and looks away.

Brigit yelps and runs back towards the wagon with the rest of your group.

You clear your throat to ask her what is wrong and you see the problem as fifty ghôls turn the corner six blocks ahead of you.

They turn.

They see you.

They charge.

Four blocks away now you all begin to cast, if you aim your shots well you can drop half before they reach your line.

Two blocks away, your party lets loose, your spells tear through their ranks but leave no bodies.

As the remaining ghôls bear down on your position they suddenly disappear, not five feet from hitting your battle line.

"Ah.. what the hell was that?" your befuddled Berserk asks.

"Ghosts," Serpent replies but his statement sounds more like a question.

"Well how are we supposed to fight ghost armies?" Brigit chimes in.

Gareth clears his throat and by now you know exactly what he will say, "I fought a few during the war-" the two of you say the words at the exact same time.

"Smartass," the veteran mumbles while Brigit and Thaïs laugh a little, he grins at you before he continues, "They will die same as anything else if you do enough damage. Also they seem to be bound to specific locations so if we have to we can try outrunning them."

"Well then you have your answer people, concentrate fire and keep moving," and with those wise words you push the group onward into the ghost infested Dwarven Quarter.

The next hour proves a real test to Gareth's military leadership, you fight packs of ghôls, human warriors, bowmen, and even the occasional Dwarven scout as well as a variety of lesser ghosts lacking the will or memories to actually take on an identifiable form.

You give Serpent your Mandrake Roots and even have to use up another Energon Cube but you reach the center of the Quarter and are truly surprised at what you see.

Dwarves, not ghosts, actual Dwarves... ten of them in fact.

They have set themselves up behind a barricade just outside of the main Dwarven compound and are currently involved in a chaotic three way battle between a horde of ghosts and a swarm of spiders. They will be overrun if you do nothing but they will take a fair number of their enemies with them as well which would make things easier for you.

The real question is whether or not you want to get involved.


1. Do you get involved?

A) Yes, you will try to help the dwarves.

B) No, you will let them all kill each other and pick off the stragglers

C) Just leave, you will try something else when you get back to the tower.

D) Do something else, freeform option


2. If you want to help the dwarves, how will you go about it?

A)Charge the ghosts from the rear. This may be a bit dangerous given the Dwarven explosives that are being lobbed around. But it would immediately take pressure off the Dwarves

B) Work your way around and charge the spiders instead. Again the explosives could be an issue but it would help out the Dwarves. Miosguinn thinks this would be a bad idea but will follow your lead.

C)Do not charge your opponents. Instead use your magic and arrows to thin out their ranks. This will not help the Dwarves as much but if they can hold out it will eventually win you the battle.

D)Have your Circle cast offensive spells while the Children use illusions to hide the dwarves. This will take pressure off of the dwarves but may also draw the anger of both hordes once their current targets disappear.

E) Misdirection: have the Children break off chunks of both hordes with illusions while everyone focuses on ranged attacks.

F) freeform strategy


3. Miosguinn's tome:

A) Confront him about the tome he took, you want to know if he is holding out on you.

B) Do not confront him, it is none of your business.

C)Do not confront him but try and spy on him.

D)You will politely ask Miosguinn to see the tome. If he refuses you will let the matter go, it is none of your business at the end of the day. Thaïs can help you with this.

E) Do something else about the Children, freeform
 

Chapter 7: Emptyness and Fullness

Chapter 7: Emptiness and Fullness

In the dark city, far from the light of day, the sounds of battle can be heard. Two of the dwarves have fallen but the remaining eight manage to keep up a steady stream of projectiles. They are just holding back the tide of chattering beasts and howling ghosts but by your estimate they will last maybe another fifteen minutes at best.

You have never really considered yourself a hero, the word rings falsely in your ears and you have no desire to rush to your death. However, you will not just leave these people to their deaths. You want to help and so you give the order.

"We are going to help them," all present understand that this order is not open to negotiation. There will be no arguing this and so they quickly move to discussing the best ways to neutralize the enemy.

"Well why don't we just charge their rear?" asks the Beserk, perhaps more willing to wade into battle than to consider the consequences.

"Not with those explosives being thrown about," Gareth steps forward, "We would be best to attack from a distance to be honest."

That sounds like a fair plan but you think you can do one better, "Doctor Miosguinn, can you and your apprentice draw out some of the attackers with your illusions?"

Miosguinn immediately grasps your strategy, "Yes, Miss Derryth, we can trick the ghosts and probably scare off the spiders as well if it comes to that."

You give the word and the old wizard starts casting, glad to finally have an opportunity to really cut loose. He turns his attention to the ghosts while his apprentice focuses on the spiders.

While the Children cast Gareth offers further advice, "It would be best to concentrate on each splinter group, one at a time, if the eight of us can bring overwhelming force to bear against each group we will be able to minimize the risk of casualties."

The apprentice is finished with her spell, a wall of flame erupts from the ground between the dwarves and the spiders, an obvious illusion but enough to scare off the animals. Out of instinct the arachnids pull back and turn their attention to the deathless horde assaulting them. The dwarves, quite confused by this stroke of good luck, quickly adapt and concentrate their fire on the ghosts still assaulting their position.

As the eight of you move into place for your first ambush, you watch as Miosguinn casts his spells. Behind the horde of ghosts and to either side dance wisps of blue-grey smoke which slowly take on human shape. Gradually colour bleeds into them and after a few moments they seem almost genuine, at a quick glance they would fool you and you are sure the ghosts will take the bait.

Sure enough the ghosts see these new targets and they turn. The horde fractures, torn into four ragged pieces by the dispersing ghosts as each races off in pursuit of these new targets. Miosguinn must be having fun with all of this as he puts on a little show for your enemies. The illusions turn to see the ghosts charging towards them, they begin to scream without a voice, horror expressed in pantomime. The group closest to your position begins to gesture wildly and turn to run. One of them, a little elderly man trips and his daughter attempts to pull him along. The doctor has really outdone himself, even against an actual living opponent these illusions would prove difficult to detect, against the ghosts they work perfectly.

The ghosts crash into the illusions and are met with empty air, you do not know if a ghost can be confused but they come to an immediate stop and turn to rejoin the horde. At that moment you spring your attack.

You reach deep into your mind for a memory, excitement would do, maybe love but the best for a firebolt spell would be a fragment of anger, betrayal or rage. Something powerful and with a desire to hurt another. You remember a stable boy that used to mock you as a child, who used to beat and bully you... good enough.

That ember sparks a flame, and this flame jumps from your hand to your target. The crimson dart dives through the air and strikes your first victim, the bent and scarred ghost of a ghôl. The flames turn green as they snake around the ghost devouring its form, it screams and fades away. Meanwhile, the combined assault of your seven companions easily overwhelms your ghostly prey and you quickly move on to your next target.

You cast and you fight, with whip and knife when needed, and after ten minutes of terror and battle your group has destroyed the last of the ghosts. As you battle the last of these foul spectres, Miosguinn turns his attentions to the spiders. He slowly bottles them up with illusionary fire, driving them further back, before he rejoins your group with his apprentice and the wagon. The dwarves give the crawling masses a parting volley of cocktails to see them on their way before they turn their attention and their weapons towards you.

Now that you are closer you can see that they are not all outfitted with the normal dwarven kit. Five of them look as you would expect; woollen clothes and strange caps, backpacks filled with their explosive concoctions and odd inventions, and short, well groomed beards. Two more match that description save for a lack of beards, fitting given that they are women. The last three however are covered from head to toe in thick plate armour of a make you have rarely seen before, the smaller two have simple but well made equipment while the largest one has an ornate weapon and armour. Four of the lightly armed dwarves lay on the ground injured or unconscious, you can not tell from this distance whether or not their wounds are fatal.

It seems that the large dwarf is in charge and it is also clear that he can not or will not speak Bruig. They eye your group suspiciously. Talking, or rather arguing, amongst themselves. It seems that a few of the younger ones are trying to convince the armoured dwarf to do or say something.

You turn and call back to your group stationed outside of the dwarves' range of fire, "Just great, does anyone speak Dwarven?"

The unanimous answer you receive is no and you are about to try and communicate through a pathetic sort of sign language when two of the dwarves approach you.

It is two of the dwarves that were arguing with their leader, one male and one female, young, probably about the same age if you had to take a guess.

They stop about ten feet from you and bow, when they begin speaking you are surprised that it is in accented yet fluent Bruig, he begins "Greetings and thanks to you for your aid against the creatures of this place."

They are stiff, formal, and a little worried; she picks up where he left off, "We did not think that we would encounter an imperial patrol this far into the old city. Your Emperor Alric must be great indeed if he seeks to claim so much of the city in such little time."

You consider their words before you respond. It seems likely that these dwarves are testing your motives. Surely they must know that you are not Imperials as they would have to sneak past the Imperials just to get down here and well one of you is a Maul.

They want to see if you will lie to them so you take a slight gamble and tell them the truth. They are in your debt at the moment and from what little you know of the dwarves they do not take such things lightly

"I am afraid that as great as Alric is, we are not here as his representatives today. We seek the passages from the Dwarven quarters to the old offices of the Smiths of Muirthemne."

At the mention of the Smiths, the two representatives relax a little. It seems that they were concerned you would try to arrest them or plunder the Dwarven Quarter itself. While you had admittedly planned to do so, you can always do it latter when the dwarves are not around.

The male dwarf coninues, "My name is Bari and this is my wife Ari, we serve as scouts and protectors for our Lord Jari," he gestures back to the armoured dwarf.

Ari cuts in, it seems the two of them have a habit of finishing each others thoughts, "We have come in search of an artefact important to our people, its last known location was within the workshops of the Smiths, it is a-" Ari pauses for a moment and looks at Bari, unsure if she should tell you.

After a moment Bari continues, "I am afraid we can not tell you what it is, it is a matter of personal and communal shame and we must leave it at that."

Jari calls out to the two dwarves in Dwarven and they quickly answer before turning back to you, "My Lord wishes to know if he could purchase your services to escort us to our target, we would of course pay you for your time and any supplies we may require."

You look them over, they are hopeful but you also still sense an undercurrent of fear, they are worried. Shifting your gaze from the dwarves to their equipment it looks like they have next to no supplies with them, perhaps they did not prepare properly or more likely they lost their supplies to the denizens of this place. With almost half their number wounded and the rest worn out they are not likely to survive without further help. Serpent could probably even save most or all of their wounded if you let him. It also looks like they do not have much in the way of riches on them, any payment you would receive will only come if they live to reach the surface.

They could be an asset or a liability, but the choice is yours. You take a deep breath and give them your answer.

-------------------------------------------

It took a couple hours to get into the main complex and properly secure the building. It looks like the place was once a warehouse and there are an assortment of weapons and supplies strewn about in boxes, and chests. Most of it is useless to you but a more detailed search may turn up useful resources.

Once the building is fully under your control, you enter the basement storage down a long and very wide ramp. Seems everything in this city was built big. You find more dust and boxes but at least there are no monsters.

A little voice in the back of your mind suggests that they are merely hiding, waiting for you to slip up but you quickly chase such thoughts away. Serpent notices a very narrow side tunnel and says he recognizes the smell of mandrake roots coming from the darkness, it may be worth checking out.

Finally there is the great door leading into the old tunnels, you would easily be able to drive two wagons through it so space should not be a large problem as long as you stick to the main road. It looks like the tunnels are still intact as best as you can tell, it would speed up your trip tremendously but part of you wonders what new horrors will be waiting in those tunnels.

Brigit also has her first report for you. She has been watching the Children and so far they have done nothing suspicious, well nothing more suspicious than normal. She has not seen either of them in possession of a black tome like you described to her. They are however very protective of a warded blue-grey metal chest but that is not too odd for a pair of mages. She also noticed that each wears a small amulet around their necks which they try to always keep concealed. It is odd but when you ask her for more details on the amulets she has trouble remembering anything.

An interesting mystery but for now you have more pressing concerns:


1. The Dwarves, do you help them?

A)Yes - You agree to escort them since you are all headed to the same place anyway. (If you pick this then choose an option for choice 2)

B)No - You do not need an extra burden, you tell them to return to the surface. You will not help them.

C) Maybe - If they can give you some sort of partial payment up front then you will help, otherwise they are on their own

D)Other - Free form


2. If you choose to help them then do you use your supplies to help them, if so how much?

A) No - they can survive off what they can find.

B) Yes - but basic supplies and mundane medicine only.

C) Yes - you tell Serpent to use any resources needed to save as many lives as possible. Including Mandrake Roots. (You currently have four Mandrake Roots left in total)

D) Yes - you tell Serpent to only use your mundane supplies for now, if you find more Mandrake Roots you can then use some on the Dwarves. They may be upset if they find out you risked their lives so you will probably have to lie a little.

E) Other - free form


3. You have a bit of time to look around the building if you want, though this will spread your group out a bit. Do you?

A) Yes - might as well look for supplies.

B) No - you just want to move on quickly before you run into something else.

C) Other - free form


4. Serpent thinks there are Mandrake Roots down the side tunnel in the basement. Do you let him investigate?

A) Yes - We could use more Mandrake Roots

B) No - Who knows what is down there and it is too narrow a tunnel to send the fighters.

C) Yes - But not alone. Derryth will go with him as will _______ (if you vote for this option then list the third party member that you want to take, the most popular one will go. Tyrvard and Ithapi can not fit and Gareth will have to leave his shield behind to fit)

D) Yes - But send alot of people; Derryth, Gareth, Serpent, Amena, Miosguinn, the apprentice and some of the dwarves, if they complain tell them that in this way we can treat better their wounded comrades. With such a larger group you should be able to handle any challenge. Of course you will get in the way of each other and you will leave the main camp understaffed...

E) Other - free form


5. Then there is the question of the tunnels themselves. Do you want to use them or would you rather go back to the tower and travel through the city and upper tunnels?

A) Use the lower tunnels, it is quicker.

B) Go back to the tower, who knows what is down there.

C) Other - free form
 

Chapter 8: The Perfect Time

I wanted to try something a bit different with this update. I guess we will see how well it works.

Chapter 8: The Perfect Time

"Alright, alright," Serpent has been pestering you for the better part of the last hour, "You can go explore the tunnel but I am coming with you and we are bringing someone else too," you just are not yet sure who exactly.

Serpent runs off to prepare and you begin the search for the third member of your expedition. The dwarves have for the most part warmed to your group, Jori and his two bodyguards still keep their distance but the other seven have made every attempt to demonstrate their gratitude.

Ari and Bari even offered to give you their gold wedding bands to pay for the two mandrake roots you used to heal their wounded. You gave them your answer and sent them on their way.

At any rate it is time to see who wants to climb down a dark, narrow, potentially monster filled tunnel. As you wander through the camp you come across Thaïs, Ari and Bari in deep conversation, seems she is asking them about the Smiths and Bari and Ari are giving a history lesson...

The dwarven pathfinder thumbs through one of his books as he speaks, "Well from what we know the Smiths were skilled magic users and artificers. They had the ear of the Emperors for centuries and wielded considerable political power until the whole order was exterminated by Imperial decree during the time of Connacht."

Your quartermaster hazards a few questions in response, "But why wipe them out if they were so useful? So powerful? Did they anger the Emperor?"

His wife cuts in, "Seems the Smiths were worshipping something they should not have, some sort of Elder God or something. They traded their independence for power and when the Emperor found out he snuffed out the whole order. He made an example of them and their minions, strange spider creatures and cultists. But that comes with the territory now doesn't it, worshipping the Dark Gods has its risks."

Well you have heard enough for today, you take advantage of a momentary pause in the conversation to interject, "Thaïs, I don't suppose you could tell me where everyone is?"

Thaïs gives you a sly smile, "Well... Brigit and Gareth went off to check the building so we probably won't see them till tomorrow..."

Well, you may have to dock their pay for running off but at the end of it all you are happy for them, "Ah, young love and all that. How about everyone else?"

"Tyrvard has enlisted the kids and our new friends," she gestures to Ari and Bari who both bow low, "To properly search the building for supplies so that is what they are doing, they are probably all spread out throughout the warehouse. Jari and his shield dwarves are in one of the old offices while the Children are in their tent like usual."

"Well then, don't suppose you want to come crawling through dark tunnels with Serpent and I?" you flash her a smile.

"If you really need the help sure. However, Bari and Ari have agreed to teach me some Dwarven. Perhaps if we learn Jari's language we can begin to win him over."

Bari pipes up, "I am afraid, Miss Thaïs, that my Lord Jari simply does not trust strangers. I fear your efforts will all be for nothing."

You consider Thaïs' idea for a moment and it seems sound, besides you already know who you want to take with you. You answer Bari, "No, I think Thaïs has the right idea. Even if your lord does not trust us we can better work together if at least one of us speaks your language. Don't let me keep you from your lessons."

As you turn to leave Thaïs asks, "And where are you going?"

You reply without breaking your stride, "To convince the dear doctor to risk his life for some roots of course."

--------------------------------------------------

It was not easy but eventually you coaxed Miosguinn out of his tent and the three of you set off single file down the dark and narrow tunnel. You walk in near silence. You lead with Miosguinn in the middle casting basic concealment spells to mask your presence. Ten minutes in and the roof of the tunnel begins to slope downward, twenty minutes in and the three of you are bent near in half to avoid the low roof, thirty minutes in and you are forced to crawl and all the while Serpent swears you are getting close.

Forty minutes in and you finally come out into a proper chamber. Serpent was right, you can see a whole sack of roots across the room... strapped to the dead body of a Journeyman. The room is filled with bodies, maybe ten in total, all reduced to bones and dust but there is no sign of what may have killed them.

The room itself is close to a perfect cube, fifty meters across. The tunnel comes out a few dozen meters from the actual entrance to the room long since collapsed. At ten meter intervals along two of the walls are small alcoves with suits of armour in them. There is an altar at the opposite end of the room with a large statue behind. Most of the corpses are piled around the altar, "Hmmm... looks like the room is trapped..."

Serpent comes out of the tunnel behind you and takes a look around the room, he sniffs the air a little, "Well I was right about the mandrake roots, but you are right this is obviously a trap."

"Well then we are all in agreement," Miosguinn brushes the dust off his robes as he joins the two of you at the edge of the chamber, "I imagine if we set off the trap then those suits of armour will set to work murdering us. I count seven still in one piece and I am not sure we could beat them cleanly."

You are inclined to agree. You speak, more to yourself than to either of your companions, "Possibly but look at how the bodies are arranged, most of them died close to the altar. I think the trigger for the trap is on the far side of the room, probably the altar or the statue..."

You do not like the situation but you came all this way and you won't turn tail at the first trap you encounter, "We are going to cross the room. You two stay close and Misoguinn keep those illusions up. Do not step anywhere but where I step, there may be other traps as well."

Your initial concerns prove correct, three arrow traps, two spear traps and a small pit trap litter the room all attached to pressure plates or trip wires but your years of experience safely see the group to the far side.

Serpent grabs the roots and you consider looting the nine gold plates on the Journeyman's armour. You search the rest of the bodies but find little of real value, old weapons, armour that you can not use, and expired rations. They do have some money which you promptly pocket but beyond that there is very little of interest or use.

You turn your attention to the alter and the statue. Smeared in dried blood on the altar are the words Beware the Guardians. Seems you were right, the statue and altar must be the means by which these suits of armour, clearly Stygian Knights, are triggered.

The statue takes the form of a young and handsome warrior and looks to be solid bronze with a little latch in the abdomen. It holds a length of chain with a key in the shape of a sword on the end of it which slowly swings back and forth. On the altar are twelve holes arranged in a circle and text that spirals inwards towards the center of the circle.

It reads:

The statue before you

Holds chain that was made

For keeping the time

With its pendulum blade

The mid hour of night

Is farthest away

From where the eyes of the statue

In its head lay

Hours of daytime

And hours of night

Here are the same

I shall shed that light

Each hour is named

After person or thing

Your job is to find me

I am not hiding

With the silence of grave

A death come too soon

The master of Shadow

Stands thirteen past noon

Past him stands the Gypsy

And somewhere between, a valiant sight

A Knight of the realm

And a Dragon who fight

Merchant, a trader

His wares beside him in Wagon

Crouches as far away as he can

From the infamous Dragon

The mystical Gypsy

With her tarot cards

Steadies his wares

Lest they crash into shards

The beast of red scale

And long crimson tongue

Is caught right between Knight’s blade

And the shadowy one

Across from the Castle

Stands the Giant of rock

The Hydra of nightmares

Stands across from the Cock

The Cock is a rooster

With feathers of red

Which stands next to Gypsy

Who gives it its bread

The Peasant sleeps poorly

He tosses and screams

For his is the hour

Of ghosts in his dreams

My place is not tricky

Find where I lie

I stand where not mentioned

Which hour am I?

You turn your attention back to the compartment on the statue. You test it to see if it is locked and it is but when you touch the handle you think you hear a faint voice. Unfortunately you can not make out what it is saying.

If you had to guess you would say that picking the correct choice will open the compartment releasing whatever treasure is inside but picking the wrong answer will probably activate the Stygian Knights. If that happens hopefully Miosguinn can mask your presence while you make your escape.

If experience has taught you anything these sorts of traps often hold powerful treasure but maybe you are pushing your luck. You have the roots, maybe you should just head back. Serpent and Miosguinn are looking to you for an order on how to proceed, time to make a choice.

Now I am not sure how good the Codex is at puzzles but this is a dungeon crawl and it is my belief that there should be some so here is what I will do. If no one can solve the puzzle then I can have Derryth try and do it herself, she has high Wis and Int but it will be a check to see if she can figure it out so there is no guarantee of success.


1. Do you try and solve the puzzle?

A) Yes - You want whatever treasure is hidden in the statue.

B) No - You don't want to risk it.

C) Maybe - You will write down the riddle and work on it as a group at your leisure. You can then come back later... hopefully.


2. If you chose to solve the puzzle then how do you want to go about it? If you want Derryth to try and solve it herself then vote for option A. If you would rather try and solve the puzzle yourselves then vote for option B and provide your answer to the puzzle. The twelve holes are arranged like the face of a clock so simply type the time that corresponds with your answer. For example twelve o'clock or six o'clock.

A) Derryth will try and solve it without voter input

B) The voters will provide Derryth's answer. Type your answer, the one with the most votes wins.

C) Get Serpent and Miosguinn to help decipher the puzzle. (This increases your odds but will still involve a check)


3. Ari and Bari offered to give you their wedding bands to pay for the mandrake roots you used to save their comrades. What did you tell them?

A) You took the wedding bands, they will more than pay for the roots.

B)You could not bring yourself to take their rings.

C) You don't want the rings, instead you tell the dwarves that they owe you a favour to be collected at your discretion.


4. The Journeymen were an order of healers founded by the disgraced Heron Guard after the fall of Old Muirthemne. When Alric reformed the Empire they were disbanded and once more became Heron Guard. Each Journeyman carried nine solid gold tiles taken from the ruins of the place, a symbol of the weight of their shame and duty failed. The tiles are worth a lot if you want to take them, or you could respect the importance of the tiles and leave them.

A) You take them.

B) You leave them on the dead Journeyman.
 

Chapter 9: A Strange Reward

Chapter 9: A Strange Reward

There are a few things that make your life worth living.

A warm bed and someone to share it with.

Fine jewelry, vast riches or a very stylish hat.

A strong drink with a good friend.

A new spell and the promise of greater arcane might.

But your favourite without a doubt is a good mystery, a puzzle, a riddle, some little trap that tests you and allows you to prove that you are just a bit more clever than whoever created it.

One of your most cherished pastimes when Henry was alive was a good game of riddles... you rarely lost...

"Oh this is easy! So Shadow is at one and Dragon is at two and..." you stand there at the altar drawing a proper diagram to map the riddle to.

The enthusiasm you bring to the task surprises your companions and after a few minutes you are confident that you have the correct answer. You grab the key and ram it into the ninth slot and you swear for just a moment that you hear that muffled voice once more calling out to you. You shoo it from your mind and turn the handle of the key, the compartment in the statue opens and your prize rolls out onto the alter.

It is a roundish package wrapped in hessian cloth. The possibilities run through your mind and you babble a bit, "perhaps it is a solid gold sphere, or some sort of teleportation stone, or what if it is THE ORB OF ULTIMATE POWER!" (though you are fairly certain that you just made that last one up in your excitement).

Serpent and Miosguinn, smiles on their faces, gather around as you begin to unwrap the package, you unwind the rope holding it together and dump out your prize....

.

..

...

....

It is a head...

A dried out, wizen, old head.

Disappointment hits you like a great wave and your temper flares up a bit. You grab the head to pitch it across the room when something falls out of its mouth. A brilliant sapphire tumbles to the ground, followed by a second one and a third. You pop open its mouth to get a better look and there are two more lodged in the back.

"Do you know what these are Miss Derryth?" Miosguinn has snatched up all three and he passes one to you and one to Serpent, "These are Heaven Stones, they are said to grant their bearer great resistance to magic provided that they are carried in the mouth like so."

Without hesitation the doctor pops the sapphire into his mouth. You make a bit of a face, "Doctor Miosguinn you know exactly where that has been, what if you catch something?"

The doctor just grins and shrugs, seems it is a bit difficult to talk with one of these in your mouth.

Serpent examines his stone, "These could be quite useful, but perhaps we should disinfect them first Derryth. I do not think it would be wise to place anything in your mouth that you retrieve from a corpse without proper precautions."

"Well at least there was treasure in the statue. I hate it when I solve a puzzle and get nothing for it," you give the head a good shake and the fourth sapphire tumbles out into your other hand but the final one is lodged in the head's throat.

You think for a moment about bashing the head open but you think you can grab it if you just reach inside. However you are not going to put your hand in the mouth of a corpse.

It would not surprise you if the jaw is rigged to slam down on anyone that reaches inside. Instead you get out your tools and fish the jewel out. Sure enough as soon as you pull on the jewel the jaws of the head slam shut on your tools, that would have hurt...

You pry the jaws open with a little difficulty but eventually you get the last sapphire and you place the head back on the altar. With your treasure secure the three of you turn to leave the chamber.

In doing so you kick up a cloud of dust and what happens next just about kills you all...

Miosguinn sneezes and chokes on the sapphire.

Serpent grabs him from behind and squeezes.

The sapphire flies from his mouth and sets off one of the arrow traps.

You pull them both out of the way as three arrows fly across the room.

One of them grazes you, drawing blood.

It flies past you and hits the head, pining it to the statue.

Then things get decidedly strange.

As your blood touches the head it begins to reanimate; the skin regains its elasticity; the hair regains its colour, strawberry blonde; the eyes fill back out and turn a brilliant blue and the tongue of the head regenerates and begins to move. It is gorgeous, well at least for a severed head. A bright blue rune glows on the head's forehead as well, it is a bit distracting to be honest.

She, you are sure now that the head is female, turns her attention to you, giggles for a bit and begins to speak, "Oh thank you dear, I was trying to shout the answer to you but it is so hard to do with a mouth full of stones... well and no tongue..." she stops and flashes you a warm smile, "Don't suppose that you could pull this arrow out dear?"

For a minute you stand there in complete awe, it is a talking head after all, then you nod and proceed to do just that. As the arrow comes free the head's wound closes, you can tell it pains her but after but a moment she is fully recovered. Well as fully recovered as a severed head can be.

As the four of you stand in silence Serpent decides to get the conversation started, "So, umm... who are you and how did you wind up trapped in there?"

The head starts, "Oh that is easy, I am... umm..." a troubled and slightly puzzled expression clouds the head's countenance, "well, I don't actually know who I am to be honest. As to why I am here, well I imagine I angered someone powerful and they sought to punish me but I don't really remember I am afraid."

This is all quite odd, you ask "Well how long have you been down here?"

"Umm, seventy years maybe... it is a bit difficult to remember to be honest. I remember being quite upset for the first twenty or so years, I wanted to hurt the man that did this to me... he was a colleague, hmmm... My... Myr... ahh, I can't remember but..." she stops and thinks for a moment, "ah, no point holding a grudge right? I think I was some sort of mage and I think I was quite powerful but it is hard to remember really."

With a little concern you continue, "Well is there anything we can do for you?"

She gives you a happy smile, "Oh that is sweet of you dear... well let me think. Actually I don't really need anything what with being almost immortal and all... More than anything I am just bored... oh, I know! You seem to have those leg and arm thingies, you could pick me up and take me with you! It would be nice to be out of this room for a little while at least."

Miosguinn takes you by the arm and whispers in your ear, "I say we put her back in the statue, no good can come of this-"

The head snorts, "You know I can hear you right? You bug me little man, why don't you go away and let me talk to your boss?"

Miosguinn turns to the head, seems she hit a nerve, "Why don't you make me you abomination? You unnatural, abhorent-"

The head sucks her teeth, "You are as an insect before me!" she shouts, then giggles as she begins to cast. She is drawing a lot of power, you can feel it. Then the blue rune on her forehead changes colour from blue to red, she cries out in pain and stops casting as the rune returns to its original colour, "Damn it, damn it, damn it!"

Miosguinn laughs at her efforts, though you can tell that for a minute there he was terrified.

She sighs and turns her attention back to you, she gives you the saddest stare you have ever been forced to endure, "Seems I am completely powerless... I suspect I even knew that once... Look, dear I can tell you are a mage. I can teach you everything I know, all you have to do is take me with you. I don't want to spend all of, well, forever trapped down here. I don't want to lose what is left of my mind, so please, please, please take me with you."

You decide to humour her for a moment at least, "Well why should I trust you?"

She giggles, "Dear you should not trust anyone," she stares at Miosguinn, "Why not ask this insect, this gnat, this cockroach, this plotting spider why exactly he is cloaked in magics that even I can not penetrate. What are you hiding?"

The head and the doctor stare one another down, "Miss Derryth, this thing is completely mad. You are our leader, I will stand by your decision but I do not like this thing and we should not take it with us."

You tilt your head a little, "Miosguinn, is she right? Are you hiding something?"

He sighs, "Yes, Derryth. When I was a young man I lacked discretion. I was injured badly, my form scarred and forever marred. I wear permanent enchantments to hide my deformities and that is probably what this thing detects. I have never told this to anyone, it is my failing, it was my pride and I beg you, both of you, not to go spreading it around."

You turn back to the head, "Well? Is he telling the truth?"

She looks at you an odd smile playing across her face, "No idea dearie. He may well be or he may be lying to you," she yawns and turns her gaze to the doctor, "If you are telling the truth then you have my sympathies... I know better than anyone what it is like to have your body ruined... or misplaced..." she giggles again and focuses on you.

"So dearie, what are you going to do? Are you going to free me, be a real knight in shining armour or are you going to leave me all alone in this dark, dark hole?" she whimpers a little and gives you the sad eyes again, hell she could teach Thaïs a thing or too about manipulation...

She could be a useful asset or a tremendous risk but she definitely has power, power she has offered to teach you though you wonder what the final price will be.


1. Do you take the head?

A) Yes - no one deserves this fate and she is not immediately dangerous. Besides part of you has always wanted a talking head.

B) No - someone put her down here for a reason.


2. The head will need a name since she can not remember her own. If you take her with you, you should give her one. What will it be?


3. Miosguinn spat his stone across the room. After a few minutes of careful maneuvering you recover it but do you give it back to him?

A) Yes - you still have three more plus Serpent's, you give it back and tell him to be more careful with it.

B) No - the damn thing just about got you all killed. If he can't play safely with his toys then you will hold on to them.


4. An interesting idea occurred to you. You could try to examine the spells that animate the Stygian Knights as they are still dormant. You may be able to figure out how the spell works if you have the time. This would allow you to release the souls trapped in the armour and if you choose it could also allow you to create your own Stygian Knights though it would take a lot of power and practice. Serpent and Miosguinn can help you with this as can the head if you agree to take her with you. Of course if you get it wrong the knights may activate and attack...

A) Yes - you examine the knights to learn the spells.

B) No - you don't risk it.
 

Chapter 10: Uninvited Guests

I got the update done early, not too long but important choices at the end.

Chapter 10: Uninvited Guests

They stand behind you chattering, "I think the key to the spell is sorrow, think of sadness and how to relieve it and-"

Well maybe bickering would be more accurate, "Serpent, stop giving advice on things you know nothing about. These are Stygians they are bound by hatred, she has to find a way to calm-"

"Gentlemen! Will you shut the fuck up!" the three of you are inspecting the nearest Stygian Knight and their constant attempts to "help" are driving you mad.

If you can figure out how the spells are constructed you will probably be able to unwind them and free the souls trapped inside. It is just a happy coincidence that in doing so you will gain even greater arcane knowledge. Of course one wrong move on your part and they will all activate and attack, "Serpent, go get Nine and see if she can help with this."

Serpent carefully moves back to the altar and retrieves Nine, "Miss Nine, we could use your assistance with the knights..." you can hear Serpent explaining the situation to her but you have to stay focused on the spells you are unravelling.

"Well dearie, let me take a look at this," Serpent props the head up so that she can properly view the remaining enchantments, she giggles, "Oh this is easy! I can't believe you have not figured it out yet."

"Well then out with it you insufferable, scatterbrained relic!" your decision to take Nine with you has done nothing to improve Miosguinn's mood.

"No!" she sticks out her tongue and closes her eyes.

Serpent tries to coax the answer from her, "Please Miss Nine it would be a great help to us."

She responds alternating between a sweet tone and complete rage, "Oh dear, I would love to help you and Derryth but I will not aid this ungrateful little insect!"

Their bickering is actually making the task harder, you spare just enough of your attention to try and smooth out the situation, "Well, what if he apologizes?"

Serpent turns her to look at you, "Ummm... It would be a start. Yes, if he apologizes then I will help!"

The doctor understands what he must do and with considerable effort manages a few words, "I... I am sorry Nine-"

"Not good enough," the head practically sings, "Use my full title. I am your superior after all."

You had decided you can her NINE, THE ORB OF ULTIMATE POWER, as a joke at first but she has really taken to the name. In fact she refuses to even listen to Miosguinn unless he uses the full name and title.

Miosguinn sighs, "I am sorry Nine, the Orb of Ultimate Power, for insulting you. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?"

Seems she is so pleased with herself that she does not even notice the reference to her misplaced body, "Well as the Orb of Ultimate Power I suppose I must humour the little people of the world. Very well you are forgiven... for now," she breaks out into another giggling fit, yawns and turns her gaze back to the knight you are working on.

After but a few brief moments of reflection she begins her lecture in a singsong voice, "Now then my dear apprentices the answer is quite simple. A Stygian Knight is a defender, a guardian, a protector perhaps. They are bound by duty. In this case the duty of containing me. So stop fighting them with your spells. Instead just lie to them, give them a memory that I have been permanently destroyed and they will stop fighting your efforts to free them."

With that final tip you begin to work the last spells necessary to release the spirit but these are expertly made Stygian Knights and you struggle a little. Nine calmly guides you through each step and quickly, quietly, and without even realizing it the magics binding the Stygian Knight to this world unravel and the armour falls to the floor. From there it is a simple matter to repeat the process. All told it takes an hour and a half with Nine coaching you through different techniques to free all of the spirits.

Nine is a very good teacher and unlike every other mage you have ever met she seems completely unconcerned with hording her knowledge. In fact you have learnt more about magical theory from her in one hour than in the rest of your life combined. Serpent and Miosguinn both give her their complete attention as well, seems she is teaching you things the good doctor was not even aware were possible. The experience excites you but also leaves you a little terrified of her...

With the knights freed the room lies plundered, you lead your companions back across the room mindful of any traps and the four of you return to camp.

------------------------------------------------

Ten minutes from camp you hear the sounds of battle..

As you leave the tunnel and re-enter the basement complete chaos greets you. The four of you stand there, in shock, but it seems that no one is looking in your direction, no one knows you are here, "Alright, there are three of us and-"

"I have to find my apprentice!" Miosguinn casts a basic illusion and disappears. Well great now you are down to two mages and a head...

Your camp is under attack by a couple dozen spider-like creatures ranging from the size of a large dog to some bigger than a horse. The spiders are accompanied by twenty humans, they all wear black, silver and red robes but three of them seem to be better equipped than the others.

Your forces have been split in half by the attack. But your keen eyesight allows you to pick out almost all of the important details.

Five of the dwarves under Jori's leadership are taking the brunt of the attack. You count two of the dwarven scouts, Jori and his two shield dwarves. The two scouts are providing cover and thinning out the horde while Jori and his bodyguards handle any survivors. They have managed to draw the attention of maybe eighteen spiders and one of the three enemy leaders. The cloaked figure wields a large curved blade with grace and skill but you can tell that Jori is the better fighter as he holds off the figure and three more attackers as well. The dwarves are doing well all things considered but you are worried they may be overrun.

On the other side of the camp Thaïs, Ithapi, Amena, Ari and Bari have set up a barricade. Ari and Bari have set up proper kill zones and are hitting their targets with a speed and accuracy that is uncommon for a dwarf. Thaïs and Amena are picking off any survivors with spells and Thaïs' crossbow while Itapi is hurling large crates and barrels at their attackers. They are easily repelling any spiders that come their way but one of the enemy leaders wielding a large black bow and riding on the back of a particularly large spider is marshaling a dozen of her fellows for another attack.

Off to one side stands a figure in plain black and silver robes with an unadorned silver staff. At first you did not even notice her, she does not move or attack and does not communicate with the other attackers. She is just watching it all unfold.

Finally by the entrance to the lower tunnels stands a figure in very elaborate black, silver and red robes, he wears a great horned headdress and is shouting instructions to everyone around him. He is surrounded by two of the robed figures and a pair of spiders the size of large dogs.

You do not see Gareth, Brigit, Tyrvard and three of the dwarves. They are probably still somewhere in the warehouse above and of course the Children are also missing.

At the moment the two sides are about even. You have the advantage in skill and sheer firepower but they have the numbers and a certain fanatical determination. You may be able to help score a victory here but where should you direct your efforts?


1. How do you want to help?

A) Help Jori's dwarves against the enemy spiders and the swordsman.

B) Help Thaïs, the kids, and the pathfinders against the archer and her men.

C) You feel compelled to find out who the lone figure is. You approach her to start a dialogue as insane as it seems in the middle of a battle.

D) You are drawn to the lone figure but this is a battle, you attack her. Once beaten you can interrogate her at your leisure.

E)Attack the enemy leader using the element of surprise. Take him out and your attackers may retreat.

F) You don't help, you flee back into the tunnel and wait for the fighting to stop...

G) It should be possible to project a mass suggestion onto the attackers and cause them to rout. It will take a lot of power however and it may well fail.

H) Freeform


2. The rest of your group is probably still upstairs, unaware of the battle below their feet. You could try and send Serpent to go find them, do you?

A) Yes - we will need the reinforcements.

B) No - they will not make it in time.
 

Chapter 11: The Lost and the Damned

Chapter 11: The Lost and the Damned

"Well what are we going to do Derryth?" Serpent anxiously asks.

"I am not sure to be honest. I wish Gareth was here he has the military mind not me," you frown and consider your options, people will die here today but as you notice a lone figure standing by herself you begin to think that maybe they don't have to, "Perhaps... perhaps this is all a misunderstanding, maybe we can talk our way out of this?"

Serpent only nods, he is uncertain but willing to follow your lead. The two of you slip along to edge of the room to avoid attention.

She is young, maybe a few years younger than yourself, pretty enough you suppose, silver hair and grey eyes, she stands with the quiet confidence of one used to getting her own way. As you approach the figure she notices you and raises her staff but does not attack.

As soon as she sees you she frowns, seems there is something about you that she does not like and to be honest as you give her the once over you must admit that the feeling is mutual.

The two of you just stand there is silence staring at each other so Serpent steps forward and takes the lead, "Warm greeting Miss-"

"I am known as the Black Spider," she responds as she stares at you. She turns her attention to Serpent and smiles warmly extending her free hand to him, "But you may call me Christine."

"That is a rather odd name," you remark coolly.

She shrugs, maintaining an air of general hostility towards you, "It is the only one I have."

The two of you stare at one another for a moment, there is just something about her you do not like.

"Why are you attacking my friends?"

"Oh, you are with the dwarves, then?"

"After a fashion yes."

"We are attacking them because they seek to rob us."

"And who exactly are you?"

"Mother says we are the Damned, closest thing we have to a name I suppose."

"What do you intend if you win?"

"We will kill them all and take the rest of you as slaves I should think. We simply can not take any risks now. Although..." she gives Serpent a hungry smile and a little wink, "Perhaps we do not have to make all of you slaves if you surrender now..."

When she returns her gaze to you her smile fades and the conversation dies again as the two of you stare daggers at one another.

Serpent makes one last attempt to turn the situation around, "Well Miss Christine, this is Derryth and I am One Serpent Green Talon. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance," he reaches out to take her hand, still extended towards him. As he does so, she pulls him forward and spins him pushing him up against a nearby bit of wall.

She presses up against him and whispers something in his ear. He blushes as she runs her free hand down his cheek to his neck, "You know , you are actually kind of cute. I think I will bring you home and introduce you to mother. How would you like that?"

This has gone far enough, you are not going to just let her kidnap your friend. You begin to cast immediately, but so does she.

You have a feeling this may not end well as you stare her down, "Let him go," you order with not a little malice in your voice.

"Make me," she gives you a smile that promises nothing but violence.

Well that does it, you know you should not, especially at this range but she is so asking for it, "Serpent, be ready to heal me. I am going to blast this bi-"

"Ladies please!" Serpent is trying his best to defuse the situation and you both stop casting as he grabs your attention, "Christine look at me, do we really have to do this?"

"Well that is up to you gorgeous. Come visit the family, I promise no harm will come to you and I will spare your little follower here," she gestures at you.

You are just barely holding yourself back at this point, if you were not worried about Serpent you would have struck her already, "Follower! I am his friend, I am his boss but I am no one's follower!"

"Could have fooled me, you look like your built for manual labour," she glances at your outstretched hand and gives you that damn smile again, "Just like I thought, farmer's hands, not the hands of a mage."

Concern is written plainly on Serpent's face, he knows your temper better than she does and he knows just how close the situation is to boiling over, "Alright! Alright, Christine, if you promise not to harm my friends then I will go with you."

"Great! You will love it I guarantee," as they turn to leave you move to strike but she is ready.

She throws a small sack at you and as it connects with your outstretched arm it explodes. Fine silver threads bind your hands and ankles together and you fall.

"See lover, I told you I would not hurt your little friend so can we go now?" She gives him a warm smile and slips an arm around his waist.

Serpent sighs, "One moment please."

He slips away from her and walks up to you, sorrow clearly visible on his face. He drops to one knee, "Looks like we must go our separate ways sooner than either of us would have liked..."

"Serpent you don't have to-" you begin but he merely shakes his head.

Looking into your eyes he begins, "Yes I do. I can not prevent her from harming you and I will not have the blood of the only friend I have ever," he stops for but a moment, "I will not have your blood on my hands Derryth."

He places two objects next to you, his sack of mandrake roots and a robe. It takes you a moment to realize that it is one of those makeshift affairs that Brigit cobbled together with the little stars and moons... he kept it... he really...

Your thoughts are interrupted as he rises to his feet, "Live well Derryth."

And with that the two of them walk off together into the darkness of the tunnel.

----------------------------------------

Ten minutes, it takes a whole Wyrd-damned ten minutes to finally free yourself of your bonds and as you get to your feet you survey the battlefield.

Jori stands alone, the other four dwarves all lay on the ground dead or incapacitated. His sword is broken, his shield cracked and cast away he is fighting with his gauntlets against the swordsman. Every blow the swordsman strikes seems to drive him further into a rage.

You have seen nothing like it, his followers gone, his weapons broken, he refuses to fall and he is dropping his attackers with deftly placed body blows. As he snaps the neck of the last robed figure only the swordsman remains. The two square off. Jari is by far the better fighter but he must be suffering from dozens of injuries at this point. You are not sure that he will carry the day but for the moment the balance of forces on that side of the battlefield remains equal.

On the other side of the chamber the archer and her remaining followers have the rest of your group pinned down. You can see from your vantage point that Ithapi and Amena are both incapacitated, with serious arrow wounds. Ari and Bari have killed most of the robed figures and spiders but the archer has the range necessary to simply pick them off. Currently she is trading shots with Thaïs who is relying on her crossbow, her magic completely spent for now. You think that the first one to successfully land a shot will win that fight.

The enemy commander continues to observe the battlefield, additional forces have come up from the tunnel and he is now surrounded by ten men and four spiders. He is holding back his forces. He is waiting, perhaps evaluating the abilities of his lieutenants.

Surveying the battlefield he finally makes his move advancing with his men towards Jari.

The dwarf is doomed but as they cross the battlefield an explosion rocks the chamber. Falling debris kills two of the Damned, and a hole opens in the roof. A single figure drops through and lands right onto of the commander driving a boot straight into his face.

"Hahaha! Come! Meet your deaths here, puny spider men!" Tyrvard rolls clear of the group dropping two of their number and three of the spiders as he leaps to his feet. About time the Berserk arrived but you do not see Gareth or Brigit anywhere.

The battle rages before you but no one is yet aware of your presence.

1.What will you do?

A) Aid Jori against the Swordsman, it is your belief that you could completely blindside the Swordsman. You need answers and payment for the escort, if he dies both will probably die with him.

B)Aid Thaïs against the Spider Riding Archer, normally you would not attack a spider that size but as luck would have it the spider is standing right over a satchel charge that has fallen from one of the dwarves packs. One simple create fire spell and boom... of course you will have to really concentrate to hit your target from this range.

C) Tyrvard is currently fighting the entire command group by himself. He has killed over half of them but they are beginning to adjust and are attempting to contain him. The commander is also back on his feet, a bizarre mace in hand and is about to attack the Beserk.

D) You immediately leave the battle and go after Serpent and Christine, sure she "spared" you but you are determined to save your friend and get a little revenge.

E) Nine's voice whispers in the back of your mind , she says that she could end this whole battle in an instant if you would just let her in... You have had enough, damn the consequences, this ends now... you let her in.

F) Freeform
 

Chapter 12: Aftermath

Chapter 12: Aftermath

Serpent is gone, at least for now, as much as you might like to go after them you can not leave your expedition to die here. You resolve to stay, the question is where can you be of the most use?

"Dearie, if you let me help you we could end this in but a moment," Nine whispers to you from the sack you shoved her in.

You pull her out of the sack, "Really now Nine, I am not an idiot. If I let you in why would you ever leave?"

She giggles, "Oh dear I am so proud of you! The paranoia, the distrust, you will be a worthy student and a great mage I can just tell."

"I suppose I should be flattered?" you respond in a decidedly flat tone, you are not really in the mood for this right now.

She flutters her eyelashes, "Why of course you should be. You want to do things on your own and that is a good thing," her smile takes on a most peculiar quality as she continues, "It is the only way you will really learn after all... Well then I am going to take a quick nap!"

At first you think she is joking but no she is deathly serious. She closes her eyes and starts snoring, you give her a shake, "Dear I am sleeping, go on now you have a lot of work to do."

Well she is not going to be much help.

You turn your attention to the three fights, considering each in turn. Tyrvard is fresh, you reason he can last even though he is outnumbered. Jori and the swordsman are still even and you doubt he would even recognize your help in his state. No, the best place to help would be against the archer. One lucky shot and she could kill Thaïs and pick off Ari and Bari. You know exactly what you have to do...

A satchel charge, your current target... one canvas bag, loaded with over two pounds of dwarven black powder specially treated to enhance its explosive properties. From what you understand detonating one can cause quite a mess...

You stand in the shadow of a stone pillar and you focus. You picture the dancers again, twirling around one another in your mind's eye, clothes of silken flame. Faster they dance, and faster still as they meld together a twisting blur all amber and cerise.

The satchel charge detonates.

The spider takes the brunt of the blast and is torn into large, wet chucks that are propelled across the room. Its rider is a bit more lucky. She is cast into the air screaming and slams into a nearby pile of debris with a sickening thud. She lies still, her leg bent at a ninety degree angle out to the side. She moans, still alive, but definitely out of this battle.

What happens next tells you a lot about both sides of this conflict. The explosion, and the rider's scream catch the attention of the swordsman and the commander's men, though they fight well they are not accustomed to this level of violence and they are too easily distracted by it. In stark contrast Tyrvard, Jori and the commander continue to fight. They understand the nature of this battle, one does not stop until the opponent is dead.

With the swordsman distracted Jori unleashes one last flurry of blows. To the knee, to the elbow, to the stomach, finally to the throat. Silently the swordsman crumples into a pile on the ground. Jori moves to finish the figure but he just does not have enough left in him. Finally overcome by his wounds he collapses on the ground next to the figure, surrounded by the dead.

Tyrvard takes the opportunity to further thin out the ranks of his opponents, felling the last spider and another two of the Damned. As the balance of the battle shifts the commander raises one hand and begins casting.

Dark words, dark thoughts, you can feel the beginnings of a spell and it is powerful but it does not feel directly dangerous. As you watch the torches in the room quickly dim until all is in complete darkness. A moment later they burst back into full flame but the commander and his remaining men are gone.

As you stand there taking in the carnage you notice a small black, red and silver spider the size of your fist sitting nearby and watching you. Once it realizes that it has your attention it speaks. Not out loud of course but rather through your mind.

It has a message for you from its master, "Go back grave robber. If you push forward you will lose everything, you will die, I can guarantee you that-"

The spider is unable to finish its message however as it is attacked by a slightly larger spider, this one black and silver but without the red markings, this new messenger speaks, "Forward stranger, you are not without allies on the road ahead," it spits out a silver and black ring at your feet which you pocket for now.

With that the spider scurries off into the dark of the tunnel ahead. Great, crazy cultists and cryptic, talking spiders your day just keeps getting better.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Thaïs notices you as you approach the barricade, "Derryth!" she runs up to you and throws her arms around you, seems it is becoming a bit of a habit of hers, "Was that you with the satchel charge? It had to have been right? I knew you would not abandon me, er... abandon us... umm where is Serpent? Amena and Ithapi need his help!"

You try to calm her down and break the bad news to her as Tyrvard carries Jari over, "Serpent is gone, they took him..."

"What! These vile spider folk have taken Serpent!" the Berserk bellows in rage, "We must move quickly to rescue him!"

Thaïs places one hand on the great warrior's shoulder, "We have to tend to our wounded first and find Gareth and Brigit."

"Has anyone seen the Children?" you ask with a little concern. They both shake their heads, they have not seen Isolde since before the battle and they thought Miosguinn was with you. You check the wagon... all of their things are missing...

You set to the difficult task of putting things back together:

You have some medical skill and Serpent's bag of mandrake roots. Nine has offered to guide you in their use but it will take a lot out of you and you will not be able to use them as well as Serpent does. However you can save lives here.

Thaïs, Tyrvard, Ari and Bari help you set up a makeshift operating room and infirmary. You have a lot to do but not much time to do it in.

(You have 10 mandrake roots in total.)


1. Gareth and Brigit are still missing. Bari has volunteered to go find them. Do you let him?

A) Yes - Gareth has medical experience and they are both excellent fighters. You need them down here in case another attack is launched.

B) No - Who knows why they are not down here yet. There may be something up there and you do not want to lose more people.

C) Yes but you will all do a proper search together after you have dealt with the wounded.

D) Yes but you will send Tyrvard instead of Bari.


2. Amena is badly injured. The wounds are severe but probably not fatal:

A)You treat her with mandrake roots. She is essentially your apprentice and the only other person here with medical knowledge. The quicker she is on her feet the sooner you will have help. (Cost: 2 mandrake roots, Time: 10 min, Bonus: Extra medical help, the time to cure all other patients is halved, this will stack with Gareth's bonus if you can find him).

B) You treat her with mundane treatments. She should be fine but she will not be able to help you or cast much anytime soon. (Time: 15 min)


3. Ithapi is badly injured. The wounds are severe but probably not fatal:

A)You treat him with mandrake roots. He is essentially your ward and one of the few fighters you have left. The quicker he is back to full health the better. (Cost: 2 mandrake roots, Time 20 min, Bonus: extra muscle)

B)You treat him with mundane treatments. He should be fine though he won't be at full strength for a day or two at the very least. (Time: 30 min)


4. Jori has a number of potentially mortal injuries. He will die if you do not use mandrake roots on him:

A)Heal him. (Cost: 4 mandrake roots, Time: 40 min, Bonus: morale?, payment?, answers?)

B)Let him die. It is his fault you are in this situation to begin with and you do not want to waste that many roots.


5. Of the dwarves that fought with Jori you believe you can save two, one of the shield dwarves and one of the grenadiers but it will take mandrake roots to do it.

A) Help them. (Cost 4 mandrake roots, Time 60 min, Bonus: two extra fighters)

B) No you do not want to waste the resources.


6. The swordsman or rather woman now that you get a better look at her is still alive as is the archer. They are both badly wounded but you could stabilize them and take them as hostages. They may have information about the Damned and you may be able to use them to bargain for Serpent's freedom.

A) Yes you help them and you also use mandrake roots on them. You want them to be able to move on their own if you hit an obstacle. (Cost: 4 mandrake roots, Time 10 min, Bonus: hostages)

B) Yes you help them. They will have to ride in the wagon but you should be able to stabilize them. (Time 40 min, Bonus: hostages)

C) You finish them off.


7. Nine has offered to train both you and your circle in combat magics to help with what is ahead. You are not sure what she has in mind but it could definitely help.

A) You accept her help.

B) You refuse her help.


8. The silver and black spider gave you a ring. Do you keep it?

A) Keep it.

B) Throw it away


As always freeform options are available for everything.
 

Chapter 13: Revelations

Chapter 13: Revelations

"Thaïs, I need more light here!" she brings the lantern closer to your patient, Jori the dwarf, currently resting on death's door. As she does so Amena hands you another mandrake root. Nine has been guiding you in their use but you are still wasting about half the energy in them, you simply do not have the skill that Serpent does.

You crack the root open and the magical energy pours forth into your hands, already it is dissipating. As Nine explained it, healing spells are bound up in notions of sacrifice, empathy and life. You think of spring, you think of fields in bloom, of the natural world under a warm sun and you cast. Ivory strings extend from your fingers, worming their way into the dwarf's wounds. As they clean the wounds and sop up the blood they shift in tone to a light seashell, the slightest tint of pink bleeding into the spell. The strings work quickly to remove debris and to close the wound. You are left a little tired but you have much more work to do before you can rest.

Three quarters of an hour have passed since you sent Bari running off but finally Gareth and Brigit limp into camp. Seems Bari managed to find them after all. She is limping, injured, her leg bandaged and Gareth supports her with one arm. You will have to get the story later, for now you order him to clean his hands and help you with the wounded. With the help of both Gareth and Amena you manage to save considerable time. Ithapi is up and moving, even if a bit slowly, Jori and two of his companions are back in full health and you even managed to stabilize the two lieutenants that the Damned left behind.

After the day you have had, you want nothing more than to sleep but first you need answers and there are plenty of questions to ask.

----------------------------------------------------

"Alright, so which one of you is going to tell me what happened?" you lean against one of the fallen pillars as Gareth and Brigit exchange glances. Part of you wants to really lay into them but you know that would do no good.

Gareth starts, "Well we were exploring the far side of the building looking for supplies..."

Brigit chimes in, "And we might ha gotten a little distracted..."

They look at one another, "We lost track of time but then we heard the explosions coming from below and we hurried back."

"Well what happened then?" you know that the answer will be nothing good.

The veteran sighs, "Well, Isolde was waiting for us... she attacked..."

"You mean Misoguinn's girl? How did his apprentice manage to stop both of you?"

A look of terror creeps onto Brigit's face, "She was fast Derryth, too fast and strong too. She moved at odd angles and her teeth..."

Brigit shakes, Gareth puts an arm around her, "She had us dead to rights Derryth. She had Brigit by the leg, bit right into her and was about to finish her off when Miosguinn showed up. He ordered her to let Brigit go, she really did not want to. She said something in a language I have never heard before. They argued, he struck her... the look she gave him... it was like she wanted to rip him in two."

Brigit looks back up at you, "He gave us this," she hands you a crumpled piece of paper on which is scribbled a short note.


To Miss Derryth ó Foghladh

I can not begin to express my shame at being unable to live up to my end of our agreement. You have dealt fairly with me, far more so than I deserve in fact, and it is my hope that you do not think unkindly of me despite my failings. Due to the courtesy you have extended to me I wish to offer you but one piece of advice.

Turn back. Destroy this letter, pretend you have never set eyes upon this place and leave those dwarves to whatever end they make for themselves. I beg you, turn back.

You have no reason to believe me or to trust me save for the fact that I have never done you wrong but I ask you to follow my advice. If you value your life and those of your friends turn back before you lose everything. There are other paths to take to reach your goal, pursue them instead.

M-

I hope you will not hold it against me if I pray we never meet again


Sound advice, you might even normally take it but those people have Serpent and you are loathe to leave without him.

"Then what happened?" you ask as you look up from the note and motion them to continue.

Gareth rubs Brigit's shoulder and looking you in the eye as he answers, "Well then they both disappeared, Bari found us shortly after and sent us down here."

"Alright then. Brigit, get some rest. Gareth, go help Tyrvard keep watch. The last thing we need is to be hit by a surprise attack," they both nod as you walk away.

There is a certain dwarf that owes you answers.

----------------------------------------------

Ari sits with Jori and the two argue over something that must be terribly important. It seems that this time he wants to do something and she is cautioning against it. The two other dwarves sit slightly back from them, they are listening to the argument but express no opinion. They notice you and Ari greets you as you approach, "Greetings Derryth, I am afraid that at the moment my Lord Jori-"

Jori raises one hand to stop her. He mumbles something in Dwarven and the three other dwarves nod, they get to their feet and leave the two of you alone.

He motions for you to sit and you do. In awkward silence you stare at one another, each passing second feel like an eternity. He pokes at the small fire before him. He seems like a completely different man, his confidence and arrogance gone, he is battered and only time will tell if he is beaten as well.

For a moment you are curious as to how the two of you will communicate given the language barrier.

Then Jori begins to speak, his tone steeped in regret, his face coloured by shame. What he is about to say must be difficult for him but what really catches you off guard is that when he speaks it is in perfect Bruig, "I am a fool... the son of a fool... and the grandson of a fool. Human, no... I hope you will let me call you Derryth. Twice now you have saved my life and I have done nothing but heap ever greater shame upon myself and my people. You have fought with us, bled with us and you have lost your friend to these madmen. I will withhold nothing more now. Ask and I shall answer."

A little overwhelmed by the dwarf's speech you ask the first thing that comes into your head, "Who are you Jori and what are you after?"

The smile he gives you is a grim one, "Two questions then? Very well I shall give you two answers, one short and the other long. I am Jori, the sixth son of Albrecht VII, King of all the Dwarves," he can sense your scepticism as he says these words and so he removes one mailed glove to reveal the royal signet of the House of Albrecht. Either he really is a prince or he killed one as the ring looks real.

Replacing his mailed glove he continues, "As to why I am here, that is a long story. My people have been allies of the Cath Bruig for thousands of years. In fact dwarven ingenuity is responsible for many of the great works that litter this city. A little over a century ago, my grandfather lost our kingdom in a war with the ghôls and their new ally Balor. The twin capitals Myrgard and Stoneheim were sacked and my people fled to the lands of men. My father came to Muirthemne to petition the Emperor for aid but none was forthcoming, and within a few short decades we were forced to flee again as Balor sacked the city above. I was little more than a child at the time but I remember the chaos and the terror and in that chaos my family lost an artefact important to my people."

He pauses to stir the fire, it reflects in his eyes, the fear of a child in a time of war, "Much as you humans have the Ibis Crown to serve as a symbol of your empire, we too have a symbol of leadership. A great maul, a hammer, encrusted with enchantments and protective runes. When my father reclaimed the throne after the Great War we began searching for it. We knew it was only a matter of time before the noble houses began asking to see it, if it is revealed that the maul is lost well..."

"So you and nine of your fellows came to retrieve it?" you ask, intrigued by the opportunities this story presents, provided it is true.

"Well, there were more than ten of us in the beginning. I set out from Myrgard with a sizable force of sixty dwarves. But it is a long journey and we were forced to constantly battle against the ghôls. Still we arrived with thirty strong souls but we were not prepared for what we would find, the shadows, the creatures, the spiders. I led the survivors to the Dwarven Quarter in search of answers but we were constantly hounded by hordes of spiders, had you not arrived when you did we certainly all would have perished."

You prod him with another question to keep him talking, "What do you intend to do now?"

"We will press on, we will avenge our dead, we will try and save your friend, we will reclaim the maul or we will die. There is no other acceptable outcome. I hope that I can count on your support in this Derryth. Should we succeed the house of Albrecht will owe you a great debt, I will owe you another debt... I failed my people, I hope that you can succeed where I failed," as he finishes his sentence his gaze drifts up to the ceiling, contemplating his future or his failures.

With nothing more to say you leave the dwarf to his thoughts. Ari scurries back over to Jori and the two of them fall back into conversation. Well, she talks and he stares into the fire.

---------------------------------------

"Any luck with our guests?" Ithapi is guarding the prisoners. They are in stable if weak condition.

He sighs, grunts and delivers his report, "They refuse to talk, just name and rank that is it. Though every now and then they say something when they think I am not listening. Turns out they are related, sisters in fact, the older one that was wielding a sword is named Biliku, the younger one that was doing her best to murder me is called Uttu. They are captains of something called the Red Order but beyond that they refuse to speak. I have tried kind words and threats and nothing seems to work."

You frown, "So they are professional soldiers then?"

He stops for a moment considering the idea, then lets out a single short laugh, "I don't think so Derryth, they can't be more than fifteen or sixteen. They are dumb kids nothing more."

You give your ward a little punch, "Dumb kids he says. Ithapi your just a kid yourself," he cracks a grin as you start to think out loud, "So they are not professionals, maybe we can spook them into talking then..."

Yes that could work, you give him a sly smile, "Well then we will just have to do a little convincing. Go get Thaïs and Amena, I have a plan."

A few moments later everyone is present, you fish Nine our of your bag and after a few moments of surprise and the proper introductions you lay out you plan...

---------------------------------------

You and Thaïs walk into the makeshift infirmary and she drags an old table over. You sit Nine on the table, her eyes closed.

The two girls first look at the two of you, then the head, then each other. You can hear them gulp.

Thaïs begins, "Now then girls, perhaps we got off on the wrong foot here. There is no reason why we all can not get what we want is there?"

The older girl blurts out, " Biliku, Captain of the Red Order!"

The younger girl follows her lead, "Uttu, Captain of the Red Order!"

Thaïs continues in a soothing tone, ignoring the outbursts, "Well it is a pleasure to meet you both, I am Thaïs second in command of the Lost. This is Derryth and she is our commander, an archmage of great power and ancient magics."

The two girls look at you, they are uncertain though the younger one probably remembers the beating you gave her. The older one works up the courage to continue, "She... she does not look like an archmage she looks-"

You raise your left hand and give the signal for Amena, hiding nearby, to begin. Flames burst to life on either side of you as sparks fly through the room. The girls scream. You lower your hand and Amena stops casting. Given their reaction you now know that neither of them are mages, they can not tell whether or not you are casting. Perfect.

Thaïs assumes a fake expression of fear, "Oh, girls you must not doubt my mistress she has killed for less. She is a terrible and fell mistress capable of harnessing all of the powers of darkness. Please let me help you, tell us what you know and no harm will befall you. We may even be able to spare those you care about. But if you anger my mistress she will kill you or worse!"

The older girl is putting on a brave face despite her terror, it is all you can do not to burst out laughing, "We... we will tell you nothing. We are brave, we are loyal, we are not afraid of death or of you. Father will-"

The younger girl is visibly shaking now, she squeaks and asks, "What... what could be worse than death sister?"

Well that is your cue, you step forward and place one hand on either side of Nine's head and you shout. Amena, from her hiding spot lets off another volley of sparks and flames around you. Nine opens her eyes and screams the rune on her head shifting red as she channels just a little power for effect.

The girls see all of this and scream as well, the younger one even passes out.

Thaïs makes a big production out of soothing you, "My mistress! Oh dark and fell mistress please spare these girls! They will talk, they do not wish to join your grand head collection!"

The older girl turns white as fine linen, "She... she has a whole collection?" she glances at her unconscious younger sister, "Please, please don't hurt Uttu, I will tell you everything I know!"

You scowl at the girl, snatch up the head and march out of the chamber. Now it is Thaïs' turn to really lay on the charm.

As you and Nine meet back up with Amena the head chatters away, "That was sooo much fun!" she snorts, "I have not scared someone like that in oh, probably one hundred years! You are so much fun Derryth, I am never going to leave you ever!"

Well at least she is happy...

---------------------------------------

You sit at your command post, Jori's old office, it has been five hours since the battle and you have a lot to do before you can give pursuit. No point running off into the dark after Serpent, if you are going to do this you will do it right. Gareth, Ari and Thaïs sit across from you and give their reports, Nine is propped up in the corner humming and counting the cracks in the ceiling, it is doing nothing for your headache.

Gareth steps forward first, "Seems Bari found the two missing dwarves, they were in an adjoining building looking for supplies when they found an old dwarven mortar and a few cases of shells. I took the liberty of having them bring it over and set it up to cover the entrance to the tunnels. If they launch another attack they will be in for a surprise."

You smile at the thought of Christine taking a mortar shell to the face, "Good, what about the dead?"

Thaïs answers, "The dwaves are handling their own," Ari nods, "As for the Damned I asked Biliku and they normally feed them to the spiders but burning is fine as well. Tyrvard is working on it as we speak."

"Good, just as long as he makes sure that the smoke vents, we don't need to add suffocation to our list of concerns," you rub your temples, "Did the dead have anything on them we could use?"

Thaïs lets Gareth answer, "A couple days worth of rations each and their weapons. Some personal effects not really worth much so we left them on the bodies. On the bright side their lack of equipment means they must be based nearby-"

Ari cuts in, "They are probably making use of some of the secondary access tunnels which would shave a day or two off the trip but we won't be able to get the wagon down those. My husband has been out scouting the tunnels and we think we found the passage they took but it has recently been collapsed, we won't be able to follow them through it. There is another nearby passage that may link up to the one they took but we have not had time to fully explore it. Also if we want to take the side passage we will have to abandon the wagon I am afraid. Alternatively we could always stick to the main tunnel though it will probably put us a full day behind them at this point."

"How likely are we to catch them if we abandon the wagon?" you ask as a series of improbable plans roll through the back of your mind.

Thaïs answers this time, "Ithapi is still injured and we do have the girls-"

"The prisoners," Gareth corrects.

"They are just children Gareth!" Thaïs snaps.

"They were all children Thaïs!" you raise an eyebrow at that, "Ah sorry... sorry both of you, just a little high strung. I was coming to that point before I was interrupted, the Damned are all young. Maybe between fourteen and eighteen. None of the bodies I saw were over twenty."

You sigh, your headache is getting worse, "Damn... a shame but not really uncommon."

Gareth nods, "What is surprising is that even their officers are quite young. From what Tyrvard told me the only one that seemed to have actual experience was the enemy commander."

Ari speaks up, "Yeah I can confirm that, they had bravery but really lacked organization."

You turn to Thaïs and ask about what she learned from the prisoners, "From what the girls have told me their "order" only numbers about eighty all told and many of those that are left are children and the elderly. It seems that constant skirmishing with the other inhabitants of the old city is wearing them down quicker than they can repopulate. I think we may have broken them here, but I don't know for sure."

You tilt your head, "What do you mean?"

"Well, there seems to be some sort of rift that has formed within the Damned. That Red Order the girls were shouting about, it is one of three that formed a few years ago and it was the largest. From what they told me it all comes down to faith, each group worships their bizarre goddess in a different way. They have been involved in a simmering dispute for something like the last three years with the other two orders. They were told that a great threat was coming their way and they mobilized everything they had to resist it. The girls are quite concerned about what will happen to their order now."

You move to the heart of the matter, "What about Serpent?"

"They told me that this Christine that took him belongs to the Silver Order, the smallest of the three. She came to them and gave them the warning that caused them to mobilize and she accompanied them as a show of good faith. The Silvers seems to be comprised mostly of mages and naturally they are rather secretive though the girls believe there are less than twenty of them all told. There is also a Blue Order but they know very little about it I am afraid."

You lean back, and rub your eyes, "Well... better than nothing I suppose. Are they worth anything to the Reds?"

She flashes you a smile, "They are the high priest's daughters. They were meant to lead the Reds to glory here and ensure their future. They may be worth an awful lot."

You dismiss Gareth and Ari as Amena and Brigit enter the room and Nine begins to lecture about the finer points of blowing things up and breaking your enemy.

Time for a few magic lessons, you have a feeling you will need them and Nine even lets you pick the topic...

-------------------------------------------

With everyone ready to leave you have a few choices to make:


1.You are not going to abandon Serpent but you have a few options on how to pursue his captor:

A) Use the side passage that Bari discovered. You will have to leave the wagon but it may speed up the trip, you do not know if you can still catch them.

B) Stick to the main passage. You can keep the wagon but it will be slower going and you may meet more resistance.

C) freeform


2. Now that you have your information what do you want to do with the prisoners:

A) Kill them.

B) Use them as hostages against the Reds. (If you abandon the wagon you will have to carry them.)

C) Let them go?

D) Try to win them over and turn them into your emissaries to the Reds (you would probably have to untie them and return their weapons though)

D)freeform


3.Nine gave you a very instructive magic lesson what was it about?

A)Controlling flame and throwing fire.

B)Electricity, lightning and other shocking topics.

C)Frost and the cold.

D)Poison, acid and corrosive spells.

E) Domination, and mental control.

F) Controlling the rocks and stones of the earth

G) Something else? Freeform (she has a fairly broad knowledge of magic so just ask and I will tell you whether or not she can teach it to you).
 

Chapter 14: Under Siege

Chapter 14: Under Siege

Amena screams, batting at the air as Brigit giggles.

Nine has been teaching your Circle the basics of mental manipulation. Up until now you have only been observing, you fully understand the suggestion spell and benefit little from the first hour of instruction.

Now however Nine is moving on to new spells, "Alright dears, the next spell I am going to show you is compulsion. Suggestion simply plants an idea in the target's mind but compulsion forces them to carry out an act. Concentration is key to this spell, you need to know exactly what you want the target to do to successfully influence them. Give your victim's mind any reason to doubt and they may break free. Now repeat after me-"

Another hour of instruction and you all have a good grasp of the compulsion spell. The four of you stand in silence contemplating the spell when without warning Brigit strikes herself full in the face, "Ouch! Which one of you did that!"

You all claim innocence but Amena has the guiltiest grin on her face. Seems she wanted a little revenge for Brigit's earlier suggestion.

Brigit's brow furrows as she tries to hit back but Amena is on guard. In fact she is paying so much attention to Brigit that she does not even notice Thaïs lean over until it is too late. Smack! Thaïs' hand darts out and strikes Amena in the face.

Thaïs gasps, "Amena I am so sorry!"

Brigit giggles and sticks out her tongue, "More than one way to skin a cat!"

As the two of them stare at one another, Brigit steps forward, swings her head forward and strikes Amena right on the forehead, "Oww!" both ladies groan.

They look at Thaïs who gives them her sweetest grin, "You two should not squabble."

Brigit looks back at Amena, "Ya know what Thaïs your right."

Amena smiles, "I agree one hundred percent."

They both concentrate on Thaïs as she begins to slap herself silly. Nine is silently watching from your desk with a large grin on her face. Seems she is getting a kick out of the show. While you will admit that it is slightly funny it would probably be a good idea to stop now. Still, there is something you want to try first...

Nine's magically theory was just what you needed to perfect your mass suggestion spell but you now believe that you could apply the same principle to a compulsion spell.

You concentrate on the three mages and in unison each extends their hands to their neighbours and they begin shaking hands. The three of them look back at you in complete shock, "I think you should all shake and call it a draw," you give them a smile, "Or I may be forced to show you who is in charge here."

"How are you doing that Derryth?" Thaïs manages to sputter out.

You give her a confident smirk, "Trick of the trade, stick around and I may show you some day."

"Bravo dear, you are an ambitious one!" if Nine could clap she probably would, seems they are all quite impressed with you, "Alright dears, I have one more spell to teach you. It is a sort of mind wipe that knocks your target out. It won't do permanent damage but it will hurt a lot so-"

"So no practicing on each other," you tell the group in your most commanding tone.

Pranks are all well and good but you don't want things to get out of hand.

Brigit grins, "Well, can we practice on you then?"

"No, but..." you reach into your pocket and pull out your Heaven Stones. They should block most of the energy from any attack while letting you all get some practice forming and handling the spell, "If Nine would be willing."

She sighs and dramatically rolls her eyes, "The things I do for my students. All right, load me up," she opens her mouth wide as you slip the stones in.

-----------------------------------------------

You are in your usual seat, Thaïs to your right and Amena to your left with Nine under one arm. Ithapi, Brigit and the prisoners rest in the back while Tyrvard, Gareth and the dwarves guard the wagon. It has taken you a day and a half but you have finally arrived at your destination, the offices of the Smiths of Muirthemne. However, things are not as you expected they would be.

You had expected traps and guards. At the very least you had expected the Reds to attack again. Instead all you find are deserted guard posts, sprung traps and the occasional corpse. You pick up speed, worried about Serpent's safety as you push into the lower levels of the offices.

As you look around it is impossible not to notice the signs of battle. There are corpses everywhere, some human, some spider and some in between. Most are human and dressed in silver, black and red with one or two dressed in silver and black. A handful of the corpses are horribly mutated and dressed in silver, black and blue. One of the corpses is pined under the twisted body of a Blue. It has an ornate silver staff which you take. You check but it is not Christine, part of you is relieved as much as you dislike her. Wherever she is Serpent will be nearby so for his sake you hope they are both safe.

You put your hands on your hips and whistle, "What the hell happened here do you think?"

Bari gives a nearby corpse a little kick, "Looks like the tensions between the Orders finally boiled over, Reds against Blues."

"Looks like the Silver are here as well," Gareth gives the corpse dressed in silver and black a little poke with the end of his sword, "Fighting alongside the Reds it looks like."

"So what should we make of this?" you scratch the back of your head.

Gareth frowns, "If I were going to launch an attack on an entrenched foe I would try and lure out their forces first. Could be the Blues decided to attack when word got back that the Reds were weakened..."

"You think we were bait?" Thaïs asks, a mixture of curiosity and concern playing across her face.

Jori grunts, "No way to know really unless we run into a survivor of this battle.."

"What happened to these Blues?" you ask to no one in particular as you examine the odd mixture of man and spider before you, you drop into a squat to better examine it.

It is a bizarre mockery of a man, four limbs, a torso and a head but the proportions are all wrong and it is covered in thick hairs. What draws your attention however are the two oversized fangs sticking out of its mouth.

You order Ithapi to bring Biliku over, "Hey kid, have you ever seen anything like this before?"

The normal fear she feels for you is completely gone, replaced by the horror and revulsion she feels for the creature before you, "No my lady, I have never encountered anything like this before. The... the Blues were humans like us... not whatever this thing is..." she is beginning to turn a shade of green so you dismiss her.

"Well I don't see Serpent among the dead so we press on I guess," you pull yourself back up leaning on your new staff and climb back up on the wagon.

Your group marches on through the empty lower tunnels. Level after level filled with nothing but the dead. As you near the main floor of the building you can hear a great deal of noise coming from just above you, seems like you have finally found someone.

You leave the wagon and most of your group downstairs as you and Tyrvard creep up the loading ramp to the main floor. The scene that greets you is horrific, the Blues are crowded around the dead of both sides.

They are... eating them.

One of them sits nearby looking away from you. It has the basic shape of a man but something about the way it moves is all wrong. The limbs that stick out from under its blood stained robe are crudely formed and covered in thick hairs and it is holding something in its hands; a leg or an arm you can not quite tell. As you examine it, it throws its head back revealing a warped head and large pair of fangs, it screeches. Its piercing, inhuman wailing draws the attention of its fellows who also throw their heads back and scream, joining their voices together in a disturbing parody of a human choir.

By your estimate there are twenty of these things in small groups of two or three scattered around the room. The large, metal front door of the building has been flung wide open and you think you can hear more of the creatures moving around outside. There is one large group of eight clawing at a massive set of barred doors on the far side of the room and you can faintly hear crying and human voices on the other side. For a second you think you hear Serpent's voice but you are not sure, the voice is just too quiet and too far away. What you are sure of though is that any survivors and any answers are on the other side of those doors, first though you have to get past the Blues.

You return downstairs as your group gathers around.

You begin in a whisper, "There are about twenty of those things up there and survivors holed up in an adjoining room behind a large set of double doors."

Biliku speaks up from the back of the wagon, all fear gone from her as concern for her family and friends seizes control, "That would be the chapel where we keep the holy relics, if father is still alive he will be leading the defense from there."

You shoot a question her way, "Are there any other ways in?"

She is still a bit intimidated by you but she tries her best to be brave, "Not that I am aware of my lady. It is built like a vault, strong doors but only one way in and out."

You rub your temples, and chuckle as you stare at the ceiling "It is never easy is it?" you sigh and turn to the group, "Well everyone, any plans?"


1. You think there are survivors in the far room. If you could get to them you might even find Serpent if he is still alive. How do you want to go about it?

A) Spiderfolk Diplomacy - they seem like such reasonable people... errr, monster things...

B) Ranged and Inner Door -You will rely on ranged weapons and spells to thin out the enemy and use your fighters to cover you while you make for the barred inner door. You will not worry about saving ammo.

C) Ranged and Front Door -You will rely on ranged weapons and spells to thin out the enemy and use your fighters to cover you while you make for the front door to close and bar it. You will not worry about saving ammo.

D)Balanced and Inner Door -You will use your ranged weapons and spells but you will use them sparingly and rely more on close ranged fighting while you make for the barred inner door.

E) Balanced and Front Door - You will use your ranged weapons and spells but you will use them sparingly and rely more on close ranged fighting while you make for the front door to close and bar it.

F) Melee and Inner Door - You want to conserve ammo, you will focus on close ranged combat with ranged and magical support while you make for the barred inner door.

G) Melee and Front Door - You want to conserve ammo, you will focus on close ranged combat with ranged and magical support while you make for the front door to close and bar it.

H) You use suggestion/compulsion to lure some of the Blues downstairs, if they resist the spell you will then try and lure them down using Tyrvard as bait. This may draw them all in however if it fails.

I) You and Thaïs use compulsion to have the Blues close and bar the doors while the rest of your group attacks. You will have to maintain concentrate on your target but it would get the doors closed quickly.

J)You and Thaïs use compulsion to have the Blues close and bar the doors. Once barred you lure as many downstairs as possible using ranged fire and a satchel charge you attempt to kill as many as possible. You mop up any survivors and push back up the ramp in time to prevent any Blues still upstairs from unbarring the doors. The greatest weakness of this plan is that it will require speed and good timing but it minimizes combat time and resources expended.

K) "Mine the passage; have Thais and Derryth use compulsion to close the gates; have Tyrvard attract the attention of the enemy right after that; have Thais assist Derryth in using mass compulsion and/or suggestion to prompt everyone to engage Tyrvard, then retreat (protecting the mages as necessary); have Brigit and Amena attempt crowd control to maintain enemy's focus on Tyrvard and to have as many enemies in the blast radius as possible; finish off the survivors.

If the enemy attempts retreat, compel them to keep the gates barred until the cleanup crew catches up to them. Their morale should be low at this point, their wills weak and their thoughts jumbled, so our mages should have an easy time suggesting anything they want."

L) Freeform


2. Do you free and arm Biliku and Uttu, they are both still injured but you do have a couple bows that they could use to provide additional support.

A) Yes - at his point the more help the better.

B) No - they may turn on you
 

Chapter 15: Opening Moves

Chapter 15: Opening Moves

Gareth is in his element as he whispers orders to all assembled, organizing you into ranks to begin your ascent.

"Dwarves to the front, archers and mages behind, warriors to either flank. We roll up the ramp and kill as many as possible as quickly as possible. But do not waste ammo, make sure every shot counts. We have no idea how many of those things are around," he marches back and forth as he speaks, you stand back and let the man work, "If we can not get those doors closed we will probably be overrun so that is priority one. The eight at the inner door will probably hit us as a group. Ari and Bari," the two pathfinders step forward and salute, "I want you to make them your first priority, if we can hit them before they disperse this will be much easier."

Bari chirps up, "Why are the dwarves out front?"

Gareth gives him a grin, "Because when you lot start throwing those things I want you in front of me instead of behind me."

Bari grins as Gareth stops and turns to you, "Any additional instructions boss?"

You step forward from behind the veteran, "Yes, for the mages. Don't worry about doing anything fancy. It will probably be too difficult to force these things to fight their comrades but you can do a lot with a little."

Amena raises a hand, "What do you mean Derryth?"

"Just think about how unsteady a thing walking is, or running for that matter. Make them take a wrong step, make them hesitate for just a second and they will fall. If you do not have a guaranteed kill then aim to incapacitate. We have reason to believe that these things are fast but if they are flat on the ground it won't matter. Above all do not burn yourselves out, ration your spells and pick your targets," Amena nods while you and Gareth take your places in the battle line. He gives the order and you ascend the ramp.

For a group your size you move with a surprising degree of silence and cohesion. The Blues for their part make your job easier by making so much noise they do not even notice the first volley of missiles. Arrows, spells and dwarven cocktails wipe out half of your enemies before they even have time to move. The Blues drop; burnt or blasted by spells, shot through with well placed arrows or blown to small, moist, bits by your dwarven allies.

You group quickly makes for the front door. Two of the Blues intercept Tyrvard and Jori who manage to dispatch them as Biliku and Uttu provide support. Ithapi and Gareth at the head of your group make it to the doors and push them shut. As they secure the great metal bolts in the door it starts to shake and bounce slightly. Something outside is trying to force its way in but is having little luck. All of this takes place before the eight Blues at the door can react but once they realize what is happening they turn and attack as one.

Brigit was right, they are very fast, so fast that Ari and Bari can not get a lock on them. The pathfinders throw but only catch the two at the back of the pack as the rest charge towards you.

"Break their charge!" you call out to the rest of the Lost. Your three mages begin casting as you focus on the lead Blue.

Smeared in blood and ash she is hideous, a great pair of fangs hanging from a broken jaw, twisted arms outstretch towards you. But what you focus on are her legs, you reach out to her mind and find something barely more than animal instinct. Any intellect she may possess has been washed away by bloodlust. This should be doable. You slip her a slight suggestion, that there is a gap in front of her. Without thinking she hesitates for just a moment and the Blue behind her crashes into her back. The two monstrosities roll together slamming into the Blue to their right. The other Blues suffer similar accidents as the six of them collapse together in a pile.

Usually such a trick would do you little good as they are back on their feet after only a few dozen seconds, ready to tear you all apart. However a few seconds is all your pathfinders needed. You raise an arm to shield your face as a wave of blood and body parts hits you, coating you from head to toe.

This skirmish was a quick affair, twenty dead Blues later you stand victorious as your group cheers.

You wipe some of the gore off of yourself, "Well that went well."

Gareth nods then grunts, "It won't always..."

"Don't look now Derryth but I think we have company," Ithapi gestures behind you and as you turn the inner doors creak open.

You are met by two figures, the Red Commander from the earlier battle and Christine. Both look worse than you do which is quite a feat considering you are covered in monster bits.

She begins, "My humble thanks to our brave rescu-", she stops in mid sentence as she spots you. You stare at one another ready to attack her if she begins casting.

The silence is oppressive and you are about to say something when Biliku steps up next to you, draws her bow and fires. The arrow strikes the surprised Red commander in the throat, he does not even have time to scream as he falls to his knees and bleeds out on the floor.

You raise an eyebrow and turn to the girl, "Care to tell me what that was all about?"

She looks you in the eyes her usual fear gone, nods and gestures to the body, "He left me to die, that I could forgive. He left Uttu to die, that I could not forgive," she hands you her bow and steps back behind you.

Well if nothing else you can respect her loyalty to her sister.

You turn your attention back to the Silver mage now standing alone in the doorway, "Where is my friend?"

Her attitude is different than before, still hostile but more restrained, less bold, "He... he is in the chapel tending to our wounded and Biliku's father. You may speak to him if you wish..."

You let Biliku and Uttu walk beside you as Christine leads half your group into the chapel. They seem a little more at ease in your presence, still quite nervous around you but you think given a month or so that you could probably win them over. Of course you do not have a month and so you keep them close, they are your only bargaining chips after all. Christine leads you into the chapel where a crowd of maybe twenty children stand around nervously chatting. They stare at your group with a mixture of awe and fear. By your estimate not one of them is older than twelve and they look to be about half Red Order and half Silver Order.

You reach out and grab Christine's arm, she tenses as you stop her, "Is this it? Where are the warriors of your Orders?"

She refuses to look at you and pulls free of your grasp, "If you have questions save them for those in charge, alright farmer."

You, Thaïs, Biliku, Uttu, Gareth and Jori follow Christine behind a large sheet stretched across the back of the chapel. Within you find ten makeshift beds each holding a badly wounded Red or Silver, those that are conscious turn to watch you as you pass. You head deeper still into the very back of the chapel. As you enter the last room you notice three figures. The first is a giant of a man, stripped to the waist he is missing his right arm below his elbow and much of the right side of his face is bandaged. He rests in bed arguing with a woman in silver. In fact if you had to use a word to describe her it would be just that. She is silver, from the hue of her skin to the highlights of her hair and the colour of her eyes. Everything about her is silver. Putting two and two together you determine that the man must be Biliku's father and the woman Christine's mother, the heads of their orders now without any warriors to command.

The third figure is of course Serpent and when he sees you he drops what he is doing, "Derryth! Thaïs! What are you doing here?" the physician drops what he is doing and races up to you giving you each a warm embrace.

You reach into your pack, "Well you forgot something when you left," you hand Serpent back his robe and he almost breaks down in tears.

"Thank you, thank you both," he takes the robe and slips it into his belongings.

While you catch up with Serpent, Biliku and Uttu are having a similar reunion with their father.

The man sputters in disbelief, "Girls, oh my girls, I thought you were dead. Breamas told me you were both dead," rage plays across the man's face, "Someone bring me Breamas, he will die one thousand times over for his lies!"

Biliku takes her father's hand, "Father, Breamas is dead. I shot him myself but a few moments ago."

He throws his head back and laughs, "Good girl, Biliku! You make an old man proud!"

The girls hug their father as you make a mental note not to anger this family.

At first the Red leader only has eyes for his daughters but after a few minutes he turns his attention to the rest of you, he arches an eyebrow, "Tell me little Uttu, who are your friends here?"

Uttu begins, the look on her face is deathly serious, "These are the Lost, father! They are great warriors and powerful mages from the surface. They are the ones we went out to fight under Breamas' command," she runs over and grabs Thaïs by the hand, dragging her over to the bed, "This is Lady Thaïs and she is their second in command, she is beautiful and terrible and smart and-"

Thaïs cuts the girl short, "It is my pleasure to meet you sir, your daughters are quite charming," she gives the man a deep curtsey as Biliku walks up to you.

She stops short uncertain of what to do. You can tell she wants to introduce you but is not certain if it is her place to do so. Part of you thinks she is still worried you will turn her into a severed head. Out of mercy for the poor child you extend your hand and take hers.

Instantly she drags you across the room to the other side of the bed, "And this father, is Mistress Derryth! She is their leader and she ended the battle with only one spell! She blew up Arachne and beat Uttu like it was nothing!"

Uttu nods and sniffles a little as she remembers her dead mount and pet. She brightens though as she begins talking, "Oh father as soon as she appeared the whole battle shifted. Biliku and I were beaten, and that coward Breamas ran away. Not only is she a... a..." she struggles for words before proudly remembering Thaïs' speech, "an archmage of great powers and ancient magics but she is also a great and skilled healer and doctor. Of those under her command not one died that was not already dead before she got there! And father, she saved out lives! The lives of her enemies! She is great and terrible but wise and merciful too!"

Biliku shakes her head, "No sister, I am sure all the dwarves were dead! She brought them back! Such is her power!"

It is becoming clear now that the sisters are building off one another. Laying out everything you have ever said to them and many things they only dreamed of. Biliku starts in again, "Oh! Also she has a GRAND collection of severed heads! And they talk and scream and do all sorts of things!"

Uttu stares at her feet and adds, "They are a little scary though..."

Biliku nods her head emphatically, "And she controls shadows, and she fights monsters, and she saves people father! Maybe if we ask nicely she will save us!"

Christine, quiet until now, snickers, "The farmer does all that? She must have been holding out on me, 'cause from what I have seen she can barely cast a spell. Maybe you Reds really are incompetent."

You frown as Uttu sticks her tongue out at the Silver, "Nu uh, she is a great mage! She is a... um..."

Biliku comes to her sister's aid, "A fell and terrible master of the dark arts!"

It is a curious thing to watch as the girls alternate between a sort of hero worship and abject terror of your "mastery" of magic. You are going to have to ask Thaïs and Amena about what exactly they have been telling these girls behind your back.

Their father chuckles, "Alright, alright girls. How about you let this Derryth speak for herself. I am Casgair, leader of the Red Order, though that title means little now." he extends his remaining arm towards you.

You shake and assume a more formal tone, "A pleasure to meet you. I am, as your daughters said, Derryth leader of the Lost and this expedition."

"I would welcome you to our home Derryth but there is little left of it or of us to be honest. Breamas, the commander you fought, was the last of my warriors still capable of fighting. I now lead a handful of children, although if there is anything I can do for you to repay you for saving my daughters you need only ask and it is yours."

The Silver leader until now has remained aloof, "While I am sure these reunions are all very heartening we must turn our attention to how we can best survive the Blues. If we can make it into the lower tunnels we can escape-"

Casgair waves her off, "This is my home Neith, I will not leave it to the damned Blues. They will not take the relics-"

At the mention of the relics Jori finally speaks up, "I have a demand to make of you human. You may have among your relics a maul that is of great importance to my people. I wish it returned."

Casgair tenses up, "Listen here dwarf, I am not letting the Blues take the relics and I am sure as hell not letting some dwarf take them either!"

You back away from the brewing argument as the three of them fall to fighting.

"Alright Serpent, I think now might be a good time to leave," you whisper to your friend.

"Derryth it is not that simple I-" he begins as Christine walks over.

"You are not taking my husband anywhere!" she stamps her foot.

"Husband!" you and Thaïs shout at the same time.

You begin interrogating Serpent, "You were gone what two days at most? How in the name of Wyrd did you get married in two days!"

He scratches the back of his neck, "Um... well Christine's mother is some sort of priestess and well things may have gotten out of hand. At any rate Christine really is not that bad when you get to know her."

"Damn it Serpent, she kidnapped you! This is not how a healthy relationship starts!" you grab him by the arm and begin to lead him from the room, "As your friends we are going to get you out of here."

Thaïs nods in agreement, "Once we are away from here I am certain you will see how insane this sounds."

Christine grabs him by his other arm and starts to drag him back into the room, "He is my husband. We love each other and I am more than capable of looking after him. You two will not just steal him away!"

You can't believe what you are hearing, "Steal him away! You stole him you crazy bitch!"

Thaïs helps you pull him back towards the door, "In the middle of a battle of all things you took him from his friends! You have no right to him! Serpent tell her you want to leave."

"Please Serpent, you know my people need help! Tell them you want to stay!"

Serpent attempts to negotiate a truce, "Please ladies, if we could just talk about this you would see how much you have in common."

"I don't have anything in common with her!" you both blurt out at the same time. You and Christine give one another a uncertain stare before you continue to pull on Serpent.

By this point the entire room has collapsed into chaos...

"You have no right-"

"Return to us our relic-"

"Father what should we do-"

"Serpent wants to stay-"

"He wants to go-"

"We have to go-"

"We have to stay-"

"Please ladies-"

"The relics stay, as do we-"

"Enough!" Gareth draws his sword and slams the pommel on a nearby table, instantly the chaos gives way to order and silence as he turns to Jori and the leaders of the Damned, "You have a duty to every living soul out there to protect them from what is to come and if you want to search for the relic Jori then you will need to survive the coming attack. Work together or fall before them! And you three!" you all instantly let go of Serpent, "It is Serpent's decision to make. Let the man make it for Wyrd's sake!"

He continues in a tone that allows for no dissent, "I want to know the floor plan of the building, entrances and exits, chokepoints, all of it. We need to clear firing lanes and set up the artillery if we are staying. If we are going then we need a proper plan of retreat or we will be butchered. Does everyone understand?"

In complete silence you all nod, "Good, now we-"

A voice calls out from the front of the building, "Casgair! Neith! Do you yet live!"

Casgair climbs out of bed with his daughters supporting him as you all make the long walk back to the front door.

You peer through one of the narrow windows at the front of the building, thankfully the windows are too narrow to climb through or you would be overrun. As it is you could probably fire through them though...

You look out and see four robed figures dressed in silver, black and blue standing in the middle of a horde of mutated Blues. With their hoods up you can not make out any features.

The middle figure, tall and thin, calls out again, "Casgair! Neith! Do you yet live!"

The Red calls back, "You can be sure I do Abharsair! Your monsters have not killed us yet!"

"A pity Casgair! I shall have to try harder!"

You whisper to Casgair, "Keep them talking."

He nods as you grab Gareth, Ari and Bari. In your wagon is the old mortar you found which you promptly set up behind one of the windows. You should be able to fire through the window and hit the group if you have to.

"Why are you doing this Abharsair?"

"Why not? You Reds and Silver blaspheme with every breath. Your very existence is an insult to our goddess and once you are dead and I have the relics we will be one step closer to perfection!"

Well now that does not sound insane at all...

There are a number of ways you can try to handle the situation, most are mutually exclusive however.


1. With everyone focused on the army outside you could try and slip away. Do you? The dwarves are unlikely to leave with the maul so close but the rest of your group should have little problem slipping away though you may have to drag Serpent with you...

A) You leave and leave Serpent - this is not your fight and if he wants to stay it is his choice

B) You leave and take Serpent - this is not your fight but you will not let Serpent throw his life away (he may resist though)

C) You stay - these Blues seems dangerous, together you may have a better chance than apart.


2. If you stay, what do you do?

A) Fire the mortar - with any luck you will kill the entire command group in one shot although this will probably provoke an immediate battle

B) Try and negotiate a truce - Well Thaïs will try and negotiate, you have already learnt your lesson

C) Bluff them - Thaïs will try and delay the battle as long as possible while you work together to come up with an actual plan to escape or defend the building.

D) Challenge this Abharsair to a duel? Well it works in all the stories and it would give your people time to prepare but you would be exposing yourself...

E) Freeform


3. If you delay the start of the battle you will have time to come up with a plan:

A) A plan of retreat:

i. Quick Retreat - you leave the wounded and the children. Only people that can carry their own weight will make it anyway.

ii. Balanced Retreat - you take the children but leave the wounded. If they can not walk they will never make it.

iii. Slow Retreat - you load up the wagon with the wounded and you take the children. You do not like the idea of leaving anyone alive for those things to find.

iv. Merciful Quick Retreat - you kill the wounded and the children. At least it will be quicker than what the Blues will do to them.

v. Cover the Retreat - "split use children, Maul, Biliku and her sister to pack wounded people and start retreating, stall for time, if it fail use mortar to thin horde, if dwarfs are good enough demolition experts plant explosives on entrance of tunnel to collapse it after retreat to force enemies to take more time to give chase."

v. Freeform

B)A plan for defence:

i. Long Range Focus - the building is built like a fortress with a number of narrow windows on the first and second floor from which you can fire. You will attempt to thin out their numbers before they get inside with damage dealing spells, arrows, cocktails and the mortar

ii. Medium Range Focus - You will hold off until these things reach the building and will set up a couple choke points to funnel them into. Clever use of satchel charges will help thin them out before they reach your line.

iii. Close Range Focus - You will rely on mental attack spells and the web traps of the Damned to bunch up your enemies at close range where it will be impossible to miss them.

iv. Use everything! - there is an army out there! You will use the Mortar, the satchels, all the spells, and every trick you have to get through this with an absolute minimum amount of risk.

v. Freeform

4. The Ring: (As per request)

A) You throw it away

B) You keep it for later
 

Chapter 16: Won't Get Fooled Again

Chapter 16: Won't Get Fooled Again

"Are you sure this is going to work?" you whisper to the dwarves.

"Please Derryth, we know what we are doing," Ari chastises you, "Any pathfinder worth their salt could hit those four from here, we have got this under control."

Bari nods, "Besides, I bet not one of these cave dwellers even knows what a mortar is. They won't suspect a thing."

Gareth moves up and down your lines, trying to get people in place for what will come next. He does not have enough time for anything clever, "As soon as they are within range, fire at will and don't stop until they are dead or broken. If they get inside we are going to take casualties... if they do get inside we will have to fall back into the chapel so be ready."

You all nod as Bari and Ari argue in Dwarven over which round to pick. Finally Bari reaches into the second case and pulls out a bomb. He grins at you, "Willie Pete," before you can ask what he is talking about he slides the bomb into the tube, you cover your ears and the mortar fires...

--------------------------------------------------

The creature lay in hiding, watching, waiting for its chance to attack. The doors had closed and trapped it outside away from its prey, away from its food. Instantly it thought of betrayal. Had its companions locked it outside? Unwilling to share the warm, fresh meat that awaited inside? Rage bubbled to the surface of the creature's mind, it would find a way in! It would eat! Yet it could hear screams coming from within. The screams of its people and then silence. Questions, so many questions, forced themselves into its mind and choking back its rage it began to listen and to plan.

Its plans however are interrupted by a loud crack and a sort of whistle as something passes through the air over its head...

--------------------------------------------------

Today is Abharsair's day of triumph.

Finally the Blues would rule over the Damned and he would rule over them.

In a few short weeks he would even have the numbers to challenge that abomination in the center of the city and in mere months after that he would drive that pretender Alric from the city above and reclaim Muirthemne for his dark goddess.

He calls out again, "Casgair! Neith! Do you yet live!"

The Red calls back, "You can be sure I do Abharsair! Your monsters have not killed us yet!"

"A pity Casgair! I shall have to try harder!" Abharsair chuckles to himself.

Combined the Red and Silver Orders can not have more than ten warriors between them. This battle is over, this war is won but of course Casgair will draw out the inevitable.

"Casgair! If you surrender now I will make your deaths quick! If you force me to waste another day here then you-"

No warning... no chance to prepare... no spell could save the man... he knows nothing...

Except the heat...

Heat and pain....

The last things Abharsair will ever experience.

-----------------------------------------

You watch the command group through your spyglass, "A direct hit!" you shout.

Cheers go up across your entire line. The four enemy mages are dead.

Or rather three of them are. As the smoke clears you can plainly see that Abharsair and two of the robed figures have been demolished. Their smouldering remains litter the center of the enemy horde. But one of the figures yet stands, wavering slightly as if it is not even there. It raises an arm to hold back the horde but in the chaos less than a third of the Blues follow this order. The rest charge your lines.

You are not the most organized group and you do not have time to maximize the efficiency of your efforts. What you do have though is enough ranged firepower to simply blanket the ground between you and your targets. The bombs from the mortar and the dwarven cocktails tear up the earth in front of the building. On such uneven ground even the Blues have difficulty. Slowed by their numbers and lack of coordination, your archers set to work thinning out their ranks while you and the mages work crowd control.

You and the Lost drive them together with suggestions and compulsions while Christine and Neith slow them with spells of entanglement. As the enemy bunches up the dwarves take advantage hurling cocktails into the worst of them. Their casualties must be horrendous and yet they charge on. Barely twenty make it to the front door. If you were in a wooden structure this would still be a cause for concern but here in the offices of the Smiths, a virtual fortress, there are not nearly enough to force their way into the building.

When they realize this they turn to flee, passing back into your range of fire. The assembled mages switch to direct damage spells and compete to see who can kill the most.

Once again your little alliance lets out a cheer, the divisions of half an hour ago momentarily subsumed by the thrill of victory against a superior force.

Gareth is grinning from ear to ear in relief as he comes up to you, "We did it! I was not sure it would work but we did it! I-"

The veteran notices that you do not look happy, "What's the matter boss?"

Handing him your spyglass you point out the window. As he surveys the battlefield his smile disappears. The single surviving mage has been joined by three others, strangely similar in build and height. They stand before a horde of over one hundred Blues.

The four mages step forward as one and spread out, probably to avoid mortar fire. They speak together, or rather one of them speaks but you can not tell which, "Casgair! I am impressed! You actually allied with those dwarves? I did not think you were capable of such diplomacy!"

Casgair returns to the window, "Who the hell do I have the displeasure of addressing now!"

The mages lift their hands in unison and pull back their hoods, "You may call me Miosguinn! I think you will find that I am more reasonable than my predecessor! I will even give you a choice! Surrender and join with me or fall before me!"

Jori yells, "Mage, what will you do with my people if we surrender!"

Miosguinn raises one hand to his chin, "I am deeply sorry Jori but you and yours will have to join my Order as well!"

Jori laughs, "I am afraid I would make a poor slave, mage!"

Through the spyglass you can see Miosguinn chuckle, "I can respect that dwarf! But if you will not join then you must die! You really should have gone back with Derryth, Jori, but now it is too late for all of us! I can not risk you returning to the surface and spreading word of the Damned, we are not yet ready to fight Alric!"

Neith hisses, "He wants to fight the Emperor? He will get us all killed if we join him."

Casgair lets out an angry grunt and mumbles, "Servitude or death... can't say I like either of those options," he shouts back, "Miosguinn, is it? I will need time to confer with my colleagues!"

"Oh, by all means Casgair! Take as much time as you would like! You can not escape and I am more than willing to wait!" with that the four Miosguinns turn and disappear into the crowd.

You survey the room, "Well people what are our options here?"

Gareth frowns, "We used up most of our ammo fighting the horde off just a moment ago..."

Biliku steps forward, "We have maybe twenty arrows left."

"And my bow," Bigit holds up her weapon.

Gareth turns to the dwarves, "What about explosives?"

Ari nods and sighs, "Right, well we are out of cocktails, we have two mortar bombs, and a dozen satchel charges."

Tyrvard raises a hand, you can tell what he is about to say pains him, "We... we can waste... er use the alcohol from my still to make fire bombs if we can find some bottles and rags."

You mumble, "Hmmm... a bit grim then?"

Jori cuts in, "Then maybe we should take a look at these relics and see if any of them can be of use."

"Look dwarf, you will not get your hands on our relics! So drop it!"

You are about to come to Jori's aid when Christine of all people speaks up, "Lord Casgair, would it be better to lose one relic or all of them? For your people, for mine," she takes Serpent's hand, "We have to be flexible here or none of us will survive."

"Girl, what business-"

You interrupt, "I can't believe I am saying this but she is right. If we fight amongst ourselves we die. It is as simple as that. We need every tool we can get."

Casgair, a little overwhelmed by your strange alliance sputters a little, "While I appreciate what you did for my daughters-"

Biliku interrupts him now, "Father, maybe they are right. What good will the relics do us if we are all dead?"

The Red lowers his head, "Damn it, fine. I will let you search through the relics but be careful with them!"

You nod a couple times, "Okay, we are not completely without weapons and we do still have our magic as well... we might be able to fight back if we have to."

Gareth shakes his head, "Miosguinn has always be fairly cautious or perhaps paranoid may be a better term. He is unlikely to attack us especially after witnessing Abharsair's failure. I think he will probably try and starve us out for a few days and then move in for the kill. Fortunately we still have supplies so we may be able to give him a bit of a surprise there."

Neith interjects, her voice filled with suspicion, "You know this man?"

Thaïs answers, "He was under contract with our expedition to provide magical support. Naturally we had no idea that he was involved with any of this."

It is clear that Casgair is uncertain, "You helped my daughters, fought with us here and I can think of no reason that matters not to trust you. But are we certain he will not attack? With the numbers he has-"

You shake your head, "Most of those Blues are probably illusions. Miosguinn is quite skilled in that field, hence the body doubles while he negotiated. He is probably masking his true numbers to intimidate us. I doubt he has more than thirty followers left."

Neith nods in agreement, "There are definitely spells in effect over the enemy forces. But illusions on that scale would take a lot of power. Miss Derryth does he have that level of skill?"

"No, no he doesn't. I am not sure-" you stop as Nine whispers to you from your pack. Gareth continues the conversation as you drop back a little.

"Dear, he is not casting, I can tell. He is pulling power from somewhere else, something else."

You whisper to her, "Something we should be concerned about?"

"Maybe, I don't know. Whatever he is tapped into is powerful but I don't think it can directly interfere here. Just be aware that wherever his power is coming from it will grant him deep reserves..."

You turn your attention back to the rest of the group. Gareth is speaking, "It looks like he does not know that the rest of us came with Jori. That has to give us an advantage right?"

Brigit nods, "Maybe we could arrange for a face to face negotiation and ambush him?"

"Why not use this opportunity to withdraw?" Neith suggests, "He does not seem to be as aggressive as Abharsair but that does not mean that he is not encircling us as we speak."

"Not again, Neith, I will not abandon my home!" Casgair thunders.

Gareth raises a hand to stop them both, "It is an option we should consider, but it is just that. An option. We should consider them all," he turns to you, "Well boss? What do you think?"


1. What to do? Miosguinn seems willing to wait out the defenders and let them starve. He has given you time, even if he does not know that you (and your supply wagon) are there. The question is what to do with it.

A) Further entrench yourself - you will build up defences and wait.


B) Organize a retreat - now that you have reduced their numbers you try to escape

i) Just your group - you will try to slip away while no one is watching

ii) Anyone that can walk and fight - you leave the children and wounded

iii) Anyone that can walk - you leave the wounded

iv) Everyone - you take everyone with you

v) Everyone and the Relics - you take everyone and carry away the relics as well


C) Negotiate - You see if you and Thaïs can change Miosguinn's mind

i) you negotiate in good faith

ii) you try and lure Miosguinn out and murder him


D) A Trap - Proceed as in A but then pretend to offer battle with the Damned and the dwarves. Have them retreat back into the offices, lure the Blues in and kill them all.

E) Charge! - Proceed as in A but once preparations are complete go on the offensive. You will hit Miosguinn with everything you have in a frontal assault.

F) freeform

Z) Option 9 : Let the severed talking head enter your mind and hopefully give it back after she takes care of the problem.

2. Anti-magic grenades. You think you can weaponize the Heaven Stones and turn them into dispelling grenades. This is a one way process and will destroy the stones when use. If you chose any option that takes time (A, D, E) then you have the opportunity to do so. How many do you want to create?

A) zero

B) one

C) two

D) three

E) four
 

Chapter 17: Casualties

Chapter 17: Casualties

Two days... two days of constant preparation.

It is Gareth's belief that Miosguinn will only give you a few days before he closes in for the kill. You spend this time healing the wounded and making weapons, casting runes and setting up satchel charges. You even manage to transform one of your Heaven Stones into a sort of anti-magic grenade which should help with any illusions you encounter.

Nine trains the assembled mages in techniques to more quickly recognize illusions and you even have a few moments to spar with Gareth and work on your knife play. It won't win the battle but if it comes to hand-to-hand you will at least be prepared.

Tyrvard spends the time building fire bombs. Even now the man refuses to reveal the hiding place of his still to anyone, even Serpent, but he dutifully manufactures ammunition for your dwarven allies.

The plan, as Gareth put it, is to draw out the enemy force by offering battle and then faking a rout. With any luck this will draw your enemy into the offices and into your kill zones. In such a confined space illusions would count for little and it is your belief that once Miosguinn loses line of sight to his targets his illusions will also disperse. You are fairly certain that he is hiding somewhere at the back of the enemy camp and projecting his own image forward.

Once the Blues are all inside you will then slam the doors shut using an improvised dwarven mechanism and slaughter them all and destroying Miosguinn's remaining strength.

To do this you will have to expose some of your forces.

The Reds, the Silver and the dwarves will all have to assemble in front of the building if their "last stand" is to be believable. They will have to advance away from the building but hopefully they will not have to go far. Based upon the earlier advance of the Blues you think they can make it back before the Blues reach them.

The question of who would stay and who would go is a matter of heated discussion as evidenced by the may arguments that play out around you. Casgair talks to his girls, Serpent and Christine argue with Neith, while the dwarves gather round discussing something in Dwarven.

"Father! You have to let us go!" the two girls demand in unison.

Casgair shakes his head and lets out a deep laugh, a roar from the gut, "Normally girls I would. It will be a glorious victory and we Reds will once more stand triumphant! But no, someone must remain to protect our people. You girls have a duty to the children in there to see them through this. The Goddess willing this plan will succeed and I will see you both soon."

He drops to one knee, lowering his colossal frame to look his daughters in the eyes, "Biliku, until I get back you are in charge and Uttu I expect you to help your sister. You will both aid Mistress Derryth to the best of your abilities and I better not hear about any whining, do you both understand?"

The girls nod as he grins, tousling Uttu's hair. Casgair draws himself up to his full height as the girls enter the chapel.

The Red leader waves you over, the bravado he demonstrated in front of his daughters disappears almost instantly, "Mistress Derryth, I have no claim on you," he shakes his head, "I can't ask you for anything, I don't have the right. Hell, if you had arrived a week ago we would probably be enemies. Still I must ask you for a favour... If I don't make it my people are for all purposes dead. A dozen children will not survive for more than a week down here by themselves. If I die I ask that you take them-"

You fold your arms, "If you start thinking like that then you definitely will not make it. Think about your daughters, you have a duty to them. I can't do-"

He raises his hand to stop you, "I appreciate it Derryth and I have no intention of dying today but I hold no illusions. I am old, I am tired..." he stares a his feet and sighs, "I miss my wife. By the Goddess, Derryth, I only have one arm. Even if this succeeds I truly doubt I will survive to see it-"

"FINE!!" you both turn as Christine storms past you. Serpent and Neith exchange a few words before he sets off after her into the chapel.

Neith shakes her head as she watches the two figures retreat into the chapel. She notices you both staring and walks up to you.

"What in the name of Wyrd was that about?" you ask, a little worried about this new development.

She sighs, "It was nothing. I simply told her that she was to stay and watch the children. She was not visable when the Blues first attacked and they will not notice her absence. It is simply too dangerous for her to come with me. In time she will come to accept the wisdom of my decision."

Casgair chuckles, "I would not be so certain of that Neith. I don't remember you ever being reasonable when we were younger."

She smiles, memories of better times forcing their way into her mind, "Well Casgair you were just so good at driving me into a rage. I can't even remember what I saw in you..."

You raise an eyebrow at this, "Oh, so you two..."

He gives you a wink, "The paths not taken Derryth. I was a young man once and Neith here had her charms."

She frowns, "Ancient history Derryth, hardly worth bringing up. But I did not come over here to talk about my misspent youth. I know I have no right to ask-"

You interrupt her, "You want me to look after the remnants of your Order should you die."

She is genuinely surprised, "Yes, I-"

Casgair beams at her, "I just finished asking her to do the same thing for my kids."

Your frown, "Do I really look like a Wyrd-damned orphanage?"

The two leaders laugh as Neith begins again, "I had a whole speech prepared and everything... I will simply say this, my people will likely die without aid. Even if the Blues die here, my Order is finished. I would rather see Christine live a long and happy life than die in the dark..." as she says the words their meaning hits home for her rendering Neith speechless.

You mumble to yourself, largely about what a pain in the ass it would be to have to raise a bunch of orphans, "I will consider it."

They look at one another and Neith speaks, "Thank you Derryth, that is the most we could hope for I suppose."

Jori walks up to you as they leave to rally their warriors.

He gives you a slight nod, "Well Derryth, we are all ready to do this. I am assigning Ari and Bari to your group. They would be wasted as a diversion and I would feel safer knowing that they are back here handling the explosives. I have instructed them to follow your orders in all things..." he hefts the glowing, rune encrusted maul up onto his shoulder, "Well, I guess this is it. If we both make it through this I insist you come to visit me in Myrgard. You will get to see proper dwarven hospitality! If... if we don't make it through this I just wanted to say.... well... thank you Derryth. I would never have gotten this far without you."

You are left standing alone as Jori returns to his group.

Wyrd, you hope this works...

Two days... two days and you are ready. Well, as ready as you are ever going to be.

-------------------------------------------------------------

"Well Casgair, are you ready to surrender?" Miosguinn, or rather Miosguinns, stand in front of their army. One hundred mutated Blues and another two hundred loyal spiders drawn up behind him. Most are illusions, well you hope most are illusions.

Your allies stand in formation, their wounded healed, the older children armed. All told there are twenty of them. They have drawn themselves up as close to the building as they could get without tipping your hand. The Blues need to believe that the battle is real or the whole plan will fail. You observe the unfolding scene through your spyglass.

"We will never surrender to you mage!" Jori shouts out as his four dwarves each draw a smelting rod, the restored relics of the Damned.

Neith lets out a confident, melodic laugh, "I am afraid the rest of the true faithful must echo that sentiment!"

Miosguinn sighs, "Very well then! I had hoped to avoid yet more pointless deaths but if you wish to do this the hard way-"

Casgair cuts him off, "I have an idea mage! Why don't you surrender to us before we level your entire army!"

The Miosguinns give out a high pitched hiss and order their army forward. If Gareth's plan works the Blues will struggle to cross the battlefield and your people will have time to withdraw. As the Blues close on your allies they begin to rout.

The Blues will chase them inside and you will spring your trap. It is all going so well...

And then it all falls apart...

Miosguinn gestures to a nearby Blue who raises a strange horn and blows a single note. As one, six Blues stationed on a nearby overlook raise their limbs. They stand on the tips of their legs as they let out a number of thin threads. The Miosguinns reach into their robes and draw out a broken stone... no, not just any stone...

Your stone, the bastard has the Halcyon Stone.

He raises the stone and begins to chant, as a breeze begins to blow. The Blues on the overlook let out screams of triumph as the wind grabs a hold of their threads and carries them into the air with tremendous speed, ballooning along. They dive at your fleeing allies, dropping down towards them faster than they can run.

The six Blues each choose a target and you are powerless to help them. Neith turns letting out a blast of silver energy as she covers the retreat of her fellows. She saves Casgair's life though he does not notice as he runs.

She manages to drop half a dozen illusions and two real Blues before she is overrun. She makes no sound as she falls. The Blues swarm her and with a simple twist they pop off her head.

Less than half your allies now remain as they struggle to get back inside. Miosguinn finishes chanting and orders his lackey to once more blow on the horn. Two sharp blasts echo out into the dark and the second stage of Miosguinn's plan begins...

----------------------------------------------------------

The creature waits in darkness. Its new master has promised it meat, more meat than it could ever hope for but it has to sit in this burrow and be very still, very quiet.

So close to the surface now, all it has to do is wait. Wait for the sound of the horn... two blasts, then attack.

Two sharp notes ring out. Now is the time to hunt! Now is the time to kill! Now is the time to eat!

The creature bursts forth from the ground and grabs a hold of the nearest target. He is large, he is powerful, he is covered in the blood of its siblings. Thankfully he only has one arm to fight back with. He is tough, yes, but he will make a good meal though he struggles so.

Still slowly but surely the creature draws its captive back underground. As it does so it bites... over and over again it bites. Injecting its venom into its meal, dissolving its prey, softening it for dinner.

As its captive gurgles beneath it the creature lets out a happy scream and digs in...

------------------------------------------------------

Well so much for the Damned.

Dead to the last man, woman and child. You will have to break the news to Christine and the girls but not now. They need to be functional for what is to come.

The dwarves are doing better. Under Jori's leadership they are making slow progress back to the doors. The smelting rods keep the Blues at bay as Jori lays in with his maul. Everywhere the hammer swings Blues, both real and illusion, drop and spiders scatter. Flame spits from the maul as Jori swings it back and forth, warding off the Blues.

Still, you do not like their odds. You leave the window to consult with Gareth, you whisper "Should we do something? Jori is alone out their, both the Reds and Silver are gone."

The veteran shakes his head, "We stick to the plan. If Jori makes it great but if he doesn't the Blues will rush in to devour the children now that their defenders are dead. The plan will still work."

Brigit starts in, in a whisper, "Bit cold isn't that? They are our friends we should do somethin'."

He has trouble meeting her stare, "There is nothing we can do. People die in battle, no way around it..."

Your group sits in silence as the sounds of battle echo from outside. Jori and his dwarves fight for survival and you must wait.

Ari and Bari fidget but they know as well as anyone that there is nothing they can do.

Jori bursts through the door alone, a smelting torch in one hand and the maul in the other as the Blues pour in after him.

Finally you spring your trap as the bulk of the horde forces its way into the room. As they leave Miosguinn's line of sight the illusions disappear leaving the real Blues and spiders to face your onslaught. You unload on the horde with everything you have and you personally account for fifteen Blues and half a dozen spiders. As you massacre the attackers the front doors slam shut cutting off the bulk of Miosguinn's army from any escape. Ari detonates the satchel charges by the door. As the satchel charges go off underneath your enemies the room is bathed with blood and spider chunks. That should do it you think. His army should be broken...

You can hear Miosguinn screaming in rage from outside and then you hear three short blasts of a horn.

From beneath you, you hear a great crash and the sound of many feet on stone.

You turn your attention to the ramp leading up from the lower levels. You can here the sounds of spiders but you can not see a thing.

You grab the anti-magic grenade in one hand and pitch it towards the ramp. As the illusions fail you are confronted by Isolde and thirty giant spiders. As they rush towards your barricade you detonate the satchel charges by the ramp and manage to wipe out more than half of them.

Isolde, however, easily clears the explosion. She skitters across the wall and launches herself through the air at you. You have no time to cast, no time to draw your weapon, no time to even react as she flies through the air at you.

Mere moments before she hits you she is intercepted by your Berserk. Tyrvard hurls himself at her and sends her sliding across the floor. She quickly springs back to her feet and lets out a high pitched whine as the two begin circling one another. She bobs and weaves around his sword, moving so quickly that he is unable to hit her and slowly she wears him down. Striking at him with fang and knife.

She is good but the Beserk is better if only just. She has the speed but he is a warrior born and bred for battle and he begins to manoeuvre her into a trap. He traps her, stops her, and drives his blade through her chest.

She collapses as Tyrvard lets out a feral roar, as if challenging the heavens. Then he staggers... then he falls... he collapses next to her bleeding from dozens of wounds.

You do not have time to come to his aid as more spiders rush up the ramp towards you. These are no giant spiders though. These are simply regular spiders in every shape and size, the largest are only slightly bigger than your fist. Miosguinn's forces must be spent if this is all he has left. Still, there are at least thousands of them and they surge towards you like a wave. You are skilled, you are prepared and that is all that saves you. Working together you slow their advance.

Your group focuses fire on the ramp, thinning out the invaders but a few make it through. One reaches Ari and she screams as it bites deeply into her neck. Bari swats it off and stomps on it before turning to his wife. She gasps twice and then is silent.

Overcome by grief and rage he collapses to the floor, holding her corpse in his arms...

Your group fights on as Serpent drags Bari into the chapel. You, Christine and the Lost distract and misdirect your attackers while your archers and warriors attempt to thin them out by throwing fire bombs but there are simply too many.

The truth of it is that you will be overrun eventually. Your group redoubles it efforts as Gareth orders you to fall back into the chapel.

You and Gareth cover the retreat hurling your remaining fire bombs and you are the last to cross the threshold. You move to close the doors but Jori, resting to the side of the door, staggers to his feet. He has other plans; he throws you the maul as he runs past scooping up Ari and Bari's packs and he charges the horde of spiders while wielding the smelting rod. Running into the sea of chittering arachnids he disappears. You instantly grasp what he is going to do.

You slam the great doors shut and dive behind cover. A moment later an explosion blows the doors clean off and singes you slightly but fortunately no one is seriously injured.

As you stand you peer back into the room, your ears ring slightly. The roof has collapsed burying much of the room but you can make out a single figure lying in the rubble... Tyrvard.

You race to his side as you call out to Serpent for help.

You sense someone staring at you through one of the new holes in the wall. Miosguinn stands with half a dozen blues in the middle of the battlefield. You stare at one another. Shock, betrayal and hatred are written plainly on his face. He turns and flees with his small entourage.

Even as you attempt to save your friend you know he is too far gone. Serpent joins you at his side. The massive warrior mumbles something weakly. It is amazing that he is even still conscious. Serpent leans in and Tyrvard pushes his sword into the physician's hands as he whispers something in his ear. Serpent weeps as he takes the blade and Tyrvard weakly motions for you to lean in.

You place your ear near to his mouth and he speaks his final words as he slips away.

You dust yourself off, stand and walk away. Your head bowed, just barely holding it together...

Thaïs stops you, quietly she asks, "What did he say?"

You look her in the eyes and let out a slight laugh, a weak thing filled with bitterness and sorrow, "He told me where he hid his still."

She hugs you as you both break down...

-----------------------------------------------------

"So I guess we won?" it is a cold morning. Much of the previous night was spent burying the dead and tending to the living. You sit with Gareth as he pokes the cooking fire. Neither of you much feels like talking but the silence is unbearable.

He forces a grin, "Any battle you can walk away from is a victory in my books."

You grunt, "Except some of us did not walk away this time. I-"

He cuts you off, "Stop. I know what you are going to say and this is not your fault."

"But I led him down here Gareth!" your temper flares a little.

"Yes you did," the look he gives you is filled with profound sympathy, "But you can't let it stop you boss. Do you know how many men I lost during the war?"

You shrug.

"Shit boss, I can't live your life for you but trust me here. If you want to command people in battle you have to be willing to lose them," he sighs, "You just have to make sure their deaths aren't in vain. Understand?"

You look up at him, "Does it get easier?"

He does not even have to think about it, "For some people yes. For people like me... people like you... never. Frankly, I would not have it any other way."

"When I lost Henry it hurt... but this..."

"Yeah, I know... People die but when it is your decision that puts them there it really hurts," he stirs the fire again, "But you know Derryth the way I see it you got two choices in a situation like this."

"Yeah... what?" you ask, all weariness and doubt.

"Give up, go home..." he lets the idea hang in the air for a moment.

"Or?"

He jabs at the fire and it flares up. Flames dancing in his eyes as he speaks, "Or we find that son of a bitch and we put him in the ground..."

The conversation dies as you consider your options. You just sit there together staring into the fire...

The rest of your group slowly wakes up, a lot of red eyes and dry throats this morning. It has been a rough night for them all but they are alive and free thanks in large part to your efforts.

They are looking to you for leadership. Question is what to do?


1. Miosguinn: He leads the handful of remaining Blues and he has your stone. Bari intends to track and kill him to avenge his wife, his lord and his friends do you go with him?

A) He is beaten and is not really your enemy, you let him go.

B) This is not over. You will avenge your dead, you will find him and end this.

C) freeform


2. The Reds: Casgair asked you to look after them if anything happened to him. (8 children aged 6 to 8.)

A) You decide to take care of them.

i) you send them to the tower (they will need an escort)

ii)you leave them in the chapel while you hunt for Miosguinn.

B) They are not your problem.

C) You make them fight to the death for your amusement... yeah...

D) freeform


3. The Silver: Neith asked you to look after them if anything happened to her. (5 children aged 7 to 10.)

A) You decide to take care of them.

i) you send them to the tower (they will need an escort)

ii)you leave them in the chapel while you hunt for Miosguinn.

B) They are not your problem.

C) You make them fight to the death for your amusement... yeah...

D) freeform


4. The Relics: The Blues wanted them for some reason, though you do not know why exactly.

A) You will take the relics

i) you load them up now

ii)you leave them for now while you hunt for Miosguinn

iii) You immediately take the relics that seem important and easy to carry (the book and the fang). You can always come back for the rest.

B) You will leave the relics

C) You take those that are immediately useful/important looking (and light) and load up the rest.

D) freeform

5. Anti magic grenades: You have time to make 1 without slowing down too much. Do you?

A) Yes

B) No
 

Chapter 18: The Hunt

Chapter 18: The Hunt

You stand with Thaïs and Gareth surveying your respective groups, "You both understand how we are going to do this?"

They nod, "Yeah Derryth we got it. Thaïs will take the kids and the wagon back to the tower while we press on after Miosguinn."

"Alright then," now that you have made the choice this all seems easier somehow though your next order is a difficult one.

You look Thaïs dead in the eyes, "With only three people you won't be able to fight off any substantial attacks. If... if it comes down to it I want you to abandon the children and escape. They are replaceable, the three of you aren't... understand?"

She hesitates at first but nods, "Alright Derryth... we will do what we have to. Just be careful alright. Miosguinn will be dangerous now that he has nothing left to lose."

You nod, turn on your heels and march off with Gareth close behind, "Has Brigit finished warding the relic room?"

"Yep, it is all set to blow if anyone tries to force an entrance. It should give Miosguinn a surprise if we... well if we fail..." the veteran trails off.

"Good... good," you nod to yourself, "Now where is Bari? I have something to show him and-"

"Farmer!" Christine storms up to you.

"Go on ahead Gareth. I should probably deal with her now rather than later," you wave Gareth on as you take a seat on what used to be a wall and wait for the mage to approach you.

She looks terrible. She must not have slept much last night. You know the feeling all too well, "What do you need Christine?"

"I... I would like to come with you," you can tell she is having trouble being civil to you but she is making an effort, "please..."

You are not feeling terribly charitable this morning, "Polite? Well that is a new trick for you. Why would you, master of magic that you are, need little old me to help you?"

She frowns, "I should have known. Should never have trusted a farmer, a damn peasant to understand.." she turns to leave.

You sigh, "Hold on, hold on," you gesture for her to come back.

She stops and slowly turns back towards you.

"Okay, maybe we just got off to a poor start here. You want to avenge your mother right?"

She nods.

"And you are prepared to follow my orders in this."

She nods.

"Alright then, I can respect that. You can come with us but you have to listen. If we are working against each other Miosguinn could still kill us both."

She exhales, letting out a sigh of relief, "Thank you farmer..."

A thought occurs to you, "You know, your mother would probably want you to guard the children."

She frowns and nods, "I am not really the nurturing type..."

She says it as if it is some great secret which strikes you as immensely funny. You laugh, slap your knee and feign surprise, "No shit, really?"

She stares daggers at you as you sit there laughing but slowly the wall of hostility she has built up crumbles and she begins to laugh as well. As odd as it is the two of you share a good laugh at her expense.

She sighs, "Thank you farmer. I think I needed that," she turns and begins to walk away.

You call after her, "Any chance you're going to stop calling me that?"

She does not miss a beat, "Nope," she disappears back into the chapel. Probably gone to find Serpent.

You close your eyes and mutter to yourself, "Baby steps... hell maybe I won't have to kill her after all... maybe..." you look up into the darkness, "One thing at a time, one step at a time..."

You hop back down from your perch and head off to find your team.

-----------------------------------------------------------

"Well Bari, think we can find him?"

The dwarf lets out a confident bark, "Derryth, have I ever told you about the Pathfinders."

You shrug, "Can't say you ever have beyond the fact that you are one and that Ari was as well..."

You can see the rage wash over him as he thinks about his wife. He looks down at his right hand, two gold bands rest on his ring finger.

He looks back at you, "Well, there is a damn good reason for that Derryth. The Pathfinders are dwarven spec ops... strictly black ops you understand. As far as most of the world knows we do not even exist and that is the way we like to keep it. When a Pathfinder wants a person dead, Derryth, they tend to die. We are very good at what we do and that bastard Miosguinn is about to find that out. So yes, I know that I will find him and I know that I will kill him. It is just a question of time."

"Are you sure you should be telling me this Bari?"

He smiles at you, but it is a hard thing without warmth, "Don't see why not. You have done well by my people Derryth. At every opportunity you have stood with us and I know you are doing everything you can. Ari liked you, don't know if she ever told you but she did. I trust you..." he shrugs, "haven't known you long, but I trust you. Besides if you go around screaming about dwarven assassins and secret agents well, you will wind up dead."

He chuckles a little, "You should see us at our best Derryth. With resources, supplies, proper intel, we are a beautiful and terrible thing to behold... That mage is dead, he died when my wife did... just does not know it yet..."

You cough, a little uncomfortable, "Speaking of which I think I may have something that could help," you reach into a pocket and pull out a small stone.

You hold it up so Bari can see it, "Miosguinn was under contract with me to provide magical support. Mostly illusions to hide my expedition. Well, we needed a way for our scouts to find us cloaked behind his spells. Miosguinn gave Tyrvard this stone, he still had it on him when he... when he fell and it is keyed to the mage so..."

Bari grins from ear to ear, "So we have the bastard by the short hairs! What are we waiting for, lets go get him!"

"Hold on. Before we go anywhere I need you to promise you will work with us. Everyone here wants a piece of the mage but we are going to have to work together if we want to get him."

He nods, "Of course Derryth, but I have one request. If we get him alive I want you to give him to me. I am going to make it slow..." the dwarf tests his knife as he says those last words and for a moment you feel sorry for Miosguinn...

----------------------------------------------------

The creature waits. In darkness, just below the surface. The new master has promised more food if it just waits... quietly... patiently... the food will pass this way and it will hunt. It will kill. It will eat.

It waits. For the past eight hours it has waited but it will stay as long as necessary to eat. To feel the sweet taste of fresh meat in its mouth. To hear the screams of its prey. To feel it weakly thrash beneath the creature as it dines. Such things give purpose to its existence.

Its thoughts are interrupted by a faint noise and the vibration of its threads. Something draws near.

It can hear something close. The voice of a girl, it can feel footsteps, it can smell a human. Perhaps this one will be less tough than its last meal. Perhaps this one will fight less. Perhaps this meal will come quicker.

It springs its trap, it feels happy.

It bursts forth, it feels excited.

It lunges forward, it feels...

Pain...

So much pain... impaled upon two feet of steel the creature dies...

---------------------------------------------------

Biliku gives the creature a kick and turns to you as you dispatch your target with an assault spell and your knife, "So that is number six right? Miosguinn is alone?"

You wipe your blade off on the Blue's robes, "Maybe kid but I would take nothing for granted here."

Your group stands in front of the Blue outpost. It is a single building, two stories tall with a pair of large metal doors out front. Brigit walks the perimeter and it seems that there is only one entrance and exit.

You push through the main gates, prepared for anything, but all that meets you is silence and emptiness. Though the exterior of the building lies in ruin the interior is remarkably well appointed. The rugs, tapestries and furniture would be worth a fortune if it were not all splattered with dried blood. A battle was fought here, maybe a week or two ago but you can't be certain.

Thanks to Tyrvard's stone you know Miosguinn is in here somewhere but you are not sure where exactly.

You and Gareth set about coming up with a plan to find the man and prevent any escape attempts he may try to make.


The Plan:
Your Assets:
Derryth - skilled mage, focus mental spells, some combat skill
Gareth - warrior, great combat skills, great commander
Brigit - archer/mage, good shot, good combat skills, magic arrows, focus mental spells
Serpent - medic, some basic attack spells, expert surgeon
Christine - skilled mage, focus movement spells/attack spells
Biliku - warrior, great combat skills
Uttu - archer, good shot
Bari - Pathfinder, good combat skills, improvised explosives, expert infiltrator


1. The Front Door: You should probably leave a team to secure the door in case he tries to slip past you.

A) You leave a team at the door (List who)

B) You do not leave a team at the door. You want the extra bodies to help search.

C)freeform


2. Groups: You can move as a single large group or as a pair of smaller ones. Gareth recommends against traveling individually.

A) You travel as one group, safety in numbers and all that.

B) You split into two groups to quickly search the building. (Who is on each team?)

i. both groups search the same floor.

ii. each group searches a different floor.

C)freeform


3. What floor do you want to search first? (Top two will be picked if Bii wins, Derryth's group will go with the top pick and group two will go with the second highest pick.)

A) Second Story - It seems to mostly be the offices of high ranking Blues up there. Miosguinn may have something in his office he needs.

B) Main Floor - The barracks, kitchen, common room, and armoury. If he has any remaining forces they would probably be around here somewhere.

C) Basement - there is always a basement and you may find something down there. If there is a secret escape route it might be down there.

D)freeform
 

Chapter 19: The Price of Power

Chapter 19: The Price of Power

"Well now what?" Uttu lets out in a whine. You are all crushed. Miosguinn is not here.

"The stone points right to this room," Gareth replies, "He has to be here."

"We should go back downstairs and secure the entrance," Serpent suggests, a little frustrated at the situation.

"No we should all head for the basement right now," Biliku demands and her sister nods in agreement.

"Maybe we should split up," Christine suggests.

"Not against a master illusionist. He could have us fighting each other in a heartbeat," Bari grumbles.

The room is richly furnished. Shelves filled with books line all four walls, interspersed with busts and tapestries probably plundered from nearby sites. Miosguinn lives in style.

Six of your companions argue amongst themselves in the center of the room but you pay them no mind. You are a treasure hunter, a dungeon runner and you know that not everything is as it appears. Brigit for her part is inclined to agree and the two of you are trying to figure out where Miosguinn could be.

"What do you think Derryth?" the two of you stare at the stone. It points at the far wall, "It has to be a fake wall right?"

You nod your head as she speaks, "Well it is also possible that he is simply below us but yes I think so. It would not surprise me if he had a secret room back there somewhere. The man is a mage after all. The question is, if there is a room is the door mechanical or magical in nature?"

She gives you a grin, "Only one way to find out."

The two of you set about testing every book, every statue, every drawer in his desk, eventually you find something. A fake compartment in the back of one of the bookshelves. Opening it you find a button which you naturally press. Part of the wall slides away to reveal a large room.

White walls, white floor, white ceiling, and a soft white light emanating from the center of the room. On the far wall are six glass tanks filled with a blue gray liquid. Bobbing in each tank is a body.

You wave over the rest of your group. If you know anything about secret doors it is that they can close as quickly as they open and you do not want to be cut off from them. You even go so far as to sit a chair in the doorway to ensure you are not all trapped in there.

Upon closer inspection each body bears a striking resemblance to Isolde. These six Isoldes, each identical to the last, float in silence, the runes inscribed on each tank give off a low hum.

The eight of you take in your surroundings, Gareth mutters, "What the hell is Miosguinn doing in here."

One of your companions hazards a guess but you are far more concerned with a small door leading out of the far side of the room. A door that is slowly opening. You ready an assault spell as a figure steps into the room.

A blue-grey staff, blue-grey robes and arms full of books and artefacts, Miosguinn enters the room. His eyes are bloodshot, his hair dishevelled, you doubt he has slept since the battle. When he sees you he stops dead in his tracks and drops most of what he is carrying. A glass sphere hits the ground and shatters igniting a small fire at his feet as his tomes go up in flames.

He manages to hold on to one object however. A small cube inscribed with runes that match those on the glass tanks.

"Derryth," he lets out a low hiss, "why... why are you doing this... why did you not listen to me... why did you not turn back?"

You can feel the hostility he radiates towards your group and you can also feel the hostility they radiate back. Bari, Christine, Biliku and Uttu are just waiting for the order to attack. You are fairly certain that if they do not receive it soon they will anyway.

"The Damned had Serpent, Miosguinn, we could not leave him," you answer cautiously.

He lets out a short laugh, there is only a little malice in it but enough bitterness to make up the difference, "Luck then? Everything I have been striving for, for decades undone by a little bad luck..." he stares at his feet, remarkably unconcerned at the variety and quantity of weapons levelled against him, "But you have your friend back now," he gestures at Serpent, "Why pursue me?"

"The stone Miosguinn, my stone, you have it yes?" you gesture at the man.

The mage nods, "I do. If you want it back simply ask..."

"Tyrvard died in the battle Miosguinn," Serpent interjects, "Can you give him back to us as well?"

Miosguinn scowls, annoyed, "Many people died in that battle. Three whole Orders were extinguished. Do not throw that in my face physician! I tried to spare lives! I offered a peaceful solution!"

Bari grits his teeth, "You offered slavery, mage!"

He shakes his head, his eyes filled with sorrow, "We are all slaves. From the moment we are born to the moment we die we are their slaves..."

You tilt your head, "Who's slaves?"

He gives you a sick smile, "The Gods..." he stops for a moment, unsure if he should continue.

"I... I once told you that I made a mistake in my youth Derryth. Several decades ago the creatures at the center of the city became more aggressive. We only learned the reason much later but the results were immediately apparent. They attacked us, and they butchered many of the Damned. We had been in decline for generations, but the creatures could very well have finished the job right then and there. We won in the end but the cost was high. Among the dead were my family..."

He sees the sympathy written on your face, "No... no pity Derryth... rage... hatred... anything but pity."

He shakes his head as if trying to forcibly clear his mind, quietly he continues, "At any rate I must admit I cared little for them. It was almost a relief when I found them dead... but there was someone I could have saved... should have saved... a girl," he lets out a peculiar laugh as he gestures to the tanks, "I suppose there always is a girl..."

You have a sick feeling in your stomach, "This girl you lost... she was Isolde?"

He nods, "I searched for a way to bring her back for decades. Every night I lay awake in fear, worrying that I might fail. What should have terrified me was the prospect of success. Five years ago I found a being I believed to be our Goddess... at least she claimed to be... maybe she even is but I can tell you that she is nothing like what they worship," he gestures to your Damned allies, "she is so... inhuman... she promised me everything I wanted and she delivered Derryth. She gave me everything I ever asked for."

"Power," he gestures at the objects at his feet, raising his chin defiantly.

"Wealth," he gestures back into his office, his eyes full of wonder.

"Love," he gestures at the tanks along the wall, a look of triumph passes over his face.

But just as quickly as it comes it is gone again. It dissipates and you picture his triumphs as they turn to ash, he continues, "But she took as well. For every gift she gave me she took so much more. Now I am her creature, her slave and I doubt even death will free me..."

This whole situation bothers you on a fundamental level, it feels so wrong, so unnatural and you feel the need to bring this to a close, "As interesting as this all is why bother to tell me?"

"You were decent to me Derryth..." he squints and takes a sharp breathe, "That means more than you could ever know down here. Before I continue I need to know that you understand the cost of power. That I paid for what I know but that I would also always make the choices I have. For me there is no other path."

You nod, "I think I understand but why is it so important that I do?"

He gestures to the door behind him, "It is important because she wants to meet you Derryth. She respects power, she respects success and she has an offer for you. She can give you anything Derryth, anything you could ever want but as I have said there is a cost. I will not lie to you there is a great cost..."

You look back at your companions, "What about them?"

He gives you a predatory smile, "I am sure you can work something out with my Mistress. She is not unreasonable, she has time and patience and understanding."

You ask the obvious question, "If I refuse?"

With one finger he carefully reaches into his shirt and pulls out his pendant, "Well then we find out how good you really are..." he grins at you and raises his cube, "And I get to test my new family..."

You frown, considering your options, "May I have a moment to confer with my colleagues?"

He lets out a sharp bark of a laugh, "No. That did neither of us any good last time. I am afraid I will require an immediate answer."

With that he quickly pops his Heaven Stone into his mouth. His hand moves faster than your eye as he assumes a defensive stance and awaits your response.


1. Your plan:

A) You decide to negotiate with his Mistress. You enter the room he came from, hopefully a fight does not break out while you are gone.

B) You have no interest in this Goddess of his. You try to negotiate with Miosguinn. Maybe you can still get your stone and escape before the fighting starts.

C) You attack immediately, if you are quick enough you may be able to catch Miosguinn off guard. Your companions should be ready to help as well. (Choices three and four are dependent on choosing a C option)

i. The Mentalist - You will attack with Assault in an attempt to drop him quickly before he can release his experiments. You will use both Energon Cubes to maximize your spell, it may just get past the Heaven Stone though you can not be sure. Once incapacitated you can do with him as you wish.

ii. The Firestarter - The small fire at his feet still smoulders. You use both of your Energon cubes and Create Fire to create a localized fireball. His Heaven Stone will not protect him from such an attack. With any luck the mage will be consumed within the flames.

iii. The Traditionalist -No, he will expect magic from you. You pretend to accept his offer but as you pass him you strike out with your knife. Some things just have to be done the old fashioned way.

iv. The Trickster - That cube is awfully distinctive. You think you can probably use Retrieve Item to steal it from him just like the belt buckle back when you met Thaïs. He will immediately retaliate with everything he has but at least he should be without allies.

D) Throw the Dwarf? ("Throw the dwarf at him with the magic grenade in his mouth, he will spit it at Miosguinn at close range and then unleash the other damage dealers, physical works best here.")

E)freeform



2. The grenade. Do you use it if necessary?

A) No - It is eight on one, the grenade would be overkill.

B) Yes - You will take no chances with Miosguinn now.


3. Miosguinn: If he survives your attack what will you do with him?

A) You let him go, you will not murder a defeated opponent. (You will have to convince your group to do this)

B) Take him as a prisoner, there are things he could teach you. (You will have to convince your group to let you do this)

C) Kill him quickly, no one deserves to be tortured. (You will have to calm down Bari if you do this)

D) Give him to Bari. The dwarf will make it slow...


4. The Mistress: Do you meet with her even if you attack/defeat Miosguinn?

A) Yes

B) No
 

Chapter 20: The True Price of Power

Chapter 20: The True Price of Power

You stand there staring at Miosguinn. The mage cautiously eyes your group in complete silence. Your allies are tense behind you, half of them are ready to murder this man or die in the attempt. You know you only have a moment to decide your course of action before events will spiral out of your control. So you make your choice.

You close your eyes and the world fades away as you concentrate. Slowly Miosguinn's cube appears in your mind. A hideous thing of black marble cut through with deep red runes that glow menacingly.

Normally you would already be holding the cube by now but the image is so blurry. You feel a pressure build from the room behind Miosguinn as someone or something tries to stop you, something far away and yet powerful. A jagged shard of smokey agony stabs deep into your mind but you push on. You will do this and nothing will stop you. The image of the cube gains definition, clarity and you snatch it. The force pressing down on you withdraws. You sense... surprise and... amusement. It whispers to you... He is all yours... and as quickly as it came on it is gone again.

You open your eyes, the cube rests in your hand. It was difficult but the look of surprise on Miosguinn's face is priceless, "How?"

You grin at him, "Good enough for you?"

He stops himself, shaking his head, "Very well then we will do this the hard way."

His pendent glows as he begins to cast and innumerable blue grey spiders pour forth from within his robes. They launch themselves at your group. You tell yourself that they are illusions but on instinct you raise your buckler anyway. The first spider that hits you digs its razor sharp fangs into the shield and tears a chunk out of it.

They are real.

You can hear the screams of your group behind you as the spiders swarm them. Their screams distract you for just a moment and one of the spiders bites into your throat. You would scream but all that comes out is a slight gurgle. You are dying. You feel the pain and the heat of your blood as it pours from your throat. And your last thought is that Miosguinn has won, that you are all dead and that he will triumph. It is over... you mind is submerged in darkness...

You hear a voice calling out to you... Nine's voice, "Come on dear! Think! I know you are smarter than this! They are not real! Think!"

No... no something about this is not right. Nine is right. You struggle against the spider, it tears into your throat over and over again. You can feel the pain but something is strange. The spider has no weight to it. It should be pressing down on you and it isn't. It has no feel to it... it is not hairy or smooth... it is not hard or soft... it is nothing and as that thought pushes its way into the center of your mind the pain instantly stops. The rest of your group is scattered around the room fighting phantoms as Miosguinn pours energy into his spell. If this goes on much longer they will all die of fright.

You reach into a side pocket and retrieve your destabilized Heaven Stone. With a flick of your wrist you throw it at the mage and it activates as it lands at his feet. The magical blast overloads every artefact within the blast radius. Miosguinn's magics fail him as the spiders disappear and your allies come to their senses. Miosguinn hisses as he spits out his Heaven Stone. It comes to rest on the floor before him. It glows once emits a slight hum before falling silent. The magic in it spent.

As you glance back to the man you witness the physical cost of his power. With his illusions in place he looked every bit the old professor but now his monstrous nature stands revealed for all to see. His right eye is that of a spider and a single fang extends from the right side of his mouth. He shuffles with a noticeable limp, as a crooked leg pokes out at odd angles under his robes.

With his illusions and artefacts neutralized he switches strategy. He lashes out with attack spells and spells of immobilization. He catches Uttu with a mass of webbing that traps her in place and conjures a great glob of a thick acidic fluid which he hurls at Brigit. Gareth manages to block the shot with his shield as he steps between the mage and the archer. The shield hisses as it dissolves and the veteran casts it across the room.

You pop the Heaven Stones into your mouth as you pour power into an assault spell. You think of Tyrvard, struggling to breathe, half buried under rubble and envision pummelling Miosguinn repeatedly. You launch the spell but he beats it down and returns fire. A ray of emerald energy cuts across the room and hits you in the shoulder. You let out a sharp gasp as the ray hits you but thankfully the stones block the magic.

Bari, having recovered his senses, hurls an improvised explosive at the mage. Miosguinn deflects the bottle with a wave of his staff. A blue wind carries the explosive back towards the dwarf who is forced to dive out of the way and straight into Serpent. Gareth and Biliku strike out at Miosguinn with their blades but the mage is quick and catches them with a cloud of vapour that paralyzes them. The two warriors collapse in a pile on the floor as Brigit notches an arrow and prepares to fire. She fires, Miosguinn is quick but not quick enough. The magical arrow sears a hole in his shoulder. He winces and strikes back with a grey ball of energy that pitches your allies into the far corners of the room.

You and Christine remain standing to either side of Miosguinn, forming two points of a large triangle. She nods to you and you both attack the mage. You attack his mind while she attacks his body. He manages to fight back deflecting most of the shots. The two of you together have the power to beat him but you lack the coordination and experience to draw him out. You quickly realize that you will not prevail here if you can not distract the man.

He lets out a guttural hiss as he stares at you and then you here a crackling.

Two of his tanks were caught in the blast and the runes glow brightly. It looks like the stone has destabilized the magics holding the tanks together. Miosguinn stares at the tanks, a look of complete horror on his face. He turns back to you and growls in rage.

You think you have your distraction. You give him your sweetest smile as you palm both energon cubes and you hit the tanks with a firebolt spell. The destabilized runes implode and tear the tanks apart. All six tanks collapse in on themselves in a chain reaction with a loud sucking sound before exploding back out with a deafening pop, showering the room in glass... glass and bodyparts...

Miosguinn screams and throws everything he has at you.

If it were not for the Heaven Stones he would probably kill you. As it is you just take one hell of a beating. You can feel your bones crack as he pours everything he has at you. You will be lucky if a few broken ribs are your only problem after this but he is focused only on you. Christine lets loose, a silver arrow arches across the room and strikes Miosguinn in the thigh. He stumbles and you hit him with an assault spell as Bari and Serpent move to restrain him. He screams and curses, he tries to tear you allies apart but you keep hammering his mind as Bari binds his hands, gags him and blindfolds him. As the mage struggles impotently his spells begin to unravel and your companions gather themselves up.

You cough a few times as you walk towards your group, "We won?" your words had been meant as a statement but it comes out more as a question.

"Yeah boss, I think we did," Gareth slaps you on the back and you wince...

"Everything hurts..." you moan.

He gives you his widest grin, "Well boss, that is how you know you're still alive."

You grunt as you walk over to the mage and start searching him.

No stone... You give him a good kick in the ribs, "Where is the stone Miosguinn?"

He lets out a string of muffled curses. He will not be much help now. You give him another kick for good measure and walk past him into the back room.

There on a large marble altar is your stone. Next to it is a large black egg.

Nine whispers from your bag, "Don't get too close to it dear. Just blast it from back here."

You feel a presence in the back of your mind. The same presence that tried to protect the cube from you. It is satisfied, it is hopeful, it wants you to pick up the egg so that the two of you may talk in person.

It is so sweet, so nurturing, so kind. It promises you wealth, and power, and knowledge. It promises you Tyrvard... it promises you Henry. You do not believe any of it for even a second.

You open your bag slightly, "Alright Nine, what spell do you recommend?"

"Oh any will do, just set it on fire I would say," she happily hums.

You nod, "Done and done."

You concentrate and point your staff at the egg as fire springs forth and consumes it.

The presence in your mind turns on you.

It is so sour, so destructive, so cruel. It promises you poverty, and frailty, and folly. It vows to take everything and everyone from you. Now this you believe and you decide that maybe this goddess needs a little reminder of where you both stand.

You decide to take it on a little mental tour of the last week.

You picture the Reds and the Silver, its followers... under your command.

You picture the Blues, its creatures... all dead.

You picture Abharsair, its general... his smouldering remains decorating some dark crater.

You picture Isolde, its experiment... crushed under rubble.

You picture Miosguinn, its slave... bound and defeated.

You picture Miosguinn as he will be... tied down and split open... dead.

You give it a warning and a promise.

You promise it that none will remember it, that none will revere it, that none will fight for it. You promise it defeat, you promise it isolation, you promise it extinction and in your certainty it believes you and is silent.

You pocket the stone and leave the room as Nine hums a happy little tune to herself.

She whispers to you, "Good job dear."

--------------------------------------------------

Miosguinn screams.

Bari has the mage tied across his desk. The dwarf is a professional, you will give him that, the mage is completely helpless. Though just to be sure you hit him with an assault spell every minute or two to keep him scrambled. You have agreed to leave Miosguinn's fate up to Bari and the dwarf intends to take his time.

Gareth has taken Serpent, Brigit and the girls to secure the rest of the building. Serpent and Brigit because you know they would not understand and the girls because you both agreed that they should not see this.

At first you had thought that Gareth would object to this but when you told him he merely nodded. He immediately understood, "Some things Derryth, some things can't go unanswered. He took one of ours. Anything he gets he had coming..."

You and Christine volunteered to stay and ensure that the mage would not try anything. Very soon he would not even be able to.

You stand on either side of the desk as Bari rushes around with his tools... he cuts... he seals... he cuts... he seals and soon Miosguinn is helpless. He takes the mage's tongue and pulls out a small sack, "Salt," he says to you as he forces the mage's mouth open and pours the salt into the wound. Miosguinn screams and passes out.

As Bari roots through his tools for smelling salts to revive his prisoner you hazard a question, "Do you still need me here Bari?"

The dwarf looks at you confused, "Well no Derryth. He won't ever be able to cast again so he is pretty harmless but don't you want to see the good part?" He unrolls a new set of tools, small picks and knives and a drill. You have no love for the man but this is a bit too much for you.

"No Bari, just as long as he dies," you shake your head, "The rest I leave to you."

You turn and walk from the room.

To your surprise Christine is not far behind.

The two of you enter the hallway together. The rest of the group is not around so you attempt to strike up a conversation, "I thought that you would want to see this through and stay to the end?"

She looks a little green, "So did I at first... but I do not know... I do not feel sorry for Miosguinn or anything... watching it just... it made me feel less... just less."

You shrug, "Had to be done. He killed a lot of people. It should not be quick for him."

She nods, "Yes... I do not think I could do it though..."

You nod along with her, "It is one thing to give the order but to hold the knife... I am not sure what I would do..."

Miosguinn screams from the other room as Bari shouts, "Ah, back in the land of the living are we. Don't worry mage I will keep you here as long as I can. Do you want the drill or the hammer next... hmmm...."

The two of you stand there in awkward silence looking at the floor.

Finally she speaks again, "What you did back there with Miosguinn. Drawing his attention like that. It took courage farmer..."

"Thanks..." you shrug, "I just did what I had to."

She nods, "Maybe... but you do not spare yourself for your people farmer. Mother would respect that... I suppose I do as well..."

You look up at her, a crooked smile and a look of surprise clearly written on your face, "Was that a compliment?"

She meets your gaze and gives you a smirk, "Do not worry, it will never happen again I am sure."

The two of you are about to begin bickering but your little moment is cut short by another scream from the adjoining room.

You both shudder a little, "Remind me to never anger a dwarf," you whisper to her and she nods.

----------------------------------------------------

The gate of your tower creaks open as your group moves back inside. You lost the better part of four days getting back. Between monster attacks and the need to scavenge for supplies your group only managed a leisurely crawl. By the end you all sport some injury; broken ribs, broken arms, Biliku sustained a sprained ankle of all things, you have all gone though the fire but you have come out the other side.

Every few hours you pull out the Halcyon Stone just to remind yourself that it is real.

"You really wanted that stone, didn't you boss?" Gareth walks beside you leaning on Brigit for mutual support.

"Yeah, it was Henry's dream. To finally have it... it just means a lot," he nods along as you speak, "I can't wait to show Thaïs. I have probably described it to her hundreds of times by now but to actually see it. That will be something."

Brigit surveys the courtyard, "Speaking of Thaïs, where is everyone?"

The courtyard is empty and everything is terribly quiet, you cup your hands in front of your mouth and call out, "Hello! Anyone here!"

Slowly you see a figure hobble out to meet you. Ithapi uses a large wooden beam as a crutch as he limps across the courtyard. Your stomach drops, "Ithapi what happened!" the three of you rush up to the maul followed by the rest of your group.

He grunts and gestures for you to be quiet, "Now don't overreact Derryth but we ran into a little trouble-"

You cut him off, "Where is Amena? Where is Thaïs? Ithapi tell me."

A voice comes from behind the maul, "Please Derryth, we just got the children to sleep. I am fine and Thaïs... well she will be fine eventually," Amena comes out through the main doors of the tower.

As sore as you are you hug your apprentice, "Take me to her please."

She leads you into Eris' old quarters while Ithapi finds rooms for Bari and the rest of the Damned. Serpent take Christine upstairs while Gareth and Brigit mind the girls.

Thaïs is propped up in bed reading as you enter. She gives you a weak smile and a wave though it pains her.

You are tempted to start in on her but she is your best friend. You want to give her a chance to explain herself.

Closing the book she gives out a slight grunt as she gestures for you to come closer to her bed. She waves Amena off and your apprentice closes the door behind her as she leaves.

She sighs, "I know, I know. You told me to leave the children if we ran into trouble but-"

You frown, "You disobeyed a direct order Thaïs..."

She gives you a pained expression, "They are just kids Derryth. I could not leave them and I thought that we could handle them-"

Sick from anger and fear you want to yell at her. In fact you are going to do just that as you throw up an arm dramatically. As soon as you do you stop dead as pain shoots through your body. You are still a bit sore from the fight with Miosguinn and the battles on the way back. Serpent did the best he could but without mandrake roots broken ribs simply take time to heal.

You let out a pained yelp. Thaïs can see the pain written on your face and her first instinct is to move to help which simply aggravates her own injuries. She yelps as well and the two of you start laughing as much as it hurts.

"Alright, alright I guess I don't get to lecture you on anything," you chuckle as she moves over to let you on the bed, "It is not like I am terribly pragmatic most of the time either."

She lets out a little laugh but stops short in pain, "Ouch, no laughing for either of us for a while I think."

You nod, "So you got everyone here safely?"

She nods, "Safe and sound. I took a bit of a beating and Ithapi injured his leg but the kids all made it. They are adorable Derryth."

You close your eyes and smile, "Just wait until they start tearing up the tower..."

She beams at the thought but slowly the smile slips away, "Miosguinn... you..."

You nod and frown at the memory of the man, "He is dead... it is over..."

"Are you sure," she says with a little concern.

"After Bari was done with him... yeah I am sure. There is no coming back from that..." you shudder a bit at the memory of the dwarf's handiwork.

Sensing that the topic bothers you she changes subject, "So you have the stone then?"

You grin at her as you reach down and rifle through your pack, "Yes, here it is," you reveal the stone and she gasps a little.

"How does it work?" she reaches for it.

You hesitate and almost pull the stone back, instinctively protective of your new find, "I am not sure yet. It will take a little research but I think I can figure it out."

"Well if you ever need help experimenting with it..." she lets the idea hang in the air as she stares at the stone, eyes wide.

She is your friend, your best friend, but part of you refuses to share. It is your stone after all not hers. Although you do feel terrible holding out on her and you probably would have failed without her. Maybe you should share... You will need a bit of time to figure things out at any rate.

You mumble out a noncommittal answer and stifle a yawn. It has been a while since you have had a good nights sleep and a warm bed.

A comfortable bed and safety from the horrors of this place conspire to drag you down into a deep sleep.

You snore a little and mutter to yourself about children and Dark Gods, magic stones and ancient artefacts. You sleep and you dream as your hopes and fears of tomorrow chase one another through your mind. Thaïs, for her part, rests her head on your shoulder and joins you soon after.


---------------------------End of Chapter 1----------------------------



Alright, you have the first half of the Halcyon stone and the first Chapter is done. Now based on the previous vote you all want a more guided experience when it comes to making your next move. The way I am going to do this is as follows. We will start with general questions and move down to the particulars from there. The result is that there will be a lot of votes without any real story updates until I have enough information to move things forward. To make up for this I will get those general background summaries out so you have a better idea of the ways in which the world conforms to or differs from traditional fantasy settings.


The Questions: (I am going to try and give you as much freedom as I can within the limits of the medium. If you have any questions then feel free to ask.)

For now we will stick to the basics.

Treasure - once I know how much money you have I can give you some proper options.

Personnel - Your group has achieved its aim. At this point it is likely to break up but you could try and keep it together. Once I know which assets you want to keep I can give you more options.

The Plan - You can make one decision right off the hop. Do you want to stay in Muirthemne or travel somewhere else. Each will provide you with different opportunities and challenges.


Part 1. Treasure: Potentially there is a lot of it to be had here. You can go get the Reds' relics, you can ask Christine to help you recover the library of the Silver Order, you can go loot the Blues' outpost, there is the Secondary Vault to explore, there is still the relic room back at the library and finally there is the rest of the tower to explore. I am going to break them down by what would make sense for the characters:


1) The Vault, Red, Blue and Silver Orders - all of these locations are close to each other but it will take time to completely loot them. You are looking at about two months to get everything back to your tower.

A) Loot it!

B) Don't loot it


2) The Library - this is closer and easier but there is no gold here. It would take about a week to loot the vault and a month to loot the whole library.

A) Loot it!

B) Don't loot it


3) The Tower - this is the closest option and the easiest. You can explore the whole tower in two days.

A) Explore the tower

B) Don't explore the tower


Part 2. Personnel: Your group is likely to split up if you let them. The question is what you want to do about it. You have good relations with most of them and many of them are dependent on you so I will go through them one at a time.

1) Thaïs: She will expect to be paid for her time if you let her go. If you want to keep her around you also have a few options available.

A) You let her leave.

B) You keep her on as part of the group.

C) You keep her on but make her a partner.

D) freeform


2) Gareth and Brigit: the two of them are inseparable by this point. If you let them go they will go to her guild if you ever need them. If you want to keep them then you will have to make them a good offer and talk to her father.

A) You let them leave.

B) You keep them on as part of the group.

C) You keep them on as part of the group and offer Gareth a promotion to partner.

D) freeform


3) Serpent and Christine: They will help you retrieve any treasure but Serpent wants to return Tyrvard's sword to his homeland. They will leave the city no matter what. You have a few options, you can let them go and wish them well or you can offer Christine a spot in your Circle and keep them in the group, they will rejoin when they get back from their "honeymoon". If you wish to go with them then see Part 3.

A) You let them leave the group.

B) You offer them positions.

C) freeform


4) Amena, Ithapi, Biliku, Uttu and the orphans: They are your wards and your dependents. If you want you can make them go but they will otherwise stay as they have no where to go.

A) You make them leave.

B) You make them leave but give them some money.

C) You keep them.

D) freeform


Part 3: The Plan Part 1: Do you want to stay in Muirthemne and build up your power base or go somewhere else?

A) Stay - If you stay you can do things like organize a mercenary company, build a proper Circle, or buy your way into the Eastern Nobility. You will also be able to do more training and research (like finding the other half of the stone) this way as you will be stationary. There are also a few important events coming up in the capital. The Heron Guard had to push back their tournament following the attack on the city at the end of the prologue so that will be happening in four or five months. There is also the great carnival in three months and a few other things to do as well.

B) Go - If you want to go anywhere else then pick this option. Bari has invited you to come with him and return the Maul of the Dwarven Kings; Serpent wants to visit the Berserk Lands to pay his respects to Tyrvard's family, there are rumours of a delegation being sent out to the Trow by the Emperor, or you could head out West following the map you found.


Part 4: Finally, what sort of information would you prefer to read about first:

A) The peoples of Myth, countries, races and the like

B) The History of Myth

C) Religion, Theology and Philosophy

D) Artefacts and People of great importance

E) Something Else?
 

Interlude 1: Preparations

Preparations 1 (Great Figures and Artefacts)

Alright, one massive lore dump coming up. Did it as a conversation to try and break up the walls of text. I will probably do one or two more just to cover all the bases. Also a lot of choices at the end. Hopefully everyone can manage.

Preparations Part 1:

You sigh and relax.

It is the third day you have spent holding the gate open. You and your Circle arrived at the secondary vault four days ago. It was only when you saw it that you realized just how much wealth the old empire had. There is more gold here than in entire imperial cities. You and your friends are rich... very rich. At first you had intended to simply carry everything by wagon but that would take far too long. Instead you opened a gate to your tower and let your warriors and the children carry everything through. It will take weeks to clear out the vault and the smaller holdings of the three Damned Orders but you are willing to take the time. Everyone is in high spirits and your collective success has kept conflicts to a minimum. Finally you have time to just relax and enjoy the fruits of the last few months labour. You know it won't last but you remind yourself to take things one step at a time. Patience and cunning will take care of the rest.

As you sit in your tent next to Thaïs the two of you fall to talking about the state of the empire. About great heroes and villains past, about ancient artefacts and deadly magics. As you speak to her you remember Henry's book. You dig it out and flip to the relevant section and you begin reading to her...

Appendix D: Great Persons and Artefacts

Important figures of the Light:

Albrecht VII, King of the Dwarfs

It is no secret that the dwarves and the ghôls have long made war on one another. The southern hills of the continent have been bathed in the blood of both races since time immemorial but the events of the last two hundred years put even that bloody history to shame. Albrecht fought at the head of his father's army against Balor and his ghôl armies. He fought valiantly but in the end he failed to defend his homeland. The twin capitals of Myrgard and Stoneheim fell to the Fallen Lords and with them fell the kingdom.

Albrecht ruled his people in exile for over sixty years, fleeing the advance of the Fallen Lords and offering to humanity what resources and aid he could. Alric's surprise victory over the Fallen Lords provided the dwarves a chance for revenge and they have spent the better part of the last sixty years beating the ghôls back into the wastes and reclaiming their homeland. Much work remains to be done but Albrecht has never been one to shy away from a challenge.

You chuckle and comment to Thaïs, "Seems all dwarves are made of strong stuff."

She nods, "I suppose they have to be. Living at the edge of the world, far from help. They have no one to rely on except each other."

You flip through to the next marked entry. The Emperor of the known world, Alric the First...

Alric I, Emperor of the Cath Bruig, King of the Province, Protector of Tandem, First among the Avatara

Alric was born to King Lotharing II and Queen Luana of Province over ninety years ago. Few realized then the role he would play in the cycle of ages. He was the oldest of three children born to the couple and received martial and military training from some of the best minds in the kingdom. His interests lay elsewhere however. Alric had a natural talent for magic and took to the field with great interest. He attempted to balance his duty to the kingdom with his ambitions as a mage but in the end he surrendered his throne to his younger brother, Caliban, and left for the east in pursuit of ever greater magical knowledge.

At this point Alric disappears from all public records for a span of some twenty years. There are many tales told throughout the empire of his deeds but none can be confirmed with any degree of certainty. What is known is that Alric returned shortly before the war waged between Balor and the remaining people of the Light. Alric joined the ranks of the Avatara and fought alongside his brother's army against the Dark. Following the collapse of the Province's army at Covenant in 2468 A.E. Alric and the other eight Avatara assumed command of the remaining forces of the Light consisting mostly of irregulars. This new force, called the Legion would bear the brunt of Balor's attacks with dignity and determination.

As the war raged on the Avatara uncovered the location of an old enemy of Balor's known only as the Head. With the aid of this new ally the Light began to strike back at the Fallen Lords and scored an number of dramatic victories.

Alric however disappear on a mission across the Cloudspine Mountains into the East. The brave actions of a small band of heroes managed to recover the archmage and he told tales of the Head's treachery. Alric immeditately took command of the remaining forces of the Legion and led them against Balor. Alric tricked Balor and using an ancient artefact, an Eblis Stone, the king managed to best the dark lord and behead him.

Following his victory Alric, the last of the Avatara and now the most powerful known archmage, ascended the throne of Province and set to work rebuilding his kingdom. Hopeful that his peace would last for a thousand years.

You shake your head, "Well we all know how that turned out..."

Thaïs shudders, "Soulblighter."

Balor's lieutenant took his time. Sixty years in fact. He enlisted every ally that he could and he made his play. The last war tested humanity's resolve but once again Alric won out. Soulblighter was beaten and Alric declared the rebirth of the Cath Bruig. You do not envy the man, to be so many things to so many people. At almost one hundred years old he works tirelessly to restore the realms of man and if he gets a few centuries free of strife he may do just that. You certainly wouldn't bet against him. He was not the greatest of the archmages, nor was he the most martial but he was the most cunning. Or perhaps just the luckiest. Either way he survived as all of his peers and enemies perished and that sort of determination deserves respect.

The next entry is on Connacht, sometimes called the Wolf. A skilled general and administrator with dozens of legendary feats to his name. Connacht ended the Wind Age and began the Age of Light. He wiped out the Myrkridia, he broke the Trow, he slew the Leveler of his age and he ruled the Cath Bruig at its height. Alric has large shoes to fill if he hopes to live up to Connacht.

You flip through half a dozen pages listing great mages from the past. Finally you find the rest of the former Avatara.

You point at an etching of a large warrior glowing with magical energy. Thaïs speaks up, "That is Rabican. The spell blade, he led the armies of the Light through much of the Great War following the defeat at Covenant. He beat Shiver at her own game and destroyed her in a dream duel outside of Madrigal."

You nod, "And he fell not a year later to the Watcher. Trapped at Seven Gates by the Fallen Lord he was ambushed and slaughtered along with his men."

You examine the next page, short passages detailing each of the remaining Avatara spring out at you.

You and Thaïs alternate, "Murgen, sorcerer, diplomat, lost in the Tain."

"Maeldun, truthsayer, he wiped out the Pirates of Leix but fell defending the passes over the Cloudspine from the Deciever's forces."

"Cu Roi, loyal and true, perished alongside Murgen within the Tain."

You continue on like this, listing the names of great mages... all dead... it is a bit sobering for both of you.

Thaïs clears her throat, "Well we will just have to do better than they did!"

You nod in agreement as you turn the page.

Ou'Kahn, First among the Fir'Bolg

Long time enemies of man the Fir'Bolg of the modern era have become strong allies of the Light. Little is known about the master archers of the Ermine forest save that they are much better to have as friends then as enemies.

Fir'Bolg archers fought alongside the Legion in the Great War and proved vital to the success of the Light. As a result Ou'Kahn and Alric have signed dozens of treaties recognizing each others rights and two imperial academies have been opened in the Ermine to teach humans how to master the bow.

It is too early to say whether this new relationship of peace and understanding between human and Fir'Bolg will last but there is cause for hope.

You shake your head, "Henry always was an optimist."

Thaïs gives you an appraising look, "Well they did help us win the Great War Derryth and they have trained all of Alric's archers for the last sixty years. I would say they are firmly on our side."

You nod but you are not sure. No one knows anything about the Fir'Bolg and that makes you uneasy.

You flip through the names of ministers and generals but none of them really interest you until you come to final entry...

Mazzarin...

The archmage. Anyone that has ever seriously hoped or dreamed of learning magic aspires to follow in his footsteps. The greatest mage of the Wind Age, of any age in fact. He founded the Avatara before the reign of Connacht. It was his artefacts that allowed Connacht to defeat many of his foes as well. Mazzarin fell to the Watcher in the closing decades of the Wind Age and it was the greatest victory of the Dark in that age. Part of you wonders though. A mage as skilled as Mazzarin would not fall easily and he was a true master. Perhaps the historical record is not quite accurate after all...

Having run through the heroes of the Light the two of you turn your attention towards the Dark. You are confronted by a list of monsters and madmen but chief among them are the Fallen Lords.

"Balor," you whisper, some part of you afraid to even mention his name.

Henry had scribbled something in the margin of this page:

"Although the hero of every age of light is different, every dark age is ushered in by the same beast - a transient divinity that seeks only conflict - The Leveler. And so Tireces returned as Moagim to end the Age of Reason - and Connacht, the great hero of the Wind Age, returned as Balor to lay waste to the greatest empire the world had ever known."

Balor, or perhaps Connacht if the theories are true, was the greatest danger to face the world in a thousand years. Despite this, very little is known about the man in his time as the Leveler. Reports exist dating back centuries of a powerful mage dressed in enchanted plate on the eastern borders of the old Cath Bruig. These are believed to be the earliest sightings of the man we would come to know as Balor. Balor was possessed of a keen mind and boundless patience both of which he utilized to slowly reduce his opponents one by one. One hundred and one years ago he sacked the Kingdom of the Dwarves, mere decades later he reduced the old Cath Bruig Empire to ruins. Had he traveled West then and attacked the Province he would have ushered in his age of Darkness but he did not.

Instead he sent his generals.

It is my belief that Balor did not realize the power that lay in the Province. If he was Connacht then he may still have thought of the Province as an underdeveloped backwater as it was in his time. The modern Province however is a full fledged kingdom with enough power to resist the Cath Bruig Empire before its fall. His generals scored a number of early victories but gradually fell to bickering among themselves. When the Legion struck back at him he was overconfident and unprepared. He vastly underestimated the young Alric and it cost him everything. He was decapitated and his head thrown into The Great Devoid to fall for all eternity.


You shake your head, "It was a very close call though."

Thaïs takes the book, "Well we won in the end right. Like Gareth says, any fight you can walk away from..."

You laugh, "Well in this case we crawled away but I agree. The Light survived, the Dark perished. At the end of the day maybe that is all that matters."

Henry has further entries on each of the other Fallen Lords.

Soulblighter, the Twice Born.

In an earlier age he was known as Damas. He was Connacht's hound, his champion, a warrior of unparalleled skill. As a Fallen Lord he was perhaps the only loyal follower of Balor. Soulblighter attempted to coordinate the campaign in the west but he lacked Balor's skill. Alric outmaneuvered him and slew his lord.

You grab a pen and snatch the book back. You scribble a single line on the bottom of the page.

Sixty years later Soulblighter attempted to gain his revenge. Again he failed.

Thaïs chuckles, "He was a complete failure wasn't he?"

You smile at her, "The worst of the Fallen Lords by far I would say. The man accomplished nothing. Still he was quite dangerous..."

She scratches the side of her head, "So who is next then?"

You turn the page over.

The Deceiver, The Source of Five Hundred Poisons

Your eyes light up, "Now here is a mage! He fought for both the Light and the Dark. Scholar, diplomat, assassin, no one really knows why he agreed to serve Balor. Henry believed that he was a former Avatara by the name of Myrdred he-"

"Myrdred!" Nine shouts from the pillow she is resting on, "That was the bastard's name that did this to me! Oh, if I ever find him!"

The two of you stare at her, "Wait, you knew the Deceiver?"

She blinks twice as you stare at her, "Umm... I guess so yes. The man that did this to me was named Myrdred and it is not like it is a common name or anything..."

You feel the need to ask, "What did you do Nine? Who are you?"

She screws up her lips as she tries to think. After a moment she gives up and smiles at you, "Sorry dear, I don't know. But if we ever find this Myrdred I want to kill him okay?"

"Sorry Nine. Rumour is he died during the last war in a duel with Shiver or at least someone that looked like Shiver. For what it is worth he killed her too."

Nine looks crushed for a moment, "Really? Well I suppose I will get over it... At any rate what else does the book say? Maybe there is an entry on someone else I know."

You look back at the book, "Well the next entry is on Shiver, the Mother of Plagues."

Nine blinks once in understanding, "Even when I was a girl they told stories about her. They called her Culwyeh and Myrdred once called her Ravanna. She was one of the greatest battle mages to ever walk the lands. If she really is dead then the world is better for it."

"If?" Thaïs asks, curiosity and caution battling for control in her.

"Well dear, old Shiver is ancient. She has "died" so many time already. What would be one more? She was beautiful and terrible in equal measure..."

You laugh, "Well if she is still out there somewhere she is not beautiful anymore."

Now Nine is curious, "What do you mean dear?"

You start to lecture, glad to be teaching her something for a change, "Back during the Great War she was killed by Rabican as Thaïs mentioned. She reappeared during the last war but she was greatly diminished... dried out... hideous... and without many of her old powers."

Thaïs hazards a suggestion, "Well maybe it was not really her?"

You shrug, "could be possible," you flip the page again.

Bahl'al, The Watcher, the Mad Goat of the Fens

Even Nine shivers when you read his name. If Mazzarin was the greatest archmage to ever live then the Watcher was number two or three. He is often considered the first necromancer and his mastery of the Dream of Unlife has brought unimaginable suffering to the world.

Nine breaks the silence, "A real piece of work that one..."

You nod and quietly add, "Dead as well... Alric got him..."

Nine is surprised by this, "Well then this new emperor of yours is either very powerful or very clever. Myrdred had been trying to kill the man for centuries..."

Thaïs cuts in, "I think I remember this story. Alric managed to find the Watcher's severed arm, lost during a battle with the Deceiver. He had arrows made from the Watcher's bones and enchanted them to petrify the arch-necromancer. Alric sprung his trap and destroyed the Watcher, transforming him into a statue and shattering him into pieces..."

Nine whistles, "Now that is how you kill a man."

You mumble to yourself, reading ahead while Thaïs and Nine talk, "According to Henry's book there were two more Fallen Lords; Bheil, the Twiceborn daughter of Flood and Famine, and the Voiceless One, the Loveless Child of the Unwed Dawn... hmmm..."

"What is it dear?" Nine prods you.

"It says here that the Voiceless One was called Ravanna. But didn't you say that, that was Shiver, Nine?"

Nine blinks once in confusion, "Yes, at least I think so. Maybe they were the same person?"

"Well I guess we have a mystery here..." Thaïs adds.

You look from one of them to the other, "Well if we ever run into a Fallen Lord I will be sure to ask right before we are all horribly killed."

They both laugh a little as you turn back to the book, "Well that is it for this appendix though Henry has attached a few notes to the end. Looks like a list of artefacts with short entries scribbled next to each," you read through the list to them both:

The Anvil of Culwyeh - Shiver's tool perhaps. What is it? Dangerous... destroyed?

Balmung - Alric's sword, heavily enchanted... very powerful... chain lightning?

Mydred's Staff - powerful channelling device perhaps... how did he do it?

The Eblis Stones - five of them, supposedly all destroyed... Alric found one... maybe more? Note - get Derryth to look into it for me. The girl just loves doing research...

You grumble, "Damn it Henry, you know I hated research..."

Halcyon Stone - one half lost under Muirthemne... so close...

You take out your pen again and strike the entry out, "I have it Henry... I won't let you down..."

The Ibis Crown - Very powerful, in Alric's possession... I wonder if I could steal it?

Maul of the Dwarven Kings - somewhere in Myrgard probably... would be worth a fortune...

The Oriflamme - The royal standard of the house of Mabingion of Tyr... lost during the Great War... powerful magics here... may have to travel to Tyr sometime...

The Tain - pocket sized box containing a whole prison plane... destroyed during the Great War... but what a find it would have been...

Thalor's Eye - a weapon of some sort... need more research...

The Total Codex - currently under lock and key in the Imperial Palace... oh the information it could contain... anything I could ever want...

Trabist's Mirror - lost, resurrection device?... immortality... it must have a cost...

You gently shut the book, "I guess Henry really was ambitious..."

Thaïs smiles, "Well you got it from somewhere right?"

Brigit sticks her head into your tent, "The two of you are late! Serpent and Christine want to take a break and it is your turn to hold the gate open."

"Alright, alright. We will be right there," the two of you gather up your things and exit the tent.

-----------------------------------------------------------------

Alright now for the second round of voting.

You spend about three months looting everything and you are rich. Really rich. So the way I am going to do this is to divide it into sections. First up you have a number of magic items which you can either keep or give to party members. Second you need to pick where you want to go. Third you need to decide if you want to leave people behind to work on things while you are gone.


Part 1: The Loot (Just put down the name of who should get the item)

1. A glowing blue sword with lightning bolts etched into the hilt and blade.

2. A large round shield made of gold, it has a stylized depiction of a Fetch on it. When Brigit accidentally pointed it at you, you felt terrified.

3. A little blue stone, an attached note claims that it allows the user to indefinitely breathe under water.

4. A pair of plain matching bracelets. Give them both to someone or one each to two different people, you choice.

5. A simple golden ring. On the inside is engraved, the ring of the master

6. An empty quiver decorated with snowflakes.


Part 2: The Plan Part 2:

1. Where do you want to go?

A) The Dwarven Kingdom with Bari

B)Tyrvard's Tribe with Serpent and Christine

C)West following the old map you found

D)West to one of the great cities of the Province:

i. Tandem - the Free City of the North - semi independent republic

ii. Madrigal - the capital of the Province - trade city of the West

iii. Tyr - City by the Sea - livestock and fishing

iv. Covenant - The old capital - textiles, merchant houses

v. Scales - The Great City of the South - wine, crafts, courtesans

E) You head Northeast in search of the ancient city of the Trow.

F) You head west into the mountains in search of ancient knowledge in forgotten temples

G) You head North to the sunken cities

H) You head Southwest in search of the hidden library

I) freeform


Part 3: Personnel Tasks (Alright, I don't want to link the options given how many different combinations there will be. This means you are going to have to do some of the work here and come up with a coherent plan. I will need to know who is going to stay in the city and who is going to go with you. I will also need to know what you want each person to do. Yeah, it will get messy but I have complete faith in you.)


1. Biliku and Uttu can set up a spider breeding program for you if they stay. It won't really cost you anything but they will have to stay at the tower to do it.

A) No

B) Yes - Biliku and Uttu stay behind

C) freeform


2. You will not be on hand to manage Circle affairs and you do not want to trust Circle policy to anyone else. So while you are gone no progress will be made on research and mage training. However you can set Gareth to work recruiting muscle to support your efforts if you want.

A) No

B) Yes - have him recruit his old friends from the Legion. There are not many of them left but he vouches for each of them. He tells you that each one of them is worth ten normal men but they will not come cheap. Gareth and Brigit will stay behind.

C) Yes - you have him recruit from the unemployed of the tent city. It will be cheap but it may take a while to whip them into shape. Gareth and Brigit will stay behind.

D) Yes - you have him do both. It will cost more but you can afford it.

E) freeform


3. You could have Thaïs stay behind to manage your financial affairs while you are gone. She will try and make wise investments with your communal funds as opportunities present themselves.

A) No

B) Yes - Thaïs will stay behind

C)freeform


4. The Orphans, you should start thinking about what you are going to do with them. If you are going to let them stay at the tower you should leave someone in charge. Amena and Ithapi know the area best and can begin teaching them if you wish. Alternatively Gareth and Brigit can look after them if they stay in the city. Biliku and Uttu can also try and supervise them. (Keep in mind if you are training forces or raising spiders B&G and B&U will have to split their efforts).

A) You do not leave the children at the tower. You buy an orphanage and staff it. They will stay there though they may have trouble adjusting to surface life.

B) You let the children stay at the tower. Amena and Ithapi will look after them.

C) You let the children stay at the tower. Gareth and Brigit will look after them.

D) You let the children stay at the tower. Biliku and Uttu will try to look after them.

E) freeform


Part 4: Misc.

1. The Black Fang and the Black Staff: Nine says they are definately connected to Miosguinn's "Goddess". If you hold on to them they could be dangerous. On the other hand they may be tools that you can use against her. The decision is yours.

A) Destroy them

B) Keep them. Lock them up in your private vault in the Tower

C) Keep them. Take them with you.


2. Serpent and Christine are going on a trip. Do you give them a bonus for their honeymoon?

A) No

B) Yes - A modest gift

C) Yes - A large gift (the best of everything)

D) freeform


3. You will have to meet with Brigit's dad to negotiate for her services. He owns a fair amount of property on the surface and if you want he could lease you a warehouse and guards. This would let you store some wealth on the surface in case you need it.

A) No

B) Yes

C) No - instead you take the time to shop around for a proper above ground compound. (This option will take a couple months to set up properly and as such it is not compatible with Part 2: 1 A and B)

D) No - though you try to play matchmaker with Gareth and Brigit by winning over her dad.

E) freeform
 

Preparations 2 (History and Geography)

Another lore dump, tried not to cover the same information over again but there is probably some overlap. Also the final set of choices before chapter two at the end. If you have any specific questions about something you want to do or some element of the setting that I did not explain feel free to ask.

Preparations Part 2:

You pinch the bridge of your nose as another headache assails you. Who would have thought that success would breed so many issues. You sit behind what used to be Eris' desk in her private chambers, now your private chambers, you have spent the better part of the last week attempting to catalogue and store all of the resources you recently acquired. Thaïs sits off to one side going through another stack of tomes, her help makes this manageable but it will be difficult even with the two of you working together. Nine rests in the corner, pretending to sleep like usual but by now you can tell when she is eavesdropping.

The gold and mundane wealth was relatively easy to handle. It is piled in the lower storerooms where Gareth oversees its storage, but the magical artefacts and spellbooks you have recovered require your personnel attentions. Loosely speaking the spellbooks fall into three categories, those taken from the Silver Order library, those taken from the Blue Order outpost and a smattering of texts recovered from the library and attached vault. There are dozens of tomes detailing spells from half a dozen schools of magical knowledge here mixed in with history boks and texts on arcane philosophy. It will take months to properly go through what you have recovered and you simply do not have the time.

"Find anything interesting?" you call over to Thaïs, hidden behind a stack of tomes.

"Not much, looks like this is a general history text... but listen to this..."

The Axe Age

Little is known about the earliest age, or perhaps ages, of the world. As such all of human prehistory is simply termed the Axe Age. Humanity lived in small bands as hunters and gatherers. We were the prey of the myrkridia, and far below the notice of the Trow. We lived and we died without leaving any mark upon the world. This was the first age of darkness and it seemed to last without end...

"Hmm... grim stuff," you shake your head, "Of course the Trow did not see it that way. From what Henry used to tell me that was their golden age. They built their great cities to the goddess Nyx and exterminated or enslaved any race they deemed a threat."

"Like the Callieach?" your friend asks.

You nod, "Exactly. What little we know of them paints a picture of a race of master magicians, possessed of a control over magic unseen before or since. It was not for nothing that they are called the Sovereigns of the Time Before..."

Your little speech grabs Nine's attention as Thaïs questions you, "So they fought a war with the Trow? I assume they lost then."

Nine finally cuts in, you knew it was just a matter of time, "Everyone lost against the Trow dear."

You smile, "Everyone except the Legion. But yes, the Callieach had the magic but not the numbers to win a sustained conflict with the Trow. Slowly but surely the Trow pushed them back, giants clad in black metal, they destroyed the Callieach cities and drove them back to their capital. It was there, during the battle of the Real Seal that the Callieach played their final card. They unleashed a spell of such great power that it killed them all and wiped out the invading Trow legions. The hole created by that spell remains to this day, far to the east... The Great Devoid..."

Thaïs gives you an odd look, "I thought you were not interested in history?"

You beam at her, "This is the history of magic. I am always interested in magic."

She shakes her head and smiles, "Alright, so what happened then?"

"Well the Trow declared victory and headed home but their empire entered a state of decline following the war. The Callieach had killed so many of them that they began to rely on slaves to do all their labour. It worked for a time but eventually it proved their undoing. Anyway, what else does that book say?"

Thaïs turns her attention back to the tome, "The next entry is on the Age of Reason, mankind's golden age and the first age of light. It says that the age extends from 3,111 to 2,112 years ago and began when Tireces, the first archmage, managed to defeat the very first known Leveler in 570 H.C. Eight years later he founded the settlement of Llancarfan..."

"Llancarfan?" you ask but Nine quickly shushes you, "Dear, Llancarfan is the old name for Muirthemne, we are probably standing on top of or near the very place that Tireces stood thousands of years ago."

"The city really is that old then?" Thaïs asks. Nine blinks twice in affirmation before continuing, "Oh dears there are probably three or four cities buried down here going right back to the very dawn of human civilization. We are near the heart of the oldest human city in the world."

You gesture for Thaïs to continue, "Well nothing much happens for the next five hundred and sixty two years. Humanity pulls itself up, while the Trow continue to decline. It is a good thing they never realized the threat we posed of they would have wiped us out as well. In the year 1 A.E. the Emperor Clovis I founded the first Cath Bruig Empire and renamed the capital to Muirthemne. Humanity took the scraps left by the Trow and we learnt, we stole the knowledge of iron working from them and we built our power. At the same time the Trow came into conflict with most of the other races in the world, too proud to beg and hide like humanity. They defeated the Forest Giants and drove them back into the great Forest Heart to the south. They crushed the human kingdom of Yer-Ks and drowned it below the waves. Finally they defeated and enslaved the Oghres. The Age of Reason ends in 431 A.E. when the next Leveler, Moagim, rose in the East. He organized the myrkridia and taught them all that they know of military strategy and magic. This horde pushed west and crushed the Cath Bruig Empire. However, in his moment of triumph Moagim was cut down, drawn and quartered his body was scattered to the corners of the earth. For the next thousand years the myrkridia ruled the known lands and terrorized humanity."

You whistle, "And the same thing would have happened to us if not for Alric..."

Nine urges Thaïs to continues, interested in what else is recorded, "This age of darkness, known as the Wolf Age lasted till just over a thousand years ago. In 1431 A.E. Connacht came from the East, some say from Gower, some say from the lands beyond. He descended upon the myrkridia and broke their power, trapping them within the magical prison of the Tain. Within one generation the entire race disappeared."

You scratch the back of your head, "That Connacht was truly something. First he seals away the myrkridia and then her turns his attention to the rulers of the world, the Trow."

Thaïs nods, "It says here that Connacht took advantage of the Trow's reliance on slavery to undermine their empire. It says that the Trow priests controlled their slaves through the Dream of Domination... hmm... I have never head of that one before... and that Connacht's mages managed to unravel the spell and free the Oghres. The resulting war wiped out the Oghres. The Trow, conscious of their own sins, cast down their weapons and forever rejected the gift of iron leaving it to the younger races."

You tilt your head, "It was not the first time they had committed genocide though. What was so special about the Oghre Rebellion that the Trow swore off weapons and withdrew like that?"

Neither Nine nor Thaïs has an answer to this question so you are forced to shrug it off. Another mystery to tease at your mind, "Anything else of interest in there?"

Thaïs considers the page, "Not too much that is not already public record. The Leveler of that age appeared soon after, some say it was Moagim reborn, and Connacht crushed him and his forces. The emperor of the Cath Bruig fell during the battle and by popular acclaim Connacht was named the new emperor. He spent the rest of his life setting humanity on the best footing possible while his champion Damas sought out and destroyed any artefacts that the next Leveler could use against humanity. Connacht's end is not recorded, it is said he journeyed far into the east in search of something but no one knows what..."

You frown slightly, "For a history, this story raises more questions than it answers."

Nine just gives you both a knowing smile, "Most histories do my dear."

Thaïs continues, "Well the next section is just about recent history. Balor's appearance a few centuries ago on the eastern border. The deal he made with the Myrmidons and his recruitment of his six Fallen Lords are all alluded to though no real facts are given. Two centuries ago the Province waged a war of independence against the Cath Bruig and won. A century ago Balor sacked the Dwarven Kingdom and in 2431 A.E. he raised Muirthemne and destroyed the old empire."

You nod confidently, everyone knows the rest of the story, "Ah, now we are moving into recent memory. With the fall of the empire, Balor built up his power in the east while his generals were free to attack the Province. The nobility of the Province were decimated at Covenant and Alric and the Avatara took over the war effort. Shiver was killed outside Madrigal by Rabican, Rabican was killed not a year later at Seven Gates by the Watcher with the surprise aid of the Trow. The Deceiver and the Watcher had it out immediately after and the Deceiver was presumed dead. Cu Roi and Murgen lost their lives in the Tain and to top it all off a civil war broke out between the Head and the remaining Avatara. By 2481 all of the Avatara lay dead save for Alric and every major population center in the west had fallen but the Legion remained. They outmaneuvered Soulblighter and killed the Watcher. Finally Alric tricked Balor at the ancient Trow city of Rhi'anon, decapitated him and sent what remained of the Legion south to the Great Devoid with his head. They must have succeeded as the forces of the Dark collapsed overnight and Soulblighter fled into the east."

Nine is left speechless, "This Alric did all that?"

You nod, "Not just that. Soulblighter spent the next sixty years rebuilding his forces. He somehow resurrected Shiver, or found someone that could pass for Shiver. He located the Summoner, the one man capable of resurrecting the myrkridia, and he undermined much of the eastern nobility. Finally he struck at Alric. He might have caught the emperor by surprise but Alric recieved warning just in time. Alric found and enlisted the aid of the Deceiver, the Warlocks and the Trow and together with the Legion he broke Soulblighter's armies and killed the Fallen Lord deep in the heart of the great volcano Tharsis."

Thaïs grins, "You sound like a fan of his."

You shrug, "He is the greatest living archmage of our time and one of the few reasons we actually won the wars. He deserves all of the praise he gets."

With that whirlwind history lesson out of the way you turn your attention to more pressing matters. You pull out a map of the known world.

[​IMG]

Everything from the Great Devoid in the East to the great cities of the West is displayed before you. The Trow lands of the North, next to the state of Gower and the Berserk Tribes. The Dwarven Kingdom and the Barren Hills of the ghôls to the south. The Ermine Forest of the Fir'Bolg, the Forest Heart of the Forest Giants and the Deep Mire of the Skrael all jump out at you. So many possible destinations but you are only interested in the Dwarven cities to the southeast. It will be a difficult trip but it should be manageable. In three days time you want to be back on the surface, a week from now you hope to be on the road but there are a number of things that you must see to first and a few final orders to give to your people.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This will probably be your last chance to give instructions to your whole group for a while. Serpent and Christine will head north across the Barrier, past the Twelve Duns and to the islands in the northern sea. They will probably be gone for awhile. You, Thaïs, Biliku, and Uttu will travel south with Bari to the dwarven capital at Myrgard and you have a few options on how you want to do this. Gareth, Brigit, Amena, Ithapi and the children will stay in the city and again you have some choices on how you want them to undertake the tasks you have given them. Once these final decisions are made your group will return to the surface and split up and Chapter 2 will begin.


Part 1: The Tower, Amena and Ithapi


1. Amena and Ithapi - since the two of them will be looking after the children while you are gone you will have to give them instructions on what to do with them.

A) Have the children study with Amena. Knowledge is power and it is never too early to start.

B) Have the children help Ithapi with fixing up the tower. Physical labour will do them some good.

C) Let the children be children with the bare minimum of structure. Well it should toughen them up a little...

D) Aim for a more balanced and structured approach. They will be given time to themselves but most of there time will be spent in study with Amena or working with Ithapi.

E) freeform


2. Some of the children have expressed an interest in worshipping their goddess. Do you let them?

A) Yes - it probably won't do any real harm and it should comfort them.

B) No - They need to make a clear break.

C) No - You try and give them a substitute god to worship. Something close but hopefully different.

D) freeform


Part 2: The Muscle, Gareth and Brigit


1. You think it might be a good idea to train your warriors on the surface. Gareth and Brigit will have to purchase a compound to do this though and you do not have time to go shopping around with them. You will have to decide if you want them to purchase a compound or not. Also you will need to supply them with the resources to do so They will use the funds you leave them to make the best purchase possible.

A) You have them buy a compound. You do not want too many people knowing about the tower and you would rather have them on the surface.

i. You leave them a little money

ii. You leave them a moderate sum

iii. You leave them a lot of money

B) You do not need a new compound. They will take the recruits they believe are reliable back to the tower which will also grant you further security for the children.

C) freeform


2. While you are gone Gareth may want to test out your new forces by taking a few mercenary contracts. It would make you some money and if they do well it will give your group a bit of a reputation. It may also make enemies... Do you let him take any contracts?

A) Yes

B) No

C) Yes - but you speficically instruct him to take only contracts against former Dark forces

D) freeform


Part 3: Your group

1. A talking head will raise a lot of questions, while not illegal she will draw attention. Do you take Nine with you or leave her at the tower?

A) Yes - you are confident you will be able to hide her.

B) No - you do not want people finding out about her.

C) freeform


2. There are a number of ways you can travel to Myrgard. How do you want to go about it?

A) Just the five of you. You will travel light and try not to draw attention. You can move quickly and silently as a small group.

B) You will join up with a caravan. There is safety in numbers after all.

C) You hire a company of mercenaries to get you to your goal.

i. A group of Berserks that you have seen drinking at the Hanged Man. They know no fear and will gladly escort you.

ii. A group of dwarves Bari has had some dealings with in the past. Reliable but eccentric.

iii. A group of sell-swords, unemployed warriors and archers that live in the tent city. Probably the cheapest option.

D) freeform


Part 4: Your training

1. Travelling on the road, you won't really be able to practice more complex tasks but there are a few things you could try and accomplish. (Pick two)

A)Dwarven Language - Thaïs is learning Dwarven from Bari, you could join her and see what you can pick up.

B)Drinking - Bari says there are few things dwarves respect more than someone that can hold their liquor. You are no lightweight but to keep up with the dwarves would take practice. Thankfully you have Tyrvard's still. If you started now, with Bari and Thaïs' help you could become an expert drinker.

C)Combat Training - You think it would be useful to improve your combat skills. You spar with members of your group in the evenings. (who you spar with will be determined by your choice in part 3 question 2. If it is just the five of you it will be Biliku, if you take an escort it will vary a bit more).

D)Diplomacy? - Thaïs can try to give you some pointers to make you more diplomatic. From what you know of dwarves they respect honesty more than flowery words but a little tact would never hurt.

E) Research on the Road - You will attempt to study the artefacts in your possession along with Nine and Thaïs. It will be more difficult then at the tower but you may uncover something.

F) Something Else? - freeform


Part 5: Your vault

If you want to put anything Derryth is carrying in her inventory into your vault (so I can't destroy it on you ;)) for safe keeping then let me know.

As a reminder of what you are carrying and what is in the vault:

Equipment:
Knife, The Whip, Silver Staff
Clothes, A Very Stylish Hat, Small Wooden Buckler, Leather Armour
Spellbook, Heaven Stone, First Piece of the Halcyon Stone, One of a Matching Pair of Bracelets, Ring of the Master, Water Breathing Stone
Brass Spyglass, A Weathered Book "On the Cycles of Light and Dark", One Hideous Belt Buckle
the Dream Map and Notes, Tyrvard's Still, Miosguinn's Stone, Miosguinn's Cube


Derryth's Vault (storage):
The Heron Scrolls, The Ancient Tablet, The Gate Tablet, One large Unsorted Collection of Scavenged Spellbooks
 

Chapter 2: The Eagle and the Crows

Chapter 1: A Parting of Ways

Update ran a bit long. Only one choice to make in this update though there are a number of options available.

Chapter 1: A Parting of Ways

It has been a busy couple of months. Thaïs immediately accepted the partnership you offered her. Gareth took a bit more convincing but eventually he too gave into your arguments. The two of them should prove quite useful as you seek to expand your power base. With time who knows what you could achieve together.

You spent the last two days handing out payment for services rendered in the form of a little gold and a lot of artefacts. It has been your experience that all artefacts fall within one of two camps. Some are immediately of use, their enchantments are obvious, useful and in high demand. Gareth's new sword that spits lightning, his new shield that instils fear, and Uttu's new quiver that enchants any arrow left within it for a limited time all have clear and immediately useful properties and belong to this camp.

The second camp consists of artefacts that have unusual, obscure, or limited applications, your new ring for example. It will take research and experimentation to determine its effects. You lack the time for research and you possess enough wisdom to know how dangerous it is to simply experiment with a new magical item. Still someone created these artefacts for a purpose and you will unravel their meaning.

"What do these do?" Thaïs is helping you catalogue your new finds, currently she is examining a pair of bracelets recovered from Miosguinn's stash.

"Not sure..." you grumble, your nose lodged firmly in an old magical encyclopaedia.

"Well have you tried putting them on?" she snatches them up.

"No don't!" you move to stop her but she has already slipped one onto each wrist.

Nothing happens.

"Um... do you feel anything? Anything strange?" you ask as you stare at her, concern and curiosity fighting for dominance within you.

She just shrugs, "No... maybe they are meant to be worn by two different people," she slips off one bracelet and holds it out to you, "Come on Derryth, help me out here."

"Nope... no... not going to happen," you shake your head vehemently, "Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to go around triggering magical items? These bracelets could do anything..."

She places one hand on each hip, "Derryth you are being paranoid again."

You grin at her, "I am being cautious, not paranoid, it is how you stay alive in this business."

"Coward," she hums.

"Coward," Nine chimes in from her cushion, "I would try it dear..."

You turn on the head, "Nine, stay out of this."

She continues, ignoring your request, "She is right dear, take a chance every now and then."

You gesture at your mentor, "This from a talking head. Maybe you took one too many chances Nine?"

Her sing-song voice pitches a little lower than normal, it lends a vague aura of menace to her words, "Careful now dear. I would not tolerate such a tone from anyone else."

"Sorry Nine..." you do not want her pouting or screaming again.

She beams at you, "Oh that is fine dear. I know you have so much trouble with people. We are going to have to work on that.. In fact I know another spell that could..."

Thaïs comes to your aid, "Certainly Nine, just not right now please."

She gives your friend a warm smile, "Alright dear, later then. You are always so well mannered," she turns back to you, "Dear, you could learn a few things from your little friend. Just give it a try, I am certain that the bracelets are harmless "

Turning her attention back to you, Thaïs picks up where she left off, "So Derryth... the bracelet?"

You sigh, "You are not going to stop till I do this are you?"

She nods, so you snatch up the bracelet and slip it on. It constricts, locking onto your wrist. Thaïs gasps, hers must have done the same as well. You feel a slight buzzing in the back of your mind but it lasts for only a moment and it is gone.

Well you don't feel any different, still you do not like having the bracelet stuck on your wrist. You and Thaïs stand there in silence as Nine begins to cackle, "I can't believe you actually did that dear! Are you completely mad, you have no idea what those things do!"

You snap a little, "Damn it Nine, you told me to do it!"

She giggles uncontrollably, "Yes, but I am an insane talking head. Use a little sense dear..."

You rub your temples, "This... this is why you don't just put things on Thaïs. Now we have to figure out how to get these off..."

Nine still tittering slightly is happy to offer a suggestion, "Oh, I know! Cut your hands off!"

"We are not cutting our hands off..." you mumble, "I... we will think of something. Beside these things do not seem to be doing anything at the moment..."

Nine finally calms herself, "Dears, bring the bracelets over here. Maybe I can tell you something about them."

The two of you stride over to Nine's resting place and hold out your arms, "Well dears the magics on these things seem to be protective in nature. I don't think they will hurt you. There is also another spell under the protection spells... something to do with communication but I have seen nothing like it before... hmm... anyway I think you can get them off if you have the right command word."

"Which would be?" you ask together.

"I am afraid I haven't a clue dears. A proper artificer might be able to figure it out but I do not know where you would find one."

You and Thaïs turn to one another, the same idea at the front of both of your minds, "The Dwarves!"

"Hmm... yes dears they might know. It is worth a try at least."

One more thing for you to deal with it seems. Still at least the enchantments on the bracelets seem to be benign.

--------------------------------------------------

Tap, tap, tap. The silver spoon strikes the golden goblet. "If I can have your attention. I would like to propose a toast." Thaïs stands to your right. Your group has come together to mark the last night you will spend together for what could be many months. Tomorrow you will all go your separate, each to pursue separate goals. Though you have all sworn to return here within a year, none of you hold any illusions about how the world works. This could well be the last time you see many of these people.

Thaïs sits to your right, Gareth to your left, Brigit next to him, followed by Serpent, Christine and Bari. Amena and Ithapi watch over the children in the adjoining room, might as well start practicing now you figure.

One final chair sits at the table, empty. Tyrvard's sword rests against it a reminder of the friend you have lost.

"I would like to toast the success of our venture. To the recovery of the Halcyon stone and enough wealth to set us all up for life!" your friends let our a hearty cheer at the mention of the wealth you have recovered, "I would also like to toast our leader, without which none of this would have been possible! To Derryth!"

"To Derryth!" smiles on each face, your friends toast to your health.

Christine calls out from the far end of the table, "Speech!" she smirks at you.

You frown, "You all know I am terrible at speeches," you mumble.

Serpent, who has had perhaps a little too much of Tyrvard's brew, takes up her cry, "Speeshh!"

Well that does it, before long they are all chanting it, "Alright you bunch of assholes... but I warned you..."

You get to your feet, you were never eloquent but with enough alcohol anything is possible, "It has been months since we left the surface, months without the sun, without warmth, without light. But here in this place you people were my warmth, you were my light. By your efforts," you gesture at those assembled here, "By your sacrifices," you gesture to Tyrvard's empty chair, "Each of you has helped achieve this success. Be proud of yourselves for I am proud of you all! To each of you! To friends here and those that could not be here, I salute you!"

You down your goblet and drop into your chair as your friends applaud. Thaïs gingerly sits down next to you, "Not bad Derryth, not bad at all."

It is an evening of celebration, an evening of excess and of revelry. You embrace it without reserve secure in the knowledge that there are too few such nights in a person's life. When you finally stumble back to your bed you collapse immediately and drift off into the ether.

----------------------------------------------------

Sunlight, gorgeous, beautiful, magnificent, radiant sunlight. It washes over you as you step out of the front door of Thaïs' safehouse. Biliku and Uttu blink repeatedly, their mouths hang open in complete shock. You wonder what it must be like to see the sun for the first time, to experience a soft breeze on your skin. You give them time to take it all in, it is slightly amusing that they refuse to go more than two feet from you and Thaïs.

A single gate spell has brought you all back to the surface. Amena and Ithapi remain behind to mind the children. You promised each of them personally that when you return they will get to see the sky and feel the fresh wind upon their skin. They will do their best you are sure but for now you must see to your remaining business.

Mere hours later...

"This, this is really too much Derryth," the physician can hardly believe your generosity. You have procured the best of everything, at no small expense, for their trip. The best coach you could find and good strong horses. A team of twelve mounted mercenaries from one of the most prestigious and reliable companies in the entire city and three chests of gold to cover any traveling expenses.

You wave off his concerns, "Nonsense Serpent, it is the least I could do and you are my friends-"

Christine cuts you off, "She is right dear, if the farmer wants to waste her money I say we let her."

You grin, "Well one of you is my friend at least."

She gives you a wink, "Love you too farmer. Well dear we should probably be going."

Serpent nods, he gives each of you one final embrace and climbs into the coach, Christine stops in front of you and clasps you by the shoulder, "I just wanted to say thank you farmer, this really does mean a lot to both of us."

You give her a slight nod, "Just enjoy yourselves and don't get killed."

"Don't worry farmer we will be fine. We are not headed into a warzone like I hear you are," turning she climbs into the coach.

"Look after yourself farmer," Christine calls out and before you know it the two of them are off. It will be a long trip but you have done as much as you can to ensure their success.

"Well boss, where to next?"

"You know Gareth you don't have to call me boss. Derryth would do."

"Thanks but no thanks boss. You are still the one in charge even if I am part of management now."

You place your hands on your hips and consider your options for a moment, "Well we have another thirty chests of gold we have to store somewhere and your girlfriend probably wants to see her folks so..."

"Right Derryth, off to see da then," with a hop and a jump she is off and it is all your group can do to keep up with her as she slips though the streets and alleys of Muirthemne's Merchant Quarter.

-----------------------------------------------

The building she brings you to is rather nondescript, you would have passed by it without another thought and that is probably the point. There are no guards outside and as you enter the building you are struck by how empty and quiet it is. Brigit leads you into one of the bedrooms and right up to a bookshelf.

She turns to you, looking each of you in the eyes, "Alright, when I get the door open they are going to be a little jumpy. Under no circumstances should any of you reach for a weapon. Once they realize who I am we will be safe."

She pulls one of the books from the shelf and knocks three times on the back of the bookcase. The bookshelf slides away and your group is met by four armed guards each with a drawn sword levelled at your group. You are fairly certain you could take them all but thankfully it does not come to that. As soon as they see Brigit they lower their weapons.

"Biddy?" their leader, is an older man. Thin and tall, hair greying around his temples. Thirty years ago he would have been quite a catch. Even now he is quite handsome though his face has its share of scars. He is familiar somehow. You look into his eyes, they are green, so very green and they are filled with tears...

"Da!" she throws herself at him and he snatches her up.

"Biddy, I thought... when you did not come back... I..." he hugs his daughter, joy overcoming any reservations he might normally have.

"I am fine da. I was rescued by my friends," for the first time he notices you.

"You? You saved my daughter? I... I can not thank you enough for this you..." now that he has had a moment to consider you he stops, "I know you. Where do I know you from?"

"That's Derryth, da, the mage you sent me to meet," he nods and raises a hand to shush his daughter, "So you took my daughter then? Why?"

Thaïs steps in, "We did not take your daughter sir I assure you. She signed on with our company and is an invaluable asset and a dear friend."

The Dagda turns back to his daughter, "You were out on a job? All this time, I wait here worried to death and you were out on a job! Do you know, do you have any idea how long I looked for you!"

Gareth has a great deal of difficulty watching anyone yell at Brigit, even her father, "Sir please lower your voice."

"And who the hell are you! I will talk to my daughter-"

"Da please, Gareth is my-"

"Your what? What have you been doing for months girl! Out with it!"

"Da please, just let me explain. These people did not abduct me. I went with them 'cause they needed me, they are my friends, they taught me magic and-"

He hits her...

So you hit him...

A single assault spell levelled right at the man. He has no mental defences, he could not ward off the attack even if he knew what was happening to him. You could hold back... you choose not to.

Your spell demolishes the man. He crumples to the ground with a whimper. His three subordinates raise their weapons to strike, you and Thaïs drop two of them with a thought. While Gareth has his blade out and at the third man's throat in the blink of an eye. The third man drops his weapon and raises his hands.

"I... Derryth please do not hurt my da!" Brigit cries.

"Don't worry Brigit, I am not going to hurt him... much," you grab the man and drag him over to a nearby chair.

You give him a sharp slap to clear his head, "Now then Mister... Dagda is it?"

You drag a chair over and sit down across from him, "I do not appreciate it when someone attacks my employees. Do it again and I will not be so gentle, understand?"

He nods, "Good, now I understand that tempers run high in these sorts of situations. I understand that maybe you just got a little carried away there and that you are in fact incredibly sorry for your actions, right?"

Again he nods, "Okay then, now I am willing to forget this whole little incident. Everyone overreacted right? I am sure the two of us will get along wonderfully but I will need a few things from you first. Understand?"

For a third time he nods, "Good. Now here is what I want from you. You will rent me a warehouse for the use of my people in the city. You will charge me a fair rate and that is all..." you turn back to look at Brigit, "Also you will apologize to your daughter and if I ever so much as hear that you have laid one finger on her well..." you let the rest of your threat go unspoken.

"I am sorry Biddy... I am sorry..." the man can manage little more than those three or four words. You order the remaining rogue to fetch paper and ink and right there in the bedroom you draw up a contract for the lease of one warehouse for a very reasonable price.

Your group files back out into the street and you make your way out of the Merchant Quarter. Brigit and Gareth walk next to you.

"Damn Brigit, your dad is a real piece of work," you shake your head.

She tries to stand up for the man, "He normally isn't like that Derryth. He just... he was worried and he has a bit of a temper..."

You frown, "Perhaps... perhaps... we will see."

You slow down and let the rest of your group march ahead of you. You wave Gareth over, "Are you two going to be fine alone in the city?"

Gareth give you a single self-assured nod, "Don't worry boss, we will look after each other and by the end of the day we won't be alone. I know a few people, old hands from my days in the Legion, each of them is easily worth ten regular men. With the money you have left us we will be fine. By the end of the month we will have a proper compound and enough strong arms to deal with anyone that wants to start something."

You are about to begin lecturing him, "If the Dagda tries anything..."

He shrugs off your concerns, "I have dealt with men like him most of my life Derryth. He won't try anything. You put the fear of Wyrd into him... honestly you are a bit terrifying when you go all battle mage like that..."

You chuckle, "Well it is fun and what good is power if you never use it..."

"Well this is it boss," your group has come to the final intersection. You will head over to the new Dwarven Quarter in search of Bari's old acquaintances while Gareth and Brigit will head off to the tent city in search of some of his old friends.

You shake Gareth's hand and pull him in close, "Take care of her, that is an order understand?"

He grins at you and salutes as he moves on to say goodbye to Thaïs, Bari and the girls.

You pull Brigit close in a firm hug, "Take care of him, that is an order understand?" You give her a wink.

She smiles at you and nods. A moment later the two of them have disappeared down the road to the Hanged Man and the tent city.

"Alright everyone, let's get going," you and your group strike out towards the Dwarven Quarter.

-----------------------------------------------

Nine days out of Muirthemne.

Your group has been making good progress. You travel light, just the nine of you. Days are spent cutting cross country while the nights are spent learning the ways of the dwarves. Bari and the mercenaries teach you and Thaïs how to speak Dwarven, you are both quick learners and you make remarkable progress. The rest of your time is spent learning to drink and it is not a simple matter of learning how to drink a lot, though that is part of it. It turns out that for a dwarf, what to drink and when to drink it can be even more important. You have a feeling that even the little you have absorbed so far will go a long way. Another few months and you will both be experts.

Bari's old friends have proven a reliable and worthwhile addition to your group. Four old dwarves, they grumble, and they bicker but they are very good at their jobs. You have not encountered any servants of the Dark so far, a testament to Alric's efforts to secure the eastern lands and the skill of your scouts in avoiding threats.

Your group is currently ten minutes outside of Blackford the last human settlement before entering the Dwarven Kingdom. You need to make this stop to resupply before you enter the true wastes of the southern hills. As you approach the town you notice smoke billowing into the sky.

Bari scurries on ahead. Given his training he is the best person for the task.

Ten minutes pass in complete silence before the Pathfinder returns and you group gathers around.

"Undead," he grumbles, "About twenty of them... mostly unarmed ones... ghasts... with one or two of the armoured and trained kind... the thralls..."

Thaïs frowns, "Any survivors?"

Bari nods, "A bunch of peasants in a makeshift pen in the middle of town."

You consider your options, "We could just go around them... Of course we do need to resupply somewhere and there are only twenty of them..."

Bari shakes his head, "Probably more around there somewhere, probably a necromancer somewhere too holding them all together."

"Okay, okay," you nod, "Can we make it to the next settlement without restocking?"

The leader of your mercenaries shrugs, "Maybe... it would be close but we might be able to pull it off."

Biliku chimes in, "We should help those people right?"

You smile at her, "Nice thought kid but it is never that easy. Though there are good reasons to help... if there is a necromancer around then I do not envy those people... hell of a way to go..."

"Well maybe we should turn back, find an imperial patrol and get them to help."

Bari grunts, "I would rather not. It could take weeks and we have an appointment to keep."

Well this is a bit of a dilemma. What to do...


Current Party:

Derryth - skilled mage, focus mental spells, some combat skill, some magical resistance (heaven stone), some physical resistance (bracelets), some medical skills

Thaïs - skilled mage, focus mental spells, okay shot (crossbow), some physical resistance (bracelets)

Biliku - warrior, great combat skills

Uttu - archer, good shot (bow), frost arrows (40)

Bari - Pathfinder, good combat skills, expert shot (dwarven cocktails), expert infiltrator

Trakk: Dwarven warrior, great combat skills

Gilling: Veteran Grenadier, good shot (dwarven cocktails)

Felling: Grenadier, some medical skills, okay shot (dwarven cocktails)

Telling: Mortar, great shot (mortar), explosive expert


1. What to do? Stay or go. Help these people or leave them to their fates. Ultimately the choice is yours.

A) Leave

i. You will make for the next settlement. Hopefully your supplies will last.

ii. You head back to the nearest Imperial fort. You passed one three days ago and that is probably your best bet.

iii. freeform


B) Stay

i. You will attack the undead straight on. You should be able to handle twenty undead.

ii. You try and lure them out into an ambush. Undead are notoriously stupid, without a necromancer to give them orders they would probably fall for an ambush.

iii. You sneak in. You will get enough food and water to ensure you can make it to the next settlement. These people are done for anyway.

iv. Same as in ii. but Bari will set up an ambush for the enemy necromancer provided they are present.

v. Engage the undead in a running skirmish with the intention of drawing out and killing the commanding necromancer (provided there is one).

vi. A combination of ii. and iii. you, Bari and Biliku as the most silent of the group will scavenge ahead for resources. If you run into trouble you will attempt to lead the undead back into an ambush set up by the rest of your group.

vi.freeform
 

Chapter 2: The Eagle and the Crows

Chapter 2: The Eagle and the Crows

Undead come in a surprising number of shapes and sizes, or so you have been told time and again.

The most common forms of undead however are remarkably uniform, they are slow and they are stupid but they are also incredibly dependable. Within the admittedly small range of tasks a thrall can succeed at it does quite well. A thrall can march, a thrall can kill and the Fallen Lords required little more from them than that.

Normally columns of thralls would be supported by the more mobile soulless, or the cunning ghôls but from what Bari tells you these thralls and ghasts are alone. Without support they should be easy to dispatch for your group. In fact with the aid of your dwarven mercenaries you could probably dispatch a force of over one hundred with little difficulty. You are faster than them, you are smarter than them, you are simply better than them in every way that matters.

But this is no reason to get overconfident.

"So what is the plan?" Thaïs inquires as she approaches your group.

"Ambush," mumbles Bari.

You nod, "Ambush."

Your mercenaries begin their work. They clear a killing field and take up firing positions. Telling, the explosive expert, sets to work concealing his mortar while Gilling and Felling set up satchel charges, "Just in case," they say.

Within ten minutes your men are all in place. Now you just have to draw out the dead. At first you were going to send Bari but if there is a necromancer around you do not want him or her to know that you have dwarves. Instead you and the girls are going to be the bait.

Hopefully they will take it, hopefully you will escape and hopefully the damn dwarves won't blow you up.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The three of you stand at the edge of town and start yelling. Immediately you get a reaction.

The dead pour forth. The twenty Bari saw quickly become thirty, then forty, then fifty, then sixty. As the last of the ghasts pour forth a single robed figure emerges. This then must be the necromancer, the key will be to get it to move forward with the horde.

You decide to test the willpower of this new opponent. You send out a slight suggestion. A small thing really. Not even a lie, in fact it is a little piece of the truth and something your opponent would be willing to take a risk for. You send out your little suggestion; that you are in possession of a power artefact, something your adversary would want, could use... and you wait.

The idea takes hold as a tiny smile creeps onto your face, "It bought it," you whisper.

Grabbing Biliku and Uttu the three of you flee back towards the rest of your group, hidden in ambush.

The enemy necromancer pushes its way to the front of the mob, shouting orders in a high pitched squeak. Something about power and a glorious future, the usual delusions of the desperate and the mad.

The three of you run through the kill zone, well ahead of the first thralls. You make a big production of falling, you are slow to rise and feign a sprained ankle. You are no great actor so you slip another little suggestion into the opposing mage's mind. Part of you is a little disappointed. This individual has some power and a great deal of ambition but no will, no sense. His mind, and you are fairly certain now that it is a he, is an easy thing to bend, to twist to your needs. There is no real challenge in this for you.

He leads his mob of dead towards you, he licks his lips, "Well what do we have here?"

He is almost close enough, you just need him to step a bit closer.

You feign terror, "Just... just travelers sir. Please... please don't hurt us..." you are not terribly convincing but with a few more suggestions he buys your act.

He grins wide and takes a step forward, "Oh, I won't hurt you Miss. But I think you might have something in your possession that I might have use for," he turns his attention to Biliku and Uttu as he takes another step forward, "My what lovely girls you have..."

The girls begin to whimper. They are good actors really. His grin stretches even wider and he takes another step forward. The last step needed to trigger you trap.

"Bari! Now!" you grab the girls and dive behind the nearest cover. A single crack is all you hear followed by the explosion as the mortar shell hits the mage and the front of the thrall mob.

With their leader dead the thralls fall back onto their most basic orders. They advance to engage in melee but your group pours out a truly impressive stream of firepower.

You are outnumbered more than five to one but you are also operating in absolutely ideal conditions. There is next to no wind, it is dry, not a cloud in the sky, and the entire horde is bunched up in front of you. In amongst the buildings they may have been a problem but out on open ground your advantage is absolute and unassailable.

Bari laughs like a madman and screams something about a "target rich environment" as he lobs one cocktail after another. You have not seen him this happy in months. Within five minutes your group has slaughtered every enemy you can find. Your victory is complete and everyone is in high spirits as you enter the town.

Most of the buildings in Blackford have been reduced to smoking husks, black burnt timbers jut out into the sky like so many charred bones. The air is filled with a terrible, acrid odour; you suspect that many of these buildings still had people in them when they went up...

There is no movement in this dead village, or at least no human movement. As you enter the village square you spot a large and rather bored looking crow resting on the remains of a fence. You stop. You are not sure but you could swear it is looking right at you.

Your allies move to free the villagers as you continue to stare at the bird. A second and then a third bird land next to the first. They begin to caw to one another, as if discussing the events that have just played out within the village. The longer you watch them the more certain you are that they are talking about you.

"-and this is our leader Derryth. Derryth what are you doing?" Thaïs comes up to you with Uttu and the mayor of the village.

You reluctantly turn from the birds, "Just mage stuff. I don't suppose you and Uttu could do me a favour?"

Thaïs gives you an uncertain smile, "What sort of favour?"

"I want to take out those three crows over there," you subtly gesture with your head at the three birds behind you.

Thaïs and Uttu look around you at the birds. They are a bit too obvious about it for your liking, "Don't make a big production about it. They will notice."

Thaïs is a little concerned for you now, "They? The crows? Maybe you need to lie down for a little while Derryth?"

You frown at her, "Don't treat me like I am insane. I am just being-"

"Paranoid?" Uttu asks.

"Paranoid," Thaïs nods in agreement.

"Cautious," you correct them.

Thaïs shakes her head, "Paranoid."

You smile at her and nod, "Oh paranoid she says," you pull one of your gloves off to reveal the bracelet still stuck to your wrist, "Sure, because my instincts are never right."

Thaïs laughs, "Alright, alright. I will take the one on the left. You take the one in the middle and Uttu can have the one on the right."

You and Uttu agree as you spin on your heels. The crows must know something is up as the three of them take off into the sky. You and Thaïs hit your targets but Uttu misses the bird by mere inches. It lets out a loud caw as it flees towards the east.

Four more crows answer the call and take flight from a large tree at the far edge of town. They move to meet with the first bird but before they can a second shape descends from high above the crow.

A large eagle strikes out at the lone crow and buries its talons into the smaller bird. With its prey firmly in its grasp it heads due south with three of the four remaining crows in hot pursuit. The fourth crow sets a course to the east and proceeds with a great deal of haste.

Thaïs lets out a slight humph, "Well that was strange..."

You shake your head in disappointment, "Ah well, hopefully it was just paranoia on my part..."

The mayor has stood this entire time in silence. He is a tiny, round man with a happy if rather vacant expression on his face. He seems a touch simple and more than a little intimidated by your presence and the strange scene that has played out in front of him. Now however he works up enough courage to speak, "I... I would like to thank ya Mistress Derryth for ya assistance... um... without ya aid we... well... um..." he trails off uncertain of how to address actual mages.

Thaïs works her charm, "It was nothing, really. We could not leave innocent subjects of the empire to such a cruel and unjust fate. It is through the hard work of you and your people that the empire will prosper and grow. In truth we should be thanking you for your efforts."

You can tell that he does not fully grasp everything she is saying. Instead he seizes upon a few words here and there, "Thank ya ma'am, we do try ta work hard. If there be anything... um... anything at all that me and mine can do for ya..."

You smile at the man, "Now that you mention it sir, yes, there is something you could do for us. We are headed southeast into the Dwarven Kingdom but we could do with some supplies to aid in our passage."

He nods slowly, "Ya need food? um... most of what we got was destroyed... um..."

Uttu adds, "We have money. We can pay."

You give her a slight poke in the side and whisper to her, "I am trying to avoid paying kid."

She looks up at you, "But they have lost everything Derryth..."

You mumble, "Bloody kids..."

The mayor is not quite sure what to make of all this, "Um... if ya are willing to stay we can probably gather up something for ya. Why don't ya stay for the evenin' and leave in the mornin'?" You get the impression that he would rather have you around.

You scratch your head, "Well, you don't seem to have much of a town left to stay in-"

Thaïs cuts you off, "What we mean sir is that we do not want to delay you. You should take your people and lead them over to the nearest Legion outpost."

He considers her words for a moment, "Well the patrol should be 'round in a day or two. I think we will wait for 'em. We got elderly and kids ta look after and I wouldn't feel safe taking 'em out on the road without protection... We did have a mage but he went up with half the town..."

The way he trails off you are fairly certain he wants your help but is not confident enough to ask.

You move the discussion back to the issue of supplies, "We only need enough to get us to the next settlement and there are only nine of us. Are you sure you can't give us anything at the moment?"

He frowns but nods, "Yeah, um... maybe half an hour and we could find ya something. Won't be the best stuff but it should keep ya going."

Well then you have your answer. Everyone assembled is waiting on you to make a decision:


A) You escort them back to the nearest fort. You are not confident they will survive by themselves. (It will take about six days to get back with the villagers slowing you down).

B) You stay with them for the next two to three days. Once the patrol shows up you can leave.

C) You accept the mayor's invitation and stay for the night. You will have a better idea of what to do in the morning and it may give you some time to investigate this mage he mentioned. If they did have a mage living here and he is dead then any spellbooks or artefacts he had might be up for grabs.

D) You leave as soon as possible. You are done playing hero for a while. These people are alive because of you, what happens next is not your concern.

i. You buy supplies from the villagers. Uttu is right, you do have the money to pay for it.

ii. You take the supplies from the villagers. You have already given them their lives back. They owe you.

iii. You leave immediately without taking any supplies. You do not want to stay in this place for even a moment longer.

E) You escort them. But not backwards, you take them with you to the next settlement. A dwarven fort to the southeast. (It will take eight days to get there with the villagers slowing you down).

F) You have them send a runner out to the nearest fort.

G) freeform


2. You think the mayor knows something about what is going on here. You will get this information from him though you may have to get a bit rough.

A) Torture the mayor. You need to know.

B) Don't torture the mayor. This may be a bit insane...
 

Chapter 3: Smoke on the Horizon

Chapter 3: Smoke on the Horizon

"You are all going to love Myrgard," Bari sits cross-legged in front of the small campfire; a glass of Tyrvard's Brew clasped in one hand as the fire casts deep shadows across the walls of the cave you are currently settled in.

The girls sleep in the back while your mercenaries keep watch in pairs. You, Thaïs and Bari sit around working on your understanding of dwarven, drinking and just generally passing time. It is a calm night and cool. Almost uncomfortably so, but your fire and a healthy dose of alcohol keep the worst of it a bay.

The mood of the dwarves has been improving every hour it seems. The closer you come to the heart of the kingdom the happier they seem. You are a day and a half from Blackford, half way to the nearest dwarven fort. Bari assures you that once you meet up with the garrison you will be supplied with a whole company of soldiers as an escort. You stand at the still filling up a pair of glasses, you have every reason to believe that you will be safe, perhaps that is why you feel so worried...

"There is no city in the world like it! The wide avenues filled with shops, the great exchange, the banks, the bars," he takes an easy sip from his glass, his eyes closed as he pictures the great city, "Ah, the bars, Derryth. They are a thing to behold. Every shape and size imaginable. Bars and banks, Derryth, that is Myrgard. If you want to understand anything about the city then that is where you must start."

"I can't wait to see it Bari," you reply as you return to the fire, two glasses in hand. You pass one off to Thaïs as he warms to the subject, "Ah, it is magnificent Derryth. My people have achieved wonders in the last sixty years. Perhaps some day the city will rival Stoneheim before the fall."

"Do you spend much time in Myrgard, Bari?" Thaïs leans forward resting her chin on her knees.

He smiles at the question, happy that his audience is in fact paying attention, "Ah, not much no. There was always work to do of some kind or another but I am young and it isn't the place of the young to sit at home and watch the world go by."

You give the dwarf a sly grin, "How old is young Bari?"

His laugh is a short, gruff thing. A bark really, "Young is oh, about ninety years," he nods once, "Yeah, ninety four to be precise, a long time for a human but for a dwarf," he snaps his fingers, "the blink of an eye, so many years but all of it gone in just a moment."

He stares now into the fire as his mind goes back to earlier times, "My parents, they were refugees. Fled west into the Province... I remember being a child in Madrigal. Living in the Dwarven Quarter there... you grew up tough or you did not grow up at all. Some thug, or pimp, or crime boss would scoop you up and that would be the end of it. I was barely in my twenties when the Fallen Lords pushed westward. Signed up with the Legion as soon as I could... just another stupid kid really."

He drains his glass, stands, stretches and gets a refill. You sit there huddled around the fire. Instinctively you scan the horizon for enemies and the sky for birds. Thaïs has told you time and again not to worry but you can not help it. Just the burden of being in charge you suppose.

Bari returns with another glass and drops to the ground in one fluid motion. Tucking his legs back underneath him he picks up where he left off, "So there I was, just this dumb kid, right. I sign up with the Legion, pay was shit, food was shit, and being a dwarf none of the humans would give me the time of day. This was back before the debacle at Covenant. Three quarters of the nobility of the Province, the king included, all dead. The army was broken and it was down to irregulars like us to keep the fight going. Those were some bad days my friends... some of the worst fuckin' days I have ever had. 'Course there were some good things about them as well. I met my Lord Jori in the service... met Ari too..."

"Bari, we don't have to do this now-" he stares into the fire but raises one hand to silence you.

"Don't worry Derryth, what is done is done. I am not going to go all weepy on you," he takes a hard gulp from his glass, "I met my Lord there. Not far from Silvermines, he was putting together a new chapter of a very old Order."

"The Pathfinders?" you make the leap and are rewarded with a nod.

"Yeah, Jori wanted to recruit the best of this new generation of dwarves. Really stir things up so to speak. I was good enough to make the cut, hell I was the best one there... well except for Ari, girl was one hell of a shot. We bonded over cheap ale and dead ghôls, like a fairytale..." he chuckles a little, "So the war ends, we win, the kingdom is re-established and the Pathfinders set to work evening out the old ledger. A lot of debts to be paid, friends to be rewarded, enemies to be crushed. The two of us barely saw one another for years on end. I got the idea in my head that maybe I should do something about that..."

His brow furrows as he stairs at the pair of rings on his finger, "Well turns out she had been waiting for me to ask since the War. Me being the idiot that I am, just didn't have the courage to act... Finally did it a year ago... we were going to take our pay from this mission and retire. Fuck... things just never work out like you want them to I guess. Still I am here, that bastard is dead and we have the hammer so I guess that is a win..."

He knocks back another drink and wanders off to get a refill. When he returns you decide to turn matters to a brighter subject, "So how exactly did you meet Trakk and his men?"

"Ah well that is a story of daring exploits, heroics and great battles," the dwarf gives you a wide grin, "Trakk and his men are ex-military. They used to patrol the borders a bit to the south of here actually. Well one day I am running reconnaissance, looking for this real bastard of a ghôl... named Gorefang... or Gnarlfang... or some such shit. Big white one with red eyes and this nasty scar across its throat from an earlier encounter with a Pathfinder. The ghôl survived, the Pathfinder didn't and we always avenge our dead... Anyway, I am running recon and I hear the sounds of battle. I come up over the ridge and Trakk and his patrol are down there under attack by my target and fifty of his best friends. Well I sneak in nice and close and lob a fire bomb right at the bastard. He goes up in flames and his little raiding party scatter to the four winds." Bari slaps his knee as he lets out a series of short barks.

"Bragging again Bari?" Trakk wanders into camp, "Our shift is over, time to switch."

You wake the girls and the five of you head out while the mercenaries move in to take some rest.

---------------------------------------------

Smoke on the horizon...

You have had a quiet and relaxing trip south to the fort. Naturally this was not meant to last.

As the sparse foliage of the southern empire gives way to the broad orange canyons of the Dwarven Kingdom Bari spots smoke billowing to the south, in the direction of the fort. You send your scouts ahead to observe, what they report back is not reassuring.

The fort is surrounded, the smoke drifting into the air is coming from within. Bari counts maybe three hundred ghasts, one hundred thrall and a couple dozen soulless. Also of note is a pen at the center of the enemy camp containing about thirty wights. Bari spotted three necromancers in and around the command tent though there could be more.

You run the numbers through your head, not great odds but there are a few things working in your favour, "Bari, this might be an odd question, but were there any crows over there?"

He gives you a confused look and scratched the back of his head, "Ah, well... yes... yes I suppose there were. Um... maybe a dozen or so. It is a siege Derryth, they are probably waiting to feed on the dead..."

You narrow your eyes, you know this next question is going to sound insane but you have to ask, "Did any of the crows see you Bari?"

"Well no... I mean I don't think so..." you think the dwarf may be a little worried about you, "Are they important somehow Derryth."

You give the slightest nod, "Possibly, might be more magic involved is this..."

Trakk spits, "Damn mages!" he hesitates a moment, "Ah, sorry ladies, didn't mean either of you."

You wave it off, "Don't worry," turning back to Bari you continue your questioning, "Alright so we are up against a few hundred undead here and at least three mages. What are our options? Is there anything we can do about this situation?"

"Attack?" suggests Telling before Trakk swats him in the back of the head, "Not against these numbers you idiot."

"Retreat?" Thaïs hazards.

Trakk frowns, "We could try for Blackford but the undead may be there as well. We could push on to the capital through the center of the desert but we would have to scavenge after a few days. Food would probably be doable but water..."

You remove your hat, fanning yourself under the midday sun, "How big would a garrison like this be? What sort of allies could we expect."

Trakk shrugs, "Ah, back in my day a full garrison on the northern border was maybe one hundred and fifty dwarves. Fifty or so are out on patrol at any given time so we are looking at less than one hundred dwarves in there. Fairly good odds for them as long as the walls hold out. That is probably why they are besieging them, to storm the fort would eat up most of their resources..."

You feel like there is something missing here, "Wights? You said they have about thirty wights? If I remember right a wight is essentially a walking bomb right?"

The Pathfinder nods, "Yeah if they can get those wights to the walls then the siege will be over in minutes..."

What to do... what to do... you look up into the sky, searching for an answer.

You spot a large eagle circling your position. It notices you watching and flies off to the south.


A) Go around. No one knows you are here. You can slip into the central desert and make your way directly to Myrgard. Food should not be a problem though water might be.

B) Attack. It may seem crazy but if you pick your targets you can do a lot of damage.

i. Infiltration - you will slip into the enemy camp and attempt to destroy the Wight pen and the command tent with satchel charges and dwarven cocktails.

ii. The Mortar 1 - you can shell the camp from here. You target the wight pen first. That should take pressure off the garrison but it would also draw a lot of attention.

iii. The Mortar 2 -you can shell the camp from here. You target the command tent first. If you can neutralize the enemy mages the undead will lose cohesion. Of course if you do not get them all...

iv. Breakthrough - you punch a hole through the undead lines and attempt to get inside the fort.

C) Go back - you head back towards Blackford

D) Wait - you give it a few days and see how things develop.

E) Negotiate? - well you could try talking to the necromancers, one mage to another...

F) Follow the eagle south into the desert. You don't know why but you have a feeling it may be important.

G) Infiltration/Mortar 1 - You will split your forces. Bari will slip through the camp while you relocate the mortar. You will shell the wight camp and attempt to split the enemy. Bari will then signal the garrison to sally forth and strike at the enemy. A lot will depend on the garrison sallying forth but you will just have to trust them and be ready to fall back.

H) freeform - have a strategy? feel free to suggest it.
 

Chapter 4: Few Against Many

Chapter 4: Few Against Many

"This... this is a bit insane Derryth..." Thaïs' reaction mirrors that of the rest of your group.

"It is doable though," you have spent the last ten minutes trying to convince them to take on a enemy that outnumbers them almost fifty to one but you are certain that this will work.

You look each of them in the eyes, attempting to gauge how open they are to your plans. Thaïs is worried but trusts you enough to follow your lead. The girls, meanwhile are excited at the prospect of another victory. Of course at this point the two of them would follow you into hell itself so you will have to be careful with them.

The dwarves seem sceptical though and may need some convincing. Thankfully Bari takes up your cause, he begins persuading them. He starts in clear and commanding Bruig, "Right boys, time to earn your pay. You heard the boss, let's start setting up-"

Trakk shakes his head and responds in dwarven, "We aren't getting paid nearly enough to fight an army Bari, we-"

Bari switches to dwarven as well, probably to spare the girls, "Fuck off with your pay, Trakk. I never figured you for a coward-"

"Now that ain't fair Bari! What she is asking us to do-"

"She is askin' you to do your damn job!" he turns to the other three dwarves for support, "Boys, I know each of you. I have fought with you, bled with you and I know for a fact that those necromancers don't have shit on you. Telling, I once saw you mulch thirty ghôl with a single shell! Felling! Gilling! How many thrall have you put back under the ground? Fifty? One hundred? Two hundred? And Trakk, in all my years I have never met a more determined and skilled warrior!"

Trakk lets out a single dismissive laugh, "You are so full of shit Bari... but lets say you are right and my boys can account for a couple hundred thralls. That is less than half, what will we do about the rest?"

Bari grins at the man, "Well Trakk, that is what you have me for! Now we are going to march over there and fuck those necromancers so hard that the Watcher will feel it in his grave!"

Telling, Gilling, and Felling nod enthusiastically. Trakk considers his options and crosses his arms, "Triple."

The Pathfinder cocks his head, "Double."

"Triple Bari, we will do this but we get paid triple. This is not open to negotiation," Trakk extends his hand, "And I want it up front."

Bari grunts once and rifles through his pack for a stack of papers. He peels off six papers and stuffs them into Trakks' hand. "Pleasure doing business with you Bari," the mercenary gives your group a wide smile, "Alright boys lets get ready, if we are going to do this I want it done right."

-----------------------------------------------------

It takes the better part of an hour to secure your position, trap the most likely avenues of approach and set up fall back positions. This will be a long fight.

When all is prepared you give the order.

The familiar crack of the mortar is followed by a large explosion. A direct hit on the wight pen sets off dozens of smaller explosions and devastates the enemy camp. Dirt, stones, and chunks of wight blast the enemy forces. By your estimates a fifth of the enemy fell to this first attack but that still leaves hundreds of hostiles. The majority are now headed to your position...

Following the first strike six necromancers pour out of the command tent. As quickly as possible Telling adjusts the mortar and fires again. This time at the command tent. Three of the necromancers and the tent itself are obliterated by the blast. Good, not great but good enough. You can tell that the three surviving necromancers are having trouble controlling the remaining undead. One stops and attempts to assert control while the other two scatter as Telling reloads and fires again. The stationary necromancer disappears as the mortar shell tears him apart. Four down, two to go... this is going well all things considered.

Your time is up however as the mass of thralls, ghasts, and soulless move to assault your position. Bari hollers to you, "Derryth, focus on the soulless! They can outrange us and if they get too close-" the dwarf is cut short as the javelin of a soulless arches over his head taking his cap clean off. He swears and dives behind cover, popping out every twenty seconds with a new cocktail.

You focus on his attacker as the undead continue their steady advance. The creature in question if a soulless, the upper torso of a skeleton given new life and the gift of levitation by some misguided necromancer. You once read that the soulless that served in the armies of the Fallen Lords could conjure javelins from a magical sack on their backs. These soulless however have no such advantage. Each carries a bundle of ten javelins on their backs. Far less impressive but enough to get the job done regardless.

You focus on your target, you think of the rage you felt when Tyrvard fell. Your helplessness and your desire to hurt someone... you extend your staff as a ribbon of crimson flame bursts forth and strikes the hollowman. The flame crackles and pops as it consumes the creature, devouring the enchantments that maintain its twisted existence. The flames burn green for a moment as the creature collapses in a pile.

Satisfied with your performance you begin searching for another target when you hear a dull buzzing at the back of your mind. Something is wrong... some part of you knows on an instinctive level that Thaïs needs help.

A single image forces its way into your mind. She stands behind you and a little to the left, she does not see, she does not notice the thrall that has slipped up behind her. It is about to raise its axe.

You spin on your heel and lash out without thinking, the nervous energy you release takes on the form of a cobalt bolt of energy which snakes over Thaïs' shoulder and strikes the thrall full on in the head. The electric discharge proceeds to melt the monster's head and shoulders. It tips backwards and collapses. The two of you stand in shock, you have just saved her life. The image was correct but you have no idea how you knew she needed help.

It is an important question that you will need resolved but at the moment it is all you can do to avoid being overrun. That thrall was not alone. One of the surviving necromancers, in command of thirty thralls has cut off your retreat and is advancing into your rear. The rest of your allies are pinned down fighting off the bulk of the horde so it falls to the two of you to deal with this new threat. You take a deep breath and begin casting.

The next five minutes are the most terrifying of your life.

You should be dead.

By all rights those thirty thrall should have killed you both but you are both alive. Every time Thaïs was in danger you felt that buzzing again and you acted. You saved her. You are also almost certain that she can hear the buzzing as well. Eight times you were within a moment of death and eight times at the last second she killed your attacker with her spells or crossbow.

You should be dead but you are not.

You are both alive and you can tell that the necromancer is just as surprised by this turn of events as you are. You give him a vicious smile as the two of you unload on him. He is no battle mage, all he can muster in retaliation are a few magical zaps that sting but do little permanent damage. The two of you are operating under no such limitations. Your firebolt shears off his right arm as Thaïs' energy bolt cuts through his left leg. Burnt orange flames and writhing, azure tendrils mingle forming a purple mist that envelopes your opponent. The spells attempt to consume one another and with a sickening pop the necromancer explodes coating the ground in gore. You give one another a slight nod as you turn your attentions back to the main body of the horde.

You are making progress but not quickly enough. Even disorganized there are simply too many of them for you. You scan the battlefield and focus on the keep's gate, if only the garrison would attack...

A minute passes... then five... slowly your group is being pushed back. Most of your allies sport a variety of minor injuries though you and Thaïs remain largely unharmed do to your odd connection. You are out of energon cubes, cocktails, and mortar shells. You are almost out of mandrake roots and a quarter of your enemy remains standing. The final necromancer has proven cagey. Having witnessed the deaths of all of his peers he refuses to get too close to your position. This presents a problem. He is no commander thankfully. He is simply throwing his forces at you. However with the advantage in numbers he has his simple strategy may just grant him victory.

As your enemy's numbers thin he is gaining greater control over them, they are getting smarter and more disciplined and to top it off he has kept ten soulless in reserve. He is bleeding you dry. Once you lack the ability to strike back he will send in the soulless to pick you off at range and there is nothing you can do about it.

Another five minutes. Uttu is out of arrows now, Thaïs is spent and out of crossbow bolts, you close your eyes and fire off your last spell. A weak firebolt that barely manages to drop a thrall as you stagger backwards. Telling can't stand though you have stabilized him, Felling and Gilling each wield a thrall's axe while Bari with nothing left to lose is swinging the maul like a man possessed.

This is not a fight you can win...

Thankfully you do not have to.

A single horn sounds out from the fort as the gates open. Fifty dwarves, some in plate, some with cocktails pour forth and into the enemy's rear. The undead outnumber them less than two to one now, excellent odds for the dwarves. They devastate your enemies, they slaughter the thralls, butcher the ghasts, annihilate the soulless, and murder the last necromancer. Your group manages to hold out just long enough for a team of twenty dwarves to reach your location. Your group lets out a cheer as the dwarves reach you while Bari ducks behind a large rock while he wraps the maul in cloth and secures it within his pack.

Their leader steps forward and examines your group. He is a large dwarf, with a well trimmed brown beard, "Only eight of you? How many people did you lose?"

You pant slightly, still attempting to catch your breath, "None."

He whistles, "There were hundreds out here and you are telling me you lost no one? I must admit that is difficult to believe. Four humans and four dwarves-"

"Five dwarves!" Bari shouts as he rounds the corner.

"Bari?" the dwarven leader stands, his mouth agape.

"Ori? Well how are you boy!" the Pathfinder strides up, mindful of the corpses under foot and gives the dwarven leader a large hug.

"Bari, it is great to see you! Come, we can talk inside!" Ori leads your group across the battlefield. Some of you walk, most of you have to be carried. Here and there the dwarves make their rounds dispatching the remaining thralls and securing the area. As you walk by, a large crow follows your progress from on top of a handcart. As soon as it notices your gaze upon it, it takes wing and flees to the east calling out to its companions. Eleven crows join it and as a group they head into the east.

Your group passes through the gates into the fort and is met with a gruesome sight. Five dead dwarves, their bodies scattered around the entrance to the fort.

Bari stops, he stands for a moment in silence, then he speaks, "Ori, what happened here?"

Ori does not break stride, "Cowards and traitors Bari but I do not want to talk about it here. Come up to the captain's office."

----------------------------------------------

The four of you stand in the former captain's office.

Ori snatches up a metal bar and pries open the captain's liquor cabinet, "Anyone want a drink?"

Bari, for once in his life refuses. You and Thaïs follow his lead. Ori sighs and drops into the captain's chair, "Well then I guess I am drinking alone," pulling out his knife he sets to work opening one of the bottles.

The four of you sit in silence. Finally Bari has had enough, "Ori what happened here?"

Ori responds without looking up, "That coward of a captain was willing to just sit in here while a battle was raging outside. We had a disagreement... I discharged my duty and dealt with traitors to the kingdom... not something I am proud of but necessary all the same."

Bari squints, "Fair enough, if the dwarf was a coward then he deserved what he got. But what are you doing out at a border fort Ori? Last I heard you were stationed outside Stoneheim."

With a little effort Ori gets the bottle open, "I am on a mission Bari. I am no longer part of the army. I have been promoted if you catch my drift."

Bari grins, "Welcome to the Pathfinders my boy! I think we will have that drink after all! Derryth, Thaïs come closer!"

Ori frowns, "Bari, you should not mention the... the organization with outsiders present," he gestures at the two of you.

Bari merely scoffs, "These are not outsiders Ori. I am on a mission as well and if not for these ladies and their friends I would not be here."

Ori is uncertain, he scrutinizes you both then shrugs, "Alright Bari if you say so."

Bari, keen to see an old friend and fellow Pathfinder begins to interrogate the younger dwarf, "So what was your mission?"

Ori hesitates, "Prisoner escort."

Bari shakes his head, "Come on boy! Give me more than that."

Ori's eyes narrow, "You first. Tell me what you were doing. I know you left last year with Ari and Lord Jori on government business. Well I am a Pathfinder now so out with it."

Bari considers the request, "You have clearance level six?"

Ori gives him a confused look, "Clearance only goes one to five, Bari."

The older dwarf grins at his friend, "Ori you have a lot to learn yet," Ori looks crushed, "Sorry boy what I am doing is for the king himself. But tell you what, you tell me what you are working on and maybe I can help."

Ori caves, it is clear he wants Bari's advice, "Alright, alright Bari. So two weeks ago one of our patrols caught a mage, we think she might be a necromancer but as we have no proof we can not just kill her."

"I would," Bari grunts, "Better one dead innocent than one living necromancer."

Ori rolls his eyes, "Alright, I can not just kill her. I am taking her back to the capital for investigation. I think the necromancers that attacked us were her allies but she will not own up to it."

Bari grins, "I could make her talk..." then he gestures to you, "Or if you do not want her bruised up then Derryth could-"

"No Bari," Ori cuts his friend off, "This is my mission and I am going to do this by the book."

Bari sighs turning to you, "Don't you just love the boy's principles? Not only does he want to do right but he wants to do things right. Alright Ori, I can respect that but why go through all this trouble? One mage hardly requires the attention of the Pathfinders right?"

"Yes, the mage may be important but the reason I am out here is due to the artefact we found on her," Ori pulls out a small black bag and shakes it, "I have a theory about it but I will need to take it to the capital to get it properly analyzed."

You step closer, "If you want Ori. Thaïs and I could take a look at it. As mages we might be able to give you additional insights into its nature."

He shrugs and dumps the contents out on the table.

A single tiny shard of stone rolls onto the center of the table.

As soon as you see it both you and Thaïs shiver. The aura radiating from that little piece of stone is absolutely smothering. It is evil, not a word you usually throw around but a fitting one here and now. You can also detect more behind the malice radiating from the object. There is sentience here, this stone is aware of you now, it turns its attention to the two of you, it is calling to you.

The dwarves continue to leisurely discuss the rock but you are paralyzed by it. You catch Thaïs staring at it out of the corner of your eye transfixed as well. As dangerous as it is you probe this consciousness.

It is vast and it is dark but you are not alone, Thaïs sits across from you. You believe it may actually be her and not an illusion.

The two of you attempt to tease out information about this thing. You ride the currents of its thoughts backward and as you do you feel like a very tiny boat cast adrift upon an endless sea. The sky is pitch black, as is the water; there are no stars, no moon. All is darkness. You begin to steal small bits of the sea, handfuls of water in the dark. You cup your hands and stare as scenes play out before you.


You are in a drowned city. You will find it. You must find it. You have found it!

You watch from a hill as your enemy falls. Wave after wave of thralls pour into him. Weakening him. Finally you move for the kill.

You are trapped. Furious at your rival. You stand in the dark of your cave. You plot, you rage, eventually you begin to chew at your own imprisoned arm. Your pain motivates you.

You stand at the head of your host. You will stop the young archmage here. He will challenge you. He must challenge you. It is how things are done. Yet he does not. Humans, mortals, charge you. You dispatch them as easily as swatting a fly. You crow your victory to the uncaring sky. You do not see the arrow until it is too late.

You stand frozen by treachery. Large men charge towards you. Your servants fail you. They begin hacking at you. You vow... you vow vengeance... you will return... you will kill them all!

You are scattered. Some small part of you is in the possession of a dwarf. He has dumped you on a table. You sense two minds. Alike but different, curious magics at work between them. You sense a third mind as well... hidden... old for most, through for you young... you know her but she will not speak to you... she rejects you... she will suffer as well. You turn your attention back to the younger minds. You promise them power, wealth, everything you can think of. You tell them to travel east... something is wrong... they are stealing from you... you roar...


The scream of the thing drives you back into your own mind. Your head snaps back and you stagger. Moving in union, Thaïs does as well. You lean on one another for support, and the warmth of human contact does you both a world of good after the cold of that alien mind.

It takes you a moment to fight off its influence and gather your senses, "Ori. Could you please put that stone back in its bag..."

The two dwarves look at you, then at Thaïs. Ori snatches it up and shoves it back into his pouch. It seems to help a little though you can still feel the presence pulling at you.

"Well ladies what did you find?" you can see that Bari is impatient to hear your findings, concerned for your safety certainly, but also impatient.

You turn to Thaïs and nod. There is only one being that could be lurking behind that stone. The same two words are on both your tongues, "The Watcher."

---------------------------------------------

You travel as a group to the capital. With so many dwarves together you are not seriously threatened by the enemy though you are attacked at least once a day and crows follow you constantly.

When you arrive at the capital it is everything Bari claimed and more. The city is unique in the world. Broad, clean streets filled with shops, bars and banks. Hundreds of dwarves and the odd human mingle about in the streets. Bari directs you to the best inn in town and gives you a blank promissory note to draw as much funds as you think you will need for your stay courtesy of the house of Albrecht.

"Well Derryth, I need to be off to turn in my report and return our prize," the Pathfinder gives you a bow.

You raise an eyebrow at this, "You aren't trying to abandon us are you Bari? I thought we would come with you?"

The Pathfinder shakes his head, "A bunch of humans entering the palace uninvited would raise too many questions. I need to give my report to the king, then we can arrange for some pretence for you to gain admittance. Personally my money is on your victory over the necromancers. 'Eight against Eight Hundred!' and all that."

You grin, "One there were nine of us and two there were not eight hundred undead."

The dwarf laughs, "Derryth, I am a ghost. I am never anywhere and as for the undead well they are not going to argue the numbers with us. Whether you like it or not you are a 'real hero'," he gives you a wink, "You all are, for so many things. Don't worry Derryth, you are my friend and I always do right by my friends. Now I will be back in a couple days and we can set up a proper meeting."

With that Bari rejoins the rest of the dwarves on the road for the palace. Trakk approaches you as they leave, "Well Derryth, you have made me far richer than I could have imagined. Turns out we are heroes as well. I am a dwarf of my word though. You paid for protection and the trip both ways so if you need me or my men for anything at all feel free to ask. We will either be here at the inn or down at the Ghôl's Head, two streets over," the mercenary captain gives you a low bow and marches off in the direction of the pub.


1. You have a day or two until Bari returns. How do you want to spend it? (pick two)

A) Thaïs had mentioned an inventor client when you first met her. Supposedly this client is quite skilled and was last seen around Myrgard. You could look for her if you want.

B) The magical academy at Myrgard is renowned for the skill of its artificers. You need to better understand what these bracelets do and you want a way to remove them if necessary.

C) You are interested in the academy but not in the bracelets. Instead you see if you can learn or purchase any new spells in the few days that you have.

D) Bari said to understand the city one should start with the banks and the bars. You choose the banks. There may be opportunities for profit here.

E) Bari said to understand the city one should start with the banks and the bars. You choose the bars. There may be opportunities to learn the latest gossip or make connections here.

F) Shopping. The city sports a number of shops in every shape and size. You spend a day looking around and spending money. You might find something you have always wanted and at the very least it would give you a chance to relax.

G) You spend your time investigating the necromancers, the crows and any connection they might have to The Watcher. If what you experienced is true then this is bad for everyone.

H) You are interested in the academy but not in the bracelets. Instead you see if you can learn of or purchase a power source capable of holding open a gate to your tower.

I) Do something else. Freeform


2. How much money (if any) do you withdraw with the promissary note. (This may impact how the king and the dwarves in general behave around you.)

A) None. You have money of your own.

B) A pittance (approximately 10 wealth points worth.)

C) A Little (approximately 50 wealth points worth.)

D) A respectable amount (approximately 100 wealth points worth.)

E) A fortune (approximately 500 wealth points worth.)

F) Everything! (approximately 1000 wealth points worth.)



Also (open)
Your group rolled very well here, sometimes you get lucky. There was a good chance you could have lost most of your group.
 

Chapter 5: Banks, Beers and Little Birdies

Chapter 5: Banks, Beers, and Little Birdies

Arm and arm the two of you stroll down the broad, clean avenues of Myrgard's high city. Your destination is the grand square of Ploutos and Tyche, home of the goldsmiths of Myrgard.

The girls are in the care of Trakk and his mercenaries; training and visiting with his extended family. Turns out Trakk has a way with children, though firm, he is fair and the girls are starting to warm up to the dwarf. This gives you and Thaïs the opportunity to explore the city at your leisure.

Leaning on one another you gossip and scheme about your future, as you slowly make your way in the bright, cool and crisp morning. The sun lazily pulls itself into the sky as the city comes to life around you. Already teams of dwarves rush back and forth with carts full of every product imaginable, restocking the vendors in preparation for the flood of customers which will soon pour out of their homes and into the streets.

You examine the ancient shops of the city; built of marble, pink, white and black, from the surrounding hills they shimmer slightly as the sun hits them. In the early morning the whole city has a slight glow that in enthralling. The two of you slip into the great square just as it is beginning to fill up for the day. You have a number of meetings scheduled with some of the local bankers, as you enter the square your eyes fall upon your first contact of the day.

He leans against the statue of Tyche, his heavy hands casually stuffed into his pockets. In most ways he is utterly unremarkable. With one exception, his eyes. It is not what they reveal that is fascinating but what they do not. This dwarf is almost completely unreadable to you. Out of curiosity you attempt a tentative survey of his mind, just a slight feint to see what he does. His response is immediate as his eyes spring to life, cold, sharp, and as dangerous as any blade. You quickly break off your attack before he realizes what is happening. This dwarf is no mage thankfully but the will he possesses is the sort that can alter the world.

With a deep breath you approach the man. In Bruig he begins, he is polite if somewhat withdrawn, "Good morning."

The two of you give him a slight curtsey, in quite good Dwarven you reply, "Good morning Mister-"

"Please, no titles," he waves a hand dismissively in the air as he switches to Dwarven as well, "Call me Mayer. You must be Derryth and Thaïs. I have heard of you, what you have done for this kingdom will be on the lips of every gossip and bartender within three days. For this reason I have agreed to meet you. You have my interest ladies, and so you have my time, do not waste either for I will not readily extend them again."

Not one for long speeches you quickly respond, "Very well Mayer, I have a few questions that need answering. Give me the right answers and perhaps we may both make a lot of money..."

------------------------------------------

"Well, that was certainly enlightening," you walk with Thaïs down the broad avenues leading away from the vaults of the goldsmiths of Myrgard.

She nods enthusiastically, "It really is an ingenious solution to their problems. I wonder... perhaps we could take some of these principle back to the empire..."

There is a fire in her eyes. One that matches your own. There is money to be made here though that is of little concern to either of you. Instead it is that which comes with money that has you both worked up. There is money here which means power and that is irresistible for any mage.

You have spent the better part of the day investigating the dwarven banking system in an attempt to understand this strange people. In many ways you found it exceedingly odd but also quite brilliant.

Given how dangerous the dwarven hinterland still is the transport of large sums of gold across the country in out of the question. Instead the dwarven nobility and merchant families leave most of their funds in the care of others. The goldsmiths of Myrgard being the natural choice given their reputation for dependability and security. It seems that any transaction worth mentioning is conducted through the trade of slips of paper guaranteed by the goldsmiths which in turn allow for supposedly immediate withdrawal of the necessary funds from their vaults. The system is fascinating and like nothing you have encountered in the human lands where physical goods are still required to pursue any sort of transaction.

You guide Thaïs into a nearby bar, the Golden Hart, and the two of you grab a booth in the back. In the low light of the establishment she begins to sort through your notes, "So what are our options exactly Thaïs?"

It was difficult to gauge the receptiveness of your prospective partners to the idea of investing in human lands. Part of you realized early on that it would be better not to plant that idea in their minds unless you were sure you could trust them. These people could just as easily wind up as competitors and you do not wish to give them any unnecessary advantage. Despite these constraints Thaïs believes there are a few possible avenues worth pursuing. She deftly plucks three folders from the pile, "Well the way I see it we have a couple courses we could attempt to pursue. That Mayer fellow is well situated to aid us..."

You remember Mayer from this morning. The memory of the man even haunts you a little, "He definitely knows his business but he is not the sort of person that we could easily dominate. With a will as strong as he has even the more powerful spells we could weave would have difficulty finding purchase. If we choose to work with him he will demand to be a partner and I can see no way around that..."

"Well..." Thaïs flips to the second folder, "How about the Barings family then?"

The Barings seemed nice enough though very cautious and quite curious about your motives. A family of refugees from the west the Barings had used their connections within the wool trade to establish themselves in Myrgard. Their position is not quite as strong as Mayer's which means they will have to rely on your resources to a greater degree but they also seemed willing to grant you greater authority in any partnership that would be formed.

You shrug slightly, "It is a possibility. We could also look at getting a proper meeting with the heads of the current banking houses. They would be less opportunistic than these up and coming dwarves but they are also far more conservative and quite adverse to risk..." you hesitate for a moment, "Maybe we do not even need to find a partner, perhaps we could simply steal their principles and set up shop in the empire without them."

Thaïs gives you an uncertain grin, "We would be making enemies of them all that way... but we also would not have to share..."

As the two of you contemplate your options a crowd has gathered near the center of the bar. The owner, a dwarf named Ketley, is holding some sort of meeting, "Welcome everyone to the fourth meeting of the Myrgard Building Society! If everyone would please take a seat we will send around for the monthly collection and then we can begin..."

The two of you watch from your booth as the dwarves go about their business. It seems that this "building society" works as some sort of "cooperative" with each paying member as a stakeholder in the running of the society. Currently Ketley is pooling the resources of all the members to build houses for them all. Once each member has a house the society will terminate and they will go their separate ways. You admit it is an intriguing concept though part of you wonders if they are not missing something.

You lean in closer to Thaïs, "You know if they used their completed homes as collateral they could probably draw in more members and maintain the organization with a rolling membership..."

Intrigued by the idea she whispers, "They could even expand their operations beyond simply housing..."

As their meeting breaks up you think you may have found an alternative route you had not first envisioned though you might still get better results from the "private" banking model you witnessed this morning.

With your sojourn into the world of finances momentarily at an end the two of you set off for the rougher side of town in search of an old "friend" of Thaïs'.

-----------------------------------------------------

"So this woman, Meletē, she is a friend of yours?" you sip on your ale as you wait. The Broken King is one of a handful of human bars in the city. It is run down, dirty, and filled with the worst sorts of human scum. The ale is watered down, the floor covered in sawdust and blood, and you half expect for a fight to break out at any moment. But if you want anonymity then this is the place to come. Thaïs has arranged to meet a former client that she believes could be a real asset to your organization.

"Acquaintance more than anything. She is a dear and quite loyal too but she has no luck at all with people," your partner gives you a grin, "Remind you of anyone?"

You grumble a little, "I am not that bad with people."

She lets out a melodic laugh, the sort that caresses your ear and reminds you why everyone seems to love her, "Derryth, I am your friend. As your friend I am telling you, you are that bad with people."

"Helzo ladizes... vould vone of yoze like ta keeep meee varmm..." you both turn in your seats. The... gentleman... before you resembles the offspring of a maul and a ghôl. Twice the ugly with half the sense, "I am afraid we are otherwise engaged sir," your friend responds.

He stands there in silence as the words attempt to penetrate his mind. After a minute or two a broad grin spreads out across his massive mug, "Ah, yosse are nat inta menzz? Vell come with me an I ca' fizz that..."

You suck your teeth but make the attempt to resolve this peacefully, "Tell you what. Why don't you go on up to one of the rooms and we will come join you later... much, much later..."

At first he nods his head enthusiastically but stops as a look of confusion drifts across his face, a single cloud in an otherwise empty sky, "Vait? Howw vould ya' find me aftar? Ya should come vith me now," he grabs Thaïs by the shoulder and instinctively you unload on him with a maximized assault spell.

He shouts in pain and slides backwards across the floor crying. You give Thaïs a winning grin, "See. I am great with people."

She matches your smile, "Whatever you say Derryth. So what are you going to do about his five friends?" she gestures slightly with her head to the group of men that are even now pilling out of their booth and stumbling over to your spot at the bar.

You give her a wink, "Only five of them? Well first I am going to finish my drink," you knock back the ale, "Then I am going to order another one," you wave over the barman and do just that, "Then I am going to hit the first two of them like so..."

You reach out with your mind.

The mind is a rather abstract thing all things considered but you are always fascinated by how your mind chooses to express this abstraction.

The Watcher's mind is all darkness and water, vast and full of menace. Secrets hidden deep below the surface.

By contrast Thaïs' mind is much like your own, a fortress filled with guards and traps. The two of you have been practicing on one another and it is striking just how similar your defences are, hers look a bit better, while yours function a bit better but it is a difference of degree and not kind.

Once, months ago, you worked up the courage to probe Nine's mind. It was beautiful, deep and terrifying. A city of shifting green glass and gold gossamer. You did not go far into it as it would be all too easy to lose yourself in there permanently. Part of you wonders if that is how she lost herself... trapped within those twisting alleys and enclosed streets.

It is not just mages that pose a challenge though. The banker, Mayer, his mind was an empty white plane dominated by a massive spire of black marble without windows or doors. A construct of his will that would take months of pressure to crack.

All of which is simply to say that each mind is expressed differently. Rendered into sensory information that you can easily process. In the case of these drunks their minds are small villages scattered in a wilderness of stupidity and base desire. There are no walls, no gates, no traps save those fit for beasts. Their minds are completely open to you and so you sweep them away.

The first two drunks drop and trip the men behind them. You casually sip you ale as you pummel the group for the next ten minutes. They lay, unmoving in a large pile in the center of the room. The rest of the patrons burst into raucous laughter. As you dismantle the group they applaud your efforts.

The rest of the night is quiet.

No one bothers you as you sit at the bar, one hour becomes two, then four, then six, "Well Thaïs, looks like she is not coming-"

You do not get a chance to finish the thought as a strange bird crashes in through one of the front windows and comes to rest on the bar between you and Thaïs. It is an odd thing, brass and iron with a silver hue to its wings. One of the wings is broken and the runes inscribed on it flash once and fizzle out, "From your friend I assume?"

Thaïs just nods as she pokes at the bird, "Probably," she picks it up and turns it in her hands. On the underside of the bird is a small hatch which she promptly opens. A scrap of paper slides out.


T.

Bastard found me.

Stuck in his compound. South side of city.

Red building, two black arrows over door.


Have hours at most.

Going to try and take me back to Muirthemne.

Will be killed.

Please.

Help.

M.


You let out a concerned 'humph', "Well that is not good. Did she step on the wrong toes or something?"

Your friend sighs, "I think so. There was an accident. She would not talk about it though. She has trouble asking for help and she did not want me involved. That she is willing to ask for help now must mean she is completely out of options."

You knock back the rest of your ale and grab your hat, "Did you want to help her?"

She smiles and nods, "Yes, if we can. I would appreciate it Derryth but if we do this we would be making enemies..."

"Nonsense, Thaïs, we make nothing but friends everywhere we go. It is a product of my winning personality," you pay for the drinks as the two of you stand and make for the door. You pass the unconscious drunks and you flash her a smile as you boot their leader in the ribs. He lets out a low groan as you step out into the darkness.


1. Investments. You have a few "ins" into the world of dwarven finance. Which would you like to pursue.

A) Mayer. You have the feeling that he will go far. You find him a bit unsettling but he is competent, knowledgeable and would make for a powerful partner.

B) The Barings. They have connections in the Province but lack the resources to currently capitalize on them. With your resources you could work wonders together but they are not fully established yet.

C) The goldsmiths. The heads of the guilds currently control most of the finances in the kingdom. It would cost a fair bit in time and gold but you could try and win them over to your cause.

D) The Building Society. The idea of a cooperative intrigues you. With a little help this organization could really grow and you might be able to grab a fair amount of power behind the scenes.

E) None. You do not need the dwarves now that you have the basics down. You will start up your own bank based out of the empire rather than work with dwarven interests.

F) freeform


2. Meletē, the Inventor. Thaïs' friend has been captured by her enemies. Do you want to try and free her?

A) No. If she has offended someone powerful you have no desire to make more enemies.

B) Yes. You will head to the compound immediately. The two of you will not be able to storm the place by yourselves but you could try to sneak in by posing as servants.

C) Yes. But you will get help first. You will find Trakk, his mercenaries and the girls. You will then storm the compound, you will have to be quick to avoid the city guard though.

D) Yes. You do not want to attack or infiltrate the compound. Instead you will round up your allies and attempt to ambush your adversaries when they try and take Meletē back to the empire.

E) Yes. You have a fair amount of wealth at your disposal. You will go to these people and try to negotiate for the release of Meletē. Surely she has not done anything too unforgivable...

F) freeform
 

Chapter 6: The Black Arrows

Chapter 6: The Black Arrows

Myrgard at night. A shimmering jewel against the dark, barren hills. By royal ordinance every shop and home facing a street is required to hang lanterns out throughout the night. The result is truly breathtaking as the entire city is lit up by thousands of tiny flames.

Of course this also makes sneaking around more difficult.

As a result you quickly stop by the inn to drop off your things. While you are there you quickly search for your allies but they are all still out visiting Trakk's family or wandering the city drinking. It would take hours to find them and that is time you simply do not have. You will have to go without them, but you have an idea that might help a little.

You approach the innkeeper, "Miss Thaïs and I are going to retire for the evening. We do not want to be disturbed under any circumstances. Understood?"

"Aye, miss. I will see to it that you and your friend are not interrupted," he winks at you.

You give him a strained smile and press on, "Good, do not bother us with anything until at least mid morning," you give the dwarf a small pouch of silver and he nods enthusiastically. Taking Thaïs by the arm you lead her upstairs.

She leans into you and whispers, "What was that all about?"

You grin at her, "If they think we are upstairs then we will have an alibi in case things go sour at the compound. We have no idea who we are dealing with but it might help."

She nods along as you explain, "Good thinking, every little bit might help."

You leave most of your equipment behind. Armour will do neither of you any good if you are caught and most of your weapons would just give you away. Thankfully you are both mages, even completely unarmed you are still very dangerous. Dressed all in black and armed only with a knife each the two of you slip out through the side entrance and escape into the night.

Thankfully the south side of the city is mostly warehouses and storage with the odd block of housing scattered in. In contrast to the rest of the city it is poorly lit but to compensate each warehouse is reminiscent of a small fortress, filled with guards and who knows what else. You do not have too much difficulty finding your target and slip up to a side door.

Now the difficult part begins.

A single rusted lantern rocks slowly on its hook overtop of the side entrance. It throws enough light that you can make out two massive figures huddled together sharing a cigarette while guarding the door. You each pick a target and strike out with an assault spell. The two guards collapse in relative silence as you advance on the door.

A person picks up an odd assortment of skills robbing tombs. Every now and again you would be required to pick a lock and you like to think you are fairly good at it. It takes you a few minutes and a couple times you wish Brigit was here but you manage to get the door open and slip inside. You stuff the guards into a nearby storage closet.

"A shame they are not smaller or we could steal their uniforms," Thaïs muses.

"Wouldn't be a great idea. We know nothing about these people, all it would take is a moment of questioning and they would likely uncover our ruse," you scan the hallway, your eyes light upon what look to be the servants' quarters, "That being said a disguise might be a good idea. We could pretend to be maids... it is doubtful they would tell the servants anything which should give us a plausible cover..."

You slip into the servants' quarters and thankfully find them empty. A few minutes of searching turn up a pair of uniforms. Tunics, black with gold trim, cut low, and breeches to match. They are of remarkable quality, whoever commissioned them definitely has money. Probably not a good thing for you, you are forced to conclude.

As carefully as possible the two of you slip through the compound, you pass the odd servant or guard but none of them stop you. Most are rather intoxicated. It seems much of the compound is tied up feasting. You move as a pair of ghosts while around you, you can hear the laughing and shouting of dozens of guards. Your friend leans in close, whispering in you ear, "Could it be they are celebrating the capture of Meletē?"

You whisper back, "Maybe, but the whole compound though? She would have to be fairly important to warrant that kind of response."

You stop short in front of a beautiful, engraved door. Solid oak with brass hinges and knob. To the left of the door rests a small plaque, 'Ybert, Accounts', "Hmm... maybe we should check it out?"

You press your ear to the door, you hear nothing and so slowly you push the door open and slip inside.

The office is a simple affair, a basic rug, simple desk and three chairs. In one corner rests a cabinet and it is to this that you are drawn. The two of you open it and begin searching through this organization's records. Most of the records are simply lists of sums as one might expect... payment from various customers for "services rendered".

"So we are dealing with mercenaries here?" Thaïs asks her gaze fixed on the records before her.

"Looks like. Either mercenaries or some sort of trading house but given that they kidnapped your friend I would put my money on mercenaries. My guess would be that these men are simply working a contract and..." you finger through the last pages of the newest ledger, "Ah, here we go, the last entry must be your friend, 'M- found, detained, awaiting payment from B.M.F.'"

Your partner nods, "Right, we should get moving and find Meletē then. We have to get her out of here before they try to move her."

The two of you slip back out into the dimly lit hallway and wind your way deeper into the compound. As you creep deeper the air grows cooler. You are moving away from the occupied portion of the compound and into the warehouse section. You are about to turn back when you are treated to a truly impressive litany of curses.

The voice screams out from the office across the warehouse, "Fuck you, you Wyrd-damned, bunch of dimwitted whoresons! One arm! Give me one fucking arm and I will do things to you-" you can not make out the rest of her words over a chorus of laughter.

Thaïs hisses, "That voice, it is Meletē."

The two of you cut across the warehouse as the laughter dies down, "Oh yeah birdie, what will ya do to us?"

As you get closer you take in the scene through a large window that opens onto the warehouse floor. In the dark warehouse you can hide easily and get a clear view of the well lit office. Meletē is bound to a chair as three large sell-swords and a Beserk stand around drinking. She hurls insults at them as they goad her on.

"You maul-reaming, ass-looting, piss-bathing, tit, I will tear your eyes out... I will rip your shrivelled, little, cock off.. I will...mmpphf-" you watch on as a small door in the side of the office opens. As soon as the guards hear the door opening they jam a rag into Meletē's mouth.

A thin, well dressed and handsome man steps into the room. His features are sharp, intelligent and hard as if carved from marble by some divine hand. You eyes are drawn down his face to the single most magnificent moustache you have ever encountered in all your years, as you stare at him, he speaks, "Gentlemen, what in the name of Wyrd are you doing?"

The lead guard steps forward, and scratches the back of his head in mild embarrassment, "Sorry captain... we got a bit bored and wanted ta talk to the prisoner..."

The new arrival gives the guard a look of bemused contempt, "The four of you came down here to talk?"

"Yes sir," the guard nods emphatically as he perspires slightly.

He continues to address the group, staring down each in turn, "Good, as our instructions are to return her to our client unharmed and given the payday on offer here the boss would not appreciate you damaging her. There would be... repercussions for the man responsible. Do you all understand?"

Each of the four men nod as the captain waves to his prisoner, "Good, now untie her. I would like some company and I suspect the lady would prefer coming with me to staying with any of you. Is that not so, my lady?"

Meletē looks at the captain, then back to the four guards, finally she spits out the rag and nods reluctantly. The guards cut her loose as the captain extends his arm, cautiously she takes it, "I don't know what you are up to you snake but if you try anything-"

He shakes his head in disappointment, "My lady I merely wish for some company, nothing more, nothing less. I have no interest in harming you. You do not have to fear me, save that and your threats for my employer."

The captain leads her into the side room from which he came as the four guards pull chairs up to a small table and begin playing cards.

Somehow you need to neutralize the guards, get into the side room and free Meletē. You turn to Thaïs and the two of you begin to plot.


1. The Plan: First you have to deal with the guards. It would be better to neutralize them before they can raise any alarm.

A) Infiltration: one of the crates in the warehouse contains wine. You will pose as servants and bring refreshments to the guards. When they let their... well guard down you will incapacitate them and storm the side room.

B) Assault: You can not drop all four with regular assault spells but if you link up with Thaïs you could try your experimental mass assault spell which should do the trick. You are not sure what it will do to the guards but that is not really your concern. Once the guards are dealt with you will push into the room.

C)Negotiation: You will simply walk up to the guards and request an audience with their captain to negotiate the release of the prisoner. These are mercenaries and you are rich, you should be able to work something out...

D) Deception: You will use false memory, compulsion and suggestion to draw out the guards one at a time and neutralize them. Once the guards are dealt with you will push into the room

E) freeform


2. Intent: You have no idea how many enemies are in the adjoining room or what they are doing. You will have to "play it by ear" but you can at least decide on your intent towards them.

A) Kill'em all: you will not hold back if it comes to violence. You will aim to kill. It will be quicker this way, if messier.

B) Restrained: if it comes to violence you will attempt to incapacitate rather than kill. This may cost you time but should save lives if it comes to it.

C) freeform
 

Chapter 7: Fishing in the Dark

Chapter 7: Fishing in the Dark

Huddled together in the dark you consider your options. Part of you wants to go big. To try out a new spell you have been working on. You are sure it would be fun... but fun will not get the job done. You have managed to make it this far without alerting anyone and you would like to pull this off without creating a scene.

Better to stick with what you know.

You will draw each of these men out, a suggestion here, a compulsion there and you will incapacitate each in the comfort and safety of the darkness. It is painfully dull work, their minds prove incapable of resisting you. You will succeed but it will take time. You seize upon the first mind and begin the process of fashioning the perfect suggestion... a late night rendezvous will do the trick you think... as you work you lean closer to Thaïs.

"Thaïs?" you whisper.

You decide that your bait will be young but not too young... early twenties should do...

"What?" she responds, her voice barely audible.

Brunette? No... you think your target would prefer blonde....

"Have you ever been fishing?" you can not see her face but you know the exact look she is giving you right now.

Blue eyes? Too conventional. Brown then...

It is the same look she gives you whenever you ask her one of these 'deep and probing questions'. It is a look that says 'You are mad' with an undercurrent of 'But I know you are up to something' and just a hint of 'Will you tell me already'. In the almost half a year you have known Thaïs it is without a doubt your favourite.

You decide she will be a new servant. That way you do not have to worry about fabricating a past for her... though to be honest you doubt the guard would even stop to think about it. Still simply because you do not have to try does not mean you should not do your best.

"Fishing?" her tone is muddled... confusion... curiosity... a little annoyance perhaps... in a word, perfect.

Now you just need the background. Drawing on your memory of the servants' quarter you begin to fill in the details...

"Yes, fishing. Have you ever been?" you restate the question as if she is a little slow.

Table, chairs, cupboards... what else...

"No Derryth I have never been fishing," seems she has settled on a tone... amusement... good as anything you suppose, "I assume you have some reason for asking?"

Ah that's it, you remember a small chest in one corner with a very strange lock. It is the small details that truly make the difference...You send off your suggestion and within a moment the first guard stands up and strides off into the darkness. As soon as he is out of view of his companions Thaïs drops him with a single assault spell. This is going to be easy, you begin fashioning the next suggestion as you continue your conversation.

"Oh, well you do not know what you are missing then..." you trail off.

You remember the odd summer here and there in the Province... in between runs. Henry would take you out to this little creek from his childhood. Ass end of nowhere... no people... no towns... just the two of you and the fish...

Thaïs gives you a playful swat, "Derryth, do not just raise the subject and drift off like that."

The second guard wanders off into the dark and Thaïs drops him not two meters from the first as you begin work on the third suggestion.

You turn and try to look at her but it is simply too dark to properly read her, you shrug, "Hmm... sorry. As I was saying you do not know what you are missing. There are few things as relaxing as a day spent fishing. Just you, your line, and the fish. Henry used to take me out to this small stream in the south of the Province... some of the best days of my life were spent out on the water or up to my hips in a creek... hmm... I have never told that to anyone..."

The place was paradise... no war... no danger... no magic... just peace and a sky that went on forever. You have never seriously considered giving up your path in life. For you it is greatness or bust, but if you did... if you did it would be for that little creek and that endless sky.

"Sounds dull," she is baiting you now.

She drops the third guard as you get to work on the fourth, the Berserk.

You should rise above... you don't, "Well admittedly it is not as interesting as fucking people for a livi- Oww..."

She gives you another swat across the back of the head, "You know damn well, that is not what I did."

"Not all of what you did," you correct her.

She lets out a muffled laugh of her own, "Alright, not all of what I did. But you are right, even if you meant it as a joke. It is an interesting job. You meet all sorts of people, keep all sorts of hours. Yes you have intercourse, no sense romanticizing it and calling it love, but a lot of the time the clients just want company. You read to them, you sing for them, you talk to them, you listen, you probably do more listening than anything else... sometimes you just have to smile for them... you would be surprised how many of them just need a smile. You are the shoulder they cry on. What I did Derryth... I was a rock for them, I was a safe haven... I suppose you could say I was their stream. I am not saying they were all good people, Wyrd knows, most of them were probably monsters but they were good to me after a fashion..."

You stare at her in the darkness, as you study her an odd question pops into your mind, "Do you miss it?"

She does not have to think for a moment, "No. No, I can not say I will ever miss it. I miss some of the people, some of the time, but I would not want to go back. I think I have found a better future..." you think she gives you a brief smile though it is a bit hard to tell, "Provided you do not get me horribly killed..."

You are about to reply when you hear footsteps. The Berserk is coming over and Wyrd is he a big one. You both hit him with an assault spell just to be sure. He drops to his knees and lands flat on his face. The two of you scavenge up some rope and cloth to act as gags as you set to work binding the men.

Kneeling next to the men you check your knots. Everything seems to be in place, they should not get loose, "Well that should take care of it then. Shall we go rescue your friend?"

"Yes, lets," she stops short as you turn to go, "Oh Derryth?"

"Yes?" you stop and turn to her.

"If you are willing, I would like to go fishing with you one day," her voice sounds uncertain but hopeful.

You reply enthusiastically, "Sure. I would like that and I doubt Henry would mind. It truly is a beautiful spot and I need someone to share it with."

"Alright then, I had better get practicing," she responds in a joyful tone.

You take her by the arm and gesture to the four guards, "Well that is what we just finished doing. Quite the catch too, though I doubt any of them are worth keeping."

She stifles a melodic laugh as the two of you make for the office.

---------------------------------------------

"I don't hear anything," you whisper to her.

"Should we go in?" she replies, uncertain of what course to take next.

"Well we are not going back empty handed. So yes we are going in," you take a moment to bind a strip of fabric around the bottom of your half of your face. It is not as good as a full mask but it should help to obscure some of your features. Thaïs follows suit.

You check the door, it is unlocked. With one fluid motion the two of you burst into the room. Your silence thus far is rewarded. There in a tiny office sits Meletē, she is drinking wine. Across from her is the captain, a look of shock and outrage written plainly on his face.

It takes him a moment to master himself but all things considered he shows remarkable self control, calmly he begins, "I do not know who you are but you are making a substantial mista-"

He gets no further before you hit him with an assault spell. This man has a stronger will than average but you take the time to incapacitate him without doing any lasting damage. A firebolt would be quicker you are forced to admit but it would not feel right. This man has not wronged you and you have no wish to take his life. Hopefully he realizes the kindness you have extended to him.

"Are you here for me by any chance?" Meletē considers the two of you from her seat.

Thaïs steps towards her friend, "Oh Meletē, it is so good to see you again!"

Meletē gives Thaïs a confused look, between the mask and the uniform she must not recognize her but you can tell she knows the voice. It takes her a moment but when she does figure it out she springs out of the chair and rushes towards her friend, "It is you! Oh thank Wyrd, I did not know if you received my message. These sons of bitches broke into my workshop and stole me away maybe two hours after you contacted me. Oh Tha-"

You cut her off as politely as possible, "No names please. We do not know who is listening."

Meletē gives you an appraising look, seems she is unsure about you and is about to say as much before Thaïs interjects, "She is right Meletē, no names until we are safely away."

The inventor turns her attention back to her friend, "If you say so. Is she trustworthy?"

"I would, no have, trusted her with my life. If not for her I would not have made it here," that seems to convince the inventor.

She gives you a nod, "Well then I guess I owe you as well, whoever you are. So how do we get out of here?"

"Same way we got in," you reach under your tunic and pull out a third servant's uniform. It takes a moment for Meletē to get changed but you are on the move and out of the compound within half an hour.

You wind your way northward as the three of you laugh and chatter like old friends. Everyone is in high spirits following this unqualified success. You slip into an alleyway and out of your costumes before reaching the city proper. You do not know how much time you have before the mercenaries realize what has happened.

You need to find a place to lay low and escape their attentions.

Meletē explains the basics of the situation to you as you walk. She has a bounty on her head for the death of a high ranking noble in the empire. Naturally she claims innocence. The family of this man has money and connections through much of the empire and even within the kingdom. She cautions you that the Black Arrows, the mercenary company you just humiliated, will be out in force as soon as they realize she has escaped. There are also a number of private bounty hunters that are still looking for her as well. She warns you not to trust anyone unless you know them very well.

It seems you have really stirred up the proverbial hornets' nest.

You need a plan...


1. Split up or stay together. You have managed to steal the inventor away without anyone realizing it. When the mercenaries realize she is gone they will naturally start searching for her. Your first decision should be whether you stay together as a group or split up and go your separate ways.

A) Stay together. You did not go through all this trouble only to cut her loose now. You will find a safe house together and guard her until you can contact Bari.

B) Split up. You will decide upon a safe house and she will proceed to it alone. You will then contact her once you find Bari and arrange to pick her up.

C) freeform


2. The Safe House. There are a few places she could hide, each has advantages and disadvantages you are sure.

A)The Inn - perhaps an obvious choice but you could always hide her in your room. If you slip in unnoticed and before daybreak you will have a great alibi should the mercs come sniffing around. Of course if they force their way in...

B)The warehouse - Meletē knows of an abandoned warehouse out on the west side of town. It is isolated and uninhabited as far as she knows so it should be easy to reach. Of course if the mercs figure out she is there they could easily move in, in numbers.

C)The Academy Basement - Meletē is on good terms with some of the enchanters as she works with them regularly. You could try and convince them to hide her. It would be a fairly safe location given the number of mages and guards on hand however it would be difficult to get her in undetected and she would not be able to slip in until morning. She would have to spend the night mobile.

D) The Palace - A bit of a gamble really but you could take her right to the Royal Palace and demand an audience with the king. You might get it or at least get Bari's attention or you might get the attention of bounty hunters and mercenaries...

E) Trakk's family home - The dwarf mentioned the location of his home in passing. It would be a less likely target but that is a lot of heat to bring down on his family, his children and grandchildren.

F) Mayer's Estate - you have an offer for the man anyway. You will simply make hiding Meletē part of the deal. He won't do it for free... hell it will cost you a lot and probably more than gold but he understands this city like few others. You are certain he can hide Meletē.

G) Give her to Trakk - hire Trakk and his team at whatever rate they require and tell him to hide and guard her for the next few days wherever he thinks it's best. Once you find Bari you can go from there.

H) Freeform - somewhere else? Where?


3. Meletē's Workshop. From what you understand she has a number of very useful inventions stored at her workshop. Crossbows, explosives, all sorts of things really. You might want to secure them now rather than later. If you vote to stay together then she will come with you, if you vote to split up then she will head to the safe house while you secure her inventions.

A) Loot the workshop.

B) Leave the workshop.

C) You will leave the workshop for now. You will inquires into purchasing the workshop and all attached property with Mayer's aid. Hopefully no one will loot or destroy the place in the meantime.

D) freeform

Also for those that are curious:

The Rolls (open)
You had to roll for every segment of hallway you crossed going in and out. Whenever you passed a servant or guard you had to roll to maintain your disguise. You did not have to roll to bait the guards. None of them had a WIS over 3 or any modifiers. The captain was given one check to see if he noticed the silence outside while you were disposing of the guards. None of the rolls were particularly difficult though and you easily passed them all. All and all it was a reasonable task to expect these two characters to pull off.
 

Interlude 1: The Honeymoon

So currently we have a tie on whether or not to loot the workshop. 1.A (stay together) is winning as is 2.G (track down and hire Trakk to hide her). I will check back in 18-20 hours and see if we still have a tie.

In the meantime, I have another Interlude I have been playing around with which may interest some people. As I have said, events continue to play out even when you are not present at a location. For example it seems Christine and Serpent have gotten into a little adventure...


Interlude 1: The Honeymoon

The thick canvas of the tent strains in the wind. Another cold, bitter evening in the Beserk lands, on the great island known as the Strainer of Krakens. She hates the cold, that and the lack of proper amenities. Everything they have, they have brought with them from the empire, courtesy of Derryth.

She still is not sure about the farmer, the woman can be completely insufferable most of the time but every now and then the farmer really surprises her. Her bravery, her loyalty, her generosity... maybe she will not have to kill Derryth after all... maybe.

She gives her head a shake, that is something to deal with in the future. Right now she has more pressing matters to attend to. As it stands they are easily the richest people on the entire island and with wealth comes power, with power comes problems and Christine has had far too many of those to deal with in the last few weeks. Speaking of which, she will have to deal with another one shortly.

The crack of a whip brings her back. She surveys her surroundings. Christine stands suspended, striped to the waist. Her arm and legs bound by thin but strong ropes. She can not see him but he is somewhere behind her... somewhere behind her with that damned whip.

The silence is deafening, finally he speaks, "You will tell me where the artefact is girl or I will make this painful."

Her defiant response is immediate, "Never!"

"Very well then," he stresses each syllable, drawing out his reply. She knows what will come next.

She bites her lip as he strikes out with the whip, "How many lashes will it take? Forty? Fifty? You body will give out before my arm does!"

He strikes out again and again and she counts the lashings in her mind, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen... thirty three, thirty four... forty six. She is so close, she will give in, she will tell him everything... every secret she has ever had... everything she has ever wanted... she is completely at his mercy.

She screams.

So he stops.

She can hear him panting behind her, she can feel him untying her as quickly as his shaking hands will allow "Oh Wyrd! I am sorry Christine, I did not hurt you did I?"

Free now she turns to him, frustration and anger competing within her, "Damn it Serpent! Why in the name of the Goddess did you stop! Now we have to start over from the beginning!" a wicked smile creeps onto her face, "Well unless you want to play the captured spy this time and I can be the savage warlord?"

The physician shakes his head emphatically, "No, no. This is your fantasy dear and I am sorry I ruined it," he leans in, brushing her silver locks from in front of her eyes and deftly plants a single kiss on her lips.

As angry as she gets with the man. He has a way with her. In moments he can bring her back to her senses. She pulls him close, "Sorry I yelled dear. I am glad you care for me. Maybe we can do something else instead, hmm..."

Their privacy does not last long. A deep, bass voice calls out from just outside the tent, "My lord? My lady? The council is ready to meet you. May I come in?"

She sighs as she pulls her robes back up around her. Serpent nods to her once and calls out to the voice, "Yes Captain Leo. You may enter."

The captain looks every part the man of war that he is. Two weeks ago he was in command of their escort, a squad of twelve riders, now he leads almost one hundred Berserks in open rebellion against the Council of Seven, now the Council of Six.

"Thank you my lord," Leo bows low, "The Council army has arrived, my men count at least four of the enemy lords and their leader."

Serpent waves the captain off, "Alright Leo, thank you, we will be out in a moment."

The captain gives a second low bow and exits the tent, striding back out into the dark.

Serpent sighs and drops into a nearby chair, he raises one hand to his brow, "I can not believe we are doing this. Do you think it will actually work dear? Can we win?"

She looks at her husband, the man needs a little reassuring so she saunters over and drops onto his lap, "Dear we are doing what we have to..."

She thinks back. A lot has happened in little over a week.

Their party crossed the empire without any real difficulty. The odd bandit attack, easily dispatched by her spells or their horsemen, but nothing truly dangerous. They stopped at the best inns and when no lodging was available they would sleep in their tent, it was relaxing... enjoyable... then they reached the island...

The forty two tribes of the Strainer of Krakens were in an uproar. Not four months earlier seven of the tribes had banded together under the leadership of some 'great prophet'. The prophet's magic and the warriors of the seven tribes had succeeded in subjugating three quarters of the island by the time they arrived. Tyrvard's tribe, the Konthasos, naturally resisted and helped put together an alliance of their own. The rebels met to choose a leader and it was at that exact moment that she and Serpent rode up in their magnificent coach with their finely armed horsemen...

In hindsight what happened next was not all that surprising. The rebels attacked them, they lashed out with their magic as their horsemen moved to cover them. Serpent drew Tyrvard's sword and began channelling through the blade, it glowed silver as he readied his spell.

When she thinks about it, it still makes her smile. Her husband standing at the head of their horsemen, a greatsword glowing in his hand, casting a spell she taught to him... naturally the Berserks took this as a sign from their gods. They now had a prophet of their own, someone to lead them against the council, against the lowland scum, and so overnight Serpent had become King of the Northlands and she was his queen.

Queen Christine... oh she likes that... has a certain ring to it in fact.

They fought their first battle two days ago against one of the seven. Leo's tactics, the courage of the Konthasos and her magic had seen them through it. They had even managed to kill one of the seven.

News of the victory spread.

Now they stand at the head of a little over one hundred warriors, an alliance of twenty seven tribes.

They have brought their enemies to battle here, on the fields of the lowlands not far from the hill they call The Chevin. Here they would fight them, here they would kill them and secure the whole of the island. At least that is the plan.

"... Christine? Sweetheart? You still there?" her husband holds her her, waving a hand in front of her face.

Her eyes sparkle as she stares at him, "Yeah, just drifted off for a second, it has been a strange week..."

"That it has," he pulls her closer, she rests her head on his shoulder, "But like you say, we can not abandon these people-"

"Or our thrones Serpent, we will get thrones right?" she looks up at him, "and crowns, and silks, and gold, and-"

He chuckles a little, "I am sure they will treat us well if we win."

'If we win' he says, she dwells on that for a moment. These 'lowlanders' and their warriors do not concern her. She has her magic, her warriors, her husband. They can deal with a few savages even if they are slightly outnumbered... but this 'prophet', if he is even half as powerful as they say, will be a problem.

Thankfully she has a few tricks up her sleeves yet, "Serpent dear, I have to step out for an hour. I will be back before the battle but I think there are a few things I can do to increase our chances."

------------------------------------------

He did not want to let her go.

He loves his wife dearly, more with each passing day in fact but he also knows that she will always do what she believes is best. Rare is the occasion when he can alter her course, rather it is his job to see she survives this mess.

"Where is she," he mumbles. He stands at the head of his hundred men. Leo has taken his cavalry around and is waiting in ambush to hit the enemy's rear but Christine is still missing.

He looks to his left and right. Tall, proud Berserks stare back at him. Bran of the Iron Skin, Tyrvard's cousin, a great bear of a man covered from head to toe in bright red hair stands to his right, the Berserk notices him staring and gives him a wink, "Death or glory cousin!"

To Serpent's left stands Angtyr with Screaming Iron, Tyrvard's sworn brother, now Serpent's sworn brother, the big man gives him a single nod and a slap on the back, "Ready to drive these lowland bastards back to their swamps brother?"

"Yes, I just wish Christine was back," the physician nods.

The Berserk gives him a sympathetic look, "Ah, your girl looks like she can take care of herself and if she should die... Well there will be dozens of fine northern lasses lined up to enter your bed!"

Leo has leant him a suit of armour, leather mostly but off good quality. In his right hand he holds Tyrvard's blade, he has not the skill to wield it but as a symbol it serves its purpose and when he channels his spells through it, it glows slightly. The Berserks take it is a good omen and it bolsters their morale greatly.

The enemy drawn up against them outnumbers them two to one, a core of fifty Berserks supplemented by levies drawn from the lowlands. But things are not as bleak as they first appear, fully half of the enemy are fit for little more than dying, the rest draw their strength from their lords and their prophet. Should they fall the battle will be over.

Serpent turns to his men, he should probably give some sort of speech but what? He thinks for a moment, he is not a man of action, he is not a leader of men. He wishes Gareth was here, or Derryth, or Tyrvard, or any of them really. He feels so alone and so weak.

Then he remembers one of Derryth's little pearls of wisdom.

Once he had asked her how she became so brave, so strong, so determined in the face of overwhelming odds, up against mad mages and ancient gods. She had leaned in and whispered in his ear, "The answer is simple Serpent. I fake it. Every day I tell myself that I have a duty to those that trust in me. I am not brave but for them I can be. I am not strong but for them I will be. So for me there are only two roads," she held up one hand, palm facing the darkness above them, "Death," then she held up the other and made a fist with it, her eyes ablaze, "Or victory,"

Now months later he remembers her words and draws strength from them.

He has a duty to these people and those he left back in the empire. He will not fail them, he will not fail Christine, he will not fail himself, he takes a deep breath and he fakes courage for them, "No speeches men. I have not the tongue for it. Fight for me! Bleed for me! Die for me! And I promise to free your people! Death or victory!"

"Death or victory!" the call is taken up by his army as Serpent mounts up. He is no horseman but the beast is well trained. It will take him where he needs to be. With one final glance over his army he gives the signal to advance.

--------------------------------------------------

The Prophet reclines in his tent. Alone except for a serving girl and his pet crow.

The rebels have finally offered battle. His lords will crush them and he will rule the entire island. It has been an easy affair when all is said and done. His new master has given him everything he could need to humble the northmen. He will conquer them, then lead them in war against the empire. His master promises him victory after victory and until last week he had no reason to doubt.

He stands, buckling on his ornate armour, he turns searching for his sword...

No reason to doubt at all, then the Seventh had fallen up in the highlands and this rabble had come down to challenge him. Some minor mage had stirred them up against him but he was strong and his master stronger still.

He will succeed. If anything this little rebellion has revealed every traitor in his midst. He will ride out there and crush them all. First though, he could use a drink...

"Girl, more wine!" she quickly grabbed a pitcher and a glass and fills it up for him.

He snatches up the glass and drinks deeply, "Another!"

Dutifully she fills another glass for him and again he empties it. A strong drink, but good. He turns to the girl, she intrigues him. He grabs her by her silver hair, staring into her grey eyes, he gives her a sinister grin, "Girl what is your name? How would you like to be mistress to a king?"

She does not break his stare, "Why be mistress my lord when I can be queen?"

Confused, he pushes her away, "If that is the way you want it girl perhaps-"

A great cheer can be heard from across the battlefield, "Death or Victory!"

He frowns, "You will remain here girl and I will deal with you after the battle!"

Sweetly she replies, the ghost of a smile haunting the corners of her mouth, "Oh but my lord, I intend to deal with you right now."

His eyes narrow, "Who are you girl?"

The smile spreads into a vicious grin, "They call me the Black Spider where I come from but here I am Queen of the Northlands."

The Prophet draws his blade and advances on her, but this girl, unarmed and unarmoured betrays not the slightest hint of fear, two words leave her lips, "Good bye."

She casts a single spell... not at him... but into him...

The Prophet staggers backward crashing through a table. The pain is immense. He tears off his armour as his stomach begins to bubble and squirm. In horror he watchs as his skin begins to crawl, to writhe, to tear.

He screams.

--------------------------------------------------

She has really outdone herself this time. A two part, magical poison. Get the target to ingest it and then cast the spell to active it. Still the next part was going to be rather... unpleasant.

Naturally all the noise alerts the guards. Good, she needs an audience for what is to come. Four of them burst in. She makes sure to memorize each of their faces. When she becomes queen she does not want any of these incompetents guarding her or Serpent.

"Boys you might as well drop your weapons," she drops into the most comfortable looking chair in the room.

"What did you do to the Prophet, you bitch!" shouts the closest man.

That is no way to talk to a queen. She demonstrates her displeasure by blasting his head off with a single, silver bolt of energy, "Now then you three are going to stand right there and watch this. Then you are going to run out of here and tell everyone what you saw. This war is over. You have lost."

On cue their 'prophet' lets out another scream. His stomach has swollen up to twice its natural size and it is rolling. Slowly at first the flesh gives way accompanied by a wet, ripping noise that turns her stomach slightly. Still she has to put on a convincing act so she sits there and watches. Smiling though part of her wants to run from the room.

With one final sickening pop the man known as the 'great prophet' is no more. He is split in half as dozens of newborn spiders pour forth. It takes a little doing to control them all but she only has to get them moving towards the door and the guards. Once they are on their way nature will handle the rest.

Three guards and over forty spiders pour out of the tent into the camp. The panic spreads like wildfire.

Her work done, Queen Christine, slips out the back of the tent headed back to camp.

The crow sits and watches. Attempting to digest everything it has seen. It has so many things to share but first it has to escape, find its brethren and get the message south.

----------------------------------------------------

Serpent fights on, bolts of silver energy and webbing burst forth from his blade as his Berserks fight and die around him.

Four of the council had been present at the battle. Angtyr had decapitated one at the beginning of the fight. Leo had skewered another when he hit the enemy rear. Serpent had even captured one himself with a well placed entanglement spell. The final enemy lord was doing his best to rally his soldiers but something had panicked them. Their entire camp was in an uproar and the prophet had yet to make an appearance. At this point victory was almost guaranteed. Then the challenge came.

"Mage! Are you going to hide back there and let other men die in your stead? Fight me!" this lord is a typical Berserk, big in every way except imagination.

Casually Serpent points his blade at the man and unleashed a pair of silver arrows. The first hits the man in the shoulder, the second catches him in the stomach. He collapses in the grass and the Berserks moved in for the kill.

Throughout the battlefield Berserks howl their victory to the sky. The enemy routs.

-------------------------------------------------

"Forty six... forty seven... forty eight! Forty nine! FIFTY!" she screams the words as Serpent winds downs. After a moment he slips her out of her bonds and the two of them curl up on their bed.

"So how was that your majesty," he grins at her.

"Wonderful, your majesty," she rests on her stomach, her back still a bit tender from the silk whip, "Ah, a queen Serpent! I am a queen, and you are a king! Isn't it wonderful!"

He smiles at her, happy for her but also worried, "We will see my dear. In the end it may simply be an honorary title. The clans will meet in the coming weeks and we will see what comes of it. There are also the final two traitors on the loose and the one we have captive awaiting interrogation. They could cause us all a lot of trouble..."

"Shhh dear," she places a single finger to his lips, "Leave off with all these troubles till tomorrow. Tonight... tonight we celebrate..." the smile she gives him promises a very enjoyable night for them both.
 

Chapter 8: Anatomy of an Ambush

Chapter 8: Anatomy of an Ambush

"What the hell did you do!" Trakk is not particularly pleased that you dragged him into this.

You attempt to reason with the dwarf, "Just calm down and hear me out-"

It does not work.

"Like hell I will! One quarter of the city is on fire! Hundreds of dwarfs are dead! So I repeat myself what the hell did you do!" Trakk paces up and down in the tiny room.

"Look, Trakk, just sit down and we will explain what happened-" as painful as it is your mind reaches back to the events of last night.

--------------------------------------------------

Meletē feeds you bits and pieces of information. The noble family she 'wronged' is old, ancient in fact, with the sort of money and resources that befit their station. If she has to guess she would say that they are the wealthiest or second wealthiest family in the entire empire at this point.

She speaks quickly as you slip through the side streets but one thing she says really catches your attention...

"It is a Wyrd damned shame that I have to abandon all of my inventions, my machines, my weapons... why just the other day I think I discovered the secret of flight. True 'mechanomagical' flight, we could sail above the world in ships of wood and metal. Great tubes, filled with people," part of you wonders if perhaps the wine has gone to her head. Flying machines, are such things truly possible?

What she says next seems far more plausible and practical, "Oh, and my new rifles... all gone..." she sniffles a little at the thought.

Thaïs prods her a little, "What is a rifle?"

She stops dead, "Why only one of my most prized inventions! Think of it as a portable, hand held cannon and you would not be too far off. I offered a whole shipment to the King but he refused. He said that such things would make war 'too terrible'. Emperor Alric however showed interest... well at least until that idiot nobleman managed to blow himself up. Now no one wants them! But I kept working on them! One day I will show them! I will show them all!"

She emits a high pitched cackle which the two of you quickly silence. You don't need to draw any attention tonight.

All this talk of her workshop gives you an idea though, "Do you two think we have time to swing by the warehouse and grab Meletē's inventions before the Black Arrows hit the streets?"

In hindsight this was a very bad idea. At the very least you should probably have avoided bringing Meletē back to her home now that her cover had been blown but such is the beauty of hindsight. At the time it seemed doable.

Your two companions look at one another then nod. The three of you will make a slight detour and gather up Meletē's things before you go to look for Trakk.

That is not to say that you just walked right in to the workshop. You did try to take some precautions. You created a quick disguise for Meletē and the three of you slipped in through the rear door, easily accomplished as Meletē knew where to find the spare key.

You secure the shutters and cast a basic light spell to illuminate the room.

You survey the workshop, it is a mess. Gears, odd pieces of wood, fabric and metal, magical texts and engineering manuals litter the room. Weapons, tools, machines in a staggering variety of shapes and sizes, all sit in various stages of completion. You marvel at the controlled chaos of the place and the ease with which Meletē navigates the heaps of trash to find the gems she is searching for.

She snatches up a set of three thin leather notebooks, loose pages jammed into each at odd angles. She holds them up for you both to see, "These are my life's work. Everything else in here could burn up but these... these are irreplaceable."

You eye a stack of weapons in the corner, odd metal tubes with wooden stocks, "Are those the rifles?"

She gives a proud nod, "Those are my babies, and the barrels next to them contain enough black powder to take out a small fort!"

Thaïs gives her friend a concerned glance, "Is that... safe?"

Meletē grins at you both, "Nope."

You have only been in the workshop for maybe ten minutes but already you are feeling nervous. You wave your two compatriots over, as they reach you, you begin to speak "Well, lets grab what we can and get out of here before-"

With a loud crack the front door gives in and three figures force their way into the room, the central figure is definitely a mage. He carries a crooked staff and the robes to prove it. His colours are those of the Warlocks but they are in a very poor state of repair and the traditional insignias of that circle are missing. He is a thin man and short, a little wiry, he sports an untrimmed beard and a metal skull cap. He is accompanied by a pair of sell swords, big men with dim eyes and cruel smiles. He grins at you, "Before someone finds you? Well too late for that," he turns his attention to Meletē, "You have quite the bounty on your head girl, if you would be so kind as to come with us we will give your friends a quick death. Resist and we will be forced to make it slow. Either way though you will be coming with us so-"

Before he can finish the back door crashes in, "Like hell she will!"

Five more bounty hunters pour into the room. They are each dressed in red and white. Three of them carry bows, arrows at the ready, while the remaining two wield axes and heavy shields. Their leader a broad, muscular woman that reminds you of an ox bellows at the mage, "The girl is coming with us, aren't ya girl? Hell if you come over here we won't even kill your friends. Maybe just rough them up a little."

The expression plastered to her face suggests a certain love of brutality that you find a bit unnerving. You scan the room looking for another escape route. Your eyes settle on a fairly large window on the far side of the house. The three of you would have to run across the room but you might just make it.

As soon as the idea enters your head though it is dashed to pieces. That whole side of the workshop caves in as six dwarves and a very large maul force their way in. All seven of them are naked and foaming at the mouth. They each carry a pair of swords with a number of addition blades strapped all over their bodies. The lead dwarf steps forward and barks an order in horrendously bad Bruig, "Girl, with us, come!"

You are in a horrible situation.

A ridiculous one, but horrible all the same.

Any one of these groups would give you trouble on their own but together there is no way you could fight them all. Thankfully you are quite adept at utilizing spells to influence others. You whisper to Thaïs, "Think you are up for helping me start a fight?"

She gives you the slightest hint of a smile, "I do not see what other option we have."

The three groups are primarily focused on one another. You are all still unarmed and until you start casting they have no reason to believe that you are mages. Unlike the Warlock, or ex-Warlock as the case may be, you have not advertised your vocation. You think it would be best to neutralize him first and those dwarven lunatics would be perfect for the task.

You start casting, two of the dwarves throw themselves at the Warlock but his sell swords intercept them. He turns to you with a grin, "Well then. Seems you girls are not as helpless as I thought. As fellow mages I will be certain to give you fitting deaths."

He begins to cast but is distracted when a single arrow fired from the darkness of a nearby rooftop flies through the hole created by the dwarves and strikes one of the red and white mercenaries in the throat.

That is the final straw.

All hell breaks loose.

You quickly extinguish your light spell and plummet the room into darkness. Torches spring to life as the human mercenaries charge. The Warlock launches a full fireball into the clustered red and white mercenaries. They are flung screaming across the room as the flames consumes them, incinerating them. The three of you make for the back door while the lunatic dwarves are preoccupied with the mage. They throw a volley of blades and sharp metal scrap at him but his sell swords protect him from the worst of it with their shields.

You are the last to run through the back door. As you do, you turn and catch one final glimpse of the battle raging inside. Both sell swords lay dead, as do three of the dwarves. The Warlock is about to destroy the rest when their maul grabs a large metal pipe, easily three meters long and hurls it at the mage. He is impaled upon it, a full meter and a half sticking out of his back but he manages to loose a final fireball that catches Meletē's stockpile of dwarven powder. You dive into the street as the entire structure goes up. Flaming debris is flung into the surrounding buildings which in turn catch fire.

You slowly rise to your feet, the street is a warzone as dozens of factions are drawn into the battle. Dwarven mercenaries hurl their cocktails with little regard for collateral damage, unaffiliated mages of every kind stalk the night unleashing all manner of horrors. Warriors and sell swords from across the known lands fight and die as the local gangs move in to defend their territory or attempt to expand at the expense of their neighbours.

The sheer number of enemies in the end works to your advantage. Three unarmed women draw little attention as you race from the scene and the flames begin to spread. Secondary explosions rock the neighbourhood as screams echo into the night. As you slip into a nearby alley though, you swear you see a burning man step out of the ruins of the workshop, part of you worries that the Warlock may have survived as impossible as that might seem.

You are attacked by the odd mercenary here or there but the ones you can not handle are quickly dropped with an arrow in the throat. Part of you suspects that someone must be looking out for you but you have no idea who or why.

You make it less than a block before three more mercenaries cut off your escape. Mages dressed in violet and lavender, silver poppies embroidered on their cloaks. They glow slightly. They have power but they underestimate you. You and Thaïs each lash out at a target with assault spells. Two of the mages crumple to the ground, the third however unleashes a lavender mist aimed directly at Thaïs. You see the spell engulf her before it happens, no doubt thanks to the bracelets you share, quickly you grab her and pull. You tumble together out of the way as the cloud flies past her and hits Meletē. She begins to gasp as she collapses to the ground. She can not breathe. The mage curses and casts a second spell aimed at the inventor. The cloud dissipates as her breathing steadies but her eyes remain closed and she does not rise.

You take the opportunity provided by this distraction to drop the final mage. Even with Thaïs on top of you it is a simple matter to strike out with your mind at your adversary. He is skilled but it is still two on one and eventually you wear him down. The mage falls though it takes a few attacks and Thaïs' help.

Thaïs lacks the strength to carry her friend so you shoulder the burden. Thaïs straps her to your back as the two of you race off into the night.

You weave your way through the dark alleys and poorly lit side streets. Cutting a crooked path across the city which you hope shakes any pursuers. After half an hour of fleeing and hiding you believe you have finally escaped.

You look back across the city one final time.

The sky is filled with flames.

You can hear the distant sounds of fighting and dying and you wonder just how many mercenaries are still back there and just how high the bounty on your new 'friend' is to warrant such a response.

At any rate, you definitely need a place to hide now. There are not that many humans in the city, and even fewer female mages, it is only a matter of time before someone figures out that you are aiding Meletē. If anyone got a good look at you back there things could get quite dangerous for everyone rather quickly and that is without considering the Black Arrows...

It has been a rough night and it is not over yet. You need to find Trakk and soon.

--------------------------------------------

You all made it out...

But some of you fared better than others...

Biliku and Uttu sit quietly in a corner while Thaïs stands over Meletē, monitoring her condition. The inventor has yet to regain consciousness. She rests on an old cot, her notebooks still clutched firmly in hand. Whatever that mage hit her with still has not worn off and you have no idea how to dispel it.

Thankfully you managed to find Trakk and he has hidden you in an abandoned military bunker deep under the city. A pre-war artefact, it gives you a little space and a lot of security. Supplies may be a problem but you are fairly certain the mercs will not find you here. Good thing too as soon every mercenary and bounty hunter in the city will be after you and they do not have to take you alive. There is no bounty for your return, all they care about is Meletē.

Three swift knocks at the door drag you back into the present. Trakk readies his sword and Telling eases the door open.

It is Felling, back with your personal effects and news of the outside world. In his usual professional manner he gives his report to Trakk, "Whole city is in an uproar. There are guards on every street corner and most of the bounty hunters have been forced into hiding. The king is taking a zero tolerance approach to all freelancers at the moment so everyone is just watching, waiting for hostilities to recommence."

Trakk, seeing your personal effects raises an eyebrow, "You got into the inn then?"

The grenadier nods, "Yes, the innkeeper was quite helpful. I served with his cousin's nephew, good people all around. He helped me slip in and out without anyone noticing but the inn is definitely being watched now. Saw maybe half a dozen bounty hunters and some of those Black Arrow boys as well," he turns to you, "They definitely know you ladies are involved now, only a matter of time before they start interrogating everyone you have had contact with. Which means-"

Trakk interrupts the grenadier, "Which means, me and my men have to be leaving."

You plead with the dwarf, "Trakk, I can pay, four or five times your going rate-"

He just shakes his head, "I am sorry Derryth but they know you are involved. That means they are going to start looking into us as well. If we are missing when they come around... I know some of these people Derryth. They are not above using my family to get to me," he stops for a moment, unsure if he should continue. With a tired sigh he finishes his thought, "I will be honest with you since you have always been straight with me. If it is a choice between you or my granddaughters well I would not hesitate for a second."

He looks at you, then Thaïs. He shakes his head. Then he looks at the girls and his expression softens a little, "It will be best for everyone if it looks like we are not involved with you. I will try and send food and water down when things cool off a little. Hopefully Bari will come round soon, he should know what to do..." the dwarf drops his gaze to his feet, "Wyrd knows, I haven't a clue..."

You place a hand on his shoulder, he looks up at you as you speak, "I fully understand Trakk. If we get out of this I will double your pay at least. Go look after your family."

"Thank you Derryth and don't worry too much. One of the boys should be down with supplies some time tomorrow and I should have information on Bari not long after that," with that Trakk and his three fellows file out of the bunker and you are left with your thoughts.

You mumble under your breathe, "What a mess..."

----------------------------------------------

One day passes with no word from your allies.

A second day passes again with no contact from the outside world.

Finally on the third day Trakk returns with much needed food, water and news from Bari.

Not much of it is good...

"So Bari will meet with us?" Trakk nods in response to your question.

"When and where?" you press the dwarf.

He lays out the plan to you, "Tomorrow at a Pathfinder safehouse on the south side of town. We can go most of the way through the old tunnel systems and the location itself should be secure."

"At which point he will take us to the king?" Thaïs inquires.

"Maybe," the dwarf seems unsure, "Things are still tense on the surface Derryth. That fire... it was bad... a lot of people died and more died in the anti-foreign riots that followed. The city is in an uproar, the nobles have been calling for the arrest of anyone every suspected of being involved in the incident and it might not be a good idea for the king to be seen meeting with strange humans at the moment. There are elements within the noble houses that would use it against him, Derryth... ah, I don't know... Really the only way to know will be to go and talk to Bari himself." Trakk shrugs, "Sorry I can not be of more help."


Do you still wish to go to the meeting with Bari?

A) Yes, and you take everyone. You do not want to split up with most of the city out for your blood.

B) Yes, but you leave Meletē at the bunker to recuperate. If you want you can leave people to look after her, simple name who you would like to stay. Winning option will be the one with the most votes.

C) No, this whole situation is too dangerous. You will leave town and make your way back to Muirthemne.

D) No, this whole situation is too dangerous. You will turn yourself in at the palace. You are innocent and have nothing to hide. Hopefully the king will protect you.

D) freeform
 

Chapter 9: An Unexpected Ambush

Chapter 9: An Unexpected Ambush

Dust... dust and the cold dark. The three of you slip through the old tunnels under the city. Trakk leads while you guard the rear. Thaïs walks a few steps ahead of you. No one is really up for conversation.

The dwarf arrived at the bunker two hours ago. He suggested that Meletē and the girls remain at the bunker for their safety. Given the current danger you are in you were inclined to agree with him. You bid them farewell, told them not to open the door for anyone but you or Thaïs and set off on the long walk to the rendezvous point.

"We are here," Trakk gestures at a ladder leading up, "Bari will be in a warehouse the Pathfinder's use as a safe house, two blocks over. We have to be careful and quiet. Follow me."

The cold, brisk breeze that hits you as you break through to the surface is invigorating. It is a cloudy night, the moon and stars obscured, granting little light beyond the lanterns hung into the street. The air still has a slight smoky quality to it, no doubt blown in from the ruined section of the city. You wonder just how bad it got on the surface in the last couple of days.

Trakk waves you over to a dark alley as the three of you continue on your way.

Mere moments later you are outside the warehouse.

The dwarf leads you in. It is dark, you can barely see a couple meters in front of you, but Trakk warns you against creating any light. Part of you thinks that this whole situation is a little odd but you chock down your paranoia, you tell yourself that it is just nerves.

You stand in the darkness for a few minutes, finally Trakk speaks, "Alright Bari said he would meet you here shortly. He might be running a bit late though so just stay here until he shows up. I have to be going-"

"No you don't Trakk. Feel free to stay!" a distorted voice calls out from the darkness.

"You said I could go! That I would not have to watch this!" Trakk yells back into the darkness.

You instantly grasp what is happening. This is a trap, Trakk sold you out. You take Thaïs by the hand and the two of you begin to slowly back towards the door and away from the dwarf.

The voice calls out to you now, "Ladies, if you would please stop it would be greatly appreciated. You are going to like what comes next I assure you."

Somehow you doubt that, you call out to the voice, "Just who the hell are you?"

It is Trakk that answers, "They are big money Derryth... powerful. We could hide you from the mercs but these guys they are on a whole new level. I am sorry, they did not leave me a choice and-"

The voice is angered by this, "You always have a choice you idiot! You have friends that could have helped you but no, instead you sell out your employer to a bunch of Wyrd damned traitors! Someone turn the lights on!"

A half dozen lanterns flicker to life. There in the center of the warehouse sits Bari surrounded by six other dwarves. You are stuck dumb by the sudden appearance of the Pathfinder.

"Bari!" you can not see Trakk's face but from the tone of his voice you can tell he is terrified.

Bari grins from ear to ear. He swings his legs back and forth, one heel accidently connects with the chair he is sitting in. The chair lets out a moan, "The one and only, Trakk. You are under arrest for conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, treason, and probably half a dozen other things I am forgetting. Feel free to scream your innocence, it is always more fun that way."

One of his hands reaches for the blade stuffed in his belt. Bari gives him a dismissive snot, "You know who I am Trakk. You know you these brave souls with me are. You draw that weapon and there is only one way this ends and I won't make it quick."

"I... Bari... they have my girls... all of them, even little Brenna... I..." the dwarf drops to his knees on the verge of crying.

Trakk and Bari continue their conversation, though perhaps interrogation would be a more accurate term, but you are still focused on the 'chair'. It is, or was, a person. Human, striped naked, her ears have been removed, as has her nose, her toes, fingers and one eye.

You can't help but ask, "Wyrd, Bari, what did you do to that woman?"

He gives you a confused look for a second before dramatically hopping to his feet, "Oh you mean my chair!" he gives her a quick kick in the stomach, "Well she was here to kill you, her and twelve of her friends," he grabs a lantern and shines it into the corner of the warehouse. Twelve corpses greet your gaze, a few human but mostly dwarves, all naked and piled up against the wall.

He gives you a warm smile, "As I said Derryth. You are my friend and I do not take kindly to people that try and hurt my friends."

As he says those last words his gaze drifts back to Trakk and his grin takes on a feral aspect.

You understand where he is coming from even if you are not sure about his methods and most of the sympathy you have for this woman evaporates when you realize that a couple hours ago she was planning to kill you. Still you do have a few questions, "But why is she naked Bari?"

"Oh, that is simple. We did not want to get blood on the uniforms," the way he says it, so casually, you can tell this is not the first time he has had a conversation exactly like this. He gives you a moment to digest the information before continuing, "As for why we want the uniforms well that will become apparent within the hour but first I want to hear everything from the traitor himself."

Trakk, still kneeling, simply nods. He does not believe he can escape, you would not have given up so easily but part of you is glad he did. As angry as you are with the dwarf you think you understand why he did it.

He musters the strength to begin, "It started the day after the fire. We managed to hide Derryth and her team in the bunker and we were certain that we had done it clean. Obviously we were mistaken. That night I come home and find the kids missing, they," he gestures at the pile of bodies, "Took them, my wife, my son and his wife, everyone..." the thought of his family in danger fills the dwarf with rage, rage he takes out on his interrogator, "They have them all Bari! Do you know what it is like to have someone close to you in danger, do you! To worry about losing them! Well! Do you! What the hell would you do!"

You know all too well the answer to that question. Bari for his part betrays not a hint of his sorrow over Ari, his response is flat and professional, all the more chilling for its lack of emotion, "Yes, Trakk, I do know and I would not betray my friends so come down off that high fucking horse and continue with your confession."

The Pathfinder stares the other dwarf down from across the room, Trakk breaks eye contact under the crushing weight of Bari's stare, "I... they told me that if I turned over the inventor and Derryth's group they would release my family... what else could I have done? I... I... and now... now they are going to kill them all..."

Bari just shakes his head, "Damn it Trakk, they are going to kill them regardless, hell there is a good chance they are already dead," Trakk winces at the thought, "Did you see any of them? Did they give you any proof that they are still alive? Even if they are still alive do you think for even one second that they would let that many witnesses walk away from this? Trakk... frankly I thought you were smarter than this... just... just continue."

Trakk nods, "They... they wanted to get the mages away from the rest of the group," he turns to you, "They wanted to lure you two out so that they could better hit the bunker... grab the inventor... kill the girls..."

You go pale at the thought and Thaïs' fingers dig into your hand as the news hits her, you start for the door, "Bari we have to go now-"

He waves you off, "Don't worry Derryth. Trakk is right, these people are good but we are just so much better," his team start laughing, "The day after the fire I looked for you. Just about approached Trakk too till I noticed that he was under surveillance. I personally tailed him and found the bunker. Honestly, I wanted to get you out of there right away but this was not an opportunity I could afford to miss. Anyway that hit team will never make it to the bunker. Our people are already in place. Not one of them is coming out of those tunnels alive. Ori is in charge of that team. You remember Ori right? Damn good kid. Anyway, Ori will take Biliku, Uttu and that friend of yours... um... what is her name again?"

One of the Pathfinders steps forward, " Meletē, sir."

"Right, right, Meletē. Well Ori will take the three of them over to our real safe house and we will meet them there. We have a lot to discuss. But first there is the issue of what to do with you, Trakk. You know what the penalty for treason is Trakk? For attempting to kill allies of the kingdom?" he strides over to Trakk, knife in hand, "Any final words?"

"Bari, my family..." Trakk begins.

"If I can save them Trakk, I will," Bari raises the knife.

Trakk closes his eyes, he is strangely calm, at peace with his fate, his failure, "Derryth... Thaïs... I am sorry. Just... just tell the girls I am sorry."

In a moment he will be dead. Part of you wants to say something, part of you wants to let the traitor die. The question is which part to listen to.

-------------------------------------------------------------------


1. Trakk's fate:

A) You let Bari kill Trakk. One less traitor in the world.

B) You ask Bari to spare Trakk. You understand why he did it even if you can not forgive him for it. Instead you suggest that Trakk be sent into exile, what he does from there is none of your concern.

C)You ask Bari to spare Trakk and you offer the dwarf a job. Everyone makes mistakes and you fully understand why he did what he did.

D) You ask Bari to detain Trakk until you can ascertain the fate of his family. You will then make a decision as to his fate. (This choice requires 2A to win, if 2A does not win then the next highest choice will be chosen).

------------------------------------------------------------------

"Well it doesn't look like much," Thaïs opines

You are in the real safe house, a nondescript little curio shop, rundown and empty except for a truly ancient dwarf that sits, or rather is propped up behind the counter. He snores slightly and gives the impression that he is asleep but you can tell that he is listening to everything that is going on. The rest of Bari's team remained behind to clean up the mess, to secure the 'prisoner' such as she was and to prepare for their next assignment. Something Bari thinks you can help him with though he does not want to get into it until he is certain you can speak freely.

Bari leads you behind the counter and towards the back room. As he moves to pass the ancient dwarf, the 'sleeping' sentinel springs to life. A thin cane swings down to block Bari's way, "Employees only," remarks the dwarf.

"Out of my way you mean old bastard," Bari barks.

"Kids these days... no respect for their elders," the dwarf shakes his head.

"Well if our elders did anything maybe we would respect them more," Bari spits back, grinning slightly.

"Trust me kid, if they put me back into the field then none of you would have anything to do. I would have all threats to the throne neutralized in a week tops, why back in my day-" Bari raises his hands in surrender.

"Alvis, we can talk later. I am bringing guests to the chief," at the mention of their leader the old man lowers his cane, "Alright Bari but I will hold you to that, and you girls better behave yourselves," he gives you each a nod and settles back into his feigned slumber.

The décor of the safe house stands in stark contrast to the storefront, clean sharp lines are the norm. The furniture is plain with an eye to function, tables, chairs, a few desks and a number of lockers which line the walls.

As you enter the girls race up to you. Biliku hugs Thaïs, Uttu tackles you.

They chatter in unison, "You should have seen it! The dwarves can go invisible! They are so quiet and fast too! They got inside faster than we could draw our weapons!"

Uttu starts, her words tumble over themselves to get out, "They brought us here and at first I thought they were going to hurt us and that you would be mad that we did not stay in the bunker-"

Biliku finishes, "But then they showed us all the cool gadgets they have. They have like fifty types of bombs..."

Uttu nods, "And cool ropes that are launched from tubes..."

You did not think it was possible but they are getting ever more excited as they go, Biliku grabs your hand, "They have these gloves that let you climb walls Derryth! They even let Uttu try them!"

Uttu stares at her feet, "I got stuck..."

The relief that washes over you at seeing them safe is palpable. You smile at them and at Thaïs. Finally you look to Bari.

Bari leans against the doorframe watching, "This is why I love my job, saving the day and all that," he grins at you, "So are you ready to get down to business?"

The Pathfinder does not wait for you to respond, instead he pushes off from the door and rapidly crosses the room disappearing into a side chamber. He stops only once along his course and nods to a female dwarf working at a nearby desk, "Astrid."

"Bari," she responds as he passes. Her eyes follow him as he leaves the room before she notices you watching and quickly returns to work.

With a shrug at this exchange you follow him deeper into the building.

It is a small room, three dwarfs sit at a table playing cards. One of them, the youngest, you recognize as Ori. The second is a truly massive dwarf with a thick blonde beard, he laughs merrily as he rakes a pile of coins towards himself, Thaïs leans in, "That must be the chief."

You shake your head, and whisper back, "No I don't think so, look at the way they act towards the third dwarf. He is the one in charge and I think I know who he is."

The third dwarf is older than the other two. He sports a simple white tunic and brown slacks. His auburn hair drawn behind him in a simple ponytail. His beard has the odd streak of white in it which adds an air of distinction and dignity to the dwarf. In fact, if you needed a word to sum him up it would be just that, dignity. He carries himself with the air of someone who leads and has rarely followed, he is confident but not domineering, so secure is he in his power that he has no problem playing cards with his subordinates and while you are no gambler it looks like they are all playing fair.

This dwarf is their leader, a small puzzle for you to unravel and for someone as experienced with mysteries as you are it is a simple matter to decide on his identity.

Bari steps towards the table, "Derryth, Thaïs, may I introduce you to-"

You know who this dwarf is, you are certain of it, and if the stories are true then you know he respects intelligence and courage so you take a little gamble. It pays off, "King Albrecht VII, it is an honour your majesty," you give him a low curtsy.

Bari, Thaïs and the girls stand there in shock. The game at the table stops. The third dwarf looks up at you... he smiles, "Well the girl is quick Bari, just like you said. Please, take a seat next to me, I will deal you in. Have any money?"

Not wanting to disobey an order from the king you grab a chair and pull it over, "A little," you respond.

Thaïs follows suit while Bari shoos the girls back out into the main room. They complain so he hands them a small rod, he calls it a stun baton, and tells them to go play with Alvis and Astrid.

"I will spot you some then," Albrecht tosses you a small sack of coins which you split with Thaïs.

You recount your adventure with Jori, saving him from the spiders, the attack by the Damned, the battle with the Blues, Jori's death, and your vengeance on Miosguinn. Albrecht nods along as you speak but he does not interrupt. Following your story he asks about the undead incursion you fought off and you begin your second tale of the evening, you mention the necromancer at Blackford, the crows, the eagle and the presence of the Watcher. You involuntarily shiver at the memory of that... thing. Thaïs does as well, and you feel less foolish about it. The power behind that mind was, no is, terrifying.

Albrecht frowns, "Yes, Ori mentioned the Watcher. If he rises again it will be bad for everyone. Still not an immediate threat..."

The discussion at the table moves to lighter fare. Gossip, war stories, all manner of talk really. At first blush it might seem odd that a king should be so free with his people but having met Albrecht, he insists that you simply call him Albrecht, you understand why his people would follow him. Here is a leader with that 'common touch', so certain in his own abilities that others can not help but believe in him. He has nothing left to prove to himself and so feels no need to prove things to others.

Out of curiosity you reach out to his mind.

You are met with a replica of Myrgard, filled with dwarves coming and going. The buildings shimmer slightly in the sun. At every street corner sits some sort of mechanical lamp... a light post for lack of a better word. Down the center of the street run tracks and a large metal carriage runs down them. It is like nothing you have ever seen and you have seen the real Myrgard. It is busy but beautiful, free but orderly, it is his vision for his people, his hope for them reflected within his mind. He is Myrgard and you smile at that thought.

"Like what you see mage?" the king smiles at you, "Just don't try and cheat."

You blush slightly at his gentle rebuke and withdraw from his mind. He knew what you were doing and he trusted you enough to let you in. Perhaps he is a little overconfident or perhaps he knows that he can resist you, you are not sure which.

As you play you get a good feel for each of the dwarves.

Bari plays as he lives, brutal and with no regrets, he wins big, he loses big and he is the first one out. Ori plays the numbers, most of the calls he makes are very much by the book but he is too predictable to really come out ahead, he slowly bleeds coins and is the second one out. Argus, the large dwarf and Albrecht's bodyguard, plays defensively and shows better judgement then the other two but falls as well.

Albrecht is cagey, he can be aggressive when needed, defensive when required. He is also damn near impossible to read which makes sense. This is a dwarf that led his people into and back out of exile. He has faced more challenges, internal and external, than you can imagine. His enemies all dead, he stands alone, victorious. You do well, you even gang up on the dwarf with Thaïs but in the end old age and treachery win out. Albrecht wins as Bari brings over a cask of beer.

The king stares at you as he sips on his drink. Finally he speaks, "I think I like you girls. You have aided me twice but I would like to know why you burnt down my city."

With a sigh you begin to explain, Thaïs helps where she can and the king seems largely satisfied with your story, "Well when that girl wakes up I will have to have a word with her about the proper way to store hazardous materials. Still she did not commit a crime and neither did either of you. I have no interest in punishing innocent parties however I can not openly reward you given your involvement in the incident. Still every cloud has a silver lining as my father used to say. I think there is a way for us to take advantage of this situation."

Albrecht gestures to Ori, who promptly speaks up, "The 'mercenaries' we fought in the tunnels were not really mercenaries. They were too well equipped and I recognized one of them from my time in the military. Anyway we got to 'talking' and it turns out he works, or rather worked, for House Eberhardt."

Bari interjects, "I suspected this group was powerful but not that powerful. I grabbed a couple dozen uniforms from the group we hit," he rubs his chin as he thinks of the possibilities, "I was planning on going after them to deal with some personal debts but this might be even better."

Albrecht nods, "Eberhardt is one of my biggest detractors but this little attempted murder and kidnapping ties his family to foreign interests. The Brannons of your empire," he gestures at you and Thaïs, "In particular."

You know who the Brannons are. They are one of the most powerful families in the entire empire. The patriarch of the family is the emperor's minister of finance, his brother is one of the largest landholders in the west. If these are the people after Meletē then you have made very powerful enemies. Your head swims a little at the implications of what you have done. You look to Thaïs, she looks a bit pale. Seems she understands your situation as well.

Albrecht on the other hand simply gives you both a sympathetic smile.

Of course he is not bothered, he makes enemies of the most powerful men in the world all the time. They tend to wind up dead or humbled which is why it is no surprise when he suggests just that, "I would like you ladies to help us with a mission, given your unique talents and successful track record. I am going to send in a team of Pathfinders, disguised as Eberhardt's 'mercenaries'. They will meet with Eberhardt or his agents and we will see just how far up these connections go. Ideally we get something on Eberhardt and I can find him guilty of treason. Without House Eberhardt, the opposition should crumble and I would be free to openly reward you."

You are hesitant, "Sounds like a plan but why do you need us at all?"

"Well," he holds up his hand and begins counting off the reasons, "First of all I know I can trust you. Second, you have a great track record... barring that little fire... Third, from what Bari tells me you are mentalists which should be very helpful on an infiltration mission. Fourth, these people are as much your enemies as mine now. Better to destroy them then let them destroy you and Fifth..."

Bari interrupts, "Fifth, working for the crown pays really well!"

The dwarves join in a chorus of deep rolling laughter.

The king looks you in the eye, a look that promises of success, wealth and adventure, "So what do you say, willing to do another job for me?"


2. The Job, do you take it?

A) Yes, you will take the job. These people tried to kill you, they tried to kill Thaïs, they tried to kill the girls. You won't let that go. (Also power and wealth are nice...)

B) No, you will receive your payment and leave the city. You are done with the dwarves. (All B votes will be counted together, the winning option will be the one with the most votes.)

i. You take your payment in material wealth. (approx. 600 wealth points)

ii. You take your payment in magical knowledge. You will be given free run of the academy but you may have to wait a few years for anti-foreign sentiment to die down. As it currently stands the dwarves will not be terribly willing to work with you.

iii. You take your payment in the form of a favour or three to be collected at a time of your choosing. Albrecht won't be terribly happy about this but he owes you.

C) No, you will receive your payment but stay in the city to tend to your interests, you still need to revisit Mayer for example. (All C votes will be counted together, the winning option will be the one with the most votes.)

i. You take your payment in material wealth. (approx. 600 wealth points)

ii. You take your payment in magical knowledge. You will be given free run of the academy but you may have to wait a few years for anti-foreign sentiment to die down. As it currently stands the dwarves will not be terribly willing to work with you.

iii. You take your payment in the form of a favour or three to be collected at a time of your choosing. Albrecht won't be terribly happy about this but he owes you.
 

Chapter 10: The Raid

Chapter 10: The Raid

Maybe it is weakness.

Maybe it is strength.

Either way you just can not let him do it, "Bari stop."

The Pathfinder pauses, his blade mere millimetres from Trakk's throat. His head snaps towards you, frustration and confusion plainly written on his face for but a second. A single word slips loose from his lips, "Why?"

A good question.

"I..." you pause. Why do you want to save the person that would have, should have, killed you tonight?

The answer comes to you quickly enough.

It is not his fault, not completely at least, you did this to Trakk. You put him here. More importantly you understand why he did it even if you can not exactly forgive him for it, "Bari I do not want you to kill him. He knows what he did was wrong, he does not deserve to die for it."

The dwarf scoffs, "For fuck's sake Derryth! He is a Wyrd damned traitor. Traitors die, it is as simple as that!"

Bari is convinced you are making a mistake but your mind is set. You will not watch Trakk die for this, "All the same Bari let him go."

The Pathfinder emits a slight growl but sheathes his knife, "Alright Derryth it is your call to make but he can not walk away from this unpunished."

"Well, what if you exile him?" you suggest after a moment of thought.

Bari grins, "Ah, here I though you were being merciful but that... now that truly is a fate worse than death."

He turns to Trakk and assumes a formal tone and stance, "Trakk, son of Dvalinn, son of Rugga. You are hereby banished from the lands of your people. You are unwanted. You are outcast. You are exiled. Until the very end of your days and beyond. You will be escorted to the edge of the kingdom and cast out into the world, alone and unloved," a solemn stillness settles in as Trakk absorbs this information. Bari for his part leans in close to the prisoner, "If I ever see you on dwarven soil again Trakk I will kill you, understand?"

Trakk does not make a sound, does not move a muscle, he rests broken in silence on his knees.

Then he springs to life.

He reaches for his blade, draws it and is mere moments from driving it home... into his own throat.

Bari wrestles him to the ground, the Pathfinder lets out a harsh cackle, "Oh no Trakk. You get to live my friend! You have to live and live a long time too!"

Two of Bari's people restrain Trakk as he sobs uncontrollably and screams into the night. You wonder if perhaps it would have been kinder to let him die. You also feel the need to say something to the dwarf. You drop to a knee and stare the dwarf in the eyes, "Go back to Muirthemne. We will see what we can do about your family-"

At the sound of your voice something in him snaps. The dwarf goes rabid, he attempts to lunge at you before being pulled back down to the ground, "They are dead Derryth! They are all dead! Bari is right! They are dead! I have lost them forever and it is your fault! Now! Now I won't even be able to die in my homeland! With my people! You have taken everything! Everything! Save your damned promises for someone that believes them! Your poison Derryth! Wyrd damned poison-"

You have a feeling he could continue in that vein for some time but Bari gives him a few good kicks to the side of the head and drives a rag into his mouth, "Well that was certainly interesting. You know if his family really is dead we should probably just kill him and be done with it."

You stare at the floor. This would be easier if his accusations did not hold a seed of truth, "All the same Bari... I don't want him killed for this. If he tries something later well I will deal with it then..."

Maybe it is weakness.

Maybe it is strength.

But you will not kill someone for trying to protect their family.

----------------------------------------

"Derryth? Your head in this? We will be leaving soon." Bari drops down in a chair beside you to your left.

"Umm... yes, yes... just thinking I suppose," you turn in your chair to face him.

"Thinking eh?" he gives you a wink, "Thinking will get you nowhere. Sometimes you just have to 'do' and not worry about the consequences."

"You mean like you?" Thaïs comes up to join the two of you. She takes the chair on your right.

The Pathfinder grins at the woman, "Exactly. When was the last time you saw me think about something?"

You give him a half hearted smile, "Some people would say that, that is part of the problem Bari."

"Bah, you worry too much, you know that? Far, far too much," he waves his hand in the air as if he can physically drive off the notion. Then the smile slips from his face, "Look, about what Trakk said."

You try to interrupt him, "I am fine Bari-"

He nods, "I am sure you are Derryth. But I need you to know that what he said is not true. You are a good friend and Trakk does not know what the hell he is talking about. If not for you I would be dead twice over."

Thaïs chimes in, "He is right Derryth. You do far more to help than to harm. Take comfort in that."

You are not so certain about that at the moment, "He lost a lot though, he said he lost everything... I-"

"Oh cry me a fucking river!" he throws his hands up, "You have both lost people right?" you both nod, "And I have lost people..." he stops for a second, gives his head a shake, then pushes on towards his point, "Sometimes... no, most of the time, things don't turn out like we hope. Well you can't worry about that! And you sure as hell can't spend all your time blaming others or yourself. You just have to take responsibility for your actions and do the best you can. Move on and do better next time!"

"Sure Bari," he can tell you don't believe him but he presses on just the same.

"Yeah, life dealt Trakk a terrible hand here but he still had options. He chose to betray you just like you chose not to take vengeance on him. Though I admit, I still don't get why really. Though..." he gets a bit quiet, and far more thoughtful than you usually see him, "Though it reminds me of what Ari would have done," he shrugs, and the cloud that rests lazily over his eyes dissipates, he give you a mischievous grin, "Must be a woman thing. You are all a little soft."

"Soft, hmmm..." just for that you plant a suggestion in Bari's mind. That his slacks are filled with venomous spiders...

In the entire time you have known Bari, you do not think you have ever heard him squeal like that.

Or squeal at all really.

It is quite satisfying.

------------------------------------------

The uniform does not quite fit. The gloves are a bit big, the tunic is baggy, the slacks threaten to fall down if not for the thin belt cinching them in place. Also the boots pinch a little. As a result it is a rather uncomfortable walk over to the Eberhardt compound on the north side of the city.

Bari and the dwarves are in great spirits, they make casual conversation as you slip through the side streets of Myrgard. The fact that you are all about to risk your lives does not bother them in the slightest and their confidence is contagious.

The Eberhardt compound is massive; easily covering several city blocks. The entire compound is surrounded by a high stone curtain wall. In truth the compound resembles a fort more than a family estate. Bari informs you that most of the major families have similar compounds throughout the city. Dwarves value their privacy and the Eberhardts place a premium on secrecy. Probably related to their many efforts to undermine the Royal House of Albrecht.

For a moment you consider the best way to gain entry but Bari and Ori simply walk right up to the front gate and pound on the massive, iron front doors.

Part of the door slides smoothly back and to the side. A pair of eyes stare out into the night, "What do you want?"

Bari points at your group with his thumb, "Transfer in from Muirthemne."

"One second," the panel slides back into place. You can hear a pair of voices discussing something though you can not make out what. Finally the panel slides in again, "We received no word of new personnel coming in from across the border-"

Bari chuckles and leans against the door, "Just figures. We march all the way down here from that fucking human backwater, fighting ghôls, undead and Wyrd knows what else and those damn paper pushers forgot to send word ahead. You know those boys are always fucking up, why last month they only gave me half my pay. I got half a mind to take this message for the boss and toss it in the damn desert."

The voice on the other side of the door hesitates, "You have a message for the boss?"

Bari feigns irritation, "Well that is what I said right? I was ordered by Mats over in Muirthemne to round up some of the lads and bring a message over. Supposed to be important too..." the Pathfinder assumes a worried expression, "And now because of some idiot up there or down here it is my ass that will get chewed out."

Well he has the guard's sympathy, "Damn brother, I would like to help but I can not just let you in without some sort of proof you are who you say you are. Who's the message from? Maybe you can just give it to me and I can take it to the boss for you."

Bari nods a few times, "Well it is good to see there are still decent folks out there but I was given strict instructions. This message goes straight to the boss and no one else."

"Well I guess that is it then, goodnight," the panel begins to close.

At the last possible moment Bari shouts out, "Wait! I have it. Is Dacey there? I know her from way back, she can vouch for me."

You wonder who the hell this Dacey could be. Then you remember Bari's 'chair' and it all makes sense. He probably had a few hours to extract information from her and he was planning on hitting the compound himself anyway. He would have needed a way to convince the guards...

Once again the guard hesitates, "You're a friend of Dacey's?"

Bari warming to his ruse nods enthusiastically, "Oh yeah, the two of us go way back. Tough bitch that one but a good friend once you get to know her. I served under her years ago in Stoneheim. For a human she shows an admirable concern for those under her command too. That girl... that girl will do almost anything for them, especially if they are in danger," something tells you Bari is not making that up. You shudder when you imagine how he got her to talk, "Hell if she likes you she will give the very shirt from her back. Hey, do you know if she is still seeing that young lad from Tyr... the tanner I think he was?"

The voice gains a bit of confidence at this revelation, "So you do know her! Yeah she is still seeing Roger worthless piece of shit that he is. She is out on assignment right now, taking care of some work for the boss. If you are willing to wait out there-"

Bari applies a bit more pressure, "Ah come on, don't make me stand out here in the dark. Let me wait inside at least, I think it is going to rain..."

"I..." the guard wants to help Bari out but he knows he shouldn't, "I can't let you all in."

Bari looks back at your group, then smiles at the guard, "Alright, alright. Fair enough, how about you just let me in then? One dwarf is not a threat to the entire compound right? Let me in and we can wait until Dacey comes back."

"Ah... yeah, alright. But the rest of your group has to clear off before I open this door," part of you feels a bit bad for this guard. If Bari does not kill him, his employers certainly will but such is the price of incompetence.

Bari shoos the rest of you off, "You lot go have a drink. I will meet you later... lets say in oh, five or so."

Ori plays along, "Five hours chief?"

Bari rolls his eyes, "No you idiot in five minutes... of course five hours. These things take time."

Ori, suitably 'chastised', leads you out of sight away from the compound as the door slowly opens.

Around the corner from the compound Ori begins counting, you turn to the nearest Pathfinder, "What is he doing?"

The Pathfinder shrugs, "Five minutes and Bari will have the door open for us."

---------------------------------------

Five minutes on the dot and the front doors creak open.

As you enter you are met with an impressive sight. Ten dwarfs quietly sleeping... and one with his neck broken. You give Bari a questioning glance, he waves an empty vial in the air, "Very potent, very fast acting, but it costs a damned fortune to get," he gestures at the dead dwarf, "Shame he wasn't a drinker."

The Pathfinders set to work securing the room and hiding the bodies as Bari explains the plan again to make sure everyone is on the same page, "Alright. Now the door guards are not due to be replaced for a couple hours yet so we have time but we also have a lot to accomplish..."

He lays out the rest of the plan for you. The compound consists of six buildings. The central building serves as housing for the Eberhardts themselves and their closest supporters. Next to the central building are the financial offices of House Eberhardt. Across from them is the armoury and prison/dungeon. There is also a barracks where most of the guards will be. There should be about one hundred of them by Bari's estimation.

Your primary target is Dacey's contact:

Dacey gets her orders from a dwarf named Ullr, he is the one you have to find and he is probably in his quarters on the third floor of the central building. Bari will be going after him given he knows the location best and is the most skilled operator.

There are also a number of secondary targets the Pathfinders plan to hit.

Vandill, the captain of this team of Pathfinders, is going to hit the prison with half of his people. Hopefully they will find Trakk's family or other witnesses to the Eberhardts' subversive activities.

Ori intends to search the financial offices with two Pathfinders. Ideally they will find more proof of Eberhardt's dealings. They will also attempt to retrieve any financial information that might aid the king or the kingdom.

Finally you have been informed that two cloaked Pathfinders have slipped into the compound. They will set explosives in the barracks, the armoury and near the curtain wall as required. They should not be needed but if they are it will level those two buildings at least and should collapse part of the wall giving you another escape route.

The remaining Pathfinders will remain in the guardhouse to keep your exit secure.

Since you are on this mission in, more or less, an advisory capacity the Pathfinders are willing to let you choose which team you join.


1. There are two of you. Do you stay together or split up?

A) You and Thaïs stay together and join one team.

B) You and Thaïs split up and go with separate teams.


2. Which team do you join?

A) Bari - you will help capture this Ullr character.

B) Vandill - you will help search for Trakk's family

C) Ori - you will help search the financial offices.

D) Stay in the guardhouse with the last two Pathfinders.


3. If you split up which team will Thaïs go with?

A) Bari - she will help capture this Ullr character.

B) Vandill - she will help search for Trakk's family

C) Ori - she will help search the financial offices.

D) Stay in the guardhouse with the last two Pathfinders.
 

Chapter 11: Berandal

Chapter 11: Berandal

"Urgent message for Ullr," Bari calls out as the three of you approach the door guard.

He tilts his head, "Funny... we are not expecting any messengers tonight."

Bari grins at the man, "No shit, really? Look I have a message for Ullr from Dacey and it is imperative he gets it as soon as possible."

The guard frowns, "Look, why don't you come back in the morning? If I let you in now I have to fill out all sorts of paperwork..."

Bari nods, "Look brother, if I could come back in the morning I would but Dacey just sent a runner back. She has something important for the boss, really important, and he needs to know about it."

The guard rubs his temples, "Alright, alright. Why don't you hand me this message and I will send it up."

Bari gives him a sympathetic smile, "Sorry brother I have orders to take it directly to the-"

The guard cuts him off, "Well you can tell Dacey that she does not have any authority over me, the uppity bitch... You can give me the message or you can wait till morning. No way in hell am I doing all that paperwork..."

The Pathfinder clenches one fist, "You absolutely sure son?"

"Yes, damn it! I am absolutely-" his face goes slack as you reach out with your mind and press into his. While suggestion is a fairly basic spell that most skilled individuals can resist this guard is not one of them.

Surprisingly, you meet some resistance, not because this guard is some genius, not because he is some great sage, rather because he is extremely lazy. He really does not want to fill out the required paperwork. But you are fairly certain that you can get him to do it.

You have been practicing with Thaïs for months now in an effort to better coordinate your abilities and the two of you make an impressive team. You think you know what is required to break a mind now even without the more advanced spells Nine constantly tempts you with. A spell like Dominate could grant you immediate control of this guard. Sadly you do not know it, which means you will have to do this the hard way. You launch your attack and the second you begin Thaïs joins in as well.

The two of you hit him with dozens of suggestions, each lasts for less than a second but for the moment he experiences them they are as real as anything he has lived. You tip him off balance with the image of a sweet dwarven maid bouncing on his knee. He smiles as his eyes glaze over. She hits him with an experience of sheer terror as his eyes open wide in shock and horror. You follow that up with a vision of his dead wife. For a moment you wonder if he has a wife, or had a wife but you shrug it off. For your purposes it does not matter. His eyes tear up. Then she slips him a memory of success and he positively beams at you.

You take turns pushing him from one extreme to another, fear, lust, jealous, happiness, hatred, grief... after ten minutes of constant assault his mind is clay in your hands. He is simply too worn out to resist any longer.

Slowly you begin to build him back up.

The way you want him to be.

You slip a suggestion into his mind...

He should let you though.

"I... I should let you through..."

He will give you the necessary paperwork.

"I will get those papers for you right away," the guard draws up your passes and hands them to Bari.

He is sorry for delaying you.

"I am sorry for delaying you."

He will tell you where to find Ullr.

"I... I should tell you where to find Ullr, third floor, second door on your left. Impossible to miss really."

He will go take a nap, this has all been a horrible dream.

"I... um... I need to go take a nap... yeah... just need to rest for a while."

As he stumbles off into the night the two of you smile at one another.

Bari stands dumbfounded, "Wow... just wow... that was amazing! Can you..." he hesitates for a moment, oddly unsure of himself, "Can you do it again?"

You give him a little swat as the three of you enter the inner compound.

-------------------------------------------

With the proper paperwork it is simple enough to get to Ullr's room. Naturally though, once there things prove slightly more difficult.

"He is not alone," Bari whispers. The Pathfinder leans against the door while the two of you serve as lookouts.

"How many people?" you give the dwarf a quick glance over your shoulder.

"Hard to say," he frowns, "I only hear one other voice but who knows..."

"Well are we going in?" Thaïs asks and you both look to Bari for an answer.

The dwarf tilts his head back and forth, swaying as he weighs his options, "Well we are not leaving without him and we are on a schedule..." his usual wolfish grin spreads out across his broad face, "Ready?" you give him a nod and he bursts through the door with you and Thaïs close behind.

Bari was right. Ullr is not alone.

The dwarf is seated facing the door, across from him, seated with his back to you sits a human, his short, tight hair more grey than black. From what you can see he is dressed completely in black with gold trim. On either side of him stand guards, dressed in similar uniforms though less ornate, each has a sword at his side and a bow in hand. The three figures turn as you enter the room...

You observe the behaviour of each in turn.

The seated man gives you an appraising look, more amused at this interruption than annoyed. A certain peculiar light plays behind is deep hazelnut eyes.

The first guard eyes you warily not sure yet whether you are friend or foe. He is a large man with a simple face. You doubt he is terribly burdened with the curse of weighty thoughts but he looks like he would be good in a fight.

You turn your attention to the third man and that is when you see him.

The captain from the Black Arrows compound.

The man you knocked unconscious.

He gives you a look of confusion and annoyance, thankfully he does not seem to recognize, you at least not yet. He just stares at you, deep in thought.

The older man turns his keen gaze back to Ullr, the slightest hint of a smile plays upon his lips, "Is it the habit of your employees to burst into your offices at all hours of the night?"

Ullr sits in his high backed, plum chair. The dwarf is livid. His face quickly shifting through various shades of red, it finally settles on a purple that perfectly matches the upholstery. He manages to sputter out a few words, "No... no it is not!" the first word for him is the hardest but once that damn is broken the rest comes naturally, "If you three do not have a very good excuse for this then I will have you hung! Do you understand me!"

Bari feigns terror and gives a deep and trembling bow, "I am sorry milord, but we just got word in from Dacey... it... it is important and-"

Ullr leaps from his chair filled with manic energy, "Marvelous! She succeeded then!" he turns to his guest, "Well I am afraid we will not need to retain your services after all, Mister Ceannard. My people have done what yours could not it seems!"

If the seated gentlemen, this Ceannard, is upset by the news he does not show it. He calmly stands, walks to Ullr's bar and pours himself another drink. He does not speak until he has returned to his seat, "Are you sure that you no longer wish to retain the services of my people?"

The dwarf is practically dancing as he gathers up his cloak and hat, "What? Of course I am sure. You had the girl and you let her slip away! Well now my people have dealt with the problem for you. Why on earth would I want you for anything?"

"Very well then. I hereby officially close your account Mister Ullr," as he says those words he throws a quick glance over his shoulder at you, a confident smirk rests comfortably on his thin lips, "Should you require my services or those of my people in the future you have but to ask though we will of course have to negotiate a new rate."

Ullr ignores the man and rushes towards you, "Quickly, quickly. Take me to her this instant!"

Bari gives the dwarf a triumphant grin, "Of course milord, you will be with her within the hour."

A few seconds more and you will have him... of course when has anything been easy for you...

The captain has been studying you since you entered the room. Staring into your eyes... finally he speaks, "Sir I think I know those two."

Ullr stops half way between you and the Black Arrows. Ceannard turns to his man, "Oh really, where from Captain Otto?" part of you suspects he already knows the answer.

Otto eyes you and Thaïs suspiciously, "Well Sir, I can not be sure but those women remind me of the two that abducted the inventor from our facility."

Ceannard's voice takes on a hurt tone though a slight current of humour remains, "Oh Ullr, I should hope you did not rob us of our prize. I doubt you wish to anger the Black Arrows."

Ullr's face begins the transition back to purple as he takes a couple steps towards his guest, "How dare you! How dare you accuse my people of such things! How dare you accuse me of such things! Do not try and place the blame for your incompetence on my staff! House Eberhardt could crush you entire organization in an instant if you cross us! Don't you ever forget who I am!"

Ceannard's demeanour stands in sharp contrast to that of the dwarf, Ullr is a picture of barely contained fury. A small bundle of malice just looking for a target and an excuse. Ceannard by contrast could not be more relaxed, he reminds you of some great cat. No movement by him is wasted. Calmly he begins, "Ullr, what happened at our compound a few nights ago was unfortunate, but those responsible for that lapse in security have paid for it fully," Otto shudders slightly at the word paid, "As for who you are. I know exactly who you are. I know exactly who you work for. So ask yourself why am I not afraid? Perhaps that should concern you. At any rate if you go with those three you will have more pressing concerns to worry about than me I should think..."

Ullr is in a word, uncertain, he does not have any concrete reason to distrust you but Ceannard has made him uneasy, "Ah... you... you are one strange fellow Ceannard," he considers the three of you then shakes his head, "Maybe, maybe I will wait here for now. Tell Dacey that I will come and see her in the morning."

Bari gives Ullr another stiff bow, "Milord, I was ordered to tell you that Dacey has important information that could impact the fortunes of the entire House. I must urge you not to listen to these charlatans," at the word charlatans, Ceannard lets out a slight laugh, "We must go at once milord."

Ullr nods and takes a step towards your group. Then he hesitates and stops. He looks back at Ceannard, "Could I contract you and your two men to escort me to this meeting with my people. I... I do not want to take any risks..."

So close... so very close but you are losing him.

Ceannard sips on his drink, letting the idea roll around in his head, "Perhaps, Ullr, perhaps... but we will have to negotiate a new contract... and at this point there may just be other bidders," you are almost certain he means you though he does not look in your direction and Ullr shows no signs of understanding.

You could try to slip Ullr a suggestion but something about Ceannard worries you. You just can not place it but the man is strange.

You could always try and attack them while they negotiate. It might surprise Otto and the other guard though you doubt it would catch Ceannard off guard.

You are not really certain of what to do but Bari is getting impatient and you are certain he will act in a moment if you do not take the lead.

You just have to figure out what the best course of action is... how hard can that be?


A) Attack, nonlethal - you lash out now while they are negotiating. You will attempt to incapacitate the Black Arrows with your mental spells. You think you might be able to manipulate the large guard but you will not know till you try. Though you will try to spare them, if you have to kill them so be it.

B) Attack, lethal - Ceannard worries you too much to take half measures. You will go all out and try to kill the Black Arrows with Firebolt and your attack oriented spells.

C) Suggestion - you plant a suggestion in Ullr's mind and try to guide him towards your group.

D) Negotiate - You are almost certain that Ceannard knows who you are. You drop the charade and hire his services to help smuggle Ullr out of the compound. You doubt he will come cheap though and he may want more than gold.

E) Play along - You let Ullr hire the Black Arrows, you will just have to deal with them once you get outside the compound though you are not sure how well that will work.

F) Follow Bari's lead - The Pathfinder is the professional here. Though knowing Bari things might get a little messy.

G) Incapacitate Ullr and ask Caennard for his card, who knows when you might need a little muscle that can work to contract.

H) freeform
 

Chapter 12: Mind Games

Chapter 12: Mind Games

"Milord do you really wish to trust these mercenaries with the location of the girl? If you desire more protection then the three of us can provide then simply give the order and I will rouse some of the men!" Bari is doing his best but he is not succeeding.

Ceannard takes another long sip from his drink. He scans the room with a disinterested eye, his gaze finds you, he stares at you as he speaks, "It is odd Ullr that you allow your subordinates to be so bold. Are you not worried that it might send the wrong message? Perhaps you should punish this dwarf... remind him who exactly is in charge here?"

Ullr squints for a moment then begins to nod, "Yes. Yes, you have to pay for your insolence!"

You are almost certain now that Ceannard is influencing Ullr; implanting suggestions within his mind. What bothers you is that you can not feel the man casting. You have no idea how he is doing it.

Ullr marches over to his desk. He practically rips one of the drawers out. Reaching inside he withdraws a knife and rounds the desk heading directly for Bari.

You feel someone casting.

Thaïs steps around behind you.

For a moment Ullr stops.

Thaïs has sent him a compulsion.

Ceannard looks past you at her, his thin smile grows.

Ullr shakes his head and continues to advance on Bari.

You think you understand what is going on here. For Ceannard this is a game. He is going to try and provoke a fight between the dwarves and he is daring you to try and stop him.

You could play his game and battle him for control of the dwarf, but you do not like being toyed with.

You decide to end this quickly.

Ullr is almost upon Bari now. The Pathfinder still projects a submissive air but his hand has been creeping towards his knife. If you do not act, he will.

You are not sure what will happen when you do this. You just hope your friends will be ready.

You focus on Ullr, his mind is already so heavily compromised that it should not be difficult to neutralize him.

You hit him with an assault spell. The dwarf's head rocks backward on his thick neck as he wobbles on his heels. For a split second he is balanced there, hardly touching the ground.

Then he falls.

He hits the floor with a dull thud.

Immediately you turn your attention to the Black Arrows.

Ceannard stares at you and you catch the slightest hint of surprise in his eyes. It is wonderfully satisfying.

Ceannard does not move, neither does the large guard with him.

Otto however is half way through notching an arrow.

Instinctively you lash out with another assault spell.

It seems Thaïs had the same idea as you feel her cast behind you.

The poor captain lets out a slight whine as you knock him off his feet.

"Well I must admit of all the moves you could have made, I did not expect that one," you had worried that Ceannard would react violently to your attack. Instead he seems thoroughly amused, "So now what? Are you going to try and carry Ullr unconscious back through the lower floors? Given how much he knows about the dealings of House Eberhardt they would likely kill you all rather than see him carried off."

Admittedly you had not thought that far ahead, though an idea does occur to you, "Perhaps we could hire your services to aid in our escape?"

Ceannard nods slowly, you have a feeling he is weighing his odds as you speak, "Perhaps you could. Perhaps you could."

You wait in silence for him to say more, but he seems content to sit in silence contemplating his drink. Finally you can take no more, "Well we have resources, we can pay... how much would you require for a job like this?"

Ceannard takes another long, slow sip of his drink. When he looks up at you some of his edge is gone, he seems warmer somehow, more inviting, "For a job like this I can not accept common coin," he winks at you, "Even from such a lovely hand as yours."

You feel a little weak in the knees. He is just so dashing...

Thaïs, sensing that you need a moment, steps up, "Well what would you require to fulfill such a contract?"

He stands, walks to the bar and tops up his drink. You watch every movement he makes, unable to take your eyes off him.

When he is once more seated he continues, "Well my dear lady," he smiles at her and you feel a little sick, "A client of mine has informed me that you have in your care a certain individual, I would require their presence."

He must mean Meletē... it seems like a fair trade... she has caused nothing but problems...

You manage to turn your head slightly in an attempt to gauge Thaïs' reaction to the idea.

What you see fills you with rage, the way she is looking at him... making eyes at him... you have a sudden urge to tear her eyes out. She notices you staring and gives you a look of complete contempt and hatred.

Instinctively you reach for your knife... she reaches for hers... this might not end well for either of you but you are simply too angry to stop now.

How dare she! How dare she come between you and...

and...

and a man you have known less than ten minutes?

Thaïs is your closest and dearest friend, Ceannard you hardly know. Yet you feel an almost overwhelming desire to attack her in 'defence' of your 'relationship' with him.

It is clear what is going on here.

Without the dwarf to play with he is toying with you instead. Thankfully you are made of stronger stuff even if his 'magics', whatever they may be, are very subtle.

You turn from her, though you keep her in your peripheral vision. If she is being influenced as well, and it is not all in your mind, she might still attack.

You smile sweetly at Ceannard.

He smiles back.

You wait until his drink is almost to his face.

Then you set it on fire.

Just to make a point.

He drops the drink and leaps out of his seat, stomping out the flames.

Immediately any 'feelings' you felt for this man disappear. You cast a quick glance at Thaïs, she shakes her head and frowns at the man. She catches you looking and smiles at you mouthing the words 'thank you'.

When he looks back up at you he is not smiling, "You could have killed me!"

You give him a slight smile, patterned on the exact grin he has been sporting all night, "Next time I will."

His grin reappears, "Well my employer spoke highly of you... I suppose he was right," he shrugs and stalks off to the bar, "At this point I may as well take the whole bottle. Not like Ullr is going to need it when you are done with him."

Gracefully he hops up on the bar and tips the bottle towards the unconscious dwarf, "He was a long time customer. Bit of a temper but he always paid on time and he was easy to influence... at times I could get him to pay triple the normal rate for a contract."

Thaïs, clearly still annoyed at the man, speaks up, "So you tried to help him out of a sense of loyalty?"

He shrugs, "No, I did it to see if I could. If you could not resist a little mind control you would hardly be worth my time. Congratulations, you both passed. Most people would have attacked immediately," he bows his head slightly, "My apologies to you both. It is not a test I like to administer but one I felt was necessary given the sort of job we are discussing."

"Well, congratulations to you as well," you cross you arms, "You have just lost a potential customer."

He tilts his head slightly, "Well there are always more opportunities. However it might be wise to hear me out."

You ignore the man, "Bari, can we throw Ullr in a sack or something?"

The Pathfinder snaps his fingers, "I know just the ploy to get him out of here. One second, I will be right back," he rushes to the door but stops before turning the handle, "You two will be fine till I get back?"

You both nod, Thaïs answers, "Yes Bari, we will be fine now. Just hurry back."

Ceannard does not seem too put off by your attempts to ignore him, in fact he continues speaking as if you were giving him your full attention. The man is confident if nothing else, "The individual whose presence I require is not your inventor friend. Frankly I do not care what happens to her now. No, I wish to meet another friend of yours... blonde... beautiful... about, oh, a head tall..."

The two of you give him your full attention after that, "What do you know about her?" you are suddenly keenly aware of Nine's presence. Nestled in the bottom of your pack sleeping her eternity away like usual.

He takes a swig from his bottle, "Well I don't know much about her at all. But my current employer has given me a brief description and he would very much like to meet her. So that is my price. If you want my expert help in slipping out of here then you will give her to me. Otherwise you are on your own."

Thaïs takes a couple hesitant steps towards the man, "Did your employer say she had to come alone? Can we go with her?"

He lifts his gaze to the roof in contemplation, "Clever. He did not actually say one way or the other. If you want to go with her I can see no reason to refuse your request," when he once more lowers his gaze it is directed at you, "Those are the terms then. I can get you out of here easily but in exchange you will either hand over your friend within two days or you may accompany her to see my employer. Should you break the terms of this contract you will have made an enemy of the Black Arrows and my employer... that is not something you want, trust me."

Bari slips back into the room and sets about stuffing Ullr into a large sack. When he finishes he joins the two of you, dragging Ullr in his sack behind him, "So ready to go Derryth? I figure we can steal a few servants' uniforms and sneak out through the back door with the 'dirty laundry'," he gives the bag a kick and chuckles to himself, "a classic ploy, works every time, well almost every time..." he trails off when he notices Ceannard gazing intently at you, "Something going on?"

The Pathfinder and the mercenary each stare at you waiting for an answer as Otto groans and slowly sits up.


A) You accept the deal and agree to give him Nine within two days.

B) You accept the deal and agree to go with Nine within two days. List who you want to take with you if you choose this option. The dwarves will be busy setting up the trial and the 'witnesses' so it will just be you, Thaïs, and the girls to choose from.

C) You accept the deal but intend to betray them.

D) Refuse the deal and simply leave, you want nothing to do with the Arrows or their current employer.

E) Refuse the deal and attack the Black Arrows, you do not trust them not to interfere. You will aim to incapacitate them and tie them up.

F) Refuse the deal and attack the Black Arrows, you do not trust them not to interfere. You will kill them if you can.

G) freeform
 

Chapter 13: Hope and Hatred

Chapter 13: Hope and Hatred

It is a starless night in the desert.

Your expedition of twenty cuts across the dunes with the swift, sure movements of dangerous men accustomed to the dark. Ceannard refuses to rest, refuses to stop. He is as a man possessed. Part of you fears that he is in fact under the influence of some ancient and inscrutable power... some old darkness... but then you knew the risks when you agreed to come.

You think back to that night.

As soon as you agreed to this meeting Ceannard had shown you, your out. A series of secret passages ran through the building, escape routes in case of invasion, Ceannard knew them well and led your out of the compound without a single incident.

You swore to meet him two days later and all of your time since then has been in preparation for this.

Bari did not like it but he could not stop you. He leant you his best knife for 'good luck' and made you swear you would survive long enough to return it.

As for the king he was quite pleased with your performance. So pleased that he has promised you wealth, property, position... though there is a catch, to be expected really... there is always a catch.

You decided it was best not to inform the king of your trip. You reasoned it would simply raise too many questions about the company you keep, about this person you are going to meet, about everything really. You also doubted that the king would even let you make the journey. He had told you that you were to be the face of his campaign against the Eberhardts, a hero of the kingdom he said... someone that could both undermine anti-foreign sentiment and rally the people to his cause...hmmm... a hero?

Honestly you feel more like a scapegoat... if something goes wrong it will be you and not the Pathfinders left dangling in the wind. Makes sense though. After all the Pathfinders do not exist and the king will need someone to reward and to put forth as his agent, his champion, in this whole affair.

Part of you wants to slip away into the desert, flee the Arrows, their employer, the king, but you don't... perhaps you can't. This employer is too big of a mystery, and you have never been able to resist a mystery.

Caennard stops in front of you. The Arrow gives you a moment to catch up. You and Thaïs reach him first. The girls right on your heels, they are quite a bit faster than you both but they have steadfastly refused to leave your shadows since you began this trip. They have taken it upon themselves to be your 'guardians' and Uttu has assured you both that 'no harm shall befall you' while she yet lives. You worry about just that outcome.

"And there it is my dears," Caennard cocks his head back and extends his right arm, directing you attention to the slightest crack in the distant wall of burnt, orange stone before you, "Another hour and we will be there."

"A whole hour!" Uttu whimpers a little, "I would rather be fighting monsters than wandering through the sand for another minute!"

Caennard bends over to look her in the eye, "Well child, you may be in luck as those caves are filled with unknown terrors and lurking fears. Great, hairy beasts as much man as animal, with fangs as long as your forearms and claws as sharp as iron."

The girl's imagination does the rest. She trembles slightly, but puts on a brave face in spite of it, "I... I am not afraid of a few beasts..."

Sensing her sister's trepidation Biliku comes to her aid, "Right! We have fought whole armies of monsters! And not only on one occasion! We always win and we will win here too!"

Caennard grins at the older girl, "Ah, but what I described are only the smallest of the horrors that lurk in those dark halls. The master of the place needs no form, no body, to move about. He is a cold breeze on the air, a shriek in the night, the only warning you will get is the sensation of his eternal hands wrapped around your- ouch!"

You give him a good solid crack across his lower back with you weighted staff, "Stop trying to scare the girls or you will have something to be afraid of."

Rubbing his sore back he bows low, "Of course my lady. Shall we be off?"

"Yes, let's. I want to meet this individual that is so very interested in me," Nine chirps up from under Thaïs' arm. Your mentor insists on seeing everything. A request you readily agreed to, you want her out and paying close attention for any magical anomalies or other signs of a potential trap. The natural result of this is that you and Thaïs have had to take turns carrying her, you will trust no one else with the task.

Caennard nods, "Very well, Mistress Nine," he turns from her back to you. His usual grin has been replaced by the neutral expression of a professional mercenary, "However before we go any further I think it would be wise to clarify our position. We, my men and I, are currently operating under contract for the man you are about to meet. As soon as I deliver you to him and receive payment from him we will act as a deterrent to any attacks from my current employer or third parties for the duration of the meeting. My men and I will then escort your group back to Myrgard where we will receive the remainder of our payment for services rendered. Should our service not be required, we will waive the rest of our fee and settle for the deposit you gave us in Myrgard. Are we in agreement?"

"Yes Caennard, that will do nicely," you start down the dune and towards the rock wall, "Hopefully you and your men will not have to do anything but stand there."

He matches your stride and his grin reappears, "Well Miss Derryth, this is one occasion where I am liable to agree with those sentiments," he projects a relaxed and jovial air but underneath it you can sense fear.

This man is terrified. Though you doubt he will admit it, even to himself.

-----------------------------------------

Darkness.

Aside from the scant light cast from your spells and torches you are confronted by absolute darkness. Caennard leads, with you close behind. If he betrays you, if this is a trap, then he will not be walking away from it either.

"A few things you need to know Miss Derryth," Caennard lectures you over his shoulder, "My employer is quite powerful. I have a certain knack for magic items you see," you give him a questioning look and he shakes his head, "I know what you are going to ask. I am not a mage but I have 'help'. That is as specific as I am willing to get with a stranger. I can usually influence people a little, get a better price out of them. Usually it works, sometimes it does not, as with the two of you for example. This man though, he... well he is a complete blank. I can not even make the attempt... he is terrifying... but then you will see..."

For what seems like hours, and what could actually be hours, you meander through the maze of narrow tunnels. Caennard was not lying about the voices, your group moves in complete silence and yet inhuman whispers and mumbling echoes around you. Once or twice you are convinced that you see movement, just beyond the edge of your vision, however these apparitions never coalesce into physical threats and your trip is mercifully without incident.

Caennard leads you out into a large, round chamber. Most of it is in darkness in keeping with the tunnels you took to get here but in the center of the room stands a figure nine feet tall and clad in black plate mail. In one hand he holds blade, a little over a meter long, that gives off a slight green flame

When it speaks it is as thunder, "Caennard! Have you brought me the head!"

Caennard bows low, "Yes my lord. We have brought the head to you."

"Good! Good! Leave it upon my altar and collect your reward!" the towering figure shouts at the Arrow.

Two of the Arrows retrieve a very large satchel, it is filled with unrefined gold.

Caennard whispers to you, "Place the head on the altar."

Your response is perhaps to be expected, "Like hell I will."

"You! Girl! Do as your commander says and place the head upon the altar!" the armoured figure raises his blade as green flames burst forth around him.

The Arrows are all suitably impressed.

You might be too if you had not pulled this exact same trick on Biliku and Uttu.

Now this spectacle before you is far more complex and definitely a sign of a superior talent but you recognize the theory behind some of these spells. Given time you could probably even replicate them.

First off, the figure does not actually exist, you are certain of it. These are all illusions and you are feeling awfully smug that you figured it out right away.

You smile at the figure, out of the corner of your eye you catch Thaïs grinning as well.

You turn back to the rest of your group, "The flames are not real, the armour is not real and the reason you can not influence him is because he does not exist."

The girls, now aware of the similarities between the trick you pulled and the show in front of you have relaxed somewhat, Uttu even stifles a little, nervious laugh.

You take a step towards the figure with your three companions close behind, "I have a name, it is Derryth. She has a name, it is Nine... well at least for the time being. Now, what is yours?"

"You will suffer for your insolence!" the air cools slightly within the chamber.

You are not quite sure how he did that.

Still you refuse to be intimidated, "See now that is not how this is done. I have told you my name, now you tell me yours,"

"I am death! I am ruin! I am the very last thing you will see if you do not-" You have had enough of this. You want to talk to this employer face to face and if they won't come out then you will force them out.

You begin picking at the edges of the illusions, looking for contradictions. The way the armour sits, the craftsmanship on the blade, little signs that the creator of these illusions is not actually aware of how they should function. Slowly you work you way to the center of the spells. You raise metamagical objections to the underlying assumptions that hold them together. You doubt, and that doubt, that scepticism, becomes the foundation of your attack. The room rattles, or appears to, dust and debris fall around you. A rock large enough to crush you falls not fifty centimetres from you. Again you are certain these are all illusions.

Caennard screams, "Stop this Derryth! He will kill us all!"

Caennard and his men fall back into the tunnel to escape the 'falling debris'.

You, however, have no intention of stopping. Thaïs works with you, an extra set of hands employed in unravelling the spells. The girls stay close, putting on a very brave show though you are certain they are terrified. They are not mages after all, they can not feel the illusions, they are trusting you completely with their lives.

You make a note to take them shopping after this, the kids deserve a reward.

The apparition lets out an unearthly scream and strides towards you, sword raised.

It reaches you, it raises its blade to strike you down... and it disappears.

The illusions fail and the room returns to its original condition.

You turn to the tunnels and shout out to the Arrows, "Alright, you bunch of cowards! It is over!"

Caennard tries his best to act calm as he leads his men out of the tunnels, "Ah... sorry. It will not happen again."

You shake your head in disappointment, "If it does, I expect a full refund."

As you scan the chamber you realize that it is not quite the same as it was. There is a new passage leading out of the rear of the chamber. Naturally you order the Arrows in. Perhaps he is eager to demonstrate the worth of his organization as Caennard sets about securing the tunnel in a surprisingly professional manner. His grin is gone, replaced by a look of determination as he organizes his men to the best of his ability.

When you finally do push through the tunnel you are met with the last thing you would expect within the heart of a desert.

A small meadow. Tall green grass sways slightly as a light breeze manages to find its way into the clearing. A single tree and a small cottage are the only objects of note. A small stream forms a shallow pool in the center of the meadow. The streambed glimmers slightly off your light... you think it might contain gold which would explain how Caennard was receiving payment.

It is all really quite beautiful and you stand there for a moment in spite of yourself simply taking it in.

"The cottage?" Thaïs asks, though from her tone it is clear she knows the answer.

"The cottage," you reply, less as a confirmation to her than as an order to your mercenaries.

The Arrows surround the building. You stand in front of it with Caennard to your left and Thaïs to your right, "Alright, come out of there whoever you are or we will burn the cottage down with you in it!"

Slowly the wicker door of the cottage opens. A young and rather feral looking woman slowly walks out. Hands extended in front of her, in a tired, thin voice she speaks, "All right! I surrender, just don't kill me!"

"She's a witch," Caennard whispers.

"Carefully, Caennard. Some would say I am a witch too," you remind the Arrow.

You take a single step towards the woman, "Care to explain what is going on? Why do you want Nine so badly?"

"I... I should not say in front of all these people... " the woman is torn, between her desire to tell you everything and live, and her reluctance to betray her secret.

"Why not?" you ask the obvious question.

"Well, it is not really my secret to share... it is my master's," well that is a start at least.

"All right then. Can I talk to your master," you take another step towards her.

"Maybe?" she seems to be asking a question, but not of you. She tilts her head slightly, "Yes? Yes! Yes, if you will come inside the cottage then he will let you talk to him."

You look to Thaïs, she shrugs.

You look to Caennard, "We will keep watch out here. If anything attacks we will warn you. If you do not come back... we will avenge you."

Comforting...

You look to Nine, "Well dear, I am awfully curious."

"Well, I have to admit I am too," you turn back to the woman, "Alright, lead on. If you try anything though you will die right along with us."

The five of you follow the witch into the cottage. It is about what you would expect. A single cot; an assortment of handmade tools for hunting and panning the stream; five large bird cages, one of which houses an eagle; and a large pot. The witch catches you staring at it, "Dinner, snake stew... not much to eat out here except snake and rat really... would kill for a steak..."

She pulls away a large woven mat to reveal a hatch in the floor. Sheepishly she explains, "We have to go down," she does not seem exactly thrilled by the idea.

You follow her into the hole and down a low but thankfully short tunnel.

This tunnel, hopefully the last of the evening, opens into a small and simple room.

On a stone slab in the center rests a body on a bed of straw. At first you think it is dead. It is wizen, dried out, corpse-like in almost every way but you notice the slightest movement of its chest. It is alive, if only through sheer force of will.

She sits next to the 'corpse', she reaches for the corpse's hand, hesitates for a moment. She catches you watching, "It... it is easier for him if I am in actual physical contact."

"Umm... easier for what," Uttu squeaks.

The witch sighs, "This."

She grabs the hand and instantly her head snaps backwards.

Her eyes roll back into her head.

She begins to speak but the voice is not wholly her own. Overlaid upon her own voice is a deeper one, stronger too, filled with hatred but not directed at you. You also think you sense an undercurrent of hope, like that of a man that believes he has finally found the answer to the question that he seeks, "You must be Derryth. You were not supposed to meet me like this. I had hoped that I would have made more progress by now... so little time..."

"You wanted to see me corpse man?" it is Nine that speaks up.

"Corpse man?," the witch lets out an unusual chuckle, "Yes I suppose I have been dead long enough that I am truly a corpse as far as the world is concerned. I have lived out the centuries alone in the dark. Forgotten by all. Yet I remember myself which is more than I can say for you... Nine is it? To have forgotten your very name, your voice in this world... I can think of few things so very fitting for an old enemy."

"You are my enemy?" she asks, straining to remember the corpse before her.

"I was never your friend. Though you had, no have, since none of us seem to stay truly dead, far more immediate enemies than me," the dead man seems to be taking a great deal of pleasure out of tormenting Nine. You suppose that misery really does love company.

Nine is on the verge of one of her temper tantrums, "Well if you won't tell me anything helpful at least tell me what you want from me!"

"Help," the witch laughs, low and bitterly, "You help me, and I help you. Then we go our separate ways and return to our eternal war."

Now it is Nine's turn to laugh, "Why in the hell would I help you?"

The witch grins, "Do you want your name back? Your memories?"

Nine's eyes burn with her desire for knowledge, "Yes!"

"Then you will help," the witch grins wider, "I can even remove that ward on your forehead. But first I need my body back. I need to know the spells you use to maintain your youth, I need them now!" the witch's nose starts to bleed. Seems her master does not have a very delicate touch.

For a moment Nine is incredibly excited, then she begins to weep, "I... I don't remember those spells exactly. I think I once knew them... and I remember parts of the simpler ones but... but there are so many and they are so complex and it was such a long time ago... I... I can not help you."

The witch is bleeding from her ears now as well, "You can my dear. The knowledge is still in that beautiful head of yours, we just have to send someone in and extract it. And... since we will be in there anyway..."

"You can recover my memories?" Nine is as excited as you have ever seen her.

"Exactly," the witch nods as blood slowly drips from her head onto the straw underneath her, "My 'apprentice' can describe in detail what will be required for her to make the trip but I must rest now. Maintaining this link is incredibly tiring and her mind suffers a little from the strain."

You take the opportunity to get in a few questions, "Wait! Please, what is your name? What is the significance of the eagles and the crows?"

The witch stares at you as tears of blood begin to seep from her eyes, "Very well, as a favour to a potential ally, or perhaps simply an enemy of my enemies I will answer. You know that the Watcher seeks a way back into the world. There are those who would help him and those who would hinder him. The crows serve his ally, the eagles serve me as I am sure you have already guessed. As for who I am... I am an old enemy of the Watcher's."

Thaïs hazards a guess, "Are you Myrdred? Are you the Deceiver?"

"Close girl, though I suppose you could say that I am a deceiver. He and I have many things in common. We even belonged to the same organization though I should think I can yet claim seniority over him," the witch stretches out every syllable, the archmage riding her mind enjoying the build-up to his great reveal.

His next words carry with them the weight of his conviction, they march forth as unassailable truth and strike with the force of a bolt from the heavens, "My name is Mazzarin and by the fruit of my labours was the Dark laid low."

----------------------------------------------------

The witch, who introduces herself as Lyssa, sits with the five of you back in her cottage. She has spent most of the night describing the nature of the rituals required to enter Nine's mind. This will require a great deal of planning and power but they seem well prepared.

"So if you will allow us, Mistress Nine, I will enter your mind with my master and retrieve the information he seeks. While there we shall also endeavour to undo the blocks upon your memories and return to you your identity," Lyssa stares at her stew, unwilling to make eye contact with any of your group.

"Hmm, it is an interesting idea utilizing a number of unorthodox techniques, But how do you know it will even work? I would not want to waste my time on such foolishness on most occasions..." you have known Nine long enough to sense her uncertainty. She does not want to trust Lyssa and this creature that claims to be Mazzarin but she desperately wants her memories back.

An idea occurs to you though you are not sure it is a good one, "Well, Thaïs and I are mages as well. Could we not enter Nine's mind in your place?"

Nine smiles at you, "Oh dear, it is sweet of you to offer but this would be very dangerous."

Thaïs offers up a suggestion, "Well perhaps we could all go then?"

Lyssa frowns, "Five minds in a single head? Two of them archmages... it could get awfully crowded... things could get... mixed... blended... that might be quite horrible... or it might work... not quite sure..."

Well this is a definite opportunity but an opportunity for what?

To make a power ally?

To help out a friend?

To unleash an enemy?

Or enemies?

Maybe it is simply a brilliant way to get yourself killed or your mind so horribly fried and entangled that you will simply be unable to function anymore.

You think you could talk Nine out of this if you wanted to. There have to be better ways to do this... ones that don't risk so much... the rewards may just be worth it though.


The question is, is it worth it?

A) No - This is insane. You try to convince Nine not to go through with this.

B) Yes - This could be helpful. You try to convince Nine to go through with it. Lyssa and Mazzarin will enter Nine's mind and you will wait on the outcome.

C) Yes - This could be helpful. You try to convince Nine to go through with it. Only you and Thaïs will enter her mind instead. You do not trust these mages and perhaps you do not trust Nine either. You will try to locate all the relevant information yourself.

D) Yes - This could be helpful. You try to convince Nine to go through with it. All four of you will enter Nine's mind. This will give you the best chance of finding everything and will let you keep an eye on things but Lyssa has expressed concerns. You do not like the sound of your mind 'blending' or 'mixing'.

E) Yes - You will enter her mind with Mazzarin and Thaïs. This will give you only one potential 'traitor' to worry about (albeit a very powerful one) and will make things slightly less crowded though many of the risks present in all four of you going will remain.

F) Yes - Only Derryth will enter Nine's mind using Thais as an anchor while the Black Arrows will keep an eye on your new allies.

G) freeform
 

Chapter 14: The Mad, Mad Mind I

I reorganized the character sheet a little as well. The lists were getting a bit long so skills and spells are now organized by their fields/schools. Let me know it that improved things at all.

Chapter 14: The Mad, Mad Mind I

"No, no, no! You are doing it wrong!" Lyssa, or rather Mazzarin, shouts from the great slab. The girl is bleeding again, from the eyes and nose, part of you feels responsible. It seems Mazzarin, while definitely a genius, is not a terribly good teacher. He will calmly explain a spell once. Often in archaic terms. If you fail to grasp it the first time he gets progressively angrier. The angrier he gets, the rougher he gets with Lyssa. You doubt he is doing it on purpose though. He does not seem to want to hurt the witch, he just does not much seem to care if he does.

"Who taught you to craft an assault spell? You can't just jump from Malairt's third principle of mental construction straight to Braman's Gambit like that. Any Mentalist worth his salt will pick your spells apart!" you are fairly certain he is over-exaggerating and that your spells would hold up well against most opponents but he has been helpful. He has found twenty two minor flaws in the way you construct you assault and control spells that would allow a superior talent to fight back. Nothing obvious of course, nothing that your average mage could use against you but still it makes you wonder what exactly Nine was planning.

Mazzarin asks just that, with a level of condescension only attainable by an archmage, "Are you trying to undermine your pupils or are you simply stupid 'Nine'?"

Nine, incapable of rising above such slights immediately responds, "Am I what? Why you useless, wretched corpse! You- you relic! I was testing them, nothing more! And you ruined it!"

"'Testing them?' Really Nine, I am not a fool! You were purposely undermining your own students!" brutally, Lyssa's head snaps back to you and Thaïs, "Now! Do it again! Exactly as I instruct you!"

Nine begins to grin as Mazzarin walks you through mental spells of increasing potency and complexity.

After an hour of instruction she can hold back no longer, "Hypocrite! Liar! You are as bad as I am! No you are worse! You lie about it!" she sticks her tongue out at the archmage and rolls her gaze over to the two of you, "Do you know what he has been doing dears? For every little hole he patches up in your spells he has been opening two more! He thinks he is so very clever! Thinks I won't notice what he is doing to my dear girls! But I am on to him."

Calmly she has you begin again and she guides you through your new spells, sealing off the flaws in each as you go.

You spend the entire day like this. A pawn is the petty arguments of two, arguably insane, archmages. They bicker, hurl insults and attempt to discredit each other in your eyes. The entire experience is a little absurd and more than once you are tempted to break into fits of laughter.

By the time it is over you are exhausted but your spells have been greatly improved and you have even managed to pick up a few new ones though you will need more actual practice with most of them to master them.

The experience itself has also been very enlightening. You have never been so acutely aware of just how petty, how small, even the greatest minds can be. It is not an encouraging thought and part of you worries that even should you succeed in your quest for power you will one day end up like those two.

------------------------------------------------

You and Thaïs sit across from one another. Nine rests between you on the soft grass of the meadow. Biliku and Uttu stand guard nearby with a couple Arrows. The rest of the mercenaries are off guarding Lyssa and Mazzarin in their cell. You did not think it wise to conduct the ritual in front of the archmage, you do not really trust him after all.

"Alright dears, I am ready," the two of you have spent the better part of the evening preparing yourselves for the most dangerous spell either of you have tried to cast to date.

You look to Thaïs, your friend gives you the slightest of nods.

You close your eyes and begin.

"Alright Derryth, repeat my three rules of dungeon delving," you sit in a run down little tavern in the south of the Province, Henry is across from you and like usual is testing you.

Mazzarin had told you that you would begin somewhere familiar.

But this time it is important, tomorrow you will accompany him on your very first expedition.

In many ways it is fitting that your mind brought you here.

You take a deep breath and begin, "One: always know your exits, if you get lost you are as good as dead. Two: always go prepared, an empty canteen or bad equipment will kill you just as surely as the undead or the traps."

This will be your first time 'running' the mind of another person.

"Good... good, and the last," nothing pleases the old man more than knowing that you are paying attention, if you get this last one right he will probably pay for your drinks too.

Sure the two of you managed to practice on one another a couple times but this, this will be a whole new level of danger.

You hesitate for a moment and then continue, "Umm... Three: never get greedy, you can always try again and there are plenty of relics out there but you only have the one life." Henry positively beams at you, "Good job kid I may just make you into a professional after all!"

You smile at Henry as he walks to the bar to get you both another round. This memory is so perfect, so relaxing, part of you wants to just stay here and enjoy it a bit longer... but you can not. You think of the task ahead of you, of Thaïs, of Nine, no point living in the past.

Hmm... that is strange, Henry is coming back empty handed. That is not how this memory is supposed to play out. The barman must have turned him away.

Your mentor sits down across from you, "She says I am cut off kid. Says you need to get up and ask for your own ale."

She? This bar has never had a female bartender. Strange... you stand and head to the bar. If this bartender wants to talk to you, you will oblige her though you have a fairly good idea who it will be already.

Sure enough, Nine stands behind the bar, in one of the more revealing little dresses you have ever seen. She waves to you. Then she waves again and jumps up and down a little, "Oh dear! Is this not simply magnificent! I have arms!" she strikes a pose, "And legs!" she does a high kick over the bar, someone whistles, "Oh thank you dear!" she winks at the patron before turning her attention back to you, "And this is such a lovely little tavern you have here. So that is Henry?" she winks at your mentor, "Cute, in a rugged 'older man' sort of way."

She hops up on the bar and swings her legs over in a single fluid motion. Poised on the edge of the bar she leans forward, elbows on her knees, and hands under her chin, "So dear, gossip with me a little. You and him, did you ever... you know?" she raises her eyebrows and grins.

It takes you a second longer than it should to figure out her meaning, you sputter, "No! Never, Nine! Henry was like a father to me, I would not even-"

She hops down, "Good, then you will not mind if I go and talk to him," she moves to pass you and you grab her arm, "Nine, really?" you whisper to her, "He is not real Nine. He is just an idea, a memory."

She giggles and makes eyes at Henry, "Dear, I have been a severed head for what, a century give or take? All I have got are ideas and memories, now let me have a little fun please."

You refuse to release her arm so she pouts a little, "Oh fine!" we stares at him intently.

"Nine what are you doing?" you feel compelled to ask.

"Committing every detail to memory... there we go," she winks one last time at Henry, "See you later gorgeous."

"Come on, we are going to find Thaïs ," you drag the archmage out the front door as the entire bar voices their displeasure at you. Nine blows kisses to them as the two of you stumble out into the street... but not the street of the little town you were expecting.

White stone walls with red tile roofs greet you. You are still somewhere in the south of the Province but now you are in a city. There is only one city this could be, you are in Scales, the city of wine, the city of music, poetry, love, some say the city of whores...

It is a cool, autumn night. People race through the streets around you, arms full of possessions. You sidestep the odd fight and in the distance you can hear screams... smell smoke... You stop Nine while you gather your thoughts, the old bell tower chimes out midnight. Now you know not just where you are but when.

That bell tower was destroyed the second time the Fallen sacked the city. You are in Scales before it fell, probably in the autumn of 2540 A.E., right before the city fell to Shiver. The screams you can hear, the smoke you can smell, you are almost certain that if you followed them back to their source you would find the Mother of Plagues herself.

Somewhere out there in the darkness is Shiver... or at least something patterned on Shiver. You where not in the city when it fell. Henry had the sense to flee from the south when the first rumours of Soulblighter's return began to spread. These are not your memories and they are obviously not Nine's. Thaïs must have been here, seen the city fall. You are certain now that you are in her mind. When you thought of her you must have jumped over to her mind. Thankfully that means you will not have to worry about the real Shiver, of course Thaïs' idea of Shiver can be just as dangerous to you...

You catch Nine's attention, "We need to find Thaïs," unfortunately this is not your mind, you can not simply bring Thaïs to you. You will have to find her. You rack your mind, trying to remember Thaïs' address, where she would be. She once mentioned that she lived on the north side of the city. With nothing else to go on, that is the direction you take.

The two of you race through the night away from the screams and sounds of battle at the east gate. As you run you interrogate Nine, "Nine, how did you find me in my mind? That might give us a clue on how to find Thaïs."

Nine sidesteps an elderly couple dragging a large chest, "Well dear, I did not find you. You found me. I went looking for you in that fort of yours but there were so many doors and each led out into memories, experiences, fantasies, little worlds of their own. One minute I was walking down a hallway and the next I was behind the bar in this lovely little dress. Speaking of which it is a bit chilly tonight," she snaps her fingers and her barmaid outfit is replaced by a fur coat, velvet tunic and trousers, "So you see dear, I did not really do anything. It was your mind, you had the power. This is your little friend's mind, here she has the power. If she wants-"

The two of you stop short, four blocks ahead a figure floats down the street surrounded by thirty Stygian Knights. She is a nightmare given flesh, the air around her crackles with magical energy and instinctively you know that this is Shiver. She is not looking at you though, she is looking at a crowd of people fleeing in the opposite direction. She casually launches screaming bolts of violet energy into the crowd. Every target she hits falls, gasping, gurgling, their flesh boiling away as they evaporate leaving not a trace.

She is toying with the crowd. Without warning she turns, she sees the two of you. Nine catches a glimpse of her face and freezes, "Dear, I... I know her... I do not know how or from where but... I know her."

Shiver laughing manically pitches a bolt of azure energy towards you. It plummets towards you, accelerating as it goes. You attempt to defend yourself but it proves unnecessary. Well before the spell connects the two of you disappear.

You reappear in a small apartment overlooking the street. Thaïs is there pacing. When she notices the two of you she throws herself at you, "Oh thank Wyrd Derryth! I saw you in the street from the window. I was not sure if it would work! I mean, I thought it would but I just was not sure!" she takes a breath, calms herself, "Sorry, sorry. I caught a glimpse of you out there but I did not want to risk drawing her attention Derryth. So I tried willing you over, thankfully it worked."

"Dear, why did you not simply remove Shiver?" your mentor asks, "This is your mind after all."

Thaïs frowns, "I have tried that before... she... she is just too much for me. I can't beat her, not yet... the memory... it is too much."

You place a reassuring hand on her shoulder, "Do you want help with her?"

She smiles but shakes her head, "No. No, I am fine. It is just something I will have to work through on my own... someday... but let's do what we came to do," She walks over to the door of the apartment, opens it and ushers you through.

You come out in what could only be Nine's mind.

You stand in front of a city of shifting, writhing, emerald glass bound together by golden threads. It is an impressive sight but as you get closer you realize that the city is crawling along. Almost every millimetre of this 'city' is covered in tiny creatures working to maintain their network of webs. They work, they wander, they battle, they devour, they breed. With large, round, hooked jaws they burrow into one another. A symphony of inhuman screams fills the air.

"Wow, Nine... just wow," the three of you stand, well you and Thaïs stand while Nine dances, before the main gate, "So, um, how are we going to do this."

"Well dear, we will go through the front gates and see if we can not find a guide to give us directions," she hums merrily and spins on her heels still quite taken with once more possessing a body.

"So you do not know where we have to go?" Thaïs asks in disbelief.

The archmage pulls a pirouette, "Well dear, when you have been around as long as I have you forget a few things... or a lot of things..." she giggles and flips into a cartwheel.

You shrug and approach the main gate, Thaïs one step behind you.

You knock.

You receive no answer.

You give the door a shove.

It opens a crack, "Are you coming Nine?"

"Yes dears," she races over, running on her hands.

Shaking your head you lead the way into the city.

--------------------------------------

The translucent glass lets in little light.

Each hallway is, as the one before it, empty. The only movement comes from the miniature monstrosities weaving their webs on the outside of the glass. They create beautiful, intricate patterns that gnaw at the edges of your mind when you stare at them for more than a moment.

No sound penetrates through from the exterior. As a result you are mercifully spared you from having to endure the constant wailing of the beasts.

Interspersed along the length of the hallway are oval doorways, each a gaping maw rimmed with short, narrow spikes. Around each door frame a stylized reproduction of the beasts that maintain the place is etched into the thick glass. Some of the openings lead to new hallways, some lead to small rooms, all are dim and empty.

You wander for hours without encountering a soul. Then the hallway shudders and you receive a vision of Thaïs falling into the darkness. The image that hits you is similar to those projected by the bracelets only here in the realm of pure thought you have no choice but to immediately comply, you are compelled to do everything in your power to help her. You instinctively reach for one another as the hallway begins to tip. You grab a hold of the frame of a nearby doorway, narrowly missing one of the spikes as the hall pitches upward and twists.

Nine, too far from the two of you for you to help, plummets into the darkness. Giggling she calls to you as she falls, "Take care dears! I will find you when I can! If I can!"

The two of you hang there in the dim light for what seems like an eternity. Finally the hallway shudders again and tips over onto its 'back' throwing you both down to what was the ceiling.

Aside from a few bruises you are fine, immediately you turn to Thaïs, "Are you alright?"

She seems unsure but nods, "Yes, I think so. Are you fine?"

"Yes," you answer as the two of you get to your feet, you call out, "Nine! Can you hear me!"

Nothing.

Thaïs brushes herself off, "I think we are on our own for the moment. I-"

You hear a scream, a high pitched voice calls out, "Kill, murder, eat!"

The two of you duck low, "That does not sound good," Thaïs shivers.

"Yes but it is also the first sign of life we have encountered since we arrived. Maybe we are finally coming to a portion of the city that is inhabited," you gesture for her to follow you as you creep through a doorway towards the source of the noise.

The room you enter is unlike any you have seen so far.

The room you enter has two floors to it, the upper catwalk you are crouched on and a lower floor on which a brutal battle is being waged. The two are connected by a narrow flight of stairs on the far side.

A dozen, crooked, sickly figures are locked in a fight to the death. From your vantage point you have a good view of the skirmish.

The combatants seem to belong to two different factions. Each side is armed with crude weapons, small spears, axes, bows and arrows made from bone and tendon.

The bigger group of seven creatures are led by a rather large being carrying a small emerald sphere, each one bears a glowing green scar somewhere on its upper body.

The smaller group of creatures are armed and armoured the same as the first but lack the green scars on their bodies.

It is clear that the 'marked' creatures will win this battle so long as the balance of power remains as it is.

One of the unmarked creatures is flung across the room and collapses in a pile along the far wall crying.

You could probably interfere but these things may very well be hostile to you as well.

Still this is the first solid lead you have encountered so far, it might be worth pursuing.

Alternatively you could slip away and try and find Nine. You would feel much safer with her around.


A) Attack the larger group - You are fairly certain that the larger group are the aggressors. The unmarked creatures might just be able to help you if you save their 'lives'. (All A votes will be counted together given how similar they are in intent, the most popular option will then be chosen.)

i. Control: You will try out your new Control spell on the lead creature. If you can get it to attack its followers that should give the unmarked creatures a fighting chance. You will work with Thaïs on this as neither of you have mastered the spell yet.

ii. Assault: You will use your assault spells to incapacitate as many of the creatures as you can. This should allow the unmarked creatures to fight back.

iii. Fear: You will test your new Fear spells to break the marked creature will. Once they begin routing the unmarked should be able to run them down.

iv. Fire: These creatures live in near darkness. You have seen no hints that they are even aware of what fire is. You will hit the lead creature with firebolt, then work your way down the chain of command. They should route rather quickly after that. If this works it would also make for a rather impressive sight and might overawe the locals.

v. Retrieve Item + Control: You will steal the lead creature's orb first then proceed as in Ai

B) Diplomacy - you will wait until the battle ends then attempt to negotiate with the marked creatures and their sphere carrying leader.

C) Spy - You will let the battle play out then attempt to follow the marked creatures back to their lair. You do not think this war party would be open to negotiation but they may have a leader that is more reasonable.

D) Capture - You will slip around to the stairs and grab the incapacitated creature leaning on the far wall. If you are quick you hope you can pull it off without anyone spotting you. Once you have the creature you can properly interrogate it.

E) Leave - These creatures do not really strike you as reasonable. You leave them to their war and go backward looking for Nine.

F) freeform
 

Chapter 15: The Mad, Mad Mind II

Chapter 15: The Mad, Mad Mind II

Dim light filters into the room from above. Outside the miniature nightmares fight and die as they swarm across the glass. An uncaring sun beats down upon their broken forms, they scream in fear, in pain, in triumph.

While you are spared these sounds the scene unfolding before you is little better.

The light catches the creatures as they fight and die. They cast long shadows against the walls which make these hunched beasts appear to be giants.

The large creature raises its sphere and repeats its mantra, "Kill, murder, eaaat!" it stretches that last word out into a screech that pummels your ears. Two of the unmarked creatures drop their weapons and claw at their deformed ears.

The marked creatures press their advantage. Tooth, nail, and bone tearing into the flesh of the unmarked. They are dragged down and torn open by the marked who cast aside their weapons in favour of their bare hands.

Three of the creatures and their leader continue their assault upon the remaining unmarked. The remaining two creatures fight on in silence; a certain grim determination writ upon their faces.

A large part of you wishes to flee from this scene, to abandon this nightmare city and return to some place less broken, less twisted. The animal in you seeks escape but you choke it down. This is your first real lead since you arrived in Nine's mind. For better or worse you will pursue it.

"Thaïs, I have a plan," you tear your eyes from the horror in front of you and back to your friend, "I think if we work together we can weave a Control spell on the leader of those beasts. If we can break him the rest should follow."

Thaïs hesitates, "Are you sure that is a good idea Derryth? We have known the spell for what, a day at most? We do not know how Nine's mind will react to our casting and on top of it all if the spell goes wrong with our minds so close... we could lose a lot."

She raises good points but now that the idea has entered your mind you can not get rid of it. Part of you wants to see what will happen and curiosity has always been a weakness of yours. You smirk, "Well I mean if you think you can't keep up..."

Thaïs raises an eyebrow, "Oh, I can keep up. I am just a little worried that you will not be able to handle the extra energy here. I would not want you to hurt yourself..."

You beam at her, "Great let's get started then. I will attach the hooks into his mind while you construct the harness we are going to put on him. Once I am ready you can pass your half of the spell over to me. We will only be in contact for a second and then I will have him."

You focus on the creature. Its 'mind' for lack of a better word is far different than anything you have ever encountered. The entirety of it is comprised of only a handful of ideas, memories, ambitions and all of them are bloody. It comes on as a series of still images, your mind only able to grasp it in each individual second, not as a whole.

It is disorienting but you adapt. You sink your hooks into the most basic instincts of the creature. The constants of its broken mental landscape. Hatred, rage, and... fear. It is afraid of something.

There is something else within it. Something deeper.

Before you can explore this deeper presence you sense Thaïs reaching out to your mind. She has the harness ready but is being cautious. You will have to manage the handoff just so or you risk getting a bit too close within the mind of this thing. If you do this right your minds will only be in contact for a second...

A second is all it takes.

That deeper presence is cunning, it has grasped what you are trying to do and instead of immediately attacking it waits until you are unbalanced. Until the exact moment your mind and Thaïs' are in contact.

Then with all of its power it pushes you towards her. It giggles with glee, a deranged laugh that sounds for all the world like Nine, "Dears, it is already so very crowded in here. How about we condense things a little?"

You collapse into Thaïs' mind. At first it resists trying to push your mind back out but as you tumble further your minds begin to twist around one another. If you can not think of a way out of this you will lose yourself within minutes.

Most people would panic.

But you have never really been that type.

You calm yourself. You do not fight the pull which would only draw you in quicker. Instead you direct yourself, nudging yourself further out into an orbit around Thaïs' mind, you think on your past, what makes you, you. It works, your minds slow on their collision course. It will take more than a little shove to finish you off, you think.

You can not help but smile when you notice her doing the same thing. Good girl you think, if she had panicked you would both have been doomed. Slowly your minds will collapse into one another but your collective actions have bought you both a few seconds.

You only have moments though... and yet moments within the mind can last an eternity.

Calmly you run through the possibilities.

Can you get help from Thaïs?

No.

If you even think about her too hard your minds will snap back together and that will be the end of you. Whatever comes after that it won't matter for you.

Do you have a spell that could help?

Maybe?

You could in theory attack her. Hit her hard enough with an assault spell and you could probably wipe out her personality. You would 'live', you speculate, you would know all she knows, have lived all she has lived but you would remain yourself... she would die though, here and out there.

You shake your 'head'.

As interesting as this train of though is on an academic level you know, no knew even before you thought it, that you could never do it. You simply do not have it in you to 'murder' your best friend.

You feel happiness at that.

You are not sure if it is your own contentment or Thaïs' bleeding over as you move closer. You push those thoughts from your mind and conjure up another batch of memories, pushing the two of you apart again.

Right, no help, no spells... what does that leave you?

Nothing?

Accept your fate and work with Thaïs to integrate your personalities into as stable a new 'person' as possible?

It might work. You know and trust one another enough that you could probably do it with minimal damage... though there would certainly be damage... would it be that bad?

Your minds begin to speed up again at the thought.

You catch yourself, a bit angry at the idea that you would ever surrender even for a moment.

You will not do that.

You will not do that to Thaïs.

You will not do that to Henry.

You will not do that to the girls, or Madb, or all the others depending on you.

You conjure up every reason you can think of to resist. To remain Derryth. Again you slow, this time almost to a crawl.

You are about to turn back to the task at hand when a peculiar idea hits you.

Where did that last idea, to surrender, come from?

Why would you even do that?

Why would you even think that?

Would you really give in like that?

No.

If nothing else you have always known yourself.

You would not think that.

And you are certain Thaïs would not either. In all the time you have known her she has never been one to give up.

Where did the idea come from?

Persistent aren't you?

An amused voice pushes into your mind, masculine, tired, but a little curious in spite of itself.

You toss a few more memories out from your rapidly depleting stock, anything to buy you enough time to escape, you call out to the voice, "Who is there?"

The voice's tone takes on a sarcastic note.

Why your very own guardian angel...

You have little patience for it, "Great another asshole..."

The voice chuckles.

I like you Derryth. Of all the fools and mages I have been stuck with I think I like you best. It will be a shame when you are gone.

It almost sounds sad at the prospect of you ceasing to be.

You hazard a guess, "You, you are our bracelets? Or in our bracelets..."

You really are a smart kid Derryth.

You shrug off its praise, you do not want a pat on the back. You want answers, "So why were you helping us and why did you plant the idea in my mind to give up just now? Those actions seem to be at odds with one another."

Well giving up would be the best way to ensure your body survives. You would both live on... after a fashion. You are going to have to be pragmatic here Derryth.

"So you are only interested in our continued physical existence. Our minds are of no consequence to you?" you press it further.

Well, I would not say of no consequence. You are both quite entertaining but yes if you strip everything away you could say I am only interested in your bodies.

It chuckles slightly and continues.

Frankly it would save me a lot of trouble if you were both less... strong willed. You are a smart woman Derryth but for such a smart person you do an awful lot of stupid things. Do you have any idea how difficult it was keeping you both alive during that battle with the Necromancers?

You are not sure what to say, "Um, sorry?"

Oh, and not just the Necromancers! What about the mercenaries! And now this... Well your luck has finally run out. I won't save you this time. Maybe whatever new personality comes to inhabit your body will be a bit wiser.

You 'frown' at the thought, "You mean easier to control don't you?"

Six of one, half a dozen of the other, Derryth. It is all the same to me. I need you both alive, I-

You begin casting.

What are you doing?

You begin casting a maximized firebolt spell.

Girl, what are you doing!

You begin casting a maximized firebolt spell, at yourself.

If your disembodied mind could grin it would, "Don't understand? Well then let me explain. You 'need us both alive' as you yourself said. You also said that you 'won't' save me this time, not that you 'can't'-"

It takes on a soothing tone.

Now Derryth, I know facing your end is quite trying but it was going to happen anyway... someday. Don't do anything stupid, I-

You have made up your mind, "You will save us! You will save us or I will obliterate myself. I will die in here and my body will die with me. Then where will you be?"

Clearly annoyed the voice stands its ground.

You are not going to do it. Even if you do your mind will simply collapse and be absorbed by this place. Your body will live, I will live. You do not have the strength to will yourself away!

"Can you read my thoughts?" you calmly ask.

In here? Yes. It replies.

You keep your tone flat, inscrutable, "Then read them. And ask yourself if you really are certain that I can't."

It hesitates, then it looks.

It sees you growing up abandoned in the Province.

It sees you clawing your way from Henry's Tomb.

It sees you below Muirthemne fighting an army and their dark Goddess.

It sees you here and it sees you snuff out your own life.

It sees and understands. You will do this if you have to. You are moments from doing it in fact.

Quietly it answers.

Alright, I will do this for you. I will help you but you will owe me for this. Do you understand? You will owe me big for this.

It seems like such a large decision but it isn't. You will not sacrifice a friend, you refuse to surrender yourself, and oblivion is not a tempting solution. There is only one choice you can make.

You accept the voice's deal, "Alright, a favour for a favour."

The voice chuckles.

Well maybe this was not a complete waste of time after all. Follow my instructions exactly. I have only done this once before and it did not quite work... but this time will be different I can feel it.

You stop him for a moment, "Who are you if you don't mind me asking?"

Me? Derryth I am no one... and everyone... call me the Faceless Man, it is as accurate as anything else.

You are out of memories. Nothing more can keep you apart.

Your mind crashes into Thaïs' but the voice coaches you both. You move as fast as thought, conditioned to instinctively follow instructions from the bracelets. You shift the memory of your first kiss moments before it collides with a childhood nightmare of Thaïs'. She pivots her hopes for the future around your fears of the past. You twist a midsummer night's tryst and slip it past the approving gaze of her father. Henry's death darts past Shiver's sacking of Scales. The two of you continue in this intricate and exhausting dance for what seems like thousands of years.

It is just possible to achieve.

The guidance of this Faceless Man, the complete trust you have in one another, your familiarity with each other's minds, and your absolute determination to succeed together produce a small miracle.

Your minds pass through one another, they unwind from each other and pass safely back into your projected bodies. You have survived, but you feel different. There are memories, emotions, in your mind that you are almost certain are not your own. You don't think you lost anything but you have definitely picked up a little extra. Not full memories really more like... impressions... you doubt you stole anything from your friend but the pull of her thoughts remains.

Still this is definitely a 'win' as Gareth would say. You have survived and perhaps that is enough.

You still exist, Thaïs still exists, and to your amusement the control spell is still in place. Trapped within that deeper level of your minds mere seconds have past within Nine's mind. Quick to capitalize on the situation you reach out with your mind and grab hold of the Control spell, furious over what this thing almost did to you and your friend.

The secondary presence within the creature's mind attempts to resist you but after what you have been through you refuse to let it have its way. It is only one small part of Nine's mind and it is ultimately powerless before your cold fury.

You hit it. Throwing it from the creature's mind back into its little green orb.

With the creature now under your complete command you turn it upon its companions. You are not quick about it, you are not kind about it, you order it to kill, to murder, to eat. It rips, it tears, it breaks them with club and fist and when they all lay dead it wraps its great hands around its head and it snaps its own neck.

As it dies you are thrown back into your own projection.

You go a bit pale as you stand and survey the carnage you have wrought. In your anger you held nothing back. The two remaining unmarked creatures cower in a corner covered in the blood of their enemies. Viscera are strewn about the lower floor. The room is spattered with the blood of the creatures and the corpse of the largest beast rests in the center of it in a wide puddle of blood its head wrenched out at an odd angle.

"Hell Derryth..." Thaïs stands next to you, "I mean, I know they are not real but..."

You rub your temples, "I... I just lost control for a moment... won't happen again..."

"Was... was that Nine that did that to us?" Thaïs asks, leaning on the rail of the catwalk.

"Part of her but you know how she is. The part that attacked us might not be the Nine we know," you shrug and lean forward beside her.

The two creatures notice your presence. One of them notches a bone arrow. You casually set its bowstring on fire with a flick of your wrist. They drop to their knees and begin praying. Mentally drained you ignore them for the moment and continue your conversation, "So did you hear the voice as well? The Faceless Man?"

She nods, "Yes he was not too happy with you, though I think he likes you in spite of himself. He kept muttering..." she grins and mimics his voice, "'That Derryth has one giant pair! A Wyrd damned pain in the ass!'" she lets out a slight laugh, the beauty of it incongruous with your terrifying surroundings, "Looks like he kept his word. I wonder how he knew how to do that?"

You frown, "He told me he had done it once before. That it did not work but that he was sure it would this time..."

She rests a hand on your shoulder, "Well no sense worrying about it at the moment. We will just have to deal with him when the time comes."

You push off from the rail, "Right, let's go see what those creatures can tell us."

-------------------------------------------

It takes the better part of ten minutes to coax the three creatures to their feet and get them communicating.

"We want to get to the center of the city. How do we do that?" you gesture as you speak, they do not seem to have a great understanding of Bruig.

The creatures chatter amongst themselves in a tongue you can not quite place. Their 'leader', or at least the bravest of them, finally speaks up in broken Bruig. He often repeats himself and jumps to his strange tongue every now and again. He is trying to help, but is uncertain of how to express his ideas, "Ah... center... is dangerous, it is very dangerous. More... Fallen... ah... more marked ones. Need... need... help... allies?"

You sigh, "Yes, probably."

The creature gives you a grin, you think it is meant to reassure you but it also reveals his fangs. Those fangs remind you that these creatures might not be terribly friendly if they were not convinced of your powers, "We... we could bring you to the Mistress... she seeks m... mighty allies... drive off the Fallen. Return to the center... to.... home!"

The other two creature nod along with it, "Help us... help you!"

"Maybe..." you are not too sure one way or the other. You are fairly certain that the creatures you saved will vouch for you and this Mistress of theirs may have the resources to get to the center of the city.

The creature senses you hesitation, he draws a bone knife and presses it into your hand, "You... hmm... saved my... being?... my life... I will serve... show you... way to center of... of the city... Think... think you should meet Mistress but..." he hesitates and takes a deep breath, "Will take you alone if... if... necessary."

The other two creatures each draw their daggers and present them to you handle first, "Will serve!"

So you do have a few options...

As you consider them the orb catches your eye. It rests on the floor, covered in a thin layer of blood. You wonder if you should do something about it.


1. Strategy:

A) You will follow these creatures back to their Mistress and see what you can learn. If there really are more of these creatures you might need an army.

B) You will continue on to the center of the city with your three 'guides'. You have no desire to visit a settlement of these things. You should be able to handle the three of them and if you move quietly you might be able to slip past any adversaries you encounter.

C)You will get directions from the creatures and carry on by yourselves. You simply do not trust them enough to go with them.

D) You head back in search of Nine.

E) You give up. You will begin unwinding the spells holding you in Nine's mind. This place is not fit for any sane individual.

F) freeform



2. The Orb:

A) You take the orb to study it. It may be useful though it is dangerous.

B) You leave the orb where it rests. You want nothing to do with it.

C) You destroy the orb.
 

Chapter 16: The Mad, Mad Minds

Chapter 16: The Mad, Mad Minds

None of your options are particularly appealing. Well, you could leave, that would be very appealing, but you did promise two archmages that you would succeed here. You are not certain how wise or how safe failing would be.

"Options?" Thaïs asks.

"Flee?" you suggest.

Your friend gives you a weak smile, "I would love to but you know we can not."

You nod a couple times, "Yeah... I know. We could go on alone."

"Would that be wise? I mean... you know," she gestures subtly to the three creatures. They fail to notice.

You are both exhausted from the battle, your spells noticeably weaker, and it is doubtful that you will be able to recover until you have had a chance to properly rest your physical bodies. Drained as you are you do not wish to travel further into the city without help... a lot of help, "I know. Think we should meet this Mistress of theirs?"

She gives a reluctant nod, "We are going to need help so... yes."

"One second," you catch sight of the orb again, "We have to deal with that damn orb first."

You shuffle over to the large creature's corpse and heft its club up in both arms, Thaïs places a hand on her hip, "Derryth, what are you doing with that?"

You give her a mischievous grin, "Dealing with the orb, of course."

You raise the club over your head, wobbling a little from the weight of it. You slam the club down on the orb and it shatters. A scream echoes out throughout the city, it sounds like Nine.

The city begins to tremble.

The glass cracks as the creatures outside increase their activities. You can hear them now, their screams. They sound like screams of triumph.

The city continues to shake and groan. The glass begins to hum and a sharp, stabbing pain shoots out from behind your eyes.

For a few minutes you are certain you are going to die.

Then the screams of the creatures and the humming of the glass diminish as the pain recedes.

The city steadies itself though the cracks in the glass remain.

You take a deep breath and exhale.

You are not certain if what you did was right or even helpful but you are still alive so you might as well push on.

"Alright then," you turn to the lead creature, "We will go to meet your Mistress, ah- What should we call you? What is your name?"

The creature tilts its head, twisting it at an odd angle as it thinks, "Do not have... name?"

You doubt that, "Well then how do you communicate? How do you know who is being addressed? How do you differentiate between one another?"

His answer is as short as it is unhelpful, "We know."

A bit annoyed at the creature you press on, "Well, we need something to call you."

The creature shrugs and gives you a wolfish grin. He is attempting to be friendly but everything about him bothers you. He is just wrong, and the more you think about it the more wrong he seems.

You point at him, "You are Goon," you turn to his two associates, "And you two are Geek and Freak, got it?"

The three creatures nod enthusiastically. Either they don't know what those words mean or they don't care as they take to them quickly enough. They even go so far as to cut their 'names' into their on flesh. Geek gets his right, Freak's new nametag though comes out wrong. He carves FREEK across his chest and looks up to you proudly.

You choke down your feeling of revulsion as you gesture to Goon, "Let's get this over with."

-------------------------------------------

You walk for what seems like days. Each dim, unlit corridor looks much the same as the last. Part of you thinks that Goon and his men are leading you in circles, waiting for you to sleep so that they may more easily murder you both. You dismiss the thought, not because you trust these creatures, since you don't, but because here no one seems to sleep. You do not feel any more tired than you did following the battle, of course you also don't feel any better...

As you travel deeper into the city the architecture begins to change. You descend below the earth into the depths of Nines's mind. The twisting glass hallways give way to leathery, pulsing tubes hung loosely on a framework of bleached bone. Here and there spines of glowing, green metal attempt to push through into the interior of the tunnels. They let out a high pitched hum that you would find nearly unbearable were it not muffled by the wet walls of the tunnels.

This city beneath a city seems to run on forever into darkness. The air is hot and wet in sharp contrast to the cold, dry air of the hallways above. The two of you are careful to remain within the loose triangle formed by your guide and protectors. They hop and skitter along, moving down these tunnels at a speed that is difficult to match.

In the distance you can hear screaming.

It gets louder.

You realize that the creatures are taking you towards the source of these screams.

You want to sneak away, or attack them and flee but you suppress that desire.

You are well aware of how damaged Nine is, how twisted her mind can be. This place may be monstrous but you reason that it is no more so than the rest of Nine's mind.

You press on.

Eventually the tunnel you are following opens out into a impressively large cavern. A single, large, glowing, tumour hangs from the roof of the cavern in mockery of a sun you are afraid you will never see again.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of the creatures swarm throughout the cavern. They dance, they sing, they play, and they eat... several large tables dominate the cavern. Strapped to them are the bent and twisted forms of the Marked. Their screams are what you heard in the tunnels above.

You look to one another, seconds from cutting down your guides and fleeing back into the tunnels and the city above.

Goon seems to sense your unease, "Do not worry... only captives... enemies!... are devoured... not you!... not friends!"

You take a deep breath, you remind yourself that you need the aid of these things, still you can not help but ask, "Why? Why eat them Goon?"

Goon sighs, "Have you seen... have you seen any... food?... in the city above?... in the city below?... We eat for... life!... We eat them... they eat us... big circle..." he shrugs as Geek and Freek nod along.

Thaïs exhales, she asks the question you are both thinking, "So then your weapons?"

Goon nods, "Made from enemies," he drops his gaze, "Made from friends... we... we do what we must?"

He gives the two of you a moment to let that sink in. This madness that has taken Nine is far, far worse than anything you have ever been forced to witness and not for the first time do you desperately wish to flee to some kinder plane, some safer harbour. It is a testament to your will, or your foolishness, that you press on.

Your three protectors lead you down into the crowd. The creatures part to let you through and immediately close ranks behind you. They follow you, running along the ground, climbing along the walls, vaulting over one another to get as close to you as they can.

One of them reaches for you and Goon is on him. He punches him, kicks him and drives him back into the crowd. He shouts at the other creatures and waves his blade. The assembled creatures hop backward a couple steps. They give you a wider berth but you can still feel their eyes upon you, you can feel their curiosity, their hunger... thousands of eyes stare on as you make your way to the very center of the chamber.

Goon leads you to the only structure that appears man made within the caverns, a truly massive tent made from the worn hides of some beast. If you had to guess you would say that it, like everything else, is fashioned from the flesh and bones of these creatures.

He leads you right to the front of the tent. There are no guards, perhaps none are needed.

"In there," he gives you a slight push, "Good luck. We will guard!"

---------------------------------------------------------

You expect a dark interior. Smoke, body parts and some dark goddess of murder and hate.

That is not what you find, not quite.

The tent is orderly, clean and... well, beautiful on the inside. The walls of the tent are reinforced with stone paneling, the floor is covered with well preserved hides. A small fountain sits in one corner; clear, clean water pouring forth. A grand table dominates another corner of the tent, maps pinned to its surface. There is no bed as none would be needed, there is however a throne, a truly massive throne, and perched on its edge is Nine.

Or rather someone that closely resembles Nine. For all the similarities, this is not your mentor. She holds herself differently, the spirit that animates her simply feels different and a little terrifying.

This being radiates power.

She is in almost every way an exact replica of Nine. She is dressed in a sleeveless tunic of cerulean blue with gold trim. Plain black trousers and well made leather boots complete her outfit. Resting next to her throne are a pair of well worn axes. As you observe her in silence she opens her eyes.

You are certain now that this is not Nine. Those eyes do not belong to the woman you know.

You know enough about archmages through to know that they all enjoy being flattered.

You give her an incredibly low curtsy and Thaïs follows suit. You wait for her to begin.

Instead of speaking she attacks.

She pushes out with her mind attempting to invade yours.

If she truly were Nine, with full access to the entirety of her power she could crush you in an instant. As it stands you just barely push her back and you think you can feel Thaïs do the same. Your willpower is strong enough to prevent casual invasion but in your weakened state she could break through if she gave it just a little more effort.

She does not.

You speculate that she was testing you. She failed to easily break you and she has no way of knowing just how powerful you are. It seems that she is content to treat with you until she determines whether or not she can beat you.

"What business do you have within my court?" her voice booms out across the tent, all confidence with an undercurrent of malice. She does not sound like Nine, her voice is deeper, more menacing.

You decide not to lie to her, you have no wish to provoke her though you suspect you do not have to tell her the whole truth, "We are simply two travellers seeking the center of this city," you respond.

She lets out a deep and bitter laugh, "Then you had best turn back traveler. The center of the city has fallen to that traitorous bitch and her monsters."

Thaïs steps in, "Which is why we have come to you. We encountered some of your soldiers valiantly fighting the beasts of your adversary. We broke the Marked creatures and slaughtered them all. We even destroyed one of the orbs their captains carry."

The figure on the throne raises her eyebrows at this, "That was you? I thought I felt a shift in the balance of things. You have done me a tremendous service travelers. Perhaps..." she rests her head on one slender, calloused, hand, "perhaps this is the beginning of the end for her."

Thaïs submissively nods, stringing the archmage along, "It is our great honour to be of service to such a powerful archmage. Your soldiers suggested that we petition you for aid in our fight against our mutual enemy. Is there any way that we might convince you to lend us the support of some of your men to aid in our passage."

The archmage is still for what seems like an age. Finally she speaks, "Then you are in luck for I will help you, but first let me explain what is at stake here. My name is Culwyeh and I am the greatest archmage to ever ascend to the throne of mighty Yer-Ks," she pauses, as if the name of that kingdom should mean something to you.

You vaguely recall the name from ancient history texts but it means little to you.

Still she notices the spark of recognition in your eyes and gives you a thin smile, "So the name of Yer-Ks has not been completely lost to time, for that I am grateful. Long ago, hundreds of thousands of years now, I ruled in the center of the city at the heart of my kingdom. Then from nowhere the Liar appeared. She who will forever be my enemy! She sealed the borders of the kingdom, isolated us from the outside world. We fought over the kingdom and for control of the city until it fell into ruin. I used every spell, every tool I could think of but I could never beat her. Despite my clearly superior grasp of magic she remained illusive. She would never meet me in open battle and so our war spread to the very edges of this realm. After the first hundred years not a tree remained standing. After the first thousand our reserves of metal were exhausted. After the first ten thousand years nothing remained except for out soldiers and our spells. She conjured her city of living glass to shelter her. I fled into the bowels of the earth and grew my creatures."

She grinds her teeth in fury, each moment that passes fuels her rage, each sentence, each thought drives her further over the edge, "This stalemate has lasted for over one hundred thousand years! The men and women of my kingdom have been reduced to what you see out there! But tonight! Tonight it all ends! Tonight I will march to the heart of the city with the heroes that made this all possible! That orb you destroyed has destabilized her city! I will hit her now with everything I have and she will perish even if I must die as well!"

Carried away by her rage she leaps from her throne, snatching up her weapons as she flies across the room and out of the tent. You can hear her screaming out to her creatures. Ordering them into loose columns for the march.

The two of you are left staring at one another, finally you speak, "That went... well?"

Thaïs matches your uncertain tone, "Yes... she seems willing to help, even if she is a bit..."

"Unstable?" you hazard.

Weakly she smiles, "Yes. Though I suppose we have to work with what we have to hand. I do not suppose she will inform us of her plan of battle?"

You fan yourself lightly with your hat, "Doubtful..."

---------------------------------------------

There are times when you delight in being correct. This is not one of them.

Culwyeh knows little in the way of actual strategy and seems content to simply order a general advance as she wades in at the front of her forces.

She lashes out with spell and axe. Every creature she touches begins to gurgle and dissolve, rotting from the inside out. Their eyes cave in, their teeth drop out and their liquefied organs are vacated through the nearest available orifice. They die in one of the worst ways imaginable.

You stay well back from her, thankfully she has forgotten you in her rage. Unfortunately the enemy has not seen fit to follow her example.

You grab Thaïs's arm and pull her back as a bone spear flies past her head. She spins you out of the way of a makeshift axe moments before it strikes home. The Faceless Man is at work again, giving you each enough warning to protect the other as the Marked and Culwyeh's soldiers butcher one another.

Goon, Geek and Freek protect you from the worst of it and every now and then you slip their enemies a slight suggestion or compulsion to ensure their safety.

This has not gone unnoticed by the other unmarked creatures near you. They see your invincibility and the increased prowess of your guardians and they begin to congregate around you.

You try to remember how Gareth lead you under Muirthemne but you lack the skill to command others in battle. You settle for ordering them to advance towards the center of the city.

You follow in Culwyeh's wake, tracing the path of rotting bodies to the very heart of the city. As you get closer to the center of the conflict the city begins to sway. Glass projectiles burst forth from the walls and mow down much of the vanguard. Culwyeh pushes through these traps without a scratch, her magic melts away the projectiles well before they can reach her.

She has nothing to fear but her army takes heavy casualties.

Your column fares better than most but you lose Geek to a stray shard and Freek pitches off a second story catwalk with three Marked on top of him. You feel a moment's sympathy for their fates before reminding yourself that none of these things are real.

That thought makes it easier for you to watch what comes next. Your column arrives at the new front. Just outside of the very heart of the city. The central building has only a single point of access, a wide hallway three levels high.

The scene that greets you puts everything you have seen so far to shame.

Much of the floor and walls of the hallway are painted with the blood of the creatures. On the ground and against the rails they struggle with one another. You count dozens of corpses tangled together in mounds. At the far end two of the Marked captains use their magic to hold off a dozen of Culwyeh's warriors. Across from you is the entrance to the heart of the city. The remaining Marked captain stands guard with less than a dozen soldiers.

You need to go through them but casualties will be high.

You remind yourself that none of this is real and you give the order.

You command Goon and your column to charge the entrenched Marked position. You even use suggestion and compulsion to ensure that none of them even think of retreating. Goon snaps you a quick salute before charging the battle line. You clear a path for him and he even manages to drop the Marked captain commanding the defence before he falls with an arrow in the chest.

The two of you slip across the hallway, subtly redirecting Marked and unmarked alike to more tempting targets. You do not have much to work with but you make do.

After what seems like an eternity you manage to slip inside.

Inside the central structure it is remarkably quiet. Remarkably quiet and... empty. The walls, roof and floor are opaque, unlike the hallways outside but everything is the same shade of green. A single large, bronze lamp hangs from the ceiling but otherwise the room has nothing in it.

"Now what?" Thaïs asks as she catches her breath.

"I don't know," you have to admit, "I thought there would be something here to guide us but-"

Without a word Thaïs pulls you backward by the collar of your armour.

A bolt of light incinerates your hat.

You mutter to yourself, "Damn good thing that was not my real hat," to prove a point you conjure up another one.

Nine's voice calls out to you though you can not tell from where, "Oh, so you are the mages? Do you know what you have done?"

Still annoyed you speak up, "Well to hear Culwyeh tell it we are helping to defeat a usurper and a traitor!"

The voice giggles, "She would remember it that way! I am not a usurper... well... alright I suppose I am but she started it!"

"I don't care who started it I-" Thaïs puts a hand on your shoulder.

She whispers in your ear, "We should keep her talking until we can find out who and where she is."

Thaïs calls out to the voice, "Who do we have the pleasure of addressing?"

"The one without a voice!" the voice giggles.

"You are the Voiceless One?" your friend replies.

"What? Just because I can speak I can't be the Voiceless One? Not all archmages choose literal monikers you know?" she practically squeals with delight, she pitches her voice downward and does her best to effect a sophisticated tone, "Some of us aim for something that will tickle the mind with its deeper meaning... or something like that!" she breaks into another giggling fit.

Undeterred Thaïs presses on, "Interesting that you should say that. We are first and foremost seekers of the Truth. If we have not heard the whole story then we would certainly be interested in hearing your side of it."

The voice sounds uncertain, "Would you? Well then maybe I will tell you!"

A woman materializes before you, she floats slightly off the ground. Long black hair, mercurial eyes, she looks exactly how you would picture Shiver did before the Great War. She speaks to you in Nine's voice but something is off, she has the same playfulness but there is a cruelty there that Nine does not usually exhibit. Nine laughs with life, this woman laughs at it.

"Oh where to begin?" she floats around you in a lazy circle, "Well that self important bitch Culwyeh might have been queen here but she was holding out on her subjects. I came to set them free you see! She kept most of them, the really important ones, all locked up in the darkest and cruellest prisons you could imagine. Then one day I arrive and the people 'cried out for a saviour'. So I led them. Then, out of spite she sealed the borders of the kingdom! She pulled up all the trees to make weapons. I had to turn every scrape of metal, every available body towards the task of annihilating her! But she hid down in those disgusting tunnels! And... well... we ran out of resources so we had to make do... I tried to help my people! Gave them artefacts to help lead them! But she had so many followers and those damn miniature monstrosities of hers keep trying to collapse my city! Then you had to go and help the tyrant try to retake her throne! Still..."

She rubs her chin as she bobs back to the center of the room, "Maybe this is a good thing... she is coming here... will be here shortly... you survived my attempts to snuff you out so you might just be strong enough to tip the balance against her." She snaps her fingers and three little green spheres materialize around her, "I am probably going to need these she is awfully powerful if a little predictable... Now when she comes through those doors-"

The doors blow out and the whole structure screams into your mind.

Culwyeh floats in, covered in gore, "Ravanna! Tonight you will finally die!"

The Voiceless One, Ravanna, disappears giggling, "Well you will have to find me first won't you!"

Culwyeh goes still, she closes her eyes. Slowly a smile spreads across her face.

You and Thaïs back away from the doors towards the far corner of the room.

Culwyeh lashes out with something big. The city shakes and buckles and the very foundations it is built on start to crumble, "I will bring your whole city down on our heads!" she howls, consumed by primal rage.

Shadows pool in the corners of your vision. Streams of green light and absolute darkness lash out towards Culwyeh. Ravanna giggles, "No you won't! No you won't! I'm going to kill you first!"

The spell Ravanna is casting must be quite powerful as her form begins to rematerialize.

Culwyeh catches the briefest outline of her and hurls a ball of magic at her, as it travels it shifts into a cloud of yellow bodied horrors, small insectoid wings bound to eel like bodies whose heads explode into dozens of horrid, ring-toothed maws.

Ravanna dodges most of the cloud but the ones that hit her immediately begin to burrow within her flesh. She screams out and drops her defensive spells as she pours more energy into her attack. The bolts of green light pierce Culwyeh's body and for the first time since you met her the archmage howls in agony. The streams of darkness coil around her, squeezing the life out of her.

The two archmages stand frozen there. Their cries of pain mixed with threats to one another.

Ravanna screams to you, "Help me please! Help me kill the tyrant! Help me free us all!"

Culwyeh bellows at you, "We must kill the usurper! Help me avenge my people or all of this has been for nothing!"

Ravanna pulls every bit of power she has into her spells and Culwyeh attempts to break free. The whole city rumbles, teetering on the edge as the magic that holds it together is strained. You would not be terribly surprised if the tunnel system beneath the city is also on the verge of collapse.

You stand, watching two archmages try their best to obliterate one another. You survey the room looking for options. That is when you see it. Concealed behind Ravanna's spells is another door.

There is a second way out of the room, deeper into the very heart of the city.

You think you hear a cry for help coming from beyond the door though it is simply too quiet to properly make out.

You have a feeling that whatever you do it will have a profound impact on Nine's mental state.


1. What to do?

A) Aid Culwyeh. Your spells won't do much but all you have to do is provide a distraction and the ancient archmage should be able to kill her adversary. (All A votes are counted together)

i. Assault: You probably won't be able to actually hurt her but it might draw off enough power to allow Culwyeh to win.

ii. Firebolt/Energy Bolt: you will each hit her with an attack spell. It is doubtful that you could permanently injure her but you are simply aiming to distract her.

iii. freeform

B) Aid Ravanna. Your spells won't do much but all you have to do is provide a distraction and the younger archmage should be able to finish off her adversary. (All B votes are counted together)

i. Assault: You probably won't be able to actually hurt her but it might draw off enough power to allow Ravanna to win.

ii. Firebolt/Energy Bolt: you will each hit her with an attack spell. It is doubtful that you could permanently injure her but you are simply aiming to distract her.

iii. freeform

C) Run for the front door. You will have to pass the battling archmages but you have to get clear of here before the whole place collapses.

D)Go through the inner doors. You don't trust either of them and it does not really matter to you who wins this 'war' between them. You are here for information and the only place you have left to explore in through that door. You will just have to be quick before one of them wins or the whole place falls down.

E) You attack them both! They will never see that coming...

F) freeform
 

Chapter 17: A Strange Mind

Chapter 17: A Strange Mind

You don't speak.

You grab Thaïs by the arm and the two of you run for the inner door.

"Traitors! Liars! Betrayers! You are as vile as Ravanna! When I free myself you will all die screaming!" Culwyeh screams at you as you withdraw.

"You! You would abandon me to fight the tyrant!" Ravanna giggles, "Fine! Once I free us all I shall come for you next! There is nowhere you can hide!"

The struggling archmages yell in unison, "I will find you!"

You wrench the door open and push Thaïs through. You follow her mere seconds later.

The door slams shut behind you.

What new horror awaits you here?

A tomb of shadowy horrors?

A twisted plane of blood and skulls?

Unending darkness and creeping madness?

No.

You are in a well appointed bedroom.

Fine tapestries on the walls, priceless rugs on the floors, the hard wood furniture screams comfort and quality, and the air in the room is fresh and smells of ginger, cloves and cinnamon. It is as if this room belongs to an entirely different mind, you suspect you have found Nine's retreat, her sanctum.

Not a particularly difficult piece of detective work you must admit, she is sitting right in front of you after all... and she is not alone.

Nine is having a dinner party it seems. She daintily nibbles on small cakes as she laughs merrily and discusses some weighty matter with her guests, three men each of whom look identical. She talks to them though none of them reply. Aside from her meal the only other object of real interest is a small bronze music box perched on a nearby table.

You are not really paying attention to the room though. You are focused almost exclusively on Nine and her guests.

Two things immediately catch your attention. The first is that all four of them seem to have misplaced their clothes. The second is that each one of the men has a face exactly like Henry's.

Nine notices the two of you standing at the door, both clearly in shock. She waves you over with a bright smile and friendly eyes, "Oh dears! There you are! I was just taking a little break with my new friends here. Would you care to join us?"

You have been subjected to some of the worst horrors you can imagine. You have been attacked, threatened, manipulated, and abused. You have almost died numerous times, have almost lost yourself and your friend and the whole time Nine has been eating fancy cakes and enjoying herself with your dead master, your dead friend, your dead 'father'...

Thaïs takes a couple quick steps forward, and scans the room, "Are you alright Nine? We thought we heard you scream. We thought you needed help."

With twinkling eyes Nine reassures your friend, "Oh no, I am fine dears! Well I mean I was screaming... a bit unladylike I must admit... but I do not need saving. I was simply getting to know Henry... er... Henrys better. I am so terribly sorry for worrying you both but as you can see I do not require assistance. We are just taking a slight break," she taps lightly on the side of her head with a single finger and her grin takes on a mischievous aspect, "Actually dears if you would like to help me there are a few things I could use a hand with... or two... why I-" you do not let her finish.

You should be furious, but you are simply numb, you are surprisingly calm in fact, "Nine, please dismiss the Henrys and put some clothes on."

She grins at you, and lifts a thin glass in one delicate hand "Oh dear I could not do that-"

You twitch, you snap, "NINE DISMISS THE HENRYS AND PUT SOME WYRD DAMNED CLOTHES ON!"

Nine drops her glass.

"Oh dear, you should not talk to me like that," her smile begins to fade, "Things could get broken."

You should stop, Thaïs tries to catch your attention but you brush her off as you march towards your mentor. This has to be said, "Nine we almost died out there! Our minds were almost erased! We have had to contend with maddening cannibal horrors and two crazed archmages! We almost lost everything trying to help you and this whole time you have been in here desecrating the memory of the one person who raised me! The one person who prior to this year gave a damn about me! Frankly I do not care what you can do! I do not care how you can hurt me! I will damn well talk to you however I damn well please!"

Rage boils up within Nine, she is about to lay into you, you can feel the magic building around her.

Then she stops as an idea hits her, "Trying to help me..." in an instant the faces of the three Henrys dissolve. A thin evening gown of sheer lavender magic wraps itself around Nine as tiny crystals in the shape of tears weave their way into her hair. They catch the light just so and it is dazzling. She adopts the most serious expression you have ever seen her wear, "Dear, I am sorry."

You take a deep breath, hold it, then slowly release. As the air leaves your lungs the rage does as well, "Don't worry Nine. I am just a little stressed... if you only knew what we have been through in the past few 'days'."

She gives you a sympathetic stare and lets out a broken laugh, "At least you will get to leave when you are done... I am stuck in this madness and here I am so very powerless," she snaps her fingers as she snatches up another thin glass of bubbling fluid. Three shimmering screens appear before you, "Though that might not be much of a problem if those two finally murder each other."

You glance towards the center screen. Ravanna and Culwyeh are still where you left them but they look quite a bit worse. Culwyeh has shifted colour to a deep violet as Ravanna chokes the life from her. Ravanna, meanwhile, has lost an arm and a leg to the swarming horrors and they are beginning to migrate to her torso. You doubt either of them has more than five, maybe ten, minutes at most.

The secondary screen shows the battle that continues to wage outside the central building. The dead now outnumber the living by a couple orders of magnitude but the creatures fight on. Tooth, nails and broken weapons driven through their horrid, twisted bodies.

Finally the third screen shows the city proper. Above and below it trembles. Glass spires shatter as the creatures pour in. Green shards push through the pulsing membranes of the tunnels below and they begin to fill with a thick, oozing mixture of ruined earth and blood.

Nine's entire mind is about to collapse, "There may not be much of 'me' left to worry about in a few minutes dears," she raises her glass in a salute to you both and downs the contents with a single gulp.

She starts in her seat as a new idea hits her, "Oh I have something for you," she produces a single parchment, "It is the enchantment that will restore the body of Mr Corpse Man," even at the end she refuses to call him Mazzarin, "Give that to him. He will want more but that is all he is getting from me!" she strides towards you with a grace and determination that is admirable in the face of her own destruction. Delicately she takes your hand and places the scroll within it, instantly you know it contents, a ritual to prevent and reverse aging. When combined with your knowledge of the heal spell you think you might even be able to restore missing limbs and cure serious injures through it would be a very draining spell to cast and will take years to perfect.

She smiles sadly at you, "Well dears you two should be off while you can still escape. I..." she hesitates, "I want you to know that I really am proud of you both... you will be great mages someday I am certain."

She drops back into her chair in defeat. The room shakes.

You look to Thaïs, it is clear that she is reluctant to leave. You are forced to admit, as dangerous, as insane, as potentially treacherous as Nine is there is a part of you that does not want to see her go.

The three of you stand in silence as the room lightly trembles, afraid to break it with meaningless words. Thaïs speaks at last, "You say you are powerless before them? Are you sure? Maybe you could beat them?"

Nine considers her words, she nods, then speaks, "I could... maybe. But it is like you and that reflection of Shiver... they are both quite powerful. They hold the majority of my magical knowledge you see, along with much of my memories. They are trapped in here though. While I can reach the outside world they have been stuck, battling one another for ages in the dark. They... they are simply better mages than I am truth be told. My mind is strange girls, I do not have the power here that most people do... I am broken."

You have an idea, you do not much like it but you speak it anyway, "You... you could help one of them defeat the other... then try to strike some sort of balance with the survivor."

Nine shakes her head, "If given the chance they would attack me, absorb me. I might be able to choose a winner but it is not likely that I would survive... Culwyeh or Ravanna... they would replace me."

"Are there no other options open to us?" Thaïs kneels before the beaten archmage, trying to catch her gaze.

"Not really no," she rests her head in her hands, "I thought I had an answer but I just ran out of time..."

That piques your curiosity, "What do you mean?" you ask.

She looks up at you then gestures to the music box and the three, now faceless, men, "Play the music box and you will see... or hear I guess," she lets out a half hearted giggle that ends in a pained whine.

With little else to do you open the box.

A metallic voice rings out, distorted, filled with anguish and exhaustion, "Listen carefully my dear. I do not have much time and neither do you. I have sealed your memories to protect you and the world. You will not be able to cast, you will not remember who you are and for this I am sorry but it is the best I can do for you given the circumstances and my own limitations. It will give you a chance, if nothing more..." the voice grunts, "There is a test though. One I taught to you when you were just a girl. If you win... if you win then you will figure it out... if you lose... well if you lose then it is best that whatever beats you never gets free. The three golems in this room can keep you company, they will follow most of your commands as long as those instructions do not endanger the test. Each golem has a gift for you. One of them holds your memories and your powers, the other two hold only your destruction, a complete mind wipe. To receive their 'gifts' you need only ask the golem in question. The one that holds your memories has been charged to only speak the truth, the other two each have a flaw. One of them will always lie while the other is madness personified and may lie or tell the truth with equal probability. It is truly random. Find the one that holds the truth, request its gift and you will have your powers and memories restored to you. I... just know that I am sorry for everything... I was outplayed... I will avenge you if I can..."

The recording plays out into a sad and haunting little tune. Gently you close the box.

You give your two companions a confident grin, "So we find out which one of these golems tells the truth, then we can restore your powers, Nine, and you can restrain those two psychopaths before your mind collapses."

Nine seems uncertain, "I have tried dear but they can not speak, I think their throats are damaged. When I ask them a question they sing in response, either high or low, they never give an actual answer. It is infuriating!"

Thaïs jumps in, "Maybe they are answering? Maybe they are giving you a yes or a no based on whether they answer high or low?"

You nod enthusiastically, "Yes that is a definite possibility. So the way I see it we have to determine which one of them is True, which one of them is False and which one of them is Mad by asking them 'yes or no' questions."

The room shakes again, worse this time, and most of Nine's meal spills onto the floor. Thaïs gives you a concerned look, "And if we are going to do this we have to be quick. We probably only have time to ask maybe four or five questions at most."

Your friend and mentor exchange a worried glance but you remain confident. This is your element; ruins, mazes, traps, riddles, this is what you do and you have never failed yet. You are certain you can figure this out... though part of you wonders if it is the right thing to do.


1. What to do?

A) Flee: you have the spell you came for. You and Thaïs leave now while you still can. Nine might survive the collapse of her mind in her sanctuary though you are not sure what kind of damage it will do.

B) Help Culwyeh: you convince Nine to aid the ancient axe wizard. Ravanna will be destroyed and Nine will fuse with the 'Culwyeh' personality. You are not sure what will happen from there, to her or either of you.

C) Help Ravanna: you will convince Nine to aid the young but stylish archmage. Culwyeh will be destroyed and Nine will fuse with the 'Ravanna' personality. You are not sure what will happen after that, to her or to either of you.

D) Attack them both: You convince Nine to attack them both at the very moment before they completely collapse. She will try and steal enough power and memories from them to stabilize her mind though there is no telling if it will work or what the result will be.

E) You are not alone here. The Faceless Man watches from your bracelets. You ask him to help. He replies, Yes... but you will all owe me a great deal more... You do not much like the sound of that.

F)You will solve this riddle and restore Nine's memories and powers.

i. Derryth and Thaïs will work together to puzzle their way through this logic problem. (this will contain an element of luck of course).

ii. Voters choice: We can run this how I would run a PnP session.

Instructions (open)
The three golems sit in a row at the table. From left to right they are Golem A (Bronze 'Face'), Golem B (Silver 'Face'), and Golem C (Gold 'Face')when you vote for this option be sure to include A, B, C or Bronze, Silver, Gold to mark which golem you advise Nine to pick when you have made up your mind.

This is a slightly more difficult puzzle than the last one (which really was quite easy) but is not too difficult really. There is no trick, this is simply a logic problem (which is why Nine struggles with it).

It can be solved in two questions and there are multiple ways to go about it. When I was first introduced to it I did it in three which is the traditional number of questions it takes. I will give you five questions since it is difficult to coordinate things in a group. After that you will be out of time and will not be able to ask any more questions. (And to make it interesting if you can do it in three you might get a reward, if you can do it two you are guaranteed one.)

Come up with the questions, ask them and I will give an answer. This might require a bit of discussion to come up with a strategy though.

A couple points to consider:

One: to avoid misinterpretation and so we do not confuse the discussion with the actual questions Derryth will ask be sure to frame them so it is obvious that she is asking the question for example:

I ask A if he is the Liar would not count.

Neither would 'Is Golem A a Liar'.

But, Derryth: "Golem A, are you the Liar?" would count. Hopefully that will keep you from accidentally burning through questions.

As previously mentioned the aim of the game is to figure out which one of the golems is the Truthsayer and have Nine request his reward. One of the golems will always tell you the truth, one of them will always lie to you and the third is completely random. I will flip a coin each time you ask it a question and I will either tell the truth or lie depending on the outcome.

The golems will answer in a high pitched whine or a low pitched moan. One means yes and the other means no though you don't know which is which. All three golems use the same conventions. A high pitched whine from one of them means the same thing as a high pitched whine from the others it is the intention behind it (truth or lies) that will vary.

When you think you have it figured out add the information to your vote.

If you require any further clarification then let me know.


G) freeform

Also: 'Character sheet updated.'
 

Chapter 18: Just Another Day

It ran a bit long...

Chapter 18: Just Another Day

Riches are nice.

Power is great.

But what you enjoy most in life is a good puzzle.

To solve it, to frustrate the designs and intentions of another, to bask in the glory of your success and to have it reaffirmed that you are just that much smarter, that much better, than the person that sought to resist you, to confuse you, to defeat you.

That feeling of exhilaration, exaltation, pure and complete joy and self satisfaction. It is one of the reasons you risk your life raiding tombs, it is one of the reasons you get out of bed in the morning.

There is nothing for you quite like a good test, a good challenge.

This one you solve in two questions.

Now all that is left is to reveal what you know.

Dramatically you point to the middle golem, "He has the information we need."

Your two companions look on in confusion, they question you at the same instant, "Are you sure?"

You flash them a wide grin, "Of course I am sure! I am a professional!"

"Alright then, 'Miss professional', explain it," your friend replies.

You are about to do just that when another large tremor shakes the room. As much as you would enjoy laying it all out for them, now really is not the time, "Look I will explain it to you both when we are not on the verge of complete annihilation. Now, Nine, if you trust me, if you want to 'live' then pick the middle golem now."

Your mentor flutters her long eyelashes and extends one delicate hand to the middle golem, "May I have your gift sir?"

The golem makes a whirling noise, it clicks and its faceplate falls off.

Within the darkness of its empty head a single speck of light shines out.

It begins to grow, slowly at first, as the room around you shakes.

It accelerates, Nine is hit with the blinding light and with a gasp she disappears.

For a moment you doubt yourself.

The light continues to expand. The table disappears, the chairs, Thaïs is caught in mid stide and disappears as well.

Did you make the wrong decision?

It is the last thought that occurs to you before you too disappear.

.

..

...

Well girl I must say I am impressed, it is the Faceless Man, chiming in once again.

At first you think he is speaking to you telepathically again but as your eyes adjust to your new surroundings you notice a thin, pale, elderly gentleman sitting at Nine's table where the golems used to be. His clothes are simple, clean and crisp. Everything about him is unremarkable. If you saw him in the street you doubt you would remember him. Perhaps that is his secret, to go through life and leave only the slightest trace of his passing.

"We are alive?" a voice asks to your right. You turn slightly, careful not to let the Faceless Man out of your sight and you see Thaïs. Turning to the left you see Nine. Well at least you are all still alive for the time being.

You take a moment to get a better grasp of your surroundings.

The room is gone and the light that blinded you is in fact the sun. You are outside of the city, in a green field filled with tiny white and red flowers. A lazy afternoon breeze blows through the meadow and the flowers gently sways to and fro.

The light, the breeze, they both feel so good that you almost drop your guard. At the last moment you remember where you are. Thaïs shoots you a glance of acknowledgement, you are both acutely aware that you are still at risk here despite what your senses tell you.

In the distance the emerald city teeters on the brink. Many of its towers hang suspended in mid air. The entirety of Nine's mind has been frozen in place it seems.

The Faceless Man coughs once to get your attention, "Please, take a seat," he casually gestures to an open chair next to you. You do not particularly care for the compulsion he directs at you. It takes your complete attention to remain standing. A thin smile caresses his lips, "You just will not do anything the easy way will you?" He breaks off his attack though you have a feeling you have not witnessed one, one hundredth of his actual power.

He holds his hands up in mock surrender, "Please ladies, sit. No tricks this time I promise."

He conjures up a large pitcher of cool, clear water. Little slices of cucumber float in it, "I like the taste," he replies to your stares.

He pours himself a glass and offers one to each of you. You and Thaïs politely decline while Nine graciously accepts. With such little niceties taken care of he begins in earnest, "My, my! You are a clever thing Derryth. Solved the puzzle in two steps and what? A minute and a half? You know traditionally it takes three. Culwyeh would have done it in three. Though I suppose she never was one for invention, for creative thought, she could replicate exactly everything I taught her and everything she learnt on her own but she could never innovate. A shame really..."

You are certain he knows what you will ask next, but your curiosity has been piqued, "You taught Culwyeh?"

"I did," he nods slightly, "I have had many 'students' but she was the greatest. Well at least before her fall..."

"Her fall?" Thaïs asks.

He waves his left hand in the air, brushing away the idea, "We will get to that eventually. For now I would like to give you a reward for solving my riddle. It would have gone to Culwyeh but, well, it does not look like she will survive after all," he sighs as he glances back at the frozen city, you are not sure if it is a sigh of regret or disappointment.

When he turns his gaze back to you he presses on, "Where was I? Oh yes, a reward, though I am not certain what exactly you could desire. You are so stubborn Derryth, so difficult to read, and you refuse to let me in so I have picked out a few little spells and you can tell me what you desire most."

He reaches under the table and lifts up the three faceplates of the golems, one bronze, one silver and one gold.

Take your pick my girl, you have earned it!

----------------------------------------------

1. Your reward:

A) The Bronze Mask, the 'Warrior's Mask': It contains a spell that temporarily strengthens the body granting it some bronze-like properties while the spell is maintained. The target become stronger and more durable at the expense of speed and fine motor skill.

B) The Silver Mask, the 'Noble's Mask': It contains a spell that renders the target more persuasive to others. This is a subtle spell and hard to detect as it is often not directed at the intended 'victim' but instead at the caster or a willing accomplice.

C) The Gold Mask, the 'Mage's Mask': A spell that allows the caster to change their facial features to match any face they can remember. The clearer the memory the more exact the reproduction will be. It only works on the face not the whole body which makes you think it is part of a larger spell. The Faceless Man cautions you however that overuse, misuse, or prolonged use can lead to the permanent 'loss' of 'your' face.

D) You do not accept any of the gifts. You can not be sure but you are certain the Faceless Man is up to something and you will accept nothing from him.

-------------------------------------------------

With that matter taken care of he turns to Nine, "So you are what has become of my favourite pupil?"

He tilts his head slightly as he assesses her. Nine, usually one to enjoy such attention, wilts under his gaze. After a moment that seems like an eternity he comes to a decision, "You won, with the help of your pupil mind you but you won all the same. I do not think you will be any worse than Culwyeh was... perhaps you will even be better..." he shrugs slightly, "I will not stand in your way, at least," he pushes a tiny gold box across the table and Nine opens it.

She stares into the box absorbed in what she sees.

You call to her but receive no response.

You reach out to shake her but the Faceless Man stops you with a word, "I wouldn't do that Derryth. It is a lot for her to process and you would not want to interrupt the... well the process."

"How will we know when it is done?" Thaïs asks, concern for her teacher clearly inscribed upon her features.

He gives you a mysterious smile, "It will be done when it is done."

Instinctively you frown and are about to protest.

He lets out a dramatic and weary sigh, "Don't even start. I know what you are going to say. I know you are going to object. You always object," with a careless swipe of his hand Nine's three screens appear before you, "If you want something to pass the time you can watch as Nine learns about her past. If nothing else it will serve as a lesson to you, and a warning."

The first scene that plays out must have been long ago, at the very dawn of human history.

---------------------------------------------

A small fishing village somewhere to the far north.

Tiny hide huts dot the landscape as humans dressed in furs and carrying stone spears and axes move about.

Two young children play amidst the tents.

A young boy, maybe six, brown hair, brown eyes, and caked in mud chases a little girl of the same age around the camp. Her golden hair trails behind her as they laugh. Running with the a joyful abandon inevitably lost as one ages.

The girl stops, she points at figures on the horizon.

She screams as the first of them come into view.

The creatures howl and charge down at the camp in a large pack.

They are nightmares of fur and claw.

They are Myrkridia.

The villagers put up a brave fight but this was well before the age of iron, well before the age of bronze. Without the weapons of later civilizations the Myrkridia can not be matched.

You feel a sense of helplessness as you watch them massacre the village. The little girl grabs her friend's hand and they run from the creatures.

One of them spots the children.

It charges down on them but is struck by a bolt of yellow light. Its hair falls out, as do its claws and teeth. Its liquefied organs pour forth as it deflates, the spell reminds you of Culwyeh fighting against the Marked and you speculate that it is a similar, if not the same, spell.

The girl stares in wonder as a thin man with a regal and distinctive face framed in furs lays into the horde of monstrosities.

Armed with a spear the glistens in the sunlight he strikes out with spell and weapon driving the creatures back before him. He lets not one of them live.

"Heh, I really knew how to make an entrance, didn't I?" the Faceless Man chuckles, more to himself than to either of you, "Of course with time you realize that it is better to let others lead. Power and position are not the same thing and you should never confuse one for the other. Better to be a duke than a king, better to be a king than an emperor. Better still to control all and be seen by none... though such a life does have its costs."

The villagers gather around the man. They bow before him. They worship him.

They bring him furs and food but he wants neither.

He points to the girl. She is his price.

The villagers readily grant it.

They tear the child from her mother.

The boy tries to stop them and receives a sound thrashing for it. They leave him broken in the mud. You doubt he survived.

With the child following behind him the man wanders out of the village into the growing darkness.

You take a small guess, "Why did you take Culwyeh?" you are rewarded with a slight nod of approval.

"I was bored and lonely," the Faceless Man mutters in between sips of his water, "I had spent the last few hundred years wandering alone and I wanted company. The girl was as good as any. She was young, she would be easy to train, to mould, and because she was so young I would not have to worry about training another servant for decades. Things... things did not quite turn out the way I had planned."

He pulls one of the other windows over as a new scene plays out.

--------------------------------------------------

Culwyeh is a grown woman now. She follows behind the Faceless Man as he wanders the north. At first you think merely a couple decades have past but you begin to notice slight differences.

The first thing you notice is that the Faceless Man has a different face. It is broad and flat with the deep lines of someone that lives fully and without reserve. A broad, friendly smile clings to it constantly. Other smaller details present themselves to you now.

Culwyeh sports bronze greaves and a matching chest plate mixed in with her furs. Under one arm she carries a helmet of bronze and a pair of palstave axes hang from her belt. The Faceless Man still carries his spear, the head of which remains the same. The odd stone it is made from still shines brightly in the sun.

The two of them stand at the crest of a tall hill watching a battle play out below.

A few dozen human hunters battle a force of Myrkridia twice their size. They have the edge in discipline but the creatures have the numbers to overcome them.

Culwyeh points at the warriors.

The Faceless Man shakes his head.

She stomps a foot.

He turns away.

Securing her helmet she races down the hill, readying her axes as she goes.

When she hits the rear of the Myrkridian line she tears through it.

Fortified by her magic she is near untouchable and the Myrkridia scatter before her.

The surviving warriors circle her.

Their leader steps forward and salutes her.

When she removes her helmet they fall quiet.

Their leader gestures to her, then to some place over the hills. You gather that he is inviting her back to his camp.

She glances back to the Faceless Man up on the hill. He refuses to look at her.

She nods to the man and leaves with him.

The Faceless Man raises his glass in a toast, "To love! Destroyer of men, leveller of kingdoms, and the ruin of the world!" dramatically he knocks back the entire drink, "Hmm... nope, I need alcohol for this. He waves his hand again and the contents of the pitcher change colour. His glass shifts shape in his hand as he pours himself a rather generous dose of wine, "Ah well, nothing lasts forever they say. What that means for those of us who do, in fact, last forever is that in time we will lose everything."

He flips the window over to reveal a new scene, the development of a city, a kingdom, over hundreds of years all happening at an accelerated pace. Small blurred figures race back and forth as the camp turns into a town and finally a small city, "You see, Nine is living each second of 'her' life over again in there. It will take her quite some time in fact. Even at the speed of thought she has thousands of years to experience and that is before things get... complicated... this could take her years of real time to sort out... Thankfully we do not have to wade through the minutia. I will give you the quick version. We... parted ways at that battle. She went on to lead that tribe to greatness while I continued to wander. She ruled them as their queen alongside that mortal warrior you witnessed. He died but not before they had a son. Their boy ruled on after them as she withdrew from the actual management of the city. Still she never was one for hiding, she remained a public figure, a sort of patron god of the city. In time she ruled, directly and indirectly, most of the north. Her kingdom was called-"

"Yer-Ks, yes 'Culwyeh' mentioned the name," you interrupt him.

"That is right girl, good to know you pay attention," he grins but it is short lived, "She essentially ruled Yer-Ks, the kings and queens of her line were mere puppets and anyone with even a scrap of intellect realized it. Have you heard of the Trow, girls? The 'consorts of Nyx', the 'masters of iron', the 'natural rulers' of the world through much of its history. Well the Trow once encountered a race called the Callieach, masters of the arcane arts, builders of some of the most wondrous cities the world has ever seen! Why the mage towers of the Callieach alone put to shame anything worked by human or dwarven hands... so I am told. At any rate the Trow encountered the Callieach and realized that they could not subjugate them. So they wiped them out and damned both races. Now, the Callieach were the greatest threat to the Trow prior to Connacht himself. What do you think they did when they noticed a new kingdom ruled by a powerful and eternal mage forming to their north?"

He pauses for a moment but it is clear he does not expect or even want an answer. He is wrapped up in his story and you have a feeling he would continue to speak even if you were both to disappear. He wants to speak and so you will let him.

He refills his glass and continues.

Once more a new memory pushes its way forward. Smoke on the horizon, a city under siege, and the Trow. Great grey giants encased in black iron armour wielding hammers and blades bigger than a man. This is the war machine of the greatest empire to ever exist, before the slave revolts that ruined them, before Connacht who trapped them. This is the Trow at their height and they are terrifying even as a memory, "They marched on her. Columns of Trow warriors with their spellbound slaves descended on Yer-Ks. Culwyeh was proud, she was stubborn, she could be quite smart when she bothered, all of it counted for nothing against the Trow though, she stood no chance. She fell in battle with them though I managed to steal away her body. Her kingdom fell below the waves. At the time I sensed dark magic at work in that, not something from the Trow, but as it did not concern me I did not investigate."

The Faceless Man shakes his head, "It took me months to revive her... and even then... she was marked by the experience. She became prone to fits of rage. She was still the woman I cared for but... well she had changed... I suppose we all change... nature of the business."

You wonder if he is misleading you. Trying to portray himself as some sort of tragic figure. Is this all a trap or is he so lost in the past that he is simply letting everything out.

The next memory is centered on a different person.

-------------------------------------------

A young girl with short jet black hair sits on the edge of her mother's table. She gossips and when she thinks she can get away with it she snatches at the bowl of sweets next to her.

Her mother catches her, she scolds her, though you can not quite make out the words. One word however you can read clearly, Shiver.

His weariness is palpable, "Yes, Culwyeh became a real terror after that. Though I will admit things became easier for me. I no long had to hold back around her. In fact, she would often push me to go further. Oh we had a lot of fun together then and I let her take all of the credit. She wanted to hurt everyone, to destroy everything, if she could not rule then no one would and for my part, I simply did not care anymore. Mothers throughout the empire would warn their children, 'Don't break the rules or Shiver will get you', 'Don't lie or Shiver will steal you away', that sort of thing. Eventually she simply became Shiver to all but a few. An ancient evil from an unknown age sent to plague mankind, it is so very rarely that simple."

The child sticks her tongue out at her mother and receives a sharp slap for her trouble. She runs to her room crying.

That night she slips out of her second story window and runs off into the street, a small box under her arms.

He gestures absentmindedly at the screen, "I suppose you know who that child is Derryth? Her name was Ravanna and she would grow up to be a real terror herself though never one of mine. Lets jump ahead a bit more. Sure Ravanna has a sob story all of her own, you don't make it down the centuries without hurting others and being hurt, but I always loathed the bitch so to hell with her!"

---------------------------------------------

"Ah, now this is where things get interesting," the scene that materializes in front of you is of a city under siege or just following a siege. From the architecture you are certain that this is Muirthemne. The smoke, flames and screams in the background suggest that this is right after the fall of that city to the Fallen Lords a century ago.

Three figures stand in a watchtower attached to the palace compound.

"Come now Damas! Together the three of us can manage this!" a wild eyed beauty in black silk, a rather fey creature all things considered, cajoles a muscular warrior. As he turns to face her you see he is missing his nose and much of his lower face.

This is without a doubt Soulblighter.

From what you have heard of the man he was a beast, a creature of hatred and malice and loyal only to Balor. The look in his eyes is so at odds with what you know of him, it is a look of concern, and something else... compassion? No. You are certain that there is none of that in this man. Doubt maybe, fear perhaps, though not for himself.

The woman turns to the third figure in the watchtower, "Tell him Myrdred! Tell him what you told me about that bitch!"

Myrdred, the Deceiver, a thin, balding man in unassuming attire. At first glance he is easily the least impressive of the three, his eyes dart quickly from one of them to the other and he grins widely, he gives off the air of a fool but upon careful consideration he is easily the most dangerous of the three.

Damas does not let him speak, "Why in the name of the gods would you trust this snake anyway! For all you know this is a trap! He will betray us both if we do this!"

He does not seem upset by the accusation. Perhaps because the truth of it is so very obvious. Deferentially he raises a single finger, "If I may speak? Yes, I may betray you. But then you may each betray me in turn, correct? What I propose is that we work together to achieve out goals. Balor puts far too much trust in the ancients but they are not loyal to him. They serve because they have to but what if they get loose one day? What if that monster the Watcher slips his chain? What if that snake the Faceless Man gets loose into the world with no way to find him? What if Shiver finds a way out and decides to butcher us as well?" he begins to pick up speed, to become more excited as he speaks, "No, we need a way to even out the scales! We need tools to lay them low! The Empire has fallen, the Province is a backwater and will not seriously resist us, now is the time to strike! Balor no longer needs them! He has us and the young ones!"

Damas shakes his head, "What you are proposing would be treason. We are forbidden from fighting each other. Ravanna, listen to reason-"

She laughs at him, "Reason Damas? Rules? Really? Shiver does not give a damn about the 'rules'! She will kill me the first chance she gets! The Watcher has already attempted to murder Myrdred numerous times-"

Damas scoffs, "Probably with good reason!"

"Probably..." the Deceiver smiles, "I wonder what 'good reasons' the Faceless Man will come up with to put you down Damas? Balor listens to his council far more than yours already... and now that Balor has the Bonesplitter to serve as his dog you are quickly becoming redundant," Myrdred grins from ear to ear as Damas squirms.

"Damas! We can do this! First Shiver, then the Faceless Man and finally the Watcher!" Ravanna sweeps her arms gracefully through the air, "We will become the new ancients! We simply have to trap them and pick them clean of their knowledge."

The view shifts to the throne room of the old palace.

The Emperor's throne lay broken, tipped on its side.

The room appears empty save for Damas who paces nervously. Casting long shadows along the floor and walls from the large braziers on either side of the room.

Culwyeh, no Shiver, enters, "You wanted to speak to me, Soulblighter?"

She is direct and to the point.

He begins, "Yes, Balor has instructions for you-"

She pays him little more than a passing glance, "Where is he then?"

Soulblighter seethes, "He will be along shortly he-"

"You are lying!" she snarls. Shadows begin to pool in the corners of the room.

"I-" he sputters.

Shiver narrows her eyes.

Ravanna springs her trap.

You watch the scene unfold from two sets of eyes.

The shadows coil around Shiver, immobilizing her as Ravanna leaps forward.

Shiver lashes out, the ground cracking and heaving as tremors shake the throne room. Two of the braziers tip over spilling coals out on the cracked marble floor.

The shadows begin to disintegrate. Ravanna giggles, "A little help please! She is too strong!"

Damas hits Shiver with a spell of his own. A blade of grey-green magic pierces her side. She howls and points at Soulblighter with a now free hand. He hits the floor and skids across the room. His body begins to crack under the pressure but Shiver is completely absorbed fighting off the Voiceless One and Soulblighter.

Then the Deceiver strikes.

You will give him this, he picks the perfect time.

He let his allies do all the work tying her up and tiring her out. Then he delivers the killing strike.

Only he does not kill her.

He incapacitates her.

Ravanna hops over to them as Soulblighter climbs to his feet and limps over as well.

The three of them form a triangle around Shiver.

You recognize this ritual.

It is very similar to the one you used to gain access to Nine's mind.

You can feel Myrdred and Damas reach out to Ravanna. They secure the bridge between her mind and Shiver's.

The Voiceless One crosses over into Shiver's mind.

Everything is still for a moment.

Then Myrdred does something, it is subtle but you can just feel it.

He sabotaged Ravanna... then he lets go.

Shiver and the Voiceless One scream out in unison.

The whole palace shakes.

The perspective shifts again.

You do not see the next scene from Culwyeh's eyes, nor do you see it from Ravanna's. You see it from the Faceless Man's. He gives you a sad smile, "Neither of them witnessed my failure quite like I did. You have sat through most of the tale, you may as well see the end..."

The main doors of the throne room explode inward.

The Watcher and a swarm of Shades storm in with the Faceless Man close behind.

Myrdred raises his hands in surrender and begins to back towards the throne.

Damas tries to stammer a response but the Faceless Man silences him, "Do not speak! And for all that you hold dear do not release the tethers on Ravanna!"

He enters Shiver's mind. Desperate to once again save her. To bring her back. To prove his mastery.

It is odd to see the process from his perspective.

The collision of two minds.

Their panic drives them together.

Though he tries to calm them.

Their mutual hatred keeps them from working together.

Though he tries to reason with them.

Their arrogance prevents them from listening to him.

Though he screams, he begs, he pleads.

And just like that they are gone.

Or almost gone.

He fires off one spell, one message, one lifeline to the woman he knew. Fashioned in the form of a single music box.

He hurls it into the chaos.

That gets the attention of this shattered monstrosity.

The swirling chaos that replaces their minds reaches for him.

It is hungry, it is angry, it is insane.

He flees.

He runs for the first time in his career.

Beaten.

Utterly beaten and that hurts him the most. Not that he failed her but that he failed at all. That he was outmanoeuvred by that child Myrdred, that he had not prepared her for a possibility he had never even thought of. His first thought is how to avenge himself on that little worm, that little coward.

He is angry not sad.

Instinctively you are a bit angry at him for that.

Then he notices Damas.

Never the best mage, never the smartest, never the wisest but he refuses to release her.

He is maintaining the tethers to Ravanna's mind out of sheer stubbornness and stupidity. He risks his very mind but there is no fear in him, not now.

So the anger gives way to shame and the Faceless Man starts to think, starts to scheme and an idea occurs to the him. He may not be able to restore the Shiver but he can restore a Shiver.

From this his greatest failure he can create a testament to his ingenuity, to his ability.

He will fashion a person.

He darts around the edge of this cauldron of insanity.

He snatches up the scraps, copies them and casts them back. The result is an approximation of a mind. Scraps of memories from both women woven together to hide the blanks and inconsistencies. He alters locations, people, places. He removes himself entirely from her memories and in so doing removes a witness to his failure.

He gives her the most direct of their magics, things he can easily steal, things he has seen them cast in the past. He retrieves the Whisper Dream and hangs it at the center of her.

He names her Shiver, the Mother of Plagues and First Lady of the Fallen.

Culwyeh is dead.

Ravanna is dead.

In time the world will cease to remember they ever were.

His failure will remain his own.

He gives his creation to Soulblighter and Damas guides it back to its body.

The Faceless Man returns to his own mind.

Soulblighter clutches an unconscious Ravanna to him. Myrdred remains surrounded by Shades. The Watcher pinning him in place.

The Faceless Man will kill them both but he runs out of time.

Three figures casually stride through the shattered main doors.

The first is wizen, skeletal, a pair of blades in his hands. He is Balor's general and leader of the Myrmidons, the Bonesplitter.

The second is a young woman, a tiny creature hidden in rags, eternally dirty. She is the Lurker, Balor's pet archmage and protégé, the youngest of the Fallen.

The final figure is clad in silver armour. A great horned helm hides his face. He is the Leveller himself, Balor, Connacht, their Emperor.

The assembled archmages drop to their knees as he enters all save Myrdred and the Faceless Man. They glare at one another. Then they smile.

"What has happened here?" Balor sounds annoyed. You get the impression that, that is not a good thing.

It is the Faceless Man that speaks in response, "A small experiment, nothing more," he glances at the Deceiver to see if he will play along.

Myrdred strides confidently towards Balor, he nods at the Faceless Man "We successfully identified and neutralized two traitors in out midst while also applying a new and quite interesting spell."

Balor looks past them at the bodies of Culwyeh and Ravanna, "They sought to betray us?" he sounds almost amused. You suspect he does not believe their story but is willing to let them tell it.

Both men nod, the Deceiver gestures to the Faceless Man, "As my colleague can no doubt inform you those two ladies were conspiring to replace you, they were working together to undo the ties that bind us all together."

The Faceless Man expresses his agreement, "It was our hope that we could convince them to once more serve loyally. We could not. So instead I-"

"We," Myrdred interrupts him raising a single finger in protest.

The Faceless Man coughs, "We, devised a spell to transfer their magical knowledge and loyalty into one body while consigning all of those subversive thoughts to the other."

Myrdred raises an eyebrow at this but manages to hide his surprise. He now vaguely understands what the Faceless Man achieved and he knows exactly what lie to spin, triumphantly he gestures to the prone Ravanna, "My lord may I present to you..."

"Shiver!" the Faceless Man snatches up the loose threads, "From two disloyal Fallen Lords we have made you a single loyal one. She will serve our cause until the end of her days!"

The Faceless Man and the Deceiver smile at one another while their eyes promise murder, death and destruction to each other.

Balor is no fool, he can see this all plainly but it amuses him to let it play out, "Well then! We thank you both for your efforts," he snaps his fingers and Bonesplitter stalks over to the new Shiver. He reaches for her, Damas stares him down.

Bonesplitter looks to Balor. The Lord of the Fallen sighs, "Soulblighter give Shiver to Bonesplitter. You may see her later but for now I must examine her."

The Myrmidon general snatches the unconscious archmage up and hefts her over his broad shoulder.

Balor gives each of them a long stare. Each in turn, turns away. He laughs, he turns and still laughing marches from the room flanked by The Lurker and Bonesplitter.

"Well that went well!" the Deceiver grins. Quite happy for a man surrounded by enemies that would gladly snuff out his life.

The Faceless Man turns on him, "The only reason I did not hand you to Balor is because I want you for myself Myrdred! I won't kill you, not for a few centuries at least but I will take everything from you! I will drive you mad! I will-"

"NO, HE IS MINE!" The Watcher finally speaks, his voice echoing out from within his twisted armour. Inhuman rage animating his one armed frame. As his shades hover around him like flies to a corpse.

Damas stands and approaches the gathered archmages "Myrdred, you are a snake but I swear if it is the last thing I do I will kill you."

Most men would be intimidated by three such threats from three such individuals in such quick succession but the Deceiver is unreadable like usual.

Myrdred's grin grows ever wider, calmly he replies, "Try it, all of you, just try it. I have no one I care for save myself. I have nothing I value save myself. And I am already quite insane I assure you. Old men and imbeciles all of you. Your time has past, so give me everything you have because you will need it all."

Confidently he pushes his way past some of the most powerful and dangerous mages in history. He stops next to Culwyeh's body, "I suppose we should do something about whatever is in her now?"

He receives no reply so he shrugs, "Well don't worry about it. I will deal with it," he deftly snatches up one of Culwyeh's axes. He swings it with a force one would not expect from his thin frame and separates her head from her shoulders with a single chop.

He wraps her head in a piece of hessian cloth and confidently strides out into the night.

The Faceless Man looks on in silence following the Deceiver as he strides into the distance.

Damas shakes his head in disgust.

Just another day in service to the Dark.

--------------------------------------------------

"Why did you show me that?" it is the first question that comes to your mind.

The Faceless Man refuses to make eye contact, "Shiver, my creation, is as far as I know dead. The Watcher is dead, or as dead as he can be. The Deceiver, dead, or at least I hope he is. Balor? Soulblighter? Both dead. Who knows what happened to Bonesplitter or The Lurker. It has been a century Derryth... I suppose I have been humbled... it no longer matters to me like it did and I want you to understand just what Nine was and is. She is a mistake, an aberration, I did not oppose her because I am not certain I can anymore. Whatever you do, do not trust-"

"That is quite enough out of you," Nine's voice rings out as the Faceless Man pops out of existence, "Men! They all love to hear themselves talk! On and on and on..." she giggles.

Nine's eyes are open, she stares at you both with incredible warmth, "My girls. You make me so very proud you know that? If I were you though, I would not trust him. Use him if you can, dispose of him if you are able but never trust him. I still have a great number of memories to sort through but I can tell you that."

You look into her eyes, she still seems a little confused, a little vacant but you can feel that she is much more stable now. You are still not completely sure that this was a good idea but you don't really regret it either. You are happy for her, "So what now Nine?"

She screws up her lips, focusing on your question, "Well dears, I have to properly sort through all of these memories from not just one lifetime but two! It is quite confusing," she lets out one of her little laughs, "Once I have done that and it is all integrated and I have full control over my mind, I have to start clearing out that mess," she points with one thin hand at the twisted, frozen city, "I have to hold down and absorb those two archmages. Then I have to see if I can fix any of the ideas in there. After that I have to clean everything up and set up a proper mental landscape. Something pretty with a lot of light I think. The old city was just too dark."

Thaïs leans past you to get a better view of Nine, "Sounds like you have a lot to do?"

Nine gives you both an apologetic smile, "Oh I do dears! I do! This will take thousands of 'years' to fix!"

Out of curiosity you ask the obvious question, "How long is that in real time Nine?"

"Out there? Oh years at least I should think! I have a lot to fix! Everything in fact!"

"Need help?" you ask though you are a bit afraid she will say yes.

She reaches over and takes your hand, "That is sweet dear, it really is but you have things to do. I have eternity, I can waste a few years or a decade in my own mind but you can not. At least not yet. Just keep my head safe until I wake up please. I should have all sorts of things to teach you then!"

With that Nine sees you off. Your goodbyes are tearful but quick. You do have another archmage waiting for you in the physical world after all and you should not keep him waiting.

---------------------------------------------------

It was early morning when you entered the mindscape. It is past midnight when you return to your bodies and you are famished. Speaking of which you have a sudden craving for a pomegranate despite never having tasted one. You put the desire down to Thaïs' memories and make a note to ask her about where to get one.

As a precaution you check each other's minds for any stray bits of archmage that may have tried to cross over. You are both clean, as far as you can tell at least. All of your memories and feelings are your own, well aside from the impressions you received from one another.

Biliku and Uttu sleep curled up under the nearby tree. The Arrows inform you that though they were tired but that they refused to leave their 'posts'. You smile at their dedication and resist the urge to wake them.

You tell the Arrows to got fetch Lyssa and you wait.

----------------------------------------------------

The Arrows take their time retrieving Mazzarin's apprentice but eventually they return with her. She seems fairly happy to see you, "Good, your back. My master was getting bored and impatient and when he does he gets... rough."

You consider that it might have been better for the witch to keep her separate from her master then an odd idea hits you. You could offer her a job. You are not an archmage and certainly no Mazzarin yet but you would be easier on her. Perhaps you could convince her to leave with you, the Arrows could seal up Mazzarin and you could leave him to rot alone in the dark. You doubt he would see it coming but would betraying an archmage of his power be a good idea?

For the time being you push away the idea. You explain to Lyssa that you have the ritual that will restore Mazzarin's body but that it requires specialized ingredients, "We need either a great deal of magical energy or a large concentration of vital spirits... blood... human blood would be easiest. Enough to submerge him in..."

Lyssa frowns, "That might be difficult. He will probably want me to do it... that... that would kill me..."

The way she says it, like it is a death sentence confuses you, "Well you could refuse right?"

"No. If he finds out, which he will as soon as I go back down there and he enters my mind, he will order me to and that is it. I will do it," she shrugs, "Well I am going to die one day anyway... and I might make it... maybe..."

The ease with which she accepts the idea is a bit unsettling to you. She turns to leave but you stop her, "Hold on, maybe we have options here that won't require someone to die."


2. The Ritual, do you go through with it?

A) Yes, a deal is a deal. You will give him the information needed to cast the spell and you will help him restore himself. (see question 3)

B) No, you and the Arrows leave. You are not helping this Mazzarin. The world does not need another ancient monster wandering about.

C) No, your group and the Arrows leave but you also offer to take Lyssa with you. You won't force her to leave, you and Thaïs will make a case for her coming with you. It will then be up to her.

D) Sort of, you will give Mazzarin the information required to cast it but you will not restore him yourself.

E) freeform


3. The Ritual, if you conduct it how are you going to power it?

A) Magic: You and Thaïs will convince Mazzarin to wait a few days while you recover. You will then conduct the ritual with Lyssa using your magic to fuel the spell. It will probably leave you all quite drained for a twenty four hour period or so after the spell.

B) Lyssa's Blood: You will let Lyssa drain herself to fuel the spell. You will cast it while she bleeds out, she might live... maybe...

C) Lyssa's Blood and a chained Heal spell: You will let Lyssa drain herself to fuel the spell. You will cast it while she bleeds out but as soon as you are done you will cast a Heal spell on her. You might be quick enough to save her. You will draw on Thaïs to cast the Heal spell as you will not have enough power to cast it yourself. This will likely leave all three of you in weakened condition for at least a day.

D) Arrows' Blood: Ceannard and his men have been awfully useless so far. You will take some blood from each of them and use that to fuel the spell. They probably won't like it but Lyssa can give them a bonus or something you think.

E) Send a couple Arrows to get a large number of mandrake roots. You will send the Arrows back to Myrgard to procure about forty mandrake roots. Lyssa has enough gold stored to pay for them so cost is not a concern but it would be difficult to get that many roots without drawing a lot of attention.

F) Modified Lyssa's Blood and a chained Heal spell: You will let Lyssa drain herself to fuel the spell. You will cast it while she bleeds out but as soon as you are done you will cast a Heal spell on her. You might be quick enough to save her. You will draw on Thaïs to cast the Heal spell as you will not have enough power to cast it yourself. This will likely leave all three of you in weakened condition for at least a day. And you ask the second reward for Lyssa, pointing out that with his form restored he can get a new novice anyway.

G) freeform
 

Chapter 19: Blood for the Blood God?

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Chapter 19: Blood for the Blood God?

"You sure this is a good idea?" Thaïs asks.

"Nope," you don't look up. This will take your full concentration to pull off. If you are off by even a little... "Damn it!"

You miss... again.

"My arm!" Ceannard howls.

"Quit complaining," you give Ceannard a swat, "And stop squirming or I will miss the vein again!"

As the only one with any sort of real medical training you are responsible for getting the blood out of the Arrows without hurting them too badly. For the most part you succeed though it is not always easy.

"I can not believe I agreed to this- ouch!" you finally find his vein and begin draining him, he looks down at his arm and turns a little pale, "I... I feel a bit weak..."

You look at Thaïs, she looks at you, you both start laughing.

"Do not laugh, I am serious!" the Arrow insists.

You shake your head in disbelief, "You are a mercenary. You must see blood all of the time?"

He looks up at you a confident grin on his weary face, "Well yes. But it usually is not my blood," he hesitates, staring at the blood running from his arm, "And there usually isn't so much of it just lying about," he gestures to the shallow basin at his feet.

You shrug, unmoved, "Well we need enough of it to cover the archmage with. Look, if it bothers you so much don't look at it."

He frowns, "Well then what should I look at? There is blood everywhere!" he stops for a moment as a sly grin creeps onto his pale face, "Hmm... what about my lovely doctors? Will the two of you nurse me back to health, maybe? Give me something else to think about perhaps? Kiss the wound and make it- ahhhh!"

Seems you had the same idea as you both give him a small zap at the same time. The cumulative effect of which is quite a bit stronger than either of you intended, "Alright, alright! I was only joking! I am just trying to keep my mind off the blood you know!"

You give the Arrow a sympathetic smile, feeling a little guilty about shocking him, "We know Ceannard, we know. And look, it worked," you staunch the bleeding as Thaïs carries the basin away and empties it into one of a pair of large pails, "All done!" you declare as you carefully bandage up the wound and help him to his feet.

"Do you need a hand Ceannard?" Thaïs asks as he slowly passes her.

Weakly he shakes his head, "No, no. I will be fine," he does not look fine but seems determined to make it on his own. A matter of pride perhaps... you wonder...

Ceannard wanders out of the hut and joins his men sitting in the grass. Biliku and Uttu rush about amongst them tending to them and administering broth, nuts and scrambled snake eggs to help them recover. With only sixteen Arrows to draw from and poor tools it is a wonder no one dies. A few come too close for your liking but you manage with your combined supplies.

You take a fair bit from each of them, maybe more than you should have, but by the time the sun begins to rise you have an adequate supply of blood.

You stick your head out of the hut and call for your girls. Biliku and Uttu come running, when they get inside you give them your orders, "Now girls, I want you to stay out here and keep watch with the Arrows, they are in no state to fight so if anything attacks you come and find us understand?"

They look at one another, then to Thaïs over your shoulder, finally they look to you and they nod. You smile and tussle their hair, "Good, now back to your posts."

They snap you a salute, mimicking the behaviour of the Arrows they have been tending and race off into the early morning light, back to their guard posts.

You would love to join them under the sun but you have to head in the opposite direction. Once more into the earth, once more into the gloom and darkness. The trapdoor creeks open behind you and Lyssa emerges. She looks tired, spent, and from the bloody cloth in her hand you suspect Mazzarin has been in her mind again.

Lyssa frowns, "I thought you said we needed to submerge him."

You nod and explain your reasoning "Yes, I did but I have been thinking. The spell calls for the target to be covered in a substance capable of channelling the magical energies involved. I assumed this meant complete submersion. That is certainly how Culwyeh did it, in a large, ornate tub of human blood. But I think we can do this by simply coating him in blood. To submerge him we would have to kill at least some of the Arrows and I am not murdering sixteen men to ease your master's pain."

Lyssa thinks on that for a moment then nods, "No more deaths... yes I agree," without a further word she snatches up one of the buckets and heads down into the tunnel.

You are left to wonder just what motivates such a person. She seems to hold no particular loyalty to her master, she does not even seem to like him very much and yet she seems willing to do everything in her power to help him. It is certainly odd.

You grab the other pail and follow her down with your friend close behind. The three of you make the uncomfortable walk to Mazzarin's chamber in silence. You suspect that an observer would confuse you with a trio of ghosts haunting this narrow tunnel. You are all worn down, mentally exhausted, but you push on.

As you enter Mazzarin's cell you scan the room. For some reason you half expected the archmage to rise and greet you, like something out of a horror story.

He rests on his slab, however, unmoving save for the slight rise and fall of his chest.

Lyssa carefully places her bucket on the floor and moves to grab Mazzarin's hand as you lay your bucket down and grab her arm, "Don't," you order her.

She turns to you, "But he won't be able to speak if I don't connect with him."

"Good," you reply, "I want him to listen not talk and I might need you for this. I don't want you any more drained than you already are."

She gives you a reluctant nod and a slight smile, "Thank you," she whispers.

You push past her to her master, "Mazzarin? Can you hear me? One grunt for yes and, well, if you can't it does not much matter now does it?"

The corpse lets out a single gasp which you take for a yes.

"Alright then," you are not terribly thrilled about what you have to do next, "We are going to... strip you, and then we are going to bathe you in blood. We don't have enough to submerge you in so we..." you take a deep breath, "So we are going to give you a sponge bath..." you could swear the old bastard smiles just a little at the thought.

You turn from him to Thaïs and Lyssa, "Let's just get this over with as quickly as possible."

One brisk and very unsettling bath later you have an archmage covered in congealed blood. Henry would be so very proud...

"Alright, now I will handle the actual casting. Sorry Mazzarin but I am not letting you in my head so you can sit this one out. Thaïs, Lyssa, I want you both to give me as much power as you can without hurting yourselves. No rushing, this could take a little while."

You reach out with your mind and begin to construct the foundations of the spell that will revive Mazzarin. You reach out to his body but keep a close watch upon his mind all the same, you can not truly trust the man after all. You feel the Faceless Man observing closely, he whispers into your mind. Don't worry Derryth, I will keep an eye on him. You are not certain how comforting that is.

As you trace the contours of his body you work carefully to locate and identify his pneuma, his breath, the elemental air that forms the basis of life. It is weak, almost nonexistent but it is there. You give a slight sigh of relief, he is not some undead monstrosity, he is not some demonic apparition, he is alive, he is flesh and blood and will. A small sliver of your fear of the man disappears as this knowledge sinks in. You are fairly certain you could 'kill' him at this exact moment if you wanted to. You are also certain that none of you would walk out of this room alive and that he almost certainly would not stay dead.

You push such ideas from your mind and focus on the task at hand. Slowly you chant the incantations to fortify his soul, his breathing becomes more steady, deeper, slowly but surely you are restoring him to his prime.

Now for the difficult part, most of the blood in him has long since turned to dust, a sort of magical sludge weakly pumps through his veins. You need to restore the proper flow of his vital spirits and rekindle his inner fire.

That will take a fair amount of energy.

You call out to your two assistants and they answer. They pour power into your spells which you in turn pour into Mazzarin's body. The blood begins to evaporate as the vital spirits within it are transmitted to Mazzarin's flesh. His lungs, his heart, his liver, all begin to revive. His heart begins to heat, and to beat, and slowly the sludge in his veins begins to move. The colour returns to his flesh. He begins to warm considerably and no longer looks like a corpse.

He has taken on the proportions and characteristics of a young man, you would say he looks to be in his early twenties, he is handsome enough but nothing spectacular. You would say he is average, in every way just average, it is a bit disappointing to be honest. Some tiny part of you had expected him to be... bigger, a magical giant, but here before you he is just a man like any other.

Immediately you remind yourself that he is not what he seems, that he is in fact the greatest archmage to have ever practiced the magical arts. He deserves your respect, and a good deal of caution if nothing else.

You can now feel the air in his lungs, the blood in his veins and suddenly he no longer needs your help to maintain himself. His body begins to function naturally. His liver begins once more to refine pneuma into natural spirits to supply to his heart which in turn creates the vital spirits necessary for physical existence. He is stable now, the worst is past.

The last set of spells require little power but a great deal of finesse, you wave Thaïs and Lyssa off and they gradually break contact with you.

Only one step remains now, to coax his physical brain back to full operation, to take the vital spirits his heart is now producing and to use them, direct them through his brain once more. You channel them, guide them, and begin the process by which they can become true animal spirits. He begins to move, to babble unintelligibly, his rational soul still out of balance with his physical body. You work quickly to stabilize him, to prevent the onset of madness.

The Faceless Man watches in silence but you can sense approval radiating from him. You really are quite good at this for such a young mage Derryth, why with my help-

His voice cuts out and you are dragged back to reality.

You can still feel the Faceless Man but he is focused on something, someone, other than you.

Mazzarin sits on his slab, a confident smile upon his face, "I was not aware that you had a second archmage travelling with you," there is a great deal of cruelty there, hatred too in fact.

Now that he has recovered you can feel the power pouring off of him. He is not even attempting to hide it. You can see it in him, you can feel it near him, you can hear it, taste it, smell it, the complete magical mastery he possesses. It is fascinating, it is intoxicating, it is horrifying, and you know instantly that you are completely at his mercy. You could not fight this man even were you inclined to do so. Even on your best day it would not be close. Even with your entire Circle, even with every mage you have ever known, you would lose. You would lose badly. You had doubted but you doubt no longer.

This is Mazzarin and he is terrifying.

He makes a single push towards your mind, no your minds, he hits all three of you. You can feel the weight of it, he could crush you in an instant but he stops. Or rather he is stopped. The Faceless Man is protecting your minds and it takes every ounce of his strength to do so. In your mind he grunts, he screams, he cries.

With a shrug Mazzarin breaks off his... attack is the wrong word for it, if that had been an attack you would no longer exist... his... probe? Yes, his probe, he was testing you and Thaïs or perhaps the Faceless Man but either way it seems you have passed, at least for the moment.

You decide that complete honesty would be best policy here. If he decides to he can invade your mind with hardly any effort.

He sits on his slab completely exposed but it is you that feels naked.

You choke down your fear and your awe, if nothing else you are stubborn and you will be damned if you are going to be intimidated by anyone, even by this mage, "I was not aware that he was travelling with us either until today."

He gives you what on first glance is a warm smile, but it is odd, sharp in your mind, "Well, if you want I can take those bracelets off of you. It would be a simple thing to do all things considered."

The Faceless Man screams a warning to you, not a compulsion, not a suggestion, not even words, just an emotion. Fear, terror, for himself and for you.

Still, he is a liar, and a manipulator. You would not put it past him to try and influence you against Mazzarin. You are not certain what you should do really.

The Faceless Man cries out.

Mazzarin calmly awaits your reply.

You try to formulate words with a Fallen Lord wailing in your head, "Would... um... would this count as a favour?"

His smile gets broader, and sharper, "You did not have to revive me yourself. You could have dumped the information on poor Lyssa and I would not have blamed you" he gives her a slight nod through she turns a little pale and wobbles slightly, "You did not have to do anything more than that but instead you brought me back to my full glory. I will of course require the exact details of the ritual from you but that is a small matter and easily solved. In exchange for your contributions above and beyond what was required of you I am willing to offer you this additional boon. I will remove the bracelets and free you from the influence of this archmage. All I ask for in exchange are the bracelets themselves. If the being using them is who I suspect it is then he and I have business to settle. Once and for all."

You consider the idea, "May I have some time to consult with my colleague?"

His sharp smile cuts deeper, "Certainly, I will need a few hours to gather some things I have left nearby," he stands and looks you in the eyes, he raises a single hand to his chin in contemplation.

You stand transfixed by his stare, unable to move as your body cries out to you to run, finally he speaks, "Oh, before I forget. On a related note what do you want for your talking head? I should like to have her. Money, power, really anything you could want I can give you. It will be a fair trade I assure you."

Instinctively you begin to inform him that you will not trade your friend for anything.

He does not allow you to respond however, he waves you away and the three of you each take six small steps backward in unison, "I shall return shortly and would prefer an answer then," he snaps his fingers and disappears in a cloud of gray green ash.

"So that was Mazzarin?" you mutter in astonishment.

"I suppose so," Thaïs answers.

"I... I thought he would be kinder... I... I don't know..." Lyssa looks rather shaken, "Ever... ever have that feeling you made the wrong choice in life?"

The three of you blink and stare at one another.

What to do is the question.


1. Mazzarin says he will be gone for a few hours. You could wait for him or you could try to run away, he is rather terrifying...

A) You stay. You wish to do business with him now.

B) You run away (given how close these choices are in intent all options to run away will be counted together, the most popular option will be chosen.)

i. You, Thaïs, Biliku and Uttu will flee. Though you and Thaïs are mentally exhausted you should still be able to make fairly good time. It will take a few hours to reach Myrgard.

ii. You, Thaïs, Biliku and Uttu will flee. You offer to take Lyssa with you, you doubt she will live long in his service. The five of you should be able to make good time. It will take a few hours to reach Myrgard.

iii. You, Thaïs, Biliku, Uttu and the Arrows will flee. The Arrows are still in rather poor condition and will likely slow you down. Of course they will also provide some muscle should you run into trouble. It will take you the better part of half a day to reach Myrgard.

iv. You, Thaïs, Biliku, Uttu and the Arrows will flee. The Arrows are still in rather poor condition and will likely slow you down. Of course they will also provide some muscle should you run into trouble. You also offer to take Lyssa with you, you doubt she will live long in his service. It will take you the better part of half a day to reach Myrgard.

v. freeform

C) Send Biliku, Uttu and Nine away with the Arrows as escort. Derryth and Thais stay to do business with the mage.

D) freeform


2. The Bracelets/The Faceless Man: Mazzarin has offered to free you from the bracelets and the Faceless Man for the price of the bracelets themselves. Do you accept?

A) Yes - you accept.

B) No - you do not accept.


3. Nine: Mazzarin would like to purchase Nine. Will you trade her to him?

A) Yes - you will trade her away (The options will be listed in the next update if you choose to stay. They will likely include money, magical training, artefacts and the like. It is essentially an extra favour.).

B) No - you will not trade her for anything.


4. Favour(s): You still have two favours left. Do you wish to use one or both when Mazzarin returns?

A) No - you will not call in a favour.

B) Yes - you will call in one favour.

C) Yes - you will call in both favours.


5. Favour Selection (if 4b wins the top selection will be chosen, if 4c wins the top two selections will be chosen).

A) Lyssa, you ask for Mazzarin's apprentice. You are fairly certain from talking to her that she would accept the arrangement.

B) Wealth, you do not know how much he will give you but it should be substantial.

C) Artefacts, a list will be presented on his return. You may chose a certain number of them then.

D) Magic, he will grant you instruction in a field of your choice.

E) Summon Shub-Niggurath, what is the worst that could happen?

F) You ask that from now on he never act directly and/or knowingly against you or your friends in any form or manner, this includes Nine, obviously we promise to refrain to take any direct or willing action against him as well. Should you break this agreement your life and the lives of all those you care about/know will be forfeit.

F) freeform
 

Chapter 20: The Arrows in Flight

Chapter 20: The Arrows in Flight

Your return to the surface is quick and silent. This is no time for words, you need to get the children and Nine away from here before the archmage returns. Negotiating with him will be difficult enough as it is, you do not want to give him hostages to use against you as well.

Ceannard ambles up to the three of you as you rush out into the morning air. He has recovered slightly and the colour has returned to his face. Behind him the Arrows mill about chatting while a few sentries stand with the girls keeping watch.

Down in that hole you had not noticed the passage of time but it has been hours. You suspect it is approaching noon.

Ceannard gets a closer look at your face, a hint of concern passes over his in response, "What happened Derryth? You look worried," he grins, "Well more worried than normal."

You give him a nod as you pass him, headed for the girls, "I am."

He falls into your wake as Thaïs gives him the details, he absorbs it all in silence.

You glance at him over your shoulder, to his credit he does not even flinch. He increases his pace slightly, pulling up beside you, he speaks, "You will be needing our services then?"

"Yes, though not here," you wave at the girls, "I need you and your men to take the girls and Nine away from here. Get them to Myrgard, they will know where to go from there, I-"

He does not let you finish, "Our contract was to ensure you all made it back to the city," Ceannard places a hand on your shoulder as you stop short, "I always honour my contracts. If you need us to we will put this archmage back in the ground."

His professionalism is reassuring, the concern in his voice is touching, but now really is not the time, he has not even the slightest clue of what he is up against, "Thank you Ceannard but it will take much more than sixteen men and a couple mages to defeat this man. I have no intention of fighting him but I need the children safe if I am going to do this."

He frowns but nods, "Alright then, I will send them back with Otto and I will stay-"

You shake your head and raise a hand, "You need to be the one to do this, understand? I am trusting my people to your care. I expect you to see them safely to the city and I want your word that you and all of your men will leave."

He wants to argue. You get the feeling that on this issue he could be as stubborn as you are. He tries to speak. You stare at him. He tries again, but you will not be moved; not on this at least. He makes a fist and shakes his head, "You are too Wyrd damned stubborn for your own good, you know that? Fine, I give you my word, we will see your people safely to the city or die in the attempt." He snaps a salute and marches off to organize his people. They still look drained, weak, but they are professionals. They will give it everything they have.

Biliku and Uttu slow their advance from a brisk trot to almost a crawl as they see the look on your face. They know instinctively that you are about to give them instructions they will not like.

You motion for them to hurry up as they wander over to you and Thaïs, you begin, "Girls we have a very important task for you. We need you to take Mistress Nine and go with the Arrows back to Myrgard."

Their jaws drop, Uttu stamps a foot. Biliku protests, "If we leave we won't be able to protect you and Thaïs! We won't be able to do our jobs! You can not ask us to flee like that. We are not cowards!"

The younger girl turns red in the face, "We won't leave and you can't make us!"

It would almost be cute if the most powerful archmage to ever live were not breathing down your neck. Thaïs drops to a knee and takes both of the girls by the hand, softly she begins, taking a slightly different tact, "We know you are brave girls, but that man you saw earlier wants to take Nine away. We can not let that happen. It is of the utmost importance that you take Nine back to Myrgard and find Bari. This is a very important task that no one but you two can do for us. Do you understand?"

Slowly they nod. You place a hand on Thaïs' shoulder, "Do you think you and Uttu could go help the Arrows? I need to talk to Biliku for a moment."

Your friend leads the younger girl away.

Biliku examines you as you take off your pack. Carefully you withdraw Nine's sleeping head and help store it away in her pack, "Nine should not wake up for quite some time and she requires no special care. Just let her sleep and protect her, we should be along shortly..." you try to hide your concern behind a tired smile. You are glad you are so exhausted, had you the energy you would be terrified and you don't want the girl to pick up on that.

You search your mind for advice, "If she does wake up for whatever reason be polite to her, smile, don't contradict her too much and try to get her to go back to sleep. Do not let her poke around in your head either. If she tries, call for Ceannard or one of the Arrows..."

With Nine securely stowed away you straighten he pack, you check the straps to ensure they are properly secured. Biliku fidgets slightly as you fuss over her perhaps a little too much, "You listen to Ceannard understand? He knows these tunnels and the desert well. When you get back to Myrgard you take Uttu and Nine and go straight to the safehouse. Find Bari-"

She shakes free of your grasp and begins readjusting the straps on her pack, quietly she speaks, "Don't worry Derryth I won't let you down. I will get them both safely to Bari," she breaks eye contact, "Just... please... please don't die."

She throws her arms around you, catching you off guard.

Lightly you pat her on the head.

You are not sure what to say really.

The truth is anything but certain.

You know all too well that you may not see either of them again so you tell her what she wants to hear, what she wants to be the truth, what you want to be the truth, "Don't worry kid, we will be absolutely fine. You just take care of your sister and we can go shopping or something when we get back safe and sound."

She smiles at the thought though she looks a little confused. It occurs to you that she has probably never been shopping. She probably does not even really know what that is. The realization makes you laugh a little. It proves contagious as she begins to laugh as well.

If this is to be the last time you see her. At least it will be joyous not sombre.

-------------------------------------------------

The Arrows led by Ceannard march past you. Each with his bow at the ready. He gives you a slight nod as he passes. You feel better that he will be with them. As foolish as he can be, at this moment he exudes confidence. You know he will do everything he can to get them to safety.

As they disappear into the darkness of the tunnels Uttu looks back at you and waves dramatically. The two of you can not help but wave back.

Biliku drags her into the darkness, yelling something about 'professionalism' and 'embarrassment'. The sisters fall to bickering and you can hear them for minutes after they disappear from view.

You turn to Lyssa and Thaïs, the witch speaks up, "Now what?"

You motion back to the hut, "I guess we wait."

------------------------------------------

Waiting is your least favourite part of the life you lead. The danger, the horror, the blood, all of the terrible and disgusting things you have to put up with, none of it is as bad as the waiting. The moments when you are caught between the promise of success and the terror of failure. It can sap you of your strength, deprive you of your rest, if you let it, it can ruin you.

So you do something to keep your mind off it.

"When is he going to show up?" Lyssa asks to no one in particular as she deals out three cards to each of you. She places a another four cards on the table, face up.

"He is an archmage. He will get here when he feels like it," you snatch a four of swords from the table with your four of coins.

"Yes, but he did say he would only be a couple hours," Thaïs reminds you as she places a two of cups on the table.

"Maybe he won't come back?" Lyssa hazards as she sweeps the table, grabbing all three cards with a six of coins, "Hah!"

For a girl that supposedly does not gamble. Lyssa is far too good at this.

Maybe if you can distract her...

You try to redirect the conversation, "Lyssa?"

"Yes?" she responds as you play out your hands.

"How did you wind up out here to begin with?" you frown considering your options.

"I made mistakes... lots of mistakes," she shrugs as she snatches up another card.

Thaïs is doing poorly, must be her nerves, "Well yes, we gathered as much, but I think what Derryth was saying is what kind of mistakes."

She frowns, "The kind it would be very stupid to talk about," she plays her last card to the table.

You snatch it up triumphantly, it is working, you are battling back, "Oh come on, you can tell us. It might make you feel better."

For a second you think she might actually do it. She shakes her head, "It would and it wouldn't..." she begins to deal out another three cards to each of you, "I can't tell you Derryth, please don't ask."

"Alright," you stare at your new hand, "So you can not tell us why you are here but what do you hope to get out of this? Magical knowledge?"

She has a distant look in her eyes, "I have things to make up for Derryth. I was walking a path that... well it would not end well. I can't say my odds are much better here but maybe I can do some good. Helping Mazzarin... I thought I was doing some good. He is... er... was, a hero! The hero, next to Connacht, he could do so much good. He wants to remove the threat of the Dark once and for all...

She places the beautiful seven on the table. This is working almost too well, "Yes, but if you keep going as you have you will be dead within the year. You can not do anyone any good if you are dead."

She considers your words, "I suppose. What are you getting at Derryth?"

"I," you look to your partner and she nods, "We, are offering you a job Lyssa."

She drops her cards, the game forgotten by the three of you, "A job? What... what sort of job?"

Thaïs helps you build your case, "You have talent Lyssa. That much is obvious but you are wasted out here. We would like you to come with us. We may not be archmages but we have our own resources, we can give you knowledge and the tools needed to help people and I can assure you your working conditions will be far superior to those you currently endure."

"I... I think I would like that. What is the catch?" she interrogates you both with her gaze. Her eyes are filled with doubt but there is hope there as well.

You smile, "You are right, there is a catch. We don't want slaves in our organization and we don't want servants either. If you come with us, you become one of us. We trust you and you have to trust us. That means no secrets between us."

Her eyes drop, "Derryth, I already told you... I can't-"

You raise a hand to stop her, "You don't have to answer right away. Think about it. We have time it seems..."

Afternoon passes into evening and still the archmage does not arrive.

You begin to worry.

Was he waiting for you out in the desert?

Have you sent your girls off to their deaths?

Everything is made clear however when Mazzarin does finally arrive.

It begins as a slight glow in the meadow. A greenish haze that seeps under the door of the hut.

The three of you follow the light outside.

It begins to solidify as storm clouds gather.

Mazzarin has decided to enter with style.

The tree in the meadow bursts into emerald flame, a twisting inferno that screams into the coming night.

Lyssa groans, "Damn it... I liked that tree..."

Pink strands weave through the air.

They wrap around the hut and constrict.

The hut folds in on itself. "My bird!" Lyssa screams and starts for the hut. You grab her by the arm and restrain her. There is nothing she can do for it.

You are certain that this entire show is calculated to impress you.

What it does is infuriate you. You scream into the wind, "We get the Wyrd damned point! Your a big bloody magician! Would you please stop now you grumpy old bastard!"

The wind laughs in reply.

You can feel the ground shake. Mazzarin must have collapsed the tunnel underneath the hut and his old cell with it.

Purple lightning cracks through the air and he appears mere metres from you.

He certainly looks the part now.

His robes are red and white, a heavy hood hides his face. Around him strands of green and pink magic dance. At his belt is a blade of gold and moonlight. In his hand a coiled staff of darkness and despair. Serpents of silver and sapphire slither up and down its length. It is massive and well made but more than a little gaudy. It is all clearly crafted to invoke a sense of awe in all that see it.

Naturally you can not help yourself...

You grin, "Compensating for something?"

The ladies giggle nervously.

As an archmage Mazzarin is a master showman but you can tell that deflated him just a little. He looks decidedly unamused, "I have no idea what you mean..."

You can taste the blood in the water. You know you should not but it is just too tempting to press this pompous ass, "Really?" your grin spreads, "I mean we all saw you in the cell. I just thought maybe, you are, you know... a little insecure..." you hold your hands a couple inches apart and tilt your head in mock sympathy.

You can't see his eyes but his jaw clenches.

The Faceless Man cackles in your mind.

Wyrd, girl! Even if we die in the next minute this is completely... utterly... worth it!

Mazzarin drops his spells. The wind dies down, the lightning stops, and the clouds disperse. He glares at you. You stand in silence, you will not give ground to him.

Slowly his mouth stretches into an approximation of a smile, "You lack manners child... but you have done me a great service and it would be a shame to destroy such a useful... ally..." there is a certain menace in that word 'ally'. You think he would prefer to say 'servant' or 'slave' instead. Still for whatever reason he has not broken you yet, something you are doing must be working.

With his entrance ruined he quickly pushes on to the business at hand, "Now, if you will both present your arms I can remove your bracelets and free you from the influence of this... adversary."

"I am afraid we can not do that," Thaïs answers politely.

You chime in as well, "Yes, I am afraid we must decline your generous offer. We shall deal with this archmage ourselves."

Mazzarin frowns, "So you would ally with the Dark?"

You are quick to end that line of thought, "No. Never. But all the same we shall handle this one ourselves."

He practically growls in response, "As you wish... Have you decided what you want in exchange for your talking head?"

"No," you respond coolly.

He grins, "Well that is understandable. I can grant you anything and for those of limited vision-"

You interrupt him, "No, I meant we do not want anything for her. We are sorry but she is a good friend and we simply will not betray our friends for anything.""

"So..." rage begins to build in him, "You would take a Fallen Lord for a friend?"

Thaïs speaks up, "She is no longer a Fallen Lord. The woman, or women, she was are gone forever. She is her own person and she has been nothing but helpful to us. If she shows signs of succumbing to the Dark then we will deal with her as well."

He balls his fist, "She is too dangerous. She is a manipulator, a liar. She was using you! Why she even lied to you! She filled your spells with holes and backdoors!"

Instinctively you reach back to Thaïs and she takes your hand, stepping up next to you.

Calmly you interrupt him again, "So did you."

The two of you wait for him to answer.

He does not respond well to that.

He raises his free hand, "Do you have any idea who you so freely insult! Do you have the slightest clue! I will! I will crush you! I will flay you! I will-"

"Behave exactly like a Fallen Lord?" you give him your best grin. If you are going to die here then you are going to hold nothing back. Thaïs squeezes your hand.

"You torture your apprentice!" you gesture to Lyssa.

"You destroy all around you!" you gesture to the tree and the remains of the hut.

"And now you threaten to snuff out the lives of the very people that helped you, over a slight!" the two of you take a step towards him and he backs up as you build steam, "You know what! I don't think you are Mazzarin! I think you are Balor! Or the Deceiver! Or The Watcher! 'Cause you sure as hell behave like them! So go ahead! Kill us and prove me right!"

You prepare yourself for oblivion.

For the spell or the blow that will strike you down.

It never comes.

He can't do it.

Not now.

Even if he killed all three of you.

He would know.

He would know and it would ruin him.

That knowledge does nothing for his temper however. He steps past you towards his apprentice, "Lyssa, come! We are leaving! We have things to do!"

You raise an arm to block his path, "Not yet. We want a favour first."

It takes every ounce of strength in him not to hit you.

He begins to laugh. It is deep and unrestrained.

"You would..." he sighs, "Very well, what do you want. Some trinket that will elevate you to the status of a minor god? One of my best spells with which to lay all your enemies low? Enough wealth to buy whole kingdoms? Tell me, what do you want Derryth ó Foghladh? What do you want from me?"

"Your apprentice," the answer rolls off your tongue.

He pulls the hood from over his eyes. He stares at you and you meet his gaze. He looks into you, through you, as if he is trying to fathom your very soul.

He is no longer angry, no longer amused, he is confused, "I do not understand you. You have access to the greatest mage who has ever lived. Magical knowledge and artefacts that most can not even dream of and you choose my middling apprentice," she wilts at those damning words, "Why would you want her? Of all things why her? I... I just do not understand..."

"You don't need to," you do not feel like explaining yourself to him, "Will you grant my request or will you break your word?"

He narrows his eyes perhaps in the belief that if he looks hard enough it will all make sense. He is certain that you are stealing some advantage from him but he can not fathom what and it drives him to distraction. He hisses his answer, "Yes... You may have her... Lyssa you are free to leave with these women should you so desire. I shall not stop you."

Lyssa nods, "Thank you Master, I would like that."

He shrugs, "All the same to me if you want to turn down a chance at ultimate power..."

He turns his piercing gaze back to you and a grin creeps back across his face.

"You intrigue me child, and amuse me..." he reaches into his robe and draws forth three black necklaces, chokers. They are as intricate and gaudy as everything else he has, not really your style. A large crystal glimmers at the center of each, "Take these as a gift. I would not want anything to happen to you or the ones you travel with."

You stare at the chokers suspiciously, "Thank you for your courtesy but we must decline."

Take them. Mazzarin commands you.

Each of you reaches out and grabs one.

Put them on. The command rings out in your mind, cold and metallic.

You fight it, even as Lyssa and Thaïs slowly raise theirs and clip them in place.

Put it on. The command comes out stronger.

Slowly your hands rise. Slowly you clip it into place.

Quickly it constricts around your neck, Quickly it bonds to your skin.

It shifts in shape, transforming into a single black ribbon with a tiny spec of a crystal on the front. At least this way it will be easier to hide.

He grins at the three of you, "There, you will all be much safer now."

You can not help but note the ambiguity in his words. Will you be safer from danger or will you be safer for him? You suppose it does not much matter now as you can not do anything about it at the moment.

He steps back from your group, "Until we meet again ladies. I shall think of my three saviours fondly!"

He begins to waver in the light and with a flash he is gone again.

The first thing you do is try to peal his 'gift' off, it won't even budge.

As you turn around you notice Thaïs and Lyssa doing the same thing.

You give your friend an grin of complete and total exhaustion, "Well, eventually we will run out of body parts to get things stuck on..."

You share a laugh over the absurdity of your situation as you help Lyssa sort through the wreckage of her home for supplies.

---------------------------------------------

Your trip back to the city was without incident.

Unfortunately you learn from Biliku and Uttu that theirs was not.

After they let go of the two of you and you manage to calm them down they explain everything.

"Ceannard was so brave Derryth!" Biliku frowns as Uttu explains, "We were attacked by a horde of ghôls! Like five hundred!"

Biliku plays the role of the calm, collected older sister in their little drama, "It was not five hundred Derryth... maybe... um... eighty? One hundred? No more than one hundred and twenty to be certain."

Uttu gives her a shove, "That does not matter! He was so cool! He was all like 'Arrows! Ready bows!'" she stands tall mimicking Ceannard, "'Nock!' And they did! 'Mark!' And they did! 'Draw'"

"And they did..." Biliku replies sarcastically in mockery of her younger sister.

Uttu sticks her tongue out at her, "Then he said it! 'Loose!' And the sky filled with arrows!"

"You are exaggerating again!" Biliku chimes in, "There were only sixteen of them!"

"Nuh uh, seventeen! Ceannard let me fire too! He put me right next to him in the 'spot of honour'! It was amazing Derryth. The Arrows can fire so fast! I mean I though I was fast but wow!" she drops down in front of you, "Not one of the ghôls made it to our line! It was amazing!"

Biliku crosses her arms, "Gareth is better..."

Now you understand their behaviour. This is about pride in their chosen professions. Uttu is happy she got to fight while Biliku is upset that she had to wait.

Uttu shoots back, "No he isn't! Ceannard can kill a man from across the room!"

Biliku returns fire, "So can Gareth! He will hit them with his magic sword!"

"That is cheating!" Uttu insists, "Bows are better!"

"No swords!", Biliku shouts.

"Bows!", Uttu answers.

Astrid yells from the other room, "Who wants to help me test out the latest batch of grenades?"

Both girls squeal at the same time, "Grenades!" you are immediately forgotten as they race off to try out the new toys.

As they run out, Bari finally enters the room, "They have been like that since they got back... I tried to explain to them that it is how you use a weapon that determines its worth but they seem happier fighting to be honest," he lets out a merry laugh as he presents you with a large box, "Your... ah... other friend... Don't worry I didn't tell anyone and no one saw anything. I was careful. She looks a bit different though..."

"Well she is a bit different Bari, better I think," you take the box from him and carefully slip it into your pack.

"Albrecht wants to see you, you know. He is not terribly happy you ran off," the dwarf grabs a seat next to you.

"When?" you reply.

"Three days," Bari stretches, "We just about have all the information we need. Between Ullr, Dacey and Trakk's remaining family-"

You stop him there, "They are alive?"

"Sort of... some of them... The Eberhardts were not kind though. One of the kids made it, Trakk's youngest granddaughter, and the girl's father is alive as well... what is left of him... from what the team tell me it was a real mess. Most of them were on death's door. The only mercy for them was to kill them..." he coughs, "Don't worry though. We have that son of a bitch jailer sitting in a cell in the royal prisons. I am going to pay him a few visits. Show him what a professional can do..."

"If I wanted to see them... could I?" you stare at the dwarf.

"Um... yes I suppose that could be arranged but you look terrible Derryth. My recommendation, get some rest," he slaps you on the back, hops to his feet and wanders out of the room.

You have a couple days before Albrecht will be ready to move against his rivals. How would you like to spend that time?


1. Activities: Pick Three (Top three will be chosen):

A) Rest and Recover - Bari is right, you are completely spent. You will take some time to relax. You are also out of supplies. You will kill two birds with one stone. You will take the girls shopping and spend some time relaxing. Who knows what you will have to deal with next.

B) Meet with Mayer - You want to meet with the dwarf to discuss a future partnership that could make you both a lot of money.

C) The Magical Academy - Your close ties to the Royal House of Albrecht should grant you access to the academies resources. You will spend time learning as much as you can about:

i. Enchantment Spells - you want the ability to remove the bracelets and Mazzarin's little 'present'. The dwarves are experts when it comes to weaving enchantments, hopefully they can help you get started.

ii. Light Manipulation - the dwarves have a great deal of interest in this field. You might not be able to learn a lot in such a short amount of time but you can at least make a start.

D) Look into Meletē's condition - she is still unconscious. Whatever spells are at work in her seem to have a long duration. You hope they are not permanent but the only way to find out is to investigate.

i. The Academy - you will look into what the mages know about her condition and attackers. They might be able to help.

ii. The Violet Mages - you will search the mercenary community for her attackers and extract the information from them. You will approach Ceannard for help in this, he should know the players involved and he is reliable provided you pay.

E) You visit Trakk's family - They are being held at a safe location outside of the city. Bari says you can meet them if you want to... you are not sure what if anything you can do for them or what you will say to them...

F) Inquire at the academy about a power source capable of holding your gate spell open. They may have something or could give you a lead on where to find something.

G) freeform


2. Lyssa: She came with you but you know very little about her. You could try to coax her past out with Thaïs' help. Do you?

A) Yes. You will try to find out more about her through quiet, polite conversation.

B) Yes. You will take the girls out drinking, get her drunk enough and she might tell you something... though things could get out of hand...

C) No. You will not push her.

C) freeform


3. The Impressions: You now have a collection of memories in your head that are not your own. What do you want to do with them?

A) Fence them off - you do not want these ideas influencing you. You will do your best to contain them and advise Thaïs to do the same.

B) Integrate them - they memories are now a part of you anyway. You will work together sort through them in as healthy a way as possible. This process will probably influence you both a little.

C) freeform

4. Split the party or not? You will send Thaïs off to perform three separate tasks while you work.

A) Yes - Split up, you can get twice as much done. List the three tasks you want her to work on. The options are the same as in question 1.

B) No - Do not split up, you work better together and are less exposed as a team.
 

Chapter 21: Troubled Dreams and Sweet Nightmares

Bit longer than expected... my apologies...

Chapter 21: Troubled Dreams and Sweet Nightmares

The six of you weave your way through the mid morning crowd towards the commercial district of the great city. Past temples that look like banks and banks that look like temples, past the grocers and smiths, past the tinkerers and traders. You are headed towards one of the best kept secrets in the city. The shop of the brothers Dietfried, purveyors of all things magical, they will have everything you need and more.

The smell has finally begun to dissipate from the fire, your fire, and the city has slipped back into its usual rhythm. With a few exceptions.

At every major corner a pair of dwarven soldiers stand watch, blades and shields at the ready. Albrecht has not formally raised the emergency measure he instituted following the fire. The official reason for this is to prevent a reoccurrence of that tragedy while the government hunts down all those involved. You, however, know the real reason. Albrecht intends to move against his enemies within the week and he will use the army to help him reinforce his rule. It might just be the pessimist in you, but you are certain that the streets of Myrgard will yet run red with blood. That the glittering white marble of its buildings will be smeared with ash. You have seen it... in your dreams...

In truth you have not been resting well lately. Your experiences out in the desert have drained you and one look to your friend tells you that they have marked her as well. You lean on one another as the girls bounce and spring around you, eternal founts of optimism and energy. It does you a world of good to spend some time relaxing with them.

"Girls! Don't run too far ahead!" you call out to them, smiling.

The sound of your voice reminds them of your presence and their 'duty', Uttu calls back, "We were just scouting!"

Thaïs lets out a melodic laugh, "Well then scout a bit closer please!"

The girls come racing back. Uttu slips under Thaïs's free arm and Biliku slips under yours.

"Now that is a sweet picture right there," Astrid chuckles from behind you. The Pathfinder is your minder for the day.

You asked Bari if he wanted to come but he feigned horror and laughed. He had said that he would follow you into the very mouth of hell. He would fight ancient archmages and dark gods out of friendship to you but shopping... that was one bridge too far for even him.

Astrid on the other hand was delighted to come and as the resident inventor of the Pathfinders she even knew the best shops and shopkeepers to go see.

Lyssa laughs in agreement, she is in better spirits then you have ever seen her, "Reminds me of my family when I was just a little girl."

"Family?" you ask, shooting a questioning glance at them over your shoulder.

"Well aren't you?" Lyssa replies confidently, "You look after one another. You care for each other. If that does not make you a family then I do not know what does."

Astrid nods, "The whole world has been levelled twice in the last hundred years. Take it from a dwarf, find comfort and strength wherever you can get it. Does your soul good."

They are right of course, these people have become your family over the last couple months. A result of a common bond forged by constant danger and reinforced by your dependence on one another for survival. Your Circle, your friends, without them none of this would have been possible. You would do anything for them, well maybe not Christine, but still, the thought fills you with peace, with calm, with satisfaction.

"Ah, here we are," the Pathfinder ducks down a side street as the five of you turn and follow. She leads you down a series of increasingly narrow alleys. The fine marble of the high street shops give way to wood and baked brick. There are no guards on these streets and the dwarves that mill about eye your group suspiciously.

She leads you to a shabby little house. No markings of any kind distinguish it from those around it. Something is off about the building and it takes a moment you a moment to realize that the entire structure is wrapped in powerful illusions. You and Thaïs nod to one another as Astrid explains, "The whole place is layered in spells, part of their security. The Dietfried Brothers are quite good at what they do, good friends of the crown too. They normally won't just see anyone off the street but with me along you should be fine," she gives you a wink, "Consider it just another advantage of working for the crown."

You consider the door for a moment. Sturdy but worn, a crooked doorknocker in the shape of a sleeping demon hangs from the middle of the door. Astrid strikes the door three times. The door knocker blinks twice as it opens an eye, to your shock it is alive, "This," she whispers to you, "Is their doorman. Say hello Hartmann."

The doorknocker yawns, "Hello Astrid. Who are your friends?"

"Just some guests in service to the crown," your guide responds, "May we please enter?"

"Depends," the demon answers coyly, "Have an appointment?"

She leans on the door, it grunts, "Come on Hartmann, I am bringing your masters new customers, rich customers. Do me a favour here."

"Hmm..." his scrunches up his face, "Got a bribe?"

Astrid sighs as she roots around in her pocket. She turns to explain as she draws a small pouch from her pocket, "He will do just about anything for peppermints. He won't let in a threat but for a friend..." she pull out a peppermint and pops it into Hartmann's open mouth.

The door demon smiles, "Thank you Lady Astrid, you and your friends may enter. I have alerted my masters and they will be with you shortly," Hartmann closes his eyes, humming slightly as he sucks on the mint.

"In here," Astrid gestures as she pushes the door open and steps into the darkness, you are not far behind.

The interior of this building could not be any different from the exterior.

Polished brass, imported oak, gold filigree, and red velvet. A number of display cases show off weapons and armour, spellbooks and artefacts. The place is filled from floor to roof with the tools of the adventuring trade.

The elder Dietfried a bald, fat man with a jolly face waltzes towards you, moving between the mounds of magical items with a grace that belies his heavy frame.

He spreads his arms wide, "Astrid! It has been far to long since you have stopped by! It is an absolute pleasure as always! And who are these, your lovely friends! Why it is an absolute pleasure-"

"Brother, may we dispense with all of these pointless courtesies? They women are here to shop not talk," the younger Dietfried appears from behind a tower of spellbooks. He is lean and thin, his eyes red from tears and an eternal frown fixed to the center of his gaunt face. The two brothers could not be more different.

You spend hours window shopping as the elder Dietfried shows you his wares. Uttu and Biliku are well behaved and spend most of their time trying out the various weapons in one of the back rooms under the guidance of the younger Dietfried, Astrid keeps an eye on them for you. You, Thaïs, and Lyssa remain in the front of the shop negotiating over spellbooks and scrolls, artefacts and anomalies.

You all see at least one item you would like and you are able to negotiate a price for a large bag of energon cubes and the last of the Dietfrieds' mandrake roots. Astrid offers to cover the costs in the name of the crown should you desire. If you let her do so the Dietfrieds will add the total to the Pathfinders' business account.

-------------------------------------------

1. Shopping (Each part A through G is a seperate sub question. Feel free to vote in each.)


A) Uttu's Bowstring:

Uttu wants a new bowstring. It looks to be made of some sort of hair and radiates a faint, chartreuse light. She thinks it looks pretty and she likes the name. The 'Bowstring of the Fairies'. It is superior to the one she has and will improve the strength of her shots. It also has the ability to transform a single arrow into a flare of light when fully charged (approximately once a day provided it has access to sufficient light to recharge). Do you get it for her?

i. Yes (10 WPs)

ii. No

iii. Let Astrid pay for it.


B) Biliku's Bargain:

Biliku has been involved in hours of negotiation with the younger Dietfried over a small round shield and a scabbard. While her arguments are not sound her conviction has worn him down a little. You suspect he just wants to get rid of her and is cutting her a deal to do so. The shield is made out of a strange silver metal and is completely frictionless. All attacks slide right off of it and projectiles thrown at it glance off. The scabbard appears to be a normal, worn, leather scabbard but when a blade is placed within it the light bends around it hiding both the scabbard and the hilt of the blade. It allows the user to appear unarmed while still carrying a weapon. Do you get them for her?

i. Yes (10 WPs)

ii. No

iii. Let Astrid pay for it.


C) Lyssa's Aphids:

Lyssa and the elder Dietfried have been discussing the finer points of animal training and magical infusion. On a hunch he brought her a small vial filled with little blue and bronze aphids. When unleashed they attack a target designated by their owner and leech off the target's magical energies. Once full they will either return to the owner or detonate on the target as per the owner's instructions at the time of release. She seems quite interested in them and intends to purchase them, if you want you could offer to cover the expense or let Astrid do so.

i. Yes, you pay for them (15 WPs)

ii. No, you let Lyssa buy them.

iii. You let Astrid pay for it.


D) Thaïs' Ring:

Thaïs has her eye on a simple gold band. It allows the caster to store a single spell in it for immediate activation. Nice, simple and practical but it is not cheap. Do you let her pay for it, offer to buy it yourself or let Astrid pay for it?

i. Yes, you pay for it (25 WPs)

ii. No, you let Thaïs pay for it.

iii. You let Astrid pay for it.


E) Derryth's Purchase Part 1:

The shop is filled with a variety of interesting items. Do you want to buy anything? (List as many or as few as you want.)

i. A ring of spell storage just like the one Thaïs wants. (25 WPs)

ii. The Book of the Past: An odd little tome that attunes to whoever holds it in their bare hands for more than twenty minutes. Once attuned it begins to fill up with the true and complete life story of its 'owner'. Every time it is picked up by its owner after that it will attempt to update its contents with new information. It can be reset by attuning it to a new owner at which point its contents will be wiped and the process will begin again. (10 WPs)

iii. The Bloodroot: An odd parasitic plant that will bond to the arm of any host it comes in contact with. It will shift into the shape of any weapon the host knows how to use and is remarkably strong and resistant to harm. It is a living part of the hosts body however and if damaged will harm the host. It also has a nasty tendency to spread its young to those close to its host through direct contact or fluid transmission. The Dietfrieds have theirs caged and should you purchase it they will throw the cage in for free. When attached to a host it requires no special care, when unattached it requires water, light and food in the form of rodents and the like. (15 WPs)

iv. The Spinner: A tiny magic powered machine in the shape of a spider. If fed plant matter it will produce organic tread of a high quality. If fed metals it will spin thread of that metal. The Dietfrieds have not tried to feed it anything else but the same process probably applies to a variety of substances. (20 WPs)

v. A vial of aphids similar to those Lyssa is considering. (15 WPs)

vi. The Box: A plain, sealed wooden box. The Dietfrieds have no idea what is in it and won't risk damaging it to find out. It is a complete mystery... a mystery box... (5 WPs)

vii. A tome on elemental spells (35 WPs)

viii. A comb that can store an invisibility spell but makes a humming noise when active. (5 WPs)

ix. A book titled 'Golems for dummies' but they assure you it is just a novelty item. They have not been able to get the spells in it to work. (1 WP)

x. A squid shaped vase that can store up to ten spells but releases them at random. (10 WPs)

xi. freeform - Looking for something in particular. Propose it and the brothers will check their stock.


F) Derryth's Purchase Part 2:

i. You pay for it yourself.

ii. You let Astrid pay for it.


G) General Supplies: Twelve Energon Cubes and Six Mandrake Roots

i. You buy them (10 WPs)

ii. You by just the roots (6 WPs)

iii. You buy just the cubes (6 WPs)

iv. Let Astrid pay for it.

-----------------------------------------------------------

You make your purchases and leave satisfied.

The brothers, or rather the cheerful elder brother, extends to you an open invitation to stop by should you ever require their services again.

As you leave the shop Astrid presents you with one final gift.

"What's this?" you ask as she hands you and Thaïs a pair of tickets.

"Two passes to the most exclusive spa in the entire city," she grins, "I could see the looks on your faces yesterday. I know exactly what exhaustion looks like and exactly how to cure it! So I booked you both an evening at the Temple of Asclepius. By tomorrow morning you will be as good as new."

The two of you try to politely decline, "We can't take these..."

"Yes you can," she insists, "Don't worry about anything. Lyssa and I will see the girls home safe and sound," she whistles a happy tune, "When you work for the king you get only the best."

She escorts Lyssa and the girls away. They wave as they turn the corner, chattering amongst themselves.

"Well it would be nice to relax," you take your friend by the arm and head back to the high street.

------------------------------------------------------

You whistle as you dress. All things considered you are in a great mood.

The Temple was perfect and just what you needed. The natural springs it was built on revived you bodies and the vapours coming from the deepest parts of the temple restored your minds. When you collapsed in your bed at the end of the day you slipped into the most restful night's sleep you have had in ages.

Now as the sun begins to rise over the desert you can not help but be cheerful as you slip into your smallclothes.

Naturally it was not made to last.

Your whistling is contagious it seems as a second voice drifts into your mind singing in harmony.

"Are you always around?" you mumble to the Faceless Man.

Well Derryth it is not like I can turn our connection off... he replies merrily.

"So every moment... you see and hear everything?" you groan as you slip into your trousers.

Yep. Great isn't it. He sounds far too smug.

"Even when I wake?" you push on.

Yes. He calmly answers.

"When I go to sleep?" you query as you pull on your tunic.

Yes. The same call rings out.

"When I..." he stops you.

Derryth darling. I see everything. I hear everything. If you keep pushing you are going to get an answer you will not like. It is best for your sanity not to worry about it. He chuckles.

"Can't say I appreciate you spying on me all the time..." you mutter all the same.

Well for what it is worth you are not alone. I spy on your friend all the time too. He pauses, you can sense the mischief in him. He is up to no good. Like usual, You know she likes you right.

"I know, I am not an idiot-" you begin to respond but he cuts you off.

No, I mean really likes you- You in turn cut him off.

You have everything you need except your hat...

Now a little annoyed at misplacing it you press on, "Like I said, I am not an idiot. I know. And she is not an idiot, she knows I know. We have spent a good portion of the last two months climbing through each others' minds. We do not have secrets and at least for the time being we are not going to do anything about it. I mean in the last two weeks we have each almost died over twenty times, we almost got our minds wiped, we were almost fused together, several archmages almost murdered us, I-"

Believe me I know. He butts in again terribly self-satisfied, I have been keeping score. Actually if you are curious you are one up on her currently.

You check the closet and the washroom as the Faceless Man drones on...

"Really?" you respond as you continue your search. It feels good for a moment to be winning but you frown as you remember what you are winning at.

He pushes on, But trust me here, you should not pass up a chance at actual happiness. The two of you would be good together-

"Wait a minute," you interject as you check under the bed for your hat.

What? He replies, all curiosity.

"When did you give a damn about love?" you put your hands on your hips and survey the room. It has to be in here somewhere... right?

Um... well... I have been thinking since I told you about Culwyeh. If I had been there for her either time... maybe things would have been different. Maybe... maybe I would be a better man and she would still exist? I don't want you to walk the same path I did Derryth. He lets out a strained sigh.

You will give him that, the man is a natural liar. If you did not know him as well as you do. If you had not seen him in Nine's mind, had not felt him as Mazzarin threatened him you might just believe him. As it is though you don't buy a word of it.

There it is! Under your pillow... a bit flattened but you can fix it. As you pull your hair back and wedge your hat on you confront the Faceless Man, "You creepy old bastard! I don't buy that whole 'I'm reformed' crap for one second! You just want to watch us make out!"

With a sigh he drops his act, Alright Derryth, you got me. I am a disembodied mind bound to a pair of bracelets. If I can not live vicariously through my hosts than what can I do? Can you really blame me?

"Well, once I figure out how to take you off it won't be a problem for either of us, will it?" you frown as you grab your pack and head out of your room.

Thaïs is waiting in the hallway, "Good morning Derryth."

You nod at her, "Morning."

You look one another in the eyes. Instantly you can both tell, "He's been bugging you too huh?"

She nods, "Why is it that every archmage we have met is a creep?

The Faceless Man broadcasts the answer into both your minds, Boredom dear ladies. We have time and we have power and the rest comes naturally.

You both shake your heads as you slip out the front door and meet up with Lyssa.

Today you begin an important task, to get this parasitic archmage off your arms, out of your heads and gone from your lives.

Behind you, somewhere in the bowels of the safehouse you hear giggling and explosions. At least someone is having fun.

--------------------------------------------------

"Fascinating! Absolutely fascinating!" he exclaims, wheezing.

"Why these enchantments are expertly, wonderfully crafted!" his colleague replies in a raspy voice.

"I sense the Dark in those bracelets through!" a third, nasally voice exclaims.

"Maybe they are necromancers or witches? Maybe we should burn them!" squeaks a fourth voice.

A fifth, female and bored, responds, "You don't burn witches idiot! If you inhale the sulphurous fumes you might go mad. You need to drown them!"

"WE SHOULD WEIGH THEM FIRST!" screams a deaf little dwarf.

"We are out of ducks..." comes the reply from the first.

This has been going on for hours...

The rest of the faculty at Myrgard's Royal Academy crowds around the three of you poking and prodding you. They paw at your arms and necks. Muttering dozens of theories as they argue with one another.

You have been dragged apart and pushed together. You have been shoved into a variety of boxes: wooden, metal, stone. You have been submerged in every substance imaginable and still the dwarves ceaselessly prattle on.

You have been assured that they are geniuses. That they are responsible for the innovations that have driven the dwarven state forward.

They babble about experimentation and categorization. About natural principles that you have never encountered before. Something about 'radio waves' though you have no idea what those are. You know the words they are using, or at least they sound familiar, but the way they use them makes no sense. One of them suggests that you have been infected with a 'germ' whatever that is.

You try to be patient. You really do.

But you only have so much patience, "Alright! Enough!"

They hop backward en masse. Startled at your sudden outburst.

"You!" you point to the lead naturalist, "What is wrong with us and how do we fix it!"

"Ah... well..." he looks to his fellows and they begin whispering to each other. They stay like that for five minutes. When you can take no more the lead naturalist spins back around, a wide and deranged smile on his wide lips, "You have two problems ladies! The first are those bracelets. We think there may be a psychic entity residing in them!"

"Which means?" you urge him to speak plainly.

"Uh... there is a consciousness in those bracelets!" he exclaims triumphantly.

"We know that already," Thaïs sighs.

If these are the best you have ladies... I have nothing at all to worry about! the Faceless Man laughs.

The naturalist pushes on undeterred, "But wait! There's more!" he races over to a large tablet and begins to draw with a little piece of stone, "The entity keeps the bracelets locked on your wrists and it is powerful. It grants you some physical protection and should be able to act as a means of communication between the two of you provided you do not get too far apart," you know all of this already and tell him so. He nods and skips to the important part, "So the way to deal with your problem is to remove the entity from the bracelets!"

You grin, "Well now we are making progress! How do we do that?"

Derryth do not do this. The Faceless Man warns you, a hint of fear creeping into his voice.

"Ah... we don't know..." the philosopher hangs his head.

Ah ha ha ha ha! The Faceless Man cackles in your mind.

"YES WE DO!" the tiny dwarf yells at the top of his lungs, "WE CUT THEIR ARMS OFF!"

The Faceless Man laughs harder.

The lead naturalist shakes his head, "That is too crude. It could work but it is a high price to pay. I have a more elegant solution!"

He wheels out a pair of large lead gloves. One for each of you. Proudly he explains, "Wear these and the entity will not be able to do anything!"

The Faceless Man stops laughing.

They look rather bulky and awkward...

You don't really relish wearing those for the rest of your days.

The female dwarf coughs as she roots around in a large bin, "This could help!" She drags out a small backpack with a rod attached to it.

"Oh not that thing Janine!" the head naturalist whines, "It is embarrassing!"

She glares at her colleague, "Doctor Spengler was a genius and this was his greatest work!"

"Was?" you ask, suddenly worried, "What happen to him?"

She won't make eye contact, "He was a genius... but... not all of his inventions worked as well as others, his Myrkridia repellent for example... But this invention will work! The proton pack will suck that spirit right out of your arms! I think... maybe..."

The head naturalist coughs, "The less said about Doctor Spengler and his inventions the better! Now if you would like to try on the gloves ladies-"

"I STILL SAY WE SHOULD CUT THEIR ARMS OFF!" the deaf dwarf insists, "IT WOULD SOLVE EVERYTHING AND WE CAN HEAL THEM UP, RIGHT QUICK!"

"Yes but we can not restore a missing arm, you fool!" the naturalist snaps, "There is only so much we can do for them!"

You decide to interject before they get completely distracted, "What about the necklaces?"

"WELL WE CAN'T CUT YOUR HEADS OFF SO I GOT NOTHING!" the little dwarf shrugs.

The naturalist leads you away from his colleagues, "The bracelets are well made, expertly made in fact, but those necklaces are something else entirely," The Faceless Man grunts, annoyed as Mazzarin upstages him yet again, "From what we can tell they have a number of subtle spells woven into them. One of which is a signal."

"A signal?" Lyssa asks concerned.

He tries to reassure you, " The necklaces emit a slight signal but do not worry ladies. It was difficult to detect and doubtful that your average mage could use the necklaces to find you. They would have to know what to look for in the first place. Even if they did, they would require a lot of skill without our tools to make use of that information."

He pauses for a moment to see if you have any questions. When none are forthcoming he presses on, "Aside from the slight signal the necklaces have a number of spells woven into them all designed to achieve one purpose."

"Which is?" Thaïs asks as concern creeps back into her voice.

"To keep the wearers of the necklaces together. They generate subtle magical and physical protections based on how close the wearers are to one another. When two of you come within ten metres of one another the spells begin to activate and when all three of your necklaces are brought within ten metres of the each other the spells further build in strength."

"Well that does not sound too bad then," you sigh in relief.

He coughs, "Well there is a more sinister aspect to it as well. Some of the spells alter the production of... oh how to explain this... when you are together. All three of you or even two of you. You will feel better... um... happier. More stable. That sort of thing. You will handle stress better too. But, and this is a big but, if you get too far from one another you will start to suffer additional mental strain. You will become more irritable, more prone to fits of depression and the like. As I said, whoever designed these necklaces built them to keep the wearers together. They really are quite brilliant but I am afraid I have little good news for you. These things are so far beyond what we know, honestly I can not even tell you for certain that, that is all they do. These things were created by a true master... I... I am humbled just being in the same room as them," he pauses and looks each of you in the eyes, "Ladies?"

"Yes?" you respond in unison.

"Where did you find those necklaces anyway? They are truly like nothing I have ever seen and I would like to know," his sharp gaze bores into you, you doubt you could fool him.

Thankfully Thaïs is with you, "Far to the west Sir. Before the war with Soulblighter. We thought they were so beautiful but once we put them on we could not take them off. We had hoped that the skill of you and your fellows could aid us but it looks like we must endure their presence for a while yet."

An idea occurs to Lyssa, "Could we wrap our necks in lead perhaps? Like with the bracelets?"

He shakes his head, "It would block the signal but that would also trigger the withdrawal effects. You would all go mad within a week, two at most."

With that wonderful news you turn back to the issue of your bracelets.

------------------------------------------------------


2. The Faceless Man, how do you want to get rid of him? Or do you even want to?

A) No, for the time being you will put up with him.

B) Yes, YOU WILL CUT- ahem, you will cut off your arms. It is guaranteed to work and they can have you back on your feet by tomorrow but the cost is high.

C) Yes, you will let Janine use he proton pack on you. It might suck the Faceless Man out of your bracelets but you are not sure what will happen after that.

D) Sort of, you will wear the giant lead gloves. They look odd and will limit what you can do with one of your hands but they will shield you from the Faceless Man until you can come up with something better.

E) Yes, you have an idea. A very dangerous idea. You will use infiltration to invade the Faceless Man's mind and kill him there. That should wipe his mind and allow you to take of the bracelets. Though it would mean fighting a Fallen Lord in his own mind. Naturally you can not afford to do this immediately so you will take the lead gloves to disable the Faceless Man while you plot your assault.

F) You will take the gloves, but you won't wear them constantly. When you need a private moment, or when you sleep, or when you need to execute some plan The Faceless Man does not need to know about, you'll put them on. When you find yourself in a tough combat sitiuation, or when you aren't doing something terribly suspicious, you'll slip out of them.

G) freeform


3. You are at the Royal Academy anyway. You do not have too much time but you can each study a little about a field of enchanting if you want. (Just pick three choices and list who will study what. Neither of them have any real preference so they are fine leaving it up to Derryth.)

A) The prayers of protection. Used mostly to make armour and other protective items.

B) The songs of joy and inspiration. Used to inspire courage and aid in battle amongst other things. Used mostly in the crafting of weapons and banners.

C) The oaths of the elements. Used in weapons and for all sorts of utility items.

D) The riddles of understanding. Used to strengthen the mind. Often found on robes, hood, or circlets.

E) The paths of progress. Used to sharpen the mind, often woven together with the riddles of understanding or used in their place.

F) Nothing, you will instead use the time and faculties to work on your own spells. Choose a spell to progress with or a spell to teach the someone else. If you want to learn a spell from one of your companions that can also be done. The most popular spell will be chosen if this option wins. Depending on the difficulty of the spell you may not master it in one sitting.

--------------------------------------------------------

"Evening Lyssa," the two of you step out onto the roof and greet the witch, you each wear a heavy cloak to keep out the night air. It does not seem to bother her though.

She stands framed in the setting sun repeating her calls to her eagles.

She turns to you and nods slightly, "Derryth, Thaïs."

"How are your efforts going?" your friend asks.

"I have faith my birds will find me," she smiles, the look of worry on her face loses its edge as you approach, "They are quite intelligent animals really. I left them a message before we left. They will know to look for me in Myrgard. I just have to be patient," it is clear it pains her but talking about it seems to help. You hope that what she is feeling is actual relief and not simply the effects of the necklaces but you can not be sure.

You feel better with her around, happier, like you did while on your shopping trip yesterday or at the academy today. Looking at the other women it is clear that they feel the same. You curse Mazzarin under your breathe for toying with people this way. He might see himself as a protector, as a hero, but in many ways he is as bad as a Fallen Lord.

From under your cloak you draw a pot of spiced wine, nothing strong. This is a simply a social occasion and it would be bad form to drink to excess. The wine isn't good, about the best you could expect in dwarven lands though and the spices cover some of the taste.

The three of you fall to friendly conversation for several hours as the sun lazily drifts down past the mountains.

You talk of your childhood in the Province first on the farm with your parents, then fighting and stealing on the streets following their passing. You speak of Henry and Lyssa smiles, she can tell you cared deeply for the old man. Thaïs smiles as well but it has a different quality to it. She has heard many of these stories already but that is not it.

She knows these stories, has known them for months, but now she has lived them as well.

After a great deal of discussion you have decided to help one another work through the impressions you gave each other. You will not hide from them, they are a part of you now.

It was not an easy thing to decide on but once you agreed to head down that road neither of you looked back. Quickly you realized that the best way to do this is to link up mentally and relive these memories together. Your first session dealt with Henry and Thaïs' father respectively. When you were done you were changed forever. You gained a better understanding of the people that help you become the women you are and you gained memories and insights that will forever be a part of you.

When you laugh about Henry's mannerisms she laughs too. We you cry over his death she cries as well.

With your tale done, Thaïs once more goes over the story of her life. You have heard the broad strokes before. Living in Strand and later Scales. Her time with the courtesans and before that with her family, with her father. When she speaks of her love for him you feel it in your breast, when she speaks of her pride at his encouragement, that same pride stirs within you. When she speaks of the deal that ruined them all and broke him you can see the empty look in his eyes, you can feel the terror she felt when she found him and the anger she felt that he would leave her. Not every memory can be happy and you both have enough bad ones for a lifetime...

You do not look forward to reliving them. Yet... it helps... it really does help to have someone that truly and completely understands and you know she feels the same way.

You study Lyssa as Thaïs tells her story. She pours out the wine, she laughs at the good times, she sighs at the bad and you get the distinct impression that maybe now she will tell you something, anything.

The two of you tell Lyssa one final story about the formation of your company, of the Lost and of your battle against the Spider Goddess and her pawn Miosguinn.

When you are finished she is left in awe, "You two... you really are heroes aren't you? Actual Wyrd-damned heroes! I don't know... I mean maybe you are lying to me but," she squints at you, "No, no I don't think you are lying," she smiles, "I think I really did make the right choice joining you."

"So now that we have told you everything..." you begin optimistically.

Thaïs finishes your sentience, "Care to share a little now that you know all about us?"

Instantly Lyssa shuts herself off, "I can't, I already told you. I made mistakes, the kind I have to take to my grave or my grave will come to me."

"Hmm," you grin at Thaïs, she grins back, "Well fine, if you want to be all mysterious we won't push you for now but you have to tell us something after everything we have said. Where did you grow up? That has to be fairly innocuous right?"

"Yes..." she hesitates, "I grew up near Tallow, by the Forest Heart..."

"Oh an eastern girl," you press on enthusiastically, "So you were a farm girl then?"

Lyssa nods, "Yes, we had a small place. My father, mother, brother and me. It was hard living but then you understand that Derryth."

You shrug, "Sure, though I did not spend that many years on a farm."

"Well, I did," Lyssa smiles weakly, "Do you really want to hear about this? I mean it is awfully boring stuff. I did not fight a Dark Goddess or an undead army. I planted the harvest and mended the clothes and I would have grown up to marry a farmer and pop out a few more happy kids. It was not an interesting life..."

"Oh, Lyssa don't run yourself down. I-" Thaïs tries to cheer her up but Lyssa will have none of that.

"No, you misunderstand," she takes a sip from her glass, "It was a simple life but it was a good life. I loved it. My parent were understanding, my brother was kind, the neighbours were nice and they had a boy my age that... well he was my first crush. It was all I needed, all I wanted. All those great lords and powerful mages! Not one of them was happier than I was and that was the truth of it. It did not last though," she sighs, "I guess that much is obvious or I would not be here."

"So what happened," you push her gently.

"Brother died," she shrugs, "Myrkridia attack. Neighbours died too. The loss killed mother. Dad... well he tried his best he really did but at fifty, going on sixty, he could not do it like he used to. I tried to help, did everything I could. Tried to get a job or attract a man or something. Anything to help him out really. Didn't work. Worked himself to death for me... worked himself beyond death really..." she laughs.

"I don't quite get that last bit Lyssa," you scrutinize her.

"I... look if I go any further. If I tell you what I did, well you will probably kill me," she rubs her temples, "I want to tell you. I don't know if it is the necklace influencing me or the kindness you have shown me but I want to tell you. So you tell me, do you want to hear it?"

You are not given time to answer as Bari pokes his head through the access door, "You three are still out here! It is the middle of the night! Come inside! You will catch your death out here!"

The four of you laugh, Lyssa harder than any of you.

----------------------------------------------


4. Lyssa's story. Do you want to hear the rest of it? Or would you rather not know?

A) Yes, you do not want there to be any secrets between you.

B) No, you get the feeling you will not like what you hear.

-----------------------------------------------

"Violet mages. Hmmm..." Ceannard sits behind his beautiful and massive desk, "You know Derryth, you still owe me a lot of money. Why should I help you?

You hand him a promissory note, "Your money Ceannard, courtesy of the House of Albrecht."

He holds it up to the light, and grins, "Well then. Good to see you are not all talk Derryth. Please sit down, both of you, we can do business."

You and Thaïs each grab a seat across from him, "Well it was reassuring to see that you are not all talk either Ceannard. Uttu had nothing but good things to say about your performance."

His eyes light up at the mention of Uttu, "She is a sweet kid Derryth, both her and her sister were real professionals out there and you can tell them I said that. If they ever need employment-"

"They are children Ceannard," you shake your head.

"They are warriors Derryth, sure they are kids but they have the spirit in them. I should know. Anyway it is never too early to consider your options. Drink?" he gestures to a bottle of whiskey off to one side of his desk.

"Sure," you take a glass as he fills you up, "So about these violet mages?"

He frowns, "They are small time lunatics. They call themselves the Oneiroi. A group of maybe a dozen mages all of which deal in sleep based magics. They take a lot of bounty jobs since they can easily incapacitate their targets. Worked with them once... never again... they are not professionals."

"What do you mean?" you knock back another shot.

"They have a nasty tendency of betraying their employers... their partners," his eyes shift, they take on a dangerous aspect, "I got burnt once. Lost five good men. But they got theirs too. I took three mages for each of the five men I lost. A sleep spell can not stop an arrow and they have never really recovered from that."

"Why not wipe them out?" you naturally ask.

"I do not kill out of bloodlust Derryth. Today's enemy maybe be useful tomorrow. They killed my men so I killed some of theirs, simple as that," he shrugs and knocks back a shot, "Why do you think I like you so much Derryth? You do not kill when you do not have to. That is smart, no matter what these dwarves say about honour. So if you want to hire the Arrows to go after these guys I am sure we can come to a suitable rate."

"Which you will then knock fifty percent off of," for the first time since you entered Thaïs speaks up, "After that display with the illusion you owe us Ceannard."

Ceannard laughs, "Alright. After all not all of my clients are as cute as you two."

"You are hopeless Ceannard," you shake your head.

"That's why you love me," he grins, you both stare at the man trying your best not to laugh, "You do love me right? Like me at least?... girls?... Thaïs?... Derryth?"

--------------------------------------------------------------


5. The Arrows and the Oneiroi:

A) You hire the Arrows to help you take on the Oneiroi. (40 WPs)

B) You ask for directions and go by yourselves. (5 WPs)

C) You ask for directions and see if any of the Pathfinders want to come. (5 WPs)

D) freeform
 

Chapter 22: Shattered Sleep

Chapter 22: Shattered Sleep

"So ladies how did you want to do this?" the mercenary grins as he pockets a pouch of gemstones, your payment.

You have contracted Ceannard and his Arrows to aid you in extracting the information you seek from the Oneiroi. Ideally you want to get this done with a minimum of danger for all parties involved but from what Ceannard tells you that may not be possible.

You help yourself to his whiskey as you respond, "Don't suppose we could just ask them nicely to tell us what we want to know?"

The Arrow shrugs slightly, "That would depend on what you want to know. Would it not?"

You have not told him about Meletē or the spell that keeps her from waking. You did not believe it necessary to do so and Thaïs agreed. You may be developing a certain respect for the mercenary, hell you may both even like him a little, but he is a mercenary and at the end of the day you simply can not trust the man.

You don't make eye contact though he can see your shoulders tense slightly. His impossibly wide grin gets just a little larger, "See. I have a theory ladies. I am fairly certain you were right at the center of that little debacle outside your inventor friend's house. I also know that the Oneiroi were present, along with every other two bit outfit in the city."

You grow a bit impatient as he lazily circles you. You reply, trying your best to maintain a neutral tone of voice, "So what is your theory?"

He deftly plucks the bottle from your hand and casually fills his own glass, "The Oneiroi hit your friend with one of their capture spells. You want to wake her up. Naturally you come to the one man in the city capable of helping you!" he beams at you both.

"You have a mighty high opinion of yourself Ceannard," you let out a playful laugh.

"Well I am the best!" the mercenary confidently shoots back.

Thaïs gives him a relaxed smile, "The best? The first time we encountered your organization, the two of us invaded your compound and stole your prisoner. The second time we encountered you, you almost lost your eyebrows," she shoots you a smile, you return it as she presses on, "The third time you fled before an obvious illusion-"

Ceannard looks a little deflated, he closes his eyes and scratches the back of his neck, decidedly embarrassed, "Well normally we do better work than that... like with the ghôls for example."

You nod.

You will give him that, he did a wonderful job protecting the girls. As if on cue Uttu howls in triumph from the other room, you are sorely tempted to go check but Lyssa is looking after them and they should not get into too much trouble in the heart of the Arrows compound.

He smiles at the sound, "Anyway, normally we succeed in our contracts and you can be sure if Ullr had not cancelled his contract that we would have found her eventually," you frown at the reminder. He senses his mistake and meekly raises his hand, "Now, now Derryth. I may be a mercenary but I am a professional. You are on my client list now and I will always give you a chance to make a counter offer should some unpleasant business like that ever come up in the future. I may be a hard man," you find that hard to believe, "But I am a fair man as well," that you can agree with. In the short time you have know him Ceannard has always assumed the part of the professional.

"Besides, Ullr was not nearly as gorgeous as you two," he grins again. Alright, he almost always assumes the part of the professional.

You take a nice long sip of your drink, something to clear the mind, "Back to the business at hand. It does not really matter why we want to talk to the Oneiroi right? Can you arrange something?"

He nods, "Sure, at the end of the day it makes no difference to me. I would not recommend trying to negotiate with them, however. They are fanatics, and they have no loyalty at all except to each other. But I can set up a meeting if you want, it will take a few days-"

Thaïs shakes her head, "That is unacceptable I am afraid. We should like to handle this issue today if at all possible."

You nod your agreement, "Yes Ceannard, we live such busy lives you see. We would rather not put this off."

He studies the two of you, trying to discern if you know something he should know. He stares intently but does not spontaneously develop the ability to read minds so after a moment he is forced to concede defeat, "Well, if you want this done today then we will have to get a little forceful I am afraid. Like any mage the Oneiroi are quite paranoid ah... present company excluded of course. If we simply walk up to their compound and request admittance they will naturally refuse. If we push them they will push back. So..."

"So, if we want this taken care of now we will have to attack them and interrogate them after we win," you finish his thought.

"Exactly," he knocks back the last of his drink and motions to the door.

---------------------------------------------

He obeys.

Has always obeyed.

Guarding the compound while his masters work.

It is not his place to question.

As the sun sets before him he thinks.

It is all he can do really.

They came to him in his dreams.

They promised him the hand of that pretty young thing down the street.

The cost was service.

For the rest of his days.

They kept their side of the bargain.

Though they were a bit literal about it.

He still has her hand.

Bundled up in rags by his bunk.

Seemed a shame to throw it away after everything was said and done.

He made his bed.

Now he will lie in it.

Dreaming dreams that are not his own.

It is not so bad really.

This sleeping life.

Though it is quite dull.

Maybe today will be different?

Maybe today will be-

The arrow catches him in the throat.

It is a remarkably quick death.

Probably better than he deserves, he must admit.

For a moment he thinks he will escape.

That elder brother Death shall steal him away from his master Sleep.

Then they come for him.

The Oneiroi.

And he knows.

He will never be free.

--------------------------------------------

"Well that is the last of their guards," Ceannard winks at you, "Now for the main event."

You, Thaïs, Lyssa, Biliku, Uttu and Ceannard observe the attack from an elevated position south of the Oneiroi compound.

The compound is composed of mud bricks, baked white in the sun. A haphazard coat of violet paint has been smeared across the walls but given how faded it is it must have been applied decades ago. The primary entrance to the compound is a set of large wooden doors located at the front of the structure. A high wall surrounds the rest of the compound but does little to shelter the guards that until three minutes ago wandered about the exterior of the compound.

The Arrows have done a wonderful job all things considered.

Twenty guards patrolled the exterior of the compound and not one of them managed to raise an alarm.

Part of you suspects that Ceannard may not be the complete professional he claims to be. For the relative pittance you paid him he mobilized almost all of the Arrows and swept towards the Oneiroi compound. You suspect that he was simply looking for an excuse to finally wipe them out while maintaining his reputation.

Your forces must outnumber theirs at least two to one. Though, numbers might not count for much once you get inside and you know all too well to never underestimate a mage.

"So ladies, here is the plan," he points at the different entrances of the two story compound as he speaks, "My men will hit the upper and main floors at the same time and sweep them of all resistance. Once the compound is secure we can enter at our leisure."

"We need some of them alive Ceannard," you remind him.

"We will do our best ladies," he responds, "We will try to take them alive of course but you know how dangerous mages can be."

You and your friend exchange a glance, she speaks, "We could always go in personally. That way we are sure to get at least one of them alive."

He inclines his head slightly, "Certainly, though if you go in I will have to insist I come with you. It would not reflect well on the Arrows if we lost a client while on a contract."

"I would like to come as well," Lyssa speaks up from behind you, "I owe you both so much and would like to prove my worth."

"Can we come!" Uttu asks, pulling on your sleeve.

"This is not a game kid," you gently chide her, "Are you sure you want to go in there?"

She nods and her sister answers, "We are your protectors! Where you go we go!"

You could probably order any of them to stay out here if you wanted to though they would probably complain. Something to think about at least as you consider your next move.

You consider the compound carefully. Something about it does not feel right though you can not place it. The shadows waver slightly within the walls. The whole place is unsettling in a way that you can not quite pinpoint which only serves to further worry you.

Ceannard, sensing your hesitation, presents one final option, "Should you ladies prefer, I can also have any potential survivors brought out here to you. There is no need for you to enter if you do not wish to..."

He lets the idea hang in the air as you narrow your focus. Contemplating your next move.


1. The Attack I: The Arrows are going to begin their assault on the compound momentarily. Do you wish to join the first wave of attackers.

A) Yes, you want to ensure that at least some of the mages survive.

B) No, you will let the Arrows take the majority of the risks here. It is what they are paid for after all.

C) freeform


2. The Attack II: If you do not join the first wave of attackers, would you prefer to enter with Ceannard and the reserves after the building is secured. If you do not then they will escort any prisoners they find out to you.

A) Yes, join the reserves mopping up.

B) No, wait outside until the prisoners are brought out to you.

C) freeform


3. The Attack, Party Composition: If you do enter who will you take with you?

A) No one, you will go in alone with the Arrows.

B) You will take someone with you. (Vote for as many or as few people as you wish. If B wins then all choices with more than half the voters' votes will be accepted.)

i. Thaïs

ii. Lyssa

iii. Biliku

iv. Uttu

v. Ceannard


4. Energon Cubes: Now that you have some again would you like to distribute them amongst your party:

A) No

B) Yes, list how many each mage should get. (You have twelve)


5. The Spinner: You think it might be an artefact of the Spider Goddess though you can not be sure. Did you immediately destroy it?

A) Yes

B) No

C) freeform


6. The mystery box won't open easily. You could hold off on opening it till you have the time and tools or you could just smash it open and hope that whatever is inside is durable. Which did you do?

A) Smash it open

B) Wait

C) freeform


7. You and Thaïs now each have a spell ring. Did you take the time to store a spell in each. The two of you have no problem collaborating so you have full access to both characters' spell lists. A few limitations though, rituals and spells that have to be maintained won't work properly. (Simply list the spell you would like to store in each.)

Derryth's Ring: ___________

Thaïs' Ring: ____________


8. You are certain that a number of spells are emanating from the center of the compound, they are faint but they are there. You are not sure whether you want to enter while the spells are still active. You think that the three of you should be able to dispel them (you will each have to use an energon cube to avoid being drained though). It will take roughly a half an hour to dispel you think provided you meet no resistance. Do you dispel them?

A) Yes

B) No

C) Yes and you will send the Arrows in immediately while you work on the spells.

D) Dispel them after the Arrows secure the building but before you go inside.

E) freeform


9.Anti-magic grenade: You will be going up against a group of mages and their spells an anti-magic grenade could come in handy but it will use up your last heaven stone. You will throw the grenade at the beginning of the assault to take out as many of the spells in place as possible, you will then proceed as in 8. Do you make one?

A)Yes

B)No
 

Chapter 23: Wolves at the Door

Chapter 23: Wolves at the Door

The Arrows do everything they can to ensure your safety. A team secures the doorway, another team sets up a protective screen and four more teams stand ready to breach the perimeter at Ceannard's orders.

Everything is waiting on his signal and he is waiting on yours.

"Derryth, don't do this," the Faceless Man has been trying to talk you out of attacking the compound's spells.

"Why not?" you whisper in response.

"It is reckless, that's why! You know nothing about the spells at play here! Hell, I know nothing about them! They could be anything!" you know all that of course. You know this is dangerous but you want to ensure the Arrows succeed and you are certain that this is the way to do it. It is precisely because the spells at the heart of the compound are so strange that you feel a need to remove them. You do not want the Arrows under their effects for too long.

"I am doing this," you answer, "Either help or stay out of the way."

"I refuse to help you do something this... this stupid!" the archmage sputters, "Think about all you could lose!" you are fairly certain he means all he could lose but you do not expect any more from him at this point. Ultimately you elect to ignore him, if he will not help then you have nothing more to say to the man.

The three of you stand in a small triangle. You take one another's hands, you close your eyes and you prepare to assault the enemies' spells.

You can not see the enemy mages, in fact you do not even know if there are enemy mages actually maintaining the spells. As a result you are left with a single option. Attack the spells directly and force your way to their heart.

It will not be easy but then what has been for you lately?

You nod to the mercenary captain, "We are ready when you are."

"Alright, I will give the order to advance," you hear the whistle of an arrow.

Explosions rock the night, satchel charges no doubt.

From the shouts and screams that follow you know that the Arrows have begun their attack and so you begin yours.

You begin with the easy stuff.

Alarm spells, sentry spells, warding spells of various types.

Nothing you can not handle.

The three of you know what you are doing even if you are only working from theory and not first hand experience. You and Thaïs are so used to working together at this point that you dodge and weave between each other's spells with a grace and elegance that is mesmerizing. Lyssa for her part does her best to keep up. Despite Mazzarin's low opinion of her skill you believe she demonstrates real talent and even knows a thing or two that surprises you.

All is going according to plan. Most of the enemy spells have been dealt with as you follow the magical currents back to their heart. Then you feel it, the spell you could not identify.

It manifests as a slight pull on your mind coming from the center of the compound.

You immediately halt your advance to properly investigate but it does little good. Something is pulling you further from your body. You try to shout a mental warning to your allies, you try to tell them to pull back but as you cast around with your mind you realize that they are trapped as well.

The three of you are pulled along the magical currents towards the heart of the compound. Your mind begins to grow weary, tired, and gradually you begin to drift off.

Faintly, you think you hear Ceannard calling your name but there is nothing to be done as you quietly drift off to sleep.

---------------------------------------------

Bravely the watchman strides into the woods.

He has walked this path hundreds of times before.

It is all he knows.

It is his purpose.

Once, he thought, he dreamed of another life.

In a city of glittering marble, he traded bits of metal in a great square.

But that could not be.

He has always been a watchman.

Such dreams are mere fancy, nothing more.

He walks on in silence as the night closes around him.

The scant light of his lantern barely pierces the oncoming gloom.

He wants to return to his bed, to the white brick fort, but he refuse to abandon this.

This is his duty.

So he pushes on.

The night comes on quickly now.

And with it come other things.

Enemies.

A branch snaps to his right.

It is on him in an instant.

A nightmare, part lizard, part housecat, with the tongue of a frog and the tail of a desert scorpion.

It is an elf, a fairy, a twisted little beast of the forest.

It will kill him, eat him.

He is ready though.

His blade fills his hand and all too quickly it cuts through to the very heart of the beast.

It gurgles as it dies, twisting, clawing its way down his blade towards him.

He drops the weapon and runs.

In a panic the watchman flees back to the fort.

He must stay on the path.

Should he take but one step off of it he will be lost forever.

Around him the forest springs to life.

Every tree reveals a score of red eyes staring back at him.

Every bush giggles, chuckles, whistles with the mischief and malice of the damned.

He does not look, to look would be to lose everything.

He runs.

Faster.

And faster still.

He is so close now.

Braches snap. Boughs break.

The entire forest screams at the watchman.

Perhaps that is why he fails to notice his death waiting just around the corner.

The wolf is a bolt of auburn against a black night.

Fire on oil.

Blood on the cool, dark earth.

It closes its jaws around his neck.

It sinks its teeth deep.

The watchman dies.

The forest cries in triumph.

------------------------------------------

You howl.

In this eternal, dreaming forest. The hunt and the kill is everything.

You feel complete, whole, as you tear a strip off the dying watchman.

Daintily, you wipe the blood from your muzzle as your companions slink out of the shadows towards you. One black, one brown. Thaïs and Lyssa respectively.

Thaïs lets out a low series of yelps, "Nice kill Derryth," she eyes your prey hungrily but you made the kill and you get to have the first crack at it.

You carefully tear a chunk from the man. Lyssa edges closer to the corpse. Her presumption annoys you. You let out a slight growl of warning, "Don't either of you have something to do other than watch me eat?"

Lyssa whines in response, her ears plastered back, "Not really no. We all have to wait for the right moment to strike and there are only so many patrols."

You understand every noise either of them make.

For a second that strikes you as odd though you shrug it off after only a moment.

They are your pack and you serve the gods of the wild, dark forest. You will bring death to the men in their fort. Those that tried to tame it, to break it. You know you will succeed, eventually.

You exhale sharply. They are not going to leave, they want some of the kill as well. You decide to be charitable, you are their leader but you are not a tyrant. You will share, "Alright you two. Come over here but no fighting."

They fall on the corpse, tearing apart what little remains as you scan the trees in contemplation. They let out happy howls of appreciation as they devour the human.

They sing your praises but something bothers you.

You have the nagging suspicion that you had a greater purpose than this.

That once you were not as you are now.

It is very hazy but you could swear that there is more to your existence than hunting and killing.

The idea is slippery though.

Every time you reach to grab it, it slides away.

You huff in frustration.

That catches Thaïs' attention. She leaves the rest of the meat to Lyssa and sits down next to you, "Something the matter," she whispers.

"Yes," you growl, "I just do not know what..."

"Why not talk about it? That helps me," she pokes you with her muzzle trying to cheer you up.

"I... I don't think any of this is right. I think we were not always like this..." you shift to your left uncomfortably and raise a paw to your face, "Every now and then I catch a face or a place that does not fit," you whine in pain as you force yourself to remember.

Pain, suffering, misery arc through your mind. It would be so much easier to stop trying.

The forest provides all. It protects you and your pack. It will comfort you. It will feed you. And someday when you die it will hug your body to its chest and take you back to the gods.

What more could a wolf want after all?

You are about to tell Thaïs that it is nothing when a nearby tree begins to swell.

The forest screams.

It tells you to run.

You trust the forest and so you are about to do just that.

You don't have time.

The tree splits open as teal flames pour forth.

The two of you yelp and race back to Lyssa.

The three of you turn to run for the forest but the flames are faster.

They encircle you, trap you.

From the smouldering remains of the tree steps a man. Old, distinguished, dignified.

You and your pack growl at him.

He ignores you, instead he calls out to the forest, "You can not have them you know! They are mine and no second rate deity is going to fuck this up for me!"

The forest reacts, a gremlin of stone and wood leaps at the man. It dissolves in mid air, splattering a nearby rock.

He turns his gaze back to you as he clicks his tongue, "Oh Derryth. How do you get yourself into these situations?"

He grins as the fires die down, "Now don't run. I am trying to help you here."

He snaps a branch off a nearby tree and begins to focus on you and your pack.

They whimper but you order them to stand their ground. For some reason you believe this man.

The branch begins to glow.

The forest screams.

You close your eyes.

He hits you.

---------------------------------------

"You know girls, it is a damn good thing you did not have those ridiculous gloves on when you decided to do this! Do you have any idea how long it took me to find you in this dream forest? Any clue at all of what could have happened! No, don't answer that!" the three of you sit in a line, restored to your proper condition though you remember very little of your time as a forest creature. The Faceless Man paces before you, lecturing you, "If I had been incapacitated! Why, you would be stuck as animals for the rest of your days!"

You do not really have time for this. You try to placate the mage, "Well thank you again for your help but we really must be-"

"What you 'must be doing' young lady is sit there and listen," another forest spirit leaps out at him, a twisted amalgam of a catfish, a canary and a weasel, and he snuffs it out without breaking stride.

By your count that makes forty two, not one of them has come close to threatening the Faceless Man.

He sighs dramatically, "You girls will be the death of me you know that!" while you are in fact grateful for his aid you also have had more than enough of his crap.

You ignore him and cast your mind out, looking for the source of the spell that dragged you down into this dream world. It is faint but you find it. The source of the Oneiroi spell is ahead of you, in that fort of white brick.

You stand and begin to walk past him towards the fort in the distance.

He steps in front of you, "Where are you going?"

"We have a job to do," you respond as you step around him, "I intend to finish it."

"Like hell you will," he grabs your arm, "You are coming back with me to where it is safe!"

You grin at the Faceless Man, "If you want to try and force me to then be my guest."

You think he might just do it to until Thaïs interrupts, "If you are concerned with our safety then why not come with us? You constantly tell us that we are your apprentices, well what better time to teach us something?"

"Exactly," you nod, "Show us what you have got... I mean unless you are scared..."

"I am not scared," he growls, but that cut him a little.

Thaïs seizes on the opening, "He is right Derryth. We can not say he is scared and we certainly can not say he is a coward-"

"Ladies," he tries to interrupt as you both ignore him.

You call on every little trick your friend has taught you, you feign surprise and actually do a decent job of it, "Oh no, I would not call him a coward at all! Why he is quite brave to come out here when he is so terrified!"

"Ladies," he tries again a little louder. Again you both ignore him.

Your friend nods enthusiastically, "Yes, it must be very difficult to choke down your fear like that. Why if I were that petrified, that fearful, that anxious, that-"

"Ladies!" he shouts at the top of his lungs.

You turn to him in unison, a look of surprise and concern fastened carefully to your faces, "Yes?" Thaïs responds innocently.

Your group stands in silence as he fumes.

The stillness of the night is only broken when another forest spirit launches itself at the Faceless Man, a bizarre mixture of a dog, a beetle and a lizard. He catches it by the throat and snaps its neck.

He sighs, "Let's just get this over with..." he turns and stalks off towards the fort with the three of you in pursuit.

-----------------------------------------

The Oneiroi compound in this dreamscape is far more impressive than it is in reality.

The walls are high and thick, dozens of guards stand watch, looking out into the forest, and you can feel something powerful radiating magical energy from the center of the compound.

"So what are our options?" you ask your group.

"Let me handle it?" the Faceless Man suggests with a smile, "I can bring down those gates with little effort."

That sounds too easy. There must be a catch and it seems Thaïs thinks the same thing as that is what she asks, "You have never been this free with your power before. What changed?"

He grins, "Smart girl. Here we are in a space outside of physical reality. A place that is not my home but one I am vaguely familiar with. Here I can steal a little power and make it my own. Of course to attack that fortress will require a little more power than I can currently draw on. I can take care of the fort but you will need to grant me just a little extra power to do so. Link your minds up to mine and I will have this fort levelled in no time at all."

"So this is yet another attempt to get into our heads," you grumble. Not angry, not surprised really, just a little disappointed.

"Well it would only be a little part of your minds. Just a single point of contact so that you can feed me the extra energy I need. Of course if you want to do this without my help be my guest," he gestures to the imposing fortress with a self satisfied smirk firmly fixed to his face.

That sounds like a challenge.

You turn to your allies, "If we were going to do it, how would we go about it?"

Thaïs begins, "Mental control spells? We compel one of the guards to open the gate and go from there?"

Lyssa speaks up, uncertain of herself, "There are other minds out there in the forest in the form of animals of various shapes and sizes, like we were. I could try to talk to them, try to convince them to help us. They could provide us with the numbers to take the fort by force if we cover them with illusions and mental manipulation spells."

Fairly good plans all things considered, "Perhaps we could do both. We get a guard to open the gates and then unleash the whole forest on them."

The three of you nod in unison as the Faceless Man frowns, "That is a horrible plan. It will never work," he snorts dismissively.

You are not so sure though. You think it might work and that, that is what annoys the archmage.

You are about to make your decision when another forest spirit materializes, it is a creature of spotted fur and living rock, feathers and greenwood.

It does not attack however, instead it bows lows.

It chatters at you and though you have trouble understanding it at first, gradually its words become intelligible, "You are enemies of the fort men? You help us and we help you! Open gates and we will take care of the rest!"

An interesting proposition but can you trust these creatures?

You remember very little from your time as a wolf and what you do remember is quite hazy. You do remember though that the forest spirits and their gods hate the fort and its guards more than anything. While the spirits are notoriously untrustworthy that hatred is something you can count on.

They could very well betray you but the Faceless Man can act as quite the deterrent and there is no way to stop them from involving themselves anyway should they desire or see an opportunity...


1. Unravelling the Spell: You need to get inside that fort to unravel the final Oneiroi spell, how do you want to do it?

A) You don't - You have taken out most of the Oneiroi spells, that will have to be good enough. You attempt to return to your bodies using the Faceless Man's help.

B) Archmage Assault - You want to see what a Fallen Lord can really do.

C) Assault Independently - You, Thaïs and Lyssa will use your own spells to assault the fort. You will compel one of the guards to open the doors then attack with every resource you can muster.

D) Diplomacy - You try to gain access to the fort by negotiating with the garrison. Perhaps you can convince them that you are watchmen that got lost in the forest though you are not confident.

E) freeform - Gain entry to the fort your own way.


2. The Forest Spirits: The strange forest spirits have offered to help you attack the fort. You do not really trust them but you think they may just attack anyway once the gate is down. Do you agree to work with them?

A) Yes

B) No
 

Chapter 24: Man is Man's Wolf

The alternative title for this one was Unintended Consequences.
There are no organizational or party changes for this one so there will be no second post.


Chapter 24: Man is Man's Wolf

Time passes strangely in this place.

Perhaps the very concept is foreign to it.

This night seems to last an eternity and the forest is strange, animated, hostile.

Everyone in the fort can feel it.

They know in their hearts that something is about to break loose upon them.

The guardsmen huddle just a bit closer together, they stand just a hair lower, they cling to the flames like a drowning man to the flotsam and jetsam that may yet save his life.

The captain makes his rounds, torch in hand.

He jokes, he prods, he stirs the men back up. They are a bastion of civilization in these untamed land. They will break this forest, such is their duty, such has always been their duty.

He stands proudly upon the wall for all of his men to see.

He knows no cowardice.

He knows no fear.

He also provides a very tempting target.

-------------------------------------------

You focus on the man. His will is strong but you are stronger. You delicately place a suggestion in his mind. A watchman is trapped outside, he needs to open the gate.

He takes the bait. He is on your hook now.

He places one gloved hand on the gate controls.

He stops, his mind pushing back against your efforts.

You let him shake the suggestion off, giving him a little line. His mind races from you.

Thaïs waits in ambush for him. She hooks a false memory into his side.

It is not a watchman out there it is his child.

Frantically he works the controls. The doors begin to open.

Again his mind fights back. He has no child. His mind turns on Thaïs but she is already gone, fading back into the darkness of the night.

It is while he is distracted that you choose to strike.

You reel him in, hitting him with a compulsion. You pour all your will into it.

The attack is not terribly elegant. Particularly in comparison to your earlier feints but it is quite effective.

His mind rolls backward as his body works the controls.

The gates are open.

Your 'allies' do the rest.

--------------------------------------

She has no idea what is happening.

One moment she was surveying the forest and the next... the next she watched her captain betray all that he held dear.

The gates are open.

The forest pours in.

Wolves, bears, and stags crash into the courtyard as his men valiantly defend themselves. They are cut down, torn apart by the wolves, ripped in half by the bears, impaled, bludgeoned and stamped out by the stags. It is a bloodbath.

The captain throws himself into the worst of it. He cleaves a bear's head from its shoulder. He splits a wolf almost in two with an axe he conjures from mid air.

With a thousand different cries owls, bats, raptors and songbirds of every shape and size descend from the skies. They peck and claw at the guards on the walls, some flee, others fall.

The captain fights on, weaving magic as he carves into the oncoming host.

Finally even the rodents pour forth.

He falls, the captain falls, under a wave of rats and rabbits, squirrels and mice. Hundreds of pairs of tiny teeth gnawing at him.

Some small, dark part of her finds that immensely amusing.

She pulls herself together. Maybe she can still turn this around. They are just animals. If she can just get back to some of the men she can-

The forest heaves, it cries out and it attacks.

Forest spirits pour forth and through the open gates.

Leaping, hopping, skittering, slithering the horde comes on. Double hinged jaws, hooked claws, clacking talons pour into the compound. Elemental hatred and hunger they pour forth.

They are coming to kill, to consume them all.

She runs through the fort, all is in chaos.

If she can only get to the basement, if she can only open a gate...

To late.

They block her way.

She ducks into a store room and hides in an old brick oven.

They find her though. Hateful hands drag her from her hiding place, out of the dark and into the light, out of ignorance and into madness.

They poke her, prod her, bite her, scratch her.

They drag her into the square and force her onto her knees.

A squat little beast with the body of a toad and the face of a fox hefts a large rock in its sucking fist.

The beast screams. She screams. The horde screams. The rock screams.

Her world spins.

The fist falls on her to snuff out her life.

The rock falls on her to snuff out her life.

Fate falls on her to snuff out her life.

Then suddenly it stops.

She stops it, but what is she, this figure casually striding through the shattered gate?

An angel of mercy?

The figure walks up to the officer, there is not a hint of fear in her.

Some demon from hell's cold, dark caverns?

The creatures part before her.

Some terrible and ancient immortal?

She lowers herself down till she can look the officer in the eye.

Does she command this host? These monsters?

The officer waits for the figure to speak unable to even begin to fathom the depths of this being.

What could the figure possibly want from her?

The figure smiles at her. She tilts her odd hat backward with her thumb. She extends a hand and she speaks, "Good evening. Name's Derryth, what's yours?."

The officer giggles and passes out.

---------------------------------------------

"Well great," you stand up and dust yourself off, "Now who is going to tell us what is going on?"

Thaïs, equally annoyed, replies, "We will just have to find a way to wake her up."

"Um," Lyssa interrupts, "What are they doing?"

She points to the half dozen spirits poking your prisoner.

The squat toad beast at your feet yips to its compatriots. They begin to grab at the unconscious woman, great twisted maws grinning evilly.

"No eating her!" you command them. They turn their attention to you, grins still fastened to their distorted faces. These things are mischievous, hateful even, but not terribly bright. You can see them weighing their odds. They are not sure they can beat you but they seem almost prepared to try.

You don't give them a chance. You single out their leader and you knock him flat with an assault spell. He skitters across the earth yelping with his companions in close pursuit.

You survey the wreckage of the fort. The front gate is ruined. The doors leading into the compound have been torn off and spirits squat everywhere. They tear at the corpses of the guardsmen and argue amongst themselves. Blood and strings of flesh fly through the air as they squabble. They avoid the bricks though, afraid to touch them. They begin smearing blood and mud and offal on the bricks. Covering them up in a layer of human paste.

Most of them eat and play or work to cover the bricks but you can feel dozens, maybe hundreds, of eyes watching your group. You are convinced that these things would attack if they thought they could win, "We need to get somewhere more defensible. We should get out of this courtyard. Take her inside the fort and find somewhere to securely interrogate her."

No one disagrees with your assessment so the four of you carry your prisoner into the fort.

Or rather you, Thaïs and Lyssa carry the prisoner while the Faceless Man supervises.

He says it is 'beneath him to stoop to manual labour'...

The ass...

--------------------------------------------

She proves to be rather talkative all things considered. Though that might also have something to do with the fact that the four of you are the only thing standing between her and the hordes of predatory spirits that have taken over the fort.

All it took was a simple reminder. Either she talks or you feed her to the elves and wash your hands of whole the affair. She caved quickly and it all came pouring out.

"Look," she begins rapidly, sweating profusely, "I am just doing the job I was paid to do. I keep an eye on the watchmen and the guardsmen and relay orders to them from the Oneiroi."

"So you are real then? Not a dreaming mind like everyone else?" Thaïs asks as she leans in next to you.

"Sort of... I have a... well, I am keyed to this gate that lets me come and go... all the officers are! Or were... They... ah, hell... they told me that they wanted someone with a clear mind running security on this side. Normally there are two mages here with us but something happened. They were called back to the physical world for some reason. They would not tell me why though..." she pauses, uncertain. It takes her a moment to vocalize what is on her mind, "You... you aren't going to eat me right?"

"Why would we eat you?" you and your friend ask simultaneously.

"Well... ah... you are spirits of the forest right? I mean clearly smarter and stronger and... ah... cuter..." she stammers, "But that is why you attacked right? You wanted to take advantage of the absence of our mages to seize this side of the path.... right?"

Seems she has a very well defined idea of what you are, completely wrong of course but you see no need to enlighten her. You and Thaïs grin at one another and do your best impressions of evil spirits. Hers, like usual, is perfect. Yours isn't great but you compensate with a couple false memories. Your prisoner buys the act and whimpers as your friend begins, "Well, can you give us a reason not to take revenge on you?"

Seamlessly you continue, "A reason not to kill you?"

She finishes without missing a beat, "A reason not to devour your very soul?"

Eager to save herself the officer nods enthusiastically, "I will tell you everything I know! How we made the bricks! How we caught the guards! How we stole your friends! Everything! Just let me return to the physical world please!"

"Alright," you raise