Campaign of the Month: May 2011

Lodestar

The Wake of the Lodestar

The Third Eye Opens Wide
Carbunkle appears on a wide dune. The wind blows sand in his face, but his path is clearly illuminated by the Three Moons. Over his shoulder is slung a strange contraption, the size of a breadbox…which make sense as it is a breadbox. The Vagabonder insisted that it was the perfect tri-phasal resonance needed for the device to work as needed. That and the single drop of Time the engineer had saved, at his Captain’s request.

The gnome had expected an argument when he told the engineer his plan, but The Vagabonder had been so caught up in his inspiration for the machine that it was an easy sell.

Carbunkle stopped on the crest of the dune. Below, bright torches illuminated an oasis. Through moon-black eyes, the gnome squints — his eyes have become incredibly sensitive to light in the past few days. Verdant palms surrounded a wide, shallow lake. A few huts are nearby, but most of the activity is taking place on a wide circular stone in the center of the lake. Even from this distance, the gnome recognizes the arcane sigils of the Third Eye, and the cloaked figures Black, White and Red. They move with an easy alacrity, excitement clear in every frame.

The summoner straps the machine to his chest, it gives off an unpleasant whirring noise as it warms up. The big red button on the top blinks, then burns steady..just as the Vagabonder instructed. All he has to do is push the button.

Does he?

The machine pings, and blue light erupts. Carbunkle feels strange, as if he’s in two places at once. Then there is a POP. And he is. Carbunkle blinks into his own eyes, standing on the other side of the machine.

“Take care of Scarlet.” Other Carbunkle says gruffly. “And Talitha, and Agnar, and Echo, and Haskeer, and Fin, and Corben and the grandkids, and Frostthimble, and all of the books, and…and you know what I mean. And just like we agreed, if this goes south…be ready to take me and the rest of the Third Eye out.”

Carbunkle watches as Other Carbunkle trundles down the dunes. The gnome tosses the now-useless machine aside. Without anything to fuel it, it will be forgotten and rust, hidden by the shifting Sarmadi Sands. The gnome sits down on the dunes to watch the ritual, cloaked in invisibility.

The preparations for the ritual are complete. The Three Moons hang stately, all full in perfect harmony in the night sky. The Witnesses step forward. Black, Red and White…they form a simple ring on the stone, and each kneels. Then the Moonchildren take their place in the center, forming a triangle. Ananda, with her long black hair blowing in the wind. The white-haired child is placed in his crib at the proper point, and the Arcleric Tome steps back into his place with the other witnesses. A gray-haired Yad-Elf in red leather armor takes his place as the Red Moonchylde.

All is still, then the ritual begins. Ancient words fill the air, faint echoes carried to the gnome’s ear by the wind. Then lines of power begin to form connecting the witnesses, and each moon’s avatar. Carbunkle feels an odd sensation, something breaking inside of him. The face of each moon seems to turn, or to slowly blink like giant stone eyes.

Energy pours out of each moon, coalescing around their chosen avatar ..then rippling outwards. Washing over Carbunkle and through him - spreading like a wave to the sleeping world beyond. The gnome blinks, and his connection to the Black Moon shatters. His eyes clear, the strange glittering carapace falls into the sand, and a blinding headache overwhelms him.

Before he falls into darkness, three words whisper across his mind. It it Lucina’s voice, Saraghina’s, Open and Shut’s? Like all of these, but not..the speaker is unknown, but the words are crystal-sharp.

Celes. Maero. Torva.

Three sisters dance, and three children sing. For now in harmony. The dreamers beyond will wake to a new world tomorrow, though it will be some time before they truly realize it.

Carbunkle sleeps himself, in the midnight sands, on the edge of wonder.

Bachelor Party

A month or so later…

Agnar kicks open the door, three or four darkwood boards jammed under his arm. His foot goes through the door, it takes him a few moments to get his foot extricated from the splintered hole. He turns the knob and opens the door with remarkable aplomb. He is drunk.

Echo-dactyl flaps through a large bay-window, sending glass everywhere, and slams against the opposing wall. She is very drunk. Carbunkle is mostly nude, except for a thin white toga draped around his genitals — he levitates through the broken window, sipping genteely on a martini. He is old-man drunk, which is to say unbelievably hammered but with a profound sense of dignity.

Boss Kreed, sitting at his massive darkwood desk opens his fat jowls to call for his guards…when Fin appears behind his chair, and wraps a firm arm around the lumber magnate’s throat. The monk is not drunk. That would be deeply inappropriate. He’s just very, very centered.

The lantern archon, Wick, giggles drunkenly — causing all present to briefly wonder how a lantern spirit even imbibes — then points a tiny fire-finger towards Kreed.

“We’ve come to discuss – hic—disourse?—no, hic— discuss the redistrubutions—-retributions—-of the Darkwood Lumber wealth amongst the poor workers of Flappy Bird Hollow!”
Witty repartee, and proper pants-shitting follows.

Corben leans out of the wheelhouse, one hand on the wheel. He blinks a little more than he should, and keeps idly tossing his chakram into the air and catching it in his teeth. Haskeer lies snoring in the prow, completely oblivious. The half-orc had easily held his own drinking in the Royal Gardens, even tossing back a bottle of Purple Rot-Gut with elan, and singing some classic orc chanteys with the Vagabonder. But then a page had arrived with a gift for Haskeer, left by a traveller for ‘Oscar Spider-killer’ — one of the many gifts that had flooded their lives in the past weeks. But the note had referenced the page by name, so he had made sure to bring it right along. A simple clear bottle, with a sweet-smelling clear liquid. The note attached had said — For the crew of the Lodestar, some Dragon Drank on us. To the Queen! – The Gang at the Diner

Haskeer had laughed and taken a mighty swig, and the bottle was passed around. Then ideas were had. Then the crew was clambering through the garden, to where the ship was parked. They had plenty of time, and this adventure was long overdue.

Corben grimaced as the crew boards. The Truescales and Brightflames had been excited to be invited along on this grand adventure, and they had made a mighty pile of darkwood on the deck in an alarmingly short time. Carbunkle is the last to board, hauled bodily to the ship by a red-haired woman in a low-cut bodice. She plants a warm kiss on the snoring gnome’s forehead then flops him over the stone rails of the ship.

“Now that Darkwood Lumber is owned by the people of Falcon’s Hollow — should we really be stealing all this wood?”

A witty, drunken retort.

“Well, we don’t have time to put it back. We have to haul ass back to Caleron, we can’t have the groom be late for his own wedding!”

Wedding

Haskeer is hungover, but beaming. The four finger-length scars left by the claws of Fairchild are bone-white against his grey face. They do nothing to improve his appearance, but the wide smile and occasional happy tear that falls down his cheek more than compensate. He is clad in armor of the purest white, chased on each side with simple, clean steel. His tailor, Kelvin, had insisted.

“It’s a work of beauty, but I’m not going to make it useless by putting gold on it. It’ll protect you from a dragon’s jaws, a minotaur’s horns — but not I fear from the eyes of a pretty girl. Too bad, the mighty hero finally falls.” the sandy-haired cleric had grinned.

Corben leaned against a nearby pillar, wearing the ceremonial gray tunic of a squire. He came over, and spent a moment fussing with Haskeer’s cape. The music swelled, and the rogue grinned.

“Ready?”

The two step into the throne room of Caleron. The right hand side is dedicated to the bride’s family – mainly nobles and good folk of the city, but also a contingent of the Knights of the Key, led by their new captain Sir Galen, and his second in command Lady Travail. She elbows the tall, young human and he snaps a crisp salute to Haskeer. Some of the rigid discipline fades, and he gives the half-orc a semi-warm nod.

The groom’s family however, is the thing of tall-tales.

The front rows are crammed with Truescale Kobolds and Brightflame Goblins – Blart and Peto wave tiny little flags with Haskeer’s face crudely scribbled on them. Neither tribe truly understands this human ritual, but they are vastly excited to be included. Pembleton stands on the far aisle, his minotaur frame far too large to fit in any of the pews. A whole pew is dedicated to the survivors of Jacradam. Between the devil onslaught and the fierce carpet-bombing of the Valerian evokers they are still a little worse for wear, but half of Tuskside seems to be in attendance, along with a few humans and dwarves — a symbol of the new water pouring through the dam.

Carbunkle sits a few pews back, dark spectacles over his eyes as he nurses a glass of tomato juice. Scarlet sits next to him, and Binky has donned his finest monkey tuxedo for the occasion. The gnome only brought his top eleven favorite grandchildren, but several more had come along, wearing foolish disguises to convince their Gloompa that they were different ones.

Agnar sits behind them, arms crossed obstinately between Martin and Thorn. Thorn is doing her best to keep Talitha in her seat, but also seems to be spending a fair amount of time reaching across the barbarian to fuss with Martin’s splint. The old ranger had met them at the Gilean border, leading the few bedraggled survivors of his Gryphon raiding party. He was nursing a broken arm, and a half-stitched gash in his side, but was no worse for wear. The Key Knights that followed him were battered and beaten, with the eyes of men who had learned more than they ever wished to know about war. Thorn had berated him mercilessly, dragging him below decks to see to his wounds. Since then the two were rarely found apart, to Martin’s unease and Thorn’s growing satisfaction. Sinoe sat, as still as a statue between Talitha and Mara, but seemed to be spending an unhealthy amount of time inspecting the revolver on the gunslinger’s hip.

Haskeer moved forward, his boots ringing on the marble floor.

Fin sat serene and alone, doing his best to ignore the aggressive boredom projected by the vastly overweight orange cat at his side. He beamed at the paladin as he passed. Haskeer also got approving nods from Stortz Tart and Tom Brighella, or Lord Brighella as he was now known. The young noble, Lucas Grahd leaned forward as well and shot the paladin a serious ‘thumbs-up’.

Echo sat in a place of honor, a pew right up front — only appropriate for royalty. Her mother, the de facto Queen of the Sea sat beside her, austere and proper. The defenders of the Dolphin Tribe and Whale tribe were able to repel the devil’s underwater siege — but the other tribes were not so lucky. Vast losses had shaken them to the core, and refugees from the shattered tribes made their way to the Queen’s feet every day. The leader of the Whale Tribe, Ziria had politely declined his invitation. Echo slouched to one side, wearing the elaborate dress she had worn months before to the ball at Dominoe Manor and whispered in the ear of Galbadia Dominoe, who then turned and passed the message to the lean rogue, Ballast. The vicious pirate blushed in shock, and covered her face — trying to hide her embarrassment at whatever Echo had said.

More and more smiling faces, turned up to greet Haskeer. Sir Barnabus, Dayjen Moore flanked by two Seafoam Marines, Jump and Silo, Kelvin Mason…more and more. But there was only one face he wanted to see.

At the end of the aisle, clad in shining gossamer white, was Princess Alastelle of Caleron. She glowed like a torch, and the rest of the world faded away. Corben had to tug his friend rather sharply into place, the half-orc’s goofy grin remaining even as he shook free of his reverie. The bride stood alone, as was custom in Caleron.

King Cai of Caleron, smiled wanly from the simple chair between the couple. The old king had been sick for weeks, bed-ridden. But he had insisted on performing the ceremony himself, and he had been carefully carried to his place on his quiet throne. The cleric Marlowe stood close by his chair, quietly sending his Bright Lady’s blessing into Cai. The king’s was weak, but sure as he spoke.

“I see a knight, and a lady.” the king began. “Do you know this knight, lady?”

“I do.” Alastelle smiled.

“And is he a true knight?”

“He is.”

“Has he done great deeds and bright, in the service of the land?”

“He has.”

“Is he good and true, strong and fair – the true hero of your heart?”

“All of this…and more.” Alastelle said.

“Will you have him, lady?”

The crowd leaned forward in anticipation. It was not unheard of for maidens to deny the groom at this point. The purpose of this ceremony was to fulfill the honor and nobility of the groom’s suit — but without forcing the bride to consent.

“I will.” Princess Alastelle said.

King Cai smiled with genuine delight, but adopted a serious expression for the crowd’s benefit. He made some show of weighing the lady’s words carefully. At last he turned to Haskeer, and asked the traditional question.

“Will you honor this lady’s choice and serve her until the end of your days and beyond? On your life, on your heart, on your sacred honor that is every knight’s charge?”

Haskeer responds.

“And..” Cai added, drawing some quizzical looks from the Caleron natives on the bride’s side. “Will you protect her…her and all of her lands, until the end of your days?”

Haskeer responds.

Cai smiles with relief, closing his eyes briefly. “Then if it is the lady’s wish, and the knight’s duty…what is the word of a king? May your days be long and bright, may your family grow and flourish, may you engrave this moment forever in your hearts, and may your arms never be weary of the glorious burden that you take up this day. Lord and Lady, take your place.”

Alastelle happily steps forward into Haskeer’s arms, and then Carbunkle yells something inappropriate.

Later, entering the wedding party in the elaborate gardens [pages have labored all morning to remove the piles of debris, broken furniture, shattered glass and damaged topiary from the early evening food fight that broke out.] Marlowe pulled Agnar aside.

“You’ve done well, brother. And you’ve earned a respite.” Marlowe crossed his hands, and said seriously. “But don’t wander too far. The Bright Lady still has work for you.”

The old man poked the barbarian’s chest to reinforce his message. “And we need to find you a nice wife, too.”

Agnar fled.

The tables were packed with well-wishers. Bragg Silverhammer was locked in a fierce philosophical debate/art wrestling match with the crusty old spymaster, Kirk Bitterbark. At the nearby Seafoam table, the former captain of the Riptide, Rake Bitterbark gazes at his father with long-held anger still smoldering in his eyes.

Sinoe and Rulf stand on the edge of the party, as motionless as statues — until Talitha and Crackers run over and drag them out onto the dance floor. The young scion of the Precursors makes a beeline for the noble Lucas Grahd, sitting with his back to the dance floor reading a book.

Simple paper lanterns are strung across the garden. No magic used by the Brightflames or Truescales, except for the most essential — the love and skill of friends.

Froththimble stumps importantly around the party, knocking over punch bowls with his okay-sword and cornering strangers who want to hear the story of his little brother’s adventures.

The crew of the Lodestar moved around the party, speaking to new friends, old enemies, comrades and rivals… and people who were a mixture of both…each other. They had all agreed to go their separate ways after the wedding, avoiding any long drawn out farewell. Plans had already been laid for regular meetings in Caleron to discuss long term plans for combatting Open and Shut..and to annoy the piss out of each other anew, and drink and eat. Each knew that this would be their last chance to speak for an unknown length of time.

One Last Glimpse Through the Dragon’s Eye

In Valeria, change is an unwelcome visitor — a hard-scrabble beggar pushed to the curb, by the proud families of magic that reside under the ancient purple-tiled roofs. But in the aftermath of the Grand Wizard’s death — and the horrible discovery that two members of the Council had aided the devil’s schemes — the city grabbed the beggar by the hand, and pulled him into the parlor and introduced him to their daughter.

“Is the Council met?” Jopra the Kingbinder asked, the columns of the chamber white and cool.

“It is.” Icewick the Soulsteel said calmly.

“And we are agreed?” Jopra’s white mask moved to scan the gathered wizards.

“We are.” Song the Ender intoned.

“Then we are most pleased to welcome our new members. Master Abjurer, step forward.”

Adamantine teeth shining, Gorton stepped forward, picking at the hem of his new green robe.

“Your wards are stronger than any we’ve ever seen, we can think of no better master to instruct the College of Protection — and the courage you displayed in the Battle of Bard’s Gate is already legendary.” Gorton puffed up at the Kingbinder’s words. “And it will serve you well in your hunt for the former Master of the Green District, the villainous Tumm the Madwand. Stand and be true, Master Gorton the Unbreakable.”

Gorton looked like he was about to faint or throw-up, but managed to slip the plain green mask over his face and slide into his chair.

“Master Evoker, step forward.” Jopra continued.

With a sword strapped to his side, the tall gray-haired form of Darm Rookwood seemed most out of place..and did cause a small murmur from Marigold and Lord Asmos. The magus stepped forward proudly, and picked up the red mask of the High Evoker.

“This is a high honor, and I will serve this city well.” Darm said. “But I will not cover my face. I am who I am.”

“If that is your wish, then we will not fault you. We have sinned against your school, First Magus, in ignorance, if not in deed. We have much to repay. I hope that the construction of your new academy is a good first step.” Jopra replied. “Stand and be true, Master Darm the Blade.”

He slipped the mask on over his head, leaving it cocked to the side, covering the right side of his forehead. Master Graham snorted in amusement. “Nice hat, kid. Back up to eight, but aren’t we the Council of Nine?” the gnome said rhetorically.

Jopra stiffened, his dignity ruffled, but continued on. “Yes, Illusion Master – we are one short, but none of us can replace the Grand Wizard, not in wisdom, power or knowledge. So instead, I say we add a new seat, as he would have wished - to welcome in the new, the strange — the magic for which there is no school. Step forward, Master Summoner.”

A deep, bass roar filled the quiet council chambers as the new council member was proceeded by a gigantic red boar, flames rippling through it’s fierce mane. Ham Sandwich hopped into the empty chair at the table and proceeded to much on the complimentary bowl of nuts and fresh bread. The half-elf, Vondes covered his eyes with a hand in embarrassment,and stepped forward ruefully. He laid his other hand on his eidolon’s shoulder with affection. “It will be my honor to serve the council, and Valeria.”

“The summoners are to be your main charge, but also the strange magics unknown in Valeria. Witchcraft, the mystery of the oracles, the shamans, the mystics….the City of Lore will open its doors to all that travel the river of magic, regardless of the craft they use. Take your place, Master Vondes the Mindforge. Stand, and be true.”

Vondes slipped on the freshly crafted gray mask of his office, and nudged Ham Sandwich over on the seat, and perched on the edge next to the noisily munching eidolon.

“And now. A weighty task lays before us.” The Kingbinder reached into a white pouch at his side, and pulled forth a small mirror, no larger than two-handspans — the back seemed to be made of amber, the front was pure silver reflection.

“Ah. The Dragon’s Eye.” Lord Asmos said with avarice. “ A most powerful tool for the council.”

“That must be removed from our hands.” Jopra said firmly. “It is too great a thing for any of us here to master – I have barely dipped my hands below the surface of its power, and have nearly been pulled in time and time again. Total knowledge of all things — all time and space, everything that ever happened, might have happened,is happening, may happen. All at your fingertips. Too much for any mortal, too much for the gods.”

“But we could…” Asmos interjected, only to be immediately cut off.

“No.” Master Song said.

There was an awkward quiet, as the Djinn’s face grew tight with anger, but then subsided under the Necromancer’s flat gaze.

The white-robed Kingbinder began again, smoothing over the break. “ I have already arranged for our servant to take it from our hands.”

From the shadows stepped the grey-leather rogue, Sideways. He waved nonchalantly.

“By the Dark Pact, by the honor of his tribe, by the First Magic, and the death-curse of the Grand Wizard. He will remove the Dragon’s Eye forever from this world.”

“Yup. I got it.” Sideways leered comfortingly.

“Tut-tut-tut” Master Graham the Liar said, standing up in his chair. “That’s all well and good, but surely it wouldn’t hurt to take one last look, now would it?”

The Council of Nine exchanged glances.

“Would it?” the gnome demanded.

Jopra sighed, and held the mirror forward. The white mask dipped down on his breast as he concentrated. Sideways craned his neck to get a better look, each of the masters leaned in eagerly.

“Just a glimpse, the final threads of this age as it draws to a close. The ends unravel and fray, and spin off into the future — and there I will not dare to gaze. One last glimpse through the Dragon’s Eye.”

The Lodestar flies.

The skies are blue, and the white clouds whip by — barely kissing the hull, the new darkwood inlay shining in the sun. The stone rails glow bright magenta, and the ship hangs like an albatross on the wind. A simple craft, unbroken lines and pure curves. It flies, an expression of joy — a necessity to the sky. The sky needs the Lodestar, it requires it..and the Lodestar loves the sky.

The ship arcs away to the west, and the vision changes. A thousand threads, a thousand lives, a thousand stories. Some are more brightly colored and vibrant than others, but they all add to the tapestry.

The barbarian, Agnar, stands at a simple grave in a field on the edge of the sea. Similar stones fill the green field from edge to edge. A battered copper half-helm hangs on the edge of the stone. Etched into the stone are the words Commander Penny Lavlock. A True Sentinel. Agnar shares a drink with the dead, sipping from a clay jug.

Dayjen Moore leans against a large pane of glass in a stark grey room.

Enton Blake stands solicitously nearby with a large folio crammed with Seafoam business. He does not interrupt his employer’s thoughts. Some attempts have been made to corral the young man’s unruly hair, haircuts, oils — all to no avail. It sticks straight up in blonde madcap mirth. Dayjen sighs, and his breath fogs on the glass. On the other side sits another blonde man. The same face, the same eyes – but a decade older, and a century madder. ‘Nayjen’ stares back with total contempt, three gems shining on his bare chest.

The President of the Seafoam Trading Company squares his jaw in determination. “We’re going to do it, Enton. We can find a way to get those gems out safely — and help Evil Me in the process.The Heartbreaker is gone — looks like it was swallowed by that freaking Sky Wyrm, but we need to get the key out of his stomach anyway. My father ruined enough things in this world, this is one more thing we can find a way to fix.”

Enton sighs with resignation, and adds another bullet point to the President’s ever growing list.

An old but sturdy wagon rolls up the dusty stone path that leads to the ruins of the Acacian Dragoon School. Abendigo bounds from the top of the caravan to the very peak of a lonely spire six stories high. He waves back to Master Arroz in the wagon in excitement, but the gruff old master just rolls his eyes. The small caravan behind them is loaded with a few masons, a few carpenters and their families, seed and livestock…and a double dozen of potential new Dragoons, each born with their strange Gift. It will be months before the ruins are barely livable, and years before more than a handful of those below can call themselves Dragoons — but it was a start.

The young archer looked up into the afternoon sun and breathed deep. “I wish you were here to see this, my friend.” Abendigo whispered sadly.

The Darkbreakers Headquarters was dim, as Corben stepped inside – shouldering his travelling pack. His father looked up from the fierce game of dominoes he was playing with the half-orc, wizened old wood elf, and a young boy wearing no pants. “Ready to go?” he asked.

“Always.” Simon Garamonde pushed back from the table, a slight hitch in his frame the only sign of the vicious wounds he was still recovering from. “Where are we going?”

“Well, a lot of places.” the younger rogue grinned. “But how about home first? Weren’t you saying something about the ancestral Garamonde sword, hidden in the family crypts?”

“The family sword?” Simon blanched. “But it’s cursed! Double, triple, quadruple cursed — and guarded by the remnants of the Spider Queen’s horde…and..and…this is just making it sound better to you, isn’t it?”

Corben laughed and pushed open the door. Simon came over and clapped his son on the shoulder.

There was a loud noise as three chairs scraped against the stone floor in unison. “Uh…can we go?” the young boy with no pants asked, hesitantly.

The two rogues shrugged, and the Darkbreakers scrambled to gather their gear.

Three men sat in a private room, in an opulent inn. They had ample drinks and food to spare, but they did not eat or drink. One simply wasn’t thirsty, one had brought his own dark mead from the vile bees in his secret forest - and one was simply dead. Or not-alive, it’s difficult to be certain with the Toymaker.

Lannis flipped his Harrow cards idly on the table, The boredom was palpable. It had been weeks since they had gainful employment — the world was growing entirely too warm and fuzzy.

A knock at the door, and the Dark Druid straightened his immaculate bowler hat.

A youngish man with flat black hair cut in a bowl entered. On his wrists were tattooed chains, the mark of a bondslave. Behind him an old man, dark-skinned with close cropped hair followed.

The Blackwings immediately rose – the Toymaker’s new joints clacking oddly, and then fell to their knees.

“Lord Zul, we have waited patiently for your coming. I see you no longer wear your mask of office.” Lannis said respectfully.

The old man threw a green mask on the table in disgust. His bondslave, Morris, closed the door behind them. Master Tumm, the last Red Wizard of Thay by right of blood and power stood amongst his acolytes.

“We will begin again. Evil never forgets, It begins again..it endures forever.”

The Blackwings bowed to their dark lord, and whispered the response. “It endures forever.”

“So you see, I would be a terrible captain.” Ballast concluded. “We’d all be drunk, dead and fucked — not necessarily in that order in a week. And we lost a good bit of the crew during the Symphony of Blood..we need someone level headed, cool under pressure, but someone that can scare the tar out of all the grunts on board.”

Mara picked up the strange wide brimmed hat, surmounted by long dangling rabbit ears. The gunslinger thumped one with her index finger. “Okay. But I’m not wearing this.”

“But, it’s traditional, Mara.” Ballast protested.

The red-haired woman pulled a hammer back on her revolver. “That’s Captain Flemay to you, squab.”

“Aye-aye, Captain!” the sinuous rogue snapped into a sarcastic salute. “You heard the captain!”

The crew of the Red Rabbit snapped to attention, including a scarred dark elf, wearing smoked goggles. A half-orc with bright green skin nudged her, and grumbled.

“I should’ve stayed in Pice, selling my hot dog sammiches. The new boss looks tough.”

“I don’t know.” a halfling with a wild tuft of hair crossed his arms confidently.. “She’s not too bad, and wait until she sees how I can control wind!”

He raised his hand, and a small gust of wind briefly tousled his hair.

“Pretty cool, right?” Mobius grinned proudly.

In a quiet corner of the world, a small tree sapling grows next to a lake. It’s leaves are a quiet green, but edged with black. The lake’s water is pure and clean, but the grass nearby has begun to twist and yellow.

The tree grows. The tree waits. The tree remembers.

The Keeper of the Grand Library in Carroway awoke, yawning. He felt a slight headache, and was surprised to look into the concerned eyes of his daughter.
“Father…you’re awake!” she said with relief.

“Well, of course I’m awake — that’s what people do in the morning.” he grumped.

“You don’t understand, Father — it’s been months. You contracted the extremely rare, but incredibly dangerous Plotzia Influenza Convenialus — the Convenient Coma Sickness! We weren’t sure how long you were going to be out, we feared for your life!”

“Listen, Alice. I have studied my entire life, and that sickness is pure superstitious poppycock. The idea that someone could be comatose for exactly as long as some larger narrative required — preposterous! As if disease gave a rip for plot. Now help me pack my things, I must make haste for the Library in Flenelle! The first Ritual must be completed!”

Alice sighed and gently pushed the old man down onto the edge of the bed. “Father…I think you need to hear a few things first.”

Elora Delcroft slid down off her horse with relief. It had been a long ride, story-collecting. Wars were vicious, nasty things — but they always yielded a vast harvest of new songs and tales. She had set out, some months ago before the Thirteen Day War to visit the tiny town of Hapgood, and she had been determined to finally visit. Even though she had heard of the devastation the voracious devil legions had visited on the place, and it was mostly a ghost town — she had made her way down the broken road from the north, and made her careful way through the mountains.

The bard had expected to find rubble, and maybe a few scared farmers she could share the good news of the triumphant victory in the ruins of Gilead to the east. Instead she found a stranger tale.

Stabbed into the earth, at the end of a field was a massive greatsword. It glowed fiercely, burning with holy light, somewhat diminished in impressiveness from the sweaty workshirt that was tossed over it’s hilt, and the lunch pail hung off the crossbar.

The half-elf walked up to the edge of the field, and looked down on the barbarian, Agnar — sweating and toiling in the fields with furious concentration. He dug each hole with vigor, then placed a single seed in each depression, then covering each gently with utmost attention and care. He was also vigorously lecturing each seed on the proper level of growth he expected to see, as well as some effective tactics for combating the winter chill that was only a few months away.

It was a late planting, and would be a lean harvest come spring. But it might save thousands of lives around the world. Beyond this field, she saw others working in nearby fields, planting.
Agnar Devil-blood, Champion of Sarenrae – bearer of the mighty sword, Cyrus would have other adventures —but for now his Bright Lady has put him to work in the strangest of fields, with the most uncomfortable of work.

Elora smiled. He looked as if he were enjoying himself. She shrugged out of her traveller’s cloak, and rolled up her sleeves.

Carbunkle, the First Librarian — the Sage of Sages rode screaming through the halls of the Primex Loghain on a shiny red scooter. He had a plate of flapjacks in one hand, a large mug of brown beer and the handlebars in his teeth. His Second, the scholar Paralellogram followed more sedately, dragging a blue wagon piled high with books and scrolls.

Every door on every level was open, flung wide — and the people of Aufero came and went. Touching the books, moving the books, and reading the books. The gnome had built a fiendish enchantment into the gates of the Library that prevented any texts leaving without first being stamped vigorously with a cheeky orange stamp showing his leering face and the words “BRING THIS SHIT, BACK.” on it — and at night a thousand sprites worked tirelessly putting each book back in its place — but during the day, the knowledge flowed freely, people talked loudly in designated Soundproof zones — and everywhere comfortable chairs and couches, alway waiting for a new reader to sit down.

He shouted something rude to his receptionist as he whizzed into his office, but she didn’t even look up from filing her fourth set of claws. The emancipated eidolon still refused to demean her glowing form with such trivial human concepts as clothes, but Lucina had taken to other forms of hygiene and fashion with alarming speed.

The First’s library was crammed with children. Some gnome, some blood-relation — but plenty more of just ragged, off the street gutter scamps. The war had left more than a few orphans, or broken children in the streets of Pice – and the First’s Story Hour was a welcome reprieve from the grief and toil outside — and a convenient place for Carbunkle to investigate the children’s woes and worries. More than a few left with gold pieces quietly slipped into their pockets – or stern instructions for their less-than-benevolent caregivers to come see the First bright and early the next morning.

Carbunkle cracked open the wide tome, and cleared his throat theatrically.

“Once upon a time, in the desert, four people found themselves locked up in a nasty hot prison made of stone and hate….”

Agros bobbed quietly in the water, and Fin balanced perfectly on an outcropping of stone.

The Symphony of Blood had taken its toll on the Flying Island, now it could best be called the Floating Island. The vicious attacks of the devils had nearly gutted the aerolith landmass, and it had slowly sank - barely making it out over the ocean before coming to rest.

Only a third of the city was still above water, but enough. Enough room for his school, his home.

Behind him his students followed his motions carefully. Mostly dwarven, expatriates from Ospria — but a few of the younger races were scattered amongst them.

His hands moved, perfect and slow. The eyes of his students followed, and they echoed the movements as best as they could.

There was so much more to teach them — they could learn the physical in months, but the spiritual? How could he teach, what had been so hard for him to learn?

A wave crested, and a shining drop of salt water landed right between his eyes. Fin smiled, and heeded his Uncle’s words.

The drop is not the wave, the lesson is not the Way, the word is not the truth. Begin. It is enough.

The King of Open and Shut smiled. A new level rose on the Red Tower, as Hell bent to his will.

The Red City was crowded, crammed full of angry warriors and bitter fiends. He would hone that ire, make it as sharp as a poniard. They had much work to do to prepare. To prepare for the day, that the mortals would beg for them to return.

An empty skeleton laughed in a red city, with the joy of a delighted child.

Echo and Ziria met, at the base of Coracle Station - the ruined outpost of Seafoam. They had not spoken in weeks, but he had come when she called -- as she would have come if he asked it. The water above their heads shone with filtered sunlight, refracting oddly through the oily residue that the tower still dripped with. A filthy land construction, but it had a purpose — and it could be turned to the sea’s purpose. It had been built to harness the Precursor’s Machine, and Echo had need of its might. The devils would return one day, and she wanted to be certain that her ocean was death to their kind.

Ziria listened to her plan calmly, then bowed without sarcasm. “As the future Queen, how can I do anything but obey?”

Echo rolled her eyes, and called the creatures of the sea to her. She cut through the waves, swimming between this world and the World of Spirit as simply as breathing. Her friends and subjects — her most precious charges swam close with joy and excitement. She would return to the crumbling tower in time, but for now she was content to simply move — to fly beneath the waves, as free as a thought, as free as a wish, as free and wild as the sea itself.

Haskeer pulled a lump of glowing hot metal from the forge, and slammed it onto his anvil. Three nearby gryphons looked on with bemused interest, but his view of them was soon blocked by the massive bulk of his assistant, the living armor Rulf.

The half-orc worked feverishly at his task — with cunning hammer strokes, he pounded and folded the metal. Before his eyes a steel rose took shape. The Knights of the Rose had been horribly reduced in number by the war, but he was hopeful that new squires would be appearing any day. Lady Seaflower had stopped by Caleron just a few weeks ago, encouraging him to go on a recruitment trip to all the major cities. “ A hero like yourself makes a much better sales pitch, then a battered old hedge knight like me.” she had smiled.

The rose complete, he nodded to Rulf…the living armor carefully plucked the still burning metal off the anvil, and plunged it into the water. Then he laid it carefully on a low wooden table, and studied it intently. The strange construct had been fascinated by the craft, and had proved an eager pupil — in an eerie sort of way.

He wanted to go on the rallying trip for the Knights of the Rose, but he found the position of Living Legend uncomfortable — much as he viewed the role of King that loomed before him.

Cai had lingered for nearly two months since their wedding, but the great man’s strength had finally given out. Alastelle had sat by his bedside until the very end. The protective dome around the city had sedately popped, like a soap bubble. Now the people of Caleron looked to him for protection….a serious duty.

His ‘farm’ was larger than he imagined, but the forge was about right. He had work to do, good work. The world must be prepared for the darkness waiting around the bend of Time - if not the devils, then the thousand other faces of Evil. The endless play, the Twilight Kingdom – where the actors wore a thousand masks to hide the dark heart behind. He, and his friends would not waste the years of peace -- and he would do his best to fill the world with the greatest weapon against the Dark.

Children. Beloved children, raised in strength and joy. New stories, with the very best of beginnings.

Haskeer smiled tuskily, and tapped his hammer once on the anvil. It rang like a bell.

The Lodestar flies. The arc of the sun’s path reflects off the curve of its bow. It flies and it sings, a jubilant hum.

The Vagabonder polishes a long glass tube, then sets it into place on the console. It fills immediatelyl with green jellybeans, and the half-orc frowns. It was supposed to be pink jellybeans. The massive Floatstone turns sedate and simple in its clear cannister, powering the heart of the ship — wires and cables, strange conduits and grids of unknown purpose and potential. The Lodestar still has its secrets, and the engineer prays that he shall never quite unravel them all.

Nearby, a massive orange cat paws at an old bronze pocket watch lackadaisically, it’s fat paw barely moving. Crackers blinks over to investigate, but then is rewarded with a quick swat to the nose. The young dog snorts, and trots out of the cargo bay.

Talitha bursts out of the Captain’s Cabin wearing a too-large buffcoat emblazoned with the ship’s symbol, and a preposterous hat with a skull and crossbones painted in glowing ink. She is dragging Lucas with her, who is doing his level best to keep the book tucked under his arm, all while holding on to the construct, Sinoe with his other hand. Crackers barks with excitement, and follows the three out onto the deck.

The three young adventurers ran to the prow of the ship, clouds streaming past. “Oy!” Della Half-hand called from the wheelhouse. “Where are we going anyway?”

“Well, that’s up to me.” Talitha said, hands on her hips. “I’m the Captain now, after all.”

“Ha.” the older girl scratched her scarred cheek. “ I guess that makes me First Mate.”

“And I’ll be Navigator.” Lucas said dubiously. “And you, Sinoe?”

“Gunner.” the automaton said, with no explanation. Her freshly-dyed purple hair whipped in the wind.

Crackers barked his position on the crew, and Talitha scratched behind his ear in agreement. Della spun the wheel, a fierce grin on her face and the Lodestar sailed on —cutting through white cloud mountains and oceans of blue-sky.

As the ship sails off out of view, Talitha’s voice can be heard — growing quieter as the Dragon’s Eye goes dark.

“I’ve been meaning to ask this for a while. What IS a Lodestar, anyway?”

“Oh..well.” Lucas harrumphed. “ It’s a fixed point in the sky, a star that never changes. It’s an old sailing term — it’s something you can always follow,always depend on — let’s you know where you are, know which direction to go.”

“Okay. I get it. Like my Uncle Jonas, he’s a hero, you know?”

The Lodestar flies. Dreamers wake from their sleep, hearing the music of its flight. A holy wanderer, a noble king, a teacher of serenity, a proud grandfather, a queen of the wild sea, a wide-eyed explorer, a singer of songs, a spinner of tales, a fierce scholar, a battered ranger, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker. For the rest of their days the dream will come, the Lodestar waits for them to board, just outside the window. So easy to slip out of their lives into the quiet night, into the golden dawn —throw their gear aboard, and sail away.

The Dragon’s Eye closes.

The End

A man knelt beneath an oak tree, and prayed. His hair was freshly shorn, like a harvest-day sheep.

“Time and wave
sun and wind
night and fire
moons and stone.

We walk through the world only once.
Only one life is given by the Nameless.

It is a gift, a burden.
A challenge, a duty.
To not waste it.
To serve the Highest.
To the end of the Path, with our honor intact.

Please show me the way….”

A woman with white hair approached, accompanied by a horned figure in gray-leather.

“Ready to go?” she asked the man.

“Yeah.” he stood up, and strapped a drab steel sword to his back.

The woman held up a silver mirror, only two hand-spans across. The gray-leather rogue nodded and vanished into a nearby shadow.

“The people of this world will never let you atone, that’s a fact.” She smiled. “ But, let’s try the world next door.”

She flung the mirror against the oak tree, and it shattered. A gateway formed, a ragged hole in the surface of the universe. It bobbled and quaked, already beginning to collapse.

The man whistled, and a giant golden bird swung down to the earth from its perch high in the tree. The two travelers climbed on its back. The white-haired woman looked straight ahead, but the man took a long breath and looked to the south for a long moment.. Then he patted the bird on its shoulder, and the golden wings spread.

A moment later the passage closed, and the clearing was empty.

Except for an old brown cloak, forgotten on a twisted branch of the oak tree.

View
Through the Pages

There are some that say that Time is a river, flowing sedately in one direction…winding its way through the universe, steady and sedate.

There are some that say Time is a whirlwind, spinning and changing – a million directions at once. Every moment a new collision, hurling new dimensions of possibility into the ever-expanding storm.

There are some that say Time is a stone, graven and perfect — impossible to change or mar.

They may be right, or they may be wrong.

But for this now, this moment, this story — Time is a Book.

And the crew of the Lodestar fell through the pages.

They saw themselves in the throne room, the green skeleton with his fist full of golden fire. They saw the look between two friends, and then they pierce the page.

They see the room again, ten years earlier. A simple man in a brown cloak, laying his sword in the hands of the green skeleton. The page tears as they fall.

They see the boy fighting his way through dark streets full of rain and the unquiet dead.

They see the boy sneaking out of a broken down inn. They see a girl with white hair asleep in the hayloft.

They see the boy and the girl with white hair on top of a tall red tower.

The pages rip, faster and faster.

They see the boy and the girl in many places, in many days of glory and terror.

In the throne room again, the girl’s hair half-white, half-brown. The boy is in chains.

In the streets of a drab city, at a sumptuous banquet with plates piled high with lush, purple grapes.

On the edge of the sea, the girl sitting over a dead knight and the boy lumbering out of the ocean dripping and battered.

The pages of Time tear, and the crew of the Lodestar fall.

The boy on one knee with his sword flat in both hands, the girl on her face in a dank swamp, a turtle, a white bridge, an inn, a giant brass screw, a canyon of rain, a forest and night, the three moons shine and the boy and the girl meet in the dusty, dry soil of a forgotten town.

The book slams shut, and they see only darkness.

[ This occurs in between Fairchild shattering the Time Amulets, and the Lodestar crew waking up in Hell. In game terms, this means that your characters are all aware of the Adventure Log – The Cost. ]

View
Providence

Devil army by kazuya nab

From the research of Mr. Book, descendant of Mr. Quick’s tribe:

Still no evidence of the Great Devil Hero’s continued life after his great dual with Simon Garamond. I’ve found many rumors but no proof.

I continue to follow the reports of the Lodestar, the “Dogs of War,” who continued to be obstacles to our great movement over Aufero until the final incident.

As history dictates, Seafoam made a strong defense in Bard’s Gate even before the Lodestar came onto the scene.

As stated in Haskeer’s journal, the first thing the Lodestar crew did was meet with the board members of The Seaofoam Trading Company in an attempt to gain use of the company’s flying ships to transport troops.

After a chime sounds to announce their presence, the door opens and Jaiden Moore welcomes the crew:

““You are here, and we are here. We are not pleased to see you, nor are you pleased to see us. The past is the past, and for now, it shall remain so. You have already spoken to Enton about your intent to join us in the struggle here, what forces can you bring to bear?”

-I found myself respecting Mr. Jaiden for his ability to set personal feelings aside to focus on the larger issues.” (HJ, B4 pg 93.)

Enton Blake, Ranken [w. Bash], Barris Korvale [w. Apple and Totter], and Old Lady Ferguson were the council at the great Darkwood Table that now resides in the Seafoam museum. One could see the scratches on the surface from where OLF dropped her knitting when the battle broke out. More on that later.

The two groups discussed battle plans for some time until they were interrupted by the King of Glass himself:

“At a lull – A chime pleasantly rings out. Enton said, “Ah, that must be the representatives from Carroway and Ospria — best not leave them alone in the hall together for too long.”

The door opens to reveal a man, dressed as a priest; a long black hassock, three swords of Gilead in white on the front. He carries a large birdcage over one shoulder. It is covered with a dark green cloth. He smiles rakishly, and saunters in.

“Ah — here we are all gathered! I’m so sorry, but the dignitaries from the Warring States are, well, warring – so I thought I’d come to make sure you weren’t one short for Spades.”
Even though I wasn’t present for this most assuredly fabulous performance, I presume to use colorful descriptive terms to display this fabulousness.” (CP, DOW, pg. 478.)

This new character revealed himself to be the legendary great Devil Prince Fairchild and at Moore’s order complied to, “Appear to us as you really are, creature.” Almost all the mortals are shaken as the King of Glass shows himself.

He also revealed a state of affairs in the world of Aufero that struck the hearts of the heroes as deep as the visage of the great devil himself:

“Quorum has fallen. Ospria and Carroway are totally consumed by war. The daughter of the King of Ospria was murdered, and it appears that a Knight of Carroway was captured trying to escape the castle, bloody knife still in his hand.”

“I’ve come to negotiate the terms of your surrender.” (TGBODW, B3002 pg 46 – 47.)

Fairchild goes on to illustrate the Lodestar’s pure loss by setting a birdcage covered by a cloth on the darkwood table. Pulling the cloth away, the mortals witness that the cage bares the Great Sithmuck the Great Hero of the DevilClasm. At this point he was not the hero he was destined to be.

Fairchild invited the cleric of Abadar to banish Sithmuck. Abadar’s guiding light proved as fruitless as a devil vine. The explanation was that the devils that walk through the Great HellGate were true citizens of the world and no longer outsiders that could be pushed back where they belong. It was the beginning of our glory.

Fairchild then displayed our devil testament for generosity. He offered Aufero slavery or death.

The Great Plan hit a bump in the road, or rather, a shut door. As found in Carbunkle’s writings the summoner made a deal with the King of Open and Shut. But as mortals often do, Carbunkle mistook the devil’s intent when he himself became a vessel for the enemy brother:

““Ah – I don’t believe that it worked.” Quintus said that to me as his beautiful eyes opened and refocused on me. I was confused until I felt myself falling away – almost as if into myself instead of pulling Luncina out. In terrible darkness I was rudely shoved and tarnation, the King had the audacity to say, ““The deal is struck, Master Carbunkle. So typical, you think I find that slab of muscle attractive? How shallow you must think me. Nothing is more beautiful than power, and your mind is full of it. Look at it all!”

I was a tiny bird in a cage. I must have looked a bit like that creature, Sithmuck.

The hand held me up, and I saw the inside of my own purty mind. Endless twisting hallways, stairways — and in every room books, books on shelves, books in chairs, books spilling out onto the floor. I noticed that many of them seem to shine, vibrating with potency, of course.

He said, “And look at how many of them glow! So much power in such a neat, tidy package. It’s so hard for a mortal mind to really make use of what it knows, to really reach its full potential. I, on the other hand…”

I watched in horror as every book in my mind opened simultaneously. Knowledge and light spilled out, and swirled around the head of the nebulous creature that held me.

“But that’s not even the best part!”

The hand rose, and I looked out on a strange construction – hexagonal, seeming to be made of crystal.

“A forge! That little place in the mind of every summoner. Such a lovely little toolbox. Don’t worry your pretty little head, my friend. I’ll shouldn’t need to use your body for long, it is nice enough — but I think I can make something a little more my style.”

I felt myself put into a tiny room in the attic of my mind, with one window that looked out. I could see and hear the outside world, but there were a million, jillion miles of night in between myself and it.

He said,“Don’t worry about it, we have larger matters that concern us. Our friends are in danger, we must go to them immediately. ICK!”

The devil in my body caught his reflection in the fountain in the center of the room. “What is this horrible thing on my head?”

With two fingers, he plucked the Crown of the Kobold King of his brow and tosses it to my duelist companion.

“Ready to go?” (CP, DOW, pgs 6083.)

A long explanation for a small detail but it’s important to mention because of its role in the coming fight.

These two teleported their way to the rest of the Lodestar crew in time for the end of the meeting. The two devil kings sized each other up before a battle ensued. Fairchild summoned three chain devils and he himself slew several of the board members, including Jaiden Moore himself. This is important to remember because it shows the shift in power in the Seafoam Trading Company which itself had an eventual effect on the whole campaign. This will be discussed in later papers.

So at this point, it’s clear to show that there is still no evidence to Lord Quick’s existence. But I wanted to sift through this valuable information to make a point. These two devil princes made their own paths into Aufero and remained for the duration by their own deals.

I, being born lame, cannot in good conscience obtain my Qu through battle. The path of Qui’xote states that I must find a good death and unfortunately, there is no honor in killing me. So my theory is to find Mr. Quick’s soul and make my death a portal through which he can return.

I have no fear in death. I have no fear in failure. The papers, books, and stories of the Lodestar crew have shown me that I can find the good death and bring down the King of Open and Shuts reign before he returns in a few short years. Is it providence then, that the efforts of these heroes has led me to this conclusion?

View
More Drama

Labyrinth goblins

The camera pans over a battle sequence in a sprawling city. The extras fall into their battle choreography – a slashing demon here, a group of humans bringing down a foe, there. A hellknight, seemingly wrought from rust and decay steps into the foreground and growls menacingly at the lens.

“Stop the video playback.”

The cinematic scene immediately halts on the curling lip.

“Just isn’t dramatic enough. Have to draw on the audiences’ sympathy for the heroes’ plight. Needs more drama. Get me the director.”

The scrappy intern turns and dashes down the hallway and out into Lot 6. A tall man sporting sideburns and a really nice pair of khakis sits in the director’s chair, pondering a scale model of the city of Pice.

He looks up as the intern approaches and says, “Mr. Adams, Mr. Childs would like to speak with you.”

A chill runs down D. Adam’s spine. He made a good career by not being called to The Office, but today wasn’t his day. A damn fat orange cat kept sneaking its way onto the set and photo-bombing all the shots.

The Office is a macabre of previous cinematic blockbuster victory. Framed posters on every wall covered by thin sheets of glass. Crystal trophies stood on shelves. The desk is polished mirror plates, reflecting glory and perfection. F. Child is sitting in a very comfortable looking chair as Adams enters through the doorway.

Tight lips spread into a toothy smile that makes the director nervous.

“I like your work, Adams, I really do. We just need to open a gate.”

“Uh, pardon?”

“To your muse, your artistic inspiration. We need to go for the gusto, as they say.”

“Sure. I can do that.”

Long thin fingers reach out and push a few pencils into three perfectly parallel lines, sharpened points towards Adams.

“Go get a rewrite from the writers, and get us back on track. Under budget, of course.”

“Of course.” Oh great, thought Adams as he leaves The Office, the writers…

Down two hallways, Adams opens a door. Five hungry goblins slaver and pull towards him dangerously. He drops a grape gumdrop to the back of the small closet. The goblins dive for it, but only one successfully sucks on the candy at the end of the small battle.

They grumble quietly to themselves all except B.Revelry, the one with big eyes who says, “Tastes like purple!”

Adams sighs and says, “I need to workshop some ideas guys. The show needs more punch. Something that makes the fans and the critics say wow.”

The blue goblin, S. Stiltz, says, “Put puppies in it!”

“I can’t. There’s already this cat-“

“I like turtles," she adds.

“I know.”

“How about puppy turtles!”

Another goblin, the fuzziest of them says, “Puppy turtles, that’s brilliant!” He was known only as N.

Adams tries to wrangle the derailed train, “I don’t think we have the budget for hybrids.”

“How about a giant-ass spider?”

All eyes in the room go to the stout pragmatic F. Wind. He had a strong voice, even though all goblins sounded like they breathed helium. He has his paw held up and everything, “Spiders scare the shit out of me.”

“Spider, huh?” Adams thoughtfully tugs at the facial hair on the side of his face, “That might be crazy enough to work.”

N adds, “Yeah! And maybe babies and stuff. Coming out of a websack! Kill all the friendlies with all legs and fangs.”

Wind glares horribly at his goblin pup brother, “What’r’ya trying to do? Give me nightmares?”

Adams says, “No! That’s perfect!” He stands quickly and opens the door. The voice of the freckled goblin, Miller stops him.

“Mr. Adams?”

“Yes?”

“Will you tell us how cool Lodestar is again?”

“Very, very cool.”

The goblins purr to themselves as the door shuts them in darkness once again.

Later:

“So I’ve got this great shot of the Hellknights bashing down the magical iron wall, and the Mother of All Spiders busting her egg sack and babies flying out all over the battle scene. I mean, the budget went crazy for this battle, but I think it’ll be worth it.”

Adams sits in the workshop of the Props Master, M. Smith, a greater djinn who had a way with adding to the urgency of a scene and keeping the value of the mise en scene up while maintaining the budget. Several plaster-molds of monsters observe their conversation.

Smith says, “Mmm, yes.”

Adams continues, “But I need your skills with props, foley, continuity, and choreography to add on a little scene to close us out.”

“Mmm, yes.”

“Maybe you could almost kill the heroes.”

“Mmm, yes.”

Adams squirms in his seat, “Well, I’ll leave you to it.”

“Mr. Adams?”

“Huh?”

“May I use Barbed Devils?

“Uh, sure. That goes with the whole theme.”

“May I use Horned Devils?”

“Oh, okay. Maybe just one. No need to go-

“May I use a possible Fire Elemental slash possible enemy from the past?”

“All right. But I think you’ve got enou-“

“May I use a black dragon?”

Adams stands and walks out of the room. There is a murmur of another question as he presses on back to work.

Much Later:

Adams sits in a plush red chair in a music hall, surrounded by many of the stars cast in his film.

Ben Browder announces the name, “ The Lodestar.” The audience applauds as Adams mounts the stage. F. Childs stands behind him smiling with a hand on his shoulder. I.Torossion and Winter run up to the stage to proudly embrace him.

The blur between what is real and fantasy gets super blurred.

Blur Out.
View
The Riddle of Lost Souls and Broken Hearts

Images!

3 Lost Souls in jars of glass.
1 broken man brought down in a flash.
1 abused ship that moves faster than fast.

3 constructs in a tethered attack
4 heroes go down in the bowels of black

1 barbarian slashes the cables and the foe goes flaccid.
1 monk beats down 2 with fists of acid.

1 lonely ship flies out of control.
1 broken Vagabonder lies empty as a hole

1 ship is alive and its soul is in pain.
1 Heart of the Heartbreaker is broken and stained.
1 druid speaks to the stone and the past explained.
6 heroes refresh the heart again.

3 take the broken man to jail.
1 ship stops flying and hangs in the air.

1 lost soul waits in an amulet.
1 paladin reaches out to the young soul.
1,000 prayers and the soul is healed and reaches back.
1 paladin’s soul is also healed.

7 council members regard the heroes.
1 more to make it 8
1 Summoner steps forward and speaks
3 good deeds deserve 16 ears.
4 good needs may save the world.
3 whys justify it all.
1 mirror reveals it all
1 spell sends the heroes to save Pice from a fall.

View
Walk with the Dead
Goodbye, goodbye

I wake up.

Immediately I’m aware, as always, that this may be my last day on earth.

Goodbye, Blitz.

Shaddup, fool Devil!

Allowing myself some fascination in the blushing red candle that flickers like a fantasy on the bedside table, I roughly realize that the rouge color runs along the wood of the table and finally to the floor. The color continues throughout the ship. A living ship that offers whatever opulence its denizens may desire.

Goodbye, Red, my favorite color.

It’s not a morbid moderation to realize and redeem a finality with each thing you encounter. It’s merely an exuberance to each experience. To be fearless in your feelings means your never miss an opportunity for love or hate.

Goodbye, heart.

I sit down to a fruity feast with the fine figure of the female fiend who brought me in as a fledgling. The food is fresh and I allow myself some fancy in the flash of infinity.

Goodbye, flavor.

We alight on our destination, the ghostly Gilead. I’m invited to step out of the ship, and moderate my manipulation of the miasma. Pain.

I never say goodbye to pain. I know pain leads me from this world; pain will be the last herald of my life. It will be pain bidding me farewell.

My contract companion counsels me to tap into my devilish stock and spines sprout from my skin.

Hello, natural armor.

We park in the castle courtyard, Forechance. It seems a fitting frontier for my final fray. As we make our way into the castle, two gluttonous devils impede our approach. They were servants of the Lord of Open and Shut and they brought us to battle.

Goodbye, Gate Guards.

We enter the castle and I call out a cacophonic cackle. Behind the gate, is my old boss, Simon.

Hello, again.

I, Blitz, who sees almost all and knows mostly everything will share the connection of the story that I have with the rest of Ghosts, second rate characters to the true hero.

I see the Jocasta, whose leader is disturbed with the effects of wine. She falls into the water as she attempts to disembark.

I see the Unvanquished, rolling out from the ship, and into Zebulon, the small city near Gilead. The mourners mourn their fallen Linus. The ghostly Ghost enters the 3 Toed Claw and frightened the establishment; all but Elora Delcroft. Now she might be fit to carry me when Mr. Quick and I part.

Goodbye, Blitz.

Shaddup, fool Devil!

_ I see that Delcroft tells them of Simon’s arrival and departure only a few days before. The Ghosts depart Zebulon and find Simon’s horse near a stream. After a short strategy, they take a breath and roll into the miasma. Quintus chooses this time to reveal why Simon is heading here; he wanted to return to the home of his lost love. Lost. Love._

Aren’t we all?

Two terrific days of tearing ass; and I’m working for the boss again. It’s like a made the right choice or something.

Goodbye. Common Sense.

I’ve been promoted to lieutenant under Simon, and my duties are to request reinforcements. Into The Temple of the Nameless I trudge again – how many times have I done this?

Goodbye, Temporal Memory.

The temple is shitted on by evil assholes. I see three things before I have to head back to work: the contract devil speaks with a robed stranger, a giant metal circle with infernal written on it, and a human male hanging within it – a man of the Iron Legion.

Fairchild, the King of Glass introduced himself to me, and reveals me to Izus Browncloak, somehow an important key for the devils into Aurfuro. Fairchild seems to trust me and shares with me his potent plan.

Goodbye, Lucky Charm.

It’s here and now that our devil enemy makes a charge for the castle again, this time doubly so.

I see The Unvanquished debates strategies for a moment and all decide to head into the castle. They discover it in the midst of battle.

The battle ensues, and the Ghosts jump in to assist, but the apostate devil attacks them. Simon gives the order to stand down. The Ghosts and the Devils talk, catching up on old times.

The Ghosts catch on in the conversation and see that Simon’s personality has shifted somewhat. Tetch uses his paladin powers to perform a personality heal.

Simon says, “Run.”

Then he turns into a devil. He turns to me and gives me my last order.

Goodbye, Boss.

I fight him hard, as the Ghosts flee. Stall him.

Goodbye, Ghosts.

His weapons shatters against Blitz, a chip chunking off and flying into my flesh. We fight harder. Blitz and me.

Me and Quick.

In the distance, I see Fairchild strip off his skin like a cloak. He gives Izus an order and the Browncloak uses his golden power to open the portal voluntarily.

That’s when Simon shatters Blitz with his blade, the pieces bury into me with such force that I almost fall to the ground.

Will he really kill me? He raises his weapon into the air and drives it down into my chest.

Goodbye, Simon.

I grab hold of the shaft and yank it as a yell as hard as I’m able, his hair trembles as chuckle.

My nails have grown to the size of short swords and I drive them towards his eyes. My own orbits grown dark and dim, and I fall into darkness.

Finally, darkness.

Goodbye, Mr. Quick.

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Servants

Kelvin
19th of Handspan, 1179.

Better do something to keep myself awake — and you’re always saying that I should write more in my journal, so here goes. I really think you just make me write in here to give yourself some humorous reading on the toilet. Or maybe to just give you more opportunity to roll your eyes, and look disappointed?

Almost finished with work on the Crucible … just have to wait on the truesilver to cool. I’ll have those two un-cursed and de-porcupined by dawn, as long as I don’t fall face first on the anvil and start snoring. I mean, that’s weird right? I’ve seen people transformed into strange things before – frogs, statues, a loaf of Piccan cheesebread …. but two guys morphed into a two-headed porcupine? You see something new every day, I guess. No stranger than the 200 foot metal colossus outside, fueled by captured souls and dark magics from a forgotten age.

Wait — I’m getting ahead of myself. I know you hate when I do that. Sorry.

So, I’ve been working in Pennytown for a couple of months, working off my debt from that thing in Meraldspire. It’s a quite a town, I’ve really enjoyed just relaxing – doing simple and clean work at the forge. Horseshoes, gates, a whole batch of nails — ooh, I fixed the copper wiring in a busted clock about a week ago. Yup, just good, clean work and then early to bed for your favorite cleric.

Yesterday, travellers came to town. There were a bunch of them, but one of them is this amazing gunslinger — redhead, loooooong legs and an amazing — wait, I can see your eyes rolling. Sorry.

Anyway, they had gotten cursed and banged up on their way into town, so I patched them up as best I could — but then they were a little hesitant about plunking down the cash for the Crucible. The Master Trader was gouging them — but what were they going to do, just leave their friends as a two-headed porcupine? Drover gave them a deal … me and the two of them that were fit for travel would run an errand for him, then he’d give them a discount. Check in on his brother’s store at a nearby village, his weekly delivery was late. The beautiful gunslinger, Mara and a duelist named Quintus agreed to the deal.

I strapped on the armor you helped me craft, and we headed up the New Road to Hemmerfell.

I’ve been to Hemmerfell a few times, I’m the best healer in the area. I had to deliver a baby there the week after I arrived, and it turned out to be triplets! It’s a dirt-poor mining town, but the people there are good folk — quick with a joke, or a round of ale.

They weren’t joking when we got there. Most of the old folk and children were just standing in the middle of the street, and staring into space. We called to them, shook them by the shoulders – but they barely reacted, like they were drugged or sleeping. But their eyes were wide open — I looked through the windows of their eyes, and there was no soul inside. They were empty husks, breathing out of habit — less alive than daffodils. It scared me, Nomus. Shook me right to the core — that a soul could be plucked out of a man’s body easier than removing the core from an apple.

Oh, I perfected a new type of apple corer — remind me to show you the next time I see you.

We moved quickly through the streets of Hemmerfell, past more and more of the poor, empty townsfolk. There were signs of a battle, broken weapons, gouges in the earth, and more than a little blood spilled in the dirt. And then we found a dark marvel.

A cube — thirty feet on each side, made from dozens of different metals hammered and wrought. Endlessly intricate, but also strangely organic — it reminded me of the iron sculptures we saw in Bard’s Gate that time, how the dwarves shaped each piece with their hands, allowing their instincts to override geometric design. But this thing wasn’t beautiful — it was terrifying, Master. The way that a cage is terrifying. I whispered a prayer to you, and continued on with my companions.

As we approached the store, we found more and more of the townsfolk clustered around it. I approached the front door, and they swarmed close — uttering almost in unison a guttural “No.” A few faces were familiar, but empty — I pushed through the blank-eyed gauntlet. Clearly what had caused this horrible effect was somewhere inside the store.

Inside we were found the store empty — except for a rusty suit of armor, out of place and quiet. It turned out to be a sort of shield guardian, like that one we made for King Flaubert. I tried to inspect it, but it pushed me away. Some rudeness in the design there. It was powered by some green energy — something I’d never encountered before, it made me feel a little pukey just to be near it.

Just then, Bostwick came down the stairs. He’s sort of a friend, I’ve drank talked to him a few times since I’ve moved here — he’s the courier that runs between Hemmerfell and Pennytown.

But something had changed him. He talked about changing the world, about how the people of Hemmerfell were the first step, tools for his master and fuel for his grand device. I knew right away he was talking about the cube. The swordsman, Quintus …oh, I didn’t describe him, you’d like him Nomus, quick with his blade and quicker with his mind … asked Bostwick some penetrating questions about his purpose and who his master was. I missed some of it, because Mara happened to do that hair-flippy thing that girls do right in the corner of my vision.

What? It was distracting!

To make the world one. He said. The power of life, the control of a living being’s essence.—-Vitaemancy.

Something was controlling Bostwick, or had changed him. I couldn’t get him to listen — and he commanded the guardian to attack — it surged to life, moving with the grace and skill of a knight of old. The construct answered to the name of Rülf, and summoned more constructs to face us. These new constructs were clearly much newer than Rülf, formed from adamantine and steel. I recognized the maker’s hand at once — whoever had built the cube had also made these soldier-constructs.

The fight was short and brutal. Quintus’ blades pierced and punctured, shining with a holy fire. Mara’s rifle blazed, cutting through the constructs and decimating the shambling horde of townsfolk that had me…temporarily pinned. I was impressed that she took the care to use non-lethal ammunition against the poor husks.

The swordsman’s final foe was the guardian, Rülf. The construct surrendered with nobility, and Quintus accepted, whispering a few words to the metal knight. Bostwick joined the fray as well, bolts of lightning at his beck and call. He was no wizard, master — I have no explanation for how he could do these things — my mind went slantways trying to put the pieces together. Sadly, Bostwick was felled by a carefully placed shot by the gunslinger — and I only had time to say a quick prayer for his soul.

I don’t know if I’ve ever asked before — how do you gods feel about that? I don’t know who Bostwick worshipped, or even IF he worshipped — but would it anger them to have one of your clerics give a benediction? If you get some grief about it, please let the appropriate deity know that I’m sorry.

We rushed upstairs, and through a shattered window saw that the grand cube had dissappeared — a summoning glyph still smoking in the earth. A gray-haired man smiled knowingly, and vanished before our eyes. Could this be the one who had brought this strange magic – the one that Rülf and Bostwick had called Mancer?

Yup, it was. And we had a serious problem. Mara pulled me away from the window — I noticed she paints her nails, a lovely shade of purple.

“All of the able-bodied men are gone, this Mancer must be controlling them — the tracks that we found heading out of town, we should follow them now.” she said.

She’s smart, too!

We moved quickly in pursuit — leaving the poor people of Hemmerfell for the moment. As the miles and hours passed, the sun went down. And so did my hopes — the trail lead us back south down the Old Road – right back to Pennytown.


Whoops! Nodded off for a second, and the truesilver almost spilled. I still say we should use a cauldron with a higher lip. Stop furrowing your brow — I know that your holy specifications are very exact, but you shouldn’t shut out innovation. Look, just consider it — think it over in the shower a few times, that’s all I’m asking.

Pennytown was madness. The simple traders and workers were doing their best to fend off the attacks of the Vitaemancer and his machines. Most horrible of which, the cube had reshaped itselft into a colossus, gleaming with soul-light and crushing everything in its path, while its smaller soldier-brothers savaged the populace. All the while, Mancer watched over all with a look of confidence on his face. While I watched he — I’m not sure you’ll believe me — he pulled the soul right out of one of the warehouse foremen. Green light flowing from the poor man’s body into Mancer’s hands — then reshaped into another soldier — using the material from my forge!

I know you often caution me against impulsive acts — or giving into the whirlwind of anger. I’ve prayed to you about it many times. But when I saw your forge being desecrated, to build a machine of pain and death. Well, I lost it, Master. I brought your power down to protect the people of Pennytown, and I turned my hands to smiting this soul thief.

I was amazed watching Mara and Quintus fight their way to the Gargantuan. (Oh— we found out later that the Mancer called it that.) On the road, the two of them bantered and quibbled like two old matrons at tea — but on the battlefield? Whoa.

Silent and smooth, well-oiled and vicious — never looking to check on the other’s work, each knowing that their companion would be bringing confident obliteration to their foes. I used your blessings to give their feet wings — but they scarcely needed it. My main job was just to keep up, and repair their wounds as quickly as I could.

The Mancer barred our way with an iron wall, and threw his constructs at us — but for the Ghosts their metal was paper.

Quintus tore through the metal soldiers seeking their master. The gunslinger’s rifle stunned the Vitaemancer with a vicious strike to his face, leaving him helpless. Before I barely had time to surmount the wall — Mancer lay dead in the grass. His constructs mounted a feeble defense that was soon quelled, and the Gargantuan stood still as a stone.

Now, this part is embarrassing. The giant thing was still brimful of hundreds of people’s soul energy — and — well, it started to TICK. So, doing the sensible thing ….we ran through the streets screaming “GET OUT, GET OUT, IT’S GONNA BLOW!!!!!”

An hour or so later, surrounded by the grateful (but hungry and grumpy) populace of Pennytown, we decided that perhaps we had overreacted. We made our way gingerly back to the collosus’ side, and soon discovered a hatch in the things right foot. Up a spiral staircase surrounded by gears and pistons, every surface lit by bizarre cylinders burning with the green fire of souls. Any admiration I could feel for the craft displayed was throttled by my total revulsion for the purpose of this device. A cage for souls! Could there be anything more horrible?

At the top of the stairs we found a control room of sorts — but the technology, and even language used was far beyond my experience or comprehension. Clearly this room controlled the Gargantuan, but we were at a loss to understand the smallest part of its operation. The best we could do was find the source of the ticking — a display showing characters in an unknown language, that seems to be counting down. I did some estimation, and I’m fairly sure that the countdown will end in four or five days. Whether the thing will explode then, or release all of the souls inside – I have no idea. I pray to you that once the soul energy is released, it will naturally find its way back to the proper vessel – the people of Hemmerfell, and the few townsfolk here that were afflicted.

Okay — I guess that’s about it. The truesilver is sufficiently purified, and I can finish what I need to complete my work. To complete your work, that is. I’ll write more later if I get a chance — you were right (you usually are), it did help to lay everything out, like tools on the bench before you set to the anvil. I know you can read these words even as a write them, so I would be most grateful for any guidance you could send — I’ll check the mail on the next STC ship that stops, it should be here in a couple of days.

Blessed Nomus, thank you for bringing me through these trials — I pray that I will continue to be a worthy tool in Your hands — the better to build and the better to learn more of your Infinite Order. Please forgive the imperfections in my mettle, as I continue to purify in the crucible of your forge.

And as always I pray, that the days will be short before I am at your side again. Ooh — next time, I learned this fabulous bread recipe from — someone — it’ll go great with the mutton and beer.
Kelvin Mason
Servant of Nomus

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Vitaemancy

Vitaemancy: The Wave of the Future or Reengineered Antiquity?

By Foster Klegg

When Edward Belafast contacted me about his unique approach to magic, he assured me that the story he had to share with me would change my life. In many ways it already has.

He shook my hand, repeating my name to commit it to memory. He was an unassuming middle-aged man that barely fills any idea of a wizard at all. He has the demeanor of a tourist on holiday.

He was very generous with his answers in the interview. He didn’t seem to hold anything back. Here is the conversation:

K: What is Vitaemancy?

B: Would you like me to show you?

K: Sure.

He takes my hand in one of his and my pencil in the other. He mutters the strange intonations of a spellcaster and the warmth of my hand flows into the pencil. It flexes and pulses with life. Belafast almost whispers to it, a few more words and then the pencil starts taking notes of the rest of the interview.

B: Simply put, if one can put it simply, life magic. But it’s much more than those two words can ever define. I’ve spent a long time trying to simplify the idea of such a simple application of magic and the mind, but every time my mentor and I thought we had the key, another layer would unravel.

K: Who is your mentor?

B: Names are interesting things. They say there is power in names. He never gave me his. I called him Mancer. He said it was an acceptable title. We worked together well, made some fascinating discoveries about the world, but we never really grew into any sort of relationship.

K: You speak of him in past tense. What happened?

B: He left. He abandoned our work and left. Sabbatical or something. No long explanation or apology, just a note saying he was traveling south to Eridia.

K: How did it all begin?

B: From what little he told me of his own past, Mancer was an archeologist who dabbled in a little magic. But his real life started when his team was on a dig in an ancient cemetery of wyrms. They unearthed a suit of armor.

K: What’s so special about a suit of armor?

B: It was alive. Completely empty, but the suit itself was alive. It had been sitting under gold, gems, treasures, and dust for eons, just waiting.

K: Waiting for what?

B: Not completely sure. Mancer was very vague about the past, even though it was his specialty. But I think Ruld was just waiting to remember.

K: Rawld? That the suit of armor?

B: Right. Ruld was named from the single rune that showed through the rust on his chest plate. I’m not even sure what civilization used the rune, the armor just explained what little he could remember. Very willing to be helpful. The rune ruld means king. I’m getting off topic here. Sorry.

K: How does this discovery relate to Vitaemancy?

B: Ruld was apparently created by some forgotten kingdom through the power of vitaemancy. The magic gave him life. For what purpose? We don’t know. No other text was uncovered in the hoard. We don’t even know where he came from. A dragon could have flown him from anywhere.

K: How did Mancer discover the way to use vitaemancy?

B: Again, he held back most any explanation of this. I sensed something strange so I didn’t bring it up again. I assumed he pieced it together by getting Ruld to sing.

K: Sing?

B: It’s too cute. The rusty bucket liked to sing bits and pieces of songs from his kingdom. Just small memories he could surface through the fog of his mind. But bit by bit, Mancer was able to manipulate the memories and trace them into a simple spell that could actually create life, move energy, or store it. The potential theoretically was endless.

K: Where do you come in?

B: I studied conjuration and necromancy here in Valeria. I was working in the big debates of the value of necromancy in schools. I did and still do believe that we must understand the potentially evil as well as the potentially good.

K: I think I remember that. 25 years ago, it was all over Tel.

B: Yes. The debate launched my career. It awarded me several scholarships and lots of attention. But soon after, in walks Mancer looking for an assistant, and he chose me. He said he could change my life.

K: Was it worth leaving the school?

B: With vitaemancy, my own potential is limitless.

K: How do you use vitaemancy in your life?

B: Books read themselves, horseless carts take me where I want to go, my household items take care of the chores, and all on a permanent basis. But I’ve gone as far with it as I can. I’m done.

K: What do you mean?

B: It’s dangerous. Too dangerous for me I mean. Near the end of our partnership, Mancer seemed to get a little, well he seemed to be getting overwhelmed by all the power. I think he was getting a little crazy. That’s why it’s good that he left. Retirement I think. Maybe now he’s recovered.

K: How do you mean overwhelmed?

B: I said earlier that I have been trying to simplify what vitaemancy was. I can only clumsily compare it to one thing.

K: Which is?

B: Gods. The power that gods are made of; possess, consume, whatever. They say we mortals are made of clay, but gods are made of something. Vitaemancy can create life and take it away by the will of the mind.

K: That sounds scary.

B: It is! It is. The power of the gods in the hands of mortals.

K: What do the gods have to say about your wandering in on their territory?

B: Well, I haven’t been struck by any thunderbolts or anything. Yet.

K: Yet?

B: I think it’s a matter of time. I’m finished. I can’t do anymore with it without risk. And now I want out.

K: How are you getting out?

B: I’m following in the influence of my mentor. I’m going on sabbatical.

K: Where to?

B: Anywhere. A mountain. An island. The stars. But first, I’m selling out.

K: You’re selling out?

B: I’m not ashamed to sell out. I’ve done a lot of hard work. I should profit from it, naturally. The highest bidder suits me fine.

K: You said it was dangerous in the hands of mortals!

B: So is necromancy. So is politics. So is checkers. So in plumbing! Power can corrupt anyone at any time. Through knowledge we can avoid that corruption as long as we’re responsible with the conveniences we can provide ourselves. Ignorance is no course of exemption. But don’t worry, I get to know the companies that make offers. Think of what great corporations like Seafoam Trading Company could do with vitaemancy for the whole of Aufero.

Belafast shakes my hand again and repeats my name before saying farewell. We walks away and I don’t feel different from our exchange but somehow I feel the change will come. For us all.

Foster Klegg has written for the Valeria Informer for 10 years. His third novel, The Miracles of Valeria, releases next year.

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The Spoils of War

A hesitant tap on the old oak door.

“Ummmm Mr. Quintus? Is everything okay in there? I thought I heard voices…and you’ve been in there for, well, over an hour. Will you be done soon?”

The man in the claw foot tub rolled his eyes and lazily blew a mass of foam off his foot.

“Madame Mayor, you will know that I have finished when I thank you for your gracious hospitality and leave your lovely home radiating pleasant smells and good taste. That time has not yet come. Thank you, that will be all.”

As the elderly woman walked away perplexed, Quintus dunked his head under the water, blew a few bubbles, and emerged.

“So then, where was I? Ah yes, we arrived at the dilapidated, hand-painted sign proclaiming Jackson’s Grove to be just ahead. In desperate need of rest and refreshment, not to mention a bath after almost a month of imprisonment and travel, we decided to stop. Mr. Quick scouted ahead. You know, I give him a hard time I’m sure, but you should see him move. It is like a fine riesling poured from a crystal decanter. So fluid and crisp, bursting with potential. Once he entered the field, he all but disappeared. Not a stalk moved to betray his presence. Inspiring, really.

We followed behind and came to an inn. Finally! Finally would I have the reprieve from the filth of this world which clung so painfully to my skin! But it was not to be. Instead, twenty small, green, bear, devil, things attacked us, all of them wielding poisonous and infernal weapons. One might have broken a sweat if Marabon hadn’t incinerated the lot of them before they could turn around. Ah, that girl. You’ve got to respect a woman who can handle herself so smoothly and efficiently in battle. She listens to me when I give her clothing advice; I listen to her when she recommends fighting stratagems. The devils had been eating a human, and a reanimated skeleton was playing old plinky music on the piano. The inn was otherwise empty, despite showing signs of its most recent occupation by non-devil beings: soup just coming to a boil, wet cloaks on posts, a pipe still wafting smoke. It was all rather creepy and too quiet.

Around this time, Simon thought it would be a grand idea to split. He took Linus, Elijah, Gorton, and that elf woman whose name escapes me. Lyre? Knifer? That sounds right. So they went one way, and we made our way into town. After a rather depressing exchange with the town drunk, we came to a barn. Let me tell you, I’ve seen, and done, some rather bizarre things sexually, but what those devils were doing inside that decapitated horse head made my skin crawl. They were dispatched quickly and quietly.

In the town center sat four Bone Devils. Nasty beings, if I do say so. We attacked them with the grace and precision that has garnered us so much acclaim. Or will, one day. Our expertise shines even in the midst of our mistakes. For instance, dear Mara’s gun jammed when it would have been most helpful for it not to have. She didn’t fuss or fret, just dropped it, pulled out another, and destroyed her target. Even Tetch was incredibly useful, flying and diving into them, his spectral sword cutting through them like butter.

Returning them to their natural plane, we advanced to the Church of Linneus. Inside we found a gathering of, shall we say fifty, of those green bear devils. And really, I’m tired of calling them that so I need to name them. Yes, we shall call them Squishies. There were seventy-five Squishies in the church, watching a devil made out of, and I’m not making this up, out of paper whip a fat priest on the altar, reminding him that his payment was due. Someone told me later that this was a Contract Devil who had come to collect. Apparently, the old priest made a pact. They, the devils, would grant him a female companion for a year and a day. I assume he missed the fine print that said that the devils would, at that time, overrun the town in a murder orgy.

So Tetch floats to the top of building and spooks them! Can I say spooks? I wonder if that term is somehow offensive? Hmmmm Yes, well he freaks the Squishies out of their minds, so they all run straight for the door—and directly into the end of Mara’s dragon fire. The Contract devil was mostly not a problem, but she did manage to escape, which bothers me to no end. I don’t know enough about them to say how vindictive they are. Do they torment only those they have made deals with, or will she hunt us to the ends of the world? Remains to be seen I imagine.

All of this leads up to us rescuing the kidnapped town members from being burned alive by a shadow angel in the graveyard. In my time, I have traded blows with some rather disturbing characters, but this fallen angel was most impressive in its horrendousness. None of us could stand to look at him because he was too beautiful I think. Would have made us unable to attack him, probably. He shrieked and paralyzed us for a few moments. In addition to all that, he had this really amazing and powerful scythe. Had it not been for Mara’s sharpshooting, Tetch’s distractions, and Quick working with me so perfectly, I don’t think any of us would have made it out alive.”

Quintus stood from the bath and began drying off.

“What I really want you to remember, though, is this bath which I most richly deserve and cannot begin to describe how much it is appreciated.”

Buttoning his shirt and checking his cravat in the mirror, he says over his shoulder: “I suppose I should head to the party now. It sounds as if the town is going to burst with glee and revelry, which they have every right to, coming so close to losing their lives and possibly soul. All for a woman. Bah. How preposterously wasteful. And…thank you for listening old friend.”

The sapling, no bigger than a man’s hand, seemed to bow as a new leaf sprouted.

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The Short Sword Suffers

Nyver – An Exile. A Tyran political prisoner. A fine shred of shade I’d like to lie down in. Pretty sure she likes me.

Mr. Quick, you must realize she is reviled by you.

That’s how it starts, Blitz, hate makes room for lust.

Don’t toy with me tiefling, I’m not in the mood.

If only I could.

Drums. Drums that sent shivers singing down my spine. I’d dearth to dance to it but Nyver turned to me with those luscious lips and told us that the Drums sounded a summoning. None of us, including her were invited, but we answered the announcement anyways.

It’s often the way of the hero, Mr. Quick.

I’m no hero. I only walk with heroes.

You may surprise yourself one day. Ah, don’t pout, it’s the price of wielding me. I lead you to a good death, but only if you lead me to glory.

I chose to distract myself with the sway of Nyver’s callipygous caboose as she led a hypnotized hooligan and his gang of Ghosts into the center of Iax.

The Great King on the crystal cathedra, crown of elk horns on his head; he lifted his surveying eyes and staggered the entire swell of shadow elves with the cognizance of the capture of his granddaughter. By their collective quaver, she was beloved by all.

The King drew out his disclosure, deploring her departure to the den of Atrion, the Silent Wyrm.

Heros were hoped for, we answered.

Failure was death, success was forgiveness, except for the nectarous Kniver. The King saw his deity’s dealing in this and the people were restless for the return of the princess.

We did not keep them waiting.

We marched into the cavern and up a riverbank.

An unfortunate cave-in split the team; Mara, Gorton, and Mr. Quick.

When did I stop telling this tumultuous tale?

Quick scouted ahead and finds 2 cerebralists. After he reported, the team attacked…attackingly.

You’ve got no sense for style.

One more monster joined the mob, followed by five infants. A paladin’s corpse granted us a gift of treasure; a ring and a book.

The crew cased around a corner of the cavern where they found another creature of cognitive consumption and two more cerebrallists. Mr. Quick stepped up and sneak attacked but immediately got mind controlled, like a slow-minded sheep.

Hey.

Have I got your attention now?

Theoretically. I must admit was impressed by Mara blasting the thought slayer away.

Yes. But her carelessness allowed the shriek of the dying beasts to summon the dragon. Gorton casted a spell of stoneskin on you, encasing you in concrete.

As Atrion attacked, he immediately insufflated at us, whereupon I bamfed onto his back, like a boss.

Please. At that point, you lost control and Mara shot him full of holes.

You realize she was aiming for me.

You bore me, you bore.

And then I struck the strike that slew the serpent.

Stop it!

The princess was preserved, the people were pleased, and the patriarch was pacified.

I think I want a new hero.

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