The Third Moon of Cré

Chapter 33
Star Track

Alone but for the screeches of the strange and wonderful animals in the dark jungle, the DragunShip slid down the calm river further into Datura.

As Jalana sat in the crow’s nest, as she’d done a hundred times before, she could almost reach out and touch the snaking tendrils of vines and branches above, missing the top of their mast by only a few feet, occasionally snagging, but not breaking, their sturdy and battle-worn ship.

Sitting on the lip of the crows nest with her currently bare feet up on the ledge, the night was no different to any of the other 10 or so nights since they left Mallac’s Rest.

She looked down at her feet and saw the small scorpion that she’d found in the Drow’s nest. It was clicking it’s claws together and seemed to be cleaning itself. Jalana wondered about the last time she bathed. It was within the last month, she was sure, and let the thought go. She wondered again at the vision she had a few nights back; she was in the crow’s nest, as she was now, and there was a heavily obscuring fog everywhere.
She remembered being scared in the dream, for what reason she did not know. In the dream she remembered looking down from the perch to see if she could spy the deck, and, in the dream, there was a great being climbing towards her. As he got to the perch he peered at her quizzically, and told her that it was okay to let go, then let go himself, falling backwards into the mist. She recalled the greatest thing about the dream was the connection to the man, his amazing set of stag horns and the look of serenity as he fell into the mist.

Jalana came out of her reverie and saw that Clarence, her scorpion companion, had disappeared over the edge of the nest. She stood and peered over the edge, seeing him comfortable in a small nook that he’d found. She smiled, and looked up.

“Ho! Ahead!” she called, pointing towards where they were headed.

Directly ahead there was a thick blanket of branches, vines and thorns blocking the way on the small river. With no way to avoid it, and with the ship heading towards the obstruction far too quickly to stop in time, she braced herself.

Those on the deck below leapt to attention, Fabian rebuking the other crew members for their lack of attention, and silently rebuking himself and wondering about the inevitable discipline that the captain would be dealing out.

With a door swinging on it’s hinges and a loud bang, Grash came limping and shouting from his cabin. “Fabian! What in the grunting bugbears arse is going on!” he called as he made his way mid-deck.

Jalana leaned over the crow’s nest and called down “Grash! Hold onto something!” and pointed at the brambles ahead.

Grash looked, and he saw what she meant. A seemingly impenetrable thicket of wood. “Fuck” he mumbled to himself as he didn’t bother to hold onto anything.

As they got closer, and all this happening in mere seconds, the wall of nature started to move. First it seemed like a wind had picked up, then visibly, the wall began to part. As they watched the wall parted, being pulled back like the drapes on a stage, to reveal behind a beautiful sight. The sky was again visible behind the natural shroud, and not just any sky but a ebony field of sapphires that didn’t end when the horizon met the river ahead. The water beneath reflected the stars above and it seemed to those on board that the ship would would sail into the sky itself.

They didn’t, though. The ship sailed on past the wall of wood and into what was one of the strangest scenes they’d ever seen. As the slipped into what seemed to be some kind of dock, they saw ships, as in any dock. However these ships were not docked as one would presume, the ships looked unfinished and without visible work being done on them. The hull had no planks, the ship was smooth hulled, almost like they had been whittled from one piece of wood. As they got closer they saw that the masts themselves seemed to be mere trees growing from the deck itself. But that wasn’t the strangest thing. The ships weren’t free floating in the river, they were attached to roots of the trees. The roots covered the banks of the river, obscuring any view of the earth of the river bank, and from those roots seemed to be ships growing from them.

“Fabian.” called Grash in the eerie quiet. "Moor the ship on the port side of the river.

Fabian gave a quick yessir and got the ship banked, throwing lines and the crew mooring the ship quickly and efficiently.

“Let’s have a look around, shall we?” said, Grash as he walked down the plank to the root covered bank of the river. There wasn’t much in the way of ‘ground’. The floor was covered with vines, roots and jungle detritus. The plants were like nothing they’d ever seen, some of them covered in spikes and some with the most magnificent shades of green, blue and purple. They did not look edible.

Jalana, Shun and Grash made their way to one of the other ships. Wary of their surroundings. Jalana shifted into the shape of a gorilla and took to the trees. Shun looked on in what other elves would consider to be amazement, however anyone not of the higher race would deem it to be an expression of the blandest of indifference. He stored the information away and continued his inspection of the ships.

As they saw that the ships were just as they thought, growing out of trees, Jalana looked across the river and saw someone familiar. A giant badger-wolf sat on it’s haunches and was watching them. This was certainly the companion of the fallen Leaf. She pointed it out to the others, but as they watched the creature made it’s way into the jungle, away from their vision.

They continued their scouting of the surrounding areas, enjoying the time on shore, even though the shores’ earth was not being trodden. Suddenly Jalana saw a head pop up from some of the roots. The face was similar to Leaf’s; hard, weathered and dark with sparkling eyes however this one seemed female. The figure was concealed from the shoulders down by the thick mass of roots but Jalana could see that the Halfling was doing something with it’s hands. As they all watched the Halfling moved something from it’s hands to its mouth and began calmly eating and continued to watch them.

“Hello!” called Shun to the Halfling woman (girl?). “She seems harmless enough.” he added to his companions.

About two dozen other heads popped up about them, most of them seemingly gathering things from the roots, some with children strapped to their chest and some armed. The men, women and children did not seem alarmed to see the outsiders, they continued to go about their gathering and chatting amongst themselves. Shun, having a basic understanding of the Halflings language could hear them talking about how the outsiders would die. Some of them spoke about their dinner this evening, and some spoke of things that Shun could not understand.

Jalana the Gorilla came down from the trees and made her way amongst the little people. Some of them startled but not too worried after they saw that she meant them no harm. One of the children leapt at her, and climbed onto her shoulders. Another offered her some of the small mushrooms that they were picking. Tentatively she ate it. It tasted like a mushroom. The little ones seemed happy with this.

“We’re looking for your leader.” advised Shun as he and Grash got closer. “We have a message, a delivery.” he added in his limited language.

Some of them were listening and a few of the children laughed and ran into a nearby tunnel of roots. A particular halfling woman with no bags or children about her motioned for them to follow her. She lead the way with her heavy and nasty looking spear into the tunnel after the children.

“Vuvu, hold the ship, we’ll be back soon.” Grash spoke into the speaking stone and made to follow the woman, however he was pushed aside by a large gorilla with no less than 5 small Halfling children on it’s back that went into the tunnel on all fours.

Grash looked at Jalana, then looked at Shun looking at Jalana and shrugged. Not the strangest thing he’d seen lately. He made his way into the tunnels with Shun.

As they wound their way underground, then above ground, then under again they realised that the tunnels were well used by the Halflings. After a half hour or so they came out of the tunnels to a clearing. Stone and shattered statues were strewn about the place, the whole area seemed to be some kind of sunken ancient temple. Thankfully the ground here was cleared of roots and they could see the earth under their feet. Into the clearing they saw the children ahead scattering and heading into some of the many tunnel openings in the area. Some leading into the root systems and some into stone doorways also leading into the ground.

They stood in the clearing, surrounded by the chatter and movement of the Halflings. None of the companions felt violence in the air and none felt the need to arm themselves, it was a good choice.

They watched an older Halfing emerge from one of the stone doorways and make his way down to them in the clearing. Holding himself up on a sturdy looking staff and flanked by three tough looking Halflings, he came to them and stopped. Looking at each in turn, first Grash, then Shun, then the Gorilla covered in Halfling children, he spoke.

“You have a delivery for us?” he asked in very simple terms.

Shun began to translate for the other two and watched as the gorilla walked off into the jungle. “Well, yes, we do.” he replied as he turned back to the old man.

“Tell him we have the Dark Heart of the Forest.” Said Grash, feeling left out because of his lack of understanding of the language.

“We have the Dark Heart of the Forest.” said Shun just as Jalana came back from the jungle being followed by children still poking her and trying to jump on her back, with one succeeding.

“Oh hello everyone! Fancy seeing you here” she said, with a wink to her ship-mates.

The elder Halfling looked at her with a cocked eyebrow.

“Is she… simple?” has asked Shun whilst pointing at Jalana.

Shun looked at Jalana who was pretending that she had just stumbled across this clearing deep within Datura. “Yes.” he answered. “Besides that, we brought this to you, the leader of your people, for them to fulfil a pledge that we made to a halfling called Arryn.”

As he mentioned the name Arryn all the movement in the clearing stopped.

“You speak a name that hasn’t been used here for many years.” said the old halfling. “You need to explain yourselves and what you know of Arryn.”

Grash explained, through Shun, where they met Arryn and how they came to be in possession of the black and forever-bleeding heart. As Jalana took the heart from the bag, with the blood dripping from her hands she looked at the older man and, in the common tongue said “Here is the heart of your people, take it.”

They did not take the heart. Many averted their gaze, some cried out in alarm as the heart beat and bled. Some left, running to the tunnels and warning others to stay away. Only the old man remained unbowed. His eyes full of wonder.

“A long time ago, a great warrior named Hamza’Tahir’Arryn was sent by the All Mother to hunt down a demon that our people unintentionally released into the world. This was over one hundred years ago. You say that you saw Arryn?”

“Yes, we saw him.” said Jalana through Shun. She neglected to tell the old halfling how she had plunged her knife into his chest and ripped the heart form his still living body. “But he is dead now.”

The elder sat on a nearby stone, suddenly looking weary yet hopeful. “There is…still a chance. We can still make right what we have done. You will need to speak to our leader.”

As Shun translated Grash threw up his stump and cried “What?! You’re not their leader! We’ve been wasting time with you!” and he went to the old man and grabbed him by the shoulder with his suddenly-there azure mage hand and shook him. “Where…is…your..leader!”

Several of the Halflings came forward but did not directly threaten Grash, but did look at him quite sternly. The elder was not bothered, but he stood and came back to the open earth below their feet and began to draw. “Here is where our leader is, he is out hunting today. He hunts the Ottugh. Be careful when you find him, those things…get in your head.” and the old man turned and walked back to one of the openings to the sunken stone temples.

“Addled old fool.” grumbled Grash, as the group studied the man and headed off in the direction of the river again. As Grash turned his back to the Halfing group he felt a sharp sting in his neck and moved his mage hand up to it, expecting a bug of some kind, except his hand came back with a small dart, tipped with a strange feather. He stopped and looked back at the Halflings, some of which were still looking his way and none of which were holding blowguns. He grunted, feeling no immediate pain, and made his way after Jalana and Shun.

They got the the river and found Vuvu waiting for them, as they had spoken to her through the sending stones and advised her to meet them there. She got them across the river safely and advised them that it was best that she stayed with the ship to make sure the crew were safe.

As the group followed the instructions of the Halfing elder they eventually saw, in the distance some two hundred yards, a large gleaming white temple. The stars were barely visible through the canopy above and the sounds of the night creatures was not calming. As Grash made his way cloaked in darkness, he felt, more than saw, a figure in the undergrowth ahead. Guessing this was their quarry he whispered to the others what he’d found.

“Hey you!” called Jalana, startling several small animals nearby. “We’re looking for you! Are you the leading of those short people we saw before?”

Grash was startled but not surprised. “Well, there goes the element of surprise” he muttered into the sending stones, and stood and walked over to the figure huddled in the roots and vines.

“Who approaches Jung?” the figure asked, his voice unmistakeably that of a Halfling, but he spoke the common tongue albeit haltingly.

“We bring you news of Arryn, and we bring you the Dark Heart of the Forest.” said Shun, with Jung the one now being startled.

“Arryn? The great hero of old, I was a mere boy when he left our village with anahata to defeat the dark one from below.” he said, more to himself than to them. " You have the anhata?"

Jalana came forward, now understanding the word for Dark Heart of the Forest, Anhata. She reached into her bag and took out the heart, offering it to him. The Halfling shook his head, “This is not the time for such things, we are in danger here and I am worried that you have sprung the trap designed for another. I hunt a great beast, called Ottugh. My people are out there now, flushing it towards me, to the temple there.”

He motioned to the temple, and just as he did so there was a terrible screech in the distance. Flashed and memory of a giant green dragon laying waste to Mallac’s Rest flashed through their minds, but Jung spoke up “That is the beast now, prepare yourselves and watch, but do not interfere, the beast is mine to kill.” and he made his way to the temple to meet it.

The other three climbed a tree, intent to watch the Halfling warlord fight such a beast. As they waited, and they didn’t wait long, the saw not one but three giant beasts, all claws and tentacles and slavering maws come bursting from the jungle into the clearing of the temple. Jung seemed startled but not scared, launching himself at the nearest of the creatures.

“He will not survive this!” cried Jalana “We need to help him.”

“Agreed, he cannot expect to overcome such odds. Plus, I need to stretch my legs a little anyway.” said Grash, looking down at his one good leg and the other one that still had Leaf’s leg skewered onto it. He huffed and leapt from the tree, racing to intercept one of the Ottugh with Jalana close behind.

Fearless Jung sprung from a crouch to the nearest Ottugh, pummelling it with fists and foot and with his short sword. The beast trying in vain to grasp him with it’s tentacles. From the tree that they were hiding in came a brilliant flash of light and an ear splitting bang of pressure as a bolt of lighting smashed into one of the beasts. Although it burned many of it’s appendages the beast stayed on fighting and trying to claw its way to the others up the temple walls.

Jalana drew her blade and with a cry it became fire, with Grash by her side they climbed the side of the temple to get a better position on the Ottughs. With Jung battering and piercing the beasts from within their reach and lightning blasting their flank, Jalana and Grash ran along a ledge of the temple and flung themselves down on top of the one that wasn’t attacking Jung. Their blades found purchase in the hard scaly skin of the beasts and they were hard pressed to stay out of the reaching tentacles protruding from their back.

As they fought Jalana heard a voice in her head, with no accent of emotion it told her of the plight of their kin and how the Halfings hunted them for sport. She knew then that the Ottugh was trying to communicate to her, and it wanted peace! She yelled this at Grash and compelled him to stop, seeing Shun in the trees she knew he was too far away to hear her and she dismayed, standing with her weapons stowed and hands out entreating her companions to stop. However the beasts fought on.

Jung, overmatched and under prepared was knocked down by one of the beasts giant arms, and then further crushed by it’s tentacle, being lifted and smashed into the stone below, his head hit the ground with such force that even his training could not keep him conscious and he knew darkness then.

As Grash downed one of the beasts there was now only two, and as he leapt deftly to the side he felt a presence in his mind, it called to him and told him that if he was spared that they would show him where the Halfings keep their treasures. Grash threw off the creatures voice and yelled “You won’t escape my blades that easy you overgrown worn!” and laughed as he killed.

Shun saw this and sent a terrible stream of lightning at one of the creatures, calling out his arcane and otherworldly powers at the beast who exploded in a vicious cloud of entrails and blood. The last Ottugh still fought, but with Shun, Grash and Jalana fighting it was summarily overcome and executed.

As they came to the still body of Jung Jalana kneeled down by his body, and with the energy of the jungle about them she called the spirits to being life back to his ragged and barely breathing body. He stirred and then gasped, immediately getting up onto his knees, but could rise no further.

“It’s okay, they are dead. We saved you.” said Jalana.

With wide eyes Jung looked around and finally saw them. His warriors in the tree line, watching him.

His face was as stone, and he stood, with all the strength of his bloodline he stood. But it was not enough, he had fallen, and been saved by outsiders.

His people, his clan, his warriors and his family turned and walked back into the jungle with the faces of ones that had recently lost a loved one. Jung knew they would never again accept him as their leader.

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Chapter 32
Green Skies - Red Hearts

“Bring us another one, would you darling?”

Vuvu and Grash were enjoying a well deserved drink in the only tavern of Mallac’s Rest. Fresh from their adventure to the north in the caves where they found the lone Drow plotting and reworking the flesh of Orc and Gnoll. They did not discuss this however, as they wanted to have a little time to reminisce of times long past.

Jalana was outside, looking about town and, as the evening came about the turned into a bat, even though bats usually awake at night, and she hung on a tree near the centre of town and tried to get some well earned rest.

Her bat ears twitched. She thought she heard a scream, like metal nails being dragged across rust but amplified beyond reason. She kept her eyes closed, attuning her ears; she could hear the towns folk begin their nightly activities. Shops closing, some opening, the sound of mothers calling their children home. Again the screech. This time like it was curdling from a bubbling swamp like some dying beast.

She opened her bat eyes, she looked about and saw Leaf, the halfling, atop his badger-wolf running at full speed towards the centre of the town.

“Everyone flee!” he yelled in Elvish, as he did not speak the Common tongue, “Run for your lives!”

Some people stopped to see the semi-familiar form of the little humanoid, some a little fearful, but all knowing that he has a strange bond with the town. Jalana, understanding his panic if not exactly his words, turned her eyes from his and swept the surroundings.

In the distance, and approaching very very quickly, was a massive shape that could be nothing but a-

“Dragon!” yelled Leaf in his best attempt at common, coming out at more of a “Daa-boon!”

As he was yelling and just before Jalana could think to warn the others, the Dragon swept down, plummeting faster that she could have thought , folding it’s wings in behind it and as it came to within 100 yards of the village its wings unfolded arresting some of its speed and, as it strafed across the eastern part of the village the people of Mallac’s Rest began to scream, however the sounds were drowned out by the bellowing of the massive green Dragon and it’s fiery green breathe that came from its maw.

Most of the eastern part of the village disappeared in the green flames and the poor souls that were engulfed were either incinerated immediately or lay about, some running for a few seconds, and being consumed by the fire. As the fire burned she saw a green fog making it’s way out from the destruction, with many of the unburned towns people running in panic and not noticing it, they gasped and fell to their knees holding their throats as if they couldn’t breathe. The mist was the same green as the scales on the dragon.

Jalana dropped her bat form and immediately put her finger to her ear “DRAGON!” she bellowed.

Grash and Vuvu were already on their feet, having knocked over and forgotten about their drinks after the second, closer screech sounded, knowing there was trouble afoot. As Jalanas warning came through their earpieces they both whipped out their weapons and ran outside, ready to face the danger head on.

They came out to a scene of horror, people ran screaming through the streets, some, in a panic, huddled and covered their heads with their arms, as if that could stop the flames. They found Jalana, standing with her lighting spear crackling in her hand and followed her gaze to the skies with Patrick standing next to her, sword and shield in hand.
The mighty beast was circling a few miles to the north, readying itself for another pass. Leaf ran past them all, with the badger-wolf taking giant strides and leaps up barrels and smaller roofs until he was atop the town hall, next to the single bell that the town could afford. He took out his mighty long bow and strung an arrow with vicious barbs on it and held it to the dragon, tracking it flight across the sky.

“We have to get out of here, there is no heroic end to this except in death.” Vuvu said, not out of fear but of calm certainty and began her run to the forests edge. Grash, looking at the village and then the relative safety of the forests edge, knew instantly that he had no allegiance to this pitiful nest of smelly humans and started off after Vuvu.

As they ran, they saw the Dragon again swooping down and as they just made the safety of the forests edge they saw it again lay waste to large parts of the town. Jalana and Patrick stood side by side, with his massive and time-tested shield raised they both took cover behind it and were spared most of the flames.

Patrick, standing and shaking off some embers and coughing through the mist that was slowly forming, saw about him many of the townsfolk looking for direction. Jalana, stood and yelled “Get to the forest! It is attacking the town!” and began running, picking stragglers off their feet and helping some of the elderly. Patrick took her lead and began hurriedly getting people out of the town. Many people not in their immediate vicinity did not run to the forest but hid in their homes, some were consumed by the next strafing run of the dragon, some were saved by dumb luck.

As many of the towns folk watched the fires consume much of the village from the flimsy safety of the forest Grash stood transfixed, watching the scene with wide eyes and a smile on his face. The dragon again swooped down but this time it was not alone, it had a master, on it’s back a dread form commanded it. He told the dragon where to strike, where to lay it’s terrible fire. Grash was smiling manically now, the flames reflecting in his eyes, and he felt a hand take his own, and too transfixed in the moment he did not shirk it. He heard a familiar voice, in his ears or his mind he did not know.

this is why you are here

this is what you are for

grash, come and find me, come home

He felt the hands grip lessen, and he looked down to catch a glance of Michi’ini knowing it would be her. But she was not there, and neither was his entire arm. He laughed, and coughed up blood, feeling a loss inside his body and, with an incredible pain, he toppled to the ground, still seeing their fire and smoke in his mind he lost consciousness.

Jalana, slightly distracted with helping the few villagers that made it with them, caught a glance of Grash toppling to the floor. She yelled and ran to him, catching Vuvus attention who followed her to Grash. “Grash! Your arm!” yelled Jalana helpfully. Vuvu stood beside them weapon in hand, not sure where the attacker was, but keeping the rabble of villagers away from her old friend.

Grash awoke in a panic, having only lost consciousness for a few moments. He looked down to his arm and yelped, his mage hand appearing and in the same instance creating a ball of flame, he then took the flame to the bleeding stump of his arm, trying to cauterise the wound in his panic but only managed to burn himself.

“Stop” said Vuvu, realising there was something else afoot here, with Jalana not panicking as much as she would if there had been an enemy nearby. “Hold him down” she directed Jalana who complied. Vuvu kneeled down beside him and lay her hands on his wound, letting the blood run over her fingers, the sound of it dripping onto the wet earth and the anti-rhythm of his ragged breaths. The wound stopped bleeding, but did not heal completely, it’s the best she could do at the moment. When her magic was seeping through him she felt an emptiness inside where his organs were, and advised him of such.

Grash looked up at Vuvu then down at his arm, “Thanks”, he mumbled, still not completely coherent and quite out of breath.

“That’s okay, after all, we’re like family.”

A sudden gasp brought all of their attention to Patrick who was standing nearby.

“Family…” he whispered to himself, dropped his sword and started running back to the village.

The three of them though maybe he was still concussed from this several very hard hits to the head, it was the only explanation for him to have forgotten about his wife and child. As Jalana tended to Grash as best she could Vuvu looked about at the milling folk and realised that there were many many other injured people. She began to rally them, setting up a triage system and creating some semblance of order. As she looked she saw several of the guards watching her, awe in their eyes at her finesse, brazen good looks and her magical ability to heal wounds. One guard in particular did not seem as impressed as the others, and stood looking at her quizzically. The way he stood seemed to be at odds with their surroundings, he was not dirty and panicked like the rest, but calm and studying.

“What’s your deal, then? Why aren’t you wandering about like a witless calf like the rest of them? Or are you addled in the brain?” she asked him as she made her way over to him. Grash and Jalana came behind, as they saw that something interesting has caught Vuvus attention.

The guard tilted his head slightly to the side, and moving his hand across his face the charm was washed away and in front of them stood an Elf clad in flowing clean blue robes. A large tome strapped in golden linked chains to his waist, and a runed and heavy looking staff in his hands replaced the old broken spear that was there a moment ago.

“Hello.” he said without addition.

“Well now, that was some trick.” exclaimed Vuvu, looking him up and down. “You going to help us with this or are you just going to play tricks on everyone? What’s your name?”

The Elf looked from Vuvu to Grash to Jalana, then off in the distance to the village.

“I have not had a name for over a decade.” he replied in the Common tongue. “And no, I will not be helping these…people” he said, with a shadow of a sneer on his face, looking at the villagers.

“We’ll call you Shun, then.” said Grash from the back.

“If you like.” said the Elf serenely. “I’m looking for someone and I’m wondering if you’ve seen him. His name is Hemmit.”

“He died.” said Jalana with no preamble. “Was he…your brother?” she asked, seeing a resemblance in his face.

“Only in the strictest sense can an impure being such as Hemmit have been called my brother.” the Elf replied, gaze returning from the burning village back to the trio. “So he is dead? That simplifies matters.”

As they concluded their introductions a primal scream ripped through Mallac’s Rest. A sound of rage and loss so feral and powerful that no a single soul that heard it was unaffected. The villagers thought there was another threat on the way, a threat seemingly more terrifying. The three of them knew that it was something else, that it was Patrick, and hje’d probably found something.

“I will go to him, there might be something I can do.” said Jalana to the group and hurried off towards Patrick’s hut, guessing that’s where he was.

As she approached she saw on the mantle a man holding the charred remains of his wife. In his grief he did not notice her coming and his tears flowed freely onto her body. He shook with pain and rage, and in that most intimate and sacred of moments of grief he felt a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay Patrick”. said Jalana.

Through the mists of rage and primal anger his mind, soaked in blood and fire and scales and gnashing teeth, he surfaced, if only for a moment, and saw her dark face. He looked through the haze at her, her innocent face, daring to disturb him in this moment of abject horror. His fractured and tormented mind only allowed him to mutter “get…away…from…me…”

Jalana shrugged and took her hand off him, wondering why he was so upset, people died all the time, it was the way of the world. Anyhow, she decided to go into his house to have a look around. Maybe his daughter was still inside.
As she entered the saw that half the house was destroyed and the entrance to his cellar was half covered in rubble. She moved some of the stones and made her way down the steps to the relatively unscathed cellar. As her eyes adjusted to the dark she saw regular cellar items, such as barrels, tools and winter clothes. She also saw a table with items strewn on it, such as the wooden piece that Esmerelda was working on when they first met. Also a small doll and other children’s items. She saw a note, laid carefully among the items, which she picked up and read.

Our precious girl, we miss you so much, please come home to us, it’s dangerous out there.

As she finished reading she looked up and saw a portrait, old and stained with the years, of the young girl that she has seen in the shop when they first arrived. The few memories of the girl she had came back to her, never seeing her with anyone but Patrick, never seeing her but in the dark of night.

She exited the cellar and the hut, passing by Patrick.

“Well I’m off back to the others then, I didn’t know your daughter was dead Patrick! That’s something maybe you should tell people, sheesh.” she said as she passed, giving him a friendly tap on the shoulder as she went by.

Racing through the fog and pain his mind snapped back to attention and hurled itself back to the present. “This..is…all..your…fault…” he snarled quietly.

“What’s that?” said Jalana, turning around to see what he was on about.

Patrick laid his wife’s body down, and stood, snarling like an animal, he took out a long vicious blade and leapt at Jalana who immediately went on the back foot, using her hands and agility to dodge most of the blows.

“Patrick! This isn’t you! Stop! We are not the ones to blame!” she yelled, and seeing that he wasn’t going to let up she turned and fled towards the tree line to the others. He let out another gut curdling roar and went after her, like a feral beast.

Vuvu and Grash heard the roar and Jalana over the ear piece telling him to stop and knew something bad was happening. Just before they turned to run Grash turned to Shun “Are you coming, friend? Might be a nice fight ahead!”

The Elf stood, silent and implacable like his dead brother. “This is not my fight.”

Grash raised one brow and shrugged, his mage hand flaring into being and gripping a dagger and running as best he could to catch up to Vuvu who was running across the field towards Jalana. They both saw her running towards them and in what seemed like a flash they saw her falling, her face in pain and surprise. Behind her was Patrick, like a beast leapt onto her back he had plunged his knife down between her collar bone and shoulder, Jalana felt the blade enter her lung and she saw only blackness.

Grash ran at the man, Patrick saw his next victim and charged at Grash. Grash muttered under his breath a few syllables and his form twisted and blurred, seeming to go in every direction at once. Patrick in his reduced ability to thin clearly tried in vain to follow Grash’s movements, but could not, and with the distraction Grash made his way unknown around Patrick to Jalanas side where he dropped his knife and used his hand to staunch the bleeding.

Patrick, giving up on chasing shadows, saw Vuvu. She stood in the moonlight, taking in the surrounds and the picture blazed itself onto her mind, “This’ll make one helluva story.” she said to herself. Then Patrick charged at her, full of blood and fury.

“Oh shush” she said as she waved her hand at him and he toppled forwards at full speed, sliding along the grass to stop, face down, at her feet. She looked down at him and could hear him snoring lightly.

Happy that he wouldn’t be hurting anyone else she made her way to Jalana, and, pulling from the dwindling chorus that welled up inside her, lay her hands on the girls’ wounds and the chords of healing knitted the wounds closed.

“Let’s get them both back to the others, Grash, tie him up or something. But don’t hurt him.” Vuvu added.

With a restrained Patrick over Grash’s shoulder and an unconscious but stable Jalana in Vuvu’s arms they both made their way back to the tree line, dumping their respective hauls under a large oak. Grash was looking out at the town, imagining if there was a way that strange little halfling could have survived. He thought it likely that he was dead, and dead people always had loot. Grash asked around for anyone that wanted to come with him, Shun advised that he had little else to do so chose to accompany him.

They were in the town, ignoring some of the survivors, when Grash saw a familiar boot sticking out of some of the rubble. Moving some of the larger pieces with Shuns help, he found some of the remains of an obviously dead halfling. only the legs and lower abdomen were able to be found, his expensive looking bow was nowhere to be found. Grash, likely still recovering from the loss of an arm and potentially a lung, hacked off one of the Halflings legs and, using the peg leg as a kind of shish-kebab, skewered the leg onto the peg. Shun looked on in silence with a raised eyebrow.

They made their way back to the make-shift camp, Vuvu was still directing the efforts when she noticed a very striking guard following some of her orders. She made her way to him. “Why hello there, young man. You are the very least the second most beautiful person here.” she flattered him, as he was helping to bandage a small childs leg. He looked up, all dark eyes and stubble and sharp jaw. “And you, at the very least, would have to be the most beautiful.” he replied with a smile.

‘Welp, that’ll do!" she said, taking him by the hand and leaving the child to finish the bandage themselves. She led him off to a secluded part not too far from the camp and had her way with him. Before they began she looked to the sky, imagining Correllon watching her and said “I’m thinking of you…”.

She made her way back to the camp, with her newly inspired Second-most-beautiful-guard-in-the-city and watched as he took charge of the relief efforts like no man had done before. People followed his orders and the camp was busy with everyone but the rag-tag group of adventurers who stood together watching the villagers try to get their lief back on track. Whilst they stood they saw a few of the villagers talking, then eventually begin walking towards them.

“Ah” said Grash, “here they come to finally thank us for everything we’ve done for them.”

As the group got closer they seemed to elect a very reluctant spokesman who they pushed forwards ahead of them like a calf. The man took off his simple woven hat and put it to his chest in mild obeisance. He looked about at the other townspeople, pleading in his eyes. They encouraged him with frowns and waving gestures.

“Ah, um. Hello.” he began, and faltered. DragunShip Suddenly! just looked at him, Grash with his arm folded in front of him, Vuvu hand on her hip and Jalana playing with a small and very poisonous looking scorpion. The Elf, Shun, stood slightly off to the side, watching the scene.

“Yes, so. We were all thinking and, then we thought, we all thought, that it would be best if you left now.”

The mans words were met with silence from the adventurers. Vuvu frowned, Grash also frowned. Jalana looked confused.

“Why would you want us to leave, after all we’ve done for you? After all our help?” Jalana asked with not a little pain on her face.

The man, taking some strength from his anger, looked behind him at the village, and then to the now awake and crazed Patrick, who was restrained and gagged under a tree, eyes rolling and with muffled yells.

“Your help? Your HELP? I’m sorry but ever since you got here there has been nothing but trouble and we would prefer that you left immediately. I don’t think we can take any more of your "help"". The man exclaimed, with furious head bobbing by his compatriots at his back.

The team looked at each other in shock, how could these people not see all the good they’d done for them? What was he talking about? They would rebuild their village, they would make more babies. How was this their fault? They didn’t bring the dragon here or make Patrick go crazy. They didn’t kill Feena and break Damien’s heart.These really were the simple farming folk that they thought they were.

“Well, we can’t go anywhere anyway, our ship won’t make it.” said Vuvu “it’s filling with water and we need to get it fixed.”

The villagers had a really quick huddle, in shushed voices. The defacto-leader of this little rebellion came back to them and advised that they would be able to fix their boat and make it sea-worthy in a matter of hours. They all agreed and decided to do it right there and then, no time like the present and all that. They got to the end of the jetty, with many of the townspeople looking about the the boat, and some swearing that they saw it disappear the night before.

Grash moved to the end of the jetty, and very calmly threw the small figurine in his hand into the water and muttered melon. The ship materalised with a bang! and water was splashed on everyone as the boat plopped into the water. Many gasps and a few screams accompanied this display.

The villagers immediately got to work, some with pumps to keep the ship afloat and some with wood. The wood didn’t match the ship, but it was enough that it would stay afloat until they could get real repairs. When the villagers were done and the team were ready to go they realised again that they had no crew.

“We’ll have to take a few as slaves.” said Grash, in full hearing of the townspeople, at which point several dropped their tools and ran back towards the village.

“We are not taking slaves, Grash!” yelled Jalana at him, fists bunched at her sides and ready for a fight.

One of the villagers that was cleaning up their work area and carrying away tools spoke as he walked by “You could just ask for volunteers you know.” and he plodded to the end of the jetty, put his tools in a pile with the others, dusted off his hands and crossed his arms. he stood with maybe the two dozen villagers that had accompanied them here, either to fix the boat or watch the spectacle.

“Uh..does..anyone want to come with us and be a slave?” asked Vuvu to the crowd.

None of the villagers replied, looking at each other confusedly. “We won’t have slaves, you will work for me and you will be paid.” added Grash in a rare moment of charity.

Seven of the people gathered raised their arms. One in particular was the one that had organised the fixing of the ship and he seemed to be quite knowledgable of ship life. “We have nothing left here for us, a job crewing a ship and promise of adventure sounds like a good deal now.” he said, and introduced himself as Fabian. “But I must ask, as we fixed the ship many of us saw signs of old stale blood. What happened to your last crew?”

Jalana, Grash and Vuvu looked at each other, trying to keep their faces passive. “They asked too many questions.” replied Grash.

Vuvu laughed, and taking out her loot, began to sing a song of their heroic last crew and how they slew mightily many enemies that tried to get onto the boat, and after making a lot of money and winning the hearts of many fair maidens decided to retire peacefully in an unnamed village somewhere.

The people listening cheered and nodded to each other, happy with the inspiring story. They went and got their few meagre possessions and got themselves onto the boat, Fabian taking charge and organising the crew.

“So, friend, will you be joining us. You obviously are a man, sorry, Elf of high import and we’d be more than happy to see you in our ranks as we fight whatever enemies come at us in Datura.” Grash asked Shun.

“i’d be very happy to join you, as long as I don’t have to share a room with one of those humans.”

“Fair enough!” exclaimed Grash and clapped him on the back with his stump and made his way up the gang-plank.

The ship took off, with the townspeople on the shore cheering off their departing friends and thanking the heavens that these newcomers were finally gone. Giving Fabian some gold and promising more, and threatening other things if there were any slip-ups, Grash left the sailing to Fabian and his new crew, departing to his cabin.

That night, after a few hours of sailing down river to the west, Grash Vuvu and Jalana were in the cabin discussing the recent events and Grash’s missing limbs when Shun entered the room. They all got to know each other a little more and they asked him about the scroll they found in the Drow’s nest. Shun explained that it was instructions on how to use a specific potion to transfer the mind and spirit of someone into another persons body. He advised that this was very powerful necromancy and shouldn’t be used lightly. Vuvu didn’t tell him that they also had the potion.

As the days passed they noticed the terrain changing from spruces, oaks and ferns to mangrove trees. After some time the river stopped meeting the sand and rock of the edges and began to be obscured by the trees roots. The forest was much thicker here and almost impassable. After 10 nights Fabian approached Grash, always with a glance at the now rotting halflings leg impaled below Grash’s knee.

“M’lord, we believe that we have officially entered Datura. What are your orders?”

The others heard this and came together to look at the dense trees and occasional very strange tree-dwelling animal going slowly by as they slid down the river further to the west.

“Steady as she goes.”

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Chapter 31
A Sinister Plot

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Lying on a day bed covered in white silk and animal furs, Vuvu finds herself awakening with the smells of berries, wine and figs in her nose. Full sunlight and the sight of freshly picked flowers in ornate vases was everywhere. She notices servants off to the side, beautiful and clad in the same white silks as the chaise lounges. Looking down she sees that she is also clad in perfect white silk, and nothing else. There is a pitcher of wine next to her on a side table. She realises where she is, she’s been here before, and remembers that the wine here is exceptionally good.

“Ah good, you’re awake.” says a voice off to her left, and she turns her head to see a man, also clad in expensive looking silks, approaching her with his bare arms spread wide and a glorious smile on his face.

She stops reaching for the jug of wine and stands, allowing the silk to drop enticingly from one shoulder. “Corellon, it’s been some time, hasn’t it? I did miss you.” She greeted the god.

He stopped and looked at her quizzically “So you do remember me, Ha! I must be getting better!” and with that he swept towards her in a swirl of silk and petals seemingly coming from nowhere beneath his feet and spinning away from each of his steps. “My love, you…have the scent of others about you. You wouldn’t be sharing your bed with others of a less…regal disposition to myself now…would you?” and he pulled away from her a little to see her face. Looking into her eyes, he quizzically examined her, then looked her up and down with a feigned melodrama.

Vuvu remembered her activites the night before, in the Inn, with all those people…there was so many limbs…so much bodily fluids…

”I only have eyes for you Corellon. You are all that I need and all that I want.” she told him, with a smirk on her face.

“Well!” he laughed, pulling himself out of her embrace and heading towards the pitcher of wine standing on the white stone table and pouring himself a glass. “We shall have to make sure of that, won’t we…my love” he said with a wink and downed the hero sized cup of wine in one gulp.

Vuvu looked at him and said, without taking her eyes off his godly physique, to one of the many angels surrounding them holding platters of food and drink, “More wine.” And let her robe slip from her body to the clouds under her feet.

~~~~~~

“Patrick what are you doing!” Jalana cries across the cold and wet cave.

Vuvu is pulled jarringly from her sleep and sees Patrick walking to the two helpless Orcs with his sword in his hand. ‘I’m going to finish the job.” He replied without stopping or taking his eyes off them. Jalana went to impose herself between the Orcs and the fighter, he didn’t listen to her pleas and shoved her out of the way. Vuvu got up and sprang in his way, hand out and imploring him to reconsider, telling him that they could question the Orcs to see if they knew anything. Patrick scoffed at the idea, knowing that the Orcs were stupider than cattle and less useful. But he let them have their fun and sheathed his weapon, leaning against a wall with his arms folded keen to watch them fail.

After the group realised that they could not in fact speak to the Orcs, they asked Hemmit, who stood at the back of the room quietly not saying anything, if he could pry into their minds. Hemmit gathered himself and kneeled in front of one of them. He looked into its vacant face and felt very little thoughts emanating from its mind. He plunged right in, expecting to find a dredged and empty lake where there should be a mind. Instead he found a screaming void. He felt his consciousness being pulled from his body into a swirling maelstrom of sound and wind. He resisted with every fibre of his being to not be pulled down into the hole. Just as he thought he would fall he found a strength in his mind and resisted and just before he escaped the pit he saw, with what limited senses he had in this place, a thread, going from the creatures mind so some other place. Where, he did not know.

As his mind was violently thrust back into his body he reeled at the pain, collapsing onto the floor and muttering gibberish for some time before he came back to them. Finding the group around him seeing if he was okay, he, after some time, was able to explain what he saw. The only exception was Patrick to the side, chewing on some hard tack and having a chuckle to himself, “How goes the interrogation?” Patrick asked, adding another laugh but obviously getting a little restless.

As the group is making sure Hemmit is okay they hear a distant and crackling sound in the sending stones in their ears. Grash was trying to find out where they were and what they were up to. Hemmit answers him, saying they were in a cave some few hours to the north. He tells Grash of the small camp that the mayor and his men made and that Hemmit would meet him there to teleport him to the cave they were in.

Grash stood on the deck of the DragunShip, looking at the two new deck hands who were fighting over whose job it was to empty the latrines on the boat. Both were shoving a filthy bucket between themselves and getting a little on the deck.

“Pathetic” said Grash and made his way down the gangplank before muttering melon and collapsing the boat behind him. Just before the collapsed boat hit the water a misty arcane hand caught it and brought it to him, stowing it away into this belt for keepsakes. He thought he could hear the faint screams of the men dying but he couldn’t be sure, and couldn’t care less anyway. He ran swiftly down the docks jetty past shocked onlookers, who had never before seen a boat collapse into something you could fit in your hand, and ran towards the forest, heading north.

As Hemmit stood in the cave, readying himself for the occasional harrowing ordeal of temporal navigation, he heard Grash in his ear “Ready when you are holy boy.”

Hemmit clasped his hands, imagined the place where the mayor had made his camp and then opened his eyes to find himself there. Grash stood a half metre from him. “Well that was fast” said Grash and reached out to put a hand on Hemmit’s shoulder. Without a word Hemmit then imagined the cave, but the image of the screaming vortex in the Orcs mind washed over him and before he knew it he dragged himself an Grash into a very violent and painful trip back to the cave.

As they materialised with a bang the two stood naked with their gear scattered about the cave. Neither were ashamed of their bodies and Grash began to put his gear back on, swigging from a magical restorative potion as he went.

Jalana, wanting to give the Orc thing another try, knelt down infront of it where Hemmit had been a few minutes earlier, and put a hand on its face. She knew that the creature had little to no mind of its own, so she thought why not give it one? Putting her hands into the limited soil around her she sought carefully around the bugs and skittering creatures to find something that had more intelligence. Rats, squirrels outside and a few deer. She was sure that she could borrow their sentience for a little while and loan it to the Orc, and she began, haltingly, to draft the intelligence of a nearby buck into the Orcs mind. This had to be done very carefully and she really had no idea what she was doing, and knew it would take a while and advised the others, looking at them with her eyes a greener shade of green at this point.

“Well what in Balls of Bhaal are we supposed to be doing in the time being?” Pat slams his fist into the rock wall. “I am not a man of patience, and if I can’t kill the Orcs and we aren’t going back to the village then we need to take some action!” and with that he pulled off his sword belt, put down his shield and ran full speed, shoulder first, into the lone wooden door in the room.

The others didn’t know if it was his shoulder cracking or the door, but they all felt the collision in their bones. Vuvu, Grash and Hemmit looked on as he picked himself up from the floor, walked back for a run up and did it again. The crack this time was certainly from the door as a few of the boards came loose.

“Aha! They don’t make them like they used to!” he cried as he once more hurled himself at the door which promptly gave way. The heard metal on stone as he hit something very close to the other side of the door. Then another sound, further away this time, then another and another as they realised he was bouncing off the walls and he fell down some kind of shaft. The group casually sauntered over to the now broken door and had a look down the shaft. They could see, with help from a torch that Vuvu found, that he was a crumpled heap at the bottom of the 50foot shaft.

“Are you okay?” called Vuvu down the shaft. No reply.

Everyone bar Jalana goes down the shaft on some rope they had. Grash kneels down beside the battered and broken man, and on the pretence of checking to see if he’s okay takes his wedding ring and what little money he had on him. Patrick gets up, still a little shaky and picks up his gear that Vuvu brought down for him. He shakes the cobwebs from his head and starts down the hallway, in the dark, muttering about getting the job done.

They follow him down the now horizontal shaft, just tall enough for them to walkupright in. After about 30 seconds they hear a yelp of pain, just an echo, coming from the direction they are headed. Hard to know how far away it is due to the twisting and turning pattern of the tunnels. They eventually get to another door, very similar to the first. This time they decide to find out of there is anything on the other side. Grash uses his spectral hand to slip under the door whilst Vuvu scans the room with her magic to find any intelligent minds. She detects three minds and Grash’s hand finds that the door is barred from the other side, so there will be no quiet entry.

As they conduct their tests Patrick is already again unbuckling his sword and putting down his shield, ready for another charge. Grash goes to him and hands him a potion “Here, I’m not a hundred percent sure what this will do, but I’m pretty sure you will like it.” And, more than likely from the concussion that he had, Patrick takes the potion and downs it in one shot. Immediately temperature in the room drops and hoarfrost begins to coat Patricks increasing muscles.

His eyes glaze over and turn a frosty shade of blue. “By the Gods…I feel….incredible!” and he runs flat out at the door which never stood a chance. It shatters into a thousand pieces and as they clear the world slows. The others looking into the room see the splinters flying and a shocked looking elf stands beside a makeshift bed that had laying ontop of it what’s left of a Gnoll. The other beds had the bodies, a mixture of living and dying and dead, of Orcs and Gnolls, all connected with tubes and wires. The shocked elf had the characteristic pointy ears but its skin was dark like ash and she had half her face covered in a medical-esque mouth covering. She threw up her hands and immediately took the defensive and began shouting in a language that none of them could understand. Patrick, out of control, ran around trying to catch the elf, who was not trying her hardest to hurt any of them and kept yelling in that strange language.

As Patrick was on one side of a bed and the elf on the other, Vuvu yelled out in Elvish that they were not here to harm her. Immediately the elf looked at them and pointed her fingers and began to whisper dark words that brought shivers to their necks. A swarm of biting and stinging insects crawled from the walls and began to bite and sting them, then, before they could react, two very large spiders materialised out of nowhere and began attacking Patrick.

The fight was on, and as Grash took out his weapons and charged he called to Jalana over the sending stones that they needed her down here. Jalana hears and, frustrated, stops channelling her spell and looks for something else. Sending her mind out across the skittering insects she finds one that she likes, a scorpion called Clarence. She puts her hand down on the rock and, touching him gently, imparts upon him enormous physical strength and size. Clarence is now very large, big enough to ride on, which Jalana does and head down the mine shaft after her friends, lighting her sword and yelling her battle cries.

As the battle below reaches the crescendo, and one spider is finished off by Patrick, Jalana bursts into the room through the storm of horrible insects and greets the scene. She sees Hemmit fending off the dark looking elf and the others fighting the remaining spider. She throws herself into the fight, however, before they could do anything Hemmit is knocked from his feet and thrown backwards. The dark elf, with a keening scream launches herself from atop one of the beds and lands on Hemmits chest on her knees. Without his mace in hand and his shield thrown to the side in the melee, Hemmit is unable to stop the swinging heads of the dark elf’s flail and with his hand in front of his face trying to stop the blows he sees his death.

The others, with the final spider slain, turn around to see the dark elf kneeling on Hemmit and swinging the flail back and forth and back and forth across this face. Never before had they seen such violence enacted so suddenly and to such great effect. Hemmit was certainly dead, as half of his face had been torn and was splattered on the wall and alchemy supplies on the tables that surrounded the room.

Patrick runs to the two, barrelling into the elf and coming to his feet immediately swinging his sword taking the head off the elf and watched as it soared across the room, smashing into several of the vials and bottles that lay about, steam and gases hissing off of it.

The group stands in the relative silence, looking at the body of Hemmit, clearly bereft of life. Patrick solemly picks up his body and starts making his way out of the room without saying anything. Vuvu takes the chance to look around for loot and sees a bottle, the only one that seemed to be complete as it had a stopper and label on it. Jalana grabs some documents that weren’t on fire and they both, with Grash, ran from the room, hearing the fire and more explosions as they ran.

They exit the tunnel climbing up the shaft and lay Hemmits body in the cave. Patrick says that they should probably head back to the village, and the group tells him to fuck off. He goes outside to give them a minute, they are obviously pretty upset at the time. Jalana says that she would like to see if the gods would permit his spirit to come back to his body. They all agree and she kneels down by his body, hand on his chest and trying not to look at his mangled and bleeding face.

The room gets noticeably darker, and the group can see the earth below Jalana begin to churn, earthworms and cockroaches and other eaters of the dead begin to tunnel up, squirm and die, their little bodies coming in droves. A sweet smell of blooming flowers reaches them and then turns to the stench of decay and death. Jalana leans her head back and opens her eyes and they see that they have gone black. A wind picks up, a wind that is not of this world, seeming to tug at their spirits, pulling them towards Jalanas kneeling form.

After some time, the wind stops and Jalana closes her eyes and puts her head down. Then after some time she stands and opens her eyes.

“I can’t find him.”

As she goes to stand up from the body hundreds of bats come flying into the cave and their vision is obscured. When the bats finally exit the cave again Hemmits body is gone. After their shock subsides they sealed up the cave so that the poison doesn’t get out.

They left the cave and the mountain on the way back to Mallac’s Rest. On the way back to the town they see a bunch of animals running north away from the general direction of the town. They see a giant badger running with the animals, it’s the only one that stopped when it saw them. They then see a small hairy dark humanoid come out of the forest to the side. It stops, sees them, and calls to the badger. It comes back to him.

The little humanoid speaks to the badger, the thing gets into the back of the badger. It cannot speak common so he introduces himself by pointing to a leaf flowing on the wind. His name is leaf-on-the-wind, or Leaf, he explains in Elvish, which Vuvu can understand.

He says he’s looking to find the disturbance of the animals and asks if he can tag along with them, as they seem harmless enough. They agree. They get to the village, speak to the hag a bunch about some small topics. They give her the papers they found in the Drows den. She said they’d need to find someone that knew more about necromancy to help them with that.

Jalana, looking for Damien to ask about the funeral was walking about town. Vuvu spoke to Jalana through the sending stones, telling her to not worry. Damien doesn’t want people meddling in his daughters funeral. Jalana made a wreath of flowers and put it on Damien’s door as a token of her penance.

As she exited she saw Leaf. He spoke to Jalana saying in broken common that Jalana thinks she knows nature, that she can control it, but that he thought she was naive to think so. She replied saying that the IS nature. He is amazed at her audacity and leaves her to it.

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Chapter 30
Wild Orc Chase

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As the downpour continues and the thunder in the distance sound like the feet of giants, rain dripping from the down-pointed tip of Patricks unsheathed sword, the team stood in silence looking out towards the forest. Some guards stood idly by, some at attention but mostly there lacked an air of urgency about them. Many of the men were simple townsfolk, drafted to the militia in times of need, but none of them were seasoned fighters and many had very little time to spend away from their crafts to learn the proper ways of war.
Through the muck and the dark came a kerfuffle. A rotund man was making his way to the group with a gaggle of men about him, one holding a cloak above the man’s head to keep the rain off. The lumbering and obviously authoritative man came up to the group.
“Here here! What’s going on then, what’s all this about?” he asked the assembled men in the rain.
Patrick didn’t reply, he kept his eyes on the edge of the forest, looking to almost dare something to come out of the limbs and leaves. One of the guard captains (also working part-time) came up to the man, greeted him by way of acknowledging that he was the mayor, and advised of the tracks that were found. The mayor seemed to take this as good news and told his men to get some horses together and they’d all go out together to have a look. For the time it took for the exchange to happen and for the men to gather horses and equipment, Patrick just stood there, looking out at the forest and sometimes at the people around him. After some time, the mayor and his contingent set off into the very dark and very wet forest, torches lit and singing some inspiring songs on the way to the forest edge to lift their spirits.
Jalana, Hemmit and Vuvu looked out into the forest, then back at Patrick and then back at the forest. They were happy to stand back and watch someone else take control of the situation for once. However Patrick seemed happy to play sentry.
“Uh…are you not going out after them?” Asked Vuvu, who was standing under an alcove out of the rain, with a glass of wine in her hand.
“Huh? Oh uh… I suppose.” Patrick was pulled from his reverie. “I need to go get my horse.” And with that Patrick began to walk back to his house to get his horse.
The group stood there, looking about and kicking stones and whistling for a while until Patrick got back.
Before they all left, Jalana, without any word, turned into a midnight black panther and charged into the forest, really scaring out some guards. They thought either they were seeing things or that one of the newcomers just turned into an animal and ran away.
The group rustled up some horses, Hemmit asked Patrick if he would like to ride pillion, to which Patrick agreed. Hemmit then leapt deftly onto Patricks horse, in front of Patrick. “What the!” yelled Patrick, pushing Hemmit from the horse.
“You said you were okay riding pillion!” said Hemmit lying in the dirt with his hand up in exasperation, the most animation any of them had seen from him in a while.
“I didn’t know what you meant. Get your own horse, priest.” Replied Patrick, a little flustered and turning back to look at the forest.
After the group then waited further for a horse to be brought for Hemmit, the group then set out into the forest to look for the mayor and see if they were still alive.
Meanwhile Jalana was scouting ahead and found the mayors party after doubling back after a bit and heading south back towards the town. Hemmit, Patrick and Vuvu came up behind the mayors group from the south, with Patrick going ahead and telling them to only approach on his signal (waving his arm above his head).
Jalana turned into a human and approached the camp from the north, keeping herself hidden in case there were any abuscades, with Patrick coming up from the south. They saw lights and heard music, the group was obviously having a good time and didn’t seem at all worried about Orcs. Patrick then literally rode his horse into the camp, knocking over pots and tables and drinks he trod right up to the mayor. The men in the camp looked up at Patrick as he rode his horse through the camp, exasperated but knowing that they couldn’t possibly stop him or do anything about it.
“What’s going on, what did you find?” asked Patrick, staring down at the mayor from his lofty perch. “Why have you stopped your search for the Orcs?”
The mayor, still sitting and craning his neck up to see Patrick, replied “Well my good boy! Why don’t you come down off that horse and have a drink! There are no monsters out here you big goof!”
Patrick was not impressed and rode his horse to the side of camp and tethered it up. Knocking over more tables that had just been righted. The men standing once again with wine on their laps and bending over to pick up the cups and bowls that they had just put back on their up righted tables.
Patrick looked back, about to call the other two to the camp and saw Vuvu and Hemmit on their respective horses, already at the camp and dismounting from their horses. “Hey, we thought we’d just come up as it seems pretty warm and nice here.” Said Vuvu, with a wink to one of the more handsome villagers. “Oh! Wine!”
“You are all fools” said Patrick looking back at the mayor, “There are Orc tracks, the trackers saw them” said Patrick, coming back to the mayor and staring at the small table of trackers, identifiable by their hastily put together camouflage that consisted of sticks and one of them actually had a dead owl on his head.
The men began to laugh, “You silly billy, we found the tracks! They are from a big cat! Big as you ever did see Patrick! We’re going to hunt it.” The man said, obviously happy to be out hunting a very large cat.
Whilst listening in, Vuvu and Hemmit realised that the tracks the men found were more than likely that of Jalana in her panther form, but due to the hostile environment towards shape shifters, they couldn’t say anything, also neither of them really sure if Patrick understood this either.
After some talking, they realised that the group was probably too drunk to do anything about anything. Hemmit, quiet in the back as usual, came forward and spoke with the mayor. Dredging the man’s shallow mind, Hemmit found that he was only doing this to brook inspiration in his men, and that he needed a victory of sorts to make himself more popular with the town.
“Sir, we will kill the panther for you, you go back to the town and put your feet up. You’ve done enough for one night and the village thanks you indeed. The beast out here, it may kill you! Then you will be the mayor of the dead and no use to anyone.”
The mayor, glassy eyed, replied “Yes, I suppose you are right, I am no fighter like you and what would Mallacs Rest do without me to lead it? We will go back and valiantly protect the village! Men, with me!”
The group packed up their gambling tables, wine jugs and comfortable chairs and left.
The group, now free to do what they like out in the forest, made their way further north in search of further tracks. After a few hours they found some skulls of various races impaled on sticks on the side of the road. Hemmit, on his own volition and no prompting from the group, decided to speak to these dead. After some failures they realised that these dead knew very little about this place and were more than likely brought from somewhere else.
They found a large path going up the mountain, with skulls all the way up the path. They also found some Orc footprints that seemed to be shallower than Patrick remembered. Jalana reasoned that the Orcs were more than likely famished and therefore lighter than usual. They warily made their way up the large dirt and stone embankment.
As they reached the top of the mountain outcropping the group decided to have a look at the ruins that popped up ahead of them. Looking like some kind of defensive fortress that was abandoned long ago, the ruins were a jumble of dilapidated wooden storages and partially crumbled stone fortifications. Jalana gave them the ol’ “one squawk good, two squawks bad” spiel and turned into a giant eagle to scout ahead.
Flying far above the fortifications she saw that the place was guarded by Gnolls, some hiding their locations atop the walls, and some in plain sight, the Gnolls were well armed and entrenched. Jalana squawked twice and immediately dived to one of the Gnolls on the wall, riping and tearing at its face with her claws. The rest of the group made their way up the dirt ramp to the walls and fought their way through, Patricks sword swinging in mighty arcs lopping pieces from the Gnolls. Hemmits mighty god-fire burning the Gnolls that were taking cover behind the crenulations. Vuvu stood amongst the fighters, encouraging words inspiring them and vicious words distracting and confusing the enemies, she pointed out weak points in the enemies line with the occasional bolt flying at the enemy from her crossbow.
Atop the walls Jalana swept her fiery blade through the defenders and eventually the group found, unfortunately, no more enemies alive. Jalana made her way down from the walls and met the rest inside the fortification, which was built against the hillside. Patrick stood with his sword out, hardly breathing heavily and had a very serious look on his face. “Where are the Orcs?” he asked nobody in particular.
They saw a large entrance leading further into the hillside, a large inset cave with a makeshift doorway that was open. Moss covered walls, littered bones and dry goods were about the inside. As they got to the main chamber they saw, at the very back and chained to a wall, two Orcs that had no legs and seemed to be very much like most other Orcs they had all seen; docile and non-threatening. They saw next to them some kind of stilts made out of the Orcs legs.
Looking about the main chamber they saw a heavy set door to the northeast side of the room and a door at the back that seemed to be hastily opened and used with signs of much and recent foot traffic.

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Chapter 29
Like tears in the rain...

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As the suns rose above the horizon, and the surrounding trees began to root themselves back into the freshly aerated ground, Vuvu couldn’t get the irritating sound of a man crying out of her ears.

“Well I suppose we’d better help that guy.” She noted to Grash whilst looking at Damien sobbing on the floor. Jalana came from the area behind the altar holding a large glass ball and trying to see what it was.
“That’s a scrying ball, be very careful with that Jalana, who knows who is looking at you right now.” Said Hemmit. Jalana looked at the ball in her hands, squinted real hard at it, but got nothing. She popped it into her bag and went off looking for more plunder, as was her way.
Grash stood with arms folded, ‘I don’t want anything to do with this place, let’s go.” And he turned on his heel and started heading back to the ship. Vuvu watched him leave, happy that he’d gotten the weight of the last failure off his shoulders. She knew they had to fix all the broken pieces though, so she headed over to the sobbing Damien and kneeled down beside him. Damiens face was covered in filth and the tears had made tracks down his face. “Damien, we need to go now. We’re heading into the halflings forests, is there somewhere we can take you and your…daughter?” she asked, whilst placing a consoling hand on his shoulder.
Damien sniffed, brushed his daughers face and looked up at Vuvu. “Yes, we come from a place downriver about half a day, called Mallacs Rest. It’s on the way to the forests.” And with that he began to stand, carrying his daughter in his arms, back towards the DragunShip.
The group hoisted the sails, and with the help from their two new shipmates, Gerald and Arnold, the group got the ship out into the main waters failry quickly. Vuvu gave her room to Damien so that he could be with his daughter. Vuvu helped him clean the body and cover the girl in some linen.
As the hours pass a strong wind comes up from the east and brings rain and a larger swell, Grash retreats to his cabin with Vuvu at the helm and Jalana watching the way and navigating.
About a day later they arrive at Mallacs Rest, some guards come up to them and are hesitant but Damien tells them that everything is okay, that these are friends that helped him find his daughter again, if only for a little time. As the crowd is muttering and speaking of strangers and scary boats, Vuvu leaps down from the ship and gets onto a soap box and beings to play music and recants the tales of Damien the Hero, telling the town how brave he was and how they helped him defeat the evil Sorceress that had kept his daughter prisoner, and how his poor daughter suffered some malady by the sorceress that made her succumb to death. The crowd is pleased with the performance and, whilst he gives her a hand down from the soapbox, Damien asks for one last bubble bath from Vuvu before they depart, she declines.
The group comes down the gangplank onto the small jetty at Mallacs Rest, with the majority of the town now happy to see them due to Vuvus song. At the end of the jetty they decide that they need to see a carpenter to fix their ship as over the last few fights it had received a bit of a beating. Hemmit and Vuvu head up to the inn to get some grub and Grash and Jalana head to the carpenter after a few enquires as to his whereabouts.
Up the hill and into the shop they go, with the ring of a bell they enter and on the counter sits a little girl. She seems to be playing with a piece of wood, witling at it. She calls out for her father and scrurries out the back of the shop and a man in his early forties comes out, grey at the temples but of strong build. He introduces himself as Patrick Boatman and they discuss the ship and it’s requirements. He agrees to see them first thing in the morning for the quote and bids them good day.
Hemmit and Jalana decide to head to the inn and meet the others. Easy enough to find in the small town of Mallacs Rest, nestled at the edge of the forest and right next to the 100metre wide river running by it, the town seemed to be a sort of frontier settlement heading towards the Halfling forest. The inn was lively as there is a monthly shindig happening. Hemmit goes to the fire and strikes up conversation with some of the elders, swapping stories and learning some things about the town. The door opens and Patrick walks in, weary of the week and looking for a drink. He sees his wife there and approaches her, speaking about the visitors and their strange appearance. She assures him that they certainly aren’t the strangest people that have passed through but they sure are a funny bunch.
Vuvu is playing some music and making a few coppers, the crowd is regaled with stories of Dragunship Suddenly! and love every minute of it, generations will sing these songs!
As the night progresses Hemmit finds out that there is an old witch in the village, the villagers jokingly advise that he should get his fortune told. He summons her, like the little lord he is, and sure enough, after about an hour, she shows up. She comes into the inn out of the now pouring rain outside. Nobody seems too flustered at the old hags entry, even with her large staff and half her face covered by her long grey hair. She sits by Hemmit in a recently vacated seat and orders a drink, which is brought to her immediately. Hemmit asks her some mundane questions that don’t eventuate to anything. The old hag offered some good advice, saying that the group had amongst them a blade that was known as the Fate Carver. She also mentions that Baer had a child. The group listens not, and basically tell her to leave. The old hag feels like she was not treated well by the group, and does leave. On her way out into the rain Jalana ran out after her and offered apologies, the witch advised her that “Even those that cannot stand have their own paths to walk”. Jalana, in the rain and watching the lady disappear into the night, realises that she has had too much to drink and goes to find a tree to sleep in.
The evening progressed with Patrick beating everyone in feats of strength and getting very drunk. He woke the next day with the sun in his eyes and his daughter waking him up. “You’re late, daddy.” she said. Patrick sprung out of bed and went downstairs to his wife and grabbed some bread and immediately headed to the docks and found the group waiting for him.
“You’re late.” said Grash, sitting on an empty barrel on the deck.
Patrick inspected the ship, and after some time came across the claws that were attached to the ship, he knew them as Ursus Claws, great magical artefacts used by the Orcen Kingdoms as siege weapons. He had no idea how such a relic would have been brought here, but he knew that there was a way to control them, he just needed time to find a way, and magic was not his strong point.
He looked over the rest of the damage and advised that he could get it sorted for them in a month. He explained that much of the materials needed would have to be sourced from closer to the halflings territories if not from inside their boundaries. Which meant higher costs and longer repair times. They haggled and agreed on a price, but they wanted to bring Patrick with them to go get the wood needed to fix the obviously magical ship. He said he’d talk to his wife, as it was a dangerous journey, but promised nothing.
The heroes stayed on the ship, and Patrick went back to his family. That night, as he was discussing the issue with his wife, there was a knock on the door. Patrick got up and went to see who it was, it was a guard advising that there were prints found nearby the village, half a day’s ride north. The prints were those of Orcs, and they were headed to the village, but not getting any closer than a few miles. Patrick grabbed his sword and assured his horse that everything would be okay and headed out. After a quick assessment he advised the guards to ring the bells and muster the town defences, and for everyone to stay inside.
As he was organising the guards Vuvu and Jalana ran to his house and kicked down his door and tried to kidnap his wife, the woman resisted and screamed and kicked to be free of their grasping hands. The woman could smell wine and spirits on their breath and thought they’d come to kill her. Guards showed up to the screaming and told Jalana and Vuvu to stand down. Vuvu tried to explain what was happening and that they only wanted to help, but it all came out in a mumble and slur and the guard basically threw them both out of the house, letting them know that they would have to pay to repair the door.
Eventually they stopped trying to kidnap Patricks wife and left to find Patrick himself. They found him at the north side of the village, the opposite side to where the river swept past, and he advised them that orcs were nearby and the group prepared themselves.
A guard approached them, “Patrick, please, what do we do? We’ve never had to deal with this before! Actual Orcs! Do we sally out and find them before they cause more harm?”
Patrick stood in the rain, sword in hand, seemingly humming with latent violence.
“No, we wait here.”

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Chapter 28
Out of the Frying Pan...

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The lamp light was bright, but for some reason, as it sat on the large mahogany desk in the captains cabin the light seemed to go everywhere except Grash’s face. As he sat on his tilted chair, one foot up on the desk and arms crossed, he sometimes stared at the others talking, and occasionally to the two daggers that sat in their sheaths on the table. As his eyes flickered away from them he thought he could see the faces, The Mermaid and the Gryphon respectively, leering at him.

“The forest weeps, I hear its cries even from here. We need to go back and stop whatever unnatural practises are that woman is doing.” Jalana was standing, leaning against the bulkhead from the other side of the deck. Looking about the group to gain approval of her plan. “We go back, at night, and kill her. My claws will stop any more of her filthy magic.” And she spat on the floor.

Vuvu looked at Jalana and the spit on the floor, then to Grash, expecting some backlash from him. He seemed distracted. “You think,” said Vuvu looking back to Jalana “That we can just waltz back in there and give it another go? She pants’d us, hun. Let’s get out of here and find a nice city, by the way, we’re almost out of brandy.” And she went over to the side table to get another glass of brandy, swishing the bottle in Grash’s direction to see if he’d like a glass. He wasn’t looking at her, his eyes were locked onto the knives on the table. “Suite yourself” she said, as she downed a hefty sum.

Hemmit stood in the corner, silent as always, keeping this thoughts to himself.

“I will leave the waltzing to you, bard.” Replied Jalana, “But I am going back”.

“Something on your mind, Grash?” asked the statue like Hemmit. The two women looked first at Hemmit, surprised that he said anything, and then to Grash, who was looking at the speakers.

Grash stood and took up the belt with his knives on it, “We’re going back, and we’re going to kill that bitch. Get your rest, I’ll take first watch.” And with that he took his leave and manned the helm.

“I don’t think he’s very happy that he had his arse handed to him.” Said Vuvu, “but he’ll get over it. Seems we’re going to be giving it another shot, in that case I think I might have another drink!” and with that she, Jalana and Hemmit had a few drinks and with that drinks came the great idea to partake of the Sapphire Weed.

Hemmit is in the practice yard with his two keepers, those that have guarded him his entire adult life, they are pure blood elves, and have a disdain for him as he is half-blood.

One of the personal bodyguards of his father, a Night-Hand comes to them. Hemmit refuses to kneel and avoids the Keeper of the Minds mental powers commanding him to kneel but the Keeper of the body, with her quarterstaff, lands a vicious blow to the back of his knees and he falls.

“That’s not good enough.” says the keeper of the body, Sho-Pan.
“Not good enough at all.” says the keeper of the mind, Leinarune.

He goes unwillingly with the Night-Hand to his father’s office. His father seems preoccupied, moving some papers on his desk and fiddling with a small black sphere.

His father explains, with minimal detail, that the council had been given word on what he had been up to. Hemmit doesn’t want to go to the “stupid council meeting” and tells his father. His father looks at Hemmit, with something that could be confusion, however he never knew his father to be confused. His father is adamant that Hemmit will attend, Hemmit then refuses further. Guards are called and Hemmit is restrained.
Hemmit spits on the guards on the way out. He is taken out of his father’s room whilst defecating on himself and vomiting, straight to the council room.

In the Most Noble House of Tharuun, there debates men and elves on the matter of unsanctioned work that had been found to be happening. Hemmits father, The Shadow Behind the Stars, has been found to be meddling with power beyond his control (according to the council), and whilst that isn’t exactly illegal in the Twin Cities, it is frowned upon. The uneasy alliance with the City States of Dharma and Dwarven Citadels of Mahayana are tentative at best these days, and a representative from both countries has been sent to confer with the Twin Cities.

The Dwarf representative hasn’t much to say (only because nobody has really told the outsiders exactly what the work being done was), only that they have always had good relations with the Twin Cities and that they are sure that they have everyone’s best interest at heart. He knows that the people of Dharma are all about their “cosmic law and order” and doesn’t think they should stop doing whatever they are doing on their account.

The representative from Dharma speaks, “Garrum Mashalla, may The Twin Suns forever hold your greatness in their gaze. My Lord, the Sha-Khan of Dharma, first Flame of the Empress, bringer of the conflagration and last of his line, sends with me his most humble greetings.”

The dwarf representatives laughs at this. The dark skinned human looks slightly disgruntled but continues;

“My lord has seen in the flames the path that you take here, and does not condone it.”

Whispers come from the people attending, some for and some against.

“He, in his infinite wisdom, knows where this path will take you, and wishes, with your best interest at heart, that all work being done on the Crystal Soul is stopped immediately.”

A shout at the back of the room, a man yelling “You’ve betrayed us Shadow Behind the Stars! How could you?! Your family has always been on the wrong side of the Gods!”

An Elf at the table with Hemmits father stands, “Too long have the WAR states of Dharma meddled with our Cities! I don’t know what this one is talking about but they have no right to meddle with our business.”

Clamour as those presiding over the chamber try to regain some peace.

The delegate from Dharma goes back to their seat. Hemmit sees a slight grin on the man’s face. He also notices the man reaching into his pocket and fiddling with something, a small tube.

Shadow Behind the Stars stands and clears his throat, people settle down and listen. Before starting he looks at Hemmit, a mix of anger and love cloud his face. Hemmit has never seen anything but barely concealed irritation on his father’s face.

“Noble folk of the Twin Cities, the shining beacon of hope for the future is us. We are the ones that all look to when the world outside darkens. However, there are some powers that believe that we shouldn’t be meddling in such things, and they believe that we should acquiesce to their reasonable demands. On the other hand, some of the Deneierian priests argue that all knowledge is our realm. I agree…There is some knowledge best left unknown, but this is not one of them. I will continue the work that I have begun.” He finished with a hard look at the Dharma emissary then at Hemmit.

A large clamour comes from this, largely from the cheers of the Priests of Deneir, of who Hemmit was only recently initiated into as an acolyte.

As order is trying to be brought to the room, Hemmit notices the delegate from Dharma being very quiet in the stands. The man was looking intently at Hemmits father and seemingly muttering to himself, turning the small tube in his hands over and over again.

His attention is taken from him by a dozen human guards coming in through the front doors. The captain of the guard comes to the front “Shadow Behind the Stars, you are under arrest for the unsanctioned use of Necromancy, you will come with us immediately and answer to the Sattva.”

Shadow-Behind-The-Stars stood solemnly, it seemed he knew that this was coming and he raised his hands, palms up in front of him, ready for the shackles. In his right hand appeared a short metal tube, he looked down at it with furrowed brow, then up to the guard and then finally Hemmit. Hemmit stood, looked into his father’s eyes, and then to the Dharma delegate, who sat with their eyes closed, empty handed and with a beatific smile on his face.

The explosion that shook the room killed most people in the first four rows instantly. Hemmit was thrown backwards with the force and lost consciousness.

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Grash swung open the door to the captain’s cabin of the DragunShip with the door hitting the wall and making a loud crack. He saw the other three; Hemmit, Vuvu and Jalana sitting at the table, heads swinging up at the sound of the door. They’d been getting some much needed rest, with Jalana lying on the small bunk to the side and the other two with their heads on the desk but now sitting upright, hands on their weapons.

“What is it?” asked Vuvu getting to her feet, the threads of the dream floating around in her mind like leaves in the wind.

“There’s another ship.” Said Grash, turning around and heading back to the deck.

The three in the cabin looked at each other, each weighing what they saw in the dreams of Hemmit.

“That was intense” said Jalana, and with no further ado the group made their way to the deck to see what was happening.

Grash was on the mid-deck, looking through a spyglass towards the north, the group could see the sails and hear a faint noise of people and some musical notes. Vuvu listened to the notes, letting them flow through her and looking for a cosmic string, finding nothing. Just music.

“I want to have a look, don’t do anything rash.” Said Jalana, casting a sidelong glance at Grash. He returned her scowl and then shrugged.

Running to the railing and leaping off of one foot into the air, the group saw her fall below the horizon of their ship railings, they heard no splash, instead a large shag appeared and flew off towards the other ship.

“One call for baddies and two calls for goodies, Jalana?” said Vuvu. “We need to know if they mean us harm, else we can just stay here under the shadow of our magics and hopefully they can just pass us on by”.

As the ship gets closer they can pick out a few words of the on their air

Remoraz, Remoraz – lurking below
Please do not eat us, we’re not your foe
We’ll drop you a snack and promise to not stay
Please do not eat us, and we’ll be on our way

The ship gets closer and they see that it was probably about half the overall size of their ship, a transport of some kind. The ship has no undercroft and is being oared by men and women chained and gagged. They decide to intercept it so that if it comes to a fight they will have the upper hand. As the Dragunship leaves the mists of their concealing magics the first thing the other ships occupants see is a large head of a dragon coming out of the smoke and shadow, appearing seemingly out from behind a small rocky island that it couldn’t possibly have been hiding behind. The crew of the other ship steps down the tempo of their rowing and a man that seems to be a captain comes to the bow to greet them.

The captain of the other ship tries to explain that they are simple merchants transporting criminals. As he is speaking his crew starts to move about the ship, standing near the ones that are gagged and tied to the oars.

Grash gets antsy, whether because of their recent loss, or his wanton lust for violence, he raised his stump to the other ships sail and let out some dark words that threw a ball of fire towards the other ships sail.

The captain of the other ship whipped out his sword immediately and yelled “It’s them! The dragon ship ones!” and tells yells instructions to his crew who immediately execute the prisoners they were standing behind with a swift slice across their throats.

The supposed captain whispers into his hand and turns invisible. Grappling hooks shoot from the enemy shit and grasp unerringly into the side of the DragunShip, claws like a large bear claw into the hard wood. The men run across the ropes and try to board them and, although they are terribly over-matched, fight like demons on the deck.

The enemy ship is on fire and most of the captives are dead or dying. Jalana is flying and hacking at the men that are fighting on the DragunShip, Vuvu had her sabre out, slashing at them and laughing with Grash by her side, just like in the old days. The mast of the enemy ship, weakened by the fire now raging, snaps and begins to fall. At the last minute Jalana swept down to the enemy ship and, as a giant eagle, swept up one fo the survivors in her claws and took off back to the DragunShip. The fiery mast smashed into the deck of the other ship, spreading fire and destroying most of the boat, the ship began to sink and was only held slightly above the surface by the hooks that were embedded.

With the sound of battle subsided they realised that the captain was missing, and listening carefully they hear some movement in the captain’s cabin. Vuvu and the group had killed all the invaders bar two, who were knocked unconscious and tied up at the bow.

They chase the man into the captain’s cabin, who had by then fled below decks. They find him with his head down and his arms splayed across the giant wheel device that they took from the Rakshasa that apparently controlled his portal. The man laughs, and begins to speak “Haha, you don’t even have it..” and Grash knocks him across the head ending his speech.

They tie the man up and interrogate him by prying into his mind with spells. They learned that they were taking villagers by the dozens to Feena, the sorceress. He didn’t know much about the sorceress but he did have knowledge of DragunShip Suddenly! and felt disdain for them. Then they kill him.

They made their way back to the deck and approached their new prisoners. Grash advised them that one had to kill the other. One of them asked for a dagger and Grash gave him one after untying him, gleeful that he’d convinced a man to kill his friend.
The man took the dagger and began to cut the ropes of the other man saying “If we are to die, old friend, we’ll do it on our feet.”
Grash scowled and was about to kill them both however Jalana stepped up and advised that they would live, and their lives were in her hands.
She put the men to work on their boat, cleaning the blood and grime from it.

The group then put their attention on the prisoner they saved from the raiders. The man was huddled in the crow’s nest where Jalana the giant bird had dropped him so that he would be safe. Jalana climbed up and helped him down, he was clearly shaken and terrified. Grash immediately punched him in the stomach and demanded that he give them all his gold. The man didn’t respond, only doubled up on the deck and vomited, defecated himself in terror and began to cry.

The group collectively put their hands on their hips and shrugged. What were they to do with this guy?

Vuvu had an idea and took him into her room and gave him a nice bubble bath. Scrubbing his back and talking pleasantries and trying to feed him some nice dates. The man didn’t reply much so she left him there for a bit and joined the others on the deck.

The band of unlikely saviours then took stock of their situation. Knowing that if they wanted to cure the forest of the darkness that had infested it, and to learn more about these Pillars that Feena had spoken of, that they would need to go back to the cathedral.

They took the man from the bath and questioned him, nicely for once, about the situation and asked him what he knew.

He explained that there had been an increase in raids the last few years and that they were all taken from a nearby village. His beloved daughter had been taken not three years ago. His beautiful little angel, Feena. The group made a collective gasp with their hands on their mouths. He explained further that she was but a child, and that she could not be the one that they spoke of, an older one, with lines on her eyes and darkness in her heart.

“Please, take me to her! I can reason with her!” the new friend the farmer Damien pleaded, thinking maybe these people weren’t so bad after all.

They said “no” and gagged him, put a sack over his head and dragged him down into the hull then shoved him in a chest as tears streamed from his eyes and sadness gripped his already broken heart.

The other two, recently found to be named Gerald and Arnold, were also tied up, gagged and put into a different room to Damien. Now that the ship was fairly secure they made their way back to the cathedral to face Feena again. And this time they’d be ready.

As the group docked at the end of the pier the group ruminated over what Gerald and Arnold said. The the woman Feena disappeared at night, being sent somewhere magical by the priests. They knew that to finish the ritual the priests would need Damien’s blood, and they were determined to not let them have it. The group walked up the way, with the trees uprooted and wandering around, which were pressing in on them from all sides, seeming to peer at them.

They got to the giant metal doors, which they knocked on. They opened magically and the group saw a very different scene than they had found last time they were here. The blood stained walls were replaced by an immaculate scenario, beautiful colours and lights with seven priests chanting underneath a giant floating copper coloured seemingly-metallic like sphere 3 metres in diameter, enough to house a person, hanging above the altar and humming slightly.

Now it was time to hatch their genius plan. Grash, disguised as Damien and lead by Vuvu as his supposed captor, went to the bowl on the altar below the floating sphere and as the priest asked him to add his blood to the bowl, he did. Nothing happened.
The priest looked at Grash, then the blood filled bowl, and then back to Grash. The priest squinted from beneath his hood…

…and saw through his disguise! One of the priests began to chant and located the real blood, Damien, in the boat. A running fight ensued where the priests tried to run to the boat and Jalana, Grash and Vuvu tried to stop them, after only a few moments most of the priests lay dead on the ground, putting up little fight to the seasoned adventurers.

The group, unhindered by the trees which seemed to be controlled by the priests, approached the men and dragged them back in, killing one and dragging the other to the giant floating sphere, which was now raging against its tethers like a washing machine with a brick in it. The priest, with his final words “Poor girl” and with a smile he died seemingly of his own volition.

Jalana approached the altar, and with giant strength took the runed brass bowl from its place, the marble seemingly flowing away from it upon her touch. Once the bowl was removed the sphere began to drop, slowly, towards the altar. As the ball touched the altar, it ended, blinding them all with a light born of another world, and in its place was a girl, no more than 16 years old, laying naked on the altar.

“…father…are you there?…” she whispered.

The group looked around, wondering what they were supposed to do. Comfort the poor girl? Jalana, standing off to the side was gingerly trying to take a sip of the blood in the bowl, failing to do so gracefully and sloshing a bunch of it across her face and the front of her jerkin, spilling the rest on the floor. Vuvu took it on herself to go get Damien from the ship, and she did as the other patiently waited.

As Damien arrived a small amount of life entered Feena. “Father, I’m so cold, am I going to die?” she managed as her life was slipping away before their eyes.

Damien wept openly, holding his little girl in his arms on the floor next to the altar. “Oh my beautiful girl, you died many years ago…” and with that she passed.

The group, after wiping their hands of dirt and blood and congratulating each other on a job well done, left Damien crying on the floor and headed to the back rooms in search of loot where Jalana found, amongst the junk and blank scrolls, a beautiful crystal ball that seemed to resonate when it got closer to the brass runed bowl.

They made their way out of the cathedral to the new dawn, both suns rising brilliantly in the east, and a sense of calmness about the surrounding forest. As Jalana stood there, giant bowl in her hands and once again covered in blood, she knew that saving the forest was the right thing to do.

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Chapter 27
A pillar of strength

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Heading downriver to Datura, the team were enjoying a litte downtime on the Dragunship, the fresh night air and the sounds of the wind and bugs in the air was revitalising.

As they head around a bend in the river Jalana notices, from the crow’s nest, that there is a fork in the river up ahead. One heads more to the west and seems to be cluttered with overhanging branches and vines, being closer to the bank and the river is narrower.

The other bend, heading slightly more towards Dharma, seemed to meander to an open loch some ways up ahead.

They discussed the theoretical, which way they wanted to go and if they wanted to risk getting the sails caught in the overhanging branches. Whilst they were talking, Vuvu (who was currently at the helm) felt a strong hand on her shoulder moving her to the side. She looked and saw Hemmit, with bloodshot eyes and breathing heavily, his forearms covered in sweat and his neck muscles bulging. “We’ll be going towards the Loch” and he took the helm, moving the wheel to the port side.

VuVu looked at the near hulking Cleric with confusion, then shrugged and moved off to the side and began tuning her loot. As she finished she heard a noise from below and saw Grash come out from the captain’s cabin. He went and got a bucket, slung it over the side and pulled up a pail of river water. He moved to the middle of the boat, got on all fours and began scrubbing the deck.

VuVu looked up, plucking all the while at her lute, and saw Jalana peering intently south towards the Loch ahead, crouched like a cat on the edge of the crow’s-nest, agile and purposeful. VuVu could tell that Jalana was comfortable on a boat. She looked to her side, seeing Hemmit, a mist of sweat coming off his evidently overheating body, his skin flushed and his eyes darting to the sides. He’d obviously taken some potion of his, the large and heavy steering wheel groaning and creaking every time he so casually turned it to avoid some rock or another ahead.

As they make their way they see another boat coming up the river. As it passes they notice that the ship has a beautiful figurehead on it in the shape of a Halfling woman. There are about a dozen people on the deck, all lanterns alight, not fearing any kind of attack. The group is wary, as they should be. The boat got closer, and Jalana leant her mystic stealth to the team, and left VuV at the helm, alone. The others hid as best they could.

As the trading ship was passing them, the apparent leader of the ship saw the state of the Dragunship, with dried bloodlines coming off the side of the ship and a giant, half rotted Dragons head attached to the bow. “Ho the ship!” he called.

“Who you calling a ho?” VuVu called back.

The captain was confused, but then noticed her at the helm, alone on the giant and foreboding ship. VuVu and the Captain exchanged pleasantries whilst Grash moved to the side of the boat and looked at what they were carrying. It seemed to be bags of trade goods such as grain and foodstuffs, with the stamp of Dharma on the bags, they were probably heading to the tradetown they had just departed. The people in the boat tell them that up ahead there is trouble in the water and in the forest but they are the only two ways to go. As the boat goes by Grash lets his phantom hand drift behind them and it floats up to their sails, using his small dagger to cut a large line through their main sail.

The captain yells for all hands to stop, drop the anchor and they begin o assess the damage. Grash wants to board and raid them, VuVu advises, firmly, that that isn’t going to happen. They float on past, and as they are about to go about their business they see a scuffle happening on board, and there is yelling. They all look back, from the stern of their Dragunship and see a lone person standing on the front of the boat holding something in their hand by their side.

“Grash!’ yells the voice, harsh and spikey holding up the thing in their hand.

Grash doesn’t reply. Just stands there looking at the figure.

“Your mother is sick, you’re to return home immediately.” And he holds up the severed head and throws it towards the Dragunship missing it by a considerable margin. The figure then kicks over a lantern and dives into the water, heading towards the shore.

Nobody says anything. They all know that Grash has his secrets, and there is no point trying to get him to reveal them.

They keep sailing and make their way to a large inlet, a loch so to speak, and when they are in the middle of it, a giant water beast, lizard like and made of teeth appears in the water below. Grash ties a line about his waist and, as the bait, leaps into the water behind the boat and is dragged along behind. He sees the beast coming for him, and breaches the surface “Pull me back in! It’s hyuge!” Vuvu begins to reel him in whilst Jalana starts to summon a water elemental. Grash eventually gets up and the beast rears up behind them gnashing its huge mouth and trying to eat them.

The battle rages, with valance and courage, Grash and Vuvu atop the railing fighting with dazzling shows of swordplay just like in the old days! They strike the beast hard and it’s skin burns them with every hit, just before it died it grabs Vuvu in its giant maws and tried to drag her down to the depths, but the help of the elemental and Hemmits holy flames destroyed the beast. Vuvu was rescued by Grash.

They saw a smaller fishermans hut some way off in the distance and decided to dock there to make repairs of the ship and their bodies. They undocked, with the flickering shapes of beings like an after-image fading almost immediately, whilst unsettling to them as they had the feeling that whatever those things that were on the boat for a brief second did not have their best interest at heart.

Grash had lugged the beast behind them on a rope, and dragged it to shore, and began skinning it.

After eating they decided to get some rest in the hut. Grash went for a walk, after feeling unsettled and Jalana telling him that she felt an unnatural presence about the place. He got into a tree and looked around, seeing some funny looking trees, like they were looking at him. He got down, accidentally stepping on the face of the tree “ouch” it said. “What the fuck” said Grash, and went back to the cabin.

“Let’s get out of here, guys” said Grash and they all agreed. On their way back to the boat they found a tree there, it explained that there was a terrible evil perverting the nature around the area, and that there was a powerful being in the south in a cathedral that was causing it. They decided to go there and check it out themselves.

Getting in the boat and heading north they saw an ominous building, full of darkness and an apparently clear way to the front doors. As they got closer they felt a pressure building in their minds, a feeling of being pushed back, mentally.

They hesitantly made their way and knocked, with no answer. They opened the doors themselves and saw a room of madness, writhing supplicants and blood, arcane and evil runes adorned the blood covered walls. A beautiful woman in pristine white robes stood atop a dais, with her arms covered in blood to the elbows.

“Please, come in.” she said, and with her magic pulled them in and shut the doors. “Why have you come here? Jalana, Grash, Hemmit and Madame Vavuzel”. They were not surprised that she knew their names. As she moved her arms away from a bowl in front of her, filled with blood, they felt a lessening of the pressure in their minds. This bowl was obviously an artefact of some power.

She explained that she was making “a pillar of her own”, and that they would not be able to stop her. The group thought otherwise and attacked. At first she was standing on the altar smiling at them, the next second she was in front of them, glowing and surrounded by arcane runes and swirling currents of magic, hideous and beautiful at the same time, drops of blood flowing around her along with motes of fire and power.

They began to try to assail her, but spells bounced off her magical shields and daggers were turned aside. They thought it best to leave, so they retreated and gathered about Hemmit, who used his helmet of teleportation to get them outside, it just worked and they appeared on the trail to the cathedral and began to run back to the boat. They looked behind, seeing dozens of the zealots chasing them, being spurned on by the sorceress, who was apparently not willing to leave her fortress.

The got to the boat and made a hasty getaway, sailing back to the middle of the loch, to rethink their plan.

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Chapter 26
A leader lost

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They walk through the ruins of Corundum, most have fled, but many perished.
They see a small band of looters and just before they engage they see a flurry of blades and magic destroy the looters.
Wyne and a short woman name Gwendoline Blackfoot sees them. They explain about the dragon brood that came. They explain that they rallied some and got them to safety.

They ask about Wyne, Lilac says “Follow me.” and brings them to a hill. A few people are about, they move out of the way and they see a pyre. Wyne is laid upon it, with his mighty sword across his chest and many wounds on his body. They conduct the ceremony and burn his body, sending his spirit to the gods to judge him.

He explains that a group that has existed for thousands of years to ensure The Pillars of Eternity, that hold up the emperor to the gates of heaven, stay there, so that the emperor can ascend to heaven. He is part of a group that is investigating, but they are always thwarted at the last minute. He knows that there some kind of pattern, and he’s pretty sure the Paladins have a lot to do with it. He asks them if they know anything about it.

The group speak with Gwen, she is angry that Wyne is dead and believes it to be somewhat their fault. She loved Wyne.

They spend the night (Vuvu with Lilac) and Hemmit and Jalana spend the night smoking sapphire weed. They experience a strange thing, they catch glimpses of each others dreams. Jalana sees the spires of the Twin Cities. Hemmit seed Jalanas grammy
They also experience the dreams of a man sitting near them, of how he worked on the field of the sapphire weed.

They leave after a tenday, after having their ship fixed.

They pop the boat on the river and set sail. Vuvu almost missing the boat again.

They stop at a port and find that they are selling the sapphire weed. A huge shipment arrived destined for the palace of the ShaKhan Majora. The group decides it’s in their best interest to steal it.

They disembark the Dragunship downriver under the cover of darkness and creep back into town. Making their way behind the warehouse and into the room was no small task, with Hemmit’s clanking armour. A lone creature in dazzling robes sits atop a pile of hessian sacks full of the plant. They ambush him, knocking him out and take as much as they can before escaping back to their boat, and immediately set sail, with Hemmit enjoying the fruits (or flowers) of their labour.

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Chapter 25
An Old Friend

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As the forcefield surrounding the fighting pit desolved the groups of Chaaya began to run hysterically away, with some of the guards rallying and pointing their spears at them ready for an attack. Rather than attacking, the group ran along a path that seemed to be less populated by their captors.

As they ran they noticed that they were in some kind of small village or outpost, and that there were small groups of the creatures, with babies, hiding in small holes in the ground and under the roots of the large trees.

They ran, with minor and insignificant scraps of fighting slowing them down slightly. The Chaaya certainly didn’t expect them to be escaping today (or tonight; they couldn’t tell as it was always so gloomy due to the thick canopy).

As they ran they found that they were heading towards some kind of temple area, the ancient structures that had seemingly been half swallowed up by the ground were more prominent. One in particular stood out to them, and they made their way towards it as it seemed that it might give them a height advantage whilst they figured out what they were going to do.
The temple had a long and narrow staircase leading to its entrance, the ramp seemed to be about 80 feet on a 45 degree angle up. They began to run up the ramp and as they were sure their pursuers were gaining on them Grash stood on a pressure plate.

A giant boulder came rolling at them from a hidden side chamber, 10 feet high and across the things gained momentum quite fast. They all scrambled up the side of the ramp onto the wall that ran almost the entire length. As the boulder passed them their pursuers were too slow and many of them were crushed or flung aside.

They all ran up the length of the wall and halfway along the ground behind them fell off and tumbled down the embankment. Most of them got to the other side however Hemmit began to fall, he tried unsuccessfully to grab the rope that Grash had left trailing behind him then reached to grab VuVu’s hand and succeeded. At this time Jalana looked to the canopy and, against all reason, turned into a giant eagle and flew upwards, half flying and half scrambling through the branches and leaves towards the open night sky.

They scrambled up the rest of the ramp and stood at the entrance of the 40 foot high temple. The entrance was surrounded by intricate, yet ancient, writings and carvings of some form of dragon race. They hesitantly entered and immediately felt a presence in the room. They noticed sconce’s along the wall, four of them, that held balls of white lights, hovering in the sconce’s.

They moved in more and two figures seemed to hunch under a statue of a twin headed beast. The forms came forward and revealed themselves to be powerful Oni; terrible and ferocious ancient guardians of the temple.

They battled.

During the fight Hemmit found parts of the statues that he remembered from an old story that a Dragunborne had told him. They told of an ancient race that was a common ancestor of all Dragon-kind, a godlike beings that were allied with the now-banished Trickster Gods. This particular beast was named Mishi’Ini, who was one of the smaller gods of the time and that had gone missing before most of the other gods were banished.

As the fight neared the end, Jalana was just breaking through the tree tops after fighting her way through. She broke through to the brilliant night sky, and immediately felt a sense of relief. The wind blew on her face and the brilliant light from the giant heavenly body beamed seemingly right into her spirit. She had never seen something so beautiful, something so radiant and full of life as the…the…moon. She didn’t realise it straight away but she was in human form, bare but for her seashell around her neck, arms out and facing the moon, underneath her the planet seemed to stand still, every though was focused on the moon and she felt it’s power surge in her. Before she knew it she was falling again, crashing back through the canopy towards the ground. She didn’t worry though, as the branches whipped at her face and the animals screeched as she flew past.

Just as the group was beginning to worry if they could defeat the two might Oni, Jalana soared into the room on wings of squirrel and landed in front of one of the Oni, quickly assuming her human form and swinging Wax and Wane and spilling it’s entrails.

The last Oni was quick to fall, with Grash taking its life with several punctures to its vital organs. It died in pain, slowly.

“What are you all doing fucking around in here?” demanded Jalana, to the surprise of the others, who were wondering where she had been this entire time. Nobody replied.

As they stood there, they noticed the whites of the Oni’s eyes had gone and the lights of the scones on the side had moved to the Dragon-like figure on the wall, lighting up the twin sets of eyes. The temple began to shake, with the walls that held the Dragon creature beginning to crumble. The creature, free of its prison shook off the last of the stone that it’s flesh had been imprisoned in.

thank you

The group stood in front of the beast, not sure if they should attack or speak to it.

The group looked at him, and as Grash continued to look in wonder at the being it began to dissolve, it’s shape seeming to blur into the background. After a moment or two there stood in its place a short half-ling, very different to the ones that had entrapped them.

“Michi’Ini” whispered Grash.

Grash…I want to go home…

The expression on the beings face was melancholy. Grash, for some reason knew why. He knew that she would ask too much of him, that what she took would never return, could never be given back.

A single tear fell from Grash’s one good eye onto the marble below as the being shimmered out of sight, Jalana looked at Grash and saw the tear fall. It fell to the floor, landing right where Grash’s left leg used to be.

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Chapter 2 4
...flow

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The group is standing on the steps of the Bailey looking down at the town folk. Some are listening to the soothsayers and town criers. They approach a group where one of the criers is standing on top of a soapbox. Jalana asks the man if she can say a few words, he is obviously insane and falls off the box. A blacksmith in the back ground tells her to be careful on his box.

She cries to the people, arms covered in blood, that she has killed Arryn and taken his heart and will be taking it to the Halflings in the forest…

Quite a few people in the crowd start arming themselves, many women and children are rushed away as a large contingent of guards rush to them, pulling Jalana off the soapbox and asking her why she thought that it was a good idea to tell people that.

They are lead back to the keep, to Wyne, who is speaking with many town officials. He is not surprised about the spectacle that Jalana made outside, and asks them to leave all public relation matters to him from now on.

They agree, and tell him everything that happened in the tomb downstairs. He advises that he has many of his people inspecting the portal down there, a few have gone missing.

The group asks for and is given full access to the library of Corundum. The Librarian Herman knows of Hemmit, heard of him and that wherever he goes there is a wake of chaos behind him. Hemmit wants to learn more about the half-lings and what this Dark Heart of the Forest is all about.

They learn a few things;

~ Prophecy of the emperors return. He didn’t take some of the power of the planet. He took all of it, he needed all of it.

~ Knowledge of the demons of the dark woods of Datura, millennia ago;
The half-lings, calling themselves the Chhaya, had a sprawling empire of beautiful steppe-pyramids and towers, a very successful water trade and spent much of their time on the rivers and riding giant Cephalopodan that would fly with gas and magic.
Then one day their entire civilization fell, some say they went too far with their magic, and they let loose some darkness hidden inside the forests. Since then the paladins of the realm patrol the area and keep the demons at bay. Obviously, one got out. If more were to escape, who knows what would happen?

They then make their way to the infirmary to see Li-Lac. They find him asleep in the same bad that Grash was put in. He is still unconscious but they find a few notes on his bedside table and Jalana decides to read a few.

They make their way back downstairs and come to the decision that they will be sneaking down to the portal and have a look. They walk down, Vuvu charms one of the guards to let them pass and as they make their way in the mages sense them and order them to leave. Instead, they charge and throw themselves into the portal.

Coming out the other side they find themselves in a dense jungle environment, full of life and animals and critters. They look around and notice that they are being watched.
Nagas begin to stream in from all sides, the fighting is intense and the Naga don’t go down easily. As they fight, the group finds in their Nagas mind that they are fearful of retribution should they fail, the Naga are not angry at the group, they are slaves.

They fight persists, however they realise that they are being watched. They are surrounded by figures in the underbrush. Tattooed and holding spears like they have never seen, adorned with relics, trinkets. They overpower the group, even going so far as to put Vuvu into a death-like sleep.

They awake some time later, in a fighting pit, surrounded by the creatures that they assume to be the half-lings. They are tied with an Elf, who seems to be armed, and they soon realise that they too are still armed.

The chanting begins and the Elf tells them that they need to put on a good fight, else they will die, forever. As they ask him what he means by that he mentions that he has died too many times, and he doesn’t know who he is anymore.

The fight begins and the group slaughters the elf, but the fight is not over. They realise that the fight has only just begun.

Quote that the group read on a small stone tablet:
And the lord stood upon her hinder parts,
And with his merciless club he smashed her skull.
He cut through the channels of her blood,
And he made the North wind bear it away into secret places.

They fight until they are exhausted, not knowing how much time has passed. Eventually after many nights, they are brought face to face with an animal like Baer.
He thinks they are tricking him, and lashes out, they fight him and VuVu eventually defeats him by throwing him magically into the surrounding wall of Chayya who skewer him.

A monk is then brought out, and it turns out that he doesn’t want to fight, he tells them that he has a magical amulet that can turn off their forcefield prison. They do so and begin the escape.

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