The Third Moon of Cré

Chapter 22
None are Bard from this tale!

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Standing on a chair with her hair pulled up into a fighting braid, blood still fresh in her hair and a wicked look in her eye, she bedazzled the crowd with her instruments and her voice. Tales of glory and the eventual gruesome death of her last adventuring party by a clan of giants, the woman radiated charisma and all sat spellbound by her songs and stories. The entire tavern had almost completely emptied their coin-purse at her feet when the door to the establishment opened, showing the rain and muck outside.

In came a ragged figure, the dark eyes glistening and rain dripping off his scales onto the floor. He turned and began to make his way to the bar, but the musical notes peeked his interest and he looked at the woman making shadow puppets in front of a candle depicting the final battle against the giants. Just as she finished showing the crowd how she valiantly escaped and made her way back to town she noticed him watching.
Leaping off the chair she put her hands on her hips and cocked her head to the side, “Well, look what the cat dragged in! If it isn’t my old friend Grash!” and she gave him a playful slap on the arm.

“Madame Vuvuzela, a pleasure as always. What are you doing here?” he asked in his straightforward way.

“Why I’m here to play a few songs and make a few coins, my dear. Also… all my friends are dead and I’m bored” she pouted.

Grash shrugged and turned from the bar back towards the door, he opened it, again exposing the rain outside, “Come with me.” He said.

They both left the tavern and walked through the small town, making their way towards the docks. They spoke of the few jobs they’d done together, nefarious and otherwise. On the way Grash explained that he’d gotten a job as security on a ship headed to Al’Miad. VuVu note to Grash that it seemed a trivial and boring job, and that she thought he was hiding something.

“I’m always hiding something, VuVu.” He said, with his face as straight as always.

They got to the boat and as they began climbing the gangplank the Captain came rushing towards them shouting, “Hey! Grash what in the nine hells are you doing! No women on this ship!”

“Khazeem, she is a friend of mine, besides… what about her?” he asked as he nodded up towards to the crow’s nest where a wiry young girl looked down on them.
“Her? That’s different…she..uh..that’s different. End of story! Now get her off my ship!” he yelled waving his arms.

“Well, I guess that’s that, I’ll find my own way across Grash, I hear there are many treasures to be found over there.” VuVu said as they made their way back down the pier.
“No, you’ll come with me. I may need your help.” Replied Grash.

That night they stole VuVu aboard with stealth and a few bribes here and there. Unfortunatley they were found out and VuVu was thrown from the ship just as they set off. She swam back to the jetty and as she was climbing out a hand reached down to her, helping her out. As she stood soaking wet on the pier she noted that man that helped her. Short, stocky and covered in tattoos. His bodyguard behind him was much more striking; tall, musclular and completely white all over with piercing blue eyes. Very odd for an Orc, she’d never seen anything like it.

“We hear you need a lift across the Boiling Sea? Well girl, we can help you, for a price of course.” Offered the short man, with a smile full of broken and golden teeth.

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The sky is very pretty today she thought, as she fell backwards off the small watchtower that Captain Silna told her to take. She knew this was a stupid idea, and knew that whatever stories she could weave from this wouldn’t outweigh the fact that this fall would more than likely kill her, and if by the grace of the gods it didn’t, the thousands of Goblins and Ogres about would.

As she fell the tried turning her body, like cat. The Monk had spent most of the afternoon with her teaching that trick, after she’d spent most of the night with him teaching him a few tricks (which never got back to his monastery).

Taking her eyes off the beautiful sky oh what beauty and radiance, from death does this beauty pour only? she turned her shoulders first and with the momentum curled her legs out under her, pouring all her effort into looking at the back of a particularly unlucky Goblin underneath her. As she hit the creature she tucked in her knees and tried to roll from it’s back. Unfortunately she’d fallen almost 30 feet, and it didn’t work out. Face down in the mud and a little dizzy she felt strong hands pulling her upwards, certain of death she braced herself and was determined to die well so that the sages would forge her stories with the ink of true grit and bravery.

Luckily the hands were that of Jalana. Vevuzela brushed herself off and looked at the woman before her. She was startled, the woman was tall, over six feet tall and broad of shoulder and dark of skin, thick hari tied back into a warriors knot… but so young!.
She would seem a child to her, dropped into a warzone without knowledge, if but for the eyes. Vevuzela looked into them, seeing something…understanding, wisdom, and most of all…pain.

“You shouldn’t be here. Get to safety whilst there is a lull in the fighting.” said the dark woman before she flicked the gore and grime from her blades before pointing back to the city using one of her swords, “That way.” She then turned and ran back into the battle, running behind a rather large ogre and carving it with one of her scimitars, which had somehow burst into flame.

“You’ll get used to her.” a voice in her ear shocked Vevuzela back into the present. She turned, sword miraculously still in her hand, and saw a familiar face in the crowd.

“Grash! What in the giant-swinging-balls of Allam are you doing here?” she cried, almost relieved to see her old crewmate.

“Talk later, kill now.” he said matter-of-fact and himself ran back into the maelstrom.

Vevuzela had seen many fights in her time, a few battles but no wars. This was something else, there seemed to be no order to the fight, those entrenched seemed to be just killing whatever enemy was nearest to them at the time.
She remembered a time in the Vale of Benanou, the army she marched with outnumbered the raiders that had waylaid them, but the raiders had surprise on their side, they had fear on their side.
Suddenly Vuvu found herself running onto the body of a slain Ogre, raising her sword and rallying those around her.

Come you dogs! Come to your deaths! The Vale of Citadels will not tremble at your rumblings! We will kill you into the ground! We will kill you until you can’t die no more!

The men around her took heart and listened and, inspired by her heroic visage and voice, were inspired to greater deeds than they would have thought possible. A rallying cry was taken up and Vevuzela found herself being carried back into the fight, which had progressed further towards the Goblin Kings makeshift dais.

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“They begin to tire, we will press our advantage!” roared Wyne, surrounded by his trusted and valued comrades, and also DragunShip Suddenly.

Heroes and militia, commanders and laymen, ran towards the dais, seeing with their eyes the monstrosity that commanded this army from hell. It stank, even from here they could all smell it.

Mages to the left of them let off giant balls of withering flame, crippling the south flanks defences allowing their troops to pour into the gaps made by the carnage. Knights on mighty warhorses trampled the Goblin foot-soldiers underfoot and speared the giant Ogres with their terrible lances. The killing was unending, the screams of the dying absolute.

Hemmit saw, out of the corner of his eye, a group of soldiers running towards them, human and full of a kind of zeal he thought impossible in such a scenario. The men and women, clad in leather, mail and carrying swords, axes or pike, ran with such vigour that they inspired those around them. He felt the tide of the battle turn in their favour.

As they reached the dais, with the fresh influx of soldiers fighting with the strength of those who had just had along nights rest, they came to see that they were led by none other then the woman that fell from the tower.

“I thought I told you to go to safety?” quizzed Jalana.

“I have a few tricks up my sleeve, girl.” replied Vuvuzela with a smile and a wink.

The group, as one, charged at the monstrosity on the platform, noticing that his captain stood beside him, a hideous and especially large Ogre.
All of them dodging, as best the could, the arrows being shot at them from more makeshift towers about them.

Hemmit launched cleansing fire from the sky at the beast and his captain, then casting powerful enchantments to protect key points in the battle.
Jalana, in mid-stride shifted into the form of a great panther, eager to slice this affront to the natural order to pieces.
Grash, in the chaos, revelled. Launching deadly strikes from above, below and behind in a uncontrolled fury of stabbing and slicing.
Wyne charged head on, throwing his considerable strength behind his two handed broadsword, halving enemies and stopping ogres in their tracks.
Vevuzela shot at the archers on the towers, skewering them with bolts from ther crossbow, shouting at the others to notice enemies about to strike and disallowing them the upper-hand.

The Goblin King shot black tendrils at them, some dark magic that had no place in a Goblins hands. It writhed with every blow and screeched madly every time it struck one of the heroes. Eventually they brought it to it’s knees, at this point large pieces of it’s body were falling to the ground, not just limbs that they had severed by pieces of it’s face, back and legs that had not been hit by the melee. They saw it transform, back into its original form. They knew then that this was not Goblin, but an interloper. A disguise for a being that had stolen some form to command the control the goblin hordes.

As the word spread, by human and goblin mouth, that their hords leader had been killed, the army began to break apart. The ranks and ranks of goblin began to lose heart, and with that began to lose their lives. What was a neck-to-neck race in killing each other quickly became the forces of Corundum chasing and slaughtering the disheartened and ragged attackers.

The heroes stood on the dais, with the rotten and disintegrating body of the demon at their feet. Wiping their weapons clean and catching their breath they saw Wyne come towards them, fresh wounds and blood.

“Thank you, thank you for saving Corundum, and the Valley of Citadels. I’m sure there will be some celebrations tonight!” he yelled, and turning to the forces behind him that weren’t hunting down the escaping horde, he raised his giant sword one-handed in the air and let out a roar of defiance in the direction of the retreating army.

“Hope there’s rum at the after-party, aye Grash?” said Vevuzela, elbowing him in the ribs with a wink.

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Chapter 21
Vengence Delivered and an Unwelcome Guest

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A storm is brewing in the North.

Standing in the rain outside the citadel of Corundum at the head of an army of giants, outlined in the rain and oppressive dark of night, Grash and Jalana stare from the treeline and plan their next move.

The occasional bell, children crying and men shouting come from the city across the winds and they turn their attention back to the giant standing patiently behind them. Geryon had been their main contact in the army of giants after they’d met them marching a few days prior and the wise old giant seemed trustworthy enough.

‘So what you’re saying is, this Arryn brought his men to your lands and murdered your daughter for no better reason than he didn’t like you eating some of their stray sheep?’ asked Jalana incredulously of the apparent leader of the giants.

The giant looked at her with sad eyes, eyes the size of a dinner plate, and nodded.

‘Well, I never liked him anyway. Plus, we’re pretty sure he sent us there to that dragons den to die anyway.’ Jalana added, looking at Grash.

’I’d like to see his little head atop the mast of the Dragunship.’ said Grash.

’It’s settled then, we’ll kill him.’ concluded Jalana.

Geryon nodded and slowly turned his gaze back to the citadel.

A few hours passed and the giants had gathered enough very large rocks to pummel the city walls and kill many of the people there. Grash was looking forward to the carnage, however it didn’t sit too well with Jalana. She thought maybe they should speak to Arryn, maybe some kind of surrender was in order. The giants, if let loose upon the citadel, would surely kill many innocent people. The collateral damage was not worth it.

Getting herself together, she began walking out towards the hundreds of meters wide clearing between the forests edge and the city walls. As she made her way out Grash and Hemmit accompanied her, sensing that the time was ripe for confrontation.

As she got to the halfway point she raised her spear to the night sky, with thunder in the distance and the rain still pouring down on them she raised her voice, and the wind carried it to the walls.

‘Listen to me people of Corundum! You have been deceived!’ she called, ‘The one you call master is a monster! A savage beast with hate in his heart and blood on his hands! We want no harm to come to you but we will not leave until we have your Lord Arryn!’

She lowered the spear and waited. She looked across at Grash and he shrugged and nodded towards the battlements atop the walls, ‘Their archers have us in their sites, and their balistas are armed and ready, I suppose they do not fire due to their fear or because they know you speak the truth. Either way, Jalana, this is a very open and dangerous place to be.’

She nodded and looked back to the city where there came a great bellowing from the giant brass horns attached to the main gates. The gates themselves then opened a small contingent of cavalry were making their way across the muddy field towards them.

‘Well, maybe they will see the reason of it after all.’ Jalana smiled, readying herself for vengeance.

As the horses got closer they realised they did not see the brightly armoured Arryn, but they did see his right hand man. Wyne.

‘Hold!’ the man called to his bannermen to his sides, and they stopped. Wyne kept his horse at a steady pace towards them, stopping but only ten feet from them and looked down.

‘You.’ he said simply, but with such venom that they almost physically recoiled. ‘You are easily the most vile and treacherous creatures to ever stain our good cities soil.’

They looked up at him in the rain, his massive warhorse could sense its masters want for blood and it champed at the bit and stomped at the ground.

‘You fool’ began Grash, ‘You speak of good but you have very little of that here. You master sent us to our deaths, there was no wyrm in those caves, it was a bloody DRAGON!’ he yelled to the man on the horse. ‘He deceived us, and why? Because we are a threat? For fun? It matters not, but due to his actions there is now an army, not of our bringing, at the doors to this citadel and he sits on his fancy throne and sends you out here to parley?’ Grash looked at the city, then back to Wyne ‘Pathetic’ and he spat at the horses feet.

Wyne looked down at them confused, ‘What lies do you bring to our doors again? Arryn is not the deceiver here!’ he yelled back to them.

Jalana nodded to Hemmit, who was dragging a large sack with him. He upended the sack with great difficulty and a large red dragons head toppled to the horses feet. The horse reared up and almost topped Wyne from his perch.

‘Impossible! he cried, however there was doubt in his eyes. ’Why would he send you to your deaths…however…’ he looked to be making some decision as the giant horns of the citadel blew again.

From the gates this time came the one they were looking for, alone atop a mighty black steed, eyes the colour of hot coals and his luminous blue armour there for all to see.

‘Arryn.’ growled Grash, and he went for his weapons.

‘Grash, no.’ said Jalana as she grabbed the wrist of his good arm. ’I want to hear what he has to say.

After a few moments Arryn arrived with fury in his eyes. ‘Wyne! You have disobeyed me again, return to the citadel and I will deal with you after this.’

Wyne, looking first from the ones standing in the mud then to his resplendent sire, reluctantly nodded after some contemplation. As he turned to go they say in Wynes eyes a sort of understanding, but it was too late to ask him of it.

‘So, you have returned from my quest, and I see you have the head of the wyrm, congratulations.’ he said to them with a smug grin on his face, his dark hair running down and concealing parts of his face as the rain continued its deluge. ‘I also see that you have brought some giants with you. That was…unexpected.’ he replied, his grin somehow becoming even smugger.

’Don’t play games with us, Arryn. We know about your history with the giants; the slaying of their innocents, and you knew there was a Dragon in that cave. You sent us to die.’ said Grash, with his anger barely restrained.

Arryn mockingly put his hand to his chest, ‘Me? Deceive the infamous Dragunship Suddenly? Would such a thing even be possible? Even with a priest in your group, one that even now tries to pry into my thoughts. Uh-uh-uh little mongrel,’ he added, tapping his temple with his gauntleted finger and looking at Hemmit, ‘No getting in here for you.’ he laughed.

‘You do not deny it then?’ Jalana asked, beginning to tire of his games.

‘I deny that the giants have anything close to innocents amongst them. They are filth and should be slaughtered where they are found, and if I have to spend every meager soul in Corundum to do that…I will.’ Arryn replied with such animosity that the group was stunned.

This was a side of him that they had never seen. Was this truly a Paladin of the myths and legends? One so willing to sacrifice the lives of innocents to commit acts of genocide amongst seemingly innocent creatures?

‘The balance is in tatters, and you will pay for your crimes…’ said Jalana setting her steely gaze on the imposter on the horse.

Grash looked excitedly to Jalana then to Arryn then back to Jalana. ‘Wait, are you saying….’ he asked like a child that was told they would be getting extra honey on their bread.

‘Yes Grash…this one-’ she pointed her suddenly flaming sword at the grinning Arryn, ‘-needs to die.’

Arryn laughed and his voice was that of ancient sorrow and pain, he looked down at them, his face lit by Jalanas flaming sabre, ‘Show me what you’ve got!’ he roared and with that the fight was on.

Grash was suddenly not there, with only a wisp of smoke and and after-image to tell where he’d been suddenly he was behind Arryn’s stead and slicing at it’s flanks, knowing that they had a better chance if they could unseat him. Jalana swept her swords in circles barely keeping back the intense and withering strikes coming from Arryn’s mighty warhammer, moving much faster and hitting harder than she could have supposed coming from someone of his reduced stature.

Hemmit, unsure of his place in this battle, did his best to not get hit and to ensure that any killing blows that were headed towards Jalana or Grash were averted or at least reduced in their lethality.

The stead died and it’s black blood stained the soil where it fell, it’s screams like those of tortured souls. Arryn, pulling himself from the mud and with a smile on his face pulled his hair back from his face and looked up at the pair of them, Jalana with her swords; one aflame, and Grash; almost seeming to be shifting out of focus when looking at him directly.

‘Give up, wretch, and I’ll only torture you for a week rather than a month’ Grash said between heavy breaths.

Arryn laughed and raised himself up, his arm carrying the giant hammer was down, the head of the mighty weapon in the mud. With his other hand he reached to the large sapphire that sat nestled in the middle of his armours chest piece and looked down at it in his hand.

‘If I can’t have it….nobody can…’ he said, seemingly to himself, then crushed it.

The light of his armour waned, and then extinguished. Arryn seemed to sag in his armour and Jalana and Grash took their opportunity, launching a flurry of blows at Arryn who now could barley parry a single one. They defeated him and stood above him looking down.

‘Should have taken my offer little beetle.’ chuckled Grash, but Arryn barely made a sound as he lay bleeding in the mud.

‘Grash, the balance needs to be restored.’

‘You and your bloody balance..’ grumbled Grash and he grabbed the other ankle of Arryns heavy armour and helped Jalana drag him back to the forest line to the waiting giants.

(-(-(-_-)-)-)

The storm had picked up and the old and mighty trees were now bending at the middle. The gail sent sudden rivers by their feet as they watched the giants gather around Geryon.

As they watched, Geryon sitting by the unmoving form of Arryn, lowered his battering ram of a fist and crushed the halfing in his armour, Jalana didn’t look away. She knew this was right, it felt right.

Grash stood impassively, happy to see the little creature practically implode in his own armour like crushing a tomato in a fist, but sad that he was missing out on torturing the insolent little creature.

‘That was for my people.’ Geryon said quietly to himself and then stood, raising his fist up to the heavens, powerful muscles surging in his body and a light growing in his eyes.

AND THIS IS FOR MY DAUGHTER!’

Jalana and Grash barely had time to throw themselves out of the way as his anger coalesced to iron hard flesh crashing to already desecrated body of Arryn, turning what was a crumpled piece of armour into a crater of splintered steel and flesh.

Geryon regained his composure and turned to them. Grash, Jalana and Hemmit stood to the side, allowing the giants their time to come to peace with their vengeance completed.

As the storm gained even more momentum the giants were all standing, swaying in the wind, most of their heads just above the tree tops. They were listening to something.

‘What is it Geryon?’ called Jalana to their apparent leader. ‘What are your people doing?’

Geryon seemed to come out of a trance, looking down at them, then over at the mountains to the north. He lowered a giant hand and beckoned them to get on it, they did, trusting him and raised it above the trees pointing towards one of the mountains in the distance that they didn’t remember being there before.

’He comes…our _father_" rumbled Geryon.

The giants about him began a low rumbling, the sound like boulders crashing from slopes into the sea. They looked from the giants back to the strangely shaped mountain in the distance and realised that the mountain was moving.

Slowly, but surely the mountain got closer, and as lightning flashed about its mighty shoulders they realised that it was no mountain, it was a giant of unbelievably proportions, at least 20 times bigger than the biggest giant that had come south with them.

It began like the wind but then changed tempo and pitch and they realised the thing was speaking. The giants kept listening and after some time they all began to move. Geryon put them back to the ground.

‘What is happening?’ asked Hemmit, awe in his voice at the sight of such a being.

Geryon looked down at him, ‘Trouble is coming. We are going home. Thank you again, we will not forget it.’ and with that the giants left.

As they stood at the forests edge watching them go they heard the gates of the Citadel behind them open, this time with no fanfare and, with the storm lessening, they could hear the cries of the townspeople.

They all turned to see a single rider coming to them at speed. They readied themselves for another fight, still exhausted after giving Arryn almost all they had.

Wyne came up to them and stopped a few feet from them and practically leapt from the horse and came to them on foot.

‘Come with me inside the citadel immediately! We need to prepare!’ he ordered them

The three couldn’t have been more surprised and it showed on their faces.

Frustrated, Wyne continued. ‘The host of Blargur is here, that’s why the giants left, they’re almost at our gates and if we don’t get inside to prepare for the attack we’re all dead.’ he looked to each of them imploringly. ‘I….need your help!’ he cried.

Suddenly, as the wind dropped a little more, they all heard it, the sound of the largest Goblin horde ever to be seen.

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Chapter 19
Into the Nest

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They find a crooked painting, and Bear goes up to it to straighten it up and they find themselves standing on the deck of a ship in a pitched navy battle against sea monsters.

They fight them, and after speaking to the captain for a little bit, they realise that he’s been on this never-ending sea battle/journey for some time. Baer gives him his freedom by slitting this throat.

They leave the painting, and when back in the room they look back at the painting, seeing Moria at the helm of the ship. The painting is taken by them and put into a bag, nice and safe.

They go down and tell the Baroness that the job is done, and she is happy.

She advises that she can help them now, and rings a little bell, that makes no sound and disintegrates. A mage is brought into the room, it’s Hydra.

They introduce themselves and are advised that her time is short, as agents of Oghma are very expensive to obtain. They head out to get the Dragunship and realise that the way that the mage can help them is with a limited teleporting spell. They get to the ship, Grash is upset that people have been walking around doing things to it. Also they put the painting of Moria in the captains cabin.

They put the spell on the ground and the ship on top of it, then get onto the ship and shrink it.

They are hurled into the screaming void, where Jeff has been this whole time. And once in there they feel that they are being watched by dark forces. They put the candle next to the helm and light it with magic, which dispels some darkness and Jeff appears, he is a shade of a human, and is now enslaved to pilot the ship through the void when they are in it.
Darkness increases and a race of demon-spirits invade the ship. They fight them and barely survive, the fight was hard.

They eventually find their way back to the material plane and launch a deer into the air as the ship expands. They are happy to realise that they have arrived only a few leagues from the mountains. They are ready to face the wyrm.

The adventurers make their way to the Wyrms nest only to find that it’s a young Red Dragon. The beast tells them that they were sent here to die by the “shiney blue one”. The dragon says that they can fight him, or they can ambuscade the other group that is no doubt being sent to witness their doom.

Baer takes a look around, sees the riches behind the dragon, dismisses them, looks at the faces of his friends and realises that there was only ever going to one ending to this story, and what a grand story it would be!

He rushes up to the dragon, and it stands to it’s full height, it’s wingspan larger than any beast he’d ever seen, and roars at the adventurers, heat flooding over them as it’s ancient breath unfolds. Bear stands his ground and, when the dragon had finished it’s show, he roared right back at it, as this was happening Jalana started to summon the life of the room to her side and Grash took the opportunity to find a vantage point that he could get a good strike at the beast, his internal instincts telling him to bow to its majesty, but he resisted and anger replaced his sense of awe, these beasts had enslaved his people millenia ago!

The Dragon, not bothered by Baers puny whining, let forth it’s breath in a cone of fire that would melt steel, and they were injured, badly. The group reassessed the situation and brought their tremendous skills to to fight. Bear rushed in, taking the brunt of the Dragons attacks, with Hydra lying down fire and crackling spells that melt flesh from the bone, Jalana used the magic of the cave to harden her skin to stone, melting into the form of the black panther and scything scales and hardened carpace from the beasts hide. Grash, from the shadows, struck at opportune times, hitting in weak points opened by the others, wounds that would have fallen the greatest of warriors.

Eventually the fight came to the point of exhaustion for the heroes. Baer was dealt a deadly blow by the Dragons tail, sending him flying. As the Dragon came down upon him he looked up and behind him where Hydra stood, hands over her mouth and in her eyes he saw something, he begged him to let her help, and, unsure of what was happening, he accepted. A jolt of dizzying energy enveloped him and a bang! found him lying where she had stood just seconds before and she stood in front of the Dragon with arms raised, already casting a spell to deter its advances.

Jalana, seeing the Dragons confusion, ran up the beasts tail onto it’s back, all the while ripping at the exposed flesh beneath it’s mighty scales and latched her razor sharp teeth to it’s neck, rippling cord muscles in her legs and arms curled and tightened and she began to thrash, like a kitten with a toy, using it’s feet and teeth to rip, although a much more impressive sight, she gouged and ripped until the blood flowed from it’s neck and it lay down. Blood coming from multiple wounds it lay gasping. The heroes formed up in front of it.

“You…have no idea..what you’ve done…fools” gaspsed the Dragon. “I am Porunga…and I will have my revenge…”

The group stood there, as a few noises above them, like rocks cracking, Bear walked up to it, taking hold of Giant Slayer, “No…you won’t.” and lifted it high then bringing it down to sever the head of the beast, “I’ll take this, it might look good on your boat, Grash?”

Grash looked at the head, and grinned a toothy smile “I think it will” and he laughed.

As they looked about them they realises that from cracks in the wall came burning lava, small at first then began to build. The ground beneath them began to shake, again, slowly at first then getting bigger.

“This place, it has come undone, and we must leave” said Jalana, as the stood up from the corpse of the Dragon, with its blood on her mouth.

“Grab what you can and run!” laughed Grash, pleased with such a chaotic end to such a grand day. They all leapt to the pile of treasure, quickly sifting through to find artifacts of power. Baer found some armour, and with the head of the Dragon he could not carry much else. The others found many magical items themselves of varying degrees, and they ran from that mountain, as it came down behind them they found joy in their hearts and the words of the dragon in their mind…

you have no idea what you’ve done

The group are running away from the collapsing mountainside with boulders being strewn across the fields below.

They make it to a safe distance, realising that Grash was left behind.

They make camp, to wait for him and heal. They wake up and Baer notices a rock that looks out of place. He is going to sneak up to it using his new armour of Ethereal. Goes into that world, hears someone yelling, it’s Hydra, she hits him yelling “THEYRE GIANTS” and they both crash out of the ethereal plane.

The giants take notice and they all fight, with Jalana assuming her panther form she shreds some of them and Baer makes use of Giant Slayer, and Hydra uses her magic.

They realise that they can’t win, so they run south, bringing the horde of giants with them. They take refuge, about two days later, realising that the giants aren’t stopping and are heading towards a small village, and Corundum beyond that.

They are nestled in a crop of rocks, just off the path of the giant army, and then Jalana jumps out to try to get their attention to bring them from their disastrous path.

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Chapter 15
Fuck you I won't do what you tell me!

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Waking up in the same room for the sixth day in a row was very strange for Jalana. More at home with the open skies of the road, she felt uncomfortable in the guest quarters in the keep in the town of Corundum.

The metal clad men on glorious warhorses had routed the goblin horde, and after a quick debriefing with the captain of that contingent, they learned that they were probably never going to make it out alive if help hadn’t arrived when it did.

The town nestled in between two roaring rivers, both heading in opposite directions, one south and one north, was as orderly as it was oppressive. To Jalanas senses anyway.
Baer was no different, however he was more used to the towns this side of Dharma, as his ranging had brought him this way before, but never had be met anyone like the Paladins of the Sapphire Throne, the rulers of Corundum.

Grash, Jalana and Baer had been brought to Corundum almost a ten-day ago, but Grash hadn’t been seen since. They were told that the priests were tending to his most grievous wounds, and that he was on the cusp of death when they found him. Whilst they were uncomfortable that they weren’t allowed to see him, they felt that his best interests were served in staying alive, and they had no reason to believe that the Paladins would lie.

Looking around her room, she noticed that the plants she smuggled in had taken root, and had made their way up the wall, where a bird had since nested. “Hello little one” she whispered to it as it chirped away at her. Smiling, she left her room and made her way downstairs to the mess hall where she would look for something to eat.

Lying on his back in the dirt, somewhere outside near the barracks, Baer looked at the sky, hands crossed on his stomach, wondering what was on the agenda for the day. They were guests, however it was advised, very strictly, that they were not to attempt to leave before they met with Lord Arryn, High Paladin of the Sapphire Throne.
Baer didn’t mind spending time in a bailey such as this, especially as he was encouraged to spar and train with the soldiers there, but he did not appreciate being held against his will. However big this cage was, and how delicious the food was, it was still a cage if he wasn’t free to go. He knew he could escape, no walls had ever kept him inside, but he still wanted to see what the Lord Paladin had to say, and… of course… to see Grash safe.

Mid-afternoon, the two are going at it very hard, sweat pouring off their brows and their breath sharp and fast. Jalanas face was flushed and Baer was grunting with the effort. neither of them had been worked so hard for some time. Finally after thrusting and heaving for almost a half an hour, they both collapsed in a heap, to the applause of the watching men.

Baer and Jalana sheathed their weapons, the mighty Giant Slayer that Baer got from the horde of the Sha-Khan, and the sharp-as-her-tounge scimitars that Jalana almost always had sheathed to her sides.

Jalana stood and helped Baer to his feet, laughing as they both took a swig from the skin of water by the training grounds. “You’re getting better Jalana” said Baer "But you need to channel more of that aggression I see in you. Your swords are sharp, but " he paused, looking at the edge of the sword, and seeming to go to another place, some memory “but is it enough…”

A loud “SIR!” brought him out of his reverie, and they both looked as a Paladin walked towards them from the chapel, calm as a summer day, with blonde hair flowing in the wind and gleaming armour clad on his muscling body. Warhammer strapped to his side he walked up to them and spoke “He is awake, you may see him now. Then report directly to the throne room.” Then, without further ado, he left.

Jalana asked first “Who was that, and does that mean Grash is awake?” before he could reply, Jalana started towards the infirmary.

They arrived in a storm of activity, the waiting room was a flurry of commotion, trays bearing instruments neither of them had seen before were being ferried between stations, some covered in blood, some in other fluids. Before they knew what was happening a young woman, rosey cheeked and obviously being kept very busy grabbed Jalanas arm “We are very busy here, if you’re here to see the lizard, he’s down that hall and on the left.” and pointed them the right way.

“Well, seems these Paladins can’t keep themselves out of trouble, not that I’m not happy for the assistance…” said Baer. “But there are a lot of wounded here.”

When they got to Grash’s room they found him sitting up and eating a piece of meat, on the bone. “Well, look who we have here. Thought you’d come and finish the job aye?” he asked, brow furrowing and a flicker of flame dancing about his mouth.

The two of them stopped, unsure of what to say, then, without warning, Grash laughed. “Fools, I am bed ridden, almost to death! and you both stand there and offer me no release to death, free me!” he laughed again.

“Grash! you are the fool!” Jalana yelled making her way to the Dragun-borne in the bed. Bear stopped her by way of grasping her arm, although her frame was small he still needed to use some considerable effort.
“You! Where did you come from? Why did you run up that cliff? Why did you-” she began again but was interrupted by Grash leaping out of the bed and standing to hold her shoulders.

“Girl….be….quiet” he said as he stared right into her eyes. “This…is not a safe place to speak of such things.”

Jalana paused, taking in the information, quietly understanding Grashs need for secrecy. “Fine!’ she said with no small amount of irritation.”We’ll talk about it some other time, but for now, we are expected at this Lords throne."

Grash lowered his arms and looked at Baer, standing with a curious look on his face. Wary, yet in control. “Lets go.” he said.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

The three of them find themselves standing in a foyer awaiting the audience of the Knight Captain of Corundum. Surrounded by heavily armed guards they realise they would have a bit of a fight on their hand should they need to make a hasty escape. Although none of the guards had an overt sense of aggression about them, they knew that they would not hesitate to kill them should the need arise.

Eventually the giant iron-clad wooden doors open and the light from the next room surprises them. Whilst being shepherded towards a raised dais towards the back of the room they can see giant glass windows surrounding the room, with marble steps leading up from a polished stone floor to a gilded and decorated seat that almost, but not quite, resembled a throne.

Tables and seating areas were to the side, flourishing plants and drooping plants in giant pots abound. The smell of plants and the sound of trickling water from some source teased their ears. The beautiful smells and sounds were over shadowed by the marching of steel clad boots and the smell of grease and oil on the guards plate armour.

They are led to the feet of the dais and the four guards veer off to the side, turn on their heel and plant the butt of their spears on the ground in unison. Sitting on the throne was someone that they didn’t expect at all. A Halfling, sitting clad in heavy plate adorned in dazzling blue sapphires and a heavy royal blue cloak stood and started to make his way down the stairs. The armour, as heavy as it looked, didn’t seem to hinder him at all, matter-of-fact he seemed to be very comfortable in it.

He reached the bottom of the steps and didn’t break stride, coming right up to them and, even though he was a good two feet shorter than the adventurers, he seems to look them all in the eye on their level.

“I’ll not tip-toe around it, you are dangerous people, I’ve heard of you and your exploits in Dharma City and I don’t want you in my lands.” He said, looking at each of them in turn. “My men and I saved your lives, and we have healed your wounds, and we ask nothing in return but that you leave here and never come back.”

The groups silence spoke for them, the confusion on their face apparent.

“I’ll take that as agreement then.” He said, turning about and heading back up the dais to the seat atop it and again taking his seat. “You will be escorted to the borders in the North and will be on your way, you leave immediately” and waved his hand towards the guards beside them.

“Wait a minute”

The Halfling looked up again at the group to find who had spoken.

“I need to get my ship.” Said Grash, to the group and without even looking at the little lord on the throne. “I think I left it atop that plateau.” He said as sheepishly as a Dragun-borne could, “I..uh, threw it at the goblins.”

Jalana leaned forward to look past Baer at Grash, “You threw our boat at them?!” she quietly hissed at him.

Grash looked at her and shrugged, “I’m not leaving this land without it.”

The Halfling interrupted “Fine, we will escort you to the site of the battle to collect your ship, and then you will leave.”

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

“There she is.” Said Grash, with a note of relief in his voice, “Didn’t think I’d live to see her again.”

They walked up the incline to see a few people aboard the DragunShip, seeming to be investigating different parts of it. The field was littered with goblin and ogre corpses, no humans to be found. As they got closer they could see that most of the people on board were not dressed in the livery of soldiers, but seemed to be academics of some kind, in robes and leather sandals. They noticed one man looking into the captain’s cabin with a look of concern on his face as he turned back and forth form the incoming adventurers’ to the cabin.

“What the fuck are they doing?” growled Grash as he picked up the pace and started a long loping gait towards the ropes on the side of the ship and began climbing them.

Jalana and Baer ran to catch up, knowing that once Grashs’ blood gets hot that he would do silly things again. As they got closer they heard a commotion above them and then heard yelling. Before they knew anything they saw a man flying over the rails of the ship into the air. At first they thought he had jumped but then before the man landed Grash appeared gripping the rails and yelling curses and telling the man to get off his ship.

With a sickening thud and an audible snapping sound of the poor man’s arm the group realised that Grash had done a silly thing again. The group turned about to see a large commotion of people running to assist the man, guards unsheathing swords and men and women disembarking the ship as fast as they could. Grash climbed down the rope ladder and stood next to them, “They were messing with my stuff.” He explained, as calm as ever.

Several guards were now approaching with their swords at the ready accompanied by a two robed and threatening men with tattoos on their face, mages seemingly.

“Stand right there, no fast movements you lot” said the leader of the Guards, “Why did you throw that man to his potential death? He is Lord Arryns personal scribe. What right do you have to attempt his murder?”

Grash just looked at the man, and his hand started to instinctively reach towards his daggers, and his sight became a sharp tunnel, focused on the mans throat, calculating how much speed and energy he would need to lodge a sharp piece of steel right in his larynx..

“Grash…” a voice beside him torn him from his thoughts, it was Jalana. “Please, don’t make this any worse for us” she pleaded with him, with as much anger as frustration in her face. He took his hands away from his weapons and the guards visibly relaxed.

The leader stood forward, “You will drop your weapons and come with us back to Corundum and be judged for your crimes.” He said with as much authority as he could.

After a small discussion, they decided to be, once again, taken prisoner. Bear growled when the shackles went on, but said nothing. Jalana and Grash, knowing that they could slip from the pathetic bonds any time they wanted, went ahead without a fuss.

A day and night later, they found themselves bound to a stake, sitting in the middle of the camp surrounded by the guards and mages.
“This is terrible” said Jalana. “What a waste of time this is.” She mumbled whilst poking at the ground with her hands. A few worms came up to wind themselves around her finger and a small beetle settled on the back of her hand and spread its wings, seemingly showing off to her, she smiled.

“We need to escape these bonds and leave this place” said Baer, gritting his teeth, obviously not happy with the situation, never one to enjoy being constrained in any way. “These people are sycophants and their justice will not benefit us. We should leave.” He said, quieter this time as a guard was walking past.

Grash looked at Baer and smiled, “I agree, I care not for sitting in the mud and playing with worms. How about you, Jalana would you like to go to trial for my scrap back there?” he asked whilst smiling and looking at her to the side.

Jalana had the beetle in her closed hand and, after opening it, the beetle flew away into the night.

“We will leave. But Grash, no more scraps, promise?” She replied, matching his grin.

His smile widened, all of his teeth glistening in the moonlight, and held up his hand which was free of the bonds and replied.

“No.”

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Chapter 14
The Sapphire Throne

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The man was leaning forward with both hands on his knees, taking deep breaths. The hallway they stood in was in chaos. Men and women were chasing each other about, everyone seemingly attacking each other at random, just the way Grash liked it. There was however, a method to the madness.

“Sir..we…found… her..” the man said between breaths. “She’s holed up at the end of the hall, she’s got him in there, we heard him calling out.” The man pointed to the end of the hallway to a solid wooden door.
Grash looked to the door, then back to the messenger. He took out a dagger and slit the mans throat. Smiling, Grash shoved his way past the man, who was crumbling to the floor with a look of confusion on his face as his lifeblood left his body in great gushes.

Grash put his still bloody knife back in the sheath and walked to the door, stopping about 10 feet away. He reached ahead with his stump of a right arm. A shimmering glow appeared and unerringly floated towards the door, turning slowly into a shadow resembling a disembodied hand.

The shadow mad its way around the door-frame, and Grash grinned when he found, through the mage hand, a small and ill fitting wire-trap .He quickly disarmed it and then started towards the door. He reached out and opened the door. Stepping into the room he first noticed a stunningly beautiful woman sitting with her feet up on a large wooden desk. To the side, an emaciated man was grasping at the bars of a cage that he’d obviously been living in for some time. The stench was the first thing that reached Grash, the refuse and the blood. This man was not going to live much longer.

“Grash, I didn’t expect you so soon. How nice of you to join us.” Said the woman in what she must have thought was a seductive tone. “If I knew you were coming I would have cleaned up the place a little.”

As she finished a low growl came from behind the desk, and a very large dog, a warg, came padding out from behind it.

Grash kept his eyes on the woman. His gaze boring into her eyes. The woman shifted, visibly uncomfortable, knowing full well who stood in front of her, and what he would do to her should she let down her guard.

The woman stood, looking at the wizard, the warg and then Grash “I’ll give you one chance Grash, one chance only, leave now and I will let you live. If you stay I will make you regret it.”

Rash took out his sword and his dagger, standing casually, “I’m going to kill you, and then I will desecrate your corpse.” Grash tilted his head as he continued to stare.

The woman growled and so did the warg “How! How DARE you! You speak to me like that?! I’ll kill you! GET HIM!” and she pointed her swords, that were suddenly in her hands, at Grash. With that, the warg leaped across the table, however it’s paws hit the side and it slid across and landed on a thump on the floor. Before it landed Grash had already made his way to the creatures landing spot and impaled it with his weapons. Looking up at the woman, he finally smiled and leapt at her.

The fight was quick, as were most fights between combatants whose arts lay in misdirection and subtlety. This was not a duel between two honourable knights, but two who had learnt that treachery and tricks were deadlier than a sword.

The woman knew she was beat, and tried to make her way out the door to safety, however Grash expected it and launched a knife casually after her, which hit her in the thigh, bringing her down. Grash walked down the hallway, still in chaos with people madly pertaining of the slaughter. He calmly walked up the screaming woman, lying on the ground trying to pull the knife out of her leg. He took her by an ankle and dragged her back into the room, slamming the door behind him.

After some time the screams subsided in the room, those rogues and bandits that were fighting outside had moved elsewhere as most that could have been plundered had been. In the room, Grash was standing over the cage whos previous occupant had been unceremoniously dumped on the ground and the woman put inside. Smoke wafted in through the small windows, Grash knew that someone had lit a fire outside. The building would be burnt, hiding any evidence that anything had happened here.

The woman sobbed and quivered in the cage, covered in blood and burn marks, whilst the mage, fresh from his prison, lay quivering on the cold stone floor. This man didn’t have long for this world.

“Who are you, mage? Who would want to waste such talents as yours..” Grash asked, half to himself.

The mage looked up at him, a slight look of familiarity flashed across his face, then was gone. “I..*cough*…I am Blonky, I was once the great mage accompanied to the Rak-Shasa. He kept me in a cage then cough and I have been in a cage ever since..” the mage replied, blood now showing on the side of this mouth.

Grash looked down at the frail man in disgust, then looking around the room for something he could take. “Bah, the sport is over and I have naught to show for it again.” Mumbled Grash, disappointed at the lack of evident spoils.

“You cough have showed me a glimpse of freedom in my last minutes *splutter*” the mage rambled on, as Grash began trashing the room, ripping books from the shelves and pushing over tables.

‘I can help you ack, I am no conjurer, but I can help with other spells, levitation, transmutation…teleportation…” mumbled the Mage.

Grash stopped smashing an expensive looking vase and turned back around to the mage, walked up to him, took his face roughly in his hands and stared unfalteringly into his face..

“Teleportation?”

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

Meanwhile, Baer and Jalana are walking through the foothills almost two months travel to the West of the borders of Dharma, Marsala’s newly reclaimed Khanate. They’d been travelling for a few days, following an intriguing and elusive half-ling names Michi’ini.

With the suns burning overhead and plenty of recently caught game and foraged food in their belies, they didn’t have a care in the world. Chatting between themselves and following the ever more infrequent sightings of the halfling, they enjoyed the fresh open air and traded stories about their adventures in Dharma.

Michi’ini would appear behind a boulder, beckoning them on, then sitting in a tree twiddling her thumbs, then all at once she’d be walking along beside them, looking frustrated at their slow progress.

“She’s a sprightly one” said Baer, admiring the speed and stealth of the little one. “I knew the halflings were a quick folk, and have seen a few in my time, but this one” he nodded towards Michi’ini who was slipping behind a copse of trees in the distance, “she is a shadow…”

Jalana nodded, knowing not what the halflings were all about, but appreciated the stealth, likening it to the hunting cats from the islands she was born.

After some time, they stopped, realising that they hadn’t seen Michi’ini for at least several hours, and the sun was starting to get low.

“Maybe she grows tired of our slow progress?” mused Jalana. “Should I turn into a swifter steed and we can try to outpace her?” she chuckled.

“Haha! No, I think that no matter how hard we ride, we would not pass this one should she not wish it.” replied Baer.

As they talked they heard behind them a voice “We must hurry, my village is just ahead. Please, through those gaps in the hills, you will find a warm fire and plenty to eat.” smiled Michi’ini.

They both looked behind them to see the halfling walking towards them, her dark red hair swaying slowly in the breeze, a light redness to her cheeks and a smile full of warmth.

They let her pass between then, coming barely to Baers waist, and then she was off in a sprint. They watcher her go, and then picked up their pace, not wanting to rush the day and just enjoying the walk.

Towards the gap in the hills they went, both of them not wanting to rush their time in the outdoors, enjoying every minute of the open sky and open roads.

The suns were low, Arambha already set with Virama in fast pursuit, leaving the sky a mottled blue and purple, the bruise before the night. As they rounded the small hills, Baer caught sight of a few shapes in the distance, unlit and without movement that he could see.
“There are structures ahead, Jalana. Just where the girl said.” he pointed in the distance.
Jalana squinted her eyes and could just barely, with some imagination, make out some shapes. “Your eyes are that of a hawk, Baer. How you can see that, I cannot imagine.” she laughed.
“Well, if you could just turn your eyes into that of a bird, you’d see it too.” he joked. Jalana scowled and they both kept on.

Coming to a small bridge, broken and in disrepair, they found the ruins of what must have once been a watch tower, however, it was obvious to both of them that this tower had been ruins for quite some time.

As they neared the village, they both knew that something was wrong. There were no lights, no sounds and no people, things that one would usually find in a village at night.
They crossed the now dried up river bed and entered the line of buildings, all in the same state as the tower and bridge.

“We must tread carefully, I do not like the looks of this. Where is the village that the little one spoke of?” asked Jalana, warning Baer with a look.
“You don’t need to speak to me of ambuscades, Jalana. I am not one to be caught unawares” he replied.

They made their way to a few buildings, looking around for any signs of its inhabitants, however their efforts proved less than fruitful. The village was abandoned, perhaps for more than one hundred years.
“I don’t like this, I don’t like this at all.” mumbled Baer, getting more and more uneasy as time went on.

As they neared the centre of the village, they noticed a small fountain, although with no water to be seen in it. They did notice a small figure though, sitting on the edge with their face in their hands, and small sobbing sounds coming from it.

They approached, hands on their weapons, curious yet apprehensive. The figure seemed familiar, and as they got closer they realised it was Michi’ini, sitting on the fountain, crying.

“Michi’ini, why do you cry? Where are your people? What happened here?” asked Jalana, going to console the girl. As she got closer a feeling of dread crept up her spine, an uneasy and unnaturalness that brought her to her guard instantly. Recoiling from her she motioned Baer to stand back.

Michi’s hands left her face, and it was as if Virama had been back in the sky, a gloom settled over the ruins about them. They saw in her eyes a terrible darkness, a sadness that didn’t seem right on her otherwise cherubic face.

“I’m sorry” she said quietly, although they could both hear her, “I’m so sorry, I just wanted to help him…” she whispered….and then was gone, almost like a candle being blown out and the smoke drifting away on the wind.

They both stood there, in the sudden darkness, trying to make sense of what just happened, and a chill call came from around and above them to the eastern hills surrounding the ruins.

“Goblins…” muttered Baer, unsheathing Giant Slayer in a quick movement. Jalana was surprised, still not understanding what just happened. “We’ve been tricked” said Bear.

Jalana immediately took out her twin scimitars and looked about, wondering how she could have missed the stench of the goblins earlier. Bear was already circling and looking for the attackers and a possible route of escape.

Goblins started to come at them from every angle, Jalana took the opportunity to shift into the form of a horse and Baer leapt onto her back, and they both raced for an exit, seeing and hearing above them the cries of possibly hundreds more goblins and lord knows what else.

As they rounded a small bend, with the end of the village in sight, they were ambushed by a troupe of larger goblins, and with Baer being dismounted, Jalana swiftly turned back into the human form and back to back they fought, savagely and with much enthusiasm, not having been in a fight for some time.

Limbs and swords going everywhere and pieces of goblins just flying around, Jalana was quite suprised when Grash materialised directly in front of her with a surprised look on his face she had no time to stop her swing already aimed in that direction. Luckily Grash was quite dextrous and managed to duck just in time.

“Haha! Good to see you again Girl!” he yelled, as he took out his weapons, eagerly looking around for a fight. Seeing most of the enemies surrounding them dead or dying, he decided to leapt and run as fast as he could to the surrounding hill, which at that time was covered with a veritable army of goblins. As Grash was making his way to the top, Jalana and Baer just looked at each other and shrugged. “You damned fool!” yelled Baer.

As Grash clambered his way to the top, the night was truely set and a light wind was picking up from the west. He reached the top and looked out, seeing the army of the beasts, smiliing he took from his belt the DragunShip and a small bag, full of noxious powder. Throwing both of them towards the army, who was as surprised as they all were to see Grash standing there, he yelled the command word for the Ship “MELON!” and as it expanded into the giant galley he launched the bag of powder at the closest ranks, which caused a large inconvenience to them all, as they could not breathe and started to die then and there.

As Grash stood with his weapons out smiling from scaley cheek to scaley cheek, the goblins in the front row took aim at him and fired, all 34 of them, at once. As Grash the now porcupine looking hero, tumbled backwards, he almost came completely down the side of the hill, a fair drop even for him, but luckily Jalana was there waiting, who, in her Panther form, snapped him up in her jaws and threw her body backwards off the cliff, cushioning her fall with her body.

As this was happening, Bear was skirting the sides of the battle, assesing the size of the host and looking for weak points. Coming to the realisation that a gorup of Goblins this size was more then likely not going to be tricked or hindered, he ran as fast as he could back to Jalana and the plumetting Grash, hoping against all hope that they both weren’t dead from the fall.

As he got there he noticed that Jalana, through her wounds, had reverted back to her human form, and Grash was coughing up a large amount of blood, still with a smile on his face.

“You damn fool! You could have gotten her killed!” he yelled, as he grabbed them and dragged them into the nearby hut. Jalana got to her feet, a bit shakey but still in the fight.

“Damn those beasts!” she yelled and heroically climbed onto the top of the hut, brandishing her swords and calling to the powers of nature to help them. As vines and snagging roots took a few of the approaching goblins from the walls that they were clambering down, the rest of the goblin band opened fire and peppered her with arrows, she took one step backwards and then fell straight back, landing in the dirt at the front of the hut.

“You damn fool!” yelled Baer, knowing that it was utterly pointless, and running out to again drag her into the flimsy safeness of the hut. As he administered aid to them both her could hear the goblins getting closer. He barely got them on their feet when the time came to run. And run they did.

Fleeing down the passages of the village they came to realise that they could not escape with their injuries and hiding, as impossible as it seemed, was their only chance to survive a while longer. They chose one at random and Baer, having half carried him the way, lay Grash down in the far corner of the room and took out the Giant Slayer, his trusted long sword and took guard at the door. With Jalana by his side they could probably hold out a few more moments, at most.

“Well, it’s been fun, anyway” muttered Baer, baring his teeth and growling at the enemy.

Grash in his agony of death, was laughing in the corner, muttering things under his breath about a woman and saving him.

Jalana, looked at the two men who accompanied her in the broken forsaken room they had taken for cover, and considered her own death. For all their fool hardy actions, bravery and naivety that had brought them to this bloody end, she was actually glad for their company, and she regretted it would end so soon. She looked at the man standing beside her with a fierce spirit in her eyes “I’ve lived my whole life living with my enemies, I’d be honoured to die beside my friends.”

Baer looked back at her, realising there was much more to this one than he first thought. He couldn’t resist a smile which grew into a rambunctious laugh, looked back at the lizard man in delirious death throes and the young druid next to him, and he knew that this was not a bad way to go.

Jalana, standing in the doorway, faced the ongoing hoard with the power of Melora in her heart and commanded the back grey clouds above them to unleash sheets of ice on the goblins, causing much carnage.

Baer was inspired. “Let’s show them what we’re made of!” he yelled and he raised his sword above his head and was about to sprint out to meet them head on when a sudden and furious wall of white and grey swept past them, seeming like the ocean itself had risen and a giant wall had come crashign around them, the noise of steel and flesh and horses filled their ears and the smell of blood and dying goblins filled their noses.

They realised that some massive force of cavalry had come crashing around them, killing with wanton abandonment.

As Baer lowered his sword and Jalana hers, they saw the cavalry being joined by soldiers on foot. Once of which poked his head into the hut, surprised to see them but not on his guard, “Are you safe? Are there any more of you?”

All they could do was shake their heads. “Well send a priest for that one, you two wait here, Lord Arryn will be wanting to see you all.” and with that he was gone to join the others in the killing of the Host of Blaghur, the second largest Goblin warband in the area.

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Chapter Thirteen
A short change of scenery

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15 Chaitra; 2280 ER

The candles are burning less bright at this hour but the conversation is not. The cups of wine and tankards of mead have been replaced countless times, but as the business at hand is of importance, water has been added, to Bears dismay.

“I say again, mo’sharah, we cannot hope to assist with the taxes in the outer regions, we cannot spare the soldiers to guard the tax caravans. We need to reinforce the critical supply lines for the greater city area, they villages on the outer rim will need to fend for themselves for some time.”

“This is not good enough, we cannot increase our garrison without monies to pay them, where will we get the gold to pay the soldiers to guard the supply lines? We need the outer villages more than they need us right now. They’ve survived for centuries by themselves, but this city needs manpower.”

“We have already sent emissaries to the northern Gnomad Tribes and to the Seven Cities, they will be more than happy to open trade again now that the Great Tyrant is dead. Our gold will be there once we need to start paying the troops, until then they will need to make certain sacrifices, I’m sure they will understand”

The conversation continued for some time in a similar fashion. Discussions of national security, expected amounts of grain, predicted inundations of rivers etc. Baer spoke at length with some people about the surrounding areas and what the rebels were doing. Grash was, somewhat predictably, not partaking of the discussions. Neither was Marjora at this time.

The conversation dwindled towards the morning, Baer decided to make his way to the ante-chamber and take a nap. Jalana had had a few drinks and had fallen asleep at the table of discussions, political bickering had never interested her. Grash was still, predictably, nowhere to be seen. As the twin suns made their way above the jagged horizon in the east towards the sky proper the nobles, generals and entrusted servants left the room in small groups. Still squabbling about minor issues and pressing urgent matters.

“Rise and shine, Jalana!”, Baer said as he entered the room mid morning with a plate of meats and fruit and a jug of coffee. “We’ve much to do and the day is getting away from us!” Baer placed the platter in front of Jalana as she groaned and lifted her head from the table. A piece of parchment containing figures of fig plantations still stuck to her face. She turned to look out the window, the parchment fluttering back to the table, "What hour is it? " she asked, fixing her hair back with a chord of help and eyeing the food hungrily.

“Well past early” laughed Baer.
“What does it matter anyway? What issues concern us, the heroes of Dharma?” She asked between bites of dried fish and fruit. “There are no duties that need or attention, no folk to be saved.” She took a large sip of the coffee. “Where will Baer go? Back to your wilds that your…old master is…gone.”
Bear knew she spoke of Leo, the recently departed ruler of Dharma. “He was no master of mine… he was my friend.” Baer replied in even tones, “and to be honest, I don’t know where I will go now that I am no longer bound to this place.”

There a knock on the door, and a messenger came in, bowing profusely and standing apologies. “My apologies, but I have a message for Mr, I mean sir, I mean, I have a message for Grash.” And looked about, expecting him to be there.
“He is not here, but we can pass it on, what is it?” Asked Jalana, annoyed at being interrupted. The man took out a small parchment and handed it to Jalana. He made his apologies and walked out, closing the door behind him.

After some moments, they opened the scroll and saw that it was a language they’d never seen, full of sharp points and flowing text. Beautiful as it was, neither could decipher it. “Probably one of Grash’s many enemies looking for him” muttered Jalana jokingly, although they both knew it could very well be that.

“I hear there are troubles in the west.” Said Baer, “Orcs have begun their raids early this year, and there are whispers of great discoveries made by the half-lings in the forests.”

Jalana listened and saw the glint in the mans eyes, they spoke of wilderness, excitement and most of all, adventure. “So let’s go there,then.” She replied with a mouth full of hummus. “I have little holding me to this place, besides the food.”

Baer laughed, taking a large piece of meat from the tray and ripping a generous size chunk off with his teeth. “It’s settled then! Well go soon as we have supplies and you’re packed.”

Jalana stood and rested her hands on her scimitar and readjusted the beautiful shell on the cord about her neck and smiled, “I’m ready.” And they left.

Some time later there a noise like running water and a shuffle. A side door, not easily seen if you didn’t it was there opened and out came Grash fixing his belt.
“Where’d everybody go?”

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- – - – - – -

“Sir, I couldn’t possibly take the money. After everything you have done for our city, plus, if Falca heard that I had taken the liberators’ gold she’d feed my eyes to her birds!”.

Baer looked at Jalana questioningly, “Sounds fair to me.” She shrugged and took the reigns offered to her by one one the palace stable boys. The horse was strong and Jalana could see that it had been treated well, but she memories of blood and pain in her thoughts as she stroked its neck. This house had fought in the recent battle for the city. “Rest easy friend,” she whispered “I’ll take good care of you.”

“So I expect that the journey will take four or five months on horseback, if we meet no trouble. The going will be hard, but the folk of the West Winds are friendly enough, and should they require or help, they will be glad for it.” Explained Baer as they trotted down the throughfare to the western gates of Dharma. All about them the citizens were rebuilding and organising their lives. Traders had come back to the city, not as many as there were before the tyrants rule, but it looked like it would get better. Not all the people offered friendly faces add they passed, not overtly hostile, but not welcoming either.

“You would think all should be happy to be out from under the clawed foot of the Rakshasa, but the more I learn of people the more I see the forces of balance at play. Many have lost station and wealth at his demise.” Mused Jalana as they need the gate.

They heard from the gate guard that a trade skiff was heading out to a village towards the west that very day and that the merchants would be more than happy to take them along. The two agreed as it would take nearly two months off their journey.

They loaded their horses onto the skiff and set out. The journey took a few tendays and was rather uneventful. They got to the village and with their horses they set out to the west after buying a few supplies, planning to live off the land, which both of them were used to.

After a few days they passed two men on the road who greeted them and continued on their way. A few hours later they the same men traveling, but this time without horses. They puked up their horses and stared.
“Well met travelers, how can we help?” Asked Baer as they approached him. The two men had vacant expressions on their faces and didn’t speak. When they got to Baer they suddenly attacked. Revealing themselves as a kind of shapeshifter. One of the horses was killed in the fight but they were both relatively unhurt.

They made their way on they found a group of people claiming to be from the towns to the north, saying that they were heading towards Dharma in search of work. During the night a hooded assailant attacked, brutally injuring Jalana. The assassin didn’t relent, although with the initial surprise spent the fight leaned heavily in the heroes favor. Jalana took the form of a great Baer and bear fought with abandon, wanting to slaughter the assasin. Jalana vicious though, taking out his throat before they could ask questions.
Apparently they still had enemies to consider.

They again made their way west, and on camping one night under the stars Baer had the first watch. He sat looking at the heavens he noticed a beautiful white stag in the distance that seemed to have a single horn on its head. He blinked and it was gone.

The next day as they unpacked they noticed a small figure watching them behind a rock and immediately gave chase, wary of the previous attacks. With Jalanas ability to lengthen their strides they caught to the figure just as got to the border of a small forest.

“Well, run fast you can. Well, I think I’ll leave you to it. " and disappeared into the forest, and they followed.
After a little confrontation with a dryad, the two met with the little halfling again who introduced herself Michi’in. She said she loved nearby and would love to show them her village.

View
Chapter Twelve
Tyranny Dissolved

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The night is still, the winds from the east has dropped and the stars shine brightly. The candles have been replaced several times, and the wine ran out long ago, replaced now with a sweet and strong coffee. Several groups of people stood talking in small clusters in the corner of the command tent. Some heated debates and others in quiet whispers. All going silent whenever Leo spoke to them at different intervals.

“We all know that we have a big job ahead of us, and that there is more at stake here than just our lives, there are also the lives of my people…our people that hang in the balance. Those that haven’t been born yet, those that have lived their lives in slavery.” at the mention of slavery Jalanas eyes shone. “I thank all of you, and once again, would like to offer you the chance to turn back. I know many of you have families, and I’m not sure why others of you are here, – his eyes flicking to Grash, but I thank you for your aid, and it will not be forgotten.”

There was a general hubbub of people voicing their support and acknowledging their camaraderie. “We’re with you to the end, Leo!” etc.

Leo, with his arms straight on the table, leaning against it, looked up and smiled at all of them. “Well, you’re either all as stupid as I am…or very brave.” small laughter ensued, “and again, we have a big day ahead of us tomorrow, and we’ll need our rest. I will see you all at dawn for the attack.” and with that he turned to indicate Jalana, Baer and Grash, and explained to the gathering their critical involvement.

Jalana spoke to them of the magics of the centaurs that she had learned, the screen of sand and lightning she had witnessed seemed to ring true to her, and she believed that with the help of the druids, if she could find them, she could create such a diversion.
Grash offered his assistance in leading a group of people in opening the gates when the battle started, his quick wits and stealth would come in handy.
Baer chose to spearhead the attack with the rest of the forward assault group, his skills in archery honed to perfection in order to pick off choice targets and troublemakers.
Grash offered his magical ship to Baer, knowing the the enchanted wood that had been fitted would help in attacking the main gates.

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The morning broke bright and true. The twin suns peaking above the horizons and spreading their light across the lands.
The muffled sounds of the weapons clad by the men following Grash down the tunnel would not be heard by those above when they made their way to the gates from the inside of the city. Djymmi motioned to Grash in an old thieves hand signal, showing him that he was excited about the events to come. Grash motioned back to be careful, and to have vigilance, however a smile came to his face, knowing there would be much to gain from this fight.

The wind in her face and the feathers of the bird underneath her giving some purchase for her grasp, Jalana soared through the skies, about a dozen other birds with druids mounted followed. seemingly half elven men and women, naked but for the leaves in their long flowing hair, road along side her on their winged mounts. Jalana, with the grouped power of their communion with nature spoke to the others using the wind and the glint of the sun off the sands, with no need for words. The felt the compelling need to strip the armour from her body and fly away with these folk to live with them, but the thought of the mission, and of the people she was here to save brought her back to reality.

Heeeeeeeeave he yelled at the men manning the giant skiffs. Put your backs into it, we need more speed! yelled Baer as he stood on the wooden bow, one hand on the effigy figurehead of the Dragon. He had his bow out, it’s supreme curvature as subtle and deadly as the man himself. It had been years since he’d met Leo and joined the resistance, and he wasn’t about to let his thoughts stray from the job at hand now. He signalled to his right and flags were raised, coordinating the vast navy of skiffs to the city and keeping them perfectly in line.

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Grash slips behind a barrel full of crossbow bolts and quivers of arrows used by the guards on the wall. He motions to Djymmi to come up to him, he can see the rest of the men moving to position across the gap in the wall where the giant gates are. “When we get the signal, we move up and kill the guards, we can’t let the gates close.” gestured Grash, in the subtle hand gestures of his craft. “Sure thing boss” returned Djymmi with a smile.

Grash looked out to the horizon, seeing a small plume of dust a few hundred leagues out. “Looks like a sandstorm, bit early in the season for that, isn’t it?” said one of the guards to the other. “Yeah, not unheard of though, if it gets any closer, we’ll need to close the gates. Go tell the captain to spread the word.” and with that the guard made his way to the stairwell and down.
“They’ll tell the populace to head indoors and shut the windows, might make our job a little easier” gestured Djymmi to Grash with a wink.

The apparent sand storm came closer, rolling across the desert like a thing possessed. No movement to either side and about a league across, it’s direction was unnervingly precise.

“That’s odd” said the guard, pulling his face scarf over his mouth as the first winds reached them, carrying errant grains of the stinging sand. “CLOSE THE GATES!” he yelled to the other guards near the portcullis.

“Fuck” said Grash aloud, and stood suddenly, moving forward towards the portcullis throwing daggers fro his hips as he went, the first skewering the guard the yelled the order, his second command never leaving his mouth as his lifeblood drained from his neck.

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The sands seemed alive from this perspective, the rolling, tumbling heaving mass of earth in it’s finest form, boiling across the world with the force of a landslide. Jalana swooped her giant eagle down, the other druids in line beside her, a giant V in the sky slightly ahead of the storm of sand.
be careful, brothers and sisters, the fight to come is not yours, we wish only your assistance in this distraction Jalana said to the others through the Druidic cant.

They acknowledged her message and they flew ahead, seeing the sand storm start to smash into the city walls. Knowing that the giant skiffs in the storm would need to be very precise in their routes to ensure that they sail through the open city gates without smashing against the walls like tinder.

Jalana pulled ahead of the others and aimed at a spot on the wall where she saw several men pulling hard on chains in order to close the gates.

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Baer saw far above the indistinct shapes of the birds, and one that was a little different pull ahead, with his keen eyes he knew it to be the Druid Jalana. He knew this as the signal they needed, and took out his bow, yelling words of encouragement to the others, and lit the arrow in the thick tar and raising it to the sky. Along the line of skiffs the others did the same, and when he was satisfied that they were all ready, “FIRE!” he yelled as he loosed the first arrow at the shapes on the wall.

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Grash ran past a guard that tried to call out the alarm, but the man found his voice caught as his throat was slit and Grash moved past him without pause, heading to the portcullis, intent on stopping it from closing the gates. As he ran his instinct told him to stop, and he pulled up short just in time to see an arrow fly but 3 inches from his face. He breathed out heavily and ran on towards the gates and to the lever controlling them. He grabbed at it and started to haul it back, stopping the momentum of the closing gate, but he was not strong enough alone to reverse the direction.

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Jalana swooped down, like an avenging angel, her flaming sword in her hand slashing at the man on the wall that had the daring to raise arms against her with the forces of nature at her back. The man would have died from the blow she dealt him, that’s if he survive d the fall from the wal after she struck him. The giant bird landed on unsteady legs, and Jalana tried to find off the archers and men with spears that attacked her and her mount.
Jalana battled the guards, but there were too many, she left the wall and flew to the ship at the head of the armada, and landed next to Baer, who was systematically picking off the archers on the wall from the moving skiff, his shots ringing true.

Grash saw Jalanas valiant effort and her subsequent escape, “Uuuugh, do I have to do everything myself.” as he took a runup and leapt across the walls, over the gate, and to the other side, and jammed the lever opening the other side of the gate. He saw the ship in the lead, his ship, with the great open mouthed dragon on the bow, with Jalana and Baer at the front.

As the ship came up to the gates, it was clear that it was on course, but that the gates had closed some-what. “Be careful with my baby!” he yelled as he sprinted back towards the gate, the entrance that the ship was aiming for, and leapt into the air before the ship reached the gate.
Just as the ship entered the portcullis, smashing through the gates, with bits of wood splintering and the blood of the poor few guards that remained standing at the gates spraying like the foam of the sea on the bow, Grash landed on the deck and looked up to see Baer standing right at the bow, arms raised above his head and blood spraying over him from the dying men below.
Grash smiled, thinking it a great coronation for his vessel.

The skiff crashed through the gates, smashing over carts and stalls, people and crates going everywhere. The scene was repeated at several points across the city, with Leos men pouring off the skiffs and setting up defensive perimeters before moving deeper into the city.

The heroes jumped from the skiff, fighting the shocked and unorganised city guards who put up little to no fight. When they thought the had the situation under control they heard on of their men yell the dreaded word..“GIANT!!”

They all looked up as from around the corner a giant earth giant came at them, yelling in its guttural filthy language.

Grash climbed to the rooftops and leapt towards the thing, getting the mighty Bands of Billaro ready, Baer did the same on the opposite rooftops firing off shots from his bow, distracting it whilst everyone got into place.

Grash threw the bands at the giant after it was weakened by the hail of arrows. The bands flew open waiving through the air sand spinning like a machine of legend, and then once it got tot he surprised and confused giant they suddenly contracted, it’s limbs contorted into very uncomfortable positions and it dropped the giant club that it held and fell against a wall, taking half of it with it. The group killed the thing from range, wary of its grasp.

They made their way quickly to the palace, avoiding the main battle being fought, knowing that they needed to get to the Rakshasa as soon as possible. When they got to the steps of the Palace they saw Marjara, to their surprise, healing wounded, and could see many of Leos men battling to keep the way clear for more reinforcements to arrive and bolster their efforts.

“Marjara, what are you doing here?!” asked Baer in obvious anguish, “this is no place for one such as yourself.” he berated her.

“I have as much reason to be here as you do, even more so, Baer!” she answered with no small amount of annoyance in her voice. She leant back over the wounded soldier to administer healing to him. The others noted that she carried no supplies, just a warm yellow glow coming from her hands told them that she employed magic. “Well, be careful then..” Baer replied, uncomfortable at being put in his place, and turned back to the others and towards the palace.

As they made their way up the steps, battle raging besides them, Grash noticed a ledge above them with a way in “I’ll be heading in that way, never did like using the front door” and started deftly climbing the walls, using the vines and nooks to gain purchase.

“Well, I suppose it’s up to us to knock and see who’s home, aye?” said Jalana to Baer with a sly wink. Baer nodded and they made their way to the entrance.

Grash found a window that was able to be opened, and made his way inside, climbing on the rafters in a room that seemed very dark and ominous. He climbed about until he found a door underneath him, leading to another room. He slipped down from the rafters and came to the door, looking for any traps that would impeded him, finding none. As he was about to open it he felt more than heard someone behind him in the dark.
“Look what little rat has fallen into my hold…” grated a voice behind Grash as he turned around. ’We have unfinished business, Grash."

Grash started as he saw the huge form of the white skinned Orc, the very same that he’d met on the fateful day many months ago on the ship carrying himself and Jalana to Al’Miad.

“Well, look who it is, I though I killed you and your friends on the Jack Tar” replied Grash, as he slowly reached towards his knives.

The Orc ripped a giant axe from his belt, and snarling at the Dragun-borne launched himself at Grash and the fight was on.

Meanwhile, in the palace ante-chamber, Baer and Jalana were met with a puzzle of statues, which they eventually found had switched behind them. The door opened and they looked into the room beyond, seeing a room to their left they moved towards it, but before they got there the door opened and a weary looking Grash stood there, soaked in blood up to his elbows and a large, defiled body of an Orc behind him.

They looked past Grash, shock on their faces, “Long story..” said Grash casually, as he made his way past them towards the opposite end of the corridor towards a seemingly important room.

Inside the found a giant dial, with different symbols on it, sixteen of them in fact. After some deduction they remembered that there were that many planes of existence, and Grash remembered that the symbol of the Nine Hells, where the Rakshasa was from, was the one on the bottom and promptly pressed it.

The group decided that they’d follow a small abandoned shaft leading to main palace room that Grash had seen in his fight with the Orc. Squished together in the vent, they made their way to the throne room. From what they cold see they found the portal standing behind the throne itself, upon which they presumed the Rakshasa sat upon, but could not be sure from this angle.

They climbed out of the vent, stealthily making their way closer to the throne. The portal behind the throne above with arcane magics, denoting that the entrance to the Nine Hells was open. The Rakshasa, in all his splendour, stood on the raised dais and spoke calm commands to his commanders, who left the room in a passage to the right, presumably to continue the fight, unknowing of the danger above.

The heroes heard sounds of fighting outside the door tot he room, knowing that Leos men would be hard pressed and that this fight needed to happen now. Grash sneaked about trying to find a better vantage point and the others gained better points also.

Once the first shots were fired they realised that this Rakshasa was the Sha-Khan for a reason. Mighty swipes of his claws sent them reeling, and their vantage in the rafters meant little as the demon flew up to them on the air, seeming to claw and climb the very air itself.

The doors at the front of the room burst open and the fight was brought to the king of Dharma. Leo was there, along with his commanders, looking the worse for wear, especially Leo who sported an ugly cut along his sword arm, barely deflecting killing blows. Marjara held her own, helping others with an inspiring shout and the occasional insult to the Kings men.

Jalana saw the need for haste and turned herself into the cave bear and used her mighty paws to batter at the rakshasa. Baer himself shot arrow after arrow into the coming crowd, always hitting the mark, and then decided to have a brief excursion into the Nine Hells, and valiantly jumped through the portal. Once there, he realised the horror of what he’d done, and leapt back through. The memories of that horrid place to wreck his dreams and deprive him of peace for months to come.

As the battle reached a frenzied pitch, with all parties at the end of their rope, they realised that the Sha-Khan was the only one that seemed unhurt. They did not despair, knowing that they could hold their own, but also knowing that there were no more reinforcements on the way.
Leo knew there was only on thing left to do, he leapt through the crowd, taking a few hits, possibly fatal, to his body. Making his way to the dais, and the fight between his father and the heroes he’d come to know and respect, he leapt at his father and with the remaining strength grappled him hard, pinning his arms to his side. Leo, obviously in tremendous pain growled and looked to Jalana, Grash and then Baer. Keeping his eyes on Baer and somehow being heard over the din of battle he whispered to him “Take care of my sister.” and threw himself and his father backwards through the portal, instantly destroying it and the magic keeping the portal open. The resounding boom threw them all to their feet, and they knew the day was theirs.

View
Chapter Elevan
Cult Classic

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Grash wakes up, after the eventful events of the previous night. For a brief moment he isn’t sure where he is and then remembers that they had made their way to the resistance camp. As they arrived quite late Jalana went immediately to the camps leader, Leo, the son of the current ruler of Vyāpāra.

He got out of the bunk and stretched his muscles and made his way outside. Moving the felt tarp aside he looked outside to see a ramshackle group of men and women, of mixed races, doing whatever it was people did when they weren’t fighting.
Grash left the tent and strode confidently through the camp, and whilst he was thinking about finding something to eat he heard someone cry out his name.
He turned around and instinctually caught the object that was heading towards his face.

“Thought you might want something to eat, Grash.” said Djymmi, as he walked towards him. “I hear you finished the job, knew you would mate.”

“Thanks Djymmi, I’m starving. What in the Nine Hells are you doing here?” asked Grash as he began eating the meat roll.

“Well, long story short. But there’s much to be said in occasionally doing the right thing, pro-bono if you will.” replied Djymmi.
“For some reason, I think there’s more to you helping this Leo character than the goodness of your heart. Do I need to watch my back, old friend?” asked Grash.

Djymmi laughed and took another bite of the roll he was eating, “Oh Grash, you wound me.” and he began walk away, but suddenly turned back. “But speaking of daggers in the dark, maybe you should know, Leo wants you to go and speak to Jalanas friend Ekemon. And Grash, this one’s right up your alley. We need a confession. You see” and this is where Djymmi really smiled. “He’s a traitor Grash. He’s working for the Sha-Khan.”

Grash took a bit of the roll, savouring the meat and the juices. After he finished eating it he said “Where is he?”


Clack! Clack! Clack!

Ekemon traded blows with Jalana atop a plateu about a league outside the encampment. The sweat showed on Jalanas brow, however in the burning sun and trading blows with quarterstaves, Ekemon was in his element.

Clack! Clack! Clack!

Ekemon dodged a strike from Jalana and swept low and kicked her feet out from under her and went for her head. Jalana barely parried the blow and she regained her feet, Ekemon already coming at her with a flurry of blows.

“Ekemon!” shouted Jalana between blows, “we’re just training, calm yourself!”

Ekemon didn’t reply, he just upped the ferocity of his attacks. A few blows to Jalanas legs and arms weakener her resolve and she found herself teetering on the edge of the cliff. Looking behind her she said “Ekemon, what has come over you? Cease this immediately or I shall have to-” and a sudden kick to her chest found her falling backwards off the cliff, flailing her arms for balance.

Suddenly she found a pressure on her back, like a hand pushing her back up. When she came back to her feet she saw over Ekemons shoulder to where Grash stood, with his arm outstretched and his magical hand returning to him.

“Alright, Jalana?” he said casually.

“Grash, thank you, but something is wrong with Ekemon.” she said, warily eyeing the Tiefling, who was watching Grash stride up to them and gripping his staff firmly.

“Got something to tell us, devil-man?” asked Grash, folding his arms over his chest.

Ekemon took a few steps backwards and eyed them both, looking behind himself for an escape down the cliff.

“That is too high, even for you, monk.” observed Jalana. “Tell us what is going on.”

Ekemon took a deep breath to steady himself and, realising there was no escape, and quietly said “You have no idea what is happening…you have no….you cant beat him..the Rakshasa is too powerful. He’s made pacts, pacts with beings you cannot comprehend!” his voice rising, and panic setting in.

“Well, yes. There it is, traitor then. That’s enough of a confession for me.” said Grash as he took out the Bands of Billaro.

Ekemon saw the artefact and got ready for a fight rising his fist to strike Jalana with a powerful Ki powered strike, however when his fist flew at unimaginable speeds to her face, it’s momentum was suddenly arrest by the sudden appearance of an arrow shaft appearing in it.

Ekemon paused for a brief moment then, gripping his fist, let out a curdling scream of pain. Dropping to his knees, and with blood gushing out of the fist he stared at it and at the man that sent the arrow to his fist. The man that had appeared behind them removed his sand coloured hood, the same as the rest of his camouflaged gear, and smiled.

Grash and Jalana had turned to see him, but their attention was returned to Ekemon as his screams subsided and Ekemon had turned on his knees to see a small ember falling from the sky, leaving a firely line as it fell.

“Noo……noooo I still have time!!” he yelled and screamed. The others looked at each other confused, until the ember reached the floor and a sudden gust of hot wind and the smell of sulphur poured out of the dimensional rift that had ripped through the trail of the ember. Ekemon scrabbled back on his hands and knees trying to get away. The rift opened and a gargantuan being of red skin and runes of ancient power appeared, seemingly a demon of the lower planes, it’s upper body dwarfed the heroes, and they could see that it’s full height would be over 80 feet high.

Ekemon it grated in their minds you have failed us, and the payment is due

“No! I still have time, I can defeat them!” He yelled and squealed at the demon, even as he tried to make his escape.

Ha ha ha ha ha the demons voice poured malice, and the smellf of brimstone and death poured from the rift, you failed long ago, we just wanted to watch you squirm. You’ll be coming back home now, there’s someone that wants to see you

Fear was truly set in Ekemon’s heart, and the other heroes were stunned into silence and didn’t move a muscle.

You are all playing a very dangerous game, but we do enjoy watching you struggle laughed the Demon before reaching his enormous hand through the portal and skewered Ekemon with his nails and dragged him screaming and kicking through the portal.

The heroes looked on in abject horror, frozen in place. But the…deep down…waaaaaaaay deep down in Grashe’s heart, something stirred. His ongoing need to cause others pain. Grash, fighting against the horror of the scene took a dagger from his belt and threw it at Ekemon, hitting him squarely in the heart. The trick, somehow, against all odds, worked, and Ekemons screamed stopped just before the portal closed. Leaving them standing on the cliff alone with the new comer.

“Well, that was unexpected. We thought he had a little more time.” said the man with the bow, as he hoisted the weapon onto his back and turned about to head back to the camp.

“Wait, who are you? What just happened?” asked Jalana, still shaken by the extraordinary force that had assaulted their realm moments before.

“That was a demon lord, and your friend is unfortunately unable to pay the debts that he accrued a long time ago with those of the Nine Hells.” replied the man, speaking over his shoulder, “And we have much to do.” He stopped and turned back to them. “My name is Baer and we will have time for pleasantries after we report to Leo.” and with that turned around again and made his way towards the camp.

Grash and Jalana looked at one another, shrugged, and followed.


Back at the camp the heroes stood around a table covered in maps, trinkets and goblets of wine. Leo is deep in discussion with his commanders, discussing the events of the day, the dead Tiefling and the coming battle. Marjara stood outside the tent, still visible to those inside with the tent awning open, talking with the different peoples of the camp.

“We need to attack as soon as possible, our forces are held together with hope and threats, in time they will eventually disband, back to their respective villages.” said one of the commanders, with nods of assent from all around.
Leo shook his head, “No, we are not yet strong enough. My father is still too powerful, our meagre army would crash against the walls like a sandstorm. We need to disrupt the rituals that bind his powers to this world. Our spies tell me that one of these rituals is occuring tomorrow night, and I know just the people to go in there and wreck things.” he looked away from his commanders to Jalana, leaning back on a chair cleaning her fingernails with a knife. She raised her eyes to Leo and slowly brought her hand to her forehead in a mock salute, “At your service, my lord.” she said with a smile. Leo laughed and began to explain his plan.

“So, we sneak into the city, find out where the ritual is being held, stop it, and then we escape?” clarified Jalana, whilst creeping down a secret tunnel that Leo had told them of that lead somewhere into the city.

“Sounds easy, when you put it like that.” said Grash, as he bent low under a collapsed beam and continued on down the tunnel, glowing orbs that he’d summoned lighting the way for the other two.

“This will be anything but easy.” advised Baer, quietly behind Jalana and Grash.

They eventually made their way to the end of the tunnel, finding a trapdoor leading to a room above. They heard the shuffling of boots and voices, along with the occasional tinkling of a bell. Grash climbed the rickety ladder to the trap door and slowly raised it. He saw feet and heard voices discussing prices, he looked down to the others and said “It’s a shop of some kind.” then waited until he saw and heard no more feet and then opened the trapdoor and made his way out.

The others followed Grash into the shop, and they noticed that there had been some changes, especially with all the bread about the place, but it was their shop. The one that they’d left Ahmisa in.

“What has that little runt been up to, aye?” laughed Grash, and as he said it Ahmisa came bustling out of the back room, where he seemed to be busy with something, “Didn’t you see the sign, we’re closed!..Oh my! It’s you! Jalana! Grash! And company. What are you doing here?”

The group catches up with their little buddy and find out that he’d kept getting bread, as the Tielfing Ekemon told him to do, and when he had filled the room with it, he started to sell it, and then ordered more. They congratulated him and asked if he knew of any evil rituals happening that evening. Ahmisa did know, and told them where it was happening. They all ate some bread and waited for night to fall then made their way to the part of town, in the Government district, where the ritual was taking place.

Whilst sneaking through the town they noticed a sense of quiet about and more than the average amount of guards. With Grashs’ knowledge of cities he was able to get them there unnoticed.
They made their way inside and had a few scuffles with the guards and a particularly violent rug.
What they found in the main ritual room was horrifying. A demented and putrid Beholder, seemingly imprisoned by the ones holding the ritual, was held motionless above a seemingly bottomless pit. They burst into the room, Jalanas wild magiks hitting the foes and bolstering her friends attempts, Baers arrows never failing to hit their mark and Grash, as a whisper of death, moving about ending lives as quickly as he could.

Before they could stop it, the beholder, no longer suspended by the dead mages magik, dropped into the pit and the screams of it’s dying reverberated through the city. In but moments the Beholder was back, rising slowly from the pit, now covered in death magik that offended everyones senses, especially those of Jalana, so unwholesome were the waves of undeath permeating the room. The beholders smaller eyes scanned the room and it’s main eye seemed to collapse in on itself with the power of the beam that coalesced and burst from it in a sudden emanating of dark magiks, hitting Baer fully and collapsing his will to fight. Grash was caught up with the remaining fighter and Jalana shape-shifted into a giant cave bear, better to take the fight directly to the perversion of nature that was the Zombie Beholder. The fight was dire, and Jalana was hit directly by one of the beams, wiping away her bear form with the ferocity of the attack, leaving her in her human form, shaken but not defeated.

With their combined effort, Grashs blades, Baers arrows and Jalanas magiks, they defeated the Beholder and left it for dead. As they cleaned their weapons, congratulated each other and started to make their way past the dead thing and out of the room, Grash stepped on one of the protruding eyes of the Beholder and in it’s final death spasm a streak of it’s blood shot out directly into his eye, blinding and bubbling the eye in his socket. He cried out and as they ran, Jalana healed it as best as she could, however there wasn’t much of the eye remaining to heal.

They made their way back to the bakery, and burst through the door, Jalana still guiding Grash, in a large amount of pain, and Baer coming in behind them scanning the street to ensure they weren’t followed and closed the door behind them.
They heard giggling from the back room and made their way to it. What they saw was more horrifying then the Beholder, and certainly more of a perversion to the natural order of things than anything they had seen before. Ahmisa had found him a few females and was doing monsterous things to them.

The three were laying on pillows with a smoking pipe next to them and several empty bottles of liquor. “Ah! What..you have returned, I shuppose that ye’v done well..” slurred Ahmisa, then slumped back into the pile of flesh.

They all shook their heads and wondered again why they kept this guy around. As they made their way down the trap door Baer was the last to go down, before he closed the trap door completely he made eye contact with Ahmisa, who was sprawled on the floor, barely concious but cognisant of Baers disapproving look, with a last look around and a shake of his head Baer said “Keep doing what you do best, Dwarf.” and closed the lid.

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Chapter Ten
Securing the Goods, Lizard down.

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In the thriving night of Dharma, City of Countless Embers, where unscupulous merchants sell their wares, and countless shady deals are struck every minute.

One deal in particular catches the eyes of the gods above and below. A figure waits in the shadows, the only thing visible is the cinder at the end of their pipe.

Another figure, outlined by the city lights behind, stands with his arms crossed in front of him. Neither speak for some time, both assessing the other and watching for Treachery, the main tool of their trade.

“Without sounding too cliche, do you have the book? Do you have it?” The man in the shadows asked.
Grash unfolded his arms and took a sack from behind his back. Without the man noticing he created an illusion of a black tome with indecipherable writing on the cover.
“Of course, do you have what I asked for?” Grash retorted, after showing the man the illusion.

The man stood out of the shadows and threw a bag to Grash’s feet. Grash picked it up and looked inside. After he was satisfied he brought out the real book, at the surprise of the shadowed figure, and handed it to him. “I don’t know you want with that tome, and I don’t care. Just make sure this doesn’t get back to me”.

The shadowed figure laughed and replied “Of course Grash, it will be like we never met.” The man turned about and like a shadow slipped across the rooftops, taking the tome, called Broken Light, with him.

Kneeling on the rooftop, sorting through the sack of loot, Grash looked up to where the man had disappeared. He didn’t remember telling the man his name.

Back at Leo’s Resistance base, Jalana, the Prince and several captains were in discussion about what the next step was.
“We have an army now, we need to move before the Sha-Khan strikes back.” a captain argued.
“Not yet, we have yet to put all our pieces into play.” replied Leo- “Speaking of which, Jalana, I must beg of you another favour.”
Leo looked to Jalana with a smile.
“You have to find something for me, something that was taken. Something I need in order to defeat my father.”
Jalana leaned back in her chair and put her boots on the table,
“Of course, my Prince” with a mock salute and a smile.

Back in the city of Dharma, a shadow slipped above the roof tops, moving between chimneys and outcroppings. Having sighted his prey leaving a store, his pockets full of trinkets, he needed to stretch his muscles after such an uneventful few weeks.

As the prey moved down an alley the shadow moved his fingers in a seemingly random paternity and a glint of gold appeared ahead of the prey on the ground, who promptly moved towards it and bent over to pick it up. “Greed is a useful tool…” whispered the shadow as he leapt deftly from the rooftops and skewered the prey through the neck.
After looting the corpse he began to cut the body with marks reminiscent to the marks a particular gang in the city used, hoping to muddy the trail he left.

As he was still bent over his kill and cleaning his knife, he casually looked to his left to a rather conspicuous rat, “Good to see you again Jalana.” Standing and sheathing his weapons Grash watched as the rat seemed to twist and shift until it was a tall dark woman, standing with her hands casually on her waist, a confident tilt to her stance.
“Grash, it’s been a while. What in the name of Gaia are you doing…wait…don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”

Grash chuckled, “No, you don’t.” And began to walk out of the alley onto the main street. “What brings you here, Jalana? You need something from me.”

Jalana was in step with him as they made their way down the street. Grash occasionally lifting small pieces of food of the grills of the merchants and coins from the pockets of the populace.

“I do need something from you, and shouldn’t talk here. Follow me.” Said Jalana as she turned suddenly into a quiet tavern. Made their way into the back and ordered a few drinks, all for Grash.

“So, what’s the deal Jalana, and what’s in it for me.”

Jalana explained that she’d been given a list of names, one of which would know the location of a rogue band of lizard folk that had managed to steal an item essential to Prince Leo’s plans to overthrow his father, the Sha-Khan of Dharma.

Grash took a long drink of his ale. “Well, you sure have made some interesting friends. But like I said, what’s in it for me?”

“He is powerful, Grash, and wealthy. He knows of powerful mages too. Maybe even some who can help you with your hand… heal it, maybe.”

Grash brought up his stump, and stared at it with a confused look on his face. He turned his gaze to Jalana, and suddenly a bright blue glow, suffused with fire and a hissing noise like a jet of flame, filled the room. Several heads turned to them “Heal it? Why would I want to do that?” he chuckled and the mage hand disappeared, and the onlookers slowly went back to their drinks.

“He’s rich Grash. Really rich, and if we, no, when we win this fight, he will be the Sha-Khan of Dharma, and it’s always good to have friends in high places.”

Grash liked that idea, and agreed to help.

Grash had noticed Content Not Found: null, hooded and unnoticed by others, as soon as he’d entered the room, but had said nothing to him. “I’m off to the bathroom, I’ll be back in a bit.” and as he stood, made a seemingly random motion with his hands, Thieves Cant, signalling his acknowledgement of Jimmy.

Jimmy stood and followed Grash into the back of the tavern. “How fare you, friend?” asked Jimmy to Grash. “Long time no see.”

After reminiscing, and finding out that it was Jimmy that helped the Sand Elves enter Masalan untried, he learns the location of the Lizard Folk that had stolen Leo’s loot.

They made their way outside the city to the north, a days sailing on the skiff that they stole form the silly dwarf in Masalan. Its sails unfurled and the sun in his face, Grash was at peace. They got to the temple of the lizard king, a nomad who was squatting in the old unused temple.

After battling their way through several rooms, with alternating dangers, they defeated the lizard king and queen and took them hostage. The item turned out to be the Bands of Bilarro, a powerful artifact cable of holding even the strongest of opponents in check.

Grash hefted The Bands, and thought to himself that it was certainly a good idea to come along.

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Chapter Nine
Resistance against Tyrrany

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Leaving the cave behind, they make their way out to where they left the broken down skiff.
Marcello backup forces arrive, but lo-and-behold it’s Jalana! She had been working under cover with Marcellos men, undermining the attempt to steal away Leo’s sister, and she’d brought them a fresh sand skiff to make their getaway in.

They make their way to the resistance base and get comfy and talk shop for a while but during the early hours of the morning they are attacked by centaurs. The base was surrounded in a swirling maelstrom of sand and lighting, cast by the centaur shamans.
After fending them off they realise this is a common occurrence and not a deliberate attack. There were a few losses on both sides but the centaurs gave up after realising that they were not going to win the fight.

The next morning Leo advises that he needs to go to a nearby village bring it to compliance. One of the last in the nearby area, bringing most of the needed villages to his side. The adventurers decide that they will go along, to witness the compliance. Everything goes well and they enjoy a delicious meal with the town leader after he voices his determination to join Leo’s side.

Until they’re attacked! Treachery! The leader of the village was under the employ of the Rakshasa and never intended to comply to Leo’s rule.

The last of the villagers were brought out by the Rakshasa, but Jalanas scimitar separated the leaders head from his shoulders and Ekemon’s warning of wrath scared rest of them straight.

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