The Third Moon of Cré

Chapter 27
A pillar of strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 26
A leader lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 25
An Old Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They battled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank you

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

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

“Michi’Ini” whispered Grash.

Grash…I want to go home…

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

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

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Chapter 2 4
...flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

They learn a few things;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 23
Ebb...

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“Get me some coconut water!”

Wyne yelled as he made his way to the mess in the the throne room, where the command centre for rebuilding the city had been setup. Several mages were working on the throne, now released from their former Paladin master, they were free to study it.
As Wyne sat at the breakfast table with the group and began to feed himself boiled eggs and a few cuts of ham, he drank his coconut water and felt sorry for himself.

Hemmit gets up from the breakfast table to go and have a look at the throne and what the mages are doing to it, he’d never seen a chair so ornate, and never one giving off such an arcane aura.

Jalana, finished with her meal, got up to join him. Whistling and kicking at debirs on the floor from the fight the night before.

They’d never seen it so close, noticing that the throne was made of a hard wood, infused with sapphire, almost running through the wood like water through cracks in the floor.

As Jalana got near to it, she notices a sense of pervasive magic about it..a kind of unnaturalness. A mage was performing a complicated magical spell that seems very complicated to her, with much hand waving and incantations and concentrating. She tried to ask him some questions, but he chided her, telling her to stick to her herbs and dirt.
She punched him, hard, in the ribs.

The spell hovers in the air for a moment, like a burning wheel of flame, multiple runes moving about seemingly random. Jalana, always inquisitive, puts her hand through it.
As she does so she sees, almost in slow motion, tiny flames begin to lick out of the broken spell and, just before it explodes, she remembers a story her grammy told her.

Look, little one, see the serpents in the waters, see how they coil, like flames in the fire

Jalana was in her grandmothers lap in the family boat, looking into the ocean waters at the sea snakes lurking just below the surface

See girl, they are fast, but you can be faster

The old woman put her hand above the waters, and just as one of the snakes rose to biter her hand she pulled it back, faster than the eye could see. Jalana stared at the snakes and hoped she could be that fast one day

Jalana grabbed Hemmit and jumped backwards, flinging her body backwards and towards the floor as the magical Rune exploded fire about the room, conflagration engulfing several of the mages and singing Hemmit’s cleric robes. The mages died in pain on the floor beneath the throne.

“Foolish child!” yelled Lil-lac, as he pushed forwards past Wyne, who stood transfixed, staring at the throne and a redness that spilled from marble beneath it creeping upwards, the smell of copper filling his nostrils.

OUT! came a booming voice from Lilac, magically amplified, which all guards obeyed.

The adventurers stood transfixed.-
All except Jalana, who ran for the nearest exit, like a cat that had upturned a bowl of water and fled the room. -
The throne seemed to shudder and glow, the blue of the sapphire turning a blood red from the ground up. As soon as he deemed he was close enough Lil-lac cast his hands ahead of him and a boom echoed across the throne room. Chanting words from another world spilled from his lips and a weight engulfed the man, seeming to darken the room.

They all witnessed time itself begin to slow down for everything within a few yards of the throne. So slow that a butterfly that was passing by could move it’s wings once a minute.

Wyne came up to Lilac and, still looking at the throne asked him what was happening. Li-lac explained that the throne seemed to be connected to something within the castle, in the crypts beneath, he could feel the power coursing up through the ground.

Wyne turned to the others, they had gotten up from the breakfast table, weapons ready and alert (besides Grash, who remained seated, and Jalana who who just poked her head back into the room, looking sheepish). He explained to them Arryn had never let them inside the catacombs before, it had been forbidden. Wyne advised how Arryn seemed to hide death from them, protect them from it. Wyne explained that Paladins should never fear it, but should understand it, accept that it is of the natural order of things.

Wyne, through the help of Li-Lac, explained to them that they needed to investigate the source of the power, whatever was causing such corruption of the throne, but that they had mere hours to do so before the time-stopping spell ran out of juice. After some further discussion, The group decided that they should be the ones to go down there.

They followed Wyne into the lower reached of the castle, as Jalana tentatively made her way back into the room and followed them, leaving Lil-ac behind to buy them as much time as they could.

They passed the armoury from the night before where Hemmit was allowed to take his pick. The group stopped in front of the door and ask Wyne if they can have some cool things from inside.
“Don’t be preposterous, you aren’t beggars looking for scraps right now! We have important business to take care of, come on!” and kept going down the stairs.
They discussed that they’d like to steal some items from the vault anyway, as they felt like they were entitled to it. After deciding to do so, Grash kicked the door but surprisingly it didn’t open.

Hemmit suggests that they use his Helmet of Teleportation. They all enter the vault, besides Jalana who stays guard outside, and grab as much as they can before twin gargoyle statues begin firing beams of energy at them. Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to survive much longer they teleport out but end up outside the bailey and in the streets.

Jalana advises Wyne, as he’s coming back up the stairs wondering what the hold up is, that the group had gone into the room to take some things against his best advice. He is incredulous, and upset at the news as there was important business to attend to.
Jalana is confounded as to why he is upset and gets upset at him.
As they are arguing, the group is walking down the stairs seemingly fine, and Wyne asks Jalana why she said that they were in the treasure room, she says that she never said that. They continue.

They get to the bottom of the stairs after a few minutes and Wyne turns to them.
“I cannot go any further, I have sworn an Oath to one day become a Paladin, and cannot enter the catacombs with you.” he advises all of a sudden.

The group is upset at this and consider forcing him to go in. They think about it for a while, whilst Wyne stands in disbelief, then reconsider. They don’t need him anyway.

“Good luck to you, and may the light show you the way.” he says, and unlocks and opens the large wood and steel doors, apparently fixed with some kinda of glowing magic aura.

The group stand there looking down a stone hallway, none of them can see very far at this point, but all there is is stone and darkness.

Grash shrugs and steps past the threshold and is immediately hit by a dart in the neck. He stands stunned with one foot in the door and Jalana takes the dart out of his neck.

“Yes, be careful of traps, my experienced adventurers” mumbles Wyne as he folds his arms across his chest.

They group, more warily, make their way into the dungeon.

They make their way down several corridors until they enter the main room in the catacombs. A statue ahead of them is basked in magical light from Grash’s dancing lights.

Hemmit comes forward, looking at the statue, and even though it is quite tall, notices that the statue is standing on a plinth and that it is of the Halfling Godess Yondalla, one of the godesses of the Halfling Race. He goes to the statue and begins to study it, wondering why it would in such a place.

As some are studying, and some are debating whether wrapped up skeletons are mummies, or whether they require flesh to be named so, VuVu walks up to the statue and notices that there is an inscription in the common tongue.
“_Death is unyielding, Death comes for thee. Grasp with both hands, and bend at the knee._” She whispers to herself.

“What did you say?” asks Hemmit, who was taking charcoal rubs of some of the runes on the statue.

“I said, Death is unyielding, Death comes for thee. Grasp with both hands, and bend at the knee.” she replied, much louder.

As she finished speaking, the hairs on the back of her neck rose and her blood quickened, noticing a spell when she heard one. “Uuugh, not again…” she mumbled.

“Um, this ones moving” said Jalana, backing away from the bones wrapped in cloth, as it lazily got out of it’s resting place.

As the group realised that they were now being surrounded by Mummies and Skeletons, they backed together towards the statue of Yondalla. Hemmit took out his Holy Pencil and a burst of light shone from it, immolating the nearest skeletons and turning their bones to ash. The Mummies were unaffected.

“Quick! Someone do something!” yelled Jalana as she tried to grab the candle out of the statues hands, but it didn’t budge. “Did you say something about kneeling?” she yelled at VuVu.

“Yeah! Grasp with both hands, and bend at the knee.” Vuvu replied, as she loosed a quick bolt at the nearest Mummy.

Jalana kneeled down in front of the statue, out of the corner of her eye she could see Grash slipping into the shadows, and tried to reach up to take the candle. She realised that kneeling she couldn’t reach the candle, it was too high.

“Damn it! It’s impossible!” she said, readying her weapons and facing outwards.

VuVu thought about the riddles complex components and realised what the had to do.

“Grab with both hands and then kneel!” she said as she did so.

The candle slipped from the statues hands and for a second felt like a normal candle, then after a moment became impossibly heavy and a light began to hum from it, and VuVu felt the darkness around them all retreat a little.

I will always protect you a faint voice was heard in the room, to who it was directed was not apparent.

As Vuvu stood and looked at the fight around her she saw Grash pour from the darkness and strike a mighty wound to one of the Mummies, but it did not fall. As Jalana cut pieces from their bodies with Wax and Wane Hemmit’s holy fire reached them and burnt their unholiness from their rotten bodies and Grash struck from the shadows, never in the same place twice.

“They keep coming! We have to move!” yelled Hemmit, blasting more and more of the monsters as they rose from their graves.

Vuvu began to walk, and realised with a pang of fear that she could only carry the candle with great effort, and was walking very slowly. The others realised that the light of the candle was keeping the darkness, and the screaming noises, away from them. They began to shield Vuvu as they made their way across the room to the other side, more of the undead poured from their holes, bent on destroying the interlopers.

As they reached the end, Vuvu couldn’t carry it any further, the weight was just too much on her body, and she could feel the candles weight even in her spirit. By this point Jalana had become a wolf, tearing at the undead from just inside the candles light so as to not be consumed by the darkness.

“Jalana wolf-thing! I don’t know if you can hear me but- CATCH!” and Vuvu threw the candle.

Grash leapt again from a dark corner and slashed at a Mummy, beheading it whilst smiling. Hemmit stood, his holy symbol in one hand and his mace in the other, fending off multiple undead and wolf-Jalana’s ears perked up as the candle, end-over-end was flung towards her. She backed up watching it fly through the air, backed up so she was against the furthest wall from where they entered, and jumped into the air, catching the candle in her mouth, singeing not a single hair on her head, for the fire did not burn her.

All of a sudden the room shifted, the half where they entered remained, however the other half shimmered and shifted, seeming to melt away and all that remained were plants, vines, tree trunks, leaves and undergrowth. The smell of wood and moss and life assaulted them. As this happened the undead in the room seemed to wither, melting back into the corpses that they were, losing the power that animated them.

“What…what’s happening?” Vuvu exclaimed as she looked around at the dying and the dead.

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, he doesn’t look too happy about it.” laughed Grash, pointing his sword towards a child pinned to a trunk of a tree, the sharp branch, covered in symbols, piercing through his chest.

They all looked where he pointed, towards the shimmering area of green. They saw the person, a Halfling, seemingly concious, looking at them. They went closer, still on guard and wary of any tricks.

“By the gods, it’s….Arryn.” stated Jalana, as she went closer to him. “What is he-”

The Halflings eyes shot open, and in a voice thick with a melodic-yet-harsh accent, “Please…you have to listen. I am Arryn, champion of my people, sent here to find the darkness that escaped our lands, I-” his eyes went distant, seemingly confused- “- I’ve been here a long time…I think…I need you to take my heart back to my people. I came from Datura, a land in the West, they sent me here…Where? Where is here? Please!” – he became more animated now – “Please take the Dark Heart of the Forest back to my people, they will need to send another champion to kill the Demon That Changes, I have..failed…”

As he spoke the group stood transfixed, noticing that the tree that he was pinned to had a red gem-like structure to it, that the roots seemed to be taking minerals from the ground and adding it to it’s physiology. The roots from the tree were traversing the shimmering barrier and making it’s way up through the catacombs walls into the ceiling, possibly beyond.

“Happy to oblige”

The group was surprised by Jalanas comment, and a little more surprised when she stepped forward, through the shimmering barrier, and struck her knife into the Halflings chest, sawing and cutting with precision until the hole in his chest was open enough to take out the heart. Just before she did so, he looked her in the eyes, Jalana knew the pain must be unbearable, and whispered “..thank you…”. She ripped out his heart, and he died.

As the group stood in stunned silence, Jalana walked back to them, blood soaking her arms up to her elbow, and regarded the heart. She looked at it, dark and still beating, an aura of something about it she did not understand, but wanted to. As she went to take a bite from it she suddenly caught herself and took it away from her mouth.
The others still stood watching, all with shocked expressions, besides Grash, who smiled.

“We should….go” said Hemmit, and he turned back to the stairs. The others followed him out and up the stairs, back to the world above.

They got back to the throne room, where Li-Lac was unconscious on the floor, blood coming from his ears and eyes. Several priests attended him and Wyne assured them that he would survive, but the effort took a great toll on his mind.

The throne was still standing, albeit a little more red in the stones than before, and the mages that were killed in the fiery blast had been removed from view.

As they made their way outside, they see a large group of towns people about the bailey, half of them looking to see what the commotion was inside the keep, and the other half looking to the sky. The group stand on the steps with the huge open keep doors behind them, their wounds apparent, looking to the crowd then to the skies.

The fiery comets had gone but in their place a giant celestial body had taken it’s place, seeming the size of a gold coin held up to the sky, it did not burn like the Twin Suns, but was just….there…hanging in the sky. Like a giant rock.

Even with such a spectacle some of the town folk were yelling, asking the guards what ‘the Dragunship ones’ had done, what evil had they unleashed upon the world, that they were the ones to make the ‘thing’ appear in the sky but moments ago. There was fear in their eyes, but also anger.

A new age has begun! A time of peace and prosperity! yells one town crier

The end times are here! Doom awaits us all! yells another

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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.

= – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – = -

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.

= – = – = – = – = – = – = – = – =

“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 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.”

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“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?”

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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?”

- – - – - – -

- – - – - – -

“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.

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