The Third Moon of Cré

Chapter 28
Out of the Frying Pan...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 27
A pillar of strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 26
A leader lost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 25
An Old Friend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They battled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

thank you

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

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

“Michi’Ini” whispered Grash.

Grash…I want to go home…

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

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

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Chapter 2 4
...flow

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Standing on the steps of the Bailey looking down at the town folk the group see that some of the townsfolk are listening to the soothsayers and town criers but mostly they mill about in groups, speaking in hushed tones and looking at the adventurers. They approach one of the criers who is standing atop a soapbox. Jalana asks the man if she can say a few words and they see that he is obviously insane. He garbles some nonsense and then falls off the soapbox. A blacksmith who was fixing the front sign of his shop sees them, stops, and approaches them.

‘Be careful with that box, it’s mine’ tells them, and goes back to mending his own business.

The group discuss amongst themselves who should be the one to deliver the news to the people of Corundum. Who amongst them has the eloquence and empathy required to properly explain the complicated turn of events that arose from their actions. They decide that Jalana is the best option.

Climbing defty onto the soap box, with it’s previous occupant still raving in the mud beside her, Jalana cries to the people, with raised arms covered in blood.

‘Peasants! Harken to me! We killed Arryn and took his heart from his chest and will be taking it to the Halflings in the forest of Datura!’

Unsurprisingly, quite a few people in the crowd start arming themselves. The blacksmith behind them picks up his smiting hammer and many of the traders about feel the rise of simmering violence. Jalana, happy with her pronouncement steps down from the makeshift pulpit and looks to Vuvu, ‘Well that wasn’t so bad, was it?’

Many women and children are rushed away as a large contingent of guards rush to them, pulling Jalana off to the side and asking her what in the blazes she was talking about. The guards convince the adventurers to come with them, to see Wyne immediately.

They are lead back to the keep, to Wyne, who is speaking with many town officials. As they enter he looks up from some papers on his desk that he was discussing with a nobleman, ‘Ah, the heroes are here. Please excuse me, I must attend to them.’

The nobleman exits Wyne’s company with an irritated bow and the guard accompanying them explains to Wyne what occurred outside. Wyne is not happy, but he’s not surprised either. ‘Please, for the love of all that is right in the world, leave all public relations to me from now on, would you?’ he implored them. They didn’t take kindly to his accusations that they couldn’t woo the crowds as well as him, and a few insults were traded, however they agreed. ‘Now, tell me everything that happened down there.’ he continued.

They agree, and tell him everything that happened in the tomb downstairs. He is upset that they were all deceived by the demon masquerading as Arryn, but as a stoic man of resolve, he didn’t let it get in his way. He advises that he has many of his people inspecting the portal down there, and a few have gone missing. Wyne explicitly forbids them to go anywhere near the strange happenings in the dungeon.
The group then asks for and is given full access to the library of Corundum to better understand the history of the Throne and why this is occurring, with Vuvu convincing him that they could at least help with research. What harm could a few books do?

They learn a few things; firstly of the Prophecy of Second Spark. This speaks of a time where the world will be changed so thoroughly in order to instigate the return of an ancient and malevolent power that will consume the world.

Secondly, 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. Then one day their entire civilisation fell.
Some say they went too far with their magic, and they let loose some darkness hidden below their great temples. Since then the paladins of the realm patrol the area and keep whatever darkness there is Datura at bay.
Obviously, one got out. If more were to escape, who knows what would happen?

They then make their way from the library to the infirmary to see how Li-Lac was doing. They find him asleep in the same bad that Grash was put in. They leave him be, he looked like he needed some rest.

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 21
Vengence Delivered and an Unwelcome Guest

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A storm is brewing in the North.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Grash, the balance needs to be restored.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND THIS IS FOR MY DAUGHTER!’

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

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

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

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

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

’He comes…our _father_" rumbled Geryon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 19
Into the Nest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

you have no idea what you’ve done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- – - – - – - – - – - -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait a minute”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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