The Third Moon of Cré

Chapter 39
Old Rivalry and Deep Thrusts

Ahmisa was whisked away by Jimmy and several members of the Kage-Suna and the inferno of the tea shop had spread to several other buildings. The group was considering following Ahmisa to make sure he was okay but from around the corner came several guards yelling and running.

“Cease and assist!” one of them called.

Their guilty conscience made them brace for a fight, but when the guards repeated their request for assistance the group hesitantly followed. The guards were doing their best to fight the fires whilst being battered by the sand storm. The guards were commanding people away from the buildings. Jalana grabbed a few buckets and sneakily filled them with water using her magic. The guards, when they say the group using the buckets of water to put out the fire called out to them and told them not to waste water like that. Jalana went ahead and used the water anyway.

Vuvu thinking that smothering the flames and starving them of oxygen would be helpful sent a stinking cloud of magic into one of the buildings. This didn’t work but did ensure that everyone’s job became a little more difficult.

As they got the flames under control Baer and Grash decided to go into one of the buildings that wasn’t too damaged and have a look around. They found no people, thankfully they had made it out, but did find a few soot covered gold pieces.

As the group was standing around and receiving congratulations from the residents one of the guards approached the group. “Hey, you’re Dragunship Suddenly, right? Funny seeing you guys here, thanks for the help. You probably don’t remember me but I was there during the rebellion, I was in the throne room when Leo fell. We fought hard that day, and it was an honour to fight by your side.”

“I remember you,” began Baer “You took a spear to the chest towards the end, how did you survive such a wound?”

The man was surprised that Baer remembered, “You have a sharp memory, lord. I remember the wound and woke up hours later on a pallet. My men said that our illustrious lady Marjora was making her way around the throne-room healing those with grievous wounds after the battle. If it weren’t for her I would surely have perished.”

From around the front of the shop came a voice, calling to them. Rama and his men were coming to collect them. “Friends!” Rama called, “We must make our way back to the Palace before we are swept away in this storm!”

The group thought it best to follow along, and after a tough walk through the city they got back to the palace in one piece. As they got inside they shook most of the sand off themselves in the antechamber then made their way inside the palace proper.

Rama is approached by a guard and they converse for a moment. Rama then turns to the group and advises that Marjora will see them that evening, at the council.

The group retire to their rooms and get ready for the council.

As they make their way to the council rooms, having been aquinted with the place several times now, the guard stops them and asks “Where is she?” and the group pauses.

The guards looks at them funny, “Your cat, where is it?”.

“Oh!” says Vuvu, “My pussy won’t be in attendance this evening.” and brushed past the blushing guard.

As they entered there people milling about and speaking with one another. Some old faces and some new. When they got to the middle of the room a guard behind them cleared his throat and called to the room "Please, I am proud to introduce heroes of the realm, the right hand of the Empress, the glorified – "

As the list went on Baer began to puff out his chest and hike his pants, Vuvu positively glowed with the admiration. As they did a guard came up to them, “Please could you move to the side a little?”

“What the-” replied Grash.

" – The illustrious Ishka Baha, the Fire Walkers!"

With a polite round of applause a group entered the room, a group that they had last seen in Corundum. A team of well polished and obviously wealthy people of different races entered the room to take their seats at the table.

Dragunship Suddenly took their places at the opposite side of the giant round table.

At the council the merchant lords and war mongers discuss the dangers of the sandstorm and how it will cause even more devastation among the populace.

“Our scouts say that the Sand Elves are the only ones that are able to traverse the storm without extreme difficulty.” says the Minister for War.

“The gardens under the city that make a lot of the food have run out of supplies and the outlying farms will run out of water and even if they had water, they cannot transport food to the city. Someone needs to help them. Dharma will begin to starve after some time.” the Minister for Agriculture advises.

“The people of Dharma blame the elves for these calamities, and the anti-Elf sentiments are becoming higher.” advises the Minister of Information, which turned out to be Rama.

The council speaks of the Sapphire Weed, their stores are running low, but they will use what they have to bend the minds of the far-seers to try to find the remaining stores. They found some in a warehouse on a river on the way to the West, but their mages have picked up a scent, and will continue their meditations.

As the evening wraps up and many of the lower lords and ladies leave, there remains Marjora, Rama, Dragunship Suddenly and The Fire Walkers.

The apparent leader of the group approached them and looked Grash up and down. Well well well, if it isn’t the boogeyman himself. I heard what you did for Marjora after we took the city." the man called Finn said, then leaned in conspiratorily, “Grizzly work” and fained a pained wince.

After some brief introductions to the others that hadn’t met them before Marjora approached them and explained that she needed a favour. As she did so Shun cast a minor spell of spider climbing and crawled along the walls to take his place above the main doors mantle. Marjora, and the rest of the group watched him as he did so.

“Please, continue.” Said Shun with his characteristic levity.

“Well…yes…There is a disturbance outside the city,” began Marjora “One of our closer townships has gone silent and I need to find out what the problem is. Also, a little closer to home, there is a problem with water-bearers going missing in the lower levels of the city well. We rely on that source of slowly diminishing water to feed the city’s thirst.” explained Marjora.

“We’ll find out what’s going on with the water-bearers, I prefer working in the city. These fools can go out into the desert and get sand in their boots.” said Grash, nodding absently towards the Fire Walkers.

Finn gave a big laugh and then folded his arms, “Dragunship suddenly taking the easy job? Would never have thought of it.” he laughed again and bowed to Marjora, his team following suit. “It will be done, Empress.” The Fire Walkers made their exit.

As the group made their way under Shun hanging from the wall above the door, the wizard of the group looked up to Shun, “Still as weird as ever, aye old friend?”

Shun dropped down in front of the man, looking him up and down. The man hadn’t aged much in the 2 hundred years or so since last he’d seen him in the academy of the Twin Cities. “Why do you follow these starchy and preened sycophants around? You should come with us instead and leave them -”
The other wizard, realising that Shun was trying to enchant him and imprison his will immediately plugged his ears and hummed to himself, following his friends out.

At last, it was only Dragunship Suddenly and Marjora, with Rama having left through one of the rear doors.

“Marjora, we..uh, have some good news.” began Vuvu, “When we were travelling we found a small pile of bags and in the bags were some different things, and we just got around to looking in them and I think we…well..have your Sapphire Weed.”

Marjora looked at Vuvu with a stunned expression, then her face shifted almost to something she could consider to be hostile the back to friendly.

“Friends! This is good news indeed. How much of it do you have? This is going to make my mages very happy indeed. This is cause for celebration.” Marjora clasped her hands and smiled broadly.

“Well, it’s a fair bit. I think maybe several dozen pounds of it.” said Baer humbly.

Marjora looked shocked again, “Well this is glorious, where is it kept, I will have my people collect it immediately and we -”

“One second.” interrupted Vuvu, “we have a few requests before we hand over the plant.”

Marjora looked even more stunned than before, “You have demands for me?”

“Not demands,” clarified Vuvu, “we would like an assurance that we will still be involved in the cultivation of this powerful and expensive ’erb, also we would like -”

Marjora interrupted after unclasping her hands and lowering her head slightly, looking at the ground “You hold my possessions hostage and demand of me assurances that you will still profit from my stolen property?”

“Marjora, that is not what we mean, it’s just that -” began Baer, trying to quell some of the tension in the room.

“No.” Marjora raised her face back to the group and her eyes seemed to darken, “I will not be dictated to by the likes of you to bargain for the release of my property. I am the Empress of the Burning Sands and Twin to the Second Spark. I command the legions of Vyapara and have command of heroes beyond counting. I demand the immediate handover of the Sapphire Weed and will not negotiate.”

The room was silent.

A heavy darkness about Marjora seemed to lift and she came back to herself as a half dozen Paladins of the Sapphire Throne entered the room from one of the rear doors with Rama in tow.

“Now, hand it over.” Marjora commanded, pointing at the table.

Grash reached into the bag of holding and began pouring the entirety of the sapphire weed
onto the table.

Marjora nodded and left the room with the doors closing behind her.

“There is is, all of it. We will go now.” growled Grash.

Rama smiled at him, “I am sorry, but we cannot take your word for it. The Paladins have ways to ensure that you aren’t lying. It will only take a moment and then I will come back and ensure that you are left alone.” Rama nodded at them and went to the rear doors. They could hear a locking noise behind him. They seemed to be locked in the room with the Paladins and the herb.

Two of the Paladins went to the table, their heavy spears strapped to their backs. One reached into a pouch at their side and pulled out a small alembic and burning apparatus.

The other motioned towards the table and the group, not too worried took their places at the table near the alembic. A Paladin put some of the weed onto the burner and after some time the room filled with smoke. They all dropped into their own divination soaked dreams, except the Paladins, who stood staring malevolently at them through their helmets.

A small writhing worm, they are all small writhing worms. They see the mother speaking to the brood. She is speaking to the children in a demonic tongue, someone comes into the room and disrupts her, Grash whilst this is happening, finds and eats one of the other lizards. The intruder comes and looks at the brood with a smile on their face and pulsating sickly green magic coming from their hands. The mother says to the intruder, with deference “They will sow discord amongst the land, they will pave the way, they are yours.” The intruder smiles, and his dark green face and large tusks break out in a smile. “Perfect”
The magic pours over the brood and they writhe into even higher levels of orgiastic feeding on each other and the flame, ash and shadows grow darker around them.

The crowd is cheering and howling, the bars of the cage are adamantium, Baer knew that was the only thing that could hold him. His teeth, filed down to sharp points, were bared and his face marked with dark runes, was dark and brooding behind his long and matted grey hair. The humans, or were they elves, their faces kept changing in his sight, were throwing things at him as he was carried down the streets of a ruined city in his cage by large Orcs. As the head of the procession stopped he knew that this was where it ended. He always knew this was how it would end; one too many mistakes, and he had made so many mistakes. The cage was hoisted alongside a wall, higher and higher, the chains rattling and the cage swinging slightly as he went up. As he came to the top of the wall he saw a statue, of him, arms raised in the sky and covered in what seemed to be fresh blood. The plaque below had some of the words scratched out, but one word remained…killer

Sitting in a crows nest, surrounded by fog again. A large figure is again climbing up the mast, and comes in to sit with her. Barely sees his face, but large antlers come from his head. “Even for me it is hard to find you here, I find it strange that this is the place that you go to. So, baren, sterile. Where is the wind? The stars? The water? What are you doing? Where are you going? You seem, adrift.” He takes out from his vest small cups of tea and offers her some. They chat, and relax. “You must take care not to become the animals who’s spirits you borrow. You are human, never forget that. And you can make mistakes.”

Standing beside his father, the room is empty, it’s just him and his father. “You’re late” says Shadow-Behind-The-Stars, without looking up from his workstation, “Hand me the etherium tuning fork” he asks Shun. They speak of what Shun is doing, where he’s been and if he has found anything that can help them with the Crystal Soul. He asks about Hemmit.
“We can save our people from what is coming, Shun-The-Light-Bringer. I need you to redouble your efforts, find me a Druid, and we can save everyone. Now, begone.”

The smell of musty earth and the sound of cooking utensils fill your senses. Rosemary, thyme, onions frying in a pot. The dappled sunlight coming in through the open wooden shutters hits your eyes as you turn your head. The man, much taller than you, is at your side watching you cook the onions. “Be careful Alana, don’t let them burn.” he says angrily.
The man turns his back and goes to the other side of the kitchen, to retrieve the rabbit that mother had caught that morning. He comes back and you watch as he skins and butchers the creature, then throws the meat and bones into the pot. The smell makes your mouth water. The man sits on a small wooden stool, groaning as he sits, and running his hand through his grey hair and taking out his small flute, you watch as he puts it to his lips and listen as the music floats through the kitchen, through the main room of the house and out through the door. The notes flow through the small village and out towards the fields, past the small hills that surround and up towards the forests edge. The notes reach the ears of a man covered in ritual scarring and tattoos. His ears perk up, and his horse senses it too. So do the several dozen hardened warriors at his side. “Kill the god-spawn.” The music stops and the man looks to Alana, she looks at his face and sees love, and sadness. “Be careful Alana, don’t let them burn.” she turns back to the pot, where the rabbit is charred and the smell of burning meat assails her nostrils and the sound of screaming fills her ears.

They all wake up, and look about. They are alone in the room with the double doors open and nobody else in sight.

Draguship Suddenly, after getting a few deep breaths of fresh air, decides to make all due haste to the cities underground waterways, guided by a guard from the citadel. Once entering the entryhall to the dungeon they found a room that would house the water bearers and their buckets and carts.

On the floor, slumped against the wall under some lit torches, were two wounded men being administered to by a third.

“What’s happened here?” asked Jalana as she walked towards the wounded men and kneeled beside them.

“I’m not sure, they came limping up from the wells and have since collapsed, their wounds did not seem that severe but have gotten worse. I sent a runner for a healer but they are taking too long and I fear that – " the unwounded man started.

“Silence!” said Jalana to the mumbling man, and looked at one of the men with bandages across his face and body. “You, what is wrong with you, what kind of wounds are these? What attacked you? Answer me.”

The wounded man gurgled and moaned, a stench arising from his body. Jalana grasped him by the shoulders and called louder to him, “I asked you a question! What wounds are these!” and began ripping at the bandages. At this point the unwounded man tried to interfere, saying that she was hurting the poor man. “Begone!” said Jalana shoving the interfering one away with one arm and she went to rip off more bandages.

“Jalana, please, let me help.” said Vuvu as she came forward and put her hand on Jalana’s back, Jalana looked up and then back at the man she had been shaking. “Ok.”

Vuvu sent her healing magics into the men and, after a few minutes they seemed to stabilise. They interrogated them and learned that it was more than likely some kind of undead that attacked them judging by their words and wounds.

The group readied themselves and made their way deeper into the tunnels, eventually coming across a small army of linen wrapped and animated corpses. The group worked to defeat the horde, and after several spells and swings of weapons later they had. Looking into what seemed the main room the group found a few nice trinkets and made their way back to the citadel.

The guard captain debriefed them, with the help of a man named Lucius who introduced himself as the court mage assigned to magical disturbances in the city, and they learned that should mummies be a problem then there is most certainly a Mummy Lord or at least a necromancer that is responsible for animating the dead. They group also learned that the items they took would be cursed, and that they are sure to be ridiculed by the Fire Walkers should they not fulfil the job properly.

As they were leaving, Shun used a little sleight of hand to put the Oil of Speed that he had taken from the cursed Mummy lair into the pocket of Lucius the mage.

With a few sighs and hunched shoulders the group made their way back to the cities wells. They made their way back to the lair and had a look around, finding nothing of note. Shun closed his eyes and opened the eye of arcane in his mind. He saw latent necrotic energies in the room and using this found a few pages of what seemed to either be a mage’s book or journal. He also saw a sheen of magical oil leading to where the pages were and then back out towards the surface.

They took the pages and saw that they were the almost mad and raving words of someone that was upset with the “new order” of the city’s rulers and much preferred the “old leader” who let him do what he wanted with the bodies. The group found this disturbing and rekoned that they were dealing with a necromancer of some sort.

They followed the footsteps (with Baer’s superior tracking abilities) back to the citadel and surprisingly back to the room where the guard captain had given them the debriefing. They then saw the footprints with the faint sheen of oil to the rooms where some of the more influential staff slept.

The tracks went to a door and Baer, leaning close, heard heavy breathing inside. Vuvu raised her hands readying a spell of sleeping and the rest took out their weapons and readied themselves. Bear counted to three (as best he could) and bust down the door. The scene in front of them was as concerning as it was horrendous. The mage Lucius was there, prone and naked on top of a corpse that had expired a while back. Lucius was as surprised to see them and Baer took the opportunity to leap forward yelling and grappled the mage. With Bear grappling Lucius from behind the mage gave one large shudder before he went still.

Bear, disgusted, yelled to the man as he tried to bring him to his feet, “You monster, you will pay for your crimes!”

Lucius, naked and filthy tore an arm loose and raised a pointed finger to his neck, “If I go down, I’m taking you all with me!” and a bright light appeared under the mans chin and blossomed into a raging inferno inside the small room. Baer was thrown backwards in the short lived yet very powerful maelstrom and smashed into the now on-fire cupboard. The rest of the group was thrown backwards through the doorway into the hallway.

The ringing in their ears stopped them all from hearing the guards and stewards racing towards the scene. After the fires were doused and the group brought to their feet they saw the guard captain looking about. “These are Lucius’s rooms, what have you all done here? It was you wasn’t it!” he yelled, pointing at Shun, “Elves are causing mischief in the Citadel, guards arrest him!” and the guards took out their blades and converged on Shun.

“Wait! I am feeling quite woozy,” began Vuvu, stumbling over to the guard captain and falling into his arms, “it had nothing to do with him, take these papers before I fall into the deep dark of death,” she said passing him the journal entries and feigning death in the captains arms. The man was wooed by her charms and cried out to the other guards to help him take her to a healer, with the other guards confused but obeying they raised Vuvu on their shoulders and took her away.

At the end of the corridor she swigged a bottle of healing liquor and jumped down from her man made pier. “I got better” she winked at the men and made her way back to the others.

They all decided that, with the job done, that they would try to get some sleep in with what was left of the night. As they all slumbered in their rooms (with the exception of Jalana who found a small alcove near a window further away from their rooms) Vuvu was deep in sleep when she felt hot breath on her face. She opened her eyes and saw Grash’s face leering at her.

“Grash, what’s -” she began as she saw the glint of steel is his hand and a flash as he stuck her with the blade.

“For old times, aye Vuvu?” he growled whilst grinning.

Shuddering with the pain and reacting out of pure instinct she lurched from the bed and rolled fumbling for a potion by the bedside and downing it. She felt invigorated but was still in complete darkness. She fumbled for her weapon in the dark, “Grash, what the fuck are you doing?” and she tried to hail the others on the speaking stone in her ear, which she remembered to keep in at night.

“Can’t see? Here, let me help you.” Grash called in the dark and the room lit up with fire after she heard him take a breath. She burned, but the liquid flowing through her body at the time helped her turn most of the flame aside.

She leapt for the door, taking another slice at her side when passing Grash in the dark. She burst through the door into the hallway, running and bleeding down the passage past doors that were now opening.

Bear saw the spectacle of Vuvu running from Grash and him giving chase. “He’s gone crazy! Stop him!” she called as she passed Baer.

Baer took after Grash and grabbed him from behind pinning him to the wall. WIth some struggle Baer managed to subdue and disarm the Dragunborne. Shun came to the pair and cocked his head, “Something is off here, there is illusion at work.”

Vuvu, holding her side to stem the flow of blood came up to them and grabbed at Grash, swatting him, ’What’s wrong with you!" and as she struck him something flew from his head and the illusion dropped. In front of them were a different sized Dragunborne, still smiling, but obviously not Grash.

Jalana came running onto the scene, seeing the struggle and ran straight at them hurling her fist into the Dragunbornes’ face. He collapsed to the floor as the real Grash came down the passageway.

“Hey guys, someone stole my hat, do you kno-” he began, then saw the creature on the floor, half concious looking up at him.

“Hello brother, mother sends her – " the unnamed one began before Grash came up with his unsheathed sword and plunged it into the prone ones chest, stopping him mid sentence.

You…you stole my hat.” Grash said, bending down to pick up h is hat of disguise.

The rest of the group looked on as more guards came rushing into the hallway.

The nest evening Marjora came to Baer and asked him to go for a walk in the storm with her and Nuha.

“It’s fine, we’ll bring the mages to protect us from dangers and sand.” she smiled.

On the long walk through the city at night during curfew, she speaks of what she wants for Dharma, how the troubles with the Sand Elves are getting out of hand, and that she is worried that it will come to blood. She needs a method of how to obtain peace however, “Oh I wish they would just disappear. I am willing to bet it’s them behind the storm. Do you remember my fathers portal? Well we’ve gotten it working again, and it only goes one place now, to the FeyWilds. The Elves, before they came here, used to live there. I think they should go back to where they came from, they only cause problems here. Also, I must ask you one more favour Baer, you need to bring me the head of Falca, she is their leader and must be brought to justice for the innocent blood they have spilt on the sands of Dharma.”

They walk through the eastern parts of the city, past a ruined and burnt part of the city. They get to the gates that the group had stormed during the seige all those years ago and Marjora motions towards the top of the gates. Baer sees the figure of a man atop the gates, how he was standing in the storm it was anyone’s guess.

With the mages help the storm clears a little more and he sees that it is in fact a statue made of marble and standing twenty feet tall facing in towards the city.

The arms are raised above it’s head and a look of ecstasy is on it’s face, it is in the likeness of Baer. “Do you like it?” asks Marjora as she absently strokes Nuha’s hair. “I had it commissioned myself.”

Baer squints and he can just make out a sign under the statue; Tyrant Killer

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Chapter 38
Storm in a Tea Cup

The looks on the faces of the group ranged from confusion to outright hostility.

“Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” asked Jalana as she walked threateningly towards Wyne.

Wyne stood unmoving as she approached.

“I’m supposed to be a lot of things, Jalana. But one thing that I am not is in the mood for your theatrics.” he replied.

Bristling, but not in the mood for a fight, Jalana released the tension from her body. Wyne turned from Jalana and looked behind her to the rest of the group.

“Dragunship Suddenly… I was not expecting to see you here today. We had word that there was a disturbance in the throne-room during the Coronation; I presume that was you.” said Wyne, with a raised inquisitive eyebrow.

“Why aren’t you dead?” asked Grash, straight to the point. “We saw you burn, we attended your pyre.”

Wyne took a long breath and turned back to the maps, removing some and handing some to others. “It’s a bit of a long story, so I’ll make it short. I’m sure that you wouldn’t be here unless Sven trusted you.” At this point he turned back and looked to Sven, who nodded at him to continue. “We here are all part of an ancient organisation that-”

Wyne was interrupted by a snorting through the nose by Shun.

“I’m sorry, do you find this amusing sir?…” Wyne asked of Shun, the elf stood impassively, allowing his face to show no emotion.

“His name is Shun, please ignore him and continue.” interrupted Vuvu.

“Well, as I was saying” Wyne continued, “We are pledged to remember the damage caused by the Breaker and his violation of heaven. For thousands of years we have hunted down those who would try to retrace his footsteps and again desecrate the world of the Gods.”

Wyne made his way to a small counter and poured himself a drink, pausing to take a sip and look at the glass. “It has become more difficult as of late. It seems every man and his dog is making a pillar these days. However, thankfully, none have succeeded…as far as we know.”

The group was not as surprised as he thought they would be. Shun was nodding his head, as he had heard of some of this knowledge before, and had been briefed by the rest of the group with their interactions with the girl Feena and the clerics near Mallac’s Rest.

“These ones have already found and destroyed a Pillar.” Shun said, as Wyne was perusing another map on the table. He turned around.

“You have, have you?” Wyne looked at them with hard curiosity. “Where? How do you know it was a Pillar?”

They explained to him how they came across the cathedral and eventually defeated the clerics and killed Feena in the process. Wyne considered the information, and after prodding for more information, agreed that it was an attempt at making a pillar.

After they had caught up and exchanged information Wyne advised that he mad much work to do and hoped to catch up with them again at a later date. He also asked them to keep his existence a secret.

As they left the Skewered Goose they found that Rama was outside and visibly irked.

“Ah, you are all here. It is good to see you again after standing out here for the better part of an hour in the midday suns. he said, his voice as controlled as ever. We should make our ways back to the palace with all due haste, the suns are setting and we will not want to break the curfew.”

As they made their way back Jalana, hiding her hand using her cloak, brought out her weather forecasting magic. As she did, sand began to fall from her hand, being blown about like by a strong wind. The sand began to blow more violently and she quickly doused the magic, for fear of others seeing. She’d never seen such a forecast, and presumed something was wrong with her magic.
They all made their way back to the citadel, not even stopping at the small and interesting shops along the way. As they returned they found a large feast prepared in the common hall for the higher calibre of guests that attended the palace. Baer took it on himself to drink as much as possible and the rest of the troupe had a reasonable and relatively polite supper. As Bears levels of intoxication rose to super human levels Grash was approached by a waiter, and as they poured the wine they whispered to him “The Kage-Suna will see you, the bath house, as soon as you are able.” and they were gone.

Grash told this to the rest of the group, however it was only himself and Jalana that made their ways to the bathhouse; the rest of them were trying to wrestle Bear out of the pit of trouble he’d gotten himself into.

As they reached the baths, they went inside to find many different people taking their time in bathing themselves. Many smaller rooms with smaller baths lined the room but the main pool was the most popular. Jalana shed her clothes without a second thought and slipped into the water. Grash stood to the side, crossed his arms and stayed ready.

After a minute, and without much ado, the room emptied. People just started leaving. However there was one last old man that was taking his time, as he tried to get out of the bath Grash, obviously flustered at the slow pace of the man, tripped him using his mage hand. The old man fell and hit his head quite hard on the side of the pool. As he spluttered and cursed and bled some others came and dragged him from the room. “Where are you taking me? I’ve saved up for years to afford to come here! It’s my birthdaaaaaaaaaay-“
As Jalana watched the spectacle she looked about and saw that not everyone had left. There was a small Halfling girl at the other end of the pool submerged up to her nose.
Jalana approached her. “You, I suppose you are the agent of the Kage-Suna that we were to meet. What do you want?”
No reply besides the small girl blowing bubbles out of her nose under the water as she looked at Jalana and then Grash. Grash came over to the two, still outside the pool and crouched down to get a little closer.
“You are the one they send to help us free Ahmisa?” asked Grash.
The girl nodded slightly.
“Good, get dressed.” he said, stood and left.

With the new companion silently in tow they made their way to the rooms several floors above to plan their night. As they sat in Vuvu’s rooms, which were a little more luxurious than the other’s rooms for some reason (a little conniving on her part).
“So,” started Vuvu, leaning against the wall, “we have our little helper, a plan, and someone to rescue. This should be a fun night.” Mused Vuvu as she sat on the dresser and slowly rocked one leg crossed over the other.
Grash nodded, “This is Esiuol, she is of the Kage-Suna, and has abilities that can help us free Ahmisa.” The group looked at the small Halfling girl warily, not sure of why they needed her.
“The Kage-Suna has bribed, bought or broken many of the guards surrounding much of that part of the city, so we should have it pretty easy.” explained Grash.
As they spoke they heard a knock on the door “Room Service!”
They froze “We’re okay thanks!” replied Vuvu.
“No I mean, room service.” Came a voice that was more recognisable to them and another knock on the door that was recognisable to Grash as thieves cant.
Grash stood and immediately walked to the door and opened it, letting in Jimmy dressed as a steward carrying towels. “Fresh linen, mate?” he asked with a grin on his face.
Jimmy entered the room and Grash closed the door behind him.
“’Allo lads. Alright?” he asked. “Good to see you here, girl.” He said looking at Esiuol. She looked back at him with a mixture of hate and fear. Grash took note of the interaction but said nothing of it.
They set the maps of the underground tunnel systems on the tables and the new girl showed them the best way to break in, and get out, as fast as possible. Within only a couple of hours the winds outside the citadel picked up dramatically and just before midnight there was a raging sandstorm outside. The windows were shaking in their brackets and they could hear guards outside panicking and running up and down the hallway with the sounds of stewards rushing to close all the doors and windows in the citadel.

“There will be guards, but we can incapacitate them, no need for murder.” said Vuvu.

Jimmy looked at her with a curious grin “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

Vuvu frowned at him and they began to wrap up their plans.

The group decided to make their way into the city the next day, and try to shake Rama at some point. They thought the storm would provide the perfect cover and made their way to their own rooms for a good nights sleep. As Jalana turned a corner she saw a steward closing a window and as she passed she could hear him muttering, “Stupid windows, not made to keep out the sand, where the hell did this storm come from?”
The next day they all met up in the feast hall at ground level and had themselves some breakfast, as they were almost done, and wondering where Rama was, he appeared.
“Warm greetings, everyone” said Rama with his characteristic lack of warmness, “I hope this strange storm hasn’t intruded on your sleep.”
The group had slept through worse, so didn’t really mind the slamming of window shutters and howling winds.
“Do we have any plans to venture into the city again today? Buy a few baubles? Drink a few of the alcohols?” he asked, sounding as patronizing as ever.
“We will be going into the city, but we will not need you as an escort today, thank you.” Said Shun as he got up from the table and picked up his ornate staff. Looking at Rama in the eyes as he spoke and trying to force some of his will unto the man.
Rama stood for a second looking at the Elf and cocked his head slightly. “I will escort you, as Marjora has requested. For your own safety.” Rama replied.
Shun shrugged and began walking to the main exit to the courtyard outside. The rest of the group followed and the guards that usually opened the doors waved them over to a much smaller side door, mumbling something about the storm and sand.
“Are you sure you want to go to the city? Maybe we could stay here and –“ began Rama as Grash shoved past him following Shun.
“We’re going.” He said gruffly.
Rama sighed softly and followed them out into the dimmed daylight and the storm, guards in tow.
As they got to the lower parts of the city the group found a small teashop near the entrance to the lower passages which leaded to the slave stockades where Ahmisa was kept.
Using a pickup in the wind Grash leaned over to the rest of them and said “The sewer entrance is behind this tea shop, we’ll go in here and try to lose Rama somehow.”
“Ah, the Steamed Leaf. You would like to drink some tea? There are much better tea shops in the less filthy parts of town. I could bring you to –“ began Rama.
“This place is fine.” Said Jalana as she shoved past Rama.
Rama sighed. “I will wait out here for you. Guards! Form up and block some of this sand.” He ordered and the guards used their shields and procured a small seat for Rama to sit on. “You, Jonathan, follow them inside and make sure they are okay.”
The guard nodded and followed them inside.
When the group was sitting and had a few cups of tea in front of them Baer looked to Jonathan and then to the door. Baer got up from his chair, walked to the guard and punched him square in the face, knocking him unconscious.
“Well, we’re good to go!” said Vuvu, slapping the table and getting up. The rest of the group stood, with Jalana gulping down the rest of her tea, not wanting to waste it. As they passed the shop keeper Vuvu gave him a couple of gold, “Keep your mouth shut, okay?” she told him.
The shop keeper had never seen so much money, “Of…of course ma’am!” and they left out the back door. When they were outside in the storm Grash looked back in the door and saw the old man biting down on the gold with a look of pure glee on his face.
“He’ll talk.” Said Grash as he raised his hand and sent a bolt of fire into the tea shop. As the man was about to pocket the gold he looked up just before the fire engulfed him, forcing him backwards and into the weak wooden furniture setting the shop ablaze.
“Now he won’t.” Grash said, as the rest of them looked on in disdain, if not surprise.
They found the grate in the alley and made their way down into the lower parts of the city. After some time they found the entrances to the slave pens. Coming to a door, they could hear voices on the other side.
Esiuol went to the door, turned the ring on her finger and her eyes went glassy.
“Six of them, playing cards at table, easy kills.” The Halfling said. The rest of the group wondered how she knew, but trusted her anyway. “They come.” She said.
The group readied themselves and as the door opened Vuvu commanded them to sleep, and they did. All six of the guards fell to the floor. “I don’t like killing guards, poor things are just doing their job.” She said, as they began tying and gagging them.
In the next room were a few doors, one of which Esiuol pointed at. “There is prisoner.”
They armed themselves and opened the door, in the next room were several cells and a large, very large, suite of armour at the far end. Rusted and holding in front of it a very large and rusty sword.
“Ahmisa, are you in here?” called Jalana into the dark. Grash sent small globes of light to the front of the cells and the prisoners, as one, started to yell and shake their cells.
They made their way down the small hall and looked in the cells one by one. The prisoners looked dishevelled and some had obviously been beaten quite badly. As they got to the last cell they saw a prisoner that wasn’t making a disturbance. Huddled and dirty in the back of the cell was a grubby looking Dwarf.
“Ahmisa!” cried Jalana, grabbing the bars and smiling at her old friend.
The Dwarf took his arms away from his face, having used them to shield his eyes from the light.
“What?…you? Jalana! Grash! Why? How are you here?” he mumbled and got up from the corner and came to the bars. “How did you get in here? How did you deactivate the – “ and as he spoke a grinding of gears and metal assailed them.

Backing up from the cell and looking about they realised that the statue wasn’t a statue at all. The huge iron golem took up its sword and a sound like gravel in the bottom of a steel bucket came from its helm “Intruders, eliminate.”
“Oh yes, I forget.” said Esiuol just before she raised her hands and sent two dark crackling beams of lightning at the golem.
The group launched themselves at the Golem, with Baer taking the frontline. Magic and weapons flashed for a few minutes until the Golem had Baer in the corner, disarmed and bleeding badly. As Bear looked up at the Golem raise its six foot long rusty sword above its head he saw a flash of water behind it. Jalana in her water elemental form poured herself into the Golem and filled it then she expanded, causing the Golem to explode across the room, sending shrapnel everywhere. Vuvu helped Bear back to his feet with a few sweet words to heal his injuries and his pride.
As they opened Ahmisa’s cell Bear and Grash went about executing the other prisoners.
Jalana stared daggers at the two of them and just before Grash cut the throat of another he shrugged “They’ll talk.”
They made their way back to street level and noticed that the storm had somehow gotten even worse, obscuring their vision so they could not see even 20 feet from them.
Out from the sand came a figure, Jimmy. “Lads it’s good to see you but bloody hell you took your time aye? I’ll take him from here, the Kage-Suna thanks ye.” He said, as he took Ahmisa under the protection of his cloak.
The group looked on, slightly confused and just before the pair disappeared into the storm, and with the tea shop a raging inferno behind them they could just hear Jimmy.
“Well, it’s good to see you again, your majesty.”

View
Chapter 37
Skewered Goose III

The darkness and silence of the void dropped and they were hurled back into reality.

Sprawled on the floor, Jalana was unconscious and not breathing.

“Jalana!” yelled Vuvu as she rushed over and began trying to bring her back to the world of the living, whispering sweet songs of healing.

The rest of the group looked around, stunned and disorientated to find themselves removed from the presence of a god and plunged once again back into civilisation.

HALT!” a cry from their side brought their attention from Jalana’s prone frame and to their surroundings proper.

They were in a very large audience hall, smooth sandstone and carved arches covered the walls and ceiling, the hall was bedecked in glowing torches, and wide and tall windows made of clear glass, which the midday suns were pouring their light through.

At the bottom end of the room giant doors were closed, and many resplendent guards stood with their spear levelled at them with hostile looks on their faces. Amongst the room were scattered groups of very prominent looking people. Some with strange wrappings about their head, some with others chained about the neck holding their drinks and food. Some with tribal tattoos on their faces, some with long hair braided past their hips. The assortment was varied, but the mood was the same. Shock and fear.

At the top end of the room there was a large dais, with intricately carved steps leading up to, predictably, a throne. In front of the throne. In front of the throne was a priestly looking man holding a simple crown, and standing up from a kneeling position in front of him was Marjora.

“Lower your weapons! Now! They are friends!” Marjora called with a voice of a growling tigress.

Jalana sucked in a giant breath and brought herself suddenly to a sitting position with her hands on the floor behind her, and took a few more breaths as the silence covered the room.

Grash stepped forward, looked about at the guards raising the tips away from them, and spoke. “We are friends of the queen, we’ll see her now. I assume it’s okay for us to bring plus two to the party?” he pointed his thumb behind him at Vuvu, who was helping Jalana to her feet, and Shun, who stood with them, hands on his staff.

Marjora came down the steps towards them, laughing, the sound like a cat purring loudly. “Grash, I am no queen. And I am not emperess, yet. Your entrance seems to have come at a very inopportune time. Please, I am eager to hear the story of how in the world you got through the magical defences straight into my throne room, but that is for a later time. Right now I have some business to attend to.” and Marjora motioned around the throne room, where were coronation was taking place.

Marjora waved over a man from the side of the room, with light brown skin, a local that hadn’t seen much work in the fields, shaved and oiled head, two gold earrings and a dark twinkle in his eye. Dark purple robes hung from his lithe frame and he came forward with his hands in his robe, and bowed to Marjora.

“Please, Rama, take my friends to the side to witness the coronation, they will be at the forefront, as is their right as the saviours of Dharma.” she said, and the man ushered them to the side.

The coronation was simple, with few words said and polite clapping at the end. Marjora was ushered from the room and the remaining guests were brought to an antechamber for celebrations.

As the group mingled with the nobles and the powerful members of society they saw that a lot hand changed since last time they had been here. Marjora had kept the presence of generals and freedom fighters last time they were here. Now there were little of those to be found. The majority of the crowd were merchants, land barons and aristocrats. The flamboyance of many was astounding and the stench of their perfumes offended Jalanas nose.

The one called Rama came to them, seemingly forming out of the crowd, and bowed in front of them. “Garam-Mashala, friends. I hope that you are enjoying the festivities,” he waved his hand slowly behind him and the small pockets of nobles quietly sipping on tea in the room, “alas, we must also not forgot our duties. The Empress of the Sands and Holder of the Jewel of Dharma has requested your presence at an impromptu meeting of the Council of the Sons.” he trails off for a second, “We might need to change that name, but! We will send a messenger to collect you soon. Please be ready.” and after another bow he leaves again.

Shun stands, observing the nobles, studying their clothes and who is talking to who. Baer is looking for Marjora, but cannot see her in the room, Grash is drinking the expensive rum, Vuvu is flirting with a group of young nobles.

Jalana is at the back, leaning against a room with her arms crossed. Vuvu notices this and approaches her. “What’s wrong Jalana? Why do you sulk like this?” she asked.

Jalana, scowling, looks across the room. “I don’t like it.”

Vuvu, unsurprised that Jalana felt uncomfortable in the presence of so much society, put her hand on Jalanas arm, “What don’t you like, dear?” she asked, half distracted after she was the new drinks trolley that was rolled in. She spied a very expensive bottle of Veranian Blood Wine.

“This feels wrong. I don’t know why, and I’m going to have a look around.” replied Jalana.

“That’s nice dear, don’t get in trouble now.” said Vuvu as she went to follow the bartender with the trolley.

Jalana slipped away from the group, walking out into the corridor and down the hall a little, out of the sight of others. She let her thoughts flow into those of a cat and on the walls of the smooth sandstone brick wall a little shadow of a tabby cat replaced that of Jalana.

As she made her way down the hallway she met up with another cat who indicated that it was off to the kitchens so find a few scraps to eat. Jalana followed the cat and into the kitchen they went. The staff there tolerated the cats, but did not speak of any political issues or divulge any secrets in front of them. Jalana got bored and began chasing rat through the kitchens.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group was following the messenger who eventually came for them, bringing them to the Council of the Sons. They followed the multiple stairways and hallways deeper into the citadel and they eventually came to a large barred door with a guard in front.

‘You must be Flagonmop Bumblebee, or whatever. You’re fine to..wait..where’s the dark one?" he asked, scanning them.

They looked about and realised he was talking about Jalana.

“She will be here shortly.” said Grash, and made to pass the guard into the room.

“No, her eminence has requested all of you. Where is she and why isn’t she with the rest of you?” the guard seemed to be of some rank, which would be obvious as he was guarding the room to a high level council meeting.

As they spoke a small cat came sauntering down the hall with a rat in its mouth. A fast and hard kick from one of the guards sent the cat smashing against the opposite wall.

“Get outta here you flamin’ cur!” and cocked his leg, ready to give it another one.

“Wait! That’s our cat, cease kicking it you bufoon!” called Vuvu as she went towards the guard and the hissing cat in the corner.

The guard relented and allowed Vuvu to pick up the cat and cradle it in her arms.

“Look, they’re all waiting for us,” said Vuvu between strokes of the cats fur, “best not keep them waiting, aye?”

The guard seemed annoyed, but also relented and opened the door and announced them as Dragunship Suddenly!. Proving that he did know their name.

In the room was a large seven sided table, able to sit about 40 people, and sit them it did. A wide array of nobles and leaders occupied the room. Vast and high ceiling, the torches banished the darkness of night and the guards around the perimeter banished any thoughts of trouble making. The suits of armour cladding the larger than normal humanoids were shining with gold lacquer and bristling with seals and scrolls with writing on them. Large spears were held in their hands and the comfortable air of confidence that surrounded them was as worrying as if they were charging into battle. The group knew restrained violence when they saw it.

As they entered they also noticed Marjora. Standing amongst a group of merchant looking types she spoke calmly yet passionately. As they approached they heard that she spoke of food supplies and the trouble coming from the desert.

“…for we cannot take from one hungry mouth just to feed another. If the raids don’t cease then the city will need to…” Marjora noticed them approaching and turned to them.

With a wide smile on her face she looked at them in turn as they stood in front of her, still seeming to them the same girl they met in the cave where they thought Leo was sacrificing her, and the same one that spent countless hours healing the sick and injured after they besieged the city to oust her evil father.

“Friends..” she said, smiling. As her gaze passed Baer she paused, her smile slipping an almost imperceptible fraction and her eyes widening a little more. “Baer..”

“Hello…your…majesty…” Bear attempted.

Marjora stood, looking at him and seemed to catch herself and spoke to the others as well, speaking small pleasantries and asking of their health and travels.

After a few minutes the meeting was called and they all took a seat at the table, and with no discernible head to the table they were sat at one side with their back against the main entrance to the room. Marjora sat to their right, again at no discernible advantageous point.

The conversation began after Marjora signalled for a group of merchants representing their farmers from the southern water farms, advising that the droughts were getting worse and that the crops were failing. This seemed to be old news to everyone, but they did come up with more trade tariff leniency and more open trade with the Silver Isles to the north.

After some time the group got a little bored. Drinks and snacks were brought and after a little more time Rama joined them, the guard at the door introduced him as Adrin Duneshadow. The man sat down at the table after coming to give Marjora some information and shared a small smile with them from across the table.

The conversation moved to the missing shipment of Sapphire Weed, and how there was no word from their agents as to its whereabouts. They discussed it’s importance to the work they were doing and how they could try to find away to get the work done without it. The general concensus was that it was not possible to complete without the Sapphire Weed.

The group sat there, not mentioning anything, and when one of the merchants advised that that shipment was the last of the plant, as the fields of Sapphire Weed outside Corundum were destroyed in the latest attack when the city was razed.

“You were there? At the breaking of the Sapphire City?”

The group came out of their slumps in their chairs. Baer was half asleep and drooling on the table.

One of the Nobles, a taller man with long wavy hair and a very noble face and voice, asked them the question again.

“Yes, we were there, and what a sight to see it was.” said Vuvu.

Marjora looked at them, and she seemed interested. “Please, tell us of what happened, we are so lacking in information from that part of the world.”

Vuvu stood, climbed onto the table and took out her lute and began to play them a song explaining of the army of giants approaching Corundum, how she met with Wyne in the city and his officers, and how they enlisted her in the fight against the following goblin army. She explained how she met the others and then took shelter in the cities catacombs, where they found the Anahata and then came out to find the city destroyed.

Her audience, as much as her song was catchy and well structured, were not as impressed as her usual audience in the inns and taverns of the land. As Vuvu stood on the table, and the last note carried off, she cleared her throat into the silence, gave a curt bow, and went back to her seat.

’Thank you for that…colourful rendition, Madame Vuvuzela." said Rama.

The group of nobles and merchants continued their discussions, and Jalana thought it best to become a human again so she got up off the small bench and made for the door. As she approached a guard looked at her, then at the other guard, shrugged and opened the door. As the door opened Grash turned around to look, as he did every time the door opened.
He caught a glimpse of a suit of armour, blazoned in steel and a very familiar sapphire colour trimming. The enclosed and heavy looking helm turned as the door opened just wide enough for a cat to go through and it seemed to Grash that the eyes behind the slit in the helm was looking at him. And the door closed. Grash turned back and advised the others of what he’d seen.

“What are the Paladins of the Sapphire Throne doing here?” asked Grash after a moment.

A small group nearby him kept their discussion going, but Marjora stopped and looked over to him.

“Why, they are good friends of Dharma and have sought refuge here since their city was destroyed and their throne has gone….missing.” answered Marjora.

As the conversation was wrapped up and they are shown to their apartments some distance from the meeting room. They learn from the guard that there’s a curfew, and they’re told not to go outside past sundown due to the increased presence of rogue groups of desert elves operating in the city. It is only temporary, but is there for their protection.

The group decide to rest, in real beds, for the first time in a long time. In the morning, they all meet up in the main hall for breakfast, and when they arrive they meet Rama.

Rama Duneshadow says that he has been tasked by Marjora herself to show them around the city, they are hesitant but he insists that Marjora has implored him to do so. He brings them about the city, to the carnival and massive trade areas where they sell anything and everything. Vuvu decides to try out a small merchant that is selling random prize boxes, she chooses one and finds in it a magical cloak with badges on it. She is pleased.

Rama brings their attention to the slave markets. He advises that they are publicly run and that the slaves at this months market are quite interesting. As the group looks at the slave marker they see a few Olarge Orcs, a few malnourished ones, a couple of Humans with brands on their faces (Rama explains that they are criminals), and also Ahmisa is up there.

They decide to get some breakf-

“Wait a minute!” says Grash and goes up to the slave stocks, pretending to peruse the slaves.

“How much for the dwarf?” he asks the merchant.

“What? That one? oh sir they are trouble makers, this one will be no good for your ship and I do think it might be…outside your budget.” the merchant replies, looking Grash up and down.

“How much?” repeats Grash. He does so hate repeating himself.

“10,000 gold.”

Grash is stunned, and goes quietly up to Ahmisa as the merchant calls to the crowd again selling his wares.

As Grash gets closer Ahmisa flinches away and rattles the chains, he then looks up and his eyes go wild. “Mr Grash sir! Mr Grash!! Please help me! Get me out of here! I did everything that you said!”

Grash looks about, not wanting people to think he had a personal relationship with a slave, and put on his Hat of Disguise and disappeared into the throng of people.

As they go about the market, Grash has taken off the hat and is looking at a stall when he senses a presence behind him, the unmistakable gait and smell of cinnamon, he sends his mage hand to curl around him and behind the person sneaking up on him, and the mage hand taps the other on the shoulder, and the person turns around to see who it is. As the person does, Grash himself turns around. The other person then turns around and sees Grash looking at him.

“Well, when I thought to myself that I’d try sneak up on Grash, I was obviously not thinking right.” said Jimmy.

“Hello Jimmy, it’s nice to see you again.” replied Grash, turning back to the stall, and continuing to pretend that he was perusing its wares.

“I saw you looking at your old mate Ahmisa up there. Poor bugger, he got ‘imself in a bit of mischief didn’t he? You going to get ’im out?” asked Jimmy, pretending to also peruse the market stall.

“I don’t think we have the spare capital, old friend. You wouldn’t happen to have ten thousand gold on hand, would you?” Grash picked up a small vial and examined it.

“Look mate, when you got skin in the game, you gotta play in the game. We go way back, and I want to help you.”

A noise from behind them made them both turn, a slave merchant was calling to the crowd and explaing why he was about to behead one of his slaves.

The two of them stood in the crowd watching. Grash remembered Captain Khazeem. The sword fell.

“Death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints, it just takes and takes and takes.” said Jimmy quietly under his breath.

“I know a group, Grash. They call themselves the Kage Suna. A kinda group of miscreants, if you will. They have the means to help you. I’ll be in touch.” he said as he left and melded back into the crowd.

“There you are,” said Rama, with the rest of the group behind him. “You know that I was worried about you. There are many unsavoury types about here, and Marjora expli-”

“Shut up.” said Grash and began walking.

The rest followed and they made their way to the area near the Sand-Docks, and there they found not the first, nor the second, but the third Skewered Goose.

They of course decided to go in for a drink. Rama said that he would wait outside and he did not like frequenting these types of establishments. The guards accompanying them brought a small table, a pot of tea and a small parasol for Rama to sit under.

Inside it was decked out like the other two, with the traditional trappings of society like tables and chairs, but also with nice paintings on the wall and sold work carvings. Behind the bar was a buxom women with long blonde hair who called to them and took their orders as they sat.

As she brought them their drinks they asked if Sven was about. She said that he was and that she would get him as soon as she was able, she didn’t seem to take them very seriously.

“Tell him Dragunship Suddenly! are here.” said Jalana, “He’ll want to know.”

She raised her eyebrows, put the bottle on the table, and left to the back room.

A large crashing noise came from the back room and a muffled “Well why did you tell me that!”

Out came a medium build man with long braided dirty blonde hair, the Sven that they’d last seen leaving Corundum, in which town they had sought precious refuge and been able to infiltrate the city at first with his help.

“What…what are you doing here? I mean, Friends!! Welcome!” he cried, and opened his arms towards them. Hugs and shaking of hands were shared and all felt welcome. They had a few drinks and the times were merry. Meat and bread were brought out and they didn’t need to pay for anything. They explained everything to Sven, as he was a long time friend. They told him of Michi’ini and her now freedom and how she told them of the Pillars and the Gate Breaker and everything. As they spoke Sven got more and more solemn.

After some time, Sven looked over to the girl behind the bar and said “Yassim, please, turn off the lights.” his voice gave them pause, as he seemed very serious all of a sudden.

The woman began to usher out the remaining patrons and as they left she locked the door and then began mumbling under her breath and raising her hands. As she did a light blue glow infused everything in the room. When the room was covered completely the group felt a kind of quietness enter their thoughts.

Sven stood. “Friends, we are now free to talk. Everything is different now, and I have something to tell you.” and he made his way behind the bar. “Please, follow me.” and he opened a trapdoor behind the bar.

The group stood, excited but worried about what in the nine hells Sven was talking about.

They made their way down the stairs into a regular old storage area, and Sven turned a small key in a door and made a series of knocks and then spoke a password and the next door opened. Inside was a group of about a dozen very interesting people, reading maps, looking at lists, and going about what seemed to be preparations.

As they entered they saw a very familiar lilac coloured skin mage coming up to them. “Darlings, it is good to see you again!” said Lilac and gave them all a proper greeting as was fit for each.

“I’m sorry Lilac, we have much to discuss so a proper hello will be done later.” interrupted Sven, and Lilac acknowledged and bowed away.

“Dragunship Suddenly!, what a name you all have. And a few welcome newcomers, too. We are a group with a few names. What we do here is try to fix the damage that was done to the heavens a long time ago. You say you met a god, and she explained how the heavens were ransacked? Well, more are trying to get through those gates now, and we are determined to stop them. We cannot have another Breaking.”

As Sven went to continue they all heard a voice from the other side of the room, a tall man was hunched over one of the maps with a hood over his head. “Oh no, not them again.” the voice said.

As the group looked to see who spoke the hooded man turned and, as he did so, he lowered his hood.

“We have a lot to talk about.” said Wyne.

View
Chapter 36
Michi'outi

Baer is quivering under the cloak and Fabian is bleeding out quite heavily. The atmosphere in the room is heavy and the sound of sobbing and heavy breathing comes from the remaining two crew members of the Dragunship.

“Get to your feet, cur!” Grash yells at Fabian, who is lying semi-conscious on the floor and bleeding from several wounds. After a brief moment, and a few wails from the mortal crew, Grash walks over to Fabian and bends over him, staring at his shaking form.

“I said…get..to…your…feet..” and with that Grash remembered the rum that Fabian had. He reached down, grabbed the bottle and realised it was fused to Fabians hand, likely from the lava and fire of the Fire Plane. He took out a knife and dispassionately removed Fabians hand from his wrist and opened the bottle and took a swig.

“Don’t hide my rum from me, boy.” he said whilst turning away.

Vuvu and Jalana were busy making sure everyone was okay, magic of several variations pouring from them and aiding their efforts. Shun came to, and after a brief moment of confusion found his feet and scanned the room. He saw a human crew in disarray, his companions doing their best to lessen their wounds, and Baer slowly getting to his feet, with Grash staring at him from a short distance away taking long drinks from a bottle in his hand…with…another hand on it.

Baer eventually comes to, out of his momentary lapse in sanity, and surges to his feet, wobbly but okay. ’What…where…" he mumbles as he looks around.

“You!” yells Jalana as she sees him getting up, “How dare you threaten me!” and lunges at him.

“No.” says Grash, stepping in the way. “He was not himself. Leave him be, he is okay now.”

Baer looks at Grash, “Remember who you are brother, no matter how much of you is lost.”

Grash says nothing and walks away.

Jalana stops, confused that Grash would tell her what to do but even more so that he would stop someone from committing violence.

The group starts getting themselves organised and ready to leave the cave. As everyone is going about gathering their things Baer is standing next to the machine that he supposed was responsible for their little trip through dimensions.

“Hmm” he mused, whilst scratching his chin, he reached out a tentative hand to the machine, curious as to what would happen if he forced the lever again.

“Stay your hand, human.” a voice from nearby. “I think you should leave the machine to someone with more….credentials.”

Bear turned and saw Shun standing there, with his humming staff in his hands and his serious face on.

Baer shrugged and dropped his hand, “Well, what do you make of it? Should we bring it with us?”

This sparked a lengthy discussion and eventually they agreed that it was best for the machine to be in their inventory than someone else’.

With Jalana shaping herself into an Ox and tying the great machine onto a makeshift trolley, the group makes their way out of the underground temple.

As they exit the cave they see beyond them a figure of a Badger-Wolf. As they realise that they know this certain badger-wolf they watch a small leaf fall from a nearby tree and flutters across their vision.

“Hello, friends.” a voice from behind them.

Behind them atop the temple entrance is Leaf, standing with one leg and using his bow as a walking stick.

Leaf explains that as his doom was coming to him in the shape of a great green dragon he prayed to the All-Mother to save him. He explains that he heard, for the first time in his life she replied to him. In return for his life she wanted a piece of him, so he cut off his leg, and she laughed at him in the prayer and said “I suppose that’ll do”.

Leaf jumps on the badger-wolf and takes off after telling them to follow him. He trusts them now and wants them to get to a place of relative safety. Leaf tells them he will take them to The Commune of Sefīd, one of the oldest and holiest towns in Datura. “It is, however, abandoned long ago.” he adds.

As Leaf and Baer run through the forest, ahead of the others, they find that they can keep up with each other and Leaf gains a new respect for Baer. As Bear leaps across a small stream right behind Leaf he doesn’t see a small wicked looking plant, and is scratched by it.

On the way they come across a giant burning swathe of forest with a small indentation in the middle of the clearing. About two kilometres from one side to the other. Several members of the group make their way to the centre and find an almost dead Halfling wizard in it, crackling with magical energies.

The Halfling woman is clothed in robes smouldering at the hems. The woman seems to be in incredible pain, and is muttering under her breath. Vuvu kneels down beside her and gets closer to her to hear what she is saying.

“I almost…made it..” she whispers just loud enough for Vuvu to hear.

’Where? Where did you almost make it?" asked Vuvu, taking the womans hand and trying to flood her with healing magics.

The woman, shaking slightly less, and with a slightly clearer look in her wild eyes looks directly at the open sky above them. She raises her other hand and points. “There!” Vuvu follows where she is pointing and sees the enormous rock in the sky.

Suddenly the burning fire starts to spread and before anyone can do anything it consumes her and she screams in pain as she turns to ash. Immediately Vuvu has a look around for some clue as to what happened, and sees the mages pack, in which she finds the Wand of Wonder.

The group, shaken but mainly intrigued, move on and eventually get back to the river and brought out the DragunShip and loaded the machine onto the ship with with Grashs’ newfound Levitation magic.

They get to the Commune of Sefīd, however just as Leaf mentioned, there are no signs of Halflings anywhere, only lots of monkey-squirrels. The commune seems to have been abandoned for some time, and the group spread out slightly, encouraged by Leaf’s very relaxed nature. Baer wanders off into an area where the previous occupants had an armoury of sorts. He left the building with an exciting addition to his own armoury.

The group meet up near an abandoned Inn, Leaf makes a small fire and everyone begins setting up camp. Baer goes to forage for a nice salad for everyone, doing his best to not find any poisonous flora. Leaf goes and catches a few of the money-squirrels and begins to roast them on the crackling hearth.

As they begin to relax and catch their breath, Jalana gets a little claustrophobic and goes outside for a walk. She sees one of the monkey-squirrels sitting nearby and watching her.

“Hello little one,” she whispers to it with her beast speech, “what have you got there?”

The squirrel cocks it’s head at her and looks at the small nut in it’s hands “A nut.” and it goes to leave.

“Wait! Stay a moment and speak with me.” Jalana implored the monkey-squirrel as she found a small comfortable spot on the ground to sit on.

The little creature looked behind Jalana towards the Inn, and with a nervous twitch when it heard Baers booming laugh after another of Vuvu’s jokes.

“How was your day? What do you do here?” Jalana asked the furry little rodent.

“I eat.”

“Are you happy here?”

“Happy….no I am not happy.”

Jalana got a strange feeling from the monkey-squirrel.

“Why are you not happy, little woodland creature? What would make you happy?”

The tiny beast looked up at her with a face that showed more emotion than it should.

“I want to be a Halfling again.”

Jalana leapt to her feet, and looked around her. She saw dozens of the creatures, perched on rooftops, stranding in the street, and realised where the previous occupants were.

Shifting her form into that of a monkey-squirrel she leapt and climbed her way back to the others as fast as her tiny feet could take her.

Vuvu sat on a small wooden chair, humming and tuning her lute. Shun sat with his eyes closed, meditating or thinking about something. Bear sat on the floor sharpening Giant Slayer and enjoying the smell of the roasting meat. Grash sat, as best he could, on a chair with his back to the wall and watching the entrance, with his daggers hanging loosely at his belt.

Leaf took one of the skewers of meat off the fire and began eating it, getting meat juices on his face. As he began offering it to others Grash stood up abruptly with the Mermaid singing out of it’s sheathe bathed in the light of his mage hand. The group followed his gaze to the entrance and they all saw a small monkey-squirrel running as fast as it could towards them and just before it made the entryway it began to twist and turn into a large, dark figure swathed in dreadlocks and matted hair. Jalana grabbed the edges of the entrance and yelled towards Leaf “STOP EATING THEM!”

A few minutes later the group was digesting the knowledge of what Jalana had told them, and Leaf was sitting in the corner, ashen faced and eating the salad that Bear had made.

“But why? I mean, who? Who could turn an entire Commune of Halflings into animals? That is some serious level magic, I have never seen anything like it.” said Vuvu.

“The monkey-I mean the Halflings, say that it happened recently, only in the last two years, about the same time that Leaf showed up…and started eating them…” said Jalana with a sidelong glance at the ranger, sitting on the floor.

He looked up at her, uncomprehending seeing as they were speaking in common, but he did know that she was speaking of him as he knew the word for ‘eat’.

“Well, this changes nothing, and there is nothing we can do for them now. If there are no elders here for us to give the Anahata to, then we need to move on.” said Grash, taking another sip of the strange fermented juice that they’d found behind the bar.

As Grash spoke, Leaf’s ears perked up at the mention of the Anahata. He leapt to his feet and hurried to the door. He stood, lined by the light of the giant rock in the sky, and mumbled in Halfling to himself whilst looking off across the lake in the middle of the commune towards a particularly large tree.

The group look at him, and then at each other, then at Shun, the only fluent in Halfling.

Shun sighs, and begins to translate “He says that the All-Mother has done this to them, they are her children, and they are her captors. The Anahata will return to the Spire of Heroes, and will be given to a new Champion of her choosing.”

He looks back to them “Just a lot of superstitious dribble, really.”

Leaf turns around and raises his hands and his voice “Now! We go! Anahata restore!” and runs from the building. The others follow him out of the Inn and watch as he leaps onto the back of his badger-wolf and flies through the town, circling around and towards the Spire of Heroes.

“His is a funny little one, isn’t he?” mused Baer, re-sheathing Giant Slayer. “Well, I guess we best follow.” and takes off on a loping run.

Jalana turns to look at Shun, knowing that there might be need for an interpreter “Jump on.” He looks at her with a confused look, then she turns into a horse.

“Ah, right.” he mumbles as he leaps deftly onto her back and she takes off at break-neck speed.

Grash and Vuvu look at them go, then turning to each other, they both shrug. “I’ve seen weirder” Vuvu says as they begin the long walk after them.

“I know.” replied Grash.

Jalana tries to catch up to Leaf but cannot, the uneven terrain hindering her horse form but she does arrove only minutes after him and shifts back into her human form as Shun slides from her turning back. She looks up the tree and sees a winding naturally formed staircase going up the sides of the hundred foot tree, with Leaf disappearing into an opening at the top.

“Coming?” asked Jalana turning to Shun.

He looked back to the others, still struggling to catch up. “I think we should wait for the others.” he replied.

“Suite yourself.” Jalana said, and began jogging up the staircase.

As she neared the top she saw the amazing view over the rest of the beautiful Commune. She got to the top of the ramp and saw in the entryway a very simple room, seemingly tunnelled out of the middle of the tree, with a dozen chairs all facing a single raised bowl in the middle of the room. She could see, by the light of the celestial rock, Leaf standing by the bowl and looking at her.

“Leaf, where are we?” asked Jalana slowly, so he could understand.

Leaf looked about the room, and then back at the bowl in front of him.

“Anahata. Here. Hero make. All-Mother.”

“I’m sorry Leaf, I don’t understand. The All-Mother is here? Is this where we give her the Anahata?”

“Anahata, yes.” he said, pointing at the bowl.

Jalana looked confused, then had an idea, and shaped her words to that of the beasts, speaking to him in the language of the monkey-squirrel.

His ears perked up and he replied in the same language.

“Girl, you must listen to me for I have much to say and not a long time to say it, before your companions arrive. A long time ago, the All-Mother gave us the Dark Heart of the Forest, the Anahata, and gave us the ability to make great heroes, champions of our people. Our last Hero was Arryn and, as you say, he was imprisoned by the darkness that he was sent to destroy. We need the power of the Anahata to make things right again, return it to the Spire of Heroes and our people can choose another hero! A hero great and powerful enough to avenge Arryn and slay the escaped darkness!”

Jalana saw the wildness in his eyes as he advanced on her, shadows in the room flickering and matching the shadows in his eyes, he implored her.

“Please! Put the Anahata in the bowl! Why do you wait?” he begged her.

Jalana hesitated.

“I think I should wait for my friends.” she said simply.

Leaf’s shoulders slumped, knowing her couldn’t force her to do it, and dropped to the ground.

As the others all came up the ramp and caught up to them they came to find Jalana standing next to the bowl with Leaf sitting idly in the corner.

“Hey guys, Leaf says I need to put the heart in this bowl to restore the power of their Hero making thing, so that they can avenge Arryn, and some other stuff. Thought I’d check with you guys first.”

The others all piled in and looked about, “I mean,” said Vuvu, “isn’t that why we came here? Why wouldn’t we agree?”

Jalana looked at them all nod at each other, “Okay, I’ll pop it in the bowl then.”

With no ceremony at all besides Leaf standing at her side with a look of awe on his face, Jalana took the beating heart from her bag and plopped it into the bowl.

They all held their breath, and exhaled as one as the heart stopped beating.

“How disapp-” started Vuvu.

A large throbbing noise pulsed through the tree and they all felt it reverberate down the enormous trunk and, as they all watched, the heart began to beat again, and with each throb more and more energy pulsed down the tree and into the Commune below. They went to the entrance and watched as every tree, every vine and every flower burst into life and bloom in waves leaving the Spire of Heroes. Leaf leapt into the air and yelled in a cross between joy and fear, and as they all saw what he saw they realised why. All the monkey-squirrels were popping back into their Halfling selves. The life and energy that had returned to the Commune was very evident, lights began to flicker on as candles were lit and magical hanging globes appeared about the Commune. Cries of alarm as some of the Monkey-Squirrels were sleeping in trees fell to the ground in their Halfling bodies. Cries of happiness were more common as family members, friends and lovers were reunited in their natural forms.

The group made their way back to the ground floor, leaving the Heart in its resting place. The were surrounded by Halfings of many different vocations, some were obviously labourers, some were in the robes of scholars and some in vicious looking armour and weaponry. All were happy to be back in their own bodies, and hugged each other with great abandon.

Leaf ran about, seemingly looking for someone, but as they caught up to him they saw him on the floor being repeatedly punched in the face and body by an older and tougher looking Halfling.

“That was my wife you son of a bitch!” the older halfling cried as he beat on Leaf.

The group pulled Leaf away from the older Halfling as other Halflings helped to separate them, and with tears in his eyes Leaf was yelling back “I’m sorry! I didn’t know!”.

As the Commune was getting itself back together an official group of the locals came to and surrounded them. One particularly old looking Halfling came up to the group and spoke to them.

“We of the Commune of Sefid thank you, strangers, and you are welcome here at any time for any reason. You have returned to us the Anahata and we can begin a new chapter in our lives. But first, we will celebrate!” he cried in a voice that was magically amplified to carry across the entire Commune. This was followed by the entire place cheering and the group stood, surrounded by the locals cheering and crying out the praise of the newcomers.

Later in the evening, they were all drinking and cheering and swapping stories as best they could in a large and official looking building. The room was filled with the leaders and heroes of Sefid, Halflings with robes made of nothing but light, some with giant spears, taller than Baer and with barbed and moving tips, some that they didn’t notice were even there until half way through the night.

After many speeches and explanations the locals were ready to forgive, if not forget, the actions of Leaf and his hungry hungry belly. After a few drinks Leaf made a long speech of how he met DragunShip Suddenly! and vowed to forever from this point on eat nothing but that which grows and not that bleeds. This was met with some polite clapping, but a few furrowed brows.

“You will need to give us a speech, oh mighty ones, tell us of how you got the Anahata and brought it back to us!” called one of the Commune’s leaders to the group.

“I am not giving a speech to these ones, I would not know what to say.” said Jalana, sipping at a small tea that they had given her, it smelled of earth, she liked it.

“Grash, you will tell them, you were there when we….um…obtained the heart, but be careful with your words.” said Vuvu, quietly.

Grash stood, downed the cup of fermented leaf water that they were handing out, it’s water taste masking the high levels of alcohol in it.

“Good people of Sefid”, he began, seeing all their faces turn to him as he stood, limbs missing, scarred face and burning mage hand carrying a fresh mug of leaf juice. All of a sudden he felt more than the eyes of the crowd on him but something else.

“Good people of..” he started again.

He looked around, seeing the faces of the Halflings staring at him. He kept looking, past Baers smiling face, past Shun, who was not looking at him but was reading a book in the corner, sipping his tea, past Vuvu and Jalanas concerned faces.

“We came here with….” he tried to begin again.

He saw her…sitting at a table towards the back…she was alone…sitting and looking at him, sadness on her face. A look of sadness that he shared with her.

The room went quiet, he could not hear their chattering, he could not see the faces looking at him and each other with confusion. He saw only her.

She pulled a lock of her curly red hair from her face and whispered to him across the room.

“I’m sorry, Grash.”

Grash felt it leave his body, the strangest feeling, but no pain, just darkness.

Vuvu yelled and the sound came crashing back to the room as she leapt to Grash’s prone form, Jalana close behind. Bear roared and ripped Giant Slayer from its sheathe looking for an enemy to put it into. He saw none, the rest of the crowd was on their feet also, looking about. Many waving blurred lines and shells of protective magic flared in anticipation of violence. A small group of what seemed to be clerics were muttering under their breath at the back of the room.

“Grash! Can you hear me!” called Jalana, as she slapped his face. She lay her hands on him and channelled the power of the forest around them, flooding his body with a green and earthly magic. She closed her eyes and searched for what was wring with his body.

“Oh gods. His heart.” she whispered.

“What? What’s wrong with his heart?” asked Vuvu beside her.

“It’s gone.”

“What?! What do you mean it’s gone?” cried Vuvu, adding her chords to the chorus of music flooding Grash, and she saw what Jalana meant. Grash was dead.

Shun came to them, and over the increased muttering of the clerics behind him, he said “Listen to them.”

They listened, still distracted by Grashs sudden death.

Anahata…Michi’ini….Anahata…Michi’ini the crowd was gathering voices and many were kneeling and facing Grash, some with their heads to the floor. Some looking positively terrified.

“What they fuck are they on about?” called Baer, still standing in a very provocative battle stance and scanning the room.

“They are saying that their God was here, and she did this.” Shun pointed a finger at Grash’s corpse.

Jalana looked up from his body and looked to Vuvu.

“The Anahata” she breathed…

…and Vuvu nodded, “Get it, girl, as fast as you can” Vuvu whispered back.

Jalana stood and threw herself out the nearest window to the cries of several nearby Halflings. As they watched they saw a giant Hawk soar into the skies across the lake towards the Spire of Heroes.

As she landed she reached a giant clawed hand out and carefully, as carefully as she could, grabbed the heart from it’s bowl and threw herself back into the sky back towards Grash’s cooling form.

She burst back into the window, shaping herself back to her true form as she landed, with the heart in her hands.

Many cries from the Halflings in the room were ignored by her, and the chanting grew louder by the clerics and those that chanted with them.

“I…I have no idea what to do now” said Jalana through the tears in her eyes.

“I have some knowledge of the Dragunborne anatomy, I can guide you. We will need much magic and a lot of luck if this is to work.” said Shun, rolling up his sleeves and a light coming from his eyes as he approached. Vuvu, began to hum and sing, her voice calming all those around and magics learned long ago flooding Grash’s body and Jalana struck her dagger into her friends chest, just as she had done with Arryn, only this time she was putting a heart inside, rather than taking one out.

An hour past, with much sweat and many cries of alarm, blood was everywhere and the smell of it pervaded the room. The Halflings did not disturb their work, even though their magics would have helped, they dared not interfere with such divine action.

They sat, exhausted and lathed in sweat, as the last incision was stitched up by Shuns still hand.

“What…what now?” asked Jalana.

“I do not know.” admitted Shun.

Vuvu, still kneeling by Grashs body, with his head in her hands was quietly humming a tune that her and Grash would sing on long voyages across the Boiling Sea.

not long now, son, till we arrive
to the lands we once called home
to reap and kill, leave none alive
in the lands we once did roam

but father, why? the son did ask
what crimes should fit this bill?
the father scowled as his son spoke
and set his gaze afar

my poor boy, you know them not
these folk we once called friends
they broke my heart and threw us out
and we will make amends

Grash pulled in a ragged breath and sat up, Vuvu yelped and stood, Jalana and Bear yelled with excitement and fear, with Shun standing passively watching and writing in his book.

“What? Where am I…” Grash managed to gasp.

“You’re okay! You’re alive!” Jalana yelled as she knelt down beside him and wrapped her arms around him with Vuvu joining. Baer got down and wrapped them all in his arms, “I knew you’d be alright, mate.” he yelled, his eyes glassy.

Grash sat there, looking about himself and felt very confused. He also felt an enourmous amount of pain in his chest and lay back down, blacking out for a short time as they administered more medicine and magic to him.

As the night wore on, many of the Halflings, especially the noble types and the heroes, began paying a lot of attention to the group. They begged questions of them, often through Shun, asking where they got the heart and how it brought the local population back to their Halfling forms. The group had little information for them.

The Halflings, wow’d by the spectacle of the heart being put into Grash, explain that the All-Mother, Michi’ini, hasn’t been missing for a few years, she is missing for a few thousand years. It’s only that that last few years they have found that her prison has been acting strangely. As her imprisonment began to waver the Halflings began to see a lapse in their power, almost like the God herself being free would strip them of some of their power. On one hand they want her to be freed because they love her, but they are also a little scared of the repercussions (she knows they have kept her imprisoned).

She is kept in the Rolling Blight; a sort of prison that they found her in and are then keeping her in as they are getting more powers since she’s been imprisoned. The village heroes vow to take them to the Rolling Blight to show them the prison of their God. A rolling and moving dying part of the forest, it’s very large, very steep and seems to be dying off. They all get there on ships that seem to be born of the trees themselves surrounding the port of Sefid.

As they get closer to the area that the Rolling Blight was passing through, some 48 hours later, they found that the other ships, very similar to theirs, began a ritual that seemed to be getting their ships ready to see their god. Their Mages started setting themselves up at little wooden bowls and start cutting themselves and allowing their blood to pour into small bowls afixed to the captains deck of the ships.

As they watched many of the ships began converging on the horizon of the river where it met the sky and across the breeze they could hear the commands of the ship captains, Heroes just like them; “May-roh”

And their ships disappear, like they were being sucked into a black hole. Grash watches, through pained eyes and broken limbs, as he realises that the ships of the Halfling people are one and the same as his. He looks about him, sees Jalana above the runed bronze bowl, cutting herself with a dagger and letting the blood fill the bottom of the bowl. As she completed the ritual she looked to him and nodded. The sails were furled and Vuvu stood beside him.

“Ready?” he asked her, without taking his eyes off the horizon.

Vuvu looked around her, shrugged and replied, “Always.”.

“Melon.”

The world fell away from around them and the void expanded away from them in all directions.

Emotions and thoughts screamed at the border of the field projected by the runed bronze bowl and, unlike the last time they were in this expanse of nothingness, the screams did not seem to be paralysing them.

In the void they see a great swirling madness ahead of them. They see intertwined dragons of green and red, not corporeal but some kind of spirit version. As they all stand on the deck with mouths hanging slack and staring into infinity they see an Ancient Green Dragon fly by them and go towards the swirling mass of ethereal dragons. They see that the colossal creature has something shiny and blue in its clutches.

They make their way then to the prison of Michi’ini,along with the other ships, which seem to stop at some distance away. They steer their ship closer to one of the others and began calling across “Ho! What are we waiting for? Let’s go see this God of yours!” calls Vuvu across the gap.

The Halflings bicker and squabble amongst themselves, and they catch some voices across the winds

no, we cannot let her out, she will kill us all!

we must let her free, if she finds out that we tried to keep her imprisoned we’re done for!

“It would seem,” translated Shun, “That these creatures are a little apprehensive of letting their God out of her prison.”

The group digested this information and as they did so they could see many of the ships nearby twinkling out of the void and back into the material realm. More whispers of the rumours of the guardian that held her circulated, but this information did not phase them. They had stared down armies and dragons and giants. What was one more being in the path on the way to their goals?

They started up their ship again, with Jalana the Navigator focusing on the bowl of blood, with some of her own blood leaking from her eyes from the strain. Their ship drifted, if that could define what it was doing, through the void.

As they got closer they thought that maybe the dragons were real, somehow they seemed to get mightier and more…solid. Before they could think a little more about it all of a sudden a speck in the distance moved towards them at such astonishing speeds that all onboard felt the rush and boom of super-sonic ‘air’ collapsing around them. The human crew fell to the floor and the rest armed themselves immediately, sensing a threat.

You are not welcome here, leave

The being, twice as tall as a large human male, hung ahead of their ship sitting in the infinity of the void. A sword, simple as it was terrible, was held in it’s hands the same light green as the rest of it’s body, it’s white wings spread across it’s back. The image was impressive even to the rest of the group, and they hesitated.

Except Baer.

“Get the fuck out of our way!” he cried at the bow of the Dragunship, Giant Slayer in his hands, a reflection of the Angel ahead of him. A vision of grace and a vision of recklessness.

I tell you, mortals, none shall disturb the one that is held here, she will stay until the one that commanded me to keep her here tells me otherwise

Grash limped to the front of the ship, no hands to hold anything of merit and gasping as he climbed the steps to the bow to join Baer. Grash missed his left lung, he realised now why most species were born with two.

“I’m going to see her.” Grash said, as he got to the front of the ship and leaned against the railing, beside Baer who was a picture of violence and battle.

The angel looked down at them for the first time, seeing Grash and seeming to sweep his eyes across them in a fraction of a second and leaving his eyes rest on Grash and his deformities.

Grash heard in his mind a whisper, although the angels mouth didn’t move.

i know

And in less time than it took for them to blink the mighty heavenly sword that was sweeping to Grash’s neck was intercepted by Baer’s heroic parry.

RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!” cried Baer as be began to rain blows upon the impenetrable defence of the glowing being. The others, even knowing each other for short amounts of time for some of them, immediately began throwing spells and weapons at the being ahead of them.

The void rang with violence and magic. As members of the group were downed by the vicious swings of the Planetar’s sword and wing tips the others ran immediately to their assistance to bring them back to the fight.

After some time the Angel was defeated, with Bear cutting it’s wings from it’s back and flinging them across the railings into the void, and the body floating in the void behind them as they headed closer to Mich’ini’s prison.

As they get closer to the swirling void of Dragons, they see that the beasts part before them and they fly through the gap of Dragons.

They find themselves in a dark place, similar but very much not the same as the outside void. This area seemed to be bigger, with the walls that were barely visible in the distance somehow giving the place a dimension beyond the normal.

Looking ahead, Grash, at the bow of the ship, sees her. Somehow he knew that the being ahead of them sitting on a throne made seemingly of pure sapphire and enwrapped in an ancient green dragon. They docked with what was the only physical footing on the place made of pure light and energy, they saw that her legs were up on the opposite armrest that her back was leaning against. The being was twiddling with a strand of red hair and turned her gaze to them, seeming to see them for the first time, and she jumped to her tiny feet.

“Grash, you found me.” Michi’ini said.

The group stood back, and Grash approached her. He said nothing, he did glance at the throne.

Michi’ini looked behind her, seeing the Sapphire Throne and shrugging.

“They took my Arryn, so I sent Nimhe to burn their city and take it.” she laughed.

Grash looked unimpressed. He stood, trying to look comfortable albeit having no arms, one leg, one eye, and one lung.

Michi’ini looked him over, and there was, Grash would swear, a look of sadness in her eyes.

“Who put you here?” Grash asked, uncomfortable with speaking to a god, and not sure if she was going to kill him of help him.

Michi’ini looked at the floor, and back up at Grash.

“He of the Everwatching Eye. The First Breaker of the Gates of Horn and Ivory, The God Slayer.” she whispered, looking him dead in the eye.

Grash looked at her, wanting to look back at the others, wanting some kind of guidance, but for some reason he couldn’t break his gaze with the goddess.

“I…don’t understand…why…you…” he began, about to ask why she took so much from him, but…“I don’t understand why he put you here.”

Michi’ini is standing, and for some unexplained reason the group forgets she’s there and only sees, almost for the first time, the ancient looking Green Dragon behind her, now extended to it’s full height. It brims with anger and hatred, and just as it started it disappears with the light laughter of a Halfling girl.

“Hahaha! Oh Grash, you’re so serious all the time, you silly. I can tell you, but do you have the patience? Oh! Do you need to sit down, does your leg hurt?” she asked, giggling into her hand.

Grash looked down at his one remaining leg, then back up to her. “I’m fine, explain this.”

“Okay! I can tell you the story of my beautiful home where I was born, it was a beautiful place, I can still remember my mothers face as she found me in the void and gave me a name. Ah but that’s for another time; anyway, we were safe there in our heavenly kingdom.
But the peace was not to last. There, in that solitary city, a solitary man cracked the gates of heaven. Through dark magic he had stolen a piece of the universal song, but in doing so, he shattered creation. He had sought to join the gods, but instead he had betrayed them. We battled with this man, and he smote our ruin across our dead city. We fled, we abandoned our home. But that wasn’t all, as we fled The Breaker pursued, and took my kindred and I, us so called trickster gods, and he imprisoned us, allowing all the other Gods to flee to what sanctuary they could find.

With the Gates of Horn and Ivory broken, it wasn’t long before others came, climbing their dreadful Pillars to join in the desecration of our once beautiful home. They came as warriors, poets and weavers of light and darkness. Great Heroes of their worlds.
And so amidst the smoking ruin of heaven they gathered, these interlopers, and began to rebuild our great works. They crafted their own angels and forged their own godly weapons, but they are not gods themselves. They were content to play house, living in broken enlightenment and coaxing secrets from the universe. Secrets that they stole. It was a great time for them, and they grew fat. But, as with all things, it was not to last.
The thing that brought them so high was the same thing that would bring them low; the lust for power. They began to fight amongst themselves and so there was another war in heaven.
In the turmoil the First Breaker and Desecrater abandoned heaven, and since then, well, nobody knows where he is."

Michi’ini also explains that she set the Halflings against each other a long time ago as a joke, but then was imprisoned along with all the other trickster gods and was unable to remove her little prank. The group learns that Michi and Ini are two halves of a god of Chaos.

“Oh Grash, also I almost forgot, I should probably give you all your..bits…back.” Michi’ini said, “But I ask you one thing….I mean if you don’t mind.”

Grash looked at her, with the rest of the group now feeling more comfortable to gather around him and Michi’ini as they spoke. He looked at his ravaged body and then at his friends, apprehensive looks on their face. He remembered all the power he had found since he first found the first memory of a dead god in Marsala with Jalana, the day he lost his first hand. The things he could do now with her help, things he would have never dreamed of.

He looked back up at her from his stump, “Anything.”

Michi’ini laughed and spun around on the spot “I knew you wouldn’t be angry! Okay so don’t answer straight away, but I want to keep…well…I want your hand. You know? Like in marriage. Now you don’t have to say i-”

“No!” cried Jalana, stepping forward and raising her hand, pointing at Michi’ini accusingly. “You’ve taken enough from him! Give him back everything you’ve taken, he needs nothing from you and-” as she spoke Grash put his stump on her shoulder and she looked at him, pleading in her eyes. He shook his head and looked back to Michi’ini.

“-Done.” interrupted Grash.

Michi’ini stopped and clasped her hands in front her and squealed, “Oh Grash! I’m so happy! I didn’t ever think this day would come. Wow, wait till my friends hear! I…actually wonder where they are…BUT! Haha, you better not upset me Grash, or I’ll KILL YOU!” Michi’ini roared and the group all fell to the floor in abject terror as the Ancient Green Dragon unravelled from a point behind Michi’ini and flame poured over their forms, melting the skin from their flesh and pouring their souls into the void behind them.

The giggling of Michi’ini brought the group from their cowering. Looking about they could see that they were intact and only Grash and Michi’ini were still standing.

“I’ll be sure to uphold my end of the bargain.” the group heard Grash say.

The Goddess clapped and replied, “Fantastic, now. Where are you all off to? I can put you anywhere, and I have a lot of work to do.”

The group mulled over the possibilities and agreed that they should take the opportunity to go to Dharma to see Marjora’s coronation.

They wrapped everything up, collapsed the boat and paid their apprehensive respects to Michi’ini, the Emerald Destroyer and All-Mother of the Daturan and Mokshan Halflings.

As they were standing, resplendent in their grimy and battered armour Michi’ini perked up, “Oh! One last thing,” she said smiling at Jalana, “Don’t ever speak to me like that again.”

As Jalana looked into the eyes of the now-free God, she died.

Yells from the other members of the group were drowned out as the world around them fell away and they were flung into the void.

View
Chapter 35
Temporal Tourism

The group continues down the narrowing passageway. The moss on the walls getting darker and darker.

As Vuvu stops to tinker with the torch she was holding, as it had begun to splutter, Baer approaches Grash.

“Grash, I’m going to ask you one last time. Give me back that cloak.” he said, as he stood staring slightly down at Grash.

Grash crossed his stump of his arm across his chest in a sick mockery of someone folding their arms.

“And why would I do that? Hmm? Remember, I saved your life? Maybe this can be payment.”

“It’s mine, I found it. Plus I saved your life back outside Corundum. Those goblins would have had you if it weren’t for my efforts.” replied Baer, matter-of-fact.

Grash chuckled in reply and turned away when Bear grabbed him by the shoulder and slammed him into the wall, again.

“I won’t ask again, and you will regret this. But for the sake of the situation I will not pursue this immediately. Mark my words, I will not forget this treachery.”

Grash stared at him in reply, and Bear let him go.

They all continued down the path, with Vuvu at the rear with the torch and Grash scouting ahead in the shadows, almost melting into the gloom under his nice new cloak.

Grash approached a part of the passage where it began to open up to a larger cavern.

“Halt, I think we’ve reached some kind of lair.” he whispered into the speaking stones.

The rest of the group halted, and Vuvu started to take the brief respite to lodge the torch into the wall in order to add more tar to it, as the flame was continuing to gutter. “Damn things, they don’t make ’em like they used to.” she muttered as she worked.

Grash began to peer into the cavern and slowly move a little forward, careful to not disturb any small rocks. “I don’t see anything, move up to my position, just follow the lights.” he again whispered into the speaking stones.

“Damn it” exclaimed Vuvu, just as the rest of the group began to move forward. She had been trying to tie more cloth onto the torch, but it had slipped from its position on the wall and fell to the ground guttering out completely and drenching them in darkness.

As she scrabbled on the floor to find the torch the rest of them had turned about and those with the ability to see in the gloom saw the walls moving around her. Shun turned and just as large black tendrils flowed silently from the walls he swung his staff about to stop their clutching grasps.

“What the?” said Vuvu as she was covered in the vines and dragged to the cracks in the walls from whence they came. Her cries were muffled, along with Shun and Jung’s as the three of them were dragged into the walls by the black vines and Jalana, Baer fled to Grash’s position.

They saw the lights, and he saw them coming. “What is it?” he spoke aloud to them.

“Vines! From the walls!” Jalana cried, dropping any pretence of stealth. “They came from nowhere and took the others, they seem to be gone now, though.” she added, coming to a stop and regaining composure.

Grash stood back against the wall and allowed them all to stand under the lights he had conjured. Keeping himself in the shadows he said “We need to keep moving.”

“Don’t worry, well get to the bottom of this” said Jalana.

“No, we’ll get to the end of it.” Grash whispered in reply as Baer and Jalana walked past him into the cavern.

As they entered the cavern Grash slipped in behind them moving through the shadows and keeping to the edges, whilst they made their way into the middle.

“Hellooooooo” called Jalana. Baer stopped in his tracks, the sudden noise and subsequent echoes surprising him.

They all waited.

helloooooooo

They all looked about them, the reply coming from all around them.

“Show yourself, Kaveh!” shouted Baer, taking out Giant Slayer and scanning the room. Jalana whipped out Wax and Wane and one lit aflame. “Come out and face us, monster!” she called.

Grash waited in the shadows ready to strike.

Do you want to hear a joke? a voice came from the walls. a savage, a madman and a cripple walk into a cave

Laughter came from all around them, after the echoes had subsided the walls suddenly lit up in a dark purple fiery light. Torches, not seen before, were ablaze with a demonic light and writhing runes had appeared amongst the torches.

They could now see a Halfling, clad in dark leather and cloth, masked, standing atop a rocky outcropping about 20 feet above them.

“I see you lizard, thank you for picking up my little coins.” he said to the darkness. Grash realised he was speaking to him, only a little surprised. he cursed himself and remembered this wasn’t the first time that looting a random corpse had gotten him in trouble.

“I’d like to thank Jung for bringing us all together, but he’s a little tied up right now.” Kaveh laughed. “I think he’s learned his lesson to not make deals that he cannot honour.”

Grash came out from the shadows to stand amongst the other two.

Baer looked agitated, “What do you mean deal? What are you speaking about?”

“Oh!” cried Kaveh, “I think you’ll find that Jung has a little more to him that first glance. The poor exiled noble is such a cliche, don’t you think? Anyway, I’ll be taking that heart now, give me the Anhata!” as he said the last word a sound came from beside him and the group saw a large wet looking sack in the dark behind him.

“No, no, shhhh, it’s not time yet, you are not ready my pretty thing.” said Kaveh as the thing in the sack seemed to stretch at the membrane keeping it at bay, pushing it’s form against the boundary with wet gurgling and screeching noises.

Jalana recognised the word as meaning the Dark Heart of the Forest, the thing they were to meant to be bringing to this All-Mother that Jung had mentioned.

“I don’t think we’re going to just give you it. That sounds like a bad deal. How about this, though; you give us our friends back and we don’t kill you and burn your body?” said Jalana.

Kaveh of the Black Vines seemed to be musing it over, rubbing his chin and pacing. He walked over to a large humming machine, that the group hadn’t seen before Kaveh moved close enough to it, and put his hand on a large lever. The machine was similar to the one that had previously imprisoned Jung and Grash, but this one was bigger.

“How about I turn my friend here” he nodded towards the birthing sack of whatever he was trying to summon into their world, “into something more terrible than you could ever imagine and you all die and I take the heart? Or,” he continued “you take the place of your friends and feed yourselves to the machine instead of them? It is absolutely essential that three souls are fed to it to ensure that it works.” he sounded as if he was smiling behind his leather mask.

“No, we’ll just go with killing you.” replied Grash as he took out his knives and began walking calmly towards the outcropping ready to scale it.

“Well, looks like you choose to die.” Kaveh shrugged and started to pull the lever.

A small moth that happened to be floating past didn’t realise that it’s wings had slowed down to a fraction of it’s speed, and Kaveh didn’t know that the lever was dropping at only a hundredth of normal speed, his grin locked in place behind the mask. A loud bang shook the room and Just ahead of Grash, Bear and Jalana stood a being, in flowing robes swirling beneath his feet and moving runes of ancient tongues moving across his light blue skin.

“Haerken to me! I have only moments!” cried Lilac, his arms raised above his head and sweat glistening on his skin, “I can free one of your friends to aid you in this fight! Choose now! Quickly!” he cried.

“Vuvu!” said Grash and Jalana simultaneously, looking at each other.

“It is done!” A booming voice split the air as a portion of the wall collapsed and Vuvu came rolling out, seemingly unharmed.

“What the fuck?” she asked, sitting on the floor legs spread ahead of her and her arms behind propping her up.

As quickly as he’d appeared Lilac was gone and the lever dropped.

“What the-” Kaveh said, with a frown that none else could see just as the machine activated and the world fell out from under them all.

An eternity and an instant later they found themselves thrown onto stone, before they could even regain their feet they realised that they were not in the cave anymore but somewhere else entirely.

Getting back to his feet, Baer looked about him and saw that there was only rock. Turning his gaze to the heavens he saw titanic continent sized rocks making their way across his vision from all angles. Unimaginable distances away the rocks were constantly crashing into one another and creating smaller and larger rocks. Some of which they could see were on their way to them.

“What have you done!” screeched Kaveh from some way away from them, huddled over the heaving and bleeding demonic birthing sac. He was moving his hands over the gore covered sac and seemed to be muttering words to himself. They could see dark magics pouring from his hands over the sac.

Grash had his knives out and had kept most of his composure during the transit to this new field of battle. He knew from Kaveh’s exclamations that this was not what he’d expected to occur, so in Grash’s mind they were on an even battlefield.

“You think yourself a bit of a trickster, don’t you?” Grash asked of Kaveh as he walked quickly towards him with weapons bared. “I think you’ll find that you have met your match in me.”

As he got closer her could see the sac give a sudden lurch and heaved itself into the air, holding itself midair and began to writhe with a horrible screeching noise begin in the air around them. This horrible noise began a creeping feeling in Grash’s spine and he slowed his approach, more wary now.

“Fools, you have no idea what you’ve done. None of us will survive this, but I will ensure that I at least take your lives myself!” cried Kaveh as he suddenly threw himself into the air, far above his birthing demon, dozens of feet. He laughed as he threw one last flash of crackling energy at the sac as it burst apart and a monsterous demon poured out onto the earth below it, covered in ichor and black blood-like ooze. The sounds it made were like a screech hyppogryph in tremendous pain, but it looked nothing like one. Four large arms, two of which had horrendous looking claws at the end, the other two giant fists. It legs were 8 feet long with dark hooves and it’s head was a thing of piercing eyes and vicious teeth.

Grash looked down at the demon, and Kaveh floating in the sky out of his reach.

“Well, looks like it’s you and me.” said Grash as he stared at the demon just as he saw a shape passing by shoulder at great speed.

Baers roar was primal and furious, he leapt at the demon with Giant Slayer swinging in great arcs battlng away it’s four limbs that began to immediately try to kill him. Every hit the demon took seemed to be giving it pleasure as it’s screams of pain turned to screeches of what sounded like glee.

Grash, after only a moment, joined the fray by first launching his two daggers from his belt, The Mermaids screeches matching those of the demon and The Gryffins call was music to his ears. Both knives dug deep and Grash leapt in behind them, using one as a step to gain a higher purchase for Life Stealer (his magic shortsword) to gain a deep cut.

Vuvu, still staring at the expansive ballet of asteroids around her, and still a little confused as to what was happening, took out her sword and looked about. She knew that the demon was an enemy, and that the shrieking flying Halfling was probably an enemy, but she could see that her two companions were in a very thick melee and were taking hits that would fell any normal person. Vuvu ran to them and on the way whispered secret rhymes and shouted well known verses of healing to bring trans-human vitality to her friends. Jalana did not hesitate and from the ground below her and the latent power of earth around her she brought into her body the power of the stone and her skin cracked and hardened to mirror the earth about her, giving her a feeling that she was made of stone.

She noticed that Clarence the Scorpion had leapt from her hair as she began the spell, and as he looked at her in confusion, his favourite resting place in her matted hair now no longer soft and comfy, she pointed at him and demanded of him to grow. And grow he did, again, for his master.

Jalana sent him to fight the demon and brought her attention to the floating Halfling Warlock Kaveh far above them. She took the crackling and spitting javelin from her back and cast it to the sky, lightning sparking from it at it flew. Kaveh had been looking at the demon and pouring dark energies into it from above and did not see the javelin, which was now more energy than solid material, until too late. He jerked towards the projectile just before it hit him and took much of it’s energy into the magic of his armour, but it did pierce him.

Crying out he took the now regular spear from his side and cast below him where Jalana had taken the opportunity to move to, she caught it in her upturned hands which were already moving and weaving into making elemental surges of energy to destabilise and interfere with Kaveh’s casting.

The battle with the demon continued, with every second swipe of it’s giant claws it passed through one of Grash’s mirrored illusions and with every confused backswing it met another swing of Baer’s monsterous sword, carving more and more steaming and bleeding pieces off the demon.

Kaveh looked about him and saw that he was outmatched and looked to the distance, seeing what he needed, knowing that in this place it was hard to judge time and space. Concentrating as much he could, being blasted with burning winds and buffeted by flames, he used his devilish gaze to bring the remnants of the machine to his presence.

Jalana was still looking up at Kaveh from below, not trusting herself to stop her attacks to become an animal to take the fight to him. She saw his attention leave her and she knew he was up to something but before she could do anything she felt more than heard an unsettlingly large rock coming towards them.

TAKE COVER! INCOMING!’ she called to the other, but to no avail, they could not hear her over the din of battle. She herself knelt down and put her hands on the ground, rooting herself to the ground as a rock herself. She she did so a rock the size of blacksmiths shop hit nearby and sent shock-waves and shrapnel through the battlefield. The noise was deafening and the smaller rocks smashed them all from their feet, including Clarence and the Demon.

Kaveh was ready for the tumult and laughed as the pulled, once again, the lever on the machine that was not phasing in and out of his presence. They all once again felt the world drop from beneath their feet and the breath left their lungs.

The breath comes back to them, but comes back with the heat of a forge. Gasping for breath and feeling like they’ve been thrown in an oven beside baking bread, the group finds themselves on semi molten rock and surrounded by an expansive world made of flame and lava. Getting back to their feet and frantically brushing at the small patches of fire that appeared wherever their clothing was touching the floor.

‘What in Balors ballsack is happening!?’ cried Baer as he stood with his sword in two hands, casting his gaze about them and seeing a sprawled demon a few dozen feet from them and Kaveh rising further into the air above it.

’I think the Halfling is using that machine to teleport us places, I have no idea where, although they do all seem to have a certain…theme." said Grash, seemingly not too fussed about the fire about him and quite enjoying the heat.

Jalana, stunned at the sudden temperature increase and feeling the energy around her pulling at her she let the energy infuse her. She cried out and the other turned to her, she had her arms out to her sides and her ayes were aflame! She cried out again and this time flames burst from her mouth and before Vuvu could rush to her aid Jalana exploded into flame and was completely consumed.

The others looked on in horror as where Jalana once stood was a being made of flame that…somehow resembled Jalana.

it is me the thing said Jalana…I feel…different…

“What…the…fuck…” said Vuvu.

Jalana looked to the demon and smile, flames moved to give the appearance of smiling, anyway, and swept across the flame to bring it cleansing flames.

Bear rushed after her on the back of Clarence, which gladly accepted him. Vuvu leapt on the back of the scorpion as it swept pass her, waving her sword in the air and creating a shimmering barrier about her that seemed to give courage and energy to those friends nearby.

Grash, even though the fire didn’t hurt him as much as it did the others, found in himself a new power and with a thought he rose above the ground. Three times as tall as himself he hovered from the ground, unable to direct himself but safe from the burning floor. He found at his belt the Mermaid and the Griffon, again somehow magically returning to him without thought from himself. He cast them from him at Kaveh and they struck true, peircing his arm and slashing at his face as one whipped by.

‘Looks like I get you to myself’ Grash cried across the fiery wasteland that they now did battle.

Kaveh, turning his attention on Grash, grinned, half his face now exposed from the slashing of the Griffon. ‘We will all die here, but I think I will kill you myself, you disgusting lizard freak!’ and with that Kaveh began to throw crackling back and purple bolts of dark energy at Grash and immediately along with the burning bolts Grash felt his mind become assaulted.
He knew that Kaveh was trying to break his mind and Grash was no stranger to these tactics and began to throw fire back at the Halfling and began an assault of the mind of his own.

The demon was being assaulted by the Giant Slayer being wielded by Baer and the claws of Clarence and at the same time being engulfed by the now Flame Elemental Jalana. It was hard pressed and wasn’t looking very good at this moment. As Kaveh implied, the demon needed three souls to birth correctly, and with Lilacs interference, it looked like it was being powered by only two. The assault of Dragunship Suddenly was fierce and unrelenting.

The battle above them in the sky was taking a different turn, Kaveh raised his hands above his head and black blood dripped from his eyes as he brought from some other place a dark blade the size of a huge falchion, the blade seemed to be alive, moving and jerking, looking for a target and finding one in Grash. The blade slashed down, surprising Grash with it’s speed and ferocity. Kaveh followed the blade flying and roaring defiance at Grash, looking for a killing blow. The blade disappeared and Glash looked about, finding it now attacking Vuvu atop the scorpion, it pierced her arm as she flung up her sword to deflect the attack.

Grash saw this and knew he had to do something drastic. He looked back at Kaveh speeding towards him like some bird of prey, the mask slipping off his face and fire covered his robes as Grash’s fire consumed them.

Grash reached into his pocket and took something from there casting it at Kaveh, now going too fast to avoid whatever Grash had thrown.

Grash took a breath and yelled

MELON!

As Kaveh watched a small box the size of a small scroll case was flung at him and it twisted and turned, starting to grow and tumble. To his surprise it didn’t stop growing until it was suddenly the size of ship, a ship with Dragun heads on it. He didn’t have time to slow down and the full weight of the ship smashed into him, knocking him unconcious and hurling him backwards through the air.
He wasn’t the only one being hurled through the air as several of the crew, that were still on the ship, were flung from the tumbling full sized ship onto the firey lava below. Their screams were heard by the others, but they could do nothing as they were harrassed by the demon.

Grash cried melon again and returned the now collapsed boat to his belt, watching Kaveh’s body smash into the lava and fire below. He floated down to the ground and looked about. Seeing his friends find more and more victories in their fight and the demon was not on it’s knees, taking killing blows from them.

Grash looked back to those crew who were flung from the ship. He was still a dozen feet from the ground and knew that he could only save one. He saw which one he would save, the one holding what seemed to be a bottle of rum. Rum that Damien had said was all run out. He pushed himself, using his magical summoned hand towards him through the flames and the heat to who he could now see as Damien. He picked up the screaming and bloody man from the ground. Damien didn’t let go of the bottle, through sheer willpower or because the heat had fused it to his hand, Grash didn’t know. The man was limp, though still concious and screaming in his arms as Grash cast his eyes about the place, looking for the maching to bring them away from this place. The others had finished off the demon and were all clambering about trying to find safe purchase in the odd stone that wasn’t covered in lava. They were looking for the machine too but could not find it.

Grash however had glimpsed a small fraction of Kaveh’s mind, and knew how the machine worked. It was not distance or space that mattered, the machine was…everywhere.
Grash pointed to a space just behind Baer. ‘There’ he said.

They turned about and sure enough the machine, humming and vibrating, was there. Baer, seeing it moved to it and immediately pulled the lever, just as his boots caught fire.

They moved through two other planes, one of water where they were almost devoured by a godlike and unseen underwater being, only keeping their breath when Baer made them eat a herb that he had in his pockets, then a world of no solid material, only air and strange flying beings that almost made a meal of them. As they found and pulled the lever a final time they shuddered back into the material plane, back in the cave where they started minus Kaveh and the Demon.

Jung and Shun were there, waiting for them, however they were unconscious but otherwise seemed unhurt.

Jalana was back in her human form, as the flames were put out when they entered the water plane, and went to tend to the unconscious ones and to Damien, who was now unconscious from the pain.

As she tended to Shun, and as Vuvu was making sure that Kaveh’s black blade had done no permanent damage to her arm, Baer calmly walked up to Jung and knelt by him.

‘You tricksy little bastard, I fucking hate Halfings’ he whispered into Jung’s ear and with his knife slit his throat.

‘No!’ Jalana cried out and launched herself at Baer, fearing that he was possessed by some malevolent force left behind by Kaveh and swept her swords at him.

Baer’s face turned into an animalistic grimace as he smashed her swords out of her hands with a strength and fury that she hadn’t seen before. She was so shocked that she didn’t act immediately and that was all he needed. Baer dropped his sword and grabbed her by the neck bringing her to her knees with his short knife at her throat. In the instant it took for this to happen Grash and Vuvu were standing in front of him, weapons out.

‘What are you doing, Bear?’ asked Vuvu calmly, seeing the fear and rage in his eyes.

‘I will not go back there, they’re tricking us…you know this! We need to kill him!’ he yelled nodding his head frantically towards Jungs body, a pool of blood forming where he was bleeding out heavily.

‘This is not you Bear, stop immediately.’ Vuvu continued.

Grash looked on and saw in Baer a great fear, something he knew how to utilise. Grash opened his mind and sent it to Baer’s, amplifying Baer’s fears. Grash saw flashes of Baer’s imprisonment in Moksha’a fighting pits and back to his childhood where he and his family were hunted and killed by werewolves. Baer screamed, dropping the gasping Jalana and picking up his sword again, swinging it at only the horrors that he could see in his mind. Baer swung and swung and as he was distracted Jalana crawled to Jung’s body and stemmed the flow of blood, sending what healing magic through him as she could.

‘No! NOOO! Get away from me! i won’t go back! No!’ cried Baer as he dropped his sword and collapsed on the ground, shivering and muttering to himself.

After a moment, Grash came and knelt beside the trembling form of Baer, whimpering on the floor.

‘Before I give you back your cloak, I will save your life one more time.’ and with that Grash ended the horrific images in Baer’s mind and draped the cloak about his form, leaving Baer quivering and muttering on the floor of the cave.

View
Chapter 34
Old Friends - New Cloaks

Night is falling, and Jung is getting to his feet.The Halflings of his small tribe have vanished into the early gloom, disappearing into the forest. As Jung gets himself together he sees his recent acquaintances begin to make their way down the temple exterior.

As they are all clambering down Grash starts to feel a little strange. He doesn’t know why but he lets out a small giggle. Looking about at the others he makes sure that nobody saw him. He begins to descend the steppe again, however this time a loud laugh leaves his mouth. He puts the stump at his mouth, trying to stifle the surge of laughter that errupts from him and after only a moment he collpases on the floor, tears coming from his eyes and he rolls off the edge of the temple laughing hysterically. Vuvu rushes to his aid, “Grash you fool, what is the matter with you! Be quiet or share the joke.” she says as she kneels down beside him. When he doesn’t reply she begins to worry, and his laughter seems to be taking his breath away as he tries to take heaving breaths between laughing fits. She looks about his body and find a strange legion on his neck and thinks about where she saw that last.

Years ago on another adventure, she had infiltrated a brothel with another accomplice of hers, a rogue of some renown. They were after some hidden gems they’d heard about. Smuggling themselves in as whores they found themselves in the area where they keep the ‘budget women’. One of them was on a cot, laughing hysteerically and covered in weeping sores. “Shes got the cackling fever she does, she’ll be done for in a few days if she doesn’t see a priest. Ah well, she wasn’t avin’ a great time ’ere anyways.” said one of the other whores.

Vuvu raises her hands above Grashes body and begins to hum a tune, one she remembered from her childhood and the notes drifted from her through Grash into the weave and spun from his body the nefarious poisons eating at his mind. After a while the others came up to her as she sat with eyes closed humming to herself and letting out the occasional verse. She opened her eyes and saw the group looking at her strangely.

“What?” she asked as Grash was now sitting up watching her with a curious look on his face and without the lesion on his neck.

“That was Elvish.” said Shun, and moved off, helping Jung down the steps, as he had not regained his full strength yet.

They make their way to the bottom of the temple and then back through the forest back to the dragunship. Jung explains along the way that he suspects that he knows who set him up to fail. Another Halfing called Kaveh of the Black Vine; A warlock and his former pupil. Kaveh left before his training was complete and went off to the north to learn darker secrets closer to Moksha.

They made it back to the dragunship in once piece. They showed Jung around the ship, asked him if he knew anyone that could fix the ship, Jung advises that there are some forests taht have the wood required, but he doesn’t know any ship builders. Everyone went to the cabin and got Shun to identify the magic items, including the runed brass bowl and Grashs necklace.

They all decide to help Jung, and in return he will help them find the All-Mother to return the dark heart. They set off and a few days later they see the badger-wolf at the gnarled rooted bank. Jalana calls to it, but cannot hear it, so she makes her mouth go all weird with animal stuff so she can talk to them and then jumps into the water and swims to it. As she gets closer she hears it saying “No! Go back to the ship! Trolls!”

She feels a gnarled hand grabbing at her ankle and the battle begins. She is pulled under water and tries to conjure her flame blade, it doesn’t work. The others see this but also see bubbles ahead of them in the water and a underwater barge that that they took for regular floating water debris turns out to have been a submerged ramshackle boat that 5 trolls were on. Vuvu and Shun cast stink cloud and firewall respectively and batter the trolls down from afar. Jung leaps and runs across the water to Jalana’s assistance, finding her to be a giant octopus grappling and hurting the troll. The fight rages on and Grash hears a muffled noise coming from the trolls now sinking ship. Sounds like the trolls have a captive.

He leaps into the water with one arm, one leg and no hands apart from his magic one. He swims very slowly over to the sinking wreck but cannot see the captive, but he can hear their muffled yells.

The trolls, after abandoning their sinking ship, swim to the dragunship and claw their way aboard, some light melee occurs but mainly the magic of Vuvu and Shun defeat them. Jalana makes her way back on board. Grash cannot hear the sound of the captive anymore and thinks they’ve gone under water now. Vuvu calls the waters to part and they do, like moses at the red sea, grash sees debris hitting the water as it falls to catch up with the new surface. He also sees a splash where no debris fell. He swims to it and finds a large invisible body. He drags and swims it back to the ship, cutting the gag on it’s mouth, he hears a voice “been a while, friend.” , with everyone looking on, and hauls it, somehow, on board. Grash flops his body onto the deck along with the burden, which shudders and flicks, then comes to visibility. It’s Baer. Bear looks like he’s seen some things. They ask him how he got here. He says he escaped when they did and has been looking for them. He came across a large portal and that’s where their footsteps stopped, so he had to run. And its been hard.

They all sat on the boat and licked their wounds. A half day alter they come across the point that Jung indicates they need to disembark and head off into the jungle. As they are exiting the ship Jalana cuts her hand and drops some blood into the brass runed bowl. She tells Grash that she’d like to test it out, and Shun said that it should be projecting some kind of dispersement field for magic and detection. He insists that they don’t have time for this and orders the crew to forcefully remove her. She goies with them and exits the ship. Grash tells the crew to stay on the ship. Vuvu says she doesnt want the crew to go to hell. Grash says This is hell. They have sad looks on their face when he Melloned them.

They all walk off into the Jungle following the staunch and resilient Jung. They walk a few hours and find the temple. Very large, a hundred feet high, and make their way inside. Just inside the door they find a body, Jung sees that it’s a Halfling from Moksha, he tells the group this and nobody seems to bothered by it. They loot him and find that he has six gold pieces and a small green vial with runes on it that Shun translates as either antidote or key, it’s an old version of elvish and he can’t be sure.

They go further into the dungeon and suddenly they can walk no more, they find that Jung and Grash, the ones travelling at the front of the line, are now stuck in a transparent force-field that is slowly filling up with poisonous gas. Inside the cage they see that they are in some kind of plane-shifting machine, in a room with machinery which is projecting the force-field. Everyone outside the force-field still sees the narrow hallway that they are in and Grash and Jung just standing there. They bang on the force-field but nothing happens. The two inside the field cannot hear those outside and vice-versa. They communicate what they can see using hand signals to the group.

Baer whispers to his armour and slips into the ethereal plane, seeing what those in the cage sees. He sees the machinery and tries to figure out how it works. He randomly starts pulling levers and makes the poison go faster.

“Damn it Baer! Stop! You’ll kill us both!” yells Grash, of course Baer cannot hear him.

Baer calmly starts to punch the machine, which also makes it worse, Grash and Jung are on their knees now, straining for breath. Grash takes out the vial and tries to break it with some difficulty (only having one hand), Jung does not help him at all. Bear, having tried everything he could think of, sees the two in the cage use the antidote/key vial and it turns off the force field and Grash and Jung disappear from his view as they return to the material plane.
He then realises that his armour is almost out of time and he’ll be sent back to the the material realm soon, so he runs about and tries to grab something. He sees a very nice cloak on a rack, grabs it, and runs back to them just in time as he shifts back to the material plane also.
Holding the cloak and going to put it on, Grash comes over to him and congratulates him, patting him on the back and giving him a half hug. As they separate he realises he is not wearing his new cloak, but Grash is. He grabs Grash by the throat and pins him to the wall and snarls “Give me back my cloak lizard boy”. Grash, through choked gasps, says “This is payment for me saving your life.”

Baer looks at him, with disdain and drops him to the floor and stalks onward down the corridor with the others. As they progress they find a hallway with uneven flagstones on the floor. Grash knows this is a trap and can see the holes in the wall and a large rune on the floor. Shun has casts Truesight and can see a large outline of a rune on the floor. He also seems many shining orbs on the side of the wall that the others cannot see.
Nobody examines the rune and Bear runs across the floor activating the darts. They miss him but as he turns around to gloat he sees many of the darts hanging in the air seemingly pin-cushioning something, which then falls.

They approach the quivering thing, which sheds its invisibility as pain and poison course through it’s body. It is another Halfling, which also seems to be from Moksha, as the one at the entrance. He is choking and pouring blood from his wounds, which resist healing spells. He dies in pain. he probably needed some kind of antidote.

Jung, kneeling at the side of the now still corpse, is rummaging through it’s pockets. He gets up with a letter in his hands and reads it aloud.

“To the leaders of Datura, we, the elders of Moksha, do send this treaty to forestall any violence or incursion into our lands, and furthermore hope to renew our treaty of…” Jung stalled and look at the rest of them.

“We have, sort-of, in a rounda-bout-way, killed the diplomat of Moksha.” he said.

After some blank stares from the others he added “That is not good”.

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Chapter 33
The Star Track

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You have something for us?” he asked bluntly and with no sense of worry about himself.

“Tell him we have the Dark Heart of the Forest, and ask him how much he’s willing to part with for it.” Said Grash, feeling left out because of his lack of understanding of the language.

Shun began to translate as the gorilla walked off into the jungle. “Well, yes, we do.” he replied as he turned back to the old man. ‘We have the Dark Heart of the Forest.’ said Shun just as Jalana came back from the jungle being followed by children still poking her and trying to jump on her back, with one succeeding.

“Oh hello everyone! Fancy seeing you here” she said, with a sly wink to her ship-mates as she popped another mushroom into her mouth.

The elder Halfling looked at her with a cocked eyebrow. “Is she… simple?” has asked Shun whilst pointing at Jalana.

Shun looked at Jalana who was pretending that she had just stumbled across this highly secluded clearing deep within Datura without being noticed by any of the Halflings until just now.
‘Yes.’ he answered. ‘Besides that,’ he continued ’they brought something to you, the leader of your people, for them to fulfil a pledge that they made to a Halfling called Arryn."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As they came to the still body of Jung Jalana knelt down by his body, and tapping into the energy of the jungle about them she called the spirits to bring life back to his ragged and barely breathing body. He stirred and then gasped, grasping at the rocks about him and getting up onto his knees, but he could rise no further in his pain and shock.

Jung looked up to see an imposing dark figure above him, dark matted hair about her face, freed from its tethers during the fight and blood on her face. ‘It is okay, they are dead. We saved you.’ said Jalana.

With wide eyes Jung looked around, seeking the eyes that he knew would be watching them. There, in the tree line, his warriors, watching him. His face was as stone, and he begins to stand, shaking, with all the strength of his bloodline he gets to his knees. But it was not enough, he had already fallen, and been saved by outsiders.

His people, his clan, his warriors and his family turned and walked back into the jungle with sorrow on their faces like that of those that had recently lost a loved one.

Jung knew they would never again accept him as their leader.

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Chapter 32
Green Skies - Red Hearts

‘Bring us another one, would you darling?’ without turning around Vuvu waved her hand in the air towards the barkeep. Grash was recounting another of the adventures he’d been on to Vuvu, telling her of the siege of Dharma. The tavern keeper, clearing a table behind them, stared at the pair and reluctantly made his way back to the bar to pour more drinks.

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

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

As the hours passed she slumbered with dreams of tearing flesh and smiling Drow.
After a few restless hours her bat ears twitched. She thought she heard a scream, like metal nails being dragged across rust but amplified beyond reason. She kept her eyes closed, attuning her ears; she could hear the towns folk beginning their nightly activities. Shops closing, some opening, the sound of mothers calling their children home.
Again the screech. This time like it was curdling from a bubbling swamp, the death wail of some dying beast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this is why you are here

this is what you are for

Grash, come and find me, come home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hello.’ he said without addition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Steady as she goes.’

View
Chapter 31
A Sinister Plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t find him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chapter 30
Wild Orc Chase

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

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