Ascension

Reunions
Thorman

They say your life flashes before your eyes in the moments before death They are right…and I have gazed at death’s door far too frequently for one man..if I can even be called that anymore. So as a god I once called friend stands before me and with a wave of his hand rends the life from my body again and again…the past few moments do indeed return.
The coliseum, where it all began. The same crowd..the same joyful cheers of ignorance ring through the bloodstained sands. The only difference is the spectacle before them. Two halves of a whole being..the elves..an illusion of true power raise their hands to crowd and announce their prophecy for all to hear. Too much evil..all in one place. All our foes gathered here to watch this atrocity. We argue over what to do..who to stop. But I know, a world at war is still a world that can be saved. Should this god arise, there will not be a world to save. I know this place well from memory..though it’s been centuries, and we make for the underground passages where the combatants are stored. We hope that if we can disrupt the arena floor..shift the symbol or destroy it..it will halt their endeavors if not at least stall them. We ponder and strategize but there is no time. Finally we make it to the battleground, familiar territory for all of us. We begin the disruption of the symbol of bodies, Juhlaer hurling corpses at the elves themselves. Nothing phases them..nothing stops them. They rise into the air and I see the red vial in the quiet one’s hand. Before I can say a..it shatters.
Huebert…the elf that stood by my side..that I saved..that I held as he died..now stares at me with piercing eyes..not his own. I’m shackled in this place..another familiar dead zone where my second life began. I strain against the bonds he’s made..using all my willpower to force Faith upon him. He tires of my efforts..and with none of his own..I lose Hope and Faith..the very weapons this same god once gave me…no..not the same.
A red glow forms around the elves as Hedar and I make for them in a last, wild attempt to stop what we know is about to happen. Hedar is faster than I, so I try anything I can. I snare a limb and hurl it at the duo, a pitiful attempt as it contacts the barrier and fizzles into nothing. Hedar casts a spell of his own and takes a hold of me as we begin to rise to meet them. The two orbs..blood red..merge..crack..and shatter..and I see him. As if not a day had passed. Hedar brings us close enough and I hook a blade on his shoulder, a pain that if he feels he doesn’t show it. I pull myself up to meet his gaze, and I ask of him one thing. To speak. I need to know what these monsters have created. Then..with an all too familiar tremble and stutter..Huebert looks at me..frightened..and says my name. “Thorman?” It is him..no mistaking it. I embrace him as he tells me he’s scared..unsure..I can’t imagine. Hedar asks him to take us away from here..he complies..and like smoke on the wind, we vanish.
As I fight against nothing…with nothing left..Jhulaer appears. I want to tell her to leave..to stay away..I can’t. I’m powerless as whatever Huebert has become rips the very magic from Jhulaer and casts Hedar into it..gone. He throws Jhulaer to the ground..there is no fighting this. As I accept this..my bonds release. I collapse..unable to hold myself up..and I hear this monster state his reason for letting us live. Pain…and suffering. I feel a touch as Jhulaer takes me into the same mist that took Hedar..and as I lose myself, I can’t help but feel sadness. Not for our failure..not for the fate of the world..but that somewhere behind the multitude that is now Huebert that..my friend remains..scared…and alone.

View
Deals not taken

As we enter the tomb of the illusionist, I find myself at a loss for how to proceed. This is a place of pure magic, where even my keenly honed senses are of little use, and in fact may betray me entirely. Alton stays behind and I find myself envying him. I don’t fear what we’re about to face, but I am apprehensive—I may not be able to much here.

We venture forward. Hedar seems to be able to see by way of the magical auras of our surroundings—like some sort of magical bat. For once, he might have an advantage over those of use with working eyes. And no sooner do I think this than does the madness begin. First, I notice Thorman, looking like himself for the first time since our escape. Jhulaer, on the other hand, looks almost like someone else entirely. But, despite all her dark elven features removed, it’s still clearly her. Hedar, by contrast, is no longer fully himself—although I’m mostly convinced that was true before now as well. His… diseased… arm now takes on the full appearance of the king bastard, a limb to match the eyes. And speaking of bastards…

What the significance of all this is, I don’t know. Perhaps there is none and this is all merely a show to unnerve us. Hedar makes sense, he obviously carries something of Doran within him. Perhaps there’s some logic in Thorman as well, at the very least, his appearance is one familiar to him. I don’t know Jhulaer well enough to know of any relevance of a human form, but judging by her reaction, she isn’t aware of any either. As for me, well, I suppose as much as I’m inclined to ignore his intentions, he has some claim to me now—I may not understand the nuances of using magic, but I’m clear enough on the workings to figure that out. I best say something dismissive, hopefully stave off any lingering questions I’m far from ready to deal with. And if this is the kind of game this place wishes to play, best not give it any more to work with than absolutely necessary.

Daily routine: Up an hour before dawn. Quick inventory of all supplies and of the ledgers. Go to the cellar to select and retrieve the day’s food supplies. Quick inspection of the premises to ensure no damage was done during the night by an unruly customer or, gods forbid, thieves. Head down the block to butcher to pick up meats. Bring in milk from doorstep when back. Begin preparing breakfast. Make enough for staff and any known early risers, then leave stove on for remainder of breakfast hours. Compile chore list (mentally at least) for the boy. As soon as the serving girl arrives, put her on kitchen duty and begin attending to any repair or upkeep jobs…

A change of scenery finally forces me to return to deeper thinking. We appear to be standing on a vast, but long-lost battlefield. Bodies in varying states of decay litter the ground. In the distance, a loud pounding noise can be heard, rhythmic, like the pounding of the blacksmith’s hammer. We approach it to find no apparent source—Hedar helpfully informs us it’s magical—but the effect is clearly visible—a vast expanse of rising and rapidly falling dust, dirt, debris… the very air itself. If not insurmountable, it’s certainly not friendly terrain. Jhulaer attempts to ferry us magically across, but that predictably will not work here. No choice then, but to cross on foot (more-or-less).

Crossing immediately proves to be a mistake. Every few seconds I can feel myself being utterly crushed by invisible force. At this rate we’ll be dead before we even make it to the chasm in the middle. Well, most of us will. All of a sudden, Hedar shoots past me at incredible speed, apparently intending to leap the chasm in one fell move, a feat I’d think impossible had I not just seen how he can run. Still trying to, literally, jump it blind isn’t going to end well. Thorman and I, almost as one voice call out him when he approaches the edge, but his timing is off. He jumps too soon and begins plummeting into the unknown below. True to his nature, Thorman leaps after him. I figure I’d better go after the both of them, seeing as I possess actual tools for the job. Besides, whatever awaits below can’t be worse than the pounding above.

As I begin to rappel down, a move somewhat unnecessary for myself, but important for helping the others back up, I see Thorman has at least managed to come up with some tools of his own—using his own blades as pitons. Despite their seeming inadequacy, he seems to be making good progress, until an errant swing misses and he begins falling proper. I disengage my end of the rope from the grapple and begin running after him, only to have my foot sink into open air at the same point Thorman began to fall. I guess we were due for a reminder—none of this is really here.

We land in a cell of some new impossibility, appearing to be somehow positioned high in the air between the world below and the heavens above. If I weren’t so pissed off, it would probably be quite awe-inspiring. Hedar is already here. We debate for a moment what to do. Hedar knows magic that could get us out, but is hesitant to invoke it, given our earlier experiences. Fortunately I happen to have a bit of similar magic at my disposal, so he won’t waste a spell in discovery. I effortlessly bypass the bars through the shadows, but clearly the jail is not the trial we face here.

Another borrowed face. I have no patience for this sort of thing, and particularly here, I’d rather not even dignify these petty attempts at emotional manipulation with a reaction. So I ignore Kitty as much as possible and endeavor to find the way out. Thorman is a bit more engaging and we at least gleam that whatever this is—some puppet of Darien’s no doubt—wants to offer us… something. Quite frankly I don’t care what. Nothing this thing has to offer is good for us. I continue to ignore it and head for the only door in the room. However, one look into it, and I’m suddenly wishing I’d paid a bit more attention. What this thing is offering us may be bad, but whatever lies behind our only exit is probably worse. It looks like a place of peace—the lake, pristine as I’ve only seen it once. But something beckons from within, the sort of beckoning that triggers an almost primal reaction—get the hell away.

I turn back to the room, racking my brain for another option out of this trap, when one is provided for me as a hole is blown in the opposite side, creating a powerful breeze as the air is sucked out of the room. I’m resolved to go with it—the possible oblivion it leads to being preferable to whatever beckons within—but, despite my caution, Thorman heads for the door instead. Apparently he failed to see the call to enter for what it truly is, because he joins it in calling us to enter, going so far as to grab me to keep me from getting sucked out of the room. I try to throw my weight with the vacuum—I can’t possibly escape his grip, but perhaps if I can unbalance him, the winds will do the rest and take us both. But alas even that is futile and, despite my protests, both he and Hedar enter the door. Well, I came here to protect them, so if that’s the fate they choose, than it’ll have to be mine as well.

I suddenly find myself in an inn. Not mine. From the look of it, it’s probably one of those franchised Bouncing Sausages. Pretty sloppy work by this Darien then—didn’t even bother to make it believable. As if I would ever work for one of those hack jobs… Suddenly I notice shaed, or rather something borrowing his appearance sitting in front of me. It has little useful to say—merely a mouthpiece for its master. It tells me that the dead lord of this place demands a sacrifice (he doesn’t use those words exactly but the meaning is all too clear). He first asks of me something I cannot give, on either a physical or spiritual level—shaed himself. I make it known, in no uncertain terms, that this is not a valid bargain and he attempts to open further negotiations with the promise of answers to important questions. I doubt he can answer_ my_ most pressing questions and, even if he could, I don’t trust him to do so. And in any case, I’ve already been pressed into too many “bargains”. No more one-sided compromise. If Darien wishes to speak with me—and he ought to, given what I have been, and still am to be, involved in—then he can face me himself. “Very well” the thing says, as we’re transported back to the barren battlefield, “then you can become one of them.” He tells me that many journey here, but are unwilling to pay the price for what they seek and are left to perish. Maybe it’s bluster, maybe it’s true, but either way, I’m not about to be bullied into anything. I’ll bide my time if necessary. Illusions can be broken. Arrangements can be made. On my terms.

Or not. Suddenly the four of us are back at the entrance. At least one of the others must have made a bargain. I wonder what the consequences of that will be. At quick glance, I see that Jhulaer and Thorman are back to the way they were before we entered, but Hedar and I are not. Disturbing. But there’s no time to dwell on that now, as the approaching Alton informs us. The Day has arrived.

View
Torture of Minds
Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Doran

This place is unlike anywhere else on the surface. It’s magic pulls my mind back to the underdark, but this place doesn’t share the familiar hum of life and passion, and such qualities are replaced with a sense of stark isolation, inhospitable ruin, and a feeling of dread.

Despite it’s magical qualities, this cave is completely alien to me. It is imbued with a magic that feels miles beyond my own, and beyond what I even perceived as possible. Despite my apprehension, time is short, and there is not a moment to waste on doubts and questions. The only choice is to see this through, and to hope for some hint or key to preventing the world’s oncoming annihilation.

As we begin our descent into the cavern, a boundary of sorts, not one in a physical sense, acting perhaps as a signal or barrier from the unworthy, blocks our path, and upon passing through, we find ourselves all with changes. Thorman looks as he once did, shrunken and bandaged, the way he did before he left us. Kesral now wears hooded robes all depicting the sign of the dark god Neyrule, Hedar seems unchanged, save for the black hand which now looks wrinkled, old, and yet, for reasons which are not clear to me yet, disturbingly familiar. I am most shocked by my own transformation. I have lost my wings and claws, and now appear as a human. My eyes don’t adjust to the dark in the same way, and I feel even more threatened by this place than before.

We continue into the cave and before long we cross the threshold into what appears to be an ancient battlefield with an open red sky. The earth at our feet is of a similar red-brown color and it’s dry blood-like dust clings to the abandoned skeletons of some unknown war. This is a wasteland. Moments pass before I realize that the wardrums I hear in my mind while walking through this monument of death, are actually the pounding of something in the distance.

As we climb a hill, we locate the source of the beat. By some strange force, across the endless expanse, we watch as stones and dust lift slowly into the air before each pound of the invisible drumbeat drives them back to the earth. Near the center of the rising and falling mass is a wide crevasse. Without much discussion, we begin to cross the tract of land, as though traversing some great being’s heartbeat. Not trusting my missing leg and my hindered movement as well as being robbed of my wings, I cast a fly spell on myself and begin to cross, quickly discovering how difficult it is to fly when the drumbeat crashes to the ground. Despite this, i cross the field with few troubles, though this is more than I can say for my companions. Looking back, I’m helpless to stop them as they careen into the widening chasm. Without any other choice, I persevere and continue forward. Flying on, I reach a coastline, yet the red sand is not met by a sea or river as I would expect, and instead is slowly enveloped and released by a glossy, jagged black glass sea.

Moving closer, I hear an omnipresent voice, beckoning me towards the oily tide. When asked what I will find if I do, the voice only responds with, “Answers.” As if to give me another choice, a door materializes next to me, but my decision is made. We came here for answers, and to ignore this path would be folly. As I take another step the engulfing surf surrounds me and pulls me down into a cocoon of darkness.

I open my eyes to find myself in yet another strange place. This one being a massive chamber, miles wide and high, the earth strewn with rough geological formations as well as a series of trenches, with the central focal point being a colossal castle, which seems to have grown out of the very earth itself. Populating the expanse are a multitude of Dorans, swarming and writhing like locusts in this already devoid field, hunting and searching for one more scrap of life to be consumed. From behind me I hear a voice, rough and unfamiliar at first, then slowly becoming strikingly close to that of Alton. Following the voice, I see a glossy black figure, made of the same substance as the sea, and now seeming strikingly like the parasite which often engulfed Thormin. The being stands before me, it’s face perfectly matching that of Alton as well, looking as though he had just been drenched in oil.

I ask what this place is. The being explains that this is one of the orchard of minds. The first having been destroyed as the beginning of Doran’s plan, and that this second orchard is for the final stage. It reveals that each of the orchards was it’s own plane, and could only be created by Dorin by sacrificing an eye, thereby giving him absolute god-like control over his domain.

Finally, the figure reveals that to meet and question Darien, a sacrifice must be made. It presents me with a choice, to take Darien into me like the parasite that Thormin fought so long, slowly killing me so that it may form a new body, or if not this, to give up my most powerful magic as tribute.

I didn’t come this far just to destroy myself, or to weaken myself at the point I will need my strength the most and certainly not to unleash yet another monster back into the world when we seek to destroy one which already haunts it, and so I refuse.

Showing clear disgust at my answer, the being melts away, leaving me in this place. Finding no escape nearby, and receiving no answer to my calls, I take flight for the castle. However, within moments, the first of the dorans sees me. Readying myself I place magical barriers around me, and release a torrent of fury into the oncoming horde.

……

Months have passed. I know no peace now. Rest is never easy, and I’m not certain if silence is something I have ever experienced at all anymore. I know in my mind that this isn’t real, but when sleeping and waking can’t end your nightmares, what other choice does one have? The torture of minds in this orchard of minds is making it all the clearer to me. If we fail, death will be the only solace.

View
Outmatched and overwhelmed
In which it's surprisingly not a bad thing to bring a blind man to a dragon battle

Magical transport has never quite sat right with me. One moment, we’re all crowded into a tiny room. The next, we’re in the desert, facing combat. No sense of transition, no time to survey the battlefield. A cursory glance is all I can afford, but it should be sufficient. We appear to be in the desert, facing down a small battalion from Syskillia. The dragons are engaged in the sky with two elves, who upon glance would seem to the infamous Pain and Suffering. Although I had been shown them before, seeing them in person is… chilling. Watching the body of a former ally turned to such foul behavior, it sickens me. I can see Thorman feels similarly. But despite our disgust, there is precious little we can do, for they are in the air and appear to possess a fell power—to put a name to it I can only think of one word: “Obliteration”. With naught but a gesture, one of the twins causes the red dragon’s massive plate armor to simply, vanish, leaving in its place a nothingness that defies explanation—one I have gazed upon once, and hoped never to see again.

We ground troops turn to the soldiers, leaving the dragons to engage the elves without additional interference. In the blink of an eye a bizarre, colorful wall materializes on the battlefield. I presume the mage, Jhulaer is responsible, as I believe she used this same magic in the prison break last night. In addition, I suddenly feel invigorated, unnaturally so—I can assume its her doing as well. Two of the soldiers tumble through the wall, apparently dead, as two of their allies step around it and advance on us. Another charges me, slicing my arm, but causing only pain, no real damage. I respond with a carefully chosen stab between the pieces of his armor, felling him in a single hit. While my blow was impeccable, I confess I would not have expected it to be so immediately lethal—this new blade Alton acquired is masterful—I’ll have to think of a way to thank him properly. Up in the air, Pain and Suffering are flitting about the dragons like gnats, one of them laughing incessantly, as though this entire battle a joke only he understands. Hell, it probably is. The other one obliterates the artificial hand of the one with a metallic arm. He and the black one turn their poisonous breath to him in response, but the black dragon’s acid simply flows around the elf. Figures they’d be magically shielded as well—no point having an all-powerful destroyer unless it were also invulnerable, right? The red dragon takes a more direct approach and merely swallows the laughing one.

Back on the ground, Jhulaer is running crowd control, magically throwing troops into one another, seemingly toward that wall of hers. Thorman is helping her, albeit possibly not intentionally, charging one, and unbalancing him so much that he trips and falls through the wall as well. The blind one manages an impressively precise blow against one of the soldiers. If the first blow was improbable, the parry he levels when the soldier turns to attack me would seem impossible. Although he wouldn’t seem to need it, I hand him the potion Thorman and I procured—no point in wasting it, I suppose. In the air, the bronze and black dragons continue to swat at their tormentor, while the red dragon… explodes. Somehow the laughing one burst his way out from the inside, perhaps using the massive creature’s own flame against him. This is bad.

Things are escalating quickly. With one of the dragons out of the way, the laughing elf turns his attention downward, obliterating the wall Jhulaer had erected. As we continue to dispatch the ground troops, their quite-frankly-unneeded cavalry appears. A dragon of their own and two tough looking sons-of-bitches, all dressed in the colors of Doran—jet black parasite. Thorman is uncertain what to do, and I move to him, offering my assistance in whatever he decides. In actuality our course is chosen for us as the dark dragon throws itself on top of us. I get out of the way, but Thorman does not. He manages to heave the dragon off him, but not without taking a powerful swipe from it. I return the blow. Shortly after, Thorman does as well. One of the two men advances on us as well, and while I hope he’ll come after me, intending to use the two parasite-infested foes against one-another, he clearly views Thorman as the better target. On the other side of the field, the others engage the final parasite creature. Our mage can apparently become a dragon herself, which is, I suppose, fortunate here, as it appears to be a dragon-focused battle. In spite of this we are very definitely outmatched, even without the intervention of the accursed elves.

Although clearly quite focused on the task at hand, I still manage occasional glimpses at the battle above. I saw the one with the magical arm successfully strike at his tormentor (so their defenses are not impenitrable then), but I also see said tormentor simply obliterate the black one, with ease, as though everything done previously was simply toying. After that, the bronze dragon beat a hasty retreat, with the elf in lazy pursuit. He likely would have obliterated his prey as well, had the man who aided us not suddenly appeared in the air and, presumably, teleported him away. Perhaps I should have been paying less attention to the big picture, as none of my follow-up blows against the dark dragon seem to hurt it at all. The “blind” man, on the other hand, has no such issues and manages to knock it down. Despite this fortunate blow, we are still quite outmatched and survival is now the name of the game. Luckily our mage is ready and in the blink of an eye, she’s in the middle of the group and we’re once again, transported in an instant to another place.

We appear back at the Oasis, in the middle of the lake. The pale one is on the shore. I believe his name was Abinsh. We greet him, and tell him of our intended destination, the illusionist’s tomb. He tells us what we already knew, that this Oasis can help direct our way. In conversation he also reveals to me some disturbing information about our supposedly blind friend. Something about Fates, the guardians of existence. He says they can bring back the world from obliteration, and are the key to the gods returning. Frankly this concerns me, particularly given this Hedar’s current condition..s. Yet another issue to add to the ever growing list of things to address, if only these people would ever stop moving long enough to do so. But as always there is no time lose and it’s back into the water, to arrive at the entrance to a gigantic cavern. I’m sure only good things await us within…

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Our Own Fate
Thorman

It has been a long time since I’ve washed the blood of a friend from my hands. It hasn’t gotten any easier. I rub snow between my callused hands and watch the blood drip down..dirtying the snow..a fitting analogy for what has happened.

Balidor is gone.

This morning is a blur. A powerful gift from Alton..breakfast with Jhulaer..a note. Meet me at the lake, alone. Few know of this place and it’s significance, so I know whoever left this knows me. I make haste for this place..this place that means so many different things to me: loss, gathering, happiness..misery. I do meet someone I know..or at least I did. Balidor halts me..a holy knight looming over him..and..

The fire roars and I can’t face this memory. This monument..this holy place of rest..holds no peace for the living. I make for the cliff face..to clear my head..to avoid the flames. I know I could have done more..I could have listened more and talked less..I could have tried to save him…but I didn’t.

Balidor speaks of fate. He speaks of loss. He speaks of fear…of the unkown..of what’s to come and what he’ll become. I speak my piece…knowing he’s heard it before..and if it meant nothing before..why would it now. I have never known Balidor’s heart or his mind, he’s always kept them well guarded, but the panic stricken man who stands before me..I’ve never seen before. I should have seen it comming..but I stood by..as he…

It shouldn’t have ended like this. I watch the remains adrift on the wind…and I wonder if he felt this way..if he looked at me this way when I lost myself. Jhulaer waits patiently…I wonder if she blames me…I wonder if I do.

The holy defender raises his blade. Before I can react, the gleaming sword protrudes from Balidor’s chest, its radiant light shining on him. All I can do is share in his pain..and embrace the man I once called my friend. As he fades, I hear him say “Pelor shan’t take me, nor will Doran. My fate..is my own.” In his final moments..even at his most defeated..as I look at Balidor..I cannot help but admire his courage. His name was Balidor. He was a strong man, and that is how he died.

The cold brings me back and I know we have no time to morn. Jhulaer returns us to the inn and we find Finnian. He says he can help us reach this illusionist’s grave..before he stops..and a look of fear..something I didn’t someone of such power could feel, comes over his face. He says the elves are attacking. These foes we were told not to face…that were too powerful…are attacking the greatest beings I’ve known. If ever there was a chance..it is by their side. Everyone agrees…but I’m afraid..because I know Balidor won’t be the only friend I lose today.

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Darkness

Hedar
I had finally reunited with my companions. Even though it had only been a matter of days, everything that has happened makes the time seem longer. I told them what I had discovered, though I don’t feel it will prove very useful. Three days until Erythnul’s return. I also told them of Pain and Suffering returning to Syskillia in preparation for their god’s ascension. They had apparently just fought a horde of vampires under the control of the first vampire, an old companion of Doran’s. He carried no answers, but simply prolonged the long road that is Doran’s demise. One of our options was to find the resting place of another companion of Doran’s; a powerful illiusionist named Dairen. I told them of my current process; seeking out the known locations where Doran has been seen and undoing his power in any way. I presented the idea of returning to the abandoned building where Balidor had been captured. They agreed to accompany me there in search for possible leads, leaving the journey to Lilinithrie as our second choice.
Once again we explored the abandoned building where I had seen Doran in my vision. I had a small mishap while ascending the rotting stairs, but Balidor was able to restore my wounds. Upstairs we found the pile of ravens again. This time they came to life when I moved too close to them. Doran’s ravens… his spies. Knowing there was a basement I began searching the most logcal locations for an entrance. I placed my hand on the wall next to the ascending staircase and felt the wall latch my hand against it. Thorman whispered thanks for opening the way, though he expressed no recollection of ever saying it. We went down the dark hidden stairway and found ourselves in the same cellar. At the room’s end stood Doran. We confronted him, but he only spoke in riddles, as expected. Thorman beheaded the copy after he could no longer contain his anger. After searching his lab we found a list of prisoners held in the Velistrith prison. Thorman shared a slip of paper with me with “Subject 83 is immune” written on it. We looked… and it was Volke. Volke… my old friend. My sparring companion. Thorman also pointed out that a scar remained on this Doran from the last time we met him when I stabbed him through his skull. He regenerated, reincarnated. A dark though crossed me. I had to know what power lurked inside him, what could possibly bring these copies of the original back so easily. I took a dagger from my bag and cut him open across the torso. Inside, there were no organs, only a dark, black tar-like substance. The same darkness that corrupted Thorman, the same darkness that covers my hand. My hand… I looked, then did not think. I simply had to see what happened. I put my hand into the darkness and I saw myself in the same room. My companions gone. The darkness from Doran’s body congealed into a humanoid shape and blinked. In an instant another Doran appeared, at least a body, a shell. The darkness swirled and corrupted the surrogate Doran, completing the process. This newly regenerated copy proceeded to attack me. I retaliated and delivered a piercing strike with my sword before I witnessed the inside of a prison. Prisoners were transforming, becoming deformed by Doran’s darkness while my old companion lied alone in his cell. I screamed his name and awoke to a never-ending darkness.

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Wandering the Void

How can one fight a war without an enemy, or an army without a leader? How can we win that which seems to have no end? What is the point of any of this? We have no goal, we have no clues and we have no sense of direction. Supposedly going the abandoned crow house was going to bring us answers, and even when we arrived and found that in fact a Dorin did reside, he yielded nothing but more of the same cryptic bullshit, until being prematurely dismantled by the only member of the party who seems to be allowed to speak.

Even our hour of preparation was pointless, as we certainly didn’t see any combat. It makes me wonder why this Dorin couldn’t simply be stopped by a group of peasants, as it certainly doesn’t seem to require warriors. Apparently now the only goal is find the grave of some illusionist, though why that should bring us any closer to anything but our deaths escapes me.

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The Lost Sheep

Balidor

The information gleaned from Brother Jonathan wasn’t as helpful, or as informative as I had wished. I fear that perhaps it was just a gigantic waste of time. In any case we were able to get a hold of Hedar, who requested we meet at the Inn outside of Velistirith in Dracos.

We arrive and get a rooms, I dismiss myself immediately to get some much needed rest, we’ve had an extremely long day. It’s the first restful night I’ve had in a long while, and the morning was no less peaceful….I spend an hour in quiet reflection and prayer. I’ve never felt more at peace with myself. I’ve forgotten how simple life used to be….before the Sanction on Mages was placed, before I took on the Mantle of Grand Cleric, before I donned the Amulet of Pelor, before I was sent by the King to track down a rogue band of traitors.

The rest of the morning continues on just as usual…as usual as it used to be anyways. But just as I figured…it’s short lived. A great explosion rocks the very foundation of the City and we’re immediately drawn out into the streets to seek it’s source. A great Airship sailing over the center of town has caught fire and is careening towards the center spire of the city….though we may be powerless to advert it’s course, we have the power to save and help as many as we can once it hits.

Survivor’s are few, but a few are better than none.

We reunite at the Inn, with Hedar this time, he briefly discusses the information he has learned since he departed our group in the Underdark. We have three days until Erythnul rises once more….Gods be with us.

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Information and Opportunity

The vampire lord congratulates us on our victory—it seems he was indeed toying with us, or “testing” as he prefers to call it. Strangely, he makes particular mention of me, and the way I avoided the attention of his troops. I can’t say I’m particularly comfortable to be so noticed for being stealthy, but I suppose a… man… like this is not easily impressed, so perhaps I should take some pride in that. In exchange for our performance, he allows Balidor a chance to speak with the man he sought, the one I could not rouse. He walks to the table and passes his hand over the man’s eyes, in the manner of a magician, which somehow causes the man to rouse—magic no doubt. Balidor’s first question to the man nearly drives me into a rage. “Who are you?”

“Who are you?” he asks? We come all this way, risk our lives, for a man he doesn’t even know!? Some things, it would seem, have not changed one bit in my absence. But I bite my tongue—this is hardly the time or place for a confrontation. I leave them to speak, slipping back into the shadows, but not so far as to not listen in. Thorman visits for a bit with the vampire, but I find Balidor’s conversation much more… pertinent. The man, it seems, is called Brother Jonathan, and he is the last follower of Pelor, excepting Balidor himself. Jonathan speaks of Balidor’s role, as the vessel of Pelor, and of the ritual which must take place to restore the god. It requires a place of strong magic and the blood of a follower (and I imagine it must be a true follower, no simple quick convert would suffice). Most likely this is why Doran wanted Jonathan imprisoned here—to keep his blood locked away and prevent the return of one who could stop him. Balidor clearly sees this destiny of him ending in his demise, but Jonathan tries to offer him hope, telling him there may be a better end. Myself, I’m not so sure.

When their conversation ends, Jhulaer reaches out to another of their allies via magic, while I confer privately for a moment with Vonerost, at his request. When I return, they are debating whether or not to rally with this former companion. As no one seems to have any alternative suggestions, we decide to do so, and almost instantly, I find myself, once again, outside Vilesterith.

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A Game of Combat

Is this what life is to be now? Not 24 hours since I’ve returned to the world and already I find myself in yet another struggle for survival. Vampires. After all I’ve seen, it doesn’t surprise me that such creatures exist, and yet the legends I’ve heard do little to prepare me for such an encounter. I had hoped perhaps our allies had a firmer plan, but it has quickly become apparent that they, too are simply winging it. I must resolve to try and end this nonsense as quickly as possible, by doing what I do best, vanish into the shadows. While the others keep the monsters busy, I shall my way carefully toward the table, where what I assume to be the man Balidor seeks lies. Perhaps if I can rescue him we can escape this place and leave the combat behind.

I travel carefully and deliberately, sticking to the shadows. Haste attracts attention, and a slow pace allows me a chance to survey the battlefield. The creatures’ motions are unnatural, strangely fluid and smoother than would seem possible. Their blows, too, seem to contain more power than they should—Thorman seems to be getting weaker with every blow. I feel terrible watching this from afar—I want to go to his aid—but rescuing our quarry is our best chance of escape. I can do more for them from here.

The master of this place does not seem to have moved from his seat, watching the action as though it were a sport for his entertainment. It probably is. His demeanor reminds me of a cat, sinewy and predatory. And much like a cat, it appears he likes toying with his food. In any case, this works to my benefit, as he seems to be paying me no attention. With any luck, he doesn’t even know I’m here, although I’m not foolish enough to assume this as fact.

A moment of panic as one of the creatures approaches me, no more than a foot away. Thinking quickly, I remember an old legend from my youth—that vampires are mystically fascinated by mirrors. I pull out a small pocket mirror and hold it out in front of me, but the creature gives no indication that it notices it, or me. Could I possibly be that well hidden? At this distance I would imagine it should be able to sense me, perhaps smell my blood. No time to question it though, I’ll have to keep an eye on it and press forward.

In short time, I make it to the table, affording me another chance to survey the battle. It appears the drow mage who accompanied us, I believe she was called Jhulaer, has turned on the others, as she appears to be directing a bolt of her magic at the others. Wait, no, her movements are stiff, almost mechanical, and she moves with no purpose. Some sort of magical control, no doubt. These things are clever, figuring out how to turn our own allies against us. The sooner this can be ended the better.

Assured that I remain unobserved, I turn my attention to the prisoner. He appears to be in the murky unconsciousness of the drugged, and multiple needle marks in his arms would seem to confirm that. Nonetheless, I must try to rouse him, as it would be dangerous to the point of foolishness to attempt to carry him out alone. I undo the straps and attempt to rouse him—when physical contact doesn’t do it, I give him a universal antitoxin, in the hope it can counteract whatever medicine he is currently under. I notice that the sounds of battle have changed slightly—perhaps some new combatant has entered the fray, but I have no opportunity to look—it would seem my attempts to free this man have finally attracted some unwanted attention.

The vampire claws at me and I can feel it draining away my energy, making me slower and weaker. The sensation is not dissimilar to what I endured in my former prison, but physical now, instead of mental. But with some small difficulty, I manage to fend the creature off—it may no longer be human, but its body still shares at least some of the same vulnerabilities. As I finish dispatching it, I suddenly feel reinvigorated—our spellcaster must have returned to her senses. Just in time, too, as another vampire approaches. This time, though, I’m prepared, and I slay this one without significant harm.

The man on the table still remains unconscious—I fear whatever influence he is under, it may be supernatural, which means I can do nothing for him. So much for ending this smoothly. I leave shaed to watch over the man, instructing him to alert me if there are any changes, and charge forth into the fray. It seems things have gotten worse yet since last I checked. While many of the vampires have been turned to dust, several yet remain, and they have been joined by two new horrors—some sort of demon—terrible and fiery, and perhaps worse, a massive automaton of some sort, wielding what I can only compare to a cannon for a hand. Balidor appears to be challenging the demon, and I’m content to leave it to him, as I haven’t the slightest idea how deal with such a thing. I’m not sure I’ll fare much better against the mechanoid, but it at least seems to have mobility issues, and that’s something I can work with.

I make several attempts to grapple my way to the top of the machine in the hopes of being able to sabotage it, or perhaps even disable it. I feel a small sense of familiarity as I am reminded of the battle against Doran so many years ago, a memory that perhaps Thorman shares, as he seems to be attempting the same maneuver, literally and otherwise, from another direction. After several attempts fail—it’s much harder to hit a moving target, slow though it may be—I decide to leave the top to Thorman and work on adapting my plan slightly. Pulling out some rope, I tie up one of the creature’s legs, counting on it being too large, clunky, and armored to really notice me. I then take the rope and begin winding it around both legs, hoping to entangle it enough to trip it.

But as it happens, my efforts are not necessary as, due I presume to the efforts of my companions, the construct explodes. I tuck and roll to avoid the debris, then take final stock of the arena. The vampires are all gone and it appears Balidor has triumphed against his foe as well. The battlefield is clear, although I doubt this is all that lurks down here. And as we stand, scattered and scathed, but victorious, our host finally rises from his seat.

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