Ascension

Ravens
A Familiar Fear

Blood Raven

I am a criminal. I am wanted for the betrayal of my country. In the process of saving magic users from extinction, I have tainted the title of Blood Raven. But while conversing with my father I discovered something; I do not care how others perceive me, so long as I know what I do is right. Though I follow through with my father’s wishes, I have every intention of continuing to free mages. Some things must hold their importance above that of family. Let it be written in history, that Blood Raven was the one who had to betray his country, his people, his family, purely out of love for them.

We are in Velistirith. I’m dragging my companions along on this task set upon me, and I can’t help but feel I am endangering them; again. It will not be an easy task finding out the truth of King Gregor’s disappearance, especially when we are known enemies of Dracos. At Thorman’s suggestion we headed for a tavern in hopes of sitting in on some talk of the city, anything to find out more of Velistirith’s royalty. Thorman split from us heading south of town attending to a personal matter. Jhulaer and Balidor joined me at the Dwarf’s Belly to gather information. I attempted visiting with the barkeep asking about the castle and the king, but received little information of value.

Jhulaer notified me of a Halfling at a table eavesdropping on us. We decided to have a short chat while at some time during this Balidor left us. We later found out that the name of this Halfling was Thomas, a criminal or sorts. He offered Jhulaer and I a smoke of a substance I was not familiar with which made me feel quite unfocused, slowing my vision and reaction. After realizing his confidence in the skill of larceny, Jhulaer and I agreed to hire him for the purpose of obtaining one of the King Gregor’s belongings. After this is done, hopefully Jhulaer will be able to better scry for the missing king. We paid Thomas 6,500 gold to complete this task for us and he left without a handshake of agreement. We are to meet him in two nights at the front of the coliseum. Hopefully he keeps his word.

After our visit with Thomas, Jhulaer and I went in search for Thorman heading to the city’s south. During this we noticed how little the guards are on patrol compared to when we were last here. If there were truly a missing king, would not the guard be searching every home and corner of the city for him? Before coming across Thorman I saw a monument in honor of a Dracos soldier titled The Widow Maker. Despite all of the men he killed to have that title placed upon him, he was still a hero in the eyes of Dracos. Despite all of the men I’ve killed to save mages, I will never be honored in such a way.

Once we had united with Thorman we decided to wait for Balidor back at the Dwarf’s Belly and purchase lodging for the night. We waited for some time when a raven cawed from outside. The caw rang in my ear with a cold fear down my back in remembrance of my nightmare with Pain and Suffering. I darted outside and observed the bird perched atop the tavern. Its wings snapped back unnaturally and a familiar darkness seemed to overtake it, a darkness I had once seen in Thorman.
The creature then took off deeper into the city.

Without time to think, I chased after the raven as fast as I could. I jumped my way atop a building and was able to see it heading to the town square before losing sight. The three of us ran there the quickest we could in search for the bird, but there was no sign of it. We eventually came to the conclusion that Balidor may have paid a visit to his former church, but upon arriving there we saw the little of what remained.

We then broke our way into a nearby abandoned church with a statue of a reaper at the hall’s end; a god I’ve heard little of. I found a secluded room for Jhulaer to cast her scry spell in while Throman and I kept watch. After an hour she came out of the room in a rush of concern informing us she could see nothing of Balidor, but heard his screams. Without any other options before us, we began searching the immediate area of abandoned churches, bursting down any doors we could. Eventually I happened to come across one with a raven perched upon it. Not the same raven, from what I could tell, but when stepping inside… something was immediately wrong with the place. The darkness almost seemed to seep in my blood, channeling a familiar fear… but of what?

I made my way to the upper level hallway using the dim light of my sword to find a lone door at the end. It was locked so I tried breaking through to no avail and decided to find my companion more capable of such tasks. When Thorman and Jhulaer had joined me we broke our way into the room to find… ravens… Hundreds, thousands of them. Ravens. All dead, their jaws snapped in half. The sight froze me.

“I’m going to watch you die now.” The voice of Pain seeping into my ears through horrid recollection.

And then a scream, and a shove as Thorman trudged past me. I snapped from my trance and moved to catch up with him. The three of us began searching the lower level for any hidden entrance. It was then that Jhulaer and I heard two familiar voices, that of Pain and Suffering, from upstairs in the room with the ravens. Without hesitation, Jhulaer moved to get us out through a transportation spell but Thorman told us to wait. He was transfixed by the voices despite the danger. Jhulaer coudln’t wait any longer, and in a blink we stood outside the building. Thorman began to run for the entrance and I ran after telling him that the elves in there are not the friend he once knew. I also realized that we had yet to find Balidor.

With only one logical place left to be checked, I told Jhulaer to dimension door us to the cellar of the building. I knew the risks of a failed transport spell, but I had full faith that Balidor was somewhere below. In an instant we were brought below.

What I saw before me was of the most unnatural experiments I had ever seen conducted upon a person. Balidor was in a crucified stature with three tubes fed into him; his arms and neck. In the corner opposite of him sat an old man with abnormal eyes. Seeing Thorman’s reaction, I immediately assumed that we were in the presence of Dorin.

There was no time to lose. Jhulaer and I rushed to remove the tubes from Balidor. Upon doing so, blood rushed out of his neck and arms in a speed I had never seen. I instantly cupped my hands over his neck to hold in the bleeding, but had I pressed any harder I would have began to choke him.

Once we had done our best to free him, Thorman came over to assist carrying Balidor as Jhulaer prepared a teleport spell. But Thorman had left Dorin alive, and as Jhulaer was nearly ready the old man leapt onto her back and bit down on her neck. I drew my rapier as quick as lightning and stabbed the demon through the head. Jhulaer cast the spell and we were instantly teleported to the Dwarf’s Belly.

We rushed into one of our rooms and laid Balidor on the bed, watching the life slowly drain from him. We did everything we could to suppress the bleeding. Thorman grasped his friend’s hand tightly. I watched as the two friends, who had known each other for so long, paid their farewells. I said something to him, I can’t remember what. Anything to help his passing and assure he would not die in vain.

Once his last breath had been taken, I slumped against a wall and began to count; Alton, Reginald, Iorni, Vosh, and now Balidor. Five. Five too many. Maybe the gods truly are g—wait!

A flash of light.

I stood up in amazement as I witnessed bright light surging through Balidor’s body. He breathed heavily and stirred in the bed while his wounds began to heal.

“I told you some of us handle death better than others,” spoke Jhulaer.

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Progress for the Sake of Progress

Jhulaer De-Ath

I awoke after what felt like days, from the sleep that the still throbbing remainder of my leg demanded.

I am slow. Every move I make must be methodical and precise else I find myself on the floor again. Always having been light on my feet the loss of control unnerves me. Despite it, I pull myself up with the staff of my dead comrade, soaking the reminder. Entering the hallway of the airship it takes me little time to realize that we have landed. Noticing the door at the end of the hall is still open, I check on the remains of the copy of my “brother”. The corpse is still lying there, now beginning to stiffen. I raise the body off the ground with a telekinesis spell, and begin my slow trudge to the deck, the oddity of the copy in tow. Noticing again the burn marks on the body, the telltale marks remind me of my own sparking tendencies, and wonder if there is some connection to his appearance, and our old friend Raz. Reaching the deck I see two men. One standing on deck, covered in scars, and another near the trees, practicing some physical forms, neither are immediately recognizable, until the man on the deck turns, and despite the extreme changes in appearance, there is no doubt. Thorman has returned. Tossing the body off the ship and into the trees, Thorman and I speak of the past several days. Despite my fears of him in the past, which still linger in my mind, it is relieving to see a friendly face after losing so many.

The other man shortly joins us on the ship and after revealing that his name is Connick, he begins explaining to us that he is from another plane, and his task here is to sever all contact between his plane and this one. I don’t trust this man, and his choice in words often leave me feeling that he has much that he is not telling us, but as the conversation concludes, it becomes clear that we have no choice but to work with him in hopes of both benefiting from a temporary partnership.

We decide that we shall continue to Starspire, as Blood Raven had suggested, by way of teleportation, and upon arriving at the site of Blood Raven’s mother’s grave, we part ways with Connick, and head into town. After stopping into a strange bar, named “The Cock’s Nest” we quickly feel ill at ease with the odd bartender who appears to freshly be missing a thumb, and the many dark shadows, and before long, we find ourselves trapped by city guards who wish to take Blood Raven to his father. Surrendering, we find that it was likely for the best that we did not resist, considering the full company outside with archers on roofs at the ready. After arriving, Blood Raven enters a room to speak with his father privately, and upon his return to us, he urges that we must leave quickly, so we depart. We teleport to Velistirith, to the part of the city where the warforged aided us, and we begin to gather supplies and clothing in a business district. I seek out a construct leg, but have no luck in finding such craftsmanship in the city that houses the Dracos army, and this is not surprising. However, I notice an elf with a gun strapped to his waist, and upon inquiring, he reveals that he and his wife (Ramblin and Aralia) are in the business of transportation, and as the conversation continues I begin to believe that either he or his wife may be a mage. I am wary of a trap, but the potential of another magical ally and the opportunity of travel they provide leads me to set up a meeting with them and the rest of the group.

After finding a peg leg, and dealing with the odd woman who sold it, and her sick husband, “something was said of smelling like dead pigs, yet I didn’t understand”, we discuss with Blood Raven the information his father gave. We have gained the location of another mage prison, and have been offered the location of another, provided we look into the strange goings on of the king, we decide as a group that we will take a day to attempt to find out what Blood Raven’s father wishes to know, and then will depart with Ramblin for the city of Elaris in Baradur, to free the mages trapped there.

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Reunion
Hope Reborn

Thorman

Pain. Throughout my existence I have become quite accustomed to pain…but none like this. My very being is being torn apart..every piece of what I am stripped from reality..and yet this is not what hurts most. I remember. I remember everything. My name..is Thorman. Locked away behind a guise of blissful unawareness, an assured sense of purpose for centuries..and fate chooses now to remind me who I am. I remember who I am saving..and why..and I ache for this is all I can do for them. Within moments this all passes through my mind and vanishes, along with me, just as quickly.

Light..breath..things a dead man shouldn’t feel. Feel..I can feel. I am whole again..somehow. I open my eyes. I expect a hell…a prison, some punishment for all that I now remember I’ve done. I’m in a forest..and standing before me..a familiar face.

Balidor.

It all comes rushing back in a second and I can do nothing but embrace an old friend. As I hold this man I still don’t know if he’s real..if I’m real..and I don’t care. Knowing no one..having no one and no where to call home for hundreds of years…it all suddenly pains me to think about, and I can’t express how relieved I am to find myself here. We take a step back and I notice Balidor seems to be in just as much disbelief as I am. Neither of us know why we are, but after a moment I find where we are. Dracos, where it all started.

We both have little to no possessions, short of my blades which remain strangely by my side, so we make for Velistirith. On our way we come across a small village. A woman pulling a cart informs us it is called Porrell. She is lovely and it feels wonderful to find myself somewhere so peaceful. We help her with a few chores and in exchange she feeds Balidor and I. She offers us money, but we know better and make our way east towards a city called Ocarthel, which she informs us is the closest large city.

Balidor is contacted by Jhulaer..a drow..a sorceress yes..I remember. She was part of the party from my last days as a man..the last pieces of anything I could call a family. I won’t fail them again. Balidor informs me that they are aboard an airship and are currently scouting for our location. I savor the travel..calming, but soon enough we spot an airship. I successfully ignite Faith and do my best to signal them. Just as we think they’ve missed us they turn to land.

As we approach the ship pulled by a great blue dragon, a masked man jumps overboard. He and Balidor greet each other warmly..Blood Raven! I smile as more names and memories come flooding back..but that smile fades as I learn the party on the ship is but the two of them. So much death and from what I am told it’s all very recent.

Balidor accounts his tale of facing Doran at Spellscale Asylum, and his demise. I am ashamed I wasn’t by his side, but he goes on to explain of his last sacrifice that saved Blood Raven. Three men rescued from the brink of death..one by the other..I smile again. We all do our best to explain our resurrections, and Balidor excuses himself to find some more fitting attire.

Blood Raven makes for the dragon so I follow. He briefly explains the pact he made with the beast, and the freedom he must grant him in exchange for his help. I understand and I help Blood Raven free the dragon. As it lumbers away into the forest, we board the ship and Blood Raven shows us to Jhulaer. She is fast asleep and for good reason it seems. We are shown the remnants of her leg..sadly I know this will not be the last pain any of us will suffer. We decide to rest and speak with her in the morning. Blood Raven and Balidor sleep below deck while I rest where I can see the stars.


Blood Raven wakes to a rapping on his window. He opens it. A raven flies in, cawing. He reaches for it and it pecks his finger, breaking the skin. “I’m going to watch you die.” the raven states. Blood Raven sees the figure known as Pain floating in the window. He flees and makes his way to Jhulaer’s room. She won’t wake so he flees topside, but as he opens the final door he doesn’t find himself on the ship. He stands on a hill facing an old decrepit house. He enters the dwelling to find Pain waiting for him at the end of the hall. Pain raises a hand which glows red. Blood Raven dodges into a side room, but when he comes out of his tumble he is facing another figure, one known as Suffering. Suffering looks at Blood Raven and states “Goodbye” and everything fades.


NOOOOOOO!” I wake suddenly, shaken by what I heard..Balidor! I rush below deck to find him on his knees over the unmoving body of Blood Raven. We try our best to revive him but neither succeeds. Just as we lose hope, he violently comes back to us, with a thrust of his blade. He impales Balidor through the stomach and I am unsure who looks more surprised. I force them apart and do my best to tend to Balidor’s wound. I watch Blood Raven as I do, but the shock on his face reminds me of something..of dreams and nightmares I once had long ago..and I wonder what his was about.

As things settle and I cauterize the wound, a burst of flame outside grabs our attention. Footsteps, quick and purposeful are heard topside. I stand before Balidor and ready myself for the worst. A man bursts through the door wielding fire in each hand. His arms are wrapped..like mine..but not just his arms. He bears them all over his body, and he tears one away to reveal a rune. It glows as he casts a spell..which seals Balidor’s wound. He introduces himself as Connick, a being from another plane who claims the turmoil in ours is affecting his own. He means to end travel from our plain to his, all I know is I’d rather have a powerful magic user as a friend at the moment. I tell him to wait until morning and he can speak with our own resident sorceress. He agrees and returns outside. Putting too much trust in a man who just unintentionally almost killed a man, I tell Blood Raven to remain with Balidor who has passed out on the floor. I follow Connick topside until he settles in the tree-line off the ship. I watch him. I shouldn’t..but I trust something in him. We’ll see where the morning takes us.


Meanwhile, in the city of Starspire, a man is handed a paper bearing a likeness of Blood Raven. The man, Count Verimont, is warned by the messenger that his son has been been seen nearby. Verimont seems unmoved and assures the messenger his son shall be found and captured.

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The Longest Day
A New Sun Rises.

Zaknegloth De-Ath

The night grows cold, the events I have experienced in the last few hours only extenuate the chill that penetrates to my very bones….

A few hours I bore witness to powers only the Gods themselves should possess, yet these were no Gods I knew of. I promptly returned to the ship afterwards to shake off the uneasy feeling in my stomach…but it only got worse. A flash of blue light caught my attention on board…of course I went to investigate. But nothing could have prepared me for what I would encounter…myself. It was me, but scarred, burned….dying. He handed me a note with but two simple words on it “KILL HER”. Anxiety overtook me…I feeling I have never felt. I was barely able to stand, let alone get myself up to the deck.

After I was able to collect myself the others arrived from the forest, they had been paying their respects to the dead…again. I informed Jhulaer of the incident..leaving out the sensitive details. That Cat…Vash I think his name was…asked for a couple of daggers for “protection”. It didn’t take long to find out what his true intentions were. Found him face down in a pool of his own blood in the middle of the forest…his troubles are over….mine we’re about to begin….

There’s an old Drow saying “All trust is foolish. Only put trust in one’s self.” from the moment I was handed that note from my future self, I knew what had to be done. As soon as I was able to get her alone I acted, after revealing to her the truth behind the night she fled from Menzoberranzan I drew my bow on her. I only managed to get a few shots off before she used her Mage trickery. Had I more time I would have easily found her location and finished her off…however, the roar of the dragon attracted the attention of her traveling companion. There was no need for him to die this night as well….but I’m not stupid, 2 versus 1 are not favorable odds even with my extensive years of training. No….I will seek out reinforcements…I may have potential allies back on that island.


Balidor

Darkness…and then…blinding light. I’m standing in the ruins of Spellscale. A man stands in front of me, he says “You’re not Pelor” and I can’t agree with him more. It’s all to quick that a familiar enemy makes his appearance….I run….I run as fast and far as I can and don’t look back as long as I can help it.

I’m transported to a forest…I have no idea where…or even when I am. How much time has passed since I…died. Juhlaer..and old traveling companion contacts me. I tell her I’m heading east and start trudging. Something has changed….I’m not who I once was. My armor is heavy, I feel…weak? No, not weak…I feel…human. I feel like I did nearly 200 years ago. I feel normal again, young even….I am reborn. I have been brought back…but for what purpose or why I do not know…I wonder if…there’s a bright light. I see it, it’s nothing, it’s the storm! A figure appears. Thorman?

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Crossing Farewells
The Night is Darkest Just Before the Dawn

Blood Raven

Three of my companions are dead, and we fly away from the dreadful sight of their graves. We will never get to bury them, Reginald and Irony’s bodies will most likely be burned like the millions of other magic users before them. Alton’s body will be scavenged upon by sea dwellers, a distasteful resting place for a king. Upon our leave I notice Tetronys’s petrified body missing, likely released from the spell after Locklear’s anti-magic arrow had entered Jhulaer’s now amputated leg. After our losses, I can barely contain myself when trying to direct our way to safety. We head for my hometown of Starspire in hope of discovering the locations of other mage prisons.

Just when I think I have time to grieve for my friends, I spot a black dragon heading our way. I command Edgar to turn the ship around after Jhulaer and Vash take to the skies to face off our potential enemy. In the distance I see the dragon come to a slow and Jhulaer begins to converse with its hooded rider in a language I am unfamiliar with. She eventually tells me that the man riding the black dragon is her brother, who she holds little trust for. I tell her that so long as he is on our ship I will not sheathe my blade. I introduce myself to Zaknagloth and closely watch he and Jhulaer converse in an argument that I cannot understand.

Eventually Jhulaer tells me that she and her brother have settled on their confrontation and he will be of our assistance. I take over the helm for Edgar and begin flying our ship further to land, which we reach after a few hours. I thought I could hear some light sobbing below deck, and couldn’t help but let a few of my own tears dampen my mask.

I land us close to a wooded area and take time to look for food and possibly a staff for Jhulaer. Though we cannot waste time, we must pay our respects for our friends in order to truly say goodbye. While I search through the woods I come across Edgar chopping at a tree with his axe. He tells me that he wants to leave graves for our fallen and I assist him. We make three crosses on which I engrave Reginald, Alton, and Iorni’s names. Edgar tells me he no longer has a place with us and feels that we are a cursed group where death is inevitable among friends. He has lost his hope in us, and has decided to turn to his faith in Erythnul. Edgar walks away through the woods on a new path, taking a similar road that Balidor took. A road I couldn’t risk. He had requested of me that I light the three crosses aflame at night. I head back to the ship and begin helping on the ships repairs and inform the others of Edgar’s leave and request.

At night we venture back into the woods and pay our respects. I pour oil over the crosses and Jhulaer lights them after we have spoken our words of wisdom. Jhulaer then took and iron piece and began to cauterize her own wound with the fire of our friends. We begin to take leave when a voice from behind greets us eerily. What I see is an elf with a mechanical device covering his eyes. Opposite of this elf appears another who has gems in each of his hands, referred to as Pain. Pain states that they have come because they were told we were planning on stopping them, despite the fact we have never seen or heard of them before. He wants to play a game and freezes all of us except for Vash in our places. He gives Vash the choice to kill Zaknagloth or Magria. If Vash should refuse, he threatens to kill both Zaknagloth and Magria.

With every bit of myself, I struggle to break free and stab the eyes of Suffering, but I am helpless to await Vash’s decision. I watch as Vash plainly states, “I want to kill Magria.” Pain holds his hand up toward the giant transparent cat, and it vanishes into thin air, as he demonstrated on Alton’s cross. Without much else said, the two elves vanish and we are released. Vash immediately begins a ritual to bring Magria back to him, but to no end. Jhulaer and I exchange looks of helplessness, not knowing how to ease Vash’s loss.

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Faith
Fear Will Find You Again

The morning sun rises as Blood Raven attempts to turn the airship around, Jhulaer’s screams of pain echoing in the air. Alton is dead. Jhulaer is losing a leg. Magria is subdued. Magic isn’t working. This is chaos.


Jhulaer wakes almost immediately from the unconsciousness meant to dull the pain of amputation. Her entire world is still, save for some blue orbs floating in the air. A few drift toward her, then suddenly enter her body and she is met with an overwhelming sense of power. She knows if she could do anything to get Alton back, she would. As she thinks this, some orbs move toward Alton, and his death rewinds before her eyes.

“Jhulaer, I’m sorry I can’t be there,” Alton says, knowing the drow is struggling to concentrate this power, the only thing keeping time from moving forward again.

This proves too much for her to hold, however, and Jhulaer is forced to watch as the arrow again forces itself through Alton’s head, exactly as before, tearing through his right eye, splashing her with his blood. The pain of his death echoes in her screams as she awakens for real, the pain of reliving Alton’s death entwining with the pain from Edgar cutting through her leg.


Faith


A male drow has been stalking his prey a long time. He had nearly reached his sister, imprisoned by mercenaries, but he was unexpectedly beaten to the punch by another group, who she now traveled with. From that time, he had relentlessly pursued them, until they suddenly vanished while on the continent of Osylith. Zaknegloth had lost her.

He scoured all of Terra for a lead, with scant success. Only once had he gotten any results. While questioning some individuals in the lower districts of Velistirith, a mention of the name “Jhulaer” set one man off. That man was Alton Emman.

Alton had knocked Zaknagloth unconscious and tied him up in the cellar of an abandoned building. He tried to interrogate the drow, but was unable to learn a thing. Eventually, he gave up and released his prisoner and they went their separate ways.

Zaknagloth continued his hunt, but was only able to learn of a mage prison situated on an island. With nothing else to go on, he decides to venture there.


Blood Raven turns the airship around, facing off against Locklear. The mage hunter calls for a pair of Dragoons, who proceed to attack.

The Dragoons board the ship and a fierce battle ensues. To get rid of the anti-magic arrows, Reginald grabs Alton’s body and flies it toward the shore. Edgar finishes cutting off Jhulaer’s leg and gives it to Iorni, who throws it off the ship. With magic restored, Magria protects Vash and knocks a Dragoon off the airship, as Blood Raven finishes off the second. Iorni drowns the overboard warrior with a water elemental.

Meanwhile, Locklear fires arrows into the ship, breaking the rudder, and threatening to drop airship from the sky. Reginald drops Alton’s body off on the shore underneath the cliff, then flies back up to distract Locklear, and hopefully buy his allies some time, but the mage hunter sees him coming and strikes a vital point, dropping him dead. Iorni, in an attempt to save the angelic warrior, flies toward Locklear himself, only to be struck as well. He falls, unconsious and dying. Vash and Magria attempt a confrontation as well, but the villain’s anti-magic arrows drive the eidolon back, and they are forced to turn back, to not meet the same fate as their allies.

By Alton’s body, Zaknagloth has been observing the strife. The presence of satyr and angel gives him reason to believe that Jhulaer must be on that airship. At the moment though, there is no way to get on-board. He levitates up to the cliff, but after a brief confrontation with the arrogant archer above, he decides to return below to the body.

He searches the body of the man who once interrogated him, then peeks back up the cliff to find that the archer and the bodies are gone. He attempts to track them, but finds only a few other dragons and airships. He manages to free a black dragon, asking that it in exchange help him reach the airship he believes his sister to have been on.

The airship, meanwhile, seems awfully empty, three members down. Blood Raven decides to head to Starspire where they can figure things out, when they notice a black dragon coming in close. The party prepares for battle.


In Osylith, elves Pain and Suffering leap out of a freshly emptied lair of Dragoons. Suffering, a sharp figure with familiar-looking goggles on his eyes, mentions that he has received a message warning of individuals who are planning to meddle in their affairs. The pair agrees to go visit these individuals and teleport away from the sands of Osylith.

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A Day of of Soaring Profits and Significant One-Time Losses
With all due respect to Kitty's memory, I couldn't resist the Futurama reference

Day ??

I had hoped that joining in this quest would improve my lot, but it appears that fate, if such a thing exists, continues to conspire against me as I once again find myself in an unwelcome place, despite my intention otherwise. Nemacris, they call it. I had planned to stay behind as the others foolishly forged into the unknown, partly to continue our original efforts, but mostly because I, quite frankly, don’t like the chances of a proper return. Besides, the woman is right—although I can appreciate her predicament better, perhaps, than most—this is her mission, and her’s alone. I understand the others have an ulterior motive in assisting her, but I feel it to be unnecessary, and even somewhat of an intrusion. Alas, my plans have, as usual, fallen to pieces and there is nothing left to do but venture on.

Almost immediately upon arriving, the tone of this adventure was set as I was approached by the wildling, the one infected with some manner of dark magical creature. We had recently discovered that this… parasite… was intelligent, feeding off its host’s knowledge and life force until the day it was strong enough to enter into a body of its own. My compatriot believed that, if this thing was intelligent, it could be negotiated with—he wanted answers, a sentiment I shared, and he came to me with a proposal for a plan to force communications with the creature inside him, one to which I, perhaps foolishly, agreed. I was to provide him with a poison and time enough to allow it to take effect, in hopes that the threat to their shared life would leave the parasite with no choice but to answer our questions.

Perhaps we overestimated the creature’s capabilities, or level of intelligence. Or maybe we simply misjudged its intentions. Or it could be that it simply outbluffed us, but it’s safe to say our gambit was an abject failure. The approach was flawless—the wildling announced his intentions and drank the potion, as I put a blade to his neck, threatening to cut him down if anyone, the Creature included, attempted to intervene. As the poison took hold he demanded answers to some basic questions from the parasite, but it made no sign of response. I suppose it would be inaccurate to call the move a complete failure, as it was able to confirm one lingering suspicion. As the life began to fade from my young companion, the tattooed warrior who joined us at the asylum began to collapse as well, as though their fates were inextricably linked. There could be no doubt, this man was the incomplete vessel of the dark creature.

Upon realizing that no answers were forthcoming, I slackened my hold on the young man and allowed his friends to rush forward in concern. However, any trust I held for the man who called himself Kale was now forfeit and I did not wish to see him recover. I waited until he had disappeared before providing the antitoxin. This was, I now admit, a miscalculation on my part, as the cost of this counterfeit life was all too real. Realizing my mistake, I engaged in an even bigger one, forgetting myself for only a moment, hoping to undo what I had allowed happen. But I was too late and, as always, paid a far greater price for my error than I could have guessed. It seems the creature is capable of great feats of self-preservation and, upon the death of one host, will choose another, one nearby. I carry the thing now, an indescribable weight upon my very soul. Perhaps this is proper, a memento of my lapse, a penance for my sin. A reminder—never get involved.

A dour mood took the party at this point. The parasite’s projection returned as soon as it recovered, rendering the entire endeavor moot. We took the body with us, carried by the swordman, as it would be improper to leave it in this place. I, for my part, chose not to dwell on the events, as it was not the time or the place for such things—in such an alien and potentially dangerous place, distraction would not do. The gnome, who I had worried would be an extra burden on us, given our experience in the asylum, actually proved to be most capable, and seemed to share my outlook. He traveled along beside me on a strange floating disc of his own conjuration, keeping pace effortlessly.

It wasn’t long before I began to see signs of life—objects glinting off the side of the path we traveled. The others, in their distraction, had no interest in gauging our surroundings, leaving me and my traveling buddy to investigate on our own. Fortunately their pace was not rapid and our excursions did not cause us to fall far behind. And it is to their great loss that they did not accompany me, for the investigations were most promising, indeed, albeit in a manner which deepened my concern for our safety. For the things which caught my eye were, to put it bluntly, the last remains of those who had walked this path before—and these were not mere travelers. I found many spoils of those far richer, and likely more powerful than any of us (perhaps other than the two supposed heroes of legend)—magical items of all sorts. I was fortunate to have the gnome with me, as his skills gave him great insight into the nature of the things we found.

Among the spoils was a most intriguing blade, a rapier bearing a foreign-sounding word on its hilt which, when spoken, causes it to glow with a blue magical frost. Also of note were several enchanted rings, two of which in particular struck my attention—one which caused me to disappear into thin air and another which seems to quench my hunger and thirst. Some of the other rings seem to be useful as well, but it appears there is a limit to how many can be borne by a single person. Perhaps I will share with the others, although I don’t doubt these artifacts would fetch a good deal of money from the right dealer. Before I give the impression of indiscretion, I will note that there were items I left behind, most notably a deck of cards—an odd enough find by themselves, made odder still by my companion’s immediate reaction to them, one quite similar to the one he gives the false man in our company. I am coming to trust the gnome’s instincts and did not hesitate to leave the cards where they lay. I also passed by several sets of armor which would have been too impractical to carry and, although I know that there is no rational reason for it, I find myself uncomfortable with the thought of plundering a dead man’s raiment without his consent. Despite this concern, I did find a very fine set of chainmail that I simply could not leave behind. The material and craftsmanship was nearly beyond compare and it would have been a waste to simply let it lie, particularly when it fits me so well.

I have now reached the limit, I think, of what can be considered reasonable side-tracking and am rejoining the others. I can only hope the remainder of this excursion is uneventful and that we are able to return to the world we know safely, although I do not anticipate this.

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A Price Not Worth Paying

Call it fate or coincidence, it matters not. Sometimes small stories can have large consequences, for bad or for good.

It has been years and I no longer remember the exact time or place, but I do remember the important things. I remember that The Lost had recently met Chosen One Aellae, who was preparing to leave for another plane on a personal quest. She planned to go alone but allowed for the party to join her at their request to help. I also remember that this request was not unanimous. And most importantly, I remember that Thorman had recently broken a bone in his hand or arm, and needed mending before any further adventure could take place. So naturally he went to the local Church of Pelor.

He went alone, and having been through this sort of thing before, and being somewhat in a hurry, he dispensed with the usual formalities and requested healing straightforth. The cleric on staff acquiesced, noting that there would be “a small fee”. Thorman agreed, and the cleric healed his injuries. Upon finishing, the healer demanded his previously unspecified fee of 8000 gold. Now, Thorman had some small number of coins about him and the party’s shared funds as well, but all this wealth combined fell far short of 8000 gold. This was, in fact, more money than the travelers had seen collectively thus far on their journey and he mentioned something to this effect. The cleric not unreasonably insisted that 8000G was a pittance compared to the divine power of his god, and reminded Thorman that magically mending broken bones was no trivial matter. This was a fair point, but the fact remained that Thorman could not possibly give the church more money than he possessed. The solution, the holy man decided, was simple—Thorman would give the church what money he could, and send for the remainder. Until he paid, the Church would simply hold Thorman himself as collateral. Having no choice, Thorman agreed, but pointed out that he would necessarily need to leave in order to procure the funds. The church was not unreasonable on this point and agreed, so long as an agent of the church accompanied him.

It was about this time that Hubert, or perhaps it was Kitty, (my memory fails me on this point and, no discredit meant toward the person in question, but for the purposes of this story it does not much matter which it was) arrived in the church. Thorman had to do something—the group was on a timetable and had no way to get the missing funds—so he went with his instincts. He approached his friend in greeting and explained his predicament. “I think we’ll be okay though, here’s what we’re going to do,” he explained. “What I need you to do right now… is RUN!” And he punched his guard in the face and bolted out the door, companion in tow behind him.

What followed next I think anyone might guess. Members of the church gave chase, and members of the City Watch came soon after. The numbers were against our heroes, but they did not have to outrun their pursuers for long. They had an escape route to which they knew none could follow—a local magic shop, at which the remainder of the party was waiting with a scroll of planar travel to take them to Nemecris. Imagine their surprise as Thorman comes bolting in, shouting, “We’ve got to go, NOW!” No further explanation was needed as the guards were nipping at their heals. And so it was that The Lost left the material world behind for the bleak hellscape of Nemecris.

You may be asking yourself why I tell you this. You may say this story, while entertaining to be sure, is hardly an epic. But I tell you now, this one event, although at the time minor, may well have had singular and dramatic effect on the course of history. For had Thorman not brought the heavy hand of the law down upon the party that day, the rogue Kestral would not have gone to the Nemecris plane. The druid Kitty would not have perished there. The dueler Catelyn would not have been rescued. And who can say how things would change from then. One moment, shaping countless more to come.

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Shadows of Things That Will Be
Or shadows things that may be, only?

The hall is narrow, and long—in the light cast by the torches it seems to extend indefinitely—but the walls are brick, not cages, and after the chaos of the cells above, the silence is both a blessing and a curse. A reprieve is welcome, but nothing in this accursed place would exist without purpose, and what horrors could possibly require a corridor so deep, so thick?

The party proceeds, deliberately at first, but as they go on, impatience overtakes caution, the featureless path becoming almost frustrating in its mystery. Eventually, a change, as the walls and ceiling begin to expand, continuing outward until they can no longer be seen by single torchlight. More questions— how big does it get? What could possibly be locked away requiring such a large prison cell? Then, somehow both gradually yet suddenly, something new and far more jarring, a soft crying.

The party is conflicted—a child’s cry is a primal thing, a nigh-undeniable call to action—but in such a place as this, nothing is to be trusted. A child could not possibly be here, and only bad things could come from anything that would mimic one . Some suggest turning back, but they cannot. They cannot simply ignore this—they have to know. And then they see it, appearing before them almost spectrally—a cage.

Something is in there, that much is certain, but the cage is barely lit by torchlight, they need to get closer to see. But now that the truth looms in front of them, unease takes hold once more. The corridor was deep, presumably for a purpose—how close is too close? Eventually one of the heroes steps forward, torch in hand, to investigate. As he gazes into the cell, the crying comes to a sudden stop, and his heart nearly follows. A small figure, made even tinier by contrast to the prison in which it dwells, seemingly innocuous in a night dress. A young girl.

The hero calls out to her, asks for her name, but gets nothing in response. He steps forward, tentatively. She does the same. A few more steps and he can see her features in the light of the flame. Her long hair disheveled, as though it had been wet and never quite dried. Her skin pale, untouched by sunlight. Her eyes dark, impossible to read. He attempts again to speak to her and, again, gets no response. He raises a hand up, attempting a gesture of peace. She continues to match his movements precisely. He turns briefly beckoning his allies closer then turns back. Something seems different, although it takes him a moment to realize what has changed. The bars are suddenly behind her.

This proves too much for the Rogue—nothing good can come of this—and he turns and runs back down the corridor, to the relative state they call safety in the Asylum. The rest of the party deliberates—something is clearly very wrong here—but is it not their purpose to try and help? Time itself seems to have slowed to a crawl, every step, agonizing eternity. The tension mounts as the weight of what is happening hangs heavy over those remaining. They are nearly within touching distance when it drops, and fear overwhelms curiosity. As a group, they turn and leave.

As soon as the cage is out of sight, the crying returns. This time it evokes no concern, only heightens the fear. They increase their speed and the crying abruptly ends, only to be replaced by footsteps. The party begins to run and the footsteps accelerate in kind. She seems to be catching up, although no one dares look back. They reach the door, and not a moment too soon, slamming it closed behind them. They take a moment to collect themselves; they look for the Rogue, but he is nowhere to be seen. Eventually they assume he’s headed back up toward the main floor and resolve to go that way as well, putting as much space between themselves and this floor as possible. The Druid takes one last look back toward the now-sealed door, and lets out a strangled gasp. Impossibly, yet undeniably, there she stands.

They square off again, the party and the girl. The heroes try to ready themselves for action, but nothing in their experience has prepared them for this. Uncertain and unwilling to move first, the Druid attempts once more to reason with the creature, assure it they mean no harm, and again the creature makes no indication it comprehends. She again moves forward slowly, deliberately, and this time, with no other options, the Druid resolves to stand his ground, to see what will happen. Time is again compressed, each second a lifetime of hyper-awareness. He can see her every hair, swinging with each step, her nightgown rippling with motion, her right-hand’s fingers twitching, as though scratching at something unseeable. In this state of focus, the shock is all the greater when she suddenly shoots forward, with impossible speed, arm outstretched in front of her, aiming straight for his chest.

The Ranger reaches out and grabs his unprotected ally, shielding him from the attack, but nothing can keep her from reaching her target, as her arm passes through his armored shoulder like butter, and pierces the Druid’s heart. Both men scream in pain, but the Ranger does not drop his charge, instead shifting his grip to cradle his mortally wounded friend. The girl backs up and appears to prepare for another attack, but nobody notices, as their focus turns to the injured.

The Druid’s breath is shallow and fast and he has become pale, every scratch, scar, and blemish heightened against his pallid complexion. The hole to his heart breaks the pattern of the yet-to-heal symbol-scar of the god Erythnul that taints his chest, and it almost seems fitting. He pulls his would-be-protector close as he draws his dying breath and whispers his final words.

And Kitty blinks as the world rushes back into focus, as if waking from a dream, contained entirely within a second. He wants to cry out, to warn them all what happened, but this is not the time, it is certainly not the place. The inmates are agitated—some are crying or shouting, many more are grabbing for anything they can hold—clothing, weapons, flesh. One has a torch now. Kitty has seen this before, he knows how it will play out, knows what must be done. They need to run.

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