Ascension

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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