Ghost of Kalidria

One for the records
I'd not believe me either

I’ve not used this journal in some time. Not because there was nothing to write, only because I hadn’t the will to write it. I’ve found that reconciling the thoughts of my journey are especially difficult when I consider our end game. We’ve a bleak outlook, and insurmountable odds standing in our path, and as my sister once told me, ‘It bears no significance to dwell upon the darkness within, as darkness holds no reflection.’

I’ve been sufficiently burdened by darkness over the course of my journey. As I learned what seems like a lifetime ago, darkness has always been within me. I carry the blood of the conqueror, a monster to rival any I’ve ever conceived, his fate and mine are chained by our very souls. No solace can be found in this, so I’ve made peace with it, determined to live as only I can, never concerning myself with the sins of my ancestors. If you don’t believe me, I do not blame you. I’m still trying to convince myself.

Today, however, I found a reason to write.

After brief discussion among the abbreviated party, occupied by myself, Able, Aslan, and my sister Tharja, we determined that our time in Kliss was at its end. We’d found a new step in our journey, and sought to take it whilst we were still able. It would be some time before we would reunite with our companions in Durg, and it became apparent to us, thanks to a certain God of Whispers, a surprisingly open fellow, that our old confidant, and one time employer, Lord Ethan Eldos, was a likely target of my father’s Dragoons. On our way Kliss, we’d seen four ships, each carrying a small taskforce in different directions, and only now had we received reliable information as to their destinations. Instead of sailing back to Edius, and journeying to Malatin on foot, we decided for travel less conventionally.

And so we set off, my nephew by my side, and my companions behind me, perched on the back of Tharja, flying over the ocean like the riders of myth. Truthfully, this was a rarity for humans, and an opportunity, barring unforeseen circumstances, that they’d not have again. I didn’t dare ask my sister how she felt about the situation. After all, she offered, why offend her pride?

We’d made fair progress in our journey when we hit a roadblock. Not one of us had seen or heard another creature since we’d begun our ascent, and we’d likely have remained ignorant for far too long, if my sister hadn’t shouted a warning for us to brace ourselves. Gripping tightly to her spines, we shook with impact, and saw a massive blue dragon shooting upwards through us, and into the clouds, only to lock onto our position in its descent. We braced ourselves again, as Tharja took evasive action. Swooping through the air at speeds I’d not experienced in recent memory, our grips were put to the test, as the aerial maneuvers weren’t designed for riders. I held my nephew close, as his mother withstood a few more blasts of lightning. I decided it was time for some offensive evasion.

Electric_Dragon.png

I drew my bow, hoping to get lucky, and took aim at the beast as it once more flew ahead of us. I let loose a near perfect shot, and watched it bounce harmlessly off the dragon’s hide. This would take more than arrows to pull off. Deciding rather quickly, given the stupidity of the plan I’d concocted at that moment, I told Aslan to guard Tryndamere with his life. He obliged, gripping the small drake with an arm, and holding on for dear life with the other. I stood, wobbly at first, upon Tharja’s back, and I communicated to her that I needed to get close to the dragon for this to work. Very close. She traced him, and made a line for his position, he was moving quickly towards us as well. I’d only have one shot at this, and I’d likely die if I missed. As we found ourselves upon the foe, I drew my swords, and jumped from Tharja’s head, whom at that moment, released a torrent of acid, causing the dragon to break it’s path, and fly upward to avoid it. I soared through the air, swords stretched above me, in a reverse grip, and flew into his underbelly with enough force to penetrate through his armor-esque carapace to the hilts. I didn’t have much time, and I honestly thought I’d have been dead at this point, so I improvised. I used the forward momentum of my carrier to allow myself to slip into the vortex current surrounding it. With my body acting as a free weight dragging against the dragon’s velocity, the blades easily found their way through the flesh, and turned the small punctures into vicious lacerations. I’d found my solution to our size difference. I hastily grabbed hold of the edges of the wound, and pulled myself inside.

There is an unsettling feeling you get, when completely immersed in the flesh of a giant creature. Terrified that, at any moment, you’d misjudge the anatomy, and find yourself in the stomach, or worse. No such misfortune plagued my journey upward. It wasn’t long before I was upon a chamber pulsing with the beating of two hearts. Without hesitation, I turned to the one on my right, and plunged my swords into it, stopping it instantly. I could hear its cries even louder from the inside, but the deafening screech did not slow me. I prepared my swords for another blow to take out the second organ, but before I could, I found myself surrounded by acid. I thanked every God in Tryn’s bag that I was resistant.

It took only seconds more to cut my way free from the beast, and I found myself submerged in the depths of the sea by the time I saw light. Making my way to the surface, I’d barely filled my lungs with air, before I was swept up by the talons of my sister.

I’ve never faced anything as large as this dragon before, it was probably twice the size of my sister. I’d found myself up against something seemingly impenetrable, and found my way to its end with the help of Tharja, and I did it, not out of obligation, or because of an ancient prophecy, I did it because it had to be done. It was helpful to remember that even the greatest of monsters can be overcome, if you remember to pick the right target.

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Aslan's Adventure Log - The Thing About Dogs
-Aslan writes the truth for his sister, Part 1.

Shannie-

I hope I’m wasting my time doing this, but just in case I’m not, I want to tell you the truth, all of it, because you deserve to know. If things go tits-up and I die before I get to see you again, I want you to know what I know and understand what I’ve done as truthfully as I can possibly put down for you.

The truth is, I don’t actually hate dogs. There’s nothing wrong with dogs, dogs are great. Abraxis is great too, he just scares the piss out of me, primarily because I’m not used to guys being bigger and more intimidating than I am, but also because he’s a giant dog and giant dogs terrify me. But you knew that part; what you don’t know is why.

I can’t – okay, honest time – I’m not ready to put down all the things that happened before I left home that you weren’t around for. I’ll get to it, eventually, but knowing what I do now it’s going to be a lot more difficult to write all that down than it would have been before. Right now, I want to tell you what happened after I left, and why the whole… dog thing.

After the row with Da, I signed on with a whaling ship. Yeah, I know, you’re already rolling your eyes, but that’s the first stupid thing I did was go on a murder cruise, and I didn’t last after the first take. Have you ever looked a whale in the eye before you harpoon the poor thing? I have, and I hate that I have, and I regret it. I’ll tell you the details later; honestly it’s not that much of a story other than I was a miserable little pissbaby for three months before I jumped ship in Edius. It was some no-name little port town we were passing on the way back to Alastin; I doubt I’d even remember the place if I landed there again.

Anyway, this forgettable little place had the usual crap, a cozy little inn and everything. I shacked up hoping to sign on with a ship heading further South (because let’s be real here, deliberately sailing among the ice floes is only a thing stupid people do, and at that point I’d had enough of being a stupid person. Ha-ha.) and I lucked out with a crew of fellas looking to pad their crew for a long haul down and around to Kendor. They sailed a ship called Iron Tears which was a pretty solid vessel; The promised pay was high, but they were desperate and not a lot of folks from Edius are that willing to go that long at sea. They said we would be hauling precious cargo.

There’s no easy way to say this, though I’ll be the first to admit I was an idiot. The crew were privateers, and they were headed straight for Feduria to sell their new recruits as slaves to the cargo ships that run supplies along Feduria’s coast. You know, the ones Da goes out to-

The ones he used to liberate and sink.

That’s where I ended up. As soon as we were in deep water, the bounty ship’s crew had the new kids stripped, shackled, and shaved. Anything we’d brought with us was divvied up among Iron Tears’ crew. I didn’t pawn the meteorite ring you gave me like I said; it’s probably on some slaver’s greasy finger or at the bottom of the sea or Gods know where else. I’m sorry for lying about that, too.

So, where do we go from here? I was sold in Feduria, bopped around on a few cargo ships for two years, then escaped. The details aren’t very pretty, but you were never one to turn up your nose at awful realities, so. Here we go.

‘Wretched,’ I think, is the best word to describe the whole scenario. Iron Tears and her crew kept us – fifty young kids in all, with a couple older fellas to round out the herd – crammed into the cargo bay for the better part of two months, when we weren’t crewing the ship. It was like a dry run for what was to come; we were brought out in shifts to man the ship under the crew’s supervision, fed twice a day and then shackled in the cargo hold for six hours or so of sleep, until the cycle started again. If anything can be said about those guys, at least they knew that bringing us to port if we were sickly or injured would hurt their take; the work was intense, but they kept us fed, healthy, and alive. In all, only five potentials died on the trip – all of them varying levels of deliberate. That’s about all there is to say, really. Two month voyage, though the time started to run together pretty quick. By the time we were taken in for sail in Feduria, you could have told me two years had passed and I probably wouldn’t have argued. They kept us too tired and hungry to try and escape, but not enough that we couldn’t work. Once I was sold, however, things changed.

I think it was around the time I was finally brought to bid that the surreality of the situation had started to sink in. I don’t know if you ever heard Da talk about how the Fedurians do slave trade, but they have a specialized system in place to avoid what are referred to as ‘problematic purchases.’ IE, when someone who definitely would be a bad idea to keep as a slave has been bought, through whatever circumstances. There’s a massive lexicon in Nimphelis of all the known noble houses in Kalidria, ours included on both Mum and Da’s sides. Anyone caught with a symbol of a noble house on their person, or who can prove their lineage, is separated from the herd and then negotiations are begun to ‘safely transfer’ the ‘erroneously captured’ to a neutral harbor to be sent back home. A lot of money – I mean a serious amount of cash – is exchanged during these negotiations; I never personally witnessed one, but rumor had it that entire families could live generations on the amount of grease that kept those judiciary palms slick on the slave market, all in the name of avoiding an all-out war in case the wrong person had been captured.

So, with this in mind, you’d think that I at least would have had a chance at being pulled from the line, right? I hadn’t left home entirely empty-handed, after all; I had the earring with Mum’s coat of arms on it, which is recognizable enough just on its own. That’s why Da had each of us wear one; Mum’s banner, like Mum, is just one of those things you don’t want to fuck around with. Crewmen bringing in slave bounties were required to show all the loot that had been brought in with the potential slaves, in case of a Problematic Purchase. They had Mum’s banner, at least Iron Tears’ captain did. I saw him wearing the damn thing, pinned to his vest like a badge when he pointed me out to a potential buyer. Slavers are foul, Shannie, but most of them are smart enough to stick to the few laws they do have. That bastard, for whatever reason, deliberately made sure I was sold. I have my suspicions, but right now isn’t the time for conspiracy theories, just the truth.

Anyway, I was sold, just like that, and sent right back out on the water.

The thing about slavery in Feduria is that it’s completely jumped track from being a necessary industry to being… something else entirely, I’m not sure what. There’s about a 60-40 split of slaves that work on the water as opposed to land; since it’s an island nation and so Gods damned packed with people that slavery isn’t really all that vital. The agricultural economy is pretty much driven by tenantry and indentured servitude, and sometimes even family labor, depending on the family. I really don’t think anyone could dispute me if I said that Slavery as an institution in Feduria is more an economy of spite than anything else; they’re a nation run by the most Xenophobic assholes ever burdened with immortality, and most of the population is pretty willing to go along with the ride. If it wasn’t for the fact that Feduria is basically at an oceanic crossroads, and their loose dealings with privateers, Slavery as an institution probably would have ebbed considerably after the first couple centuries, or turned out more like how Xephos runs things. But again, Feduria is run by people who cling to tradition like hateful little barnacles, and the tradition of slavery keeps the Fedurian Elves at the apex of their social pecking order, which is exactly the way they like it.

Slaves that did get to stay on land were primarily factory laborers, and a good chunk of them went straight to the shipyards – which is it’s own kind of awful. Being forced to survive a trip on the slaver ships they send out is one thing, having to come back and build more of those monstrous vessels is another entirely. I wasn’t picked for that job, clearly, Iron Tears’ captain had gave a sterling review of my skill at being a crewman to my new owner, so they put me first on one of the cargo barges that pulls supplies along the coast and then upriver further in-land.

So I’m pretty sure by now you’re thinking, ‘Oz, you were on a boat that sailed either the coast or the river, how the fuck did you not escape you silly bastard?’ I mean, I ask myself the same question sometimes, because it would have been relatively simple to just dive overboard and outswim the ship to a safe harbor, steal a skiff to get me going, and make for dark water before anyone could sound a loud enough alarm. Logistically it would’ve been a gamble, of course; if I didn’t get caught I’d have to find a boat I could sail alone out of coastal waters and into the open sea, not to mention I’d have to get provisions and money and all that extra nonsense. But, it was not impossible.

I just… really couldn’t bring myself to do it.

This is the part where you yell at the book and throw it to the other side of the room because I’m a moron. Go for it, I can wait. Done? Good, let us continue.

What we first need to accept is that, yes, I was 17 and rock-stupid and thought I could save the world. Or at least, thought I could free the slaves on the barge I’d been sold to. I mean, we’ve all been raised on stories of Mum and Da’s heroism since before we could understand language. We’re the children of living legends. If I couldn’t step up to that kind of insane legacy I didn’t deserve the name I was given. So, I tried to play the hero.

Shannie, I got hammered down so hard by those motherfuckers I don’t even know how to write it down properly.

In the first six months I was on barge duty I tried four times to start a mutiny. Look at that, look at what I just wrote there! Four times!! It’s like I was carved out of the essence of pure idiot, straight from the ether of insanity. But the thing is, what really kept me from wanting to go it alone, was that the people thwarting my attempts at escape weren’t even the slave drivers themselves, it was the other slaves.

I need to explain this, because I need you to understand why they kept stopping me, and why I stayed.

The first few months I was still high on the fumes of righteous indignation and, like I said, stupid from years of heroic stories about people who weren’t me at all but who I was lucky enough to be related to. I tried everything from rallying speeches to bully tactics to straight up begging to get the other slaves to work with me and mutiny. But for some of them, Shannie, even if they wanted to escape, the fear and uncertainty of what would come after earning freedom was enough to stop them. There are a lot of reasons for this.

Primary, of course, was that nobody wanted to die. Even if it meant a lifetime of backbreaking labor, poor nutrition, and soul-crushing psychological torment, they still had their life to cling to, and for some the idea of dying before freedom just wasn’t that good of a lure. I remember one man telling me after my second attempt that the problem with the saying ‘give me liberty or give me death’ is that ‘liberty’ will never be guaranteed or permanent; death always is. I tried twice more to argue with that logic, stupid me.

Another reason for their refusal was the pure insanity of trying to mutiny a barge. It was still easy for me to forget that not everyone can swim or sail as well as you or I or Jacob can, and while the three of us together would have no trouble making a river barge seaworthy – at least long enough to get something better – these people were all slaves. Most of them had been put on barge work because they couldn’t swim, and thus the potential for escapees was lessened significantly. I was an anomaly among the group.

The biggest reason, though, is the one that also got me to stay. I don’t know if it’s because I was stubborn or susceptible, but I suppose I’ll figure it out someday. Maybe. Anyway, there’s one other thing about being a slave in Feduria I’ve waited to mention, and it’s what keeps the cogs greased in the sinister machine that runs the whole operation.

Feduria is a fascist theocracy, that much we know. But what a lot of people don’t see outside of the borders is the massive amounts of propaganda all over the place. I’m not just talking about posters and pamphlets and heraldry here, I mean the superiority of the Elves is etched into every brick of every building, into the architecture and the food and the music and the art and the fashion, into every piece of manufactured ware that is produced by hands of the state. If you’re an outsider and don’t know what to look for, you just see a pretty building, or a well-manicured garden, or a beautifully arranged plate of food. But in the very shape of everything present in the whole damned nation is the assurance that these things are made to glorify the Elves, to sing their praises, to enhance all things about them at all times. It’s hard to explain, but the idea of form following function is strong there, and the function is primarily ‘show that the Elves are superior in all things.’

I know this already sounds sinister enough, but the thing is Aihros and Lysa Halifausti are really fucking good at making the people of Feduria, from the highest Elf down to the lowliest Slave, actually believe their propaganda. It’s not magic, and I don’t actually have proof that it’s deliberate… But when you’ve manicured the presentation of an entire continent to propagate that the only beings that belong there are the beings that are the most beautiful and powerful, and those beings are the Elves, you have fucking succeeded in turning your home into a love anthem to yourself. A mortal walks into one of the ancient family houses (and I have, briefly) and you know you’re out of place. Every line of architecture is made to make you feel small, inferior, ugly. Ugly things are unworthy of being in those places, but are allowed to exist there as long as they are useful. I don’t know if Halifausti planned it this way or it was a happy coincidence, but whatever happened for the country to evolve the way it did has turned it into a living propaganda machine that fuels itself simply by dint of existing. Their beauty, grace, intelligence, artistry, and martial prowess was advertised on every space available. The Elves Are Superior Because They Are The Most Beautiful Of All Things In All Ways. It would have been easy, so very easy, to believe I was meant to be a slave, simply because the pure ugliness of my being was incomparably inferior to those that now owned me.

But I don’t like things that are easy, thank the Gods, so I rebelled hard against the idea that I was meant to serve simply because my owners were prettier than me. Even so, after the fourth attempt to escape I resigned my quest. By then I’d exhausted my last window of opportunity to make a break for it without having to contend with the weather, so it was best to lay low and try not to cause any more trouble. And I did pretty well for myself for a while; after I’d healed up and stopped causing a fuss, some of the Overseers even started to like me a little, I think.

(I mean, it helped that I was allowed to exercise some of the social skills I’d learned working at the docks back home. By the way, if you read this and I’m still alive, you’re never again allowed to tell me that being excellent at blowjobs is not an applicable life skill.)

Anyway.

Things were okay if not ideal for the next year I spent on the barge. I worked, ate, slept, woke up and did it again. Most of the time the Overseers were easy to work with and not too sadistic on the weaker folks, but near the end of Green Daire there was a change in management. My owner had gotten word that our barge was working at some fractional percentage less efficiency than another he had running up the western coast, so our Overseers were replaced by new fellas who were… ridiculous, to say the least.

Ten people died in the first month of the change, from exhaustion or starvation. The maniacs he had running the ship had doubled our workload and halved the food we were allowed, pushing us to the brink and further. I watched the few friends I had waste away to almost nothing as we were driven to push the barge faster than it was even designed to go. I hardly slept in those months, food was a luxury none of us could afford. We had all the fresh water we could drink, at least. The Overseers weren’t stupid enough to have us starving and dehydrated. It was terrible; we were sitting on tons of cargo, a good majority of which was food, and we were starving to death just to make it move a little faster. It made no sense; the cost of the ten people we’d lost would cripple the profit my owner would have made, bringing him right back to zero. Whatever his reasoning had been to let this idiocy happen, it was stupid. I’ll work for a profit-hungry slave driver, Shannie, but only if he isn’t busting nut in stupid for no reason at all.

So, I decided to do something about it.

Working on the docks back home taught me a lot of valuable things, sis, not just the crap I joke about from time to time. I learned how to tumble locks, pick pockets, scale walls without being seen, all the tricks of those nighttime trades. I’d been keeping in practice under the old guard, occasionally swiping extra rations for myself and the few friends I’d managed to make (though ‘friends’ might be pushing it. Nobody really wanted much to do with me after around the third time I tried to get them to escape) among other petty little crimes. This time, however, was anything but petty.

There was no way I could steal enough food by myself to feed the entire crew, and no chance in hell anyone would help with swiping rations. Everyone was either too tired, hungry, or resigned to even fight over what scraps we had. I couldn’t escape because no one would come with and it was still some time before the last storms off the coast would subside. So, I decided to take a more direct approach.

I scuttled the barge. Yeah, wow, how the fuck am I still alive after that one? I don’t know. I honestly could not tell you what the hell possessed anyone to let me live after that stunt. But I did just that. I picked the lock on my shackles during my sleeping shift, snuck out of the bunks and into the hold. I turned every vent and valve I could find and flooded the barge. Initially, I had planned on just turning a few cranks and letting the water build up gradually. And that went fine at first – I’d been doing a pretty good job at sneaking through the barge for the first few minutes, but being tired and hungry and riding on the fumes of a day of insane labor may in fact have crippled my abilities at subterfuge quite a significant bit. One of the Overseers found me, but instead of calling for an assist to take me down, he decided he could do it himself.

So, I keep saying I’m not going to lie to you in this book, and what I’m going to write next is going to probably make you think I was lying about not lying, but I swear to you every word of this next sentence is true:

I righteously trounced that asshole.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Didn’t I just get through telling you that I – a malnourished teenage slave laborer – could barely manage to sneak through a barge at night when half the crew was asleep? Because that’s true, but it’s also true that, somehow, some fucking way, I got a lucky hit on the Overseer and knocked him clean on his ass. I still don’t know exactly how it happened, just that it did, and it was wonderful.

Well, it was wonderful until he picked himself up and started screaming for backup, but by then I was already tearing up the hold, ripping open any holes I could to flood the place before they could stop the water. It was absolute chaos, but after is pretty much a blur. I’d made it from one end of the barge to the other, but someone caught me a solid hit on the back of the head with something. Whatever it was left a nice scar for my collection, and when I woke up again, I was in chains on the mainland, about to be sold.

Yeah, how’s that for a kick in the ass? Like I said, I still don’t know why they let me live. I learned later that the barge had in fact sunk entirely, all of the cargo lost. The other slaves had been snatched up immediately (minus a few, and to this day I hope to the Gods that they escaped, but I know better than to hold my breath) and, like me, were sold off to make up for our owner’s profit loss.

And yet, for some reason, I was still alive. How long I would stay that way, however, was a question I was going to start seriously asking myself very soon.

You see, Shannie, I was lucky, extremely lucky, to have been on the barge as long as I had. There are so many worse places a person can be sent, with people who made the second shift of bargemasters that had pissed me off look like angels. The ship I was sold to was another beast entirely.

A few decades ago some genius Elf noticed that there was a popular industry among certain privateers that had a little flavor of heroism to it. The biggest offenders were Alastinian pirates, who made a little extra coin in plundering Fedurian slave ships for the actual slaves. Honestly from what I’ve heard the ‘heroism’ part is more of a thin shellac of legitimacy painted over a much larger and more awful picture, considering a lot of those pirates lauded for ‘freeing the poor slaves’ turned around and sold those very same slaves back to their home countries, but it felt heroic and frequent enough for someone to want to put a stop to it. So it came to pass that some shipwrights were conscripted to build bait ships.

Basically how it works is this: The ship is be built to the exact dimensions of a regular slave cargo vessel, but houses only a fraction of its intended capacity. While outside it’s made to look like it’s crammed with bodies begging for liberation, the ship’s interior is filled with several months worth of provisions, a payload of canons that could take out a medium sized Alastinian war cruiser. I’m not kidding, the weapons on these ships are stupid levels of overkill. Thing is, most of the time the crew never even needs to use them, because the crewmen themselves are as much weapon as anything in the hold. And they have dogs.

So these ships are built and crewed by about ten Elf Overseers – and their dogs – with about 100 or so slaves on board to make the ship look lively. Then they head out to sea and fish for likely prey. The idea is to discourage the pirates by either driving them away by sheer force, sinking the ship, or capturing the crew. Usually it’s the last; more slaves for the mainland and on top of that, they can usually come away with the pirates’ ship intact and sell that for a hefty commission. It’s a nasty, efficient system, and they’ve gotten very good at not being recognizable as bait ships until it’s too late for their quarry to escape.

The thing of it is, sitting out in trade waters, waiting for a likely ship to pass by, was tedious and boring. There’s only so much work to be done on a ship that’s riding anchor half the time, and in temperate months the lack of even clouds to watch over the sea can make a body go mad for some kind of distraction. We slaves had our own ways of keeping lively – telling stories, drumming, playing games with found objects, that kind of shit. Nothing to really write home about, but you know how it is when you’re on still waters too long; you have to have something to keep you busy or you’ll go crazy.

So the question is, what happens when people who are already crazy crave entertainment in a barren landscape. Answer: you don’t want to know. Secondary answer: I don’t want to tell you, but I’m going to.

The Overseers on the bait ship liked to keep their dogs hungry. Not the growl-snap kind of hungry most dogs get when they go without a good meal for the day, I mean starving and ravenously hungry. The dogs are huge, pony-sized animals that are mostly bald from mange or whatever by the time they hit adulthood, and their owners train them to fight right from the beginning. They fight for food, for a place to sleep, for everything, until out of a litter only the strongest, most psychotically violent animal is left, and that’s what they bring on board for these fishing trips. The pitiful things are then chained up on deck on short leashes – only a few inches shorter than the chains we were strung to while working our shifts – and left to their own devices until their owners got bored.

It was bad enough working while having to dodge teeth snapping at your heels. But it was worse, so, so much worse, when one of the Overseers finally cracked from the boredom and let one of those hounds of its chain and steered it at an unsuspecting slave.

I was on one of those ships for five months, from Green Daire to Beldon’s Moon. I’ll remember the face of every man I watched get ripped to shreds by those things until the day I die; probably even after that. Up to this point I’d been beaten, starved, and worse, but nothing, nothing was more terrifying than looking down the maw of a ravenous monster and then up into the eyes of something so broken and wronged by the world that killing was the only respite it had from its own wretched, miserable existence. Almost nothing I have personally experienced is worse than witnessing that kind of violence.

There’s not much more to say about dogs from this point on. But I get the feeling you understand now.

The bait ship I was on, the Pilotfish, was managed by a complete idiot. Not saying the Overseers were stupid; in fact they were a savvy, sharp bunch of scary bastards who didn’t let much slip past their notice. But the Elf who owned the Pilotfish, whoever it was, had made the spectacularly unwise decision of crewing the damn vessel with ‘problem children’ collected from other slave owners across Feduria. Not the whole crew, mind, only about twenty in a hundred, but it was enough. Probably we’d been bought so the Overseers would have convenient targets when they wanted to let their dogs loose, instead of taking the more valuable, obedient slaves. Whatever the reason, I’m thankful for that kind of executive idiocy. I’d be dead otherwise.

Now, it was an unspoken agreement among the slave crew that we wouldn’t go marching around trading stories about our battle scars, but it wasn’t hard to pick out which among us were the Problem Children that had been brought aboard. There’s a look a person gets when they’re ready to break out or die trying, and a look shared among those who understand it. But still, still when I finally got up the courage to suggest mutiny, the others hesitated. They were right to, of course; a mutiny would probably get most of us dead and far too many others wounded or killed as collateral. We wanted our freedom, but even then not at the cost of the slaves who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, fight with us.

It was maddening. I had in front of me a crew of men who were willing and able to fight their way to freedom, but the cost would have been too high. I knew I couldn’t sway them, because I couldn’t even sway myself. So, I resigned again.

No, that’s not true. I didn’t resign. I thought every day of plans for escape, trying to account for every detail that would minimize the loss of life on our side. For the first two months I preoccupied myself constantly with these thoughts – to the point where I once strayed a little too close to the hungry dogs. You’ve seen the scars, and it was a damn miracle someone dragged me out of range before I lost anything other than skin (and pride. I wish I had a better story for those scars, but no. I just got distracted and walked into a pile of hungry killer dogs. History will thank you for never sharing that knowledge with anyone.).

For all my planning, though, there was little I could do. Any weapons we could have used were stored in the gallery, far out of reach either when we were chained on deck or down below in the cargo hold. The dogs patrolled the rest of the ship freely at night, and during the day we were under constant surveillance. Already the Overseers had started setting the dogs on us; we were down sixteen non-fighters and one older sailor who had seemed to almost… beckon the dog to him…

The frustration of it all was close to driving me crazy, I think. Out there on the clear summer waters, anchored with hardly a breeze to cool the ship, fishing and maintenance and nothing but endless blue and white on blue and white – yeah. I kind of got a little insane. Enough that once, in the dead of night, I said a prayer.

I’m not going to tell you what it was. You know I’m not the praying type, so let me just say it was as sincere as I can make it without being deliberately a cynical jackass. But I did pray, and decided that, the next opportunity I had, I was going to make for the weapons cache and see if I couldn’t at least kill some of those miserable godsdamned dogs on my way out. If nothing else, the others wouldn’t have to worry about getting eaten.

It turns out, the next opportunity was in the shape of a nightmare.

Do you remember when we were little, I think I was maybe seven, and we were stuck in a grotto on the southwest coast during a hurricane? Jacob sailed us ahead of the storm and you were fighting with the map, then the rudder broke and I had to rope down to fix it. I remember being down there, lashing it back together, and when I looked up at the storm in our wake it was like looking into the eye of a dragon. I think I was crying when I came back on deck, you screamed something at me and we almost bottomed out on a bed of coral before making it to the grotto and taking cover. I had nightmares of storms for weeks after, I think you did too, and Jacob never talked about it so I assume he did as well.

What if I told you that same storm returned in the dead of night five years ago and saved me from slavery? You already think I’m crazy, but I know putting something like that on paper really puts the bucket on the head, right? I know, yes, that sure is a crazy thing I wrote there but I will believe it until I die.

The storm blew in some three or four hours before dawn. I couldn’t sleep in the pre-storm chop and when the first heavy hit us the ship lurched like an animal scared out of its den. You know the feeling when a sudden surge hits? It’s bad enough when you’re floating free, but we were anchored in bait waters. The ship jumped. I wouldn’t be shocked if we actually cleared the water for a second, it certainly felt like we did. When we settled again, waiting for the next swell, I could hear that the dogs were howling and had retreated somewhere back near the bilge. The stairs up to the gallery would be free, and the Overseers would be too concerned with getting the deck in order before the storm really hit to waste any time grabbing slaves to do the work for them. We weren’t caged in the cargo hold; just chained, and the shackle locks were easy to pick. I was out of them before any of the others could stop me. The Pilotfish was really starting to churn up in the water now; I could hear the rode straining as some of the Overseers attempted to stow the anchor, but something was dragging it, keeping it moored below.

By then the storm was almost on us, the wind was so deafening even the thunder couldn’t compete with it. Picking the weapons locker was hell; with the ship rolling and the wind screaming overhead I was a paranoid wreck, but eventually the lock clicked and the door flew open, spilling swords, daggers, a few harpoons, whatever sharp thing not used for kitchen work had been shoved in there for safe keeping. I grabbed what I could and ran back down to the hold.

Honestly, I didn’t really expect anyone to pick up the weapons I’d dropped in front of them. In the thundering chaos I could see almost a hundred faces staring at me like I had completely lost my mind. For ba very brief second, I seriously felt like apologizing for the mess, picking the weapons back up, and putting them away neatly in the gallery locker.

Then someone said, “well, get the key and get us out of these damn chains, boy. We don’t got all night.”

The rest… how can I describe the rest? It was total insanity. I found the key (also hung in the gallery locker, it had slid out of sight initially), freed the other slaves, grabbed a sword, and headed up to the deck. I didn’t check to see if anyone was following, I figured if they wanted to they would, at this point I wasn’t going to worry about surviving the night. If the Elves didn’t kill me, the dogs probably would, and if not them the storm would take its price. But, in the moment I emerged on to the deck, I looked into the storm again. It was the same storm, Shannie, with the same eye of light and noise at its center staring right into me. I felt like I’d been struck by lightning. For a second I really believed I had been, but it was just the storm… looking at me. Waiting for me to act. So, I did. I swung at the first Elf I saw, and what followed after was combat. Chaotic, bloody, terrifying – I was tired and hungry and half-insane, surrounded by death on all sides. The other slaves had followed; the carnage was swift. In all, I think, it only took about twenty minutes.

I think… the worst part about it was afterwards, when we had to dispose of the dogs. I’m sorry, I don’t want to put down the details on that part.

Anyway, that’s how it happened. The ship didn’t capsize, and in all we were left with about 65 people. We took a vote, decided to head for Xephos, and that’s where I met you again. You know pretty much all the rest from there. At least the parts that matter.

I guess I’ll put this down for now. Shannie, I’m sorry that this is the opening chapter to a sad book.

All my love to you,
-Aslan

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Asher's Entry - Trials and Errors
Session 31

Silence. Darkness. Solitude…

I woke up screaming, but my voice did not carry. I struggled to find air in the choking turquoise water, but to no avail. I was in a cold so deep that it shook the core of my very soul. Slowly, I felt the warmth inside my body literally freeze; first my hands and feet, my arms and legs, my stomach, my lungs, and finally, my heart.

Once again.

Silence. Darkness. Solitude…

I woke up coughing while face down in the snow, naked. I picked myself up to discover I was in front of a large temple with a carving of a serpent spiraling up around the pillars and buildings, its mouth open towards the sky. I assume it to be Sylander. I saw a robe hanging from a branch of a tree in front of me, to which I grabbed it and put it on. There was a staircase leading to the temple and I made my way inside.
Walking down the hall, I began to hear chants. The same chants I heard while in the Temple of Sylander at Lyseria. I walked into a large room and saw lines of priests of all races, but mostly dragonkin, chanting continuously. There was another carving of Sylander, but this time his mouth was open at the end of the room, and there was an altar set in it’s mouth. The altar contained a basin of the same turquoise water from the Unfreezing Sea, and in the water, a white stone. I knew what it was. It was the Hearthstone of Ice.

“Well, if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do this right.”

I stripped off my robe at the basin, and proceeded to enter in the water. I knelt down, and with both hands, reached to grab the stone. As I reached, my fingers froze, and as I cradled the stone, the rest of my hands froze as well, but they did not hurt. I was just beginning to think it was over when a terrible pain coarsed through my entire body. I screamed as I held on to the Hearthstone for dear life as it was disappearing into my hands. After what seemed like an eternity, the pain subsided, I rose out of the basin and stepped from the altar. Cold emanated from my body and I left small patches of frost with each step I took.
I looked back towards the altar and saw the carving of Sylander move, as if I was hallucinating. The head raised
and spoke in a deep, familiar voice.

“You have called out to me before, and I have answered. You have called out to Halis before, and both she and I have answered. The boy you saved before called to Elgas, and I have answered. It is said that water brings life, but all water begins as ice. Life stems from here. All that journey and cross over into death, do so by my hand. Those who return to the living do so in gateways that I provide. Asher, you are dead.”

I kinda figured.

“Now I have given you an opportunity to return to life. Behind this altar is a doorway in which you will cross over. Within it lies a portal that will return you to the living world. The Hearthstone that you carry with you will keep you alive for some time, but for you to survive the Unfreezing Sea, you require the Hearthstone and the
Mantle which rests at the bottom of the Sea, from someone who lost faith.”

Upon speaking those final words, Sylander returned to his original position and did not move again. I walked
around the altar to find the doorway Sylander spoke of and walked through.

The moment I walked through, I found myself once again in the goblin caves near Malatin, and directly in front of me was the amethyst altar to Calisto with Durin’s axe laying there. For a moment I stood there in disbelief. Then anger took over, not just towards Calisto and the Sentinels, but to myself as well. I was a damn fool to bring the axe back to Durin without thinking that someone had tampered with it. If I had thought things through, Durin would not have succumbed to Scald’s will. He wouldn’t have Malatinian blood on his hands.

If only I wasn’t so thoughtless.

But I’ll be damned if I let it happen again.

I began to pick up a large rock in front of me when I noticed that I was wearing my armor. In fact, all of my possessions were on my person. So I took my glaive and I did what I should’ve done long ago.

I destroyed the altar and that damn axe.

And then there was screaming.

Ear-splitting screams echoed behind me as I slowly turned around to see what was causing it.

And I wish I hadn’t.

Goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears and a cave troll filled the room to the brim. Looking closer, I saw a couple familiar figures in the crowd. On the troll’s shoulder, a goblin with a short sword stared down at me, foaming at the mouth, twitching every so often. I recognize Rabid Hate just about anywhere, that skittish little creep. Below the troll was the bugbear with the tiara that I had cleaved in half during my first trek in the caves. But on the head of the troll was a small bald boy with purple eyes. He did not scream as the goblins did, but he stared at me with more hatred than any boy should have.

I looked down and chuckled. “So this is what he means by ‘have faith’. It’s not just the faith in Halis, it’s the faith in myself…” I bowed down and said a small prayer to Halis, as well as Sylander for good measure. “Please protect me. And thank you.” I stood up and charged into the fray.

Rabid Hate screeched with glee the moment I charged. He jumped off the troll into the outstretched hands of a bugbear (who had a backpack of…more goblins?), who then spun and tossed Rabid Hate directly at me. I took my glaive and brought it down in an overhead swing to meet the airborne goblin and it hit him right in the nose. The problem is that it wasn’t the blade that hit him, but the pole. Miraculously, he managed to grab hold onto my glaive as he got hit, so basically I had a goblin on a stick. I spun around, cleaving through numerous goblins, trying to get Rabid Hate to let go. He didn’t, and instead crawled down and stabbed me in the leg with his short sword.

AGH! Little bastard!” I cursed. I grabbed him and lifted him off my leg. I quickly looked around to find a target to throw him when I saw what the bald boy was doing. He was still on top of the troll’s head, only this time his hand was on the troll’s forehead, it’s eyes rolled back, and it was lumbering slowly towards me. It was carrying a huge chunk of metal that I assume was to be a sword or club of some kind. Either way if I got hit with that thing, I’d be put out of commission.

On the plus side, I found my target. (See? Optimism).

I pulled my arm back to throw Rabid Hate (speaking of throwing, a bomb goblin passed over me and exploded behind me) to knock the boy off of the troll, but somehow during the throwing motion, my hand had gotten stuck in his mouth. With a little quick thinking, I used the momentum to my advantage and punched the ground through Rabid Hate. There was a small pop and no more Rabid Hate.

With barely any time to be impressed with myself, six hobgoblins pounced on me, but their attacks were barely noticeable. I did another spin of the glaive, throwing a little more power into it, and causing pink mist to appear where the hobgoblins were standing. I began to settle myself into proper position when the Tiara Bugbear walked up and smacked me dead in the chest with a morning star. It hurt, but nothing I couldn’t power through. I was surrounded by goblins again, so I figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I spun again and cleaved through all of them up to Tiara. I had managed to cut him deep, but he was still able to swing back. At the same time, the troll tried to hit me with his “sword”. Luckily, the troll missed, but Tiara still hit me in the chest again.

I shook off Tiara’s hit, and I tried to think for a second. The child is obviously the one in control of the troll, but I needed to figure out a way to get him off without hurting the child as much as possible. I figured the best way would be to use the goblinoids as stepping stones to tackle the kid off of the troll. I lined up my stepping stones and ran towards the troll. Unfortunately, the first goblin I stepped on apparently had a weak skull, because my greaves sank into his head, causing me to stumble forward as opposed to jumping. Using my momentum, I rolled underneath the troll’s legs, avoiding any other attempts of getting hit with a giant metal splinter. Right, time for plan B. I cut through the troll with an upward swing between the legs and through it’s spine to lame him. Lucky for me, he didn’t fall backwards, but instead crumbled to the side, causing the child
to fall off.

I was about to rush to the child when Tiara again hit me with its morning star, this time in the face.

“Fuck off!” I yelled, and booted Tiara in the stomach, away from me. I turned to see the child standing on top of the troll’s head, point to me, and growl, “Kill.”

Then I heard screaming from every. Single. Goblin. In. The cave.

Every single one of them started to scream their lungs out. Their eyes rolled to the back of their heads and en masse, they all started charging towards me. There was no way in hell I was going to kill all of the goblins in this room, let alone the entire cave, but I still wasn’t leaving that kid here. I ran up to him, grabbed his skull, and with an effort of will, coursed through the Light of Halis to rid him of the evil spirit that controlled him. He stood shocked for a moment, then went limp, a puff of smoke dissipating from his mouth.

And then everything stopped. Mid-step, every goblin stopped and just stood there. A few moments passed by and still nothing. I took my glaive and test stabbed one of them. It died like normal but what exactly was going on? Was the child really controlling all of these goblins? One of the goblins started to blink. Then another. And another. And another. It wasn’t until the tenth goblin did I realize that they were all gaining consciousness, their eyes rolling back to normal. So I did what anybody else would do.

I ran.

I put my glaive away and brought out my tower shield. With the shield on one hand and the unconscious child in my other arm, I rammed through the goblins towards the exit. It was easy at first. I was just plowing through them all as they were still snapping out of it.

Pat. Ping. Pang. Ping.

I started to feel resistance. They be pushing back now. But I’ll be damned if I don’t get out of here in one piece. I dug my feet with each step and used all of the power of my legs. I plowed through faster.

PingPatPingPangPat.

I had to keep going. I was almost there.

CLUNK.

I looked up to see what stopped me, and Tiara loomed over me, one hand on my shield, the other swinging with his morning star, and it connected with the side of my face. I stumbled back a bit to lay on hands. I looked behind him to see if there was anything else, but lo and behold, the exit was right there.
“Screw this guy,” I thought to myself. I took out my glaive and, for an added sense of irony, smote him over the head and split him in half, the same way I killed him the first time. I gathered myself and the child and ran straight towards the exit. Soon after I started to run again, I sensed evil very close by. I looked down and saw the child take out a hidden knife. I hesitated, so sure of myself that I had taken out the evil spirit. I tried to swat away the knife but I missed in my hesitation, and the child stabbed me in the shoulder.
I dug out the knife but what was next? I took out the evil spirit, so why is this child emanating such a powerful malice?

Voices echoed in my head:

“Leave him.”
“Kill him.”
“Smite him.”
“Save him.”

But what was the correct choice? I had already tried saving him, and yet he remained evil. Some people are just born this way. But does that justify killing a child? Maybe, given the circumstances. Is it possible to drive out the soul-deep hatred within him? I could give it a shot. It’s better than nothing.

Once again, I put my hand on his skull, and with more effort, called forth the power of the Hearthstone of Ice to drive away all of the child’s malice and hatred. Coldness erupted from the pit of my stomach, coursed through my arm and into the child. He slowly became bathed in ice and all evil within him disappeared. Still carrying the child, I ran towards the exit. I saw turquoise water on the other side with what appeared to be crashed ships on the ground. Is that the bottom of the Unfreezing Sea? Doesn’t matter, I have to get out of here.

I held my breath and crossed the threshold and the child dissolved in my arms, his spirit rising up to the heavens. Which would be all fine and dandy if it wasn’t for the fact that I was in frigid waters, trying not to drown. I managed to get a decent amount of air before running into the water, but I had no clue what to do then. Then I remembered something Sylander told me, “…you require both the Hearthstone and the Mantle…” I was missing the Mantle, so I looked around for something of the sort. 80 yards away, there looked to be a piece of equipment that wasn’t frozen solid, so I slogged my way over there as quickly as I could. I tried to use a sunken boat as support to help propel me forward, but it only disintegrated the moment I touched it. After what seemed like a century, I reached the Mantle. I took it off of the corpse of the previous owner and put it on myself. I have both the Hearthstone and the Mantle.

Now what?

I couldn’t swim with all of my armor and weapons with me, but I didn’t want to risk leaving them behind, in case Sylander wanted to turn it into another “sacrifice” for the Hearthstone and Mantle. So I tried to float my way up. Using the Hearthstone, I created an ice ring big enough to float with me on it. Slowly, I rose towards the surface, with each passing second harder to keep my breath held. Half-way up, I lay on hands to expel water from my lungs and give myself some more time. I had to hold on. It hurt so much, but I had to hold on. My lungs felt as if they were being crushed. Then the ice I made stopped floating, but miraculously, I saw the tail of Sylander within arm’s reach. On impulse, I grabbed Sylander’s tail and thought kind, non-threatening thoughts, hoping he’d take me up.

Once I grabbed the tail, I was shot through the surface of the water and thrown onto a boat and into my comrades, Verik, Able and Adrian. While I laid in a pile of dust that somehow appeared there, I saw Aslan standing on the mast of the ship while Vyertinn floated in mid air. Apparently, everybody scampered to avoid the tide I caused to get out of the water. Verik, after he got out from under me, rushed to help heal me. I thanked him and while the others talked to Sylander, I scooched myself to a wall to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.

But really, there wasn’t anything else to gather. If there was anything to learn from this, it is that I am still weak. Hordes of goblins will be nothing compared to the army Calisto will gather, if he hasn’t already. The test of endurance I just went through will be nothing compared to fighting for days on end. I have the Mantle of Sylander and the Hearthstone of Ice, and it still isn’t enough. I need more power to end death incarnate,
Kerald, and even more power to end Calisto. I need more.

I shuffled up to my feet and walked to the rest of the group. I waited politely for the conversation between Sylander and the group to end before I said my piece. It ended and Sylander looked at me, and for the first
time ever, I did not shiver out of fear, nor out of cold.

“I have a request.”

“Yes?” Sylander spoke.

“I would like two of your scales to forge them into something that will help protect the people who can not protect themselves.”

“Bold,” Sylander said through what seemed to be a smile. “Very bold.”

“As the wearer of your mantle, it only seems fitting.”

Sylander leaned towards the boat, his scales exposed to me. “Take two of your choosing. But you must pull them yourself.”

The group was discussing what to do with the scales. Tower shields and armor came to mind but I mentioned combining a scale into my glaive. Sylander chuckled slightly and said, “I have something better for that. Pull open my scale to see my flesh. Plunge your glaive into my side. If you take the scale off, you may keep it. However, this will count towards your second scale.”

With a little buffing help from Verik and Vyertinn, I managed to pull off a large scale, exposing the flesh of Sylander. I pierced deep in his side with my glaive. Blood sprayed a little bit on me, but my glaive managed to soak up everything else. I pulled it out, and thanked Sylander for the aid.

I picked up the large scale (sheesh this thing is heavy) and found a nice corner to sleep in.

It’s been a long day. I think I deserve it.

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Asher's Entry - Frozen Memories
Session 29 - Flashback

My friends and I settled down after making progress towards our destination, the Unfreezing Sea. The days are longer and the nights shorter. Any decent sleep is short lived so we must get as much as we can. Luckily, my shift for lookout is last, so my sleep isn’t interrupted until the end.

I was having a dreamless sleep until I woke up with a snort. Adrian shook me up, waking me, his shift ended. I nodded to him and got up to relieve my bladder. By the time I had finished and got back to the camp, he had settled himself into much needed rest. I sat down and poked at the fire.

Thirty minutes passed after I completed menial tasks to prepare for the trek; sharpening my glaive, making sure nothing was missing from my inventory and saying a small prayer to Halis. The only thing left to do was to stay awake and keep an eye out for any hostiles. But there was nothing. Permafrost stretched for miles. Sparkling mists of ice fell down from the heavens. Mountains towered over us past the clouds and the mists. Trees were scattered among the land before us. It was…familiar. And then a memory crashed into me. One that I had suppressed over many years………

I was eight years old in my hometown of Malatin.

“Asher!”, my father called. “It’s time to get up!”
The sun wasn’t fully up yet when I woke up. I shuffled out of bed and got dressed. I stumbled down stairs to see my father and mother eating breakfast in the dining room.

My father, Joel was a very humble and hardworking man. He was taller with average, had a perpetual stubble on his face, brown eyes and short, sleek black hair with a few streaks of grey thrown in. I often mused if the grey hair was hereditary or just due to stress. Personally, I’d prefer the latter. He was also built like a man who worked constantly. It wasn’t rare to see him all around Malatin helping the townsfolk in whatever they needed. Seeing him do so much inspired me to try and do the same.

Next to my father was my mother, Mei. She was average height and slender. She had blue eyes with long brown hair. She had the same humility as my father but she also held herself with a sort of grace as well, as if every bit of her movement had a sense of purpose. While father was away and busy, which was often, she handled the chores around the house. Of course, I didn’t let her do everything by herself, but when I was sick or away with father, she would still finish by the end of the day.

“Mornin’, Asher,” said my father. “Are you excited about today?”
Today was going to be the first time I left Malatin entirely. One of the townsfolk asked my father to gather herbs from the mountains for medicinal purposes, and he figured it would be a good opportunity for me to learn something new. To be honest, I just wanted to help. “Of course,” I said

“Good. Eat up. We’ve got a busy day.”

The day started off normally enough. I sat down to eat my fill of eggs, bacon and biscuits. I helped mother with the chores until noon, trained with my father for about an hour and then finished with the chores. It was around one o’clock when my father came home with two backpacks full of what I assumed food and camping materials. Before we left, my parents and I said a few prayers to the Goddess of Life, Halis. I felt a small thrum of calm and peaceful power as we finished. It was time for my father and I to begin our travels into the mountains.

Traveling took about half a day, which gave me enough time to take in the details of the mountain environment. It was cold, at the very beginning of winter. The trees and the ground had small patches of snow, getting bigger and bigger as we walked the trail. Deer, squirrels and other forest dwellers scurried over shrubs and bushes. The whole thing was foreign to me, but I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. I basked in its serenity. We arrived at our destination barely before the sun went down. We set up camp and slept. The next day, we spent the whole time gathering herbs.

“This here is mugwort,” father said. “It’s used for healing properties and you can even make tea with it. Over here, this is….” He continued on and on, and I took in as much information as possible. It wasn’t until the afternoon when I saw him stop talking to look up at the sky and say, “Son, it’s time to go.”
“Why?” I asked.
“There’s snow coming. I can feel it.”
“Is that bad?”
“In these parts, yes. It’s dangerous, especially at night. The sooner we get back home, the better.”

So we headed back. Not even ten minutes passed when my father’s prediction came true. Snow slowly drifted down from the sky and in response, we picked up the pace. Steadily, the snow started getting heavier and heavier. The wind started to pick up, splashing the ever stronger snow into our faces. Our progress slowed down and it didn’t show signs of letting up. The sun was almost down when we were still hours away from Malatin. It was then that my father saw a small cave ahead of us, some natural protection against the raging snow.
“Just a bit further and we’ll set up camp.” I heard my father call. “It’s too dangerous to travel at night in this weather.”
I started to respond when I slipped and fell to the side. I expected to stop immediately against the ground, but instead found myself tumbling down a steep hill. Down, down, down I went until suddenly, I was airborne and then felt a sudden impact. Slowly, I sat myself up out of a pile of snow and gathered my bearings. I looked up and realized that I had rolled off a small cliff.

Crap. I had to get back somehow. I pushed myself up to start my climb back up but a sharp pain in my left ankle caused me to fall again. I reached down to feel my ankle and found it was swollen up bad. I’m not sure if I broke something or if it was just sprained but I couldn’t walk. Double crap. Only one thing came to mind. I was stuck.

“Help!” I yelled out. “Father, I need help!” I yelled continuously for what seemed like forever. The sun had set completely, leaving me in the mountain forest dark, cold and alone. I yelled and yelled until my throat burned and my voice went weak. I couldn’t yell anymore so the only thing I could do then is wait and hope my father,
or someone in general, heard my pleas.

With my back against the same cliff I fell off of, I sat patiently. I honestly don’t know how long I waited. The seconds felt like minutes and the minutes felt like hours. My patience turned to anxiety and my anxiety turned to pure childish fear, and with it, dark thoughts filled my mind.

Will father come back for me?
Did he even notice I was gone?
Will I see my mother again?
Am I going to die?

Every thought that crossed my mind said that I was doomed on this mountain. There was nothing I could do and nobody was there to help me…unless…

I bowed my head and started to pray to Halis. All of my emotions poured into the words as I spoke. “Halis, please. Help me.” Nothing happened.
“Please. Help.” Again, nothing.
“Halis, Goddess of Life, please…” And for the third straight time, nothing happened.

Then something in me snapped. This was it. I was going to die. I started sobbing, the cold wind stabbing the tears against my face. With one last effort, through the sobs, the pain in my throat and the cold, windy night, I screamed, “Help me, gods damn you! Help me, please!”

Then among the snow and the wind, I felt something. It felt… familiar. It felt calm. Peaceful. Soothing, even. But so… wrong. It was calm, yet unforgiving. Peaceful, but brutal. Soothing, but so absolute. It scared me. It scared me so much I couldn’t think straight. I began to shiver more out of fear than to keep warm in the cold. Then all of a sudden, the wind raged harder than ever. I had to shield my face because I feared the snow would cut through my eyes. Then in the howling wind, I heard a voice. Strong, low and ruthless, it came to me from all around.

“Child of the favored ancestor. Do you wish to live?”

In my fear and shivering, I barely managed a small, pitiful “Yes.”

“Good,” it responded. “It would be a shame if such potential was wasted. Had you not responded, I would have left you to die.” In the woods ahead, there appeared a pair of blue eyes, frozen and inhuman. Slowly, it approached me, gathering snow in the wind to make a body for itself.
“There is much for you to learn. Much for you to see. And you are of no use to the world dead, child.” It came closer and closer.
“Your fate is not here, child. You must destroy that which is yet to come. You must rectify the mistakes of the past.

It was right in front of me. Just looking at it made my instincts scream that I was nothing compared to whatever this thing was. I barely whispered, “I don’t understand.”

You will in time. But for now, live." It moved forward, slowly entering my chest, and I was consumed by the cold. I blacked out.

All I heard after that was the voice of a woman.

“I’m sorry…”

“Asher, get up man,” said Adrian as he lightly shook me to awake me. I’d dozed off during my shift and I’m lucky that nothing happened while I did. Everybody was gathering their things together to get ready to travel further north. Adrian looked at me, concern on his face. “You alright? You’re sweating like a mad man.”

I wiped off my face as quickly as possible. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” I responded. As I got up to gather my things, I began to reflect on what I just remembered, and it made sense as to why I don’t do well in the cold. But that doesn’t matter now. It’s time to press forward towards Sylander and the Unfreezing Sea.

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Asher's Entry - Facing Death Incarnate
Session 27 - Original date 12/8/14

I slowly drew my breath in and out. In. And out. In. And out. Breath. Concentrate. Focus on what is in front of you. Forget what happened earlier today. Forget the Krixian named Deigo you met at the Dragonroof Inn. Move on from the argument Adrian almost started with the Krixian priestess. Ignore the hundreds of Krixians screaming and cheering around you as you stand in the center of the arena. Cease to think about the Arena’s Champion, the bearer of a Mantle of one of the Wyrms.

Kerald, the Sentinel of Destruction, stood before me. Menacing. Hungry. Sadistic. Bloodthirsty. There were not enough words to describe the aura this bastard of chaos emitted. If not for my overbearing need to protect Adrian and Verik behind me, I would have gone mad in fear. I had met this beast before from the Oracles’ Tests. I had made the audacious agreement in a duel to the death. But I didn’t foresee myself facing him again so soon. I knew for a fact that fighting him now would be the equivalent of an ant facing a boot. I had to stall. Verik was healing Adrian, who for some reason had his shirt torn off, and Able and Aslan were talking to the Arena Champion to not honor his fight with Kerald.

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Kerald stepped forward towards me, clashing his two great axes together, sparks flying across. His teeth gleamed devilishly. Stall, dammit. Stall him enough to keep him from killing everyone and everything.

“This is neither the time, nor the place, and you know it.” Please. Talk. Don’t throw an axe or something.
His grin widened. “You stepped into the arena.”
“I did, but it was to save his life. Not to fight you, yet.”
“No single combat?”
“Not yet.” I positioned my glaive the same way I did when I accepted the duel in the Oracles’ Temple. I had hoped he would do the same to honor our agreement and that he would like a fight on even ground with someone he would call his equal, which I was not, and he knew it.
“Your faith in Halis too weak?”

Oh, boy.

“The need to save my friends come before that.”
“Imagine how many lives you can save if you end mine.”
“I already know that I can’t now. However-”
“So you lack FAITH?!” he bellows. His grin widened into a full blown wicked smile.
“I lack STRENGTH! There is a difference!” I got more and more heated. Damn this bloodthirsty bastard. He’s actually getting to me.

Stop. Breath, dammit. Stay calm.

“…you will always lack strength. But I tell you what. I’ll give you an opportune moment. I’ll fight you with one axe in my off-hand.”

I almost took it, but stopped myself immediately. (“Calm down. It’s exactly what he wants you to do.”) I was so concentrated on Kerald that I hardly noticed Vyertinn and his eagle, Orion, taking Adrian away from the arena. Thank Halis…. But what now?

“The one life has been defended. Are you going to defend everyone that stands between me and my prize? Are you going to allow me to fight this champion? Are you going to allow me to take his life, or is it only your friends’ lives that you care about?”

And I’ll be damned, I couldn’t answer immediately. If I were to stand in Kerald’s way any longer, he would cleave me without a passing thought. But at the same time, I would betray everything I’ve stood for up until now if I just sidestepped and let him have this fight, knowing full well that he would obliterate everyone, including the Champion, simply to save myself and my friends. If the Champion is slain and Kerald gets the Mantle, only the Gods know what chaos would be brought. Yes, this is what I fight for. I fight for the people who cannot defend themselves. I fight those who would slay innocents for sport, pleasure and power. I fight for Kalidria.

And yet, in my deep thought, I didn’t notice the mist that Verik cast in the arena. I shifted ever so slightly in my surprise, which was all Kerald needed. I felt a white hot pain and looked down to see a Dwarven great axe in my chest, blood slowly sliding down the blade. That bastard actually threw an axe this heavy. I pulled it out and threw it on the ground, but doing so knocked the wind out of me and I dropped to my knee. I heard a quick “HYAH” from the mist, which meant that either he was throwing another axe or he was jumping towards me. The only thing I could do was roll out of the way because I knew that if I tried to block it, his strength would break my glaive. But I couldn’t move. No matter how much I screamed thoughts to my body, it didn’t listen. I stood on one knee as Kerald came from the mist in the air, holding one of his axes in two hands, arcing it’s way directly for my head.

It’s funny how people say your life flashes before your eyes right before your death. They say that because it’s true. I remembered everything up until now; training with my father and Durin as a child, seeing my mother die by the hands of a goblin when I was 12, defending my home again when I was 21, the goblin caves, the stint in Chunda, almost freezing to death going to Fridg, sleeping in a Varfarrion family tomb, destroying the spirit living in Able, traveling to Keros, the training by Vayne at the Temple of Halis, the port city of Xephos, the Trials of the Oracles, fighting beside my father to defend Malatin once more. Everything I had been through led up to this final moment of my life. I had saved as many lives as I could and maybe saving my friend would be worth it in the end. Kerald’s axe, as if in slow motion, was coming down to me, and all I could do was close my eyes and accept my fate.

I have done all I could. Good luck, guys.

But then I heard a clash of metal, which is strange because usually a greataxe to the head doesn’t make that sound. I looked up to see a short and stout woman before me with her glaive underneath the axe. The mist cleared for me to see Halis, the Goddess of Life, just saved my life. “You shall take no lives this day. Verick, get him out of here. Now!”
“Yes ma’am!” I heard Verik call. I felt him grab me by the shoulders to lift me up. Halis spoke to the crowd as Verik and I stumbled out the arena. “I would advise everyone who is here to be out of this arena. I am defending all life here this day.”

I couldn’t tell what happened afterwards because Verik and I were running out of the arena, but I heard ominous sounds and saw purple lights come from the arena. There was no time to go back. I put faith that my friends would make it out and Verik and I left for the Dragonroof Inn. Suddenly, there was an outburst of people screaming and yelling and gathering up weaponry. Seems like we’re not going to be welcomed back to Krix any time soon. Rushing through the streets, we met up with the others, also running back to the inn. As we closed in on the tavern, we saw Seros waving and yelling, “Hurry! We’re leaving in 10 seconds!” All of us dived into the inn, barely a second to spare. Seros slams the door, waits a second, and opened it again to see frozen wilderness. “Things just got a little colder.” And he slams the door again.

We were back in Kredo.

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Asher's Entry - A Wise Old Fool
Session 26 - Original date 12/1/14

As the group and I trotted back to the cart, I thought of the two wildling shapeshifters we had fought off earlier. Guilt, as well as relief, surfaced in my mind. I aided in hurting the poor woman physically, as well as her mate emotionally. But I know I saw Scald’s influence just before I had the chance to give the final blow, and decided not to end her life, but to save it. It was hard. One of the hardest decisions I had to make at such a last second. I hope that they continue to live without situations like these.

After we traveled a little farther up the road, we set up camp and rested, waiting until morning to travel again.

frozen_land.jpg

It was a fairly peaceful ride the rest of the way. I could see small houses and large plots of land for farming, and the people inhabiting them had those infamous blue blisters. Even with the blisters, they seemed to have high spirits. It was refreshing to see people with such carefree outlook on life, especially with the times growing darker. Javad, the old man, stopped at an acquaintance of his, and traded some of his barley for some dried pork. He seemed very insistant on sharing some with us, as if he was paying off a large debt. I almost declined out of habit so that I wouldn’t use up any of Javad’s food, but I decided it was best that thankfully accepting someone’s gratitude was good once in a while.

Along the way, Able and Verick decided it was a good idea to pour one of the blue elixers (the Tears of Sylander I think they were called at some point), into a river that traveled through multiple towns in the south to relieve some of the people of the blue blisters. Vyertinn granted permission to use his great eagle, Orion, and they flew off. Adrian, on the other hand, decided it was best to use the time we had to train Tryndamere, his drake nephew, in hunting. I decided to simply stay and watch the cart, as did Vyertinn. Not an hour or so later, Able and Verick returned, conversing on the sights that they saw and the good deed they had done. Soon after, Adrian and Tryndamere came back with a large haul; a bear and an elk. He told us he was following tracks that just happened to be the same male shapeshifter we had encountered last night. The shapeshifter was gathering materials (which happened to be the entrails from the bear Adrian was carrying) for healing the female. It seemed like she was going to be alright, which swept the guilt from my mind of the matter. “Thank Halis…” I muttered to myself.

The hours of the day seemed to pass by slowly, but finally the moment for us to depart arrived. In the distance, there stood a familiar building. It was tall, had stables and a garden outside, and had a dragon made out of red tile on the roof. Almost in unison, Able, Verick and I shouted in excitement over the Dragonroof Inn’s appearance, startling Javad and his wife. My mouth flooded with drool, remembering the taste of the succulent sandwich I had the previous visit. Urges to hop off the cart and sprint to the tavern crossed my mind once or twice but I quelled such thoughts. Patience, afterall, is a virtue.

Outside of the tavern, the old couple shook our hands as they bid us farewell.

“You…” as Javad shakes Verik’s hand, “remind me so much of Lynsyd. She defended us from everything. She is the reason why most of us are still alive. She kept Calisto from dominating the land. She still protects us, even after her fall.” He looks at us all. “I pray that you all don’t fall like she did.”

Gods, I’ll make sure that we don’t.

The rest of us shook hands with Javad (I managed to slip in a few more gold into his hands with my own handshake. He was almost speechless), bid farewell and walked into the tavern.

A most familiar feeling came unto me. The warm and homely feeling. The smell of good food and good drink. The whispers, conversations and cheers. The diversity of people. All of it washed over me like I was home in Malatin. But something was different. It was busier, the conversations had changed, and there were more people from different territories than before. Although it was only small, the overall aura of the tavern was more serious. It wasn’t something to fret over, however. Able, Verik and I were still elated to be back, and to show Adrian and Vyertinn why we had such stupid grins on our faces.

We walked up to the bar to see the bartender, Korg. Adrian, Verik and I ordered the ale and the Korg Sandwichd, while Adrian asked for Draconic Fire Ale and Vyertinn ordered some Elven wine from Fedoria. I immediately started to demolish the sandwich in front of me. It was heaven in my stomach. With my face stuffed with the sandwich I heard a familiar voice coming from behind us.
“I didn’t think I’d be seeing you boys again.” I turned to see the old man from the last time I was here holding a glass, taking frequent sips from it. He was the one who had told us about the murder in Val.

“The name’s Owen by the way.”

Formalities were made, and Owen continued.

“You’re Vyertinn Varfarrion, aren’t you?”
“My reputation precedes me,” Vyertinn responded. “I probably should leave.”
“No no.” Owen turns to us. “You’re all defenders of Malatin after all. And if memory serves, the attempted defenders of Olan Durf of Chunda.”
“A slightly less wanted title in my opinion.” Said Adrian.

Owen chuckled and focused on Adrian, Verik and me. “So did you all find out what happened with the murder with the bald boy I told you about?”

All three of us hesitating in responding. After a couple seconds of uncomfortable silence, I spoke. “Unfortunately…we could not. Mainly because of me…I don’t do well with the cold.” Maybe some humor would ease the disappointment I was expecting out of him.
“And yet you’re in Krato?” said Owen, in his obvious “Are you fuckin’ stupid?” tone of voice.
“I do what I must, and sometimes I have to do crazy things,” I said. Vyertinn and Adrian were obviously lost with what Owen was talking about so Owen gave them a recap of the murder in Val near Fridg.
“So it appears you all ended up west instead of north?” said Owen.
“How do you…know that?” I said.
Out of nowhere, Vyertinn spoke. “Because he’s a wizard?”
Owen chuckled. “So what made you go west?”
“Well we got lost in the blizzard,” I said.
“And I found this,” as Able points to the Mantle of the Mind Wyrm.
Owen seemed unfazed by it. “Well you all survived mostly intact and seem more healthy than when I saw you before.”
“And all it took was dying,” said Able, sarcasticly.
Owen grinned. Then the lines on his face deepened into a more serious complexion. “You all are here because of me. I am Seros.”

Well I didn’t expect for him to just say it out loud like that. I thought he’d make us guess. But that’s fine by me. Whatever makes things progress quickly.

“Since you seem to know everything already,” Adrian said, “why don’t we let you begin.”
“I don’t know everything,” said Seros, “I know what I was involved in. I gave you a test to see how well you could decifer enemies between friends. Investigating a murder of a potential Keeper.”
“I take it we failed,” I said.
“Well you headed west because of a blizzard conjured by the spirit inside him,” he points to Able, “that a priest and a paladin did not recognize and that a priest and a paladin did not get rid of. That was a test to see just how well you all could understand your enemies. But since then you have learned many lessons on discerning friend from foe. Luckily you have returned with one friend that showed many signs he needed to be turned upon. It is fortuitous. So for that, I say you’ve passed my test.”
“Thank you for being generous,” said Able.
“And for your understanding,” said Verick.
“…I still don’t feel good about it,” I mumbled.

Seros took a sip from his glass. “Tell me what you know of me so I know where to start.”
Vyertinn chimmed in. “You were one of the founders of the Wizard’s Councel in Xephos and you aided the Heros.”
“Well we all know how that worked out. They stalled things. Bought us time. Time to try to get people to act on 300 years ago. They called me a crazy old man,” said Seros.
“People tend to not look at things directly in front of their faces especially if they can convince themselves that everything is fine,” said Adrian.
“Exactly,” Seros nodded. “Please, continue. I’ve been listening to people and their rumors of what they think about me. I want to here yours.”
“From what I can tell, you’ve been on a bender for the past 300 years,” said Vyertinn. Good going. Way to insult the one man we need to help us.
Seros showed his glass to Vyertinn. “It’s water.”
“I stand corrected,” said Vyertinn.

“You have to endure this old fool, to get your help,” said a stern Seros. He turns to Adrian. “You know clearly what your blood is responsible for. And it is YOUR blood, that will fix it.”
“So you heard about that?” said Vyertinn, almost eager to possibly hear praise from Seros. He was talking about a ritual he was developing to use Adrian’s blood against Calisto.
Seros snapped his eyes to Vyertinn and with as much grace as a hammer to the head, said, “You’re a fool.” Well damn. Seems like Seros isn’t one to sugar coat things. “You’re ritual will not work because you do not have 150 years to devote yourself to the arcane arts to fabricate it properlly.”
He continued towards the rest of us. “What I will tell you is you have the ingredients to solve this puzzle, as did your ancestors. However, you all are taking a lot more action than they did.” He snaps back to Vyertinn. “Your father was supposed to fix that sword you carry. Your father was suppose to stand up and fight against those damn slavers in Fedoria, but instead chose to grab as many people as he could and leave.”

He looks at Able. “You’re as curious as Kanto the Wise. Kanto the Wise is the Bringer of the Calm.”

“I know this,” said Able. “I also know that Kanto is still alive.”
“Until his spell breaks, yes,” said Seros. “And, uh, I hate to be the one to tell you, but you’re the ones who will have to break the spell, to kill Kanto, because you must.”

The conversation shifted to certain falacies about our enemies that we’ve been told. For one, that Calisto is not a god. He has divine power, which he stole, but he is still not a god. Harrow, the Sentinel of Torture, was a puppet of Vexnill, the Gold Cloak of the Wizards Counsel, before he was a puppet of Calisto. Vexnill was actually the personal instructor of Calisto, and he destroyed the two lost wizardry schools.

He turns to Verik. “You know what you’ve done wrong. You’re mistake was taking on the challange too eager and too inexperienced. As far as your bloodline, you are a decendent of the Butcher, who is the decendent of the current crown of Fedoria, who is responsible for the near extinction the Gnomes. However, your human side, your mother comes from a great line. She was a priestess of Halis. Going back all the way to Keldstein, she was the shieldbearer who defended the city as the walls were torn down. She was the one who stood to defend the statue of Halis and the statue did not fall until she was dead. Halis would not have blessed you with a holy glaive if she did not believe that you couldn’t do great things.”

“So now,” Seros nodded, “Asher. You know what fortitude your father has.”

Memories of my father fighting to defend Malatin played crystal clear within my mind. I grinned when I remembered the hoard of goblins we fought off together, back to back, weaving our blades in perfect unison through the scourge. We were chaos incarnate when we defended our friends, family and home. I was proud to be his son. If only my mother was still alive to see it…

Seros continued. “Your entire bloodline has been like that. You have Halis’ blood in your vains.”

…..I’m sorry, what?

“You are a direct decendent of Halis. She had a son before she became a godess that noone knows about.”
I sat there, dumbfounded. It took me a couple of seconds to finally process it. “They didn’t tell me this,” I said.
Seros responded, “It’s my story to tell, because I delivered that child. So yes, I’ve seen your godess’ vagina.”
Everybody, even I (sorry, Halis) bursted out in laughter. Able chimed in, “So what has Asher, son of Halis the Pure done wrong? That seems to be the theme of the conversation.” I sobered up from the laughter. What exactly HAD I done wrong? I don’t want to know, but I must in order to learn from my mistakes.
“I am discussing the faults of the bloodlines as well as the purity of them. How you all have pieces of the puzzle, so to speak. And each of you have sins in your bloodlines. Out of all the bloodlines, your bloodline, Asher, is the one that has failed the least. Because they gave everything they had, but died in vain. Failure is the sin of your bloodline, and it is the one you must overcome.”
“And that I shall,” I said.
“Good. Able, I will only speak of the greatest sin, since your family tree has many branches. One of your mother’s ancestors is a Keeper who trained Scald. Now out of your whole family tree, I am extremely fond of Kanto, I am very fond of your father, and I am very fond of myself. Kanto is my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson.”

Gods damn, these fuckin’ bombshells. This is almost more that what I can handle.

“Now that I’ve berated all of you…” Seros said, drifting slightly towards the end.
“…Ah, I see,” Adrian chimed in, “You don’t feel the need to say my family sins because we’re all acutely aware of what they are.” Refering to his being the grandson to the one and only Calisto.
Seros nodded. “Now, you’re all here seeking my help, and I am willing to give my help, but probably not in the way you’re expecting. Tell me what things you need to accomplish. I will make a list. I will go around the table and you all will tell me something. Let’s start with you, Verick.”
“First of all, I need to take a pilgrimage to purge the land from these blue blisters.”
“Good. Able?”
“Save my mother. Kill Scald.”
“Adrian?”
“I need to find out why I was concieved.”
“I have the answer to that.” He then turns to me. “Asher?”
I took longer to answer than the others. After all, I wasn’t given anything by Halis as far as quests go except for the obvious “Kill Calisto, Save the World” sort of thing. In fact, the most personal tasks to me were saving my home three times from goblin invasions. Of course, I don’t mean to say that all the good I’ve done so far is worthless compared to saving my home. It’s actually because I saw what could happen to my home, that I stayed with the group. I wanted to do my part in keeping other villages, towns and cities safe. Safe from the terrors of Calisto and his growing army. I saw my mother murdered right before my eyes, and I’ll be damned if I let another child see the same from their mother or father. And the only way to do so is to stay with these merry band of misfits I call my friends.
“…As…cliche as this sounds, I need to save the world.”
Seros chuckled. “Spoken like a true paladin of Halis.” Another stupid grin appeared on my face.
“Vyertinn, it’s your turn.”
“I need to have this sword reforged.”

“Let’s see,” Seros pondered. “You have a sword to reforge and you have a pilgrimage to make, and I will tell you that this pilgrimage needs to happen before the sword. As for why you were conceived, Adrian, Calisto’s son believed that he would one day need a vessel stronger than the one he currently has. He has been practicing necromancy under Harrow. Now, perhaps a God has given someone here,” nodding towards Able, “the ability to seal your soul within your body so it could not be removed or taken over by someone else. Now there’s a reason why your blood is so sought out, Adrian. Your blood can be used to transfer Calisto from his stuck state into another vessel. That’s the two reasons why you were conceived.”

The conversation continued. An hour and a half later, it ended with Seros snatching hair from Able’s head, tearing the lock of hair in half, throwing it on the ground and saying “Mother is home. But your father is walking into the Temple in Xephos. He seems quite irritated. Would you like to speak to him?”
“Uh, yeah.” Able said, matter-of-factly.
“Go upstairs and look in the tub before you jump in.”
Able hopped off the chair and hurried his way upstairs. While that was happening, Seros told us that the tavern was to leave in the morning for Krix. Then suddenly, Adrian stood up from his chair and bolted upstairs to Able. Wondering what the problem could be, I ran after him. I heard Adrian bellow “STOP!” I turned the corner in time to see Able chuck the spear he had made of Rabid Hate’s bones and sword into the tub. As it fell into the water, the spear turned into the goblin and I saw nothing else. All I could hear was the familiar gnarls of Rabid Hate, an explosion, and then nothing.

I haven’t a clue what happened, but I hope that Able’s father is safe. We went back to the bar.

It was a couple more minutes before the last odd event of the night happened. Although I wasn’t around to listen to the conversation, I had notice Able giving a ring to Seros, to which Seros walked outside to do something with it. Next thing I knew, the entire building tilted slightly, only to be slightly set back into place. Seros walked back in with his beard singed and clothes burned. It must’ve been a doozy because he drank a full cup of ale and said out loud “I’m going to bed.” He then walks upstairs to one of the rooms. Vyertinn followed to keep him safe.
The bartender had a peculiar look on his face. “I haven’t seen him drink in 200 years.”

I looked at my own pint of ale. After tonight, I might need something stronger than this.

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Vyertinn's Journal: Arrival in Xephos
Session 17

Following my graduation at the Verbum Vis, I arranged to meet the party and Emissary Silverdrake at the Golden Anvil, a favorite tavern of his in Keros for some time now. The remainder of the evening was spent in revelry and song, though we were all too deep in our drinks to recall what happened after. Dwarven ale worked its wonders on both Adrian and Asher, and Able’s youth would only tolerate so much alcohol before submitting to stupor as well. In the morning, Verik and I were the only ones really concious, so we managed to haul our companions inert bodies to the boat to make our way to Xephos.

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-

Our voyage at sea is steady and in fair weather, but shortly after embarking Adrian revealed to us that he had discovered the identity of his father; none other than the current King of Dvalten. The man is the firstborn son of Calisto, and now commands the surviving Sentinels in his name. From what I know of him, he is a despicable wretch who woke a dragon from her sleep so she could experience her rape as morbidly as possible. I shudder to think on this, but I could scarce imagine what Adrian must be going through. My relationship with my father is diffi- … was difficult, but at least there was love that built our bond, and I came from a union of honor and faith.

I now realize that as the days pass reflecting on Adrian’s parentage and the aid from Able’s family, I am forced to admit to myself that my own father in all likelihood is now dead. I try not to dwell on the notion but it will not go away, pressing down on my heart like a lodestone. I know at least that in his last journey he was successful, but I cannot help but think to myself if only there had been some other way. If only there was more time to find a cure for his condition, or at least a way to buy that time until a true solution could be found. I would rather he put himself in a trance, or sleep for an age as the dragons do, all but dead to the world, if only he might still live…

-

In order to pass the time on our vessel productively I have taken to studying the various relics Father has entrusted to our care;

Bequeathed to Able was Kanto’s robe and ring, empowering his spellcraft and blurring his form to aggressors to ensure safety. Able has displayed a talent for binding spirits, which could in all probability be tied to the ring. Though I must confess, the notion of placing a soul under duress troubles me. To rob freedom from a being, and be in control of its fate is not a power we were meant to have.

Adrian’s armor will prove resilient to any missile shot towards him.

Verik has been given a symbol of Sylvania the Pure, which can turn away undead with great force, and her Belt of Healing that would enable him to say

Asher was entrusted with a blessed helm, that can see the diseased and possessed. In addition, he now bears gloves that enhance his prowess in smiting his foes.

I elected to browse over Sero’s Grimoire, searching for some clue of his current activity. I have also learned that the armor I now bear from Etherios will likely improve my ability to move in silence. Caution is the better part of valor after all…

-

We have arrived in Xephos at last. As our ship pulled to harbor we could hear traders afloat on junks calling their wares. There were islands strewn before us lashed together with roped bridges and shacks. I imagine that while Xephos is the greatest trade hub in Kalidria, the environment and weather make permanent structures next to impossible to maintain. What I saw instead were brightly painted boats and huts on the shore bearing ornaments of every possible description. I could look on those waters for a week and still not be able to summarize their contents.

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When we docked, we were greeted by an interesting gentleman who seemed acquainted with us. Indeed, he addressed us each by name. I was speaking to Vero Kas, the “King” of Xephos. As the ruler of his nation, he works to be informed of all the comings and goings in his realm. We were expected. Though honestly I suspect “king” is a poor word to describe his role in the island nation. As he gave our company a brief tour of the heart of the city, we were shown many fascinating sights. Of particularly interesting note was the revelation that theft was not frowned upon in Xephos, only being caught in the act. Evidently Vero Kas is a retired plunderer and buccaneer himself, and believes that it is one’s job to defend their own property. For all of his eccentricities, I confess the man is a charming fellow; affable and generous to others.

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Vero took us to a tent he had put up in the center of the commons, where he had a feast prepared. We were told that any who wished to eat were free to come and have their fill, nobody went hungry in Xephos unless they wished to. It was during this time that Asher took it upon himself to heal one of the locals who had injured himself working his trade as a fisherman. It was well done, even here Hallis may look after her flock.

After we had finished our exotic meals, Vero Kas bid us follow him, as he had apprehended a man who had broken one of the few laws Xephos actually had; He had refused to pay a whore. We stood there as we watched the man, howling and spitting, was locked in a cage suspended over the open sea. Vero told his followers to leave the man in there for at least a week, if his pet doesn’t get to the fellow first. I was told that there is a well fed kraken that is fenced in around a portion of the island. There are few crimes it would seem, but there are grave punishments.

I find myself utterly perplexed and yet enthralled by these people. They have so much freedom, and yet their morality cuts against the grain of almost every culture I have met! Even so they have a strong sense of justice, and look after their weak and helpless. My instructors in Keros were right, there is no place on Earth like Xephos.

Vero shared a few more words with us and then sent us on a boat towards our goal. The Oracles of Xephos…

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Vyertinn's Journal: The Trials of the Verbum Vis
Session 16

I left the Embassy shortly after the Council had concluded, after all, I was short on time if I was to achieve my goal. I was resolved to earn my Red Cloak at my original school in that it would be the most appropriate way to advance my rank among spellcasters. Because I was so dedicated to fulfilling my test this way, I must not fail for I would not have another chance to try my hand in Keros for a very long time.

I was summoned by a page before the Council of Magic and as I stood there, I surrendered my brown and travel-stained Journeyman Cloak. The Magi that stood before me wore the colors according to their rank, hooded and distant. I was questioned as to who would sponsor my trial, and it was then that Magus Wolfe spoke for me. I was told to gather all that I needed for my trial, and in that moment Orion glided through the window of the Tower and perched upon my shoulder. I turned around and faced what was to come.

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Before us stood a door, sealed shut with no sign of complicated mechanism. I knew that there was more to this test than met the eye and so I opened my senses around me to see the door’s riddle. There were in fact arcane runes that stretched upon the frame, and I knew that they had a spell of sealing, as well as a more treacherous passage of explosive runes that would have detonated were I to inspect further. That was one crisis averted.

I opened the door with a simple spell and proceeded forward. We entered a chamber and the door shut behind me. I was in a circular room with a covered dome of glass, the floor before me was plated copper, up to the next door across the way. That gave me pause, for I knew that copper was a favorite conductor for wizards. Excellent at transmitting energy, which would likely mean that there would be a large foci in the room to emit said energy in a particularly dangerous fashion. I could have attempted to climb the walls but I hadn’t thought to prepare such a spell as that here. I had grown too used to combat in the past few months that it hadn’t occurred to me to invest in more utilitous spells here. I could have perhaps attempted to engorge Orion’s size temporarily and have him carry me across the room, but again I hadn’t prepare the requisite spell. Suddenly the dome emitted bolts of electricity upon the floor and the room began to hum. I narrowly dodged a bolt that streaked out and nearly struck my face.

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It was then that I got an idea; electricity was my forte after all. I had prepared Vanti Cox’s spell to teleport through flames. It would require a energy substitution but the technical application could be a bit tricky. Simple in theory at least! What I needed was to have a direct current running to the next door, and not place me randomly in the room where I would be electrocuted to death. So I emitted a bolt of my own lightning that ran across the floor. Wasting no time, I gathered energy into my thoughts and blended our forms into the spell propelling ourselves through the lightning itself. As I felt myself fade into raw energy I remembered what Master Vanti had said, that while the spell was effective, you were exposed to the element you conducted yourself through. The longer you traversed the element, the more risk you assumed onto your person. Once I felt the energy reach the other side I released Orion and myself from the spell, and we felt all of our nerves sing in agony from being exposed to the lightning. Orion screeched in discomfort as I gasped sympathetically. We both smelt rather burnt, but we had done it! Magic Theory in practice at last! After taking a moment to collect ourselves we proceeded through the door.

Before us stood the spectral forms of several hooded figures. The first beckoned me forward, and questioned me on my knowledge of magic I was aware of, though not capable of performing. The others did so in turn and I answered to the best of my ability. On how to disrupt the lethal spell of a dangerous wizard when I had comrades immobilized nearby, on how to survive falling from the back of an angry dragon into a volcanic pit, and how to traverse a collapsing bridge with unconscious companions with enemies to our backs. I satisfied their dilemmas each in turn and at last they invited me to proceed.

I returned to the Council of Magi and was instructed to present my personal project. I shared a look with Orion as he fluttered to the center of the room, and drew a magic circle around him speaking as I went. I explained the special connection House Varfarrion had always shared with raptors, eagles in particular, and how I had first met Orion as he saved my life from a rabid wolf upon my departure from the school so many years ago. I spoke of how my father’s familiar Thorandir had saved his life during his battle with Lynsyd and how we were reverent to Halifaust and his favored Magnaroc. I told the Mages that my purpose was to empower my familiar with the strength of the ancients and I would not fear for his safety as we traveled on our quest. I told them that Familiars are a source of strength and comfort, not an emotional liability. I gathered myself into the ritual I had developed with the help of my family and unleashed the Aspect of the Magnaroc. In that moment, Orion was changed from a rare golden eagle into something more… He erupted from the circle in a massive form, casting his shadow upon the chamber! We had succeeded, my ritual had doubled his size and forged a double twined bond between us. Now Orion’s strength would grow with my own.

And then Orion spoke to me: “We have done it my friend!”

We faced the council together and they questioned me in turn. On whom I would kill or save had I the power? If I could have the grimoire of any wizard whom’s would I wish? If I could have changed a moment in time, what would it have been? How can you treat a band of marauders how do so in the name of their God? I knew that many of these questions were double edged and tricky, but I resolved to honestly honestly if I could not answer cleverly. I was after all a Varfarrion and I would comport myself with honor.

After being scolded for my risks in the previous trial, and for my answers that were more honest than right. They told me that my quests now led beyond safety and comfort in Edius. They said that my duties were now graver than ever before. As I closed my eyes and knelt in waiting, they offered me a new cloak, deeply hued with red and trimmed to fit my shoulders. I had succeeded after all, my chest swelled with pride as I stood up.

I thanked each of the Magi in turn and exited the chamber. I watched the sun set on Edius for perhaps the last time, as Orion hunted for fish in the surf. I would soon be leaving for Xephos and who knows where else, as I followed my destiny, but I knew that I would not walk my path alone…

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Vyertinn's Journal: The Council of Keros
Session 15

I have dined with the Wolfes and they were rather delightful honestly. Lilith, Able’s mother is an excellent host and cook besides. She has a certain serenity about her that probably helps in tolerating a everworking mage like Saix. They even have a pet wolf of enormous size, though it appears quite domesticated. We were treated to a fine meal and excellent wine, Able was spoiled with a cake for his return, though I understand the wolf had gotten into the first one prepared. Prophecies have their use it would seem, at least in stocking the pantry.

Whilst we managed to avoid discussing unpleasant business during the meal, Magus Wolfe was eager to hear of our plans for countering Calisto’s forces. Able and Hallis’s Chosen were assaulted on the road to Keros as well. From their reports an attack on the city may be imminent. I elected to draw up some defensive measures for the city to augment Keros’s already sturdy though ancient defenses. Were the city to be taken by siege, Vanti’s Conduct through Flames spell may be used to man the walls to great effect. The Magus and I were in agreement on that note. He also will be sitting in on the Council to be held in the morning. It is well that I have so influential of an individual already supporting my position. During the evening’s festivities, Asher handed me a dusty scroll, bearing the seal of Varfarrion. He told me that they had acquired it in a ancient elven tomb, given to them directly by Halifaust. This map must be the key to finding his temple in Feduria!

I must admit, it was strange to see Able like that, and even more so to see a family sincerely happy and peaceful. Memories of my own family feeling so warm and blissful have grown quite old now. Before I left for school, when Edius was still growing green again. For all of that, Lilith reminds me much of my own mother, in their bearing and farsighted visions, and Saix reminds me of Father just as much with his stern dedication to his tasks at hand.

It is hard to watch another family so much like your own, as you can feel yours drift apart forever…

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-

The Council of Keros was slated to convene at 9:00 sharp in the morning. Eager to acquaint myself with the various representatives, I arrived at the Embassy at 8:00 in order to introduce myself to each in turn before the court began. To my surprise, I was greeted by a very old but familiar dwarf; Gault Silverdrake! After some adventures back in Malatin a few years ago, Master Gault and I parted ways as he returned to Durg. It would seem that for his service in Malatin, the dwarven nation had elected to appoint him as their representative abroad. I know how he must be feeling. Upon hearing him call my name we shared a friendly embrace and agreed to meet for drinks after the Council convened. I recall there was a certain tavern in the city that he was particularly fond of.

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It was well that I had found an ally in Gault, for his support in both this Council and in Durg would be critical to our success. Wasting no time, Gault took it upon himself to call the meeting to order. I suppose he still has a bit of an impetuous streak running through him that even a career in diplomacy couldn’t quench.

So I was given the floor to speak my part on the events I have seen since Malatin’s attack. I told of Durin’s kidnapping, and our discovery of Skald’s Tomb. I spoke of the attacks in Chunda, and how Malatin and Chunda now stood together, once bitter rivals, against Calisto’s war machine. I spoke of Vydenn’s dying wish that I serve my people as their Emissary and face our old foes that we may have peace. Upon hearing of Durin’s fierce resistance during Malatin’s attack, Gault thudded the council table with his fist in fierce approval. Upon hearing of his possession by Calisto’s wicked spirits, Gault wrung his beard in grief. I begged Gault to have Durg relight the Giant Forges and set about crafting their tools of war once again. Gault replied that such a task would task much time as the flames they required were slow to kindle.

No sooner had I heard Durg’s plight then Adrian Thraxus strode into the Council Chambers, garbed in his fine wear my father had given him, replying that the fires may be lit faster than expected. Adrian explained that he was to represent the Black Dragons in Edius in accordance with his mother’s wishes. Adrian pledged the support of the Black Dragons against Calisto, and urged that envoys be made with the other dragons if any of their scions could be persuaded to take up the cause. Adrian marked another ally in our cause for a united force of peoples. Were the dragons to take up with our alliance, then perhaps they could breathe life into the Forges of Durg.

Following this moment, we were briefly interrupted again as Magus Saix Wolfe chose to enter the Council at last. Doubtlessly he had been working through the night, researching some topic that Able had alerted him to. It must have been a grave matter indeed for Wolfe told me directly that we should embark for Xephos the following day, and that he had arranged a ship for us.

It was here that we were all interrupted YET AGAIN, this time by a strange looking elf woman, purple eyed and bald, with dark dark skin. Adrian and I remembering the Keepers of Skald that tormented him and Able so were prepared to kill her on the spot until she explained she was the representative of the Darkwood elves, who were known to have lost many of their kind to the shackles of the Keepers but harbored no more love for Calisto than any of us. She called herself Kaylan. The woman continued that the beasts in her forest were growing out of control and threatening every soul living there. Upon confirming that she held no wicked intent, I offered safe haven in the Greatfalls Forest for any who wishes to leave the Darkwood to protect themselves and their families. I messaged my sister back in Feldus shortly after, requesting that checkpoints be set up at our borders to receive any refugees and that perhaps House Varfarrion could provide some of the security there, if Lady Slidiria Frostdancer would consent to lend her talents to screening any immigrants for dangerous intent then perhaps we could have a healthy rapport with our Darkwood neighbors.

Adrian concluded his address by stating that his mother had awakened at last and that the dragons were stirring along with her in Dragon’s Eye Lake. I thanked the council for their time and requested Magus Saix prepare a reception for me when convenient because I wished to apply for my Master Journeymage Redcloak. He replied that I had three hours to prepare. While I believe that the Council went favorably for our cause, I would still have to present myself in the Verbum Vis in what was largely held to be one of the most perilous graduation trials one could undergo…

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Vyertinn's Journal: The Archivist of the Verbum Vis
Session 14 vignette

Adrian and I are eager to reach Keros. After being attacked in the cave, our vigilance has gained a nervous edge, due to Calisto’s forces operating openly. Over the past few days we have reached a sort of anxious routine; of him looking after his weapons and his soon to be nephew incubating in his sturdy egg during watch duty, myself letting Orion hunt providing most of our evening food and inspecting all the various tomes to expand my magic. Between my own grimoire, the mysterious tome from [[Vyertinn’s Journal: A Tomb of Horrors and Madness | Skald’s]] Tomb, and Sable’s Grimoire I have my work cut out for me, not to mention Father’s Scroll. I have hardly any time to maintain my swordsmanship but at least proceeding through the different forms helps to clear my mind after each read.

Fortunately, my father’s Scroll of the Familiar has proven to be the key to completing my theoretical ritual to empower Orion. There are many components to factor into permanently increasing his form, but I believe that tying a link between Orion’s blood and that of the Ancient Rocs will enable him to naturally grow greater and stronger alongside me. In time he may even be able to provide some magical power and implements for my spellwork. The Bond of a Familiar is an incredible thing.

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-

We have finally arrived at Keros. It hasn’t changed a bit since I first traveled here almost a hundred years ago. Though there is perhaps a more noticeable presence of the mages governing the city. Adrian set about securing our steeds as I acquired lodging for ourselves at the Embassy in the Third Great Tower. Wasting no time, I arranged to schedule a meeting of the Council of Keros to deliberate and address Calisto’s growing threat. As the Emissary of Feldus, I am capable of calling such a summit for all of the representatives in Edius. Honestly though, I do not expect this to go easily. Fear of his memory holds tightly to many hearts here as the last school to resist his crushing might and I suspect they will not wish to believe he has truly returned. I was informed that I would be received by the Council the following morning

Critical to this exchange is securing the support of our old dwarven allies in Durg. If there is to be an Alliance to stand against Calisto’s forces, then they must be equipped with the most deadly weapons possible. We need dwarven metal, and such weapons can only be made in the forges of the great Mastersmiths of Durg. Their talent is unmatched, for even my blade is of their making. But as venerable and talented as the masters are, unless they can teach their secrets to a new generation of smiths then their craft will die with them in a decade or so. Had Calisto the patience to wait for the opportune moment, he could have crushed the Free Races as soon as the great forges in Durg were quenched for the last time. Durg’s support is critical to opposing him.

-

An incredible thing has occurred! I returned to the Verbum Vis in order to ascertain the identity of the owner of my mysterious tome, for I knew he studied here at one time. I waited in the Great Library to speak with the Archivist who could help illuminate for me this riddle, when I was approached by Able! He spoke to me of his journey with Asher and Verik but most incredibly he informed me that he is the son of the Archivist I was waiting to meet! I would never in my life suspected that he descended from such illustrious stock. I could not contain my laughter at the notion until black cloaked librarian chided me.

Able took me to meet the Archivist, a serious man of an intense demeanor. He reminds me much of my own father, who strives still so fiercely to protect his people. I wonder if Magus Wolfe is as altruistic as that but he is certainly dedicated to a fault. After exchanging thanks for the comradery of Able and our mutual well being, Wolfe revealed to me that the owner of the tome I carried went by the name of Master Vanti Cox. An… unfortunate name. I was astounded to learn he had actually survived losing his grimoire and in fact held study in the school still! I resolved to return his book to him in short order. Upon making my departure, Magus Wolfe invited myself and our company to dinner with Able and his family at their home in the city. I did not dare refuse.

-

The wizard Vanti is certainly an interesting individual, a rather eccentric mortal of the ripe age of ninety eight years. He is covered head to toe these days in various scars from apparently burns, and for just such reason conducts himself about in a wheelchair to placate his old injuries. I introduced myself to him and explained that I had discovered his grimoire in the goblin tunnels. He replied he had lost it about sixty years ago, escaping from some subterranean worms of a most disagreeable nature. Doubtless it was originally recovered later by the marauding goblinkind.

Master Vanti explained that he used his book as a scroll, to cast spells at a moments notice though it destroys its contents. The spell he had used to escape was an ingenious teleportation spell but like none I had ever heard of, for they are perilous to cast for wizards of my current talent. Vanti explained that his teleportation allows him to traverse through open flames, though apparently at some personal risk. The excellent thing though is how utilitous his spell could be for lower level casters who may not yet be able to manage a greater teleportation. Such a skill could empower Keros’s forces to defend everything in Edius if mastered and treated properly. To move at such speed is exactly the sort of thing we need to gain an edge on our enemies.

As an act of thanks, he taught me the spell, though I think that perhaps I can adjust it some to suit my personal needs slightly better. To think I could travel through fire and lightning itself in the blink of an eye, that is true magical power!

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I now prepare to have dinner with Able’s family, and for my meeting with the Council in the morning. I pray that it goes well…

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