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Tuesday, 19th October, 2004, 01:11 PM #11
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
So Shall Ye Reap - Part 5: Slaughter at the Docks
The storm whipped up, even more ferocious than before, drenching everyone and everything in its path. They were riding their horses hard, but it was nearly impossible to see through the thick veil of rain.
"We should be close!" Vlad shouted over the storm. His horse's flanks were drenched with sweat and its bit was covered in foam.
"There," Ilmarė shouted back, standing up in her stirrups, "I can see the docks!"
Just then her horse gave out as its legs collapsed from exhaustion. Ilmarė leapt from her mount and landed on her feet in the mud.
The other horses bucked wildly. Aurelius battled to keep his mount under control.
Vlad and Kham dismounted and took Aurelius' horse by the reins. "You don't ride much, do you?" Kham shouted.
"Legionnaires walk!" Aurelius replied as he clumsily dismounted. "And I guess we're walking from here!"
There was a terrific explosion as a ball of fire billowed at the docks. A great mushroom cloud of smoke spread out like a dread halo over the carnage.
"I think we better run," said Vlad as he picked up the pace. Debris began to pelt them.
Kham easily lapped Aurelius. "You know," he said as he passed, "you might be able to move faster if you didn't carry that ridiculous shield."
"The scutum is a critical part of legionnaire warfare!" Aurelius said, shrugging the shield off of his shoulders. "As is the signum!" He shook the three parts of the spear in his fist at Kham.
Before he could come up with a retort, an ear landed on Kham's overcoat. "Gods!" he shouted, swatting the ear off of him.
They skidded onto a scene of complete destruction. Standing in a blackened charred ring was a squat, brute of a man, dressed in leather. He had a Milandisian woman by the hair in one hand. His free hand smoldered with arcane flames.
More disturbing was the still smoking circle of bodies and body parts. All of them were blown backwards, some slumped up against charred buildings. They had seen the Harvester's handiwork before.
"More of you?" the Harvester snarled. "Why is this whelp so important to be worth these many lives?"
"Let the girl go!" shouted Aurelius, screwing in the last part of his signum.
Kham ducked down behind some crates as Ilmarė stood at the entry to the dock. There was nowhere for the Harvester to go.
Vlad unsheathed his sword and unbuckled his shield. Aurelius stood at his side.
"Let her go? Fine!" With a rapid, practiced motion, the Harvester bit into the woman's neck with his teeth and slurped from the gushing wound. He tossed her aside like a spent wine jug, smiling through bloodstained teeth.
"Gods!" shouted Vlad in horror. He paused in shock at the sight. Aurelius turned ashen faced.
"Come on then," the Harvester sneered. "Let's finish this!"
Aurelius and Vlad crouched, slowly advancing on the Harvester.
From behind them, what was first a whisper rose in volume until it could not be ignored. It was the most beautiful sounds anyone of the three men had ever heard.
"Naur vi cair." The music came from Ilmarė, her arms outstretched, singing with all her might into the very storm itself.
The Harvester laughed. "You're going to kill me with music? Well, I've got no song, but I do have something you can dance to! Acidus sagitta!"
A shrieking green bolt of energy thudded into Vlad's shield. The front of the shield began to bubble and hiss.
"lanc i dalaf." Ilmarė sang of the horrors the Harvester had wrought.
"We have to press him, but not yet." Aurelius said to Vlad. "Kham!" he shouted over his shoulder, "shoot him!"
"Mathach vi geven?" Although they did not understand the question in Ilmarė's song, they understood. They could feel it in the earth.
Kham was frozen, transfixed. Tears were in his eyes. It was the most beautiful sounds he had ever heard. He wanted to tear his breast and weep for the agonies that had been inflicted on so many innocent people; he wanted to rage at the man who had caused so much pain; he wanted to-
"Nostach vi 'wilith?" Ilmarė was singing of the air.
Kham blinked. He had to focus. He leaned forward, aiming one of the handgonnes at the Harvester.
He flipped the catch on his handgone. There was a loud retort, but the blast was muted in the torrential downpour and Ilmarė's song. Vlad watched in horror as the bullet sparked inches away from the Harvester and dropped, smoking, to the ground.
The Harvester squinted in Kham's direction. "I can do better than that, Altherian. Magicus telum!"
Three blue bolts of crackling energy snaked their way outwards, slicing through shield and armor. Aurelius and Vlad groaned as each found their mark.
Kham realized the third was taking, a long, lazy route towards him. He ducked down, but the bolt went right through the crates and struck him in the chest.
"Máb le i nagor," sang Ilmarė. The war was upon them.
Vlad suddenly felt renewed energy course through his veins. Gone was the fear and disgust of the Harvester. Gone were concerns about the rain and his drenched armor. He was focused on but one single purpose: to kill the man before him.
Vlad stood up straight and began advancing on the Harvester.
"What are you doing?" Aurelius said.
The Harvester uncorked a potion with one hand and gulped it down, the red liquid spilling around his lips.
"I'm going to kill him," said Vlad.
"Bád gurth vi ngalad firiel," sang Ilmarė. Death moved in the fading light. Vlad couldn't help but notice that the sun was setting below the sea.
The Harvester took a deep breath.
"You're going to get yourself killed!" Aurelius shouted back.
The Harvester exhaled a gout of flames just as Aurelius dove in front of Vlad. Tongues of fire licked around the scutum, barely shielding both men from the fire.
"Dagrathach go hain?" Ilmarė's song asked if they would join the fight.
"Yes!" Vlad shouted as he charged the Harvester.
The Harvester's eyes widened with fear. There was no time to cast another spell. He struggled to reach for his short sword, but it was too late.
The first blow struck him in the chest, slicing through his magical defense with a shower of sparks. The second cut his upturned arm in a futile effort to defend himself.
With a mighty roar, Vlad beheaded the man in one blow. The Harvester's head bounced once off the dock and tumbled into the sea.
Just then, the rain faded to a drizzle.
Ilmarė walked up to Vlad. Tears streaked his face. He was shivering with fatigue from the emotions stirred by her song.
She put one palm on his shoulder, the other facing the heavens. The precipitation had stopped completely.
"Osalian is pleased," was all she said.
Aurelius joined them. At the end of the pier, something shimmered. An ominous looking ship with a sleek, black-varnished hull faded into view. On its sail were written the words "The Ravager."
Aurelius stepped on board, spear raised high. He ducked into the top deck.
After a moment, he emerged with Cassicus, bound, gagged, and unconscious in his arms.
"He's alive," he said, laying him gently on the dock. "Thank Illiir!"
One trembling hand struggled for purchase over the crates. "Uh…" croaked Kham, clutching his chest with the other hand. "You know, I'm not dead either. A little help?"
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Tuesday, 19th October, 2004, 04:31 PM #12
Great story and fabulous illustration for Kham. Keep the good stuff coming guys.
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Friday, 22nd October, 2004, 02:49 AM #13
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
So Shall Ye Reap - Epilogue
When Aurelius left the Senator's chambers, he was surprised to see a large man, wrapped in the red cloak of a centurion.
"Flavius?" he said, blinking. "You're alive!"
Flavius nodded, his wide-brushed helmet under his arm. "Yes, I am." He was standing rigidly at attention.
Flavius refused to look at him. "What's wrong?" His voice began to crack. "You dare to ask me what's wrong after the dishonor you have heaped upon our legion?"
Aurelius blinked. "But-"
"A lowly signifer achieves what a century cannot? You have dishonored the hundred men under my command. You have dishonored me."
"I was only trying to-"
"Embarrass me? Enrich yourself? Ingratiate yourself with Senator Tensen-Balin? You have achieved all three."
Aurelius bowed his head and remained silent.
"I cannot discharge you. But believe you me, I would if I could. Instead, I'm transferring you. I want you out of my legion. You will be assigned to the Legion of the Triumphant Rays of the Invisible Sun, effective immediately. Give me your signum and scutum."
Aurelius dutifully handed them over.
"What's that you have there under your arm?"
Aurelius didn't look up. "A gift."
"From the senator? I recommend you sell it. You're going to need the money."
The centurion walked stiffly past him and slammed the double doors leading to the outer courtyard open. There was an "OOF!" from behind one of them.
Aurelius strode out behind him, looking straight ahead. Kham stepped out from behind the door, rubbing his nose.
"I'd appreciate it," Aurelius said through gritted teeth, "if you didn't share what you just heard."
Kham shoved his hands in the pockets of his overcoat. "I'm…sorry, Aurelius. Maybe if that stupid bastard bothered to use the Ansharan Gates, he would have gotten to Cassicus first and you wouldn't be in this mess. But that was his fault."
"The senator withdrew the proclamation against piracy and smuggling," said Aurelius. "So maybe the Ymandragorians got what they wanted after all."
"Don't you think for one second you weren't doing the right thing," said Kham, wagging a finger at Aurelius. "You helped save a boy's life. That's what matters, not some stupid law."
Aurelius' expression didn't change. "Quintus," he said.
"Call me Quintus. That's my first name. I only use Aurelius when I'm on duty." He sighed. "And it looks like I won't be on duty for awhile. At least until my transfer is complete."
He flipped the box open. A silver dagger sparkled within.
"Maybe I should sell this after all."
Kham clapped the lid down again. "Before you resort to selling gifts from senators, perhaps I could interest you in some side work. I've got two positions filled already. We have one more opening."
"Oh?" Quintus asked. "What kind of positions?"
A wide grin split Kham's face. "Oh, we've got an elf singer and a Milandisian warrior. We just need a loud-mouthed braggart. Know anybody?"
Quintus shot him a weak smile. "You already have one."
Kham blinked. "Wait, is that a yes, or are you calling me a loud-mouthed braggart too?"
Quintus chuckled and kept walking.
Sunday, 24th October, 2004, 05:16 PM #14
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Bargains of Spirit and Flesh - Introduction
This story hour is a home game from the tournament module, "Bargains of Spirit and Flesh," written by Henry Lopez, set in the Arcanis setting. Our cast of characters includes:
- Quintus Aurelius Ignatius (human Clr1), played by Mike Tresca (that's me): http://michael.tresca.net
- Kham Val'Abebi (val Rog1), played by Jeremy Ortiz: http://www.dreamsculptor.com/index1.html
- Ilmare Galen (elf Brd1), played by Amber Tresca (my wife)
- Vlad Martell (human Ftr1), played by Matt Hammer.
- Our DM is Robert Taylor, a gaming legend in his own time: http://www.storyboardz.net
This session went a little smoother as everyone became accustomed to each other's playing styles (it takes a little while to get used to Quintus' shouting). We also all made some tactical errors that the players (including me) have all since learned from.
The final battle ends with Vlad at 1 hit point, all because of the virtue spell cast on him by Quintus.
Finally and most importantly, the ending was a near miss. Without a little nudging from Rob, we wouldn't have made the right choice, and as you'll see at the last chapter, it's entirely in keeping with Quintus character.
An infamous Quintus quote that will probably come back to haunt him: "This place is disgusting and I want to go home!"
Tuesday, 26th October, 2004, 01:55 AM #15
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Bargains of Spirit and Flesh - Part 1: Legendary Blades
"So, tell me again why we're here?"
Kham rolled his eyes. "Look, it's work, right? I thought you'd be grateful."
Quintus gestured at the crowded marketplace buzzing around them. They had traveled to the foot of the massive Corlanthian Mountains, in the shadow of the Dwarven enclave of Solanos Mor. Dwarves and humans were everywhere, hawking, haggling, and every once in awhile making a sale.
"It's not that. It's just that I don't see us actually getting any work done."
It was hard to get work done in Marketplace, which also happened to be the name of the town. The scent of perfumes and incense mixed with delicious smells of spiced roast boar. Tents and kiosks competed with each other through their signs in a riotous patchwork of colors. Performers were everywhere, juggling, singing, and joking.
"Oh, we're in the right place," Kham replied. "It's just that…" Kham's eyes wandered over to the rug merchant who immediately brightened when they locked gaze.
"You are looking for a rug, yes?" The merchant said, sidling up to Kham. "I give you good rug. My rugs are very nice."
Quintus frowned at the merchant, who looked a bit like an overeager puppy. "I am not interested in rugs, merchant!"
Undeterred, the merchant tried Ilmarė next. "A rug for the pretty lady?"
The Elorii stared the merchant down. "What would I do with a rug?" she said after he backed away.
"What a question! A rug will keep you warm. It will keep you soft. I give you good rug."
Vlad stood with hands on hips, surveying the long line of people standing under a weapons shop titled, "Legendary Blades."
"Is that our competition?" he asked.
Kham was too busy to respond. "So, do you have a good travel rug? I bruise easily."
"Oh yes, yes!" The merchant said excitedly. "I give you great rug. It keep you warm at night!" He began rifling through a pile of furs and cloth.
"Stop encouraging him," said Quintus. "You'll have us all buying rugs by the time he's done."
The merchant rolled out a variety of furry-looking rugs. "Touch, see? Feel the softness."
"I've heard of that shop," Vlad said, ignoring the exchange. "That's operated by the House of Elabac. Master Artisan Elabac is a dwarven craftsman of the highest order. His blades can punch through solid steel."
"If there's a line to get this work Kham speaks of," suggested Ilmarė, "maybe we should get on it."
Vlad agreed, and the three of them started to walk over to the line.
The merchant was still wrapping up a rug with several pieces of rope for Kham when he said, "the job is for caravan guards to accompany a shipment of goods to nearby Nevanne. From there, the caravan travels to Tralia in Milandir."
Quintus stopped in mid-step. "You mean…where we JUST came from?"
"Well, yes," Kham said, hefting the rug with a strap over one shoulder. "But nobody paid you to get here. It's 100 Imperials for the two-week trip."
Vlad led the way over to the line and pushed his way onto it. Smaller men got out of his way.
"You seem awfully eager to take on this job," said Quintus, joining him on the line.
Vlad nodded. "At the end of the trip, one guard is selected by Master Elabac to receive one of his famous blades. I'd have walked barefoot from Coryan to Marketplace for the chance to own of those swords."
"I'm just about barefoot," Quintus said, looking ruefully at his worn sandals. "I still haven't received my pay from the Legion of the Reluctant Warrior." The Coryani government could be a bureaucratic monstrosity and it didn't help that a centurion plotted against him at every turn. "I'm surprised you took this task, Lady Ilmarė. Surely caravan duty is beneath one such as you."
Ilmarė slipped into line easily without bumping into anybody. "I am Larestri," she said.
"Lay-WHAT-he?" asked Vlad.
"It is Eloran for 'those who roam'. It is my mission to walk among humans and learn their ways."
Quintus squinted at her. "Learn our ways? For what purpose?"
"For the coming war, of course."
Before any of them could ask more, Vlad found himself at the front of the line.
"Name?" asked a stocky dwarf with a bright red beard.
"Next!" Vlad hastily moved aside as Quintus stepped up. "Name?"
"I am Quintus Aurelius Ignatius, Signifer of the Legion of the-"
The dwarf made a small mark next to the word "human" on his pad. "Next!"
"But you didn't even write my name down!"
"I said NEXT!" shouted the dwarf.
Ilmarė glanced down at the pad the dwarf was holding. "Osalikene," she said.
The dwarf looked at her.
The dwarf looked at her.
Ilmarė sighed. "Elf."
The dwarf made a checkmark next to the word "elf."
Quintus glowered down at the dwarf, who was studiously ignoring him. "And just how are you selecting who will guard this caravan? Surely we can't all be guards."
Kham stepped up. "Human," he said with a smirk.
Quintus walked out into the street, out of earshot of the other applicants. "So do you have some sort of plan to get us hired?"
"I'm sure something will turn up." Kham put his hands in his pockets and shrugged. "They have to thin out the guards somehow."
Quintus puts his hands on his hips. "That's it? That's the plan? Is that what they teach you in handgonner school?"
Kham rolled his eyes. "First, don't try to use the joke I used on you two weeks ago against me. It sounds stupid when you do it."
Vlad nodded vigorously in agreement with Kham, then slowly stopped nodding when he noticed Quintus glaring at him.
"Second, maybe you should pray to your god or something for guidance. In the mean time, I'm going to get a drink and keep my ear to the ground."
And with that, Kham walked off into the crowd.
Vlad and Ilmarė looked from Kham's retreating back to Quintus. Then they followed Kham.
Quintus looked up at the sun. "Iliir give me strength. Or strike him dead. I'll take either one."
Then he marched after Kham.
Wednesday, 27th October, 2004, 03:21 AM #16
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Bargains of Spirit and Flesh - Part 2: Defenders of the Weak
"What do you mean you can't find Kham?"
Vlad looked over his shoulder. "I told you: He went into one of the many taverns back there and he didn't come out. I don't know where he went. I'm sure he'll turn up."
Quintus looked took a deep, frustrated breath. "Well, he was the closest thing we had to a guide here. It's getting dark out. We'd better find a place to sleep."
Ilmarė pointed to a sign in front of an inn. "Perhaps there." The sign read "The Sins of Our Fathers."
Quintus shook his head. "I don't think-"
There was a shout off to their left. "Mind your own business, old man!" someone hissed, trying and failing to be silent.
Quintus and Vlad exchanged looks. Quintus nodded as he put his hand on the hilt of his gladius. Vlad slowly unsheathed his sword as he slipped into the darkness of the alleyway. Ilmarė followed.
As Quintus stepped into the alley, he could make out four rough-looking men standing over a crumpled form. A woman was weeping against a wall behind them, covering her face.
"Unhand them!" Quintus shouted.
The men looked up in surprise. One of the thugs had a hand on the old dwarf's collar, the other raised in a fist.
"I am Quintus Aurelius Ignatius, Signifer of the Legion of the Triumphant Rays of the-"
The lead thug dropped the old dwarf. "Get 'em!"
He rushed at Quintus but was intercepted by Vlad, who stepped into his path. The lead thug bounced off the larger man's breastplate. Vlad wagged his finger in the man's face.
There was a flash of steel and the man crumpled in a heap, clutching his chest. Ilmarė stood over the fallen man, her longsword covered in red.
"By order of the Emperor," began Quintus, "I demand you-"
The thugs fled, dragging their bleeding comrade with them.
"One of these days, I'm going to finish a sent-"
"Over here!" shouted Vlad. "I think the old man is hurt." He was crouched over the old dwarf. "I don't think he can get up." Behind them, Ilmarė calmed the woman down.
Quintus muttered something to himself and crouched down next to the old dwarf.
"Can you stand, father?" he said, his tone softening.
The old man's nose had been broken. "Looks bad," Quintus said. "Stand back."
Quintus leaned down and put both of his palms on the man's head. "Illiir, iuvo sana sua vulna levis."
A soft light emanated from Quintus' hands and suffused the dwarf with a golden glow.
"Ah!" the old man said, his wounds healed. "A brother…of Illiir! Bless you…for your kindness." He spoke in long, slow gasps that were painful to listen to. It seemed as if each breath was his last.
"You never mentioned you were a priest," Ilmarė said from the shadows.
Quintus glanced up at her. "I am not a priest. I am a signifer."
The woman weeping against the wall stopped sobbing. She slowly backed away, then turned and ran.
"Real friendly town," said Vlad.
"A prostitute," Ilmarė responded, "fearful of Coryani law."
"You shouldn't defend prostitutes, old man," said Vlad. "You were no match for that many men."
"Or even one man," Ilmarė added.
Quintus helped the old man to his feet. "It is fortunate…you were…nearby," he said. " What brought you…to Marketplace?"
"Caravan duty," Quintus said with a frown. "But we've traveled two weeks from Coryan, only to discover that there are hundreds of applicants for the task, with no clear explanation as to who will be selected."
The old dwarf pointed one crooked finger in the direction of The Sins of Our Fathers inn. "I…recommend staying…at that inn," he said. Then he began to hobble down the street.
"Are you sure you don't need any help?" asked Vlad.
Two dwarves rushed up to the older man. Vlad recognized one of them as the lazy note taker from the caravan line. "Master Elabac," one shouted, "are you alright?"
"Master Elabac?" Vlad and Quintus said in unison, blinking in surprise.
The old man turned and winked at them as the younger dwarves hustled him away.
"I think we were just went through the selection process," said Ilmarė. She walked across the street to the inn.
Vlad began striding towards the inn. "And we know where we're staying tonight."
Quintus looked skywards. "Thank you, Illiir." He started to follow his two companions into the peculiarly named inn. Then he paused. "I guess this means Kham's not dead." After chuckling to himself, he ducked through the door into the inn.
Wednesday, 27th October, 2004, 05:17 PM #17
Novice (Lvl 1)
Great story hour. Your writing sets a very nice tone. Thanks
Thursday, 28th October, 2004, 02:35 PM #18
Scout (Lvl 6)
You are certainly bringing my little mod to life. I'm glad you're enjoying it as I am certainly enjoying your prose.
I loook forward to your next installment.
Saturday, 30th October, 2004, 02:45 AM #19
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Bargains of Spirit and Flesh - Part 3a: Into Solanos Mor
Ilmarė joined Quintus and Vlad at a table in the corner of the inn. Its various denizens were just waking up, many of them sleeping where they sat the night before.
Quintus dipped a piece of bread into a bowl filled with Savonan wine. "Would you like some bread?"
Ilmarė put one hand up in disgust. "No, thank you, I already ate."
"Oh, it's not that bad," said Vlad, chewing loudly. "Although I think it needs some sausage."
"Bara lawr," said Ilmarė. "If you're going to eat bread, it should at least taste like something. Bara lawr is delicious."
Quintus popped another piece of bread into his mouth. "I doubt they serve that here."
"I see you found Kham," said Ilmarė. "And he is not dead."
Vlad shrugged. "It's hard to tell, really."
The door to the tavern swung open and two dwarves entered. Vlad recognized from the night before.
"We beg your pardons for interrupting your repast," said the older of the two dwarves. "I am Maten, and this is Beldin. We are of the Legendary Blades Smithy."
"I'd introduce myself but I'm sure you remember our names by now since you took such careful notes," said Quintus in measured tones.
Maten wrung his hands. "Master Elabac has asked for the honor of your presence. If you would be so kind as to follow us, we will take you to Solanos Mor."
"We would be honored. We'll meet you outside," said Vlad. The dwarves anxiously complied.
Quintus stood up and picked up his backpack. "I don't know why we should be honored to be invited to his home when we already signed up for this task."
"Solanos Mor is no ordinary home," said Ilmarė. "It's not common for outsiders to be allowed within Solanos Mor proper."
Vlad belted on his scabbard. "I want to get a look at some of those legendary blades," he said. "With the right sword I could truly be a force to reckon with."
Quintus shrugged on his shield. "A man's weapons are only as good as his skill in using them."
The three of them began to walk towards the door of the tavern even as the other patrons began to groggily come to their senses.
"What about Kham?" said Vlad.
"Oh yes, that's right." Quintus picked up the bowl of wine and poured it over Kham's head, which had been lying on the table since they began eating breakfast.
Kham bolted upright with a "WAAAHHHAAA!" He fumbled for his handgonnes, shoving backwards from the table.
Quintus shook his head. "We're leaving, Kham. We're going to Solanos Mor. Are you coming?"
Realizing that perhaps he was not going under attack or about to drown, Kham shook his head to clear some of the cobwebs. "Solanos Mor, huh?" he said, rolling up his rug, which he had been laying on top of. "Dwarves, right? Won't that be cramped?"
Monday, 1st November, 2004, 01:00 PM #20
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Bargains of Spirit and Flesh - Part 3b: Into Solanos Mor
They walked for seemingly hours up a hill, but Solanos Mor was always a presence, looming over Marketplace. Intricately carved twin doors made of solid iron flanked the entrance. Spanning both of the double doors was a stylized face, with eyes looking towards the heavens and its mouth shaped in a silent scream.
"Happy place," said Kham.
They followed their dwarven guides into a tunnel that was equally spacious. When they entered into the city proper, they paused to take in the sights.
"Well," said Vlad, "I don't think we have to worry about cramped spaces."
"This is the Vault," said Beldin matter of factly.
Solanos Mor was a city within a cavern—the largest cavern any of them had ever seen. The buildings and halls were of huge proportions that stretched towards the vaulted ceilings and entryways. The distance across the city was so great that torchlight was not enough to illuminate it. The cavern itself may as well have been a starless night sky.
There was a low, rhythmic humming that reverberated throughout the cavern. As they moved deeper into Solanos Mor, it became clear that the humming was actually thousands of voices, all of them chanting in unison.
Ilmarė looked surprised.
"What is it?" asked Quintus.
"It's Ancient Altharin," she replied. "They are praying to your god." She said the last word with obvious distaste.
"While outside the streets of the Vault, it is considered highly offensive to speak any words that are not the Catechism of Light," said Maten.
They journeyed through looming shadows and darkened corridors. Everything was made out of stone and all of it much larger than they imagined possible for dwarves. Throughout the journey, Beldin and Maten chanted a prayer along with their brethren. They stopped before a large stoned building bellowing huge gouts of smoke and soot.
"Master Elabac will be along shortly," said Beldin. Then he ushered them inside.
They entered a room filled with weapons of all shapes and sizes. The wall was blanketed with them: axes, swords, and spears of every stripe. Vlad looked around, eyes wide.
"This…this is amazing," he said.
Kham sat down on an anvil. "What's the big deal?"
Quintus squinted at a longspear that was bracketed to the wall. "The entire dwarven race was struck by Illiir's curse. That curse is passed from generation to generation. After the curse, the god Sarish struck a bargain with the dwarves: if they were to create the perfect item, the cursed would be lifted."
"Your gods are a petty lot," said Ilmarė.
Vlad had his eyes on a gleaming longsword. "These weapons are-"
"Failures," said the old dwarf as he entered the room. "They are not perfect…they have not lifted…our curse. But I am so close…"
Beldin and Maten escorted Elabac to a nearby stool and stood at his side.
"I am five centuries old," said Elabac. "I will not last much longer…but I am so close…to crafting the perfect blade."
"We have strived to redeem ourselves in the eyes of Illiir the Merciful," said Beldin, "but as each generation passes, fewer and fewer dwarves are born. Master Elabac must live to complete his task or our clan may be extinguished altogether."
"How?" Vlad asked.
"We will accompany the caravan to Nevanne and Tralia," said Maten. "Then, a member of the val'Inares clan will activate an Ansharan Portal to our final destination."
"And we need," Elabac said with a weak smile, "reliable guards."
Kham leaned forward to look Elabac in the eye. "A portal to where?"
Kham looked around to confirm the expressions of his companions. "In Canceri?"
"The same stronghold of the Nerothians?"
All three dwarves nodded. "Master Elabac will entreat the Nerothian Akali Vervain to intercede on his behalf with Neroth."
"So you wish to bargain with one fickle deity to please another," Ilmarė said with a frown.
Kham put his hands to his temples. "Wait, wait, WAIT. Let me get this straight: you want to march right into the center of Canceri and politely ask to have your life extended. Does anyone else see a problem with this?"
"If it is Illiir's will, I will see it through to the end," said Quintus.
Vlad's gaze flicked over to the blades. "What do we get in return?"
Elabac smiled, broader this time. "You will each…receive one of my…failures."
"Gee," said Kham, "that sounds-"
"I'm in," Vlad said abruptly, standing at attention.
Kham looked to Ilmarė. "You too?"
Ilmarė smiled a slight smile back at him. "I will only be too pleased to witness man and dwarf's folly to its conclusion."
The Val hopped off the anvil and began pacing. "This is a mistake. You don't know Canceri like I do."
He took the emerald brooch off of his overcoat, huffed on it, polished it with his sleeve, and put it back on. "But if you're all set on going, then I guess I am too."
Vlad clapped Kham on the back. "Glad to have you."
"Besides," Kham said sheepishly, "I rather fancy that scimitar over there."
Ilmarė rolled her eyes. "Very altruistic of you."
"Excellent," said Elabac. "Meet us…at the courtyard…of Legendary Blades…at dawn." The dwarves filtered out of the room.
Kham blinked. "Dawn? That's a few hours from now."
"Surely you can find a comfortable table somewhere to lay your rug on," said Quintus. Kham grumbled and followed everyone else out into the darkness of Solanos Mor.