Arcanis: Gonnes, Sons, and Treasure Runs (COMPLETED) - Page 34
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    Hand of the Master - Part 2a: Shadows in the Night

    It seemed like an eternity before they were able to speak again. Beldin ushered them into Alsef’s abode.

    Kham took his usual position in the corner of the room while the others stood around Bijoux and Beldin.

    “I know what I heard,” said Bijoux. “Or didn’t hear. Jarel was not chanting.”

    Beldin gazed at the ground. “I hardly know where to begin. I took an oath not to speak of this, but in light of recent revelations…I think perhaps there is a danger to Master Elabac. If my suspicions are correct, I must speak, regardless of promises made.”

    “What?” asked Sebastian. “You knew something and didn’t tell me?”

    Beldin couldn’t look Sebastian in the eye. “I swore an oath,” he said. “And I stood by it, but Bijoux’s suspicions have confirmed my worst fears. Jarel has been gifting Elabac with his gems, but there is one, his finest, that is still in Encali. He said he would retrieve it tonight and meet Elabac and Alsef in the tunnels between Solanos Mor and Encali to deliver it.”

    Kham jolted out of his chair. “He’s doing that for me,” said Kham. He looked around at the others, a little sheepish. “I need that gem.”

    “I can’t believe you would not share this with me!” said Sebastian. The dark-kin’s hands curled into fists.

    “Jarel asked that it be kept secret, for the dwarves of Encali would be furious if he knew their plans,” said Beldin. “Alas I fear…I am afraid…perhaps his intentions were not so honorable.”

    “No kidding,” said Kham. “If you lie, you cheat. If you cheat, you steal.”

    “By now, Elabac and Alsef must be nearly there,” said Vlad. “Do you know where the meeting is?”

    “I do,” said Beldin. “Come with me!”

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    Hand of the Master - Part 2b: Shadows in the Night

    The tunnels may very well once have been grand. Or perhaps they were always as dank.

    “These tunnels are rarely used,” said Beldin. “They are relics from a bygone era when Encali and Solanos Mor lived in peace.”

    Despite their worn nature, the tunnels were free of vermin and filth that often congregated in such places. Their trip, while far from pleasant, was not disgusting.

    Beldin lit a torch and moved quickly, forcing the rest to hurry to keep up. Tunnels branched out in many directions, but Beldin seemed to know exactly where he was headed.

    Eventually, Beldin slowed and then stopped, motioning for the others to do the same. The tunnels provided a strange acoustic effect, allowing them to hear voices as if they were very close.

    Elabac’s voice said, “Jarel…is late. I do hope…nothing…went wrong.”

    “I am sure he is fine,” replied Alsef’s voice. “He is very capable.”

    They resumed walking, only to hear a set of heavy footsteps followed by Jarel’s deep voice. “Elabac! Well met, my brother.”

    “Well met…Jarel. Thank you…for offering this…gift. May I…see it?”

    “You would be able to,” Jarel began, his voice turning sinister, ”if it existed.”

    Beldin gasped. “My worst fears are realized. We must help them!”

    As they moved forward, they heard Elabac’s demand. “What is…the meaning…of this…Jarel?”

    “It is simple, dear Elabac,” said Jarel. “Tonight I take my revenge, both on my rival and on those who wronged me.”

    They turned the bend in the passage to see a frightened Alsef standing next to an angry Elabac. Armed dwarves burst from tunnels around them, quickly surrounding the two. The dwarves had long black bears twisted into two forks, each capped with a golden crown like Jarel’s.

    Elabac was furious. “Encali! What treachery…is this…that the Encali…would accost me?”

    As the Encali dwarves cut off all avenues for Elabac to escape, one turned to Jarel. “Good work. This will be a great victory for the Encali.”

    Jarel looked white as a sheet and shocked. “What is the meaning of this? This was not part of the plan!”

    “Plans have changed,” the Encali dwarf said with a chuckle. “Kill the apprentice, take the master.”

    Alsef let out a yelp and ran back down the tunnels. “I must get help!” he shouted. “I must warn Solanos Mor!”

    The noise he made caused the ring of dwarves to focus on Beldin and his companions. “Interlopers,” said the leader. “You will not get past the Encali. Take the Master. Kill the rest.”

    The line of dwarves separating them from Elabac, Alsef, and Jarel turned towards them, weapons drawn.

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    Hand of the Master - Part 2c: Shadows in the Night

    Kham flipped the cork off of a vial and lifted it to his lips.

    “Can’t you save the drinking for later?” asked Sebastian.

    “Very funny,” said Kham. “But this isn’t alcohol.”

    Vlad drew his sword. “What is it then?”

    “Something way better,” said Kham. “Just stay out of my way.”

    With a bellow of rage, Beldin barreled into the midst of the dwarves. He batted one dwarf aside with the flat of his axe and shouldered into another. Vlad ran behind him, following up on Beldin’s momentum with his own flurry of blows. Cal looked around, shrugged his shoulders, and waded in after them.

    “Beldin fights like a man possessed,” said Bijoux.

    Sebastian stepped forward, palms spread outwards. “If Elabac dies, it will be on his head. Fuco aspergo!”

    A coruscating cone of colors sprang forth from his palm, encompassing the dwarves. Two went down, clutching their eyes.

    “I take back everything bad I’ve ever said about you,” said Kham to Sebastian. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go get my life back.” With a mighty leap, Kham launched himself into the air. The potion’s magic did its job, landing him on the other side of the dwarves.

    Elabac was gone.

    “What the hell?” he shouted. Alsef’s body lay shattered on the ground. Jarel had collapsed, weeping. Kham leaned down to stare him in the face. “Where did they go?”

    Jarel raised his voice in lament. “What have I done? What have I done!”

    “You were releasing me from this damn sword.” Kham took off his purple lenses, revealing pupiless white eyes. “I’m not going to ask you again. Where did Elabac go?”

    Jarel pointed at the wall. “I have brought doom upon us!”

    “Yeah, yeah.” Kham put his lenses back on. “Another secret door, great.” He began feeling all along the wet stone of the tunnel. An Encali barreled up to him, axe raised…

    Only to bounce off an invisible field. The dwarf blinked in surprise while Kham muttered to himself about dwarven engineering, completely oblivious to the failed attack.

    Beldin hacked the Encali dwarf down.

    “We’re too late,” said Sebastian, leaning over the body of Alsef. “Alsef’s dead.”

    “What of his soul shard?” asked Beldin. Kham continued to run his fingers along the tunnel wall.

    “His what?” asked Vlad.

    “Soul shard,” repeated Beldin. “Our souls are encased in them. We can never truly die so long as our bodies are still intact.”

    “They took it,” said Sebastian grimly.

    Beldin took a deep breath. “This will mean war. Solanos Mor will march on Encali.”

    “It was not the Encali who were responsible for the attack,” said Jarel. “It was the Reavers. Always the Reavers.”

    “Reavers, Encali, who gives a crap!” snarled Kham. “If I could just figure out how to open this door…”

    Beldin reached out and pressed a slightly discolored rock on the cave face. The wall slid away to reveal a dark passage.

    Kham glared at Beldin. “Stupid dwarven construction,” he muttered.

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    Hand of the Master - Part 3: Mountains from Molehills

    “That passage will do you no good,” said Jarel. “They have a teleport scroll. You will never reach them in time.”

    “We must try,” said Sebastian. “And you will help us.” He took a menacing step forward.

    “Why would you betray Elabac?” asked Beldin. “He took you in. He trusted you!”

    Jarel wiped tears from his eyes. “I was jealous,” he said. “Jealous of his prestige. Of his influence. My spies told me that he would be traveling to Ventaka, so I informed some contacts I had in the Reavers. They set up an ambush, but…”

    “But we stopped them,” said Vlad.

    Jarel nodded. “I sold my services to the House Otrecto, who betrayed me. After you rescued me from their hideout, I returned to the Reavers with the expectation of a warm welcome. Instead, they accused me of betraying them to Elabac and crushed my hands as punishment.” He held up his gnarled and twisted hands. “To get revenge on Elabac and regain the respect of the Encali enclave, I informed the Reavers that I could again deliver him to them.”

    Kham spat. “You’re not the brightest tool in the shed. You told Beldin, of all people, about your plans.”

    “I intended you to hear about how Reavers attacked us in the tunnels and killed Elabac,” said Jarel. “Once Solanos Mor found out, and especially if outsiders like you,” he nodded towards Cal and Bijoux, “knew about it, Solanos Mor would be forced to wage war on the Reavers. The Reavers would be wiped out in the process and Solanos Mor would be weakened.”

    “But the Reavers were one step ahead of you,” said Beldin.

    “They disguised themselves, and now I have brought doom upon my own enclave! The Encali enclave is not strong enough to resist Solanos Mor.”

    Cal sniffed in Jarel’s direction. “I haven’t eaten in awhile,” he said. “Let’s kill him.”

    “Wait!” said Jarel. “I can help. When I was in contact with the Reavers before, I took the liberty of obtaining a scroll of teleport, keyed to their encampment.” He pulled a scroll and a blood red gem out of his vest. When Jarel held the gem up, it refracted in the torchlight.

    Kham snatched the gem out of his hand. “This is what Elabac came for.” He blinked. “Gods be damned! Now I’ve got the gem and not the dwarf!”

    “If you hold up the gem and spill your blood upon it, you will be transported back here. However, you must be outside of any structure to use it.”

    Sebastian took the scroll from him.

    “Why would they take him alive?” asked Bijoux. “What good is Elabac to them?”

    Kham sighed. “The leader wants to force Elabac to make finer weapons.”

    “That’s true,” said Jarel. “The leader of the Reavers is a master of Nol Dappan weaponsmithing. Considering the Nol Dappans craftsmanship almost equals Elabac’s, the commander will want to combine his expertise with Elabac’s skill to create the ultimate weapon.” He looked curiously at Kham. “How did you know that?”

    “You’re not the only one guilty of being selfish,” said Kham in low tones.

    Then Sebastian read the scroll and they disappeared.

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    Part 4a: Blade and Scythe

    It appeared that they were still in the Corlathian Mountains, though they were outside in a secluded rocky gorge. The narrow path before them opened into a natural clearing amidst the jagged peaks, just large enough to hold a small Reaver camp. Their tents were visible, and every so often they could catch a glimpse of one walking to and fro.

    Bijoux clasped her claws over her ears and closed her eyes.

    “What…?” asked Vlad. Then he heard it too. Screams.

    Elabac was still alive, it seemed, for they could hear his unmuffled cries echoing throughout the camp.

    Sebastian put one hand on Bijoux’s shoulder. “Can you tell where it’s coming from?”

    Bijoux nodded and pointed to the north side of the camp. Then she clasped her hands over her ears again.

    Kham popped another vial. “I’ll take care of this personally.” He swigged the contents and promptly faded from sight.

    Beldin moved to follow but Sebastian stopped him. “Your armor will give us away,” he said. Sebastian frowned at Vlad. “You too.”

    “I will not stand by listening to this,” said Beldin. His face was turning red.

    “We have a better chance if we strike with stealth first,” said Sebastian. “Cal and I will sneak into the camp. Stay with Bijoux. When the alarm is raised, come as quickly as you can.”

    “That’s not much of a plan,” said Vlad.

    “No,” said Sebastian with a weak smile, “but it will have to do.”

    Then the unlikely duo ducked into the gorge and out of sight.

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    Hand of the Master - Part 4b: Blade and Scythe

    Elabac was stripped from the waist up and tied to a wooden chair. On either side of Elabac was a dwarf holding a hot poker. Burns on Elabac’s flesh testified to the torture.

    A sinister-looking dwarf stood in front of him. His ruddy brown skin was encrusted with grime and ash. He was shaven and beardless. A scar ran down the back of his scalp. Two more dwarves flanked their leader.

    Kham recognized him. It was Lorund Ranenor, a Nol Dappan dwarf.

    Lorund cleared his throat. “I tire of your stubbornness. It is obvious your ages spent over the forge have toughened you. How willing would you be to allow one you loved to be sent to oblivion? Will you craft a trophy for me?”

    Elabac looked up, defeat in his eyes. But still he wearily shook his head.

    “Pity,” said Lorund. As he pulled his arm back, Kham could see Alsef’s soul shard on an upright log before him.

    A powerful blow from the cruelly shaped blade shattered the gem into a multitude of fragments. Even before some of the shards imbedded themselves in Elabac, he let out a scream of newfound terror and anguish.

    The scream was joined by Lorund’s bellow of surprise as Fleshripper jutted from his side. Kham appeared next to him.

    The guards spun to retaliate, only to face a wave of colors emanating from Sebastian’s open palms. Two of them collapsed, blinded.

    Cal waded into combat with a roar. The two dwarves flanking Lorund were momentarily surprised, but the ss’ressen’s charge snapped them out of it.

    Lorund spun to face his attacker, but Kham had collapsed to the ground, Fleshripper in hand. He raised his axe, only to recognize the armored Milandisian who entered the tent.

    “You!” shouted Lorund. “You killed Neyadis! I’ll gut you from crotch to craw!”

    With a bellow of rage, the dwarf charged towards his opponent, stepping over Kham. And all the while, Kham dreamed.

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    Hand of the Master - Part 4c: Blade and Scythe

    The moment Fleshripper pierced Lorund, the world around Kham faded away.

    Kham felt as if he were rushing very fast, the wind whistling by him, stinging his eyes. Fleshripper was the only thing that felt solid anymore, its weight secure in his hands, anchoring him in its reality. He found comfort in its presence.

    The blood from the dwarf was still wet upon the blade, and yet Fleshripper called out for more.

    Kham could hear its voice in his ear, goading him to rid the world of the evil creatures. He felt new power, almost an awakening surge from Fleshripper.

    Then, with a jolt strong enough to almost throw him to the ground, he found himself exactly where he was before. On the battlefield, with scarcely a moment having passed.

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    Hand of the Master - Part 4d: Blade and Scythe

    Vlad yanked his blade out of Lorund’s corpse.

    “Now that I know about these soul shards,” Vlad placed Lorund’s soul shard on the log where Alsef’s had been shattered, “I’m going to be sure that the next time I kill a dwarf, he stays dead.” He raised his sword overhead.

    “Please,” wheezed Elabac. Sebastian worked to free him from the chair. “Haven’t we had…enough…carnage?”

    “Take their shards,” said Beldin. “We will hand them over to the Solanos Mor authorities.”

    Cal pawed through the bodies.

    Bijoux’s head poked into the tent. “I do not mean to alarm you, but the Reavers now know of our presence.”

    Kham rose unsteadily to his feet. “Maybe the sight of a flying cat gave us away.”

    Bijoux seemed unflustered. “Perhaps they noticed that the screaming had stopped.” She looked with sympathy upon the old dwarf. “I know I did.”

    “No time to debate,” said Vlad. He slashed open the back of the tent. “Let’s go.”

    Kham stepped through the opening. “You wanted blood, Fleshripper? You got it.” He cut his palm on Fleshripper’s blade. His hand dripped with blood.

    Then he pull out the red stone from his pocket and they were gone.

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    Hand of the Master - Part 5a: Vengeance is Mine

    As soon as Kham’s blood hit the gem, he felt a sensation like a jerk at his gut. He suddenly had a terrible notion that he was experiencing what it would be like for a dwarf’s soul to enter a soul shard. It was cold, dark and terrible.

    But then he saw a light that expanded and spread over millions of facets, like a diamond. It filled his whole consciousness. He broke through the facets and found himself standing back in Jarel’s house, with Jarel himself before them. The gem had pulled all of them with Kham; judging from some of their reactions, they found it even less pleasant than Kham did.

    Jarel looked at each of them, then at Elabac. His eyes filled with tears and he threw himself at Elabac’s feet, overcome with grief.

    “Forgive me, Master!” he cried. “I see now. I see now what I’ve done!”

    Elabac looked at Beldin, Sebastian, and Kham. “We shall have…to do something…about him. He seems… to finally…have discovered…true sorrow…for his wrongs. Perhaps…he could be brought…to Illiir’s light. What do you think…my friends? What shall we do…about Jarel?”

    Sebastian frowned. “He betrayed all of us under the guise of repentance.” He avoided looking at Beldin. “He used Solanos Mor’s people against itself and nearly caused a war. If that doesn’t deserve death, I don’t know what does.”

    Beldin shook his head. “Illiir is a merciful god. If Jarel wishes for a second chance, then he should have it.”

    Elabac turned to look at Kham. “That leaves you…Kham.”

    Kham bit his lip. “Everybody has their problems,” he said after a long moment. “Sometimes, the pain’s so bad you’ll do anything to make it stop, no matter who suffers.” He took a swig of a new wineskin. “I’m no more innocent than Jarel in that regard. If the dwarf says he’s sorry, let him live.”

    The old dwarf patted Kham affectionately on the back. Much was said without being spoken.

    “So be it,” said Elabac. “Jarel will be…allowed to search…for the peace of Illiir.”

    “Thank you for your mercy!” Jarel fell to his knees, weeping.

    “You have passed…a test,” said Elabac to Kham. “Now…we must perform…the bonding ritual…”

    “Ritual?” asked Kham.

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    Hand of the Master - Part 5b: Vengeance is Mine

    The ritual seemed to take forever. Elabac and Beldin stood in front of a kneeling Kham. Blood from Fleshripper—Lorund’s blood—was smeared on Kham’s forehead.

    “As Fleshripper has been anointed with the blood of Solanos Mor’s enemies,” said Beldin, “so too have I anointed you, Kham val’Abebi.” He lifted up the blood-red gem and placed it into a groove on the hilt of Fleshripper. “I place the Gem of Sarish’s Oath into Fleshripper; as Sarish’s Oath merges with the blade, may the blade merge with your soul, so that together become a tool of Illiir’s vengeance. Henceforth, let Fleshripper be known as Grizaldrengi, ‘Slayer of Poor Meat’ in dwarvish.”

    As the Gem of Sarish’s Oath was set into Fleshripper, it seemed to expand to fill his whole consciousness. The many facets of Kham’s world shattered into a smoky image within.

    Through the haze and mist of what he was sure must be centuries, Kham could see a barrel-chested dwarf, his face contorted in rage and hate, his body taut with muscle from years of passionate training and denial. Fleshripper was in his hands.

    Before him, hordes of Reavers came, and Fleshripper slew them all. Fleshripper almost glowed with what seemed to be a holy light at is cut through the ranks of the evil Reavers.

    The scene became smoky again, and Kham could see the dwarf, surrounded by the bodies of his enemies, finally succumbing to his wounds and falling. A female val walked up to him; Kham was certain she was a paladin.

    The paladin kneeled, tears running down her cheeks. She closed the lifeless eyes of the dwarf. Though Kham could not hear her voice, he was certain she was performing last rites.

    Then she looked at the last Reaver killed, Fleshripper still impaled in the dwarf’s chest. It had driven a hole through his welded armor. With a look of determination, she took Fleshripper, lifting it high, as it hummed with holy power.

    Then the scene became smoky again and Kham was back in Solanos Mor.

    ”Great,” said Kham. “More baggage.”

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