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Tuesday, 8th March, 2005, 01:02 PM #71
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 2: Bearding the Lion in its Den
Traveling through the portal was not nearly as electrifying as a Gate of Anshar, but they were disoriented nevertheless.
“Well, at least we can breathe,” said Ilmarė, rubbing her nose. “But the air tastes wrong.”
“Metallic,” said Quintus, “like blood.”
They stood on a stone balcony, the third floor of a keep. It seemed to be daytime, but there was no sun to cast a shadow. The clouds whisked by at a furious rate despite the lack of wind.
“Interesting weather.” Vlad shielded his eyes as he looked up.
A large tower spiraled above them for another fifty feet out of the center of the keep. A glowing orb, burning with a terrible light, capped the tower. The light extended for many miles, its long cone centered on the keep, perfect in its circumference except for the area above the tower.
“What is that black cloud?” asked Quintus.
A dark cloud sliced through the cone of light, roiling with conflict. Within, hordes of Infernal beings were locked in a war with dark, unseen things that flashed in and out of the cloud.
“There are…things in the clouds,” said Ilmarė, squinting. “Bronze razor-edged arms and claws. The Infernals are fighting them. They are led by…well that must be our unwitting host.” A giant being, beautiful in his battle raiment, terrible in his wrath, struck down all who opposed him.
There was a harsh command from below them. A vast courtyard that adjoined the keep was filled with powerful devils, cracking whips over the heads of newly arrived Infernals. More and more arrived through portals, large and brutish, short and vicious, all of them in horrible pain from the mark of Sarish that branded each of their brows.
“Slaves?” Vlad exclaimed. “They’re fighting a war with slaves?”
“Infernals,” said Quintus, “summoned by Sarishans. Let there be no doubt, the Infernals would kill you if they had the chance.”
Three identical bald, ageless Vals were adorned in sigils and glyphs from shoulder to palm. Their steady chanting ensured a steady flow of Infernals from three summoning circles that were herded out into the conflict beyond.
“Perhaps we should focus on the mission,” said Ilmarė, taking a step back towards double doors that led into the tower, “before one of those things decides to focus on us.”
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Friday, 11th March, 2005, 12:43 AM #72
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 3a: Gallery
Beyond the double doors was the keep proper, with a stairwell in the center that led up and down the length of the tower. Divans, chairs, and small tables were everywhere. Rich and luxurious tapestries stood in mute testament of their master’s might.
Quintus crouched with his spear out. “Be careful, it’s likely the place is trapped.”
Ilmarė walked over to a mural on the western side of the gallery, hands on hips. “That’s interesting,” she said.
“What?” asked Quintus.
“In the tapestries, the Devil Prince is holding a very ornate lyre in his left hand in every scene.”
“So?” asked Vlad.
“He always seems to have his finger poised on the fourth string from the left.”
“I didn’t know you were familiar with the lyre,” Quintus said, one eyebrow raised.
“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me,” Ilmarė said with the slightest hint of a smile. “But look at the mural here.”
The mural was of the same dread lord standing upon the carcass of a massive dragon, his shining blade stuck deep into the mythic beast while his head was thrown up to the heavens. He played a lyre in his hands.
“Why are we looking at artwork again?” asked Quintus. “There could be guards—“
Ilmarė huffed and walked over to the mural. The Elorii turned to stare at Quintus as she pushed on the fourth string of the lyre on the mural.
Sure enough, a soft grinding sound revealed a doorway in the northwestern portion of the mural.
Ilmarė put both palms up and smiled. Then she gestured at the doorway. ”Well, go on. I found the door, so the least you can do is check it out.”
“Makes sense,” said Vlad. “If I were a devil lord, I’d hide a magic chalice behind a secret door.”
After shooting Vlad a glare, Quintus stepped through the secret door into the room beyond.
Wednesday, 16th March, 2005, 01:28 AM #73
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 3b: The Shrine to Cadic
Inside, two large braziers hanging from the ceiling somberly lighted the chamber. A low altar rested on a raised platform against the far western wall. Hanging upon the wall above the altar was an object draped with a long, black velvet cloth. Off to either side of the altar were two small marble basins on three-foot high stands.
Quintus slowly lifted the cloth off wall with the tip of his longspear. He unveiled a smooth disc cut and polished from a single block of black malachite.
“The symbol of Cadic,” said Ilmarė.
“The god of murder,” said Quintus. He gently placed the cloth back over the holy symbol.
“What’s in the basins?” asked Vlad, walking over to one and peeking in.
“Don’t touch them,” said Quintus.
“Looks like water to me,” said Vlad. “Perhaps we should take some…”
“Don’t touch it,” said Quintus. “What do you think a god of murder drinks? Mead?”
Vlad took a step back. “Good point.”
Out of his line of sight, the water roiled with an oily black substance that encompassed both basins.
“I make it a point of never drinking from a devil’s basin, especially when we seek to rob him of a prized possession,” said Quintus. “Let’s go.”
As they walked back out of the room, Ilmarė said, “It’s a shame you are not willing to test it. It could also be a boon, as a reward to his faithful followers.”
As the secret door closed shut behind her, the water in the basins turned crystal clear again.
Saturday, 19th March, 2005, 08:39 PM #74
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 3c: Entry to the Tower
Ilmarė put one palm out behind her in warning. “Shh!”
Vlad and Quintus exchanged looks as Ilmarė put her ear to the door. She nodded, pointed at the door, and put up two fingers and a thumb.
Quintus waved Ilmarė back. He pointed to Vlad, then pointed at the door. He nodded towards Ilmarė.
Ilmarė lifted two fingers and a thumb. Quintus lowered his spear.
Ilmarė lifted two fingers. Vlad advanced on the door.
Ilmarė lifted one finger. Vlad smashed open the double doors with his shield as Quintus thrust his spear forward.
Two squat-looking, blubbery humanoids charged at them. They were almost entirely hairless, with flesh that hung limply off their bones and a mouth ringed with small fangs. Behind them was a distinctly feline-looking humanoid with a thin membrane that ran from its wrist to its waist.
The nearest dretch moaned and raised its fork-like claws to attack. Vlad sliced it nearly in half and it went down in an explosion of ichor.
One of Ilmarė’s arrows sprouted out of the other dretch’s eye, but it showed no indication of even noticing the attack. Quintus speared it as the dretch lunged forward and drove it backwards.
“Take out the leader!” shouted Quintus.
Vlad crouched and advanced on the cat-like commander, keeping his shield up. To his surprise, the cat-man launched itself into the air over his head…
Quintus withdrew his spear from the corpse of the dretch just in time to raise it again, catching the commander in midflight. Two javelins clanked off of Quintus’ shield.
“I didn’t know these things could fly!” Vlad shouted back.
The commander hissed and rolled to the ground as more of Vlad struck at the space it had just vacated.
It spun and crouched for another leap.
“Vlad, hit it before it jumps a—”
The commander was airborne again, two more javelins aimed at Quintus’ throat. He couldn’t bring up his shield in time to block the attack.
There was a wet crunch as the feline-like humanoid fell to the ground; an arrow shaft jutted out of its forehead.
“Well, at least the cat-things aren’t immune to arrows,” said Ilmarė.
Saturday, 26th March, 2005, 01:38 AM #75
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 3d: The Arena
A large, forty-foot square cage dominated the room beyond. The iron bars of the cage glowed with a strange phosphorescence.
“A zoo?” asked Vlad, examining the bars more closely.
“An arena,” said Ilmarė with a frown. “Look at the marks.”
Signs of battle were evident from the numerous gouges and claw marks on the bars.
“And it’s still occupied,” said Quintus. “There’s something in the cage here.”
On the eastern wall were five smaller cages. Unlike the larger cage, they had no bars at all, just barriers of light. A large, powerful creature rested in a fetal position within.
Vlad walked over to take a closer look. “What is it?”
The thing was seemingly encased in burnished bronze, with arms edged with sharp razors and the rest of its body covered in spines of different shapes and sizes. Most striking of all was its complete lack of facial features: no eyes, nose, or mouth.
“That’s one of the creatures from the black cloud outside,” said Ilmarė. She was flipping through a journal on a small table. “It looks like the Infernals tested themselves by fighting them. There’s a column of Infernal names here and a time count in the other.”
“Really,” said Quintus. “What’s the highest time?”
“One hour, 34 minutes,” said Ilmarė.
“Not bad,” said Vlad with a hint of admiration in his voice. “That thing looks nasty.”
Vlad walked over to the southern wall, covered in a large array of weapons.
“Quintus, look at this. These gladiuses have no blades. They’re just light.”
Quintus still had his eye on the creature. He walked slowly towards Vlad without turning his back on it.
He managed to tear his gaze from the beast to look at the glowing gladiuses on the wall. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Quintus. “Don’t touch—“
Vlad was already swinging the glowing gladius around. “Light as a feather,” he said, smiling at Quintus.
Quintus sighed and shook his head. “This place could be trapped. We’ve been lucky so far.”
“Oh, I don’t think they bothered to trap these,” said Vlad. Then he thrust the blade into Quintus’ ribs.
“Illiir!” shouted Quintus, looking down in shock at the hilt protruding from his torso.
“It’s completely harmless,” said Vlad. “Passes right through flesh and steel.”
Quintus swallowed hard as Vlad withdrew the blade with a smirk.
“That’s not funny,” was all he said.
“Maybe not,” said Vlad. “But I think we should take them. Who knows, if those things live in darkness maybe these blades are effective.” He took one and thrust it into his weapons belt. “Best of all, you never need to sheathe them.”
He dutifully handed Quintus the other gladius, hilt first.
Quintus muttered something under his breath and took it. “Let’s get out of here,” he said.
Wednesday, 30th March, 2005, 01:06 AM #76
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 4a: The Library
Quintus edged open the door and peered inside. “I’m not sure how,” he said, “but the darkness appears to be flowing out of this room.”
The room was lit in a perpetual state of gloom, as if by a half-dozen candles, despite the lack of a light source.
“Looks like a library,” said Vlad, stepping into the room behind Quintus.
There was a comfortable-looking desk and chairs on the western wall. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves covered everywhere else.
Ilmarė walked over to one bookshelf. There were no titles on the spine. She took the book off the shelf and opened it.
“Interesting,” she said.
Quintus turned to look at her. “What?”
“This book. It’s writing itself, even as we speak.”
Quintus looked down at her hands. “Careful.”
“According to this book,” said Ilmarė, “the giant outside is the Honor of Cadic, the Fallen Valinor of Urumeh. Though no longer able to ascend to the Heavens, the Honor of Cadic continues to fight for the preservation of Illiir’s world. He was told to come here to battle the war against the Darkness.”
“The Darkness?” asked Quintus, looking around.
“Hmm, oh yes, the book has an answer for that too,” said Ilmarė. “The Darkness is made up of the force of Oblivion itself. The tide of emptiness that seeks to revert all back to the nothingness that was before Illiir’s Light shone for the first time. The ones on the field of battle are formed from the very essence of Entropy. Their touch disrupts bodies and destroys souls.”
“Great,” said Vlad. “Does it know anything about those cat people?”
“They are called Fihali, the native race of this place. When Urumeh first arrived, they were frightened, but the Fallen Valinor has shown them compassion and has even brought them…” Ilmarė looked up, her lip curled in disgust, “religion. Just what this world needs, another missionary.”
“Ask it about the chalice,” said Quintus.
“Ah yes. Here it is: the chalice was originally the property of another Valinor and was somehow taken from him by the Gods and then gifted to Urumeh. On a cloudless evening, at precisely midnight, the chalice can capture the essence of the night and transform it into an inky liquid. Once this draught is taken, it can either allow you to remember something that was forgotten or wash away a memory best gone.”
“But it doesn’t say where the chalice is?” asked Quintus.
Ilmarė looked up. “It doesn’t have to. It’s right behind you.”
At the southern wall was a pedestal recessed into an alcove. Upon it, illuminated by a single beam of light, was an ornate golden chalice affixed with four large, dark red gemstones.
Ilmarė closed the book and walked back to the doorway. “I’ll wait here and keep a look out,” she said.
“This seems a little too easy,” Quintus said to Ilmarė. “So first we’re going to…Vlad?”
Vlad walked over to the chalice with an open backpack. With a scoop of his sword, the chalice plopped into the backpack.
“Dammit Vlad!” shouted Quintus.
“What?” said Vlad, raising the backpack up in front of him. “We got what we came—”
Just then, the door swung shut on Ilmarė with a loud slam. Three distinctive clicks came from the upper, middle, and lower part of the door as locks were activated.
Quintus slammed into the door with his shield and bounced off it. “Locked,” he said.
There was a low growl from the shadows behind him. Quintus spun and backed away from the door.
Out of the shadows prowled a pitch-black mastiff with a mouth full of sharp teeth and burning red eyes.
“Steady,” said Quintus, lowering his spear.
The mastiff raised its great head and howled a long, loud bay that reverberated throughout the library.
Then all hell broke loose.
Sunday, 3rd April, 2005, 04:08 PM #77
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 4b: The Tower Landing
Ilmarė struggled with the door handle for a few moments until she heard the baying. A cold chill scraped across her spine.
“Shadow mastiff,” she said, struggling to contain the rising panic in the pit of her stomach. “It’s on the other side of the door. You’re safe,” she said over and over.
The helmet that Nevanos had worn to protect him from ilHuan mind tricks had saved her from the unreasoning fear of the mastiff’s howl. But not everyone was so fortunate: In the library, someone screamed at the top of his lungs, a cry of gut-wrenching terror.
The shouts of guards echoed from the spiraling stairwell downstairs. Ilmarė spun around in desperation, looking from exit to exit.
She spied a doorway and leapt towards it. As Fihali guards climbed the steps onto the landing, Ilmarė opened the door and ducked inside, quietly closing it behind her.
The quarters were empty. She took a sigh of relief.
There were no beds. Instead, there were three indentations on the floor, with a heavy furred blanket within each one. It was furnished only with three high stools, each with claw marks on the top. Tapestries adorned the walls, all of a bipedal feline-like race hunting large bison-like creatures.
Ilmarė opened the door a crack. The cat-like guards were clustered around the library door, weapons drawn.
Ilmarė looked around the room for some means of escape. She had no way to get back home. If Quintus did not survive the shadow mastiff, he surely would not make it past the guards. She had to do SOMETHING.
Her hand unconsciously fingered the amulet at her throat.
It pulsed with a life of its own. She had forgotten about it, but the amulet had not forgotten about her.
Ilmarė clenched it tightly and willed it to life. Instantly, she was suffused with a shivering rage. It was all she could do to reach for her bow.
She would make them pay. They would all pay.
Wednesday, 6th April, 2005, 12:57 PM #78
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 4c: The Library
“Vlad,” said Quintus, his eyes scanning the darkness, “listen to me.”
Vlad was curled up in a ball behind him, whimpering.
Somewhere in the pitch black beyond Quintus’ line of sight, the mastiff paced back and forth, growling softly. The lights had dimmed, swirling into a misty gray nearest him and blackest night in the far corners of the library.
“Vlad,” said Quintus, his tone steady, spear before him, “you’ve got to snap out of it. I don’t know how long I can keep this thing at bay…”
White jaws appeared out of the darkness and snapped at the tip of the longspear. Quintus positioned himself between two shelves so that the mastiff would have to pass him to get to Vlad.
“Vlad,” said Quintus more sternly, “GET. UP.”
There was a long, low growl. Then suddenly, a shape blur into motion through the air.
Quintus leaned backwards and lifted his spear. The mastiff’s low growl became a high-pitched yelp as the longspear pierced its abdomen. The weight of its attack nearly wrenched the spear from Quintus’s hands.
It kept coming.
Quintus dropped his shield as the mastiff barked and snarled, slowly forcing its way up the spear. He scrabbled backwards, struggling to reach for his gladius as the white jaws snapped ever closer. He could smell rotting meat on the mastiff’s breath.
And then it was dead. Its head landed on Quintus’ thigh, almost as if it was a lap dog nuzzling its master for affection.
The legionnaire scrabbled to his feet and yanked the speared out of the corpse. “Vlad,” he said, “it’s dead. Now get up.”
Vlad peeked out from between his fingers. “It is? Are you sure?”
“Illiir’s light man, yes it’s dead!” said Quintus. He cleared a path free of books and bookshelves opposite the only way out. “What’s wrong with you?”
“I…I don’t know what happened,” said Vlad.
Quintus raised his spear and then charged into the door, gouging a great furrow of wood out of one side. “I’ve never seen you like this.”
Vlad rose to his feet. He put one hand out to steady himself against a bookshelf. He was drenched in sweat. “I’ve never been afraid of dogs before.”
“We are in a strange place,” said Quintus, slamming his spear into the door again. “Who knows what effect it has on any of us.”
Vlad unsheathed his sword. “It didn’t affect you.”
Quintus speared the door again. “No, it did not. But I tell you what: if you help me break this door down, I will never speak of it again.”
“You have my word as a legionnaire,” said Quintus solemnly.
Vlad nodded, took a deep breath, and stepped over to the door. “Let me try it.”
The warrior wrapped two hands around his longsword. He took two practice swings with the blade. Then, focusing all his fear and rage, he hit the top hinge of the door with all his might.
It fell down with a horrendous thud, spreading dust, books, and splinters everywhere.
Vlad put one foot on the defeated door. He turned to smile at Quintus.
Quintus was looking over Quintus’ shoulder.
Vlad turned to look past the doorway. Five pairs of feline pupils glared back at him.
“Oh crap,” said Vlad.
Monday, 11th April, 2005, 01:05 AM #79
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 4d: The Tower Landing
“Down!” shouted Quintus.
Vlad did as he was told as a vial of alchemist’s fire sailed over his head. It exploded in a halo of flames in front of the door.
Vlad spun back inside the door to grab his shield. When he turned back, he was face to face with a Fihali who had leapt over the flames.
The smoke and gloom made it nearly impossible to see anything. Vlad blocked the Fihali’s claw strikes with his shield and then cut downward, slashing open the cat-person’s jugular. The humanoid fell without a sound.
Beyond the conflagration, Ilmarė stood rigidly with bow at the ready. Arrow after arrowed sliced through the air as she sang. “Nowr vee air-in.”
The books were burning. Quintus dropped his spear and reached for his gladius as a Fihali slashed his arm. He stumbled backwards into a bookcase.
“Lahnk ee dahl-ahf,” sang Ilmarė. The ground lay bare.
A Fihali landed face first, an arrow still shivering from the back of its head.
“Mahb lay ee nah-gore,” sang Ilmarė. The war was upon them.
Vlad stabbed upwards, gutting another Fihali.
“Bahd gurth vee gah-lahd fear-ee-ell,” sang Ilmarė. Death moved in the fading light.
Another Fihali turned and launched itself at the source of the fusillade. It fell to the ground a second later, pierced by multiple arrows.
“Dore-thahkh vee mar hahn?” sang Ilmarė. Were they part of this world, she asked?
Vlad turned and with one mighty stroke slashed the spine of the Fihali on top of Quintus.
“Dahg-rah-thahkh go hine?” sang Ilmarė. Would they join the fight, she asked?
The Fihali fell in a crumpled heap.
Quintus stumbled out of the room, coughing in the smoke. An arrow bounced off his shield.
“Ilmarė,” shouted Quintus. “Is that you?”
The Elorii stepped out of the smoke, arrow knocked. Something pulsed red at her throat.
“Ilmarė?” Quintus lowered his spear, confused. “Ilmarė? What’s wrong?”
The Elorii bit her lip. Her arms were shaking with emotion.
“Ilmarė, it’s me, Quintus,” he said. “Remember me? I gave you that helmet.”
Ilmarė blinked. The red pulse stopped. She lowered her bow.
“Quintus,” she said, her voice tinged with relief, “you’re alright.”
Vlad stepped out from behind Quintus. “I’m fine too, thanks for asking. Can we go now?”
“Not yet,” said a mysterious figure, slumped against the side of the stairwell.
Wednesday, 13th April, 2005, 01:53 AM #80
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Drinking Deeply from the Chalice of Midnight - Part 5: An Ill Friend
The man was a Sarishan, identical to the others they saw in the courtyard with the exception of sigils. The sigils on his forearms had faded to just his wrists and the palms of his hands. He had slumped to his knees. Quintus had one hand on his back.
“Easy, old father,” he said. “What are you doing here?”
“I should ask you the same question,” he said weakly. “Why have you traveled to this doomed sphere? Are you from my beloved Empire?”
Quintus blinked. “Yes, we are. Are you from Coryan?”
The old man coughed. “I was once Clodius val’Mehan, high priest of the Lord Sarish, proud citizen of the Empire and former prelate of the province of Canceri.”
“Was?” asked Vlad.
Clodius slid further, and Quintus gently rested his head on the ground. “That’s right, dear child, I died in the year 368 I.C.”
Ilmarė crossed her arms. “And I suppose you are a favored soul.”
“I was rewarded with the chance to further my Lord’s cause,” said Clodius. “I was given this body and sent here to try and save this sphere from ultimate annihilation.”
“But you did not reach Illiir’s Grace,” said Quintus with a frown.
“No, I suppose I am not yet pure enough to bask in the glory of the Gods,” said Clodius. “I was attended to by one of our Lord’s many Valinor.”
“You all look alike to me,” said Ilmarė, peering out a window.
Clodius managed a weak smile. “We were given perfect form as our original bodies belong to Neroth and His worms now. This form is stronger than my body ever was in life. It houses our spirit, so that we may do the tasks given to us.” He was overcome by a fit of shivers.
“Quintus,” said Ilmarė.
“Easy, easy,” Quintus said to Clodius. “Your task in this form is nearly at an end. I am sure this time you will be embraced to Illiir’s bosom.”
“The tide has broken. The forces of Entropy are advancing. You must flee while you can…”
Quintus put one hand on Clodius’ forehead. “May Illiir bless you and keep you. Pass in peace.”
“Quintus,” said Ilmarė again.
There was a long, shuddering sigh, and then the body that was once the vessel for Clodius lay still.
“Yes,” he said, rising. “What is it?”
Ilmarė was pointing out the window. The roiling black cloud now moved with purpose, spiraling in a funnel towards the tower.
“It’s time to go!”
“Agreed,” said Quintus. He picked up his spear and shield. “We have to get to the balcony. Go!”
Ilmarė skidded onto the balcony, with Quintus and Vlad close behind. Outside, they could hear the roars of the Entropy-beings as they floated closer.
Quintus crushed the sandstone and sprinkled it in the air. A magic circle appeared, rippling before them.
“Vlad, go!” shouted Quintus.
Vlad plunged through the portal. The roaring became deafening as the black cloud spiraled closer and closer.
“You go first!” Ilmarė said.
“Fine,” she said, “we’ll both go.” She grabbed hold of his arm and they both jumped through just as a swipe of a wicked claw sliced through the circle.