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  1. #1
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    Steel Dragon's "Tales of Orea"

    Alaria had arrived in Hawkview shortly past midday. She’d made her way through the city to the guild tower of the Fellowship of Alkari. She arranged for lodging and a meeting with the resident administrator, as her master, the wizard Vertior had instructed.

    Former master, Alaria thought to herself with a smirk.

    Vertior had surprised his pupil with the announcement two days prior. It brought tears of joy to Alaria’s large chestnut eyes and she enveloped the old mage in hugs and profuse thanks. Six long years of study and research in the Academy, four more years of study and practice under Vertior’s tutelage, a lifetime of hopes and dreams and finally, her apprenticeship was to be at an end. She would be able to explore the world of magic of her own volition and the wider realms beyond the secluded Mage-lands. Vertior then tasked her with a final errand on his behalf.

    She was given two scrolls and a palm-sized square of folded parchment sealed with wax. The red sealing wax was pressed with Vertior’s sigil and surrounded with various sigils some of which Alaria knew to be protection magics. The envelope contained some small round hard item, a ring perhaps or a coin. One scroll was for a “Magister Kurklani” at the mage’s guild tower in Hawkview, which she was to deliver upon her arrival. The other scroll and the folded sealed parchment were to be taken to another old friend, someone calling themselves “the Green Witch of Welford.” Welford, Ventior explained, was a small hamlet north of Hawkview “…that produced the most delicious apples.”

    The following day, Alaria had filled her pack with her spell books and components, assorted vials, charts, other trinkets and tools for magical, alchemical and astrological work, and a single change of clothes. Her father gave her a modest purse of coins and Vertior supplied the eager traveler with a scroll containing additional spells for her to study and practice and a simple wand of smooth white wood banded in copper. Upon command, Vertior instructed, the wand would release powerful bolts of lightning, but “…only in an emergency…” as it could only be used three times before the wand’s magic was expended.

    Alaria said her farewells to family and friends, grabbed her staff, and practically skipped through Ablidon to the docks. She arrived at the ship chartered for her by Vertior nearly an hour earlier than she needed to be. Her mind aflame during her entire trip across the bay recalling what she’d learned of the people and cultures of the realms, the great mages of the realms, heroes of history and of how best to enhance her arts in the realms.

    The tower was easily found and identifiable by the well-known (at least among the people of R’Hath) sigil of the guild inscribed large above the door. A simple cantrip revealed the secret glyph to the young wizardess.



    Shortly after her arrival, she met with Magister Kurklani. He was a short bespectacled man in dark robes with a grey whispy beard hanging from his chin reminiscent of a billy goat's. His mantle was emblazoned with the guild sigil and an array of other magic symbols, most of which Alaria could not decipher. He greeted her politely and quietly unfurled and examined Vertior’s letter, adjusting the thin framed glasses perched on his hooked beakish nose. The guild master was an old friend of Vertior and the kindly old wizard assured Alaria he would be helpful in her errand, the final task of her apprenticeship. Alaria shuddered with excitement at the thought.

    Kurlani held the letter up and, with a minor flick, the scroll rolled itself up and disappeared into one of the guild master’s billowing sleeves.

    “Well, it seems that Vertior thinks quite highly of you, Miss Staver. This mission you are on is no small task. Of course, you will have our support in whatever manner I can provide. Specifically, Vertior asks to arrange some protection for your journey as you have not traveled outside the Pricipalities before.”

    Protection, Alaria thought. What kind of protection could she need to visit some farm north of the city? Alaria managed a polite giggle, “Magister, I thank you and master Vertior for the concern, but I hardly think a fully-trained magess of R’Hath requires ‘protection’ to cover a few miles of farmland.”

    “Yes, well…”, Kurklani adjusted his spectacles, “…out of deference to your mentor and my friend, I will do as he asks. Ehm, ‘few miles’ did you say?” Alaria sees a thought crossed the magister’s mind. “Do you know where Welford is?”

    “Yes.” Alaria chirped, eager as always to have the right answer. “Well, kind of.” In her haste to complete her task and continue on her unsupervised way, Alaria hadn’t really considered it important. She figured any resident of Hawkview would probably be able to direct her to one of the farming villages north of the city. “Master Ventior said it was north of the city.”

    Alaria didn’t see the amusement when the guild master began to chuckle.

    “Erm, yes.” said Kurklani, “That is correct. But it would seem Ventior has not lost his sense of humor in the years since I last saw him.” He chuckled a bit more before clearing his throat, adjusting his glasses and regaining his composure.


    “My dear, Welford is in the Laklands…which arrre, in fact, north of Hawkview.” Seeing no recognition from the young magess, the magister continued, “Welford is the furthest village to the north and west of that region, along Lake Imerlis.” The guild master looked over his glasses as if this were an explanation Alaria should understand.

    Alaria, sensing a problem to her plans of freedom, inquired calmly, “And precisely how far, Magister Kurklani, are the Laklands, Lake Imerlis and Welford from Hawkview?”

    The powerful old mage seemed to whither a bit before the cool glare of the recently released apprentice. Clearing his throat before answering, “Well, the Laklands you can make in about…”




    Elsewhere that same afternoon in Hawkview, along the Street of Streets, a pair of figures hovered in the shadows at the edge of a narrow alley between a tavern and a warehouse. They leaned casually against either side of the alley, shrouded in the late afternoon shadow, watching the bustling passerbys on one of Hawkview’s most traversed thoroughfares.

    The Street of Streets extended the breadth of the city connecting the wealthy district of aristocratic residents to academies, artisans and scholars to the markets and shops of the downtown and continuing on into the “less wealthy” areas of the wharfside.

    The two figures, one short and stocky and one tall and lean kept their eyes, specifically, on the comings and goings of the large establishment across the cobblestones from their vantage point. The large two story wood and stucco building took up most of the entire block, with a stables and carriage house beside and behind the main building. A large sign shaped like a sword sheathed in a bright red scabbard hung over the main entrance’s thick double doors.

    The Ruby Scabbard was, perhaps, the most popular inn and tavern in the city. Established long ago when the currently lackluster neighborhood was the best in the city, “Ruby’s” was especially popular with the diverse persons within and passing through the city that followed a life of adventure. It was known among the “less honorable” of the populace as a hotbed for information on anyone from the Lord of the City to the fishmonger. Tales and rumors coming from Grinlia to the Island Kingdoms were told and retold before Ruby’s immense fireplace, at its long bar, large tables and within its private alcove booths. The Ruby Scabbard was also known, among adventurers, as the best place in the city to pick up jobs. People from all walks of life at all levels of society used the posting wall in the Ruby Scabbard to attract and hire those with the special skills they required.

    “Are you sure you want to do this?” inquired the tall lean figure.

    The shorter scoffed under his breath. “Right, Jenks. And if I don’t?” replied the shorter of the two.

    “If you don’t, then…You know. Giles won’t let’cha in.” replied Jenks.

    “Pff. Won’t let me out, neither, is more like.” The short shadowed figure drew a dagger from beneath his dark grey cloak. After a casual glance and he slid the blade back into its sheathe on the back of his belt.

    “Look, Stumpy, I like ya. Yer a whiz with the locks n’ things. I’m sure Giles could come up with something else for yer test.” Jenks offered. “This place is impossible. It’s crowded all of the time. Most of that crowd is armed or spell-wielding...or both! Landing in the castle dungeon after the Guard got you would be the best you could get.” Jenks thinks for a moment. “None of us have ever tried to roll this place. An’ Bobrik’s always been real good by us. I don’t get why Giles would send you here.”

    “That’s simple, he doesn’t want me in. He’s scared cuz he knows I’m better than him and if I get in, I’d be running the show in no time…and I like you too, Jenks, but call me ‘Stumpy’ again and I’ll feed your jewels to guard’s mastiffs. Gottit?”

    “Errrr, yeah, I guess that might be.” Jenks concedes rubbing the back of his scrawny neck and looking distractedly at the Ruby Scabbard. He seems not to have heard the threat to his “jewels.” Jenks thought to himself how his comrade was unsuccessful at the last three heists he attempted. “But, still don’t mean you have to do this job. Have Giles get you another one.”

    “I said I’d do this one.” The short figure spat into the alley. “I accepted his challenge. A promise is a promise, Jenks. ‘Honor among thieves’ and all of that. I’m still a dwarf of his word.” The cloaked figured moved out of the alley into the afternoon sun revealing “Stumpy” to be a muscled dwarf in leather armor beneath the dark grey hood and cloak. Judging by the rich brown beard that barely skimmed the top of his chest, one could assume him young by dwarf standards.

    As way of goodbye he called over his shoulder to his fellow rogue, “After tonight, Duor Darkesmythe will be the most famous thief in Hawkview n’ Giles will be kissin’ my bearded dwarven arse.” With that, the dwarf started to saunter casually down the Street of Streets, heading to an alehouse closer to the docks that he enjoyed.

    A few people turned their heads at this proclamation with questioning glances but continued about their business. Jenks smacked his forehead and backed deeper into the alley’s shadows before scaling the tavern wall and disappearing across the city rooftops.




    “TWO WEEKS?!?” Alaria burst. “I’m supposed to deliver this tiny thing to someone two weeks away?”

    “Could be another week or so before you’d arrive in Welford.” Kurklani calmly finished. Kurklani’s mouth twisted into a crooked smirk reveling in his composure in the face of the young lady’s obvious lack of control. “Ventior always did have an odd fondness of pranks.”

    “Yes, he does.” she said, slightly pained. “Another three to four weeks just to get there?” Alaria turned her head and scowled at the wall.

    “It appears so.” Kurklani calmly replied.

    Not that she had anything against Ventior nor had he ever treated her badly. In fact, she’d been the recipient of more than one of his “jokes” during her years in training. Here she thought her errand would be finished the following day and then she could wander south to the great city of Andril and explore the wonders of the world contained within. Now it would be nigh on two months before she’d even return to Hawkview.

    For a moment the young woman sat silent before Kurklani looking defeated, crestfallen. The guild master felt a pang of pity. He vaguely recalled the joyous day he concluded his training. It was a grand feeling and it seemed Ventior’s “prank” was to take that feeling away…or at least delay it. It was somewhat cruel, Kurklani thought.


    Alaria’s large lovely eyes slowly rose to meet the magister’s. They were filled with a cool determination. “Where can I find some sellswords?”

  2. #2
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    Introductions

    Alaria Staver marched down the winding cobbled street of the city of Hawkview. She had arrived in port that afternoon from the seven hour journey across the Whitegull Bay from her homeland in the Principalities of R’Hath. She turned down Canal Street, holding her head high as she obviously was passing from the more respectable neighborhoods. Alaria stared straight ahead, her right hand clenched around her staff shod at one end with iron and the other with silver. A high slit on the right side of her robe revealed enough leg to receive leers from a few men and disapproving glares from a few women. Alaria seemed to notice neither. Yes, it could easily be said that Alaria was an attractive woman.

    She strutted with purpose in thigh-high boots, their short tapered heels clicking on the stones, a high-collared sleeveless robe of violet velvet and long dark brown tresses flowed behind her, enhanced by the occasional breeze coming up from the wharf. Her nose crinkled at the odor of the city. Thankfully the unpleasant smells of urban living were mixing and being replaced with salt and sea wafting up from the docks in the late evening air. Foul odors or no foul odors, Alaria was on a mission and she would see it fulfilled by day’s end.

    Alaria noticed the evening guardsman lighting the street lanterns with his taper on a long pole. “Can’t even use magic for the simple things... barbaric.” she thought. A flick of her finger and the lamp across the street from the guard flared to a golden glow, its wick set aflame. She did the same to the next two she passed. The confused guard just looked after her and muttered a questioning “uh, thanks” under his breath, though Alaria was already well passed. Less than a day and Alaria already found herself with limited patience for these people of the Freelands.

    She arrived shortly thereafter at the Street of Streets, as the apprentice at the guild tower who’d given her directions said she would, and turned right. She was still over a block from her destination when she noted the red sheathe above the door. The light and noise and scents coming from the building extended a few blocks. A cacophony of voices chatting, singing, music being played unmistakably pegged the place a lively tavern. When the small of roasting meats and baking breads met her nose, Alaria realized she’d barely eaten since arriving on the mainland. Her stomach grumbled a bit. Unperturbed, Alaria strode past the large bouncers at the great oaken doors and into the Ruby Scabbard.

    Her staff still in hand, Alaria noted the number of armed people in the crowd. Swords, axes, bows in quivers, yes, and staves were the regular adornment with the clientele it seemed. Several wore armor also. Helmets rested on tables. She recognized at least three insignias of various religious orders. She was also stricken with the array of races. It wasn’t that Alaria hadn’t seen elves or halflings or dwarves before. They were a common enough site in a grand trade metropolis like Ablidon. But to have such a mixture under a single roof was something she hadn’t experienced before. She even saw a group of gnomes off in one of the side booths. They seemed to be enjoying a song, weaving shoulder to shoulder so as to spill much from their flagons. Alaria guessed they’d been in that booth for some time. She smiled to herself, finding companions to aid her mission should be easy enough here. But first, thought Alaria, some food.

    After the crowd, the R'Hathi wizardess immediately noticed the inn's namesake. Mounted on the wall above the long bar has a great two-handed sword sheathed within a very large scabbard of crimson velvet entwined with thin straps of black leather. Down length of the scabbard, evenly spaced down the center, were encrusted five fist-sized rubies sparkled and gleamed in the flickering firelight of the inn.

    As Alaria made her way to the bar, no small task without being shoved and bumped by elbows and shoulders. Those who noticed her, stared and moved from her path so that she barely had to excuse herself at all. A large burly human in chain armor nearly jumped from his seat at the bar to let her have it.

    Braddok had noticed the young woman enter, as had several others. She was quite striking with deep large brown eyes and long dark hair in a purple robe that practically shown in the golden glow of the grand fireplace and candles in the cartwheel chandeliers. The staff and pouches hanging from her belt pointed to her being a mage, almost certainly.

    He had been trying to imbibe less than usual until he could talk to Bobrik about getting his chums some work. He’d been in the city for a week and hadn’t gotten a single lead on any treasure to be had. He was glad he had so he could use his full charm on this lovely newcomer. If he could wrangle a mage into his group, the jobs would be sure to flow in.

    “Here, my lady, sit here.” At his lead, several other patrons near Braddok did the same.
    “What brings such a vision as yourself to this den of debauchery?”

    Alaria cocked an eyebrow and smirked at this display.

    “Interestingly enough, would you believe I’m looking for you?” she said blankly to the fighter.

    Braddok couldn’t contain a laugh. “Surely, my lady, you tease a poor lonely man.” He reached his arm around the woman’s shoulder to which his hand received a swift tap with her staff. He quickly removed it.

    “Try that again and you’ll find yourself retracting a tentacle instead of an arm.” She said pointedly.

    Yup, thought Braddok. Definitely a mage.

    She took the seat offer by Braddok, sizing him up in a glance. The chain shirt was under a tabard of pale blue. He had deep blue eyes and close cropped dark brown hair. A longsword hung from his belt and triangular shield with a black swallowtail falcon upon it sat next to his barstool.

    “I am quite serious…if you can use that thing” she said pointing at his belt.

    Some of the surrounding patrons who were listening in on the exchange burst into uproarious laughter. Braddok went beet red.

    Alaria rolled her eyes. “Your sword? I mean your sword.” The magess looked desperately to the bartender for his attention. “I have had a very long day. I need too eat something and have a nice glass of elvish wine. While I do that, you can regale me with why I should hire you to escort me to the Laklands.” She looked down the bar impatiently at the admittedly very business lone bartender. “How does anyone get a drink in this place?”

    Braddok could barely contain his amazement. This woman, this very attractive woman, a mage, sitting in front of him offering him a job. “Bobrik!” Braddok shouted down the length of room to the bartender. “Get this lovely lady a goblet of your finest elfvine and a bowl of your signature beef stew.” Upon which he thought a second and leaned into Alaria. “Uh. Do you like beef stew?”

    Alaria contained a chuckle and simply replied, “Yes. Thank you. That’ll do nicely. Sirrrr…?”

    “Braddok, my lady. Braddok Kar Barforth. And it’s not ‘sir.’ I’m not a knight…not yet. But my father was.” Braddok wanted to throw himself into the fireplace. Why had he just told her that? Acting the knight was what all the women swoon for. Stupid! “But I will be. Soon.”

    Bobrik came over with a mug of ale, a bowl of stew and a hunk of dark grained bread. Alaria took a demure spoonful and was pleasantly surprised at the rich flavor. After a sip of her wine she was equally pleased. She slowly felt the unexpected tension of the past few hours and the long day of travel melt away. The air of comradery and casual warmth was something Alaria had not experienced in quite this way at home. She found it...enjoyable.

    “Well, Braddok-Kar-Barforth-not-a-knight-yet. I am Alaria Staver of Ablidon. I am on an errand for my master to the Laklands and I require an escort who knows these lands and can handle their perils.”

    “Braddok and company are at your disposal, Alaria Staver of Ablidon.” The warrior grinned.

    He let the magess take her meal in relative peace. She took slight breaks to ask a question or two. Specifically, who was “and company”? The two passed some time in conversation, mostly regarding business. When Alaria had finished her meal and was ordering her second glass of the delicious elfvine, Braddok called over one of his fellows.

    Introductions were made to Haelan Spurthistle.

    Haelan was a halfling with bright hazel eyes, straw blond hair neatly trimmed at his shoulder and an enormous smile. He was dressed in a mail shirt covered with pine green tabard emblazoned with a golden pinecone, pale buckskin breeches that came to mid-calf in the hairfooted style and a hemispherical helmet that appeared just a bit too large for his head. A sturdy looking mace hung at his side (nearly the entire length of his legs) with a head that was shaped to appear like a very large pinecone.

    With a broad toothy smile, Haelan took over his introduction, “Haelan Spurthistle at your service, Miss Staver. It’s such a pleasure to meet a real sorceress from the mage-lands. You know, I don’t think I ever have before.” Haelan stopped a moment, tilting his head to think. “Nope. You’re a first.” He said excitedly.

    “Well, uh, thank you, Master Spurthistle.” Alaria attempted to be polite. She took a long draw from her goblet.

    “Brother, actually.” Haelan interjected his smile unwavering. “Brother Spurthistle of the Hilltenders of Faerantha, but you can just call me Haely. All my friends do back home.”

    “I see. Well, Haelan, I cannot say I’ve ever met a Hilltender of Faerantha before, myself.” Alaria replied. It was easier to maintain civility in the face of such unerring sweet friendliness with a little more elfvine. She took another sip.

    “So I’m a first for you too!” Haelan exclaimed, beaming. “I can just tell that Faerantha’s blessing in going to be on this partnership. We’re going to become great friends.”

    “Indeed.” grinned Braddok in a lascivious way.

    “Tentacle.” said Alaria simply. Braddok’s leer quickly faded.

    Shortly after, Braddok sent Haelan to retrieve another of Braddok’s company. A few moments later the halfling came bounding down the stairs to the commons. An elf followed behind him moving with fluid grace. He had a tightly toned and lean frame, sharply handsome features and thick grey hair that passed his shoulders and seemed to shimmer in the firelight like liquid silver. As the elf approached, Alaria could see his almond-shaped eyes were a blazing violet, making her robe seem dull in comparison. The elf wore a pair of tight pale grey stockings with a leather jacket of grayish-green trimmed in silver over a black undershirt and the soft brushed buckskin boots of his kind also dyed the grey-green. His grey hair was bound in an intricately carved circlet of silver that also caught the light of the chandeliers and candles and added even more of a sheen to his countenance.

    The elf strode up to the bar, easily weaving his way through the noisy crowd without disturbing a soul.

    “Alaria Staver of Ablidon, this is-“ Braddok began.

    “Erevan Ryvsorai Aiiri of Miralosta.” The elf injected. He bowed slightly to Alaria, took her hand and gently kissed it. Alaria blushed in spite of herself. “Haelan tells me you’re our new friend.” The elf said as he looked deep into the wizardess’ eyes.

    “Easy there, buddy.” Braddok interjected before Alaria could reply. “This is a professional arrangement.” Alaria snapped out of the depths of the elf’s eyes. She shot Barddok a dark look.

    “Of course.” Erevan said, betraying no emotion. Turning to Alaria, he continued, “Eles ost ni araylla haali a tiirai la horia.” <elvish tanslation: “It is nice to see someone regal and civilized among these people.”>

    Alaria gave the elf a civilized nod and replied with almost perfect accent, “Eles em ni aya, eres’kai Aiiri ef’hal.” < elvish: “It is my pleasure, Elflord of House Hunter.”>

    Erevan smiled a close-lipped smile. “Your Elvish is very good. They teach you well in R’Hath.”

    Braddok, looking to put an end to the conversation now interrupted Erevan, “Erevan here is our tracker. Very good eyes and very good with his bow. He does a little bit of magic too…” Braddok’s line of thought trailed off. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

    This, of course, set the two on a lengthy discussion of the use and working of magic and spells. Braddok ordered another ale and continued to mentally chastise himself.

    As the crowd thinned, the four new associates claimed one of the round tables near the huge fireplace and continued to get acquainted. Alaria was careful to be vague about her task, only saying that she had an errand for her master in Welford and needed escorts. When pressed by the innocent inquiries of Haelan, Alaria did allow that she had to deliver a package to her mentor’s associate. But that was all.

    Another hour passed. Many of the local patrons had returned to their homes. Many of the Ruby Scabbard’s guests had retreated to their rooms. The commons still held a few die-hard drinkers and a booth and table or two. Finally Erevan, who had been silent through much of the friendly banter, rose from his seat and stretched. “Well, Mistress Staver, I will take my leave of you this night. I trust we are done here and will all see you tomorrow?” The elf again bent a small bow and took Alaria’s hand for a kiss.

    The magess rose from her seat. At this Braddok also stood. “Yes. Erevan is right. It gets late and we will have a long journey tomorrow. I should return to the guild tower for my rest as well. I will see you all mid-morning at the tower of the Alkari Fellowship.”

    “I shall accompany you. You are new to the city and at this time, some streets may not be safe.” Alaria looked at the warrior disapprovingly. “Even for an accomplished wizard, such as yourself.” Braddok deftly finished.

    Alaria consented to Braddok’s escort, saying it would be the final sealing of their arrangement.

    “I’ll come too.” Piped up Haelan. Braddok turned and gave the Halfling cleric a scowl. Not taking no for an answer, the hairfoot continued, “If you walk her home, then who’s going to walk you back here? Hmm?”

    “Til tomorrow then.”said Erevan. As the elf began to take his leave he stopped as he passed the large double doors. His head tilted ever so slightly and he rushed through the rest of the room and up the stairs. Braddok, Alaria and Haelan did not notice and continued out onto the street.
    Last edited by steeldragons; Thursday, 23rd September, 2010 at 03:25 PM.

  3. #3
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    Finally a fight!

    Once outside, the first thing Alaria noted was the bouncers both slumped next to the doorway. She rolled here eyes at the thought of them sleeping on the job. Then she heard the sounds.


    A short distance from the door, a group of five or six dark-clad figures stood just at the edge of the light from a street lamp. They beat, kicked, taunted and berated something in their midst.

    Alaria was appalled. They could overhear some of what was being said. “This is what you get.” “Yeh, he weren’t too happy to hear yer after his place.” “You ain’t never gonna be as good as Giles.”

    Haelan immediately proclaimed. “Hey, you there! Stop that. What are you doing?”

    The group of dark-clad men, started and turned to face the three. Alaria could now notice a small balled-up figure among them. With the break in the beating, the assaulted figure looked up and Alaria saw what appeared to be a battered bloody bearded face.

    Seeing that it wasn’t actual members of the city guard, one of the group took a step toward them and said, “This is guild business. Not your concern. Keep movin’ if you don’t want some of the same.” For emphasis, the man smacked his club in his gloved hand.

    At this Braddok, who really had an impressively large and well muscled physique, drew his sword. Haelan took a step in front of the wizardess and hefted his mace with the pinecone-shaped business end.

    Alaria, not expecting or wanting there to be actual violence gave the one who spoke a dark glare and said, “You have made it our business by conducting it in the middle of the street! Now desist and leave that poor creature alone.”

    More members of the group turned from the beaten dwarf to look at the would-be heroes. The “leader”, a ruffian of the first order named Goos, scoffed, “A half-pint, a lady an’ a sword ain’t gonna scare off the Dusk.” A few of the other men chuckled at this.

    Braddok wasn’t sure what to do but maintained his threatening posture. He didn’t want to start trouble with the Hawkview thieves’ guild. Of course, he was leaving the next day for a while so… "Alaria, I think we should…” Braddok couldn’t finish the thought.

    “Well, this ‘lady’ has a guild of her own and I trust you don’t want to toil with me and mine.” Alaria said with all the bravado she could muster. Then grabbing a handful of fine pink sand from one of the pouches at her waist she threw it in the direction of the group and shouted “Contro es amberall buul.” <spell: Sleep>

    Bollux, thought Braddok.

    A wind swept up around the R’Hathi wizardess as she spoke, blowing her hair and rustling her robe. With the end of the exclamation, two of the gang’s number dropped where they stood. They were breathing evenly but unconscious...asleep.

    The others, looked at their comrades in disbelief. The one closest to the leader panicked, “Goos! She’s one o’ them wizards, Goos!”

    Goos, was a fairly intelligent thief and not as easily shaken as his fellows. Goos thought quickly. He, in fact, did not want to start trouble with the mages’ guild. But figured he was in the right, since they started it and were interfering in his guild business. Besides, she might not be a guild wizard at all. He thinks she’s bluffing. “Man up, Sticks. There’s still only three of ‘em.” Goos whistled a loud but short pitch.

    From the alley across from the Ruby Scabbard, two more figures who’d been shrouded in the late night darkness emerged. Braddok turned to face these men and noted from the corner of his eye that another two had emerged at the end of the block and were moving silently up along the edge of the street behind them.

    Goos smiled and shrugged at the trio, “Had yer chance. Get ‘em!”

    Goos and the other three thugs charged the fighter, halfling and magess. The trio formed up in a defensive position. Braddok wasn’t about to let anything happen to his potential meal ticket.

    Haelan, in front of Alaria, took a nasty clobber to his shoulder and neck, but stayed on his feet. He deflected another blow with his round wooden shield. “See,” he mentioned casually to Alaria, “Braddok was right. Not safe.”

    Goos took a swing at the large warrior with his club but Braddok evaded it. The fighter could not evade, however the follow up swing from the other thief with Goos, the one that had been called “Sticks”. His attack caught the warrior on his thigh. Fortunately, the lanky unkempt youth didn’t possess the strength to deal any serious damage, but Braddok knew there’d be a nasty bruise there tomorrow.

    Alaria noticed the two thieves from the alley had blades drawn and were closing to fight alongside Goos. Looking at the two coming up on their rear, one had a club and one a long sword. She steadied her mind, utilizing her training to fight through the haze of the elf wine to recall another spell. She looked back at the door to the inn, surely someone would be noticing the commotion. Why weren’t the bouncers helping? The realization came to the wizardess that they must have been somehow incapacitated by the thieves. But why here?

    Braddok returned Goos’ hard swing with one of his own but the thief easily dodged. He pivoted to face the approaching thieves from the alley. Braddok wondered how he would take on all four.

    At that thought one of the alley thieves stopped dead in his tracks with a lurch and gurgle, an arrow sticking from the center of his chest. He dropped but his partner continued to advance. Braddok and Goos both swung around to see Erevan on the Ruby Scabbard’s roof. The elf gave the fighter a smirk and a wink as he nocked another arrow into his bow and turned to aim at the figures moving up the block.

    Goos pointed and Sticks took off for the inn’s wall.

    Haelan swung with a righteous might at of his attackers and connected with a knee-shattering crash with his mace. The thief cried out and fell to the ground. “Bad thief! Stay down. Evil doesn’t pay.” Haelan chastised.

    Alaria took a hard swing over Haelan’s head with her iron and silver shod staff and succeeded in land a glancing blow against their second assailant. The rough looking thief in dark grey leathers simply sneered at her.

    Goos drew a nasty looking dagger with a curved blade from the folds of his dark cloak and lunged at Braddok. The big warrior twisted to avoid a blade in the ribs but was caught across the large meaty bicep of his swordarm. The second thief from the alley also lunged with his dagger but was parried by the fighter’s sword.

    The rough looking thief jabbed Alaria in the stomach with the blunt end of his club. The wind was knocked from her body and pain shot up through her body. She staggered back doubling over trying to put distance between her and the rogue.

    The halfing answered with a swing that would have smashed the man’s face clear off, had he been able to reach it and had he actually landed his hit.

    Alaria, gathering her resources and summoning her power, gulped to refill her lungs with air and forced herself to stand erect despite the pain still rippling through her innards. She held a hand up, palm to the rogue with fingers outstretched, her face like a stormcloud. The palpable tingle began to stir about her as she felt the magic energy rise.

    The thief hesitated then lunged to disrupt her casting but before he could raise his club, Alaria spoke a single syllable that to the thief seemed to boom through his head like an explosion.

    Yex.” (spell: Daze)

    A bright white light flared from Alaria’s hand and dissipated almost immediately. The thief called out, reeled and staggered around, hands gripping the sides of his head. Alaria smiled, inwardly satisfied with what she was considering her newfound combat prowess.

    Braddok swung again at Goos, who again evaded the blow. “Damn nimble, orcass.” The fighter thought. He heard a man cry out behind him followed by a cry of pain to his left. A quick glance showed one of the thieves, had an arrow sticking from his leg. But the thief kept his feet and would be upon Alaria in a moment.

    “Alaria, behind you!” was all the fighter could do while parrying another duet of slashing daggers.

    The wizardess barely had time to whirl around to see one of the “down the block” thieves was, actually, right behind her and ready to pummel her with his club when she heard a whizzing sound, very near her ear. As if by magic, the man shuddered and appeared to have a short end of an arrow sticking from his eye socket. Blood spurting from his eye and out of his mouth pelted Alaria’s gown as the man made a small sound, like “urk”, and fell stiffly to the ground dead.

    Alaria suppressed her nausea at the sight of the blood splattering dead man and whirled back around to see the dwarf limping in their direction. His face was badly bruised, one eye almost swollen shut. A cut on his forehead still bled. He was clutching himself across the ribs with one arm and lowering his other which gripped a spent handheld crossbow.

    Goos took an assessment of his people. Two dead, two wounded, one seemed to be hexed by the witch but looked unharmed otherwise, one unharmed, Sticks presumably dealing with the elf, and himself. Plus the two who were caught in the initial sleep spell who should be waking any minute. Then he saw the blood pooling beneath one of them. The other seemed to be bound in rope and was groggily shaking his head. The dwarf was up and coming at him with a ferocious look on his face. Goos made the call.

    “That’s enough boys. They want the traitor so bad, they can have him.” He leapt back from Braddok’s final swing.

    Almost immediately the able-bodied thieves retreated into the nearest shadows they could find and disappeared. The one who had been dazed was just coming too his senses and saw Goos heading up the street. He gave Alaria a snarling scowl and took off after him. Even the one with the broken knee had somehow slinked into the shadows and was gone.

    The dwarf and Goos locked each other in a death-filled glare as the gang leader jogged passed him. From up the block he called back, “We find you in the city tomorrow an’ Giles’ll have you’re meat. Gottit, ‘Stumpy’? You an’ yer friends, better watch yerselves.” An arrow clattered harmlessly against the stone road near him. Goos just smiled then ducked around the corner, into the night.

    Alaria, out of spells, was truthfully thankful for an end to the fight. She followed Haelan who immediately raced for the dwarf. Braddok, sheathed his sword and joined them, looking somewhat the worse for ware. “So, mid-morning tomorrow, then?” he managed to grin.

    As Haelan led the battered dwarf into the inn they checked the bouncers. They were alive, breathing, seemed ok but unconscious. “Drugged.” says the dwarf. “They’ll be alright inna hour or so. It’s somethin’ the Dusk uses all th’ time.”

    The party members make their guesses how the dwarf would know that.

    Bobrik is not happy to see injured persons coming into his place of business, especially so close to closing time. “What happened?!?” the innkeeper exclaimed.

    While Braddock explains the past few minutes, Haelan makes introductions and asks the dwarf, whose name is Duor, if he would permit the halfling to heal him.

    “Knock yourself out.” says Duor.

    Haelan calls upon Faerantha’s merciful blessing and with the soothing warm golden light flowing from his hands. After his healing spell is cast a second time, Duor is left with little more than a fat lip and slight bruise near his left eye.

    Alaria tells Duor about their mission and plan to leave the city the following day. In exchange for his very nearly saving her life (or at least her health), she proposes to hire Duor for her escort. She also pays for a room at the inn for the dwarf to stay the night. This sounds ideal to Duor who is obviously touched by the offer. He readily accepts Alaria's proposal.

    Erevan comes down the stairs with the same flowing casual grace which he had the first time Alaria saw him. He found a seat near to where the group had clustered and put his feet up on the closest table. “So, Alaria Staver of Ablidon, how are you finding Hawkview?”

    Alaria looked at the elf, whose demeanor was more of someone to have just woken from a refreshing nap, in disbelief.

    “I think Haelan’s right. Life with you will be interesting.” The elf stated matter-of-factly.


    Shortly thereafter, the city guard barges in to demand to know about the disturbance that was reported and why there are dead bodies and a bound man out in the street.


    Braddok and Alaria recount the events for the sergeant who takes down everything, furrowing his brow at the mention of the Dusk. On Bobrik’s word to their upstanding character, the guards leave the group alone. Problems with the Dusk are usually bad news, the sergeant remarks. They take statements from Duor and everyone involved in the fight, gather up the bodies (to which Erevan directs them to the roof for “one more”) and are on their way. The sergeant arranges for a couple of his men to escort Alaria back to the guild tower.

    She thanks Bobrik for his help and hospitality and takes her leave of the Ruby Scabbard.

    “Gods willing,” she says to her newfound company, “we will be leaving Hawkview behind before noon. Good night, gentlefolk.”

    The males all nod a good night. “Sweet dreams!” Haelan adds sincerely with an energetic wave. They don't stay up much passed Alaria's exit.

    As Braddok retires, he notices the dwarf staring absently at the bar. He says his good nights, adding a curt "welcome to the company" to Duor and heads up to his room.
    Last edited by steeldragons; Thursday, 23rd September, 2010 at 06:47 PM.

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    The following morning, Alaria rose early and set one of the tower’s servants to procuring supplies for five people for a week’s trek. According to Broddick, there would be a fishing village about a week north where he is sure they could resupply.

    The servant looks at Alaria confused. “Mistress, the Magister had me collect travel gear for you for three weeks and two people yesterday.”

    “Did he? Splendid!” says Alaria. “Then just get supplies for three more then. One week each.” She figured the dwarf and the halfling could be counted as one person. She gave the servant boy 10 gold pieces. The boy’s eyes bulged at the sight of so much currency. “Be careful with it and don’t waste it. If you do well, I’ll let you keep some.”

    “Yes, Mistress. Of course, Mistress. I’ll do just like I did for Magister Kurklani.”

    Alaria washed and readied herself looking forward to putting the ugliness of last night’s altercation behind her. She dressed in her “traveling robe”, which was the same cut and style as her robe from the night before except it was dark golden color of thin woven wool instead of purple velvet. She ran the ivory comb, a parting gift from her mother, through her long dark brown hair. Her ears were adorned with dangling pendant earrings with small spheres of tiger’s eye set in the bottom. She donned her thigh-high boots and pulled up a pair of leather riding gloves that extended to the middle of her upper arm. They were dyed to match her boots. Thoroughly satisfied with her appearance, Alaria was ready to take on the day.

    She was summoned to Magister Kurklani’s office and was shocked to find him in conference with a heavily armored man. He had long blond hair and green eyes. He was broadly muscled, though not as tall as Broddik, hardly taller than herself. The chain mail, shoulder plates and shin guards of his armor were polished to a gleam. The man turned as Alaria entered. His handsome face was clean shaven and blemish free. He did not smile nor frown nor betray an emotion of any kind. She also noted the immaculate crimson tabard lined in gold that flowed almost to his feet. The tabard was belted, the buckle of which also sporting a polished shine, and had the insignia of the Redstar Knights, a gold triangular shield emblazoned with a nine-pointed red star and flanked by to golden spears pointing upwards.

    “Ah, good. Here you are. Alaria Staver of Ablidon may I present, Goldshield Coerraine of the Redstar Knights, your escort.” Kurklani said.

    Alaria was slightly flabbergasted. “I, uh, thank you, magister. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Sir Goldshield. I, uh, I am honored to have one of Celradorn’s chosen guardians in my entourage.”

    “Entourage?” questioned Kurklani.

    Stricken with the lovliness of his charge, the Redstar Knight ignored the magister. “The pleasure is mine, Mistress Staver. I am honored to serve the Golden Defender and be called to your aid.” He bowed deeply.

    Alaria returned the bow. “Thank you Sir Goldshield. I look forward to getting under way as soon as possible.”

    “I am ready to go now. Your kind magister has seen to our supply needs. We may leave at your command.” The knight cracked a small smile, “And you may call me, Coerraine. Goldshield is my title and rank, you needn’t call me ‘sir’. I am a Redstar Knight of my lord and god, Celradorn, not a knight of any mortal realm.

    “I see. My apologies, I meant no disrespect.”

    “Not at all, Mistress.” said Coerraine.

    “And you may call me, Alaria. I am no man’s ‘mistress’…yet.” Alaria smirked a naughty grin that she was hoping would make the young knight blush. She was not disappointed.

    “Ehem.” interjected Kurklani. “Perhaps now, Alaria, you would be so kind as to explain this ‘entourage.’”

    Alaria then went in to account the events of the night before. Kurklani was appalled and Coerraine seemed incensed at the idea of someone attacking a fine young lady, not to mention a cleric of the kindly folk of Faerantha. When she was done, Kurklani spoke.

    “I see. Goldshield Coerraine would you be so kind as to excuse us. There are, I believe some fruits in the common area if you would care to wait there.” He said. He removed his spectacles and wiped the lenses with a bright blue silken scarf that had flown out of one of his billowing robe sleeves.

    “Certainly, Magister.” The knight bowed at them both and closed the door behind him.

    Having finished with his lenses, the silk scarf flew back into his sleeve. “Well, Alaria. I admire your determination to accomplish your mission and your initiative. I suspected you would find yourself a swordsman to travel with you, not four adventurers. So, I called in a favor with my friend Highshield Woton at the Temple of Celradorn and he sent Coerraine. Woton assures me that he is good with his weapons and as devout as any Redstar he’s seen in his thirty years with the temple. I also took the liberty, since you seemed to be in a rush, of acquiring you a horse for yourself, pack mule, tent, food and supplies for a three week journey. Naturally, the guild expects the use of the horse and mule back when you return. The guild is not prepared to shell out equipment for four more people!”

    “It is done, Magister.” Alaria said as innocently as she could. “No cost to the guild at all. It is all taken care of. These men are experienced travelers and adventurers. They know how whata they’re doing.”

    Alaria cringed slightly when she heard Haelan’s voice echoing through the outer hall of the tower. “Alaaariaaaa. We’re heeeere. Alaaaaaariaaaaaa.”

    “Your ‘entourage’?” quipped the magister.

    Alaria could only smile.

    A short time later after the servant boy returned with more gear (and got to keep a whole gold and five silver pieces for his trouble), many introductions and a brief goodbye and well-wishing, the company was on the move.

    Alaria rode astride the light grey dappled riding horse, ironically named “Lady” with her personal equipment in her saddlebags. This left Broddik, Duor, Halen, Erevan and Coerraine on foot.

    The gear was carried by the men in backpacks or piled onto the poor mule who didn’t have a name. This, Haelan decided, must make the mule very sad. So after some consideration and many vetoes from his companions Haelan dubbed the mule “Lillypants.” When this brought gales of laughter, Haelan insisted. “It’s a good honest daelvar name of a good hardworking daelvar family back home.” Erevan decided, if Haelan named him, then Haelan could lead Lillypants while he went on ahead.

    The group left by the northgate and followed the winding dirt road through the low hills and fields that surrounding Hawkview on three sides. Though not always visible, the occasional breeze smelling of sea air or lone gull reminded the party the ocean was only a hill or two away.

    Conversation was light and included mostly talk of family and where they were from and what those lands were like.

    Haelan, of course was the most forthcoming, being from the Free Hollows, a few days journey west from Hawkview. He’d visited the city several times in his years as an acolyte. But he had arrived in Hawkview only three days prior to Alaria. It was his first time since taking his vows as a fully initiated Hilltender that he had gone in search of adventure.

    This surprised Alaria. “I presumed you and Braddok were old friends.”

    “Nah.” Haelan responded between chewing large bites of an apple that he was sharing with Lillypants. “We met the first night I was in town, at the Ruby Scabbard.” Haelan did not notice the look of shock on the R’Hathi mage’s face.

    “And Erevan?” Alaria asked.

    “Same.” Haelan replied out of hand. “I introduced them, ya know?” the halfling munched away.

    “No…I didn’t.” answered Alaria as her shock turned to horror as the realization sank in. This ‘company’ of accomplished adventurers whom she had hired to escort her and protect her life was actually all of two days old! Her face darkened and she began thinking of ways to repay Braddok.

    Coerraine, it turned out, was originally from the southern kingdom of Mostrial. This Haelan found fascinating and bothered the young knight with endless questions based on the myths and rumors he knew of the southern realm. It seemed the aspiring devotee of Celradorn began his training in Talas Isthian, traveled with a retinue of a knight higher up in the Redstar hierarchy through most of the Freelands to Andril. En route they fell prey to a large band of bugbears. In that battle Coerraine earned his place as a true Redknight and upon their arrival to Andril was given his tabard and shield. From there, the new young paladin was sent to report to the temple in Hawkview under Highshield Woton. He’d been stationed there for about three months on the usual rotation for temple guard duty. He was thoroughly pleased to be getting out of the temple and city on a “real” assignment.

    Braddok’s inquiries to Duor regarding his involvement with the Dusk and what they’d witnessed were met with taciturn responses. When Braddock asked who Giles was he received a bit more explanation.

    “Gile’s is the head for the Dusk for that section of the city. He heard me sayin’ some things about being able to do his job. He took that to mean I wanted it n’ sent his goons after me.” Duor said.

    “So you are a member of the Dusk?” Braddok said still not sure of the whole thing…or whether he could believe anything coming out of the dwarf’s mouth for that matter.

    “No no! But won’t lie, I would have been. Last night was supposed to be my initiation. But then Giles decided he didn’t want me in, apparently.” Duor seemed lost in thought for a moment. He continued. “Which is fine by me! He can have his orcass stinkin’ city. I’m lucky you all came along. Show’d me the way, so to speak. Coupla world traveler adventure types like us, we’ll find enough treasure to live like kings n’ if I ever go back to Hawkview, I’ll just buy Giles’ gang right out from under him and make him kiss my bearded dwarven arse.” The dwarf nudged Braddok in the ribs.

    Braddok shuddered at that last image. As much as the fighter liked the thought of finding treasure he felt the need to point out that they were currently acting as well-armed couriers.

    “Bah. Details.” grumbled Duor. “Gotta start somewhere, eh?”

    By the time they stopped for the night, the party had cleared the farmlands that comprised Hawkview’s immediate vicinity. It was a warm evening in late summer and the group enjoyed a meal of dried meat, cheese and the hearty dark bread common to the region. After establishing a watch (which did not include Alaria) they hunkered down for the night. All of them except Coerraine were still spent from their late night run in at he Ruby Scabbard.

    The days and nights began to pass by. The dirt road dwindled down to little more than a path through the fields and wilderness. Erevan took various amounts of time each day scouting far enough ahead that he was often lost to the sight of the party. One afternoon, the path rose up a large hill and wound to the edge of a sharp cliff that look out over the Whitegull Bay. Alaria thought she could make out the shoreline of R’Hath along the other side. She pointed it out to Haelan, who had proven endlessly fascinated with Aralia’s magic-rich homeland. The halfling was disappointed he couldn’t see it. After three days of cleared skies they endured an afternoon and evening of thunderstorm. By the fifth day, the sun was again clear and bright in the late summer sky.

    On the sixth day, the party neared the village Braddok had said they could resupply. But before they reached it, there was a bit of a problem.

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    Mid-morning on the group’s sixth day, they found and began to follow a path that obviously received some regular use. Erevan, as usual, had sprinted ahead to scout. The group assumed what had become their standard marching order. Braddok in the lead, followed by Coerraine who kept himself ahead of the mounted Alaria, Haelan leading the mule, Lillypants brought up the rear with Duor generally floating among them. The dwarf sometimes went unnoticed altogether for a time but as soon as someone mentioned his whereabouts, he would pop up from the rear or some nearby brush.

    Braddok surmised the fishing village he had been told about should be reached by midday. Alaria was irritated to hear that the warrior had not actually been to this village before, himself. She needed to stop taking things the charismatic fighter said as fact. Her ire mellowed when he explained it was Bobrik, the innkeeper of the Ruby Scabbard, who had told him about it. At least she believed she could trust him, Alaria thought.

    A sharp warbling whistle sounded through the air and Braddok, at the lead, raised his arm to halt the party. Alaria was snapped from her thoughts at the sound of Erevan’s signal. She found herself with an odd shiver of worry at what might be before them.

    A moment later, Erevan came racing from the path ahead.

    “Goblins.” The elf stated simply in a hushed tone. “Lots of them.”

    “Define ‘lots’, please.” Offered Duor.

    “Seems like a war party. Two score at least. All armed. Some mounted on zarx. Carts of supplies. Banners and shields seem to be flying something that looks like a bloody talon. Probably a tribe called the ‘Red Claw’ or some such.”

    “Bollux.” said Braddok. After a week’s time on the road, the warrior was spoiling for a fight but he had no intention of ending up with his head on a goblin pike.

    “Look like any treasure?” Duor again inquired. This gleaned him a few disapproving looks, Alaria included. “Whuh? Spoils of war? So we know if they are on their way to a battle and not coming from one.” Duor explained.

    This allayed the disapproving looks and Alaria conceded that the question made sense. Erevan confirmed that he could not say for sure but did not believe so. The carts he saw seemed piled up with supplies, not swag.

    “Milady,” injected Coerraine, “is it not our duty to waylay these villains to their undoubtedly sinister purpose?”

    “We should stop them.” chimed in Haelan. For which he received a glare of disapproval from Braddok. “But, my good Goldshield, we are a company of six. A handsome and feisty six, if I do say so. But six, nonetheless. What can we do to a whole army?”

    “Our duty, Master Hairfoot, does not allow for such questions. Our faith and honor will feed our cause and fuel our strength to see justice done for the good of the realms.” The paladin retorted, half responding to Haelan and half arguing his position to Alaria who ultimately had the final call, the Redstar knight realized.

    “Our duty, Goldshield Coerraine, is to see my errand to Welford fulfilled which will be mightily difficult to complete if we are dead.” Alaria said with a chill in her tone. “And your specific duty, at the moment, is to see that I arrive to Welford alive.” Seeing the golden haired paladin’s obvious disappointment, she continued more gently “I agree, Coerraine. Please understand that. I would see this evil stopped, but we have other business to complete. Also, Haelan is correct.” The halfling perked up at this mention. “We are no match for such a large force.”

    “There are…subtle ways, Alaria, to harry a superior force.” Duor offered. The wizardess shot the dwarf a scowl.

    Alaria ignored the dwarf’s suggestion. “Erevan, how far ahead are they? Do you think we can avoid them long enough to make it to our destination? We can alert the authorities and they can, perhaps, handle the vermin. At least they will be on alert should they be a potential target.”

    Erevan nodded. “They are a fair bit ahead of us, but do move more slowly. They seemed to be tracking off to the northwest. If we move a bit east I don’t think we should have any problem.”

    “Very well.” Alaria said flatly. “Erevan and Duor, you may continue to track the goblins another mile or so and then head east and find us at the village. The rest of us will continue there directly.” and shied Lady off the path they’d only followed a short way. “And Duor, no ‘subtle ways.’ I don’t want any attention drawn in our direction.” With that, Alaria began heading northeast.

    Braddok turned and gave Erevan a shrug as he trudged off after the horse and mule. The elf looked at the dwarf. The dwarf looked at the elf.

    Duor broke the slightly uncomfortable silence. “Well, let’s go to it, point-ear.” He stepped aside and bowed slightly with an exaggerated flourish. “Lead on.”

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    the ambush

    The group had been separated for about a half an hour. Braddok was on point. He led Coerraine, Alaria atop Lady and Haelan leading the over-encumbered pack mule, Lillypants. Erevan and Duor had been sent to reconnoiter the large goblin warband which (thank the gods, thought Alaria) was moving away from their location.

    Alaria breathed in fresh salty sea air that blew her hair, even lifting Lady’s mane slightly. They had found a small tributary heading east that obviously was flowing straight to the ocean. From there, they surmised, it would be a simple thing to follow the coast north to their hoped for destination (a fishing village where they intend to resupply for the remaining journey into the Lakelans.) The sun was quickly approaching its zenith. She was about to ask Braddok how much further he believed they had to travel when everything turned to a blur.

    Two goblins leapt out from some underbrush shaking spears and hooping and shrieking in their savage tongue. They were behind Braddok and Coerraine, immediately in front of Alaria’s mount. The generally calm mare reared high in shock and surprise, flaring nostrils and flailing hooves. Alaria, equally surprised, was unable to maintain the reigns and tumbled (ass-over-backwards) from the rearing horse hitting the ground hard.

    Coerraine turned at the commotion in time to receive an arrow in his shoulder blade from another assailant. Turning again, he noted an archer atop a hillock a few yards ahead. A second bowman was also reaching for an arrow to reload. Coerraine noticed an arrow embedded in the ground near Braddok.

    “Ambush!” announced Braddok, his blade singing from its sheathe.

    “Archers there.” shouted Coerraine as he pointed with his spear (and quickly winced at the pain shooting through his shoulder). The spear’s polished steel and crimson eight-pointed star of Celradorn at the base of the blade shown brilliantly in the almost-midday sun.

    Braddok began to move forward. His large muscled legs quickly removed the distance between himself and the bowmen. Before he could reach the hill, however, a large goblin with a chipped hand axe, wooden shield and decidedly nervous look on its face burst from a bush into his path.

    Unable to engage the ranged attackers, not to mention concern for his charge, Coerraine intercepted one of the spear-wielding goblins behind him. “Haelan, get to Alaria!” the young Redstar Knight commanded.

    The other goblin who had spooked Lady deftly avoided the horse’s hooves and circled around to where Alaria lay on the ground. It smacked Lady’s hindquarters with its shoddy wooden plank shield.

    The horse gave another shrieking neigh and took off down the path ahead of the party. A few barking goblin shouts later (sounding distinctly of disapproval) and another unseen assailant broke from the undergrowth to chase the fleeing horse.

    Haelan dropped the mule’s reigns and rushed forward to protect the fallen mage, their fallen employer. As he did so, he narrowly avoided a swing from a wicked looking axe as another goblin burst from the bushes along the stream very near him.

    Not taking a moment to size up his opponent, Haelan continued to where the young wizardess lay on the ground. “Are you hurt?” the halfling said. His voice was full of sincere concern.

    “No, I’m alright. Just shaken.” Alaria responded. Rubbing her head with her hand as she shakily began to stand.

    Haelan turned to stand between Alaria, the goblin with the spear and, now, another with an axe. After a brief glare of fury at the two enemies, he closed his eyes. The anger and scowl melted from his face and a look a complete tranquility caressed the rounded halfling features. Setting the pinecone-shaped head of his mace on the ground, both hands calmly resting upon the butt of the weapon, a quiet prayer began to hum from his lips.

    Deisa Faerantha, ep localis sanctum a spiritaii.” <spell: Sanctuary. Clerical magic in Orea is cast in the language of Old Selurian: “Holy Faerantha, let this place be a sanctuary to your devoted follower.”>

    At the completion of his entreaty, a momentary circle appeared on the ground surrounding the priest and wizardess in a band of silvery white light. It flared into view and was gone in an instant.

    Taking the advantage to the halfling’s lowered weapon, both goblins rush to the attack only to be halted with a sudden shock of silvery light.

    “Nice spell.” Alaria conceded. The beaming almost ever-present smile of Haelan Spurthistle, Hilltender of Faerantha, returned to the halfling cleric’s face.

    The goblins gave each other a confused look. The one took another swing with his axe, the weapon halted in mid-swing with silvery sparks accompanied by the sound as if scraping across metal. With a shrug, the two moved away to go engage the warrior and paladin.

    Coerraine had easily dispatched the goblin with a spear. He thought he caught a glimpse of silvery light out of the corner of his eye and turned to see the other spear-wielder and another goblin with an axe moving from where the halfling and Rhathi mage stood.

    Braddok traded blows with the large axe-wielding goblin who had blocked his charge to the archers. The grayish-green creature looked much less nervous since getting in a solid strike against the much larger warrior. It ran its tongue across the mouthful of sharply jagged teeth. Braddok, ignoring the pain in his side where the axe had bitten him, swung again at the goblin. The confident creature realized it should have kept up his guard as Braddok’s long sword deftly swung around the wood planks of its shield and sunk deep into its torso. The thick goblin blood, so dark as to appear almost black, poured from the wound and the axe and goblin dropped to the ground.

    Alaria went to move to aid her companions but Haelan stopped her. He explained that his protective field was stationary. If either of them moved beyond it or attacked from within, the divine blessing would cease.

    “But they’re taking our supplies.” Alaria remarked with despair. She pointed back at the pack mule who was in a tugging match with another goblin who had grabbed its reigns and was trying to drag the reluctant mule back into the underbrush. The now struggling and cursing goblin had gotten her a few steps away from the melee but entering the undergrowth was proving a bit more difficult.

    “Lillypants!” Haelan cried in horror. The halfling hefted his mace with the pinecone-shaped head and dashed towards the mule. A momentary flash of silvery white light caught the attention of the priest and wizardess. Haelan stopped in his tracks, turned sheepishly to Alaria and muttered, “Oops.”

    Alaria simply rolled her eyes and turned back to the fighters. “Help your girlfriend.” She said casually. “I’m going to see about ending this.” Haelan resumed his charge at Lillypants’ attempted kidnapper.

    Coerraine ran threw the other spearman and caught a solid blow on his shield (also emblazoned with the red eight-pointed star of the god of battle and guardians) from the axe-wielding goblin. Whirling his spear over his head, the young paladin invoked Celradorn to smite this evil foe before him.



    With all of his might, the budding Redstar Knight brought the spear down, shattered the edge of the goblin’s wood shield and effectively skewered the creature where it stood. The weapon entered through its neck and jutted from its lower back with the spear tip dug into the ground behind it. Coerraine jerked the weapon free with a prayer of thanks to his god.

    Haelan charged the goblin attempting to steal the pack mule with a throaty battlecry. At this, the goblin dropped the reigns and with a sneer drew a serrated short sword. Without a chance to even bring it to bare, the sword fell from the goblin’s dead hand, a pinecone shaped concavity in its skull. He reached for the mule’s reigns and stroked its neck calmly.

    “I’m sorry you had to see that.” the halfling apologized. Lillypants just turned to look at the scene of carnage along the path they had been following and brayed.

    Braddok was mounting the small hill from which the archers had been trying to pelt him with arrows. Whether it was the high bright sun, the substandard quality of goblin bows and arrows or just poor shots, the dark-haired warrior didn’t take a hit.

    Seeing the rest of their companions felled and the angry looking human with a large bloody sword nearing their position, they let fly two last shafts (one each) and turned to flee.

    Some quick healing for Coerraine and Braddok and the group headed off with some haste, hoping to catch up with Alaria’s mount. A short time later, they saw Lady calmly sipping from the stream. The goblin who had chased her was nowhere to be found and the group remained alert but doubted the foolishness of the goblin to try to assault them by itself.

    “Unfortunately,” worried Alaria, “those that escaped will return to their band. We may be facing those overwhelming numbers yet. Not to mention imperiled the village we are heading towards.”

    “I doubt it.” Braddok replied. “That was a foraging party, I bet. Their leader won’t double-back with all of his forces to deal with a small group who obviously routed them badly. The ones that got away will probably be punished for their failure and the war party will continue on their way.”

    Alaria said nothing. She hoped she could trust his assessment.


    An hour or so away, two figures moved north and west through the hills and finally into some thicker woods before slowing to a normal pace.

    “At least,” one of the goblins said to his fellow, “maybe Karg got the horse for meat.” <translated from goblin> Alas, when the archer next saw Karg, he was empty handed.

    The Master would not be pleased.

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    Please sir...may we have some more?

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    Alaria, Braddok, Haelan and the elfin moon-priest, Cyrillian, sped through the battlefield, nothing more than vague outlines of mist. Meesh flapped his smalllish wings besides Alaria and remarked how much better the "sssolihhhdsss look likuhhh thisss. Remindsss Meeessh ovvv hhhome."

    A moment later, at Braddok's direction, they came to the three Endoren bone-masked priests engaged in their ceremony of animation and control of all the dead and undead across the battlefield.

    "Ready?" Alaria asked.

    "Let's do this." Braddok said, even as Kandu remarked a similar sentiment in the warrior's head. He gripped the sapphire studded bastard sword more tightly and readied himself to "become solid" again.

    With a thought from Alaria toward the Ihs Repahl, the four companions did just that. Even as their toes touched the ground, outlines became filled in, misty colors darkened and the whole of their bodies and beings again took on the solidity of their normal form.

    It was a curious sensation, Alaria remarked to herself. The weightless airy feeling suddenly becoming heavy again. The magess wondered for a moment if she were actually as heavy as she now felt all of the time? An examination for another time. Right now, there was dark magic to concern oneself with.

    The three clerics of Endore were caught by complete surprise as a broadly-muscled dark-haired human warrior suddenly appeared before them. The first cleric fell to Kandu's bluish gleam in a single stroke.

    Haelan and the elf priest came into visible being behind the clerics and the daelvar lunged forward, catching the center cleric in the back of his knees. The Endoren buckled and fell, whatever wicked trance he had been maintaining utterly ruined.

    Alaria stayed behind Braddok, readying her most potent spell to cancel their foes' incantations should the need arise.

    A battle cry from the third cleric caught her attention as he shouted toward the heroes in some language the magess did not know. A moment later, 4 hobgoblin soldiers were racing for the melee's location from the dark shadows of the treeline.

    The priest Haelan had knocked down turned with toward the daelvar as he raised his mace for another blow. The plague-priest's mouth twisted in obvious contempt and fury (the top half of his face and eyes obscured behind the bone skull-mask Endore's faithful wear). His brassy voice twisted the tainted tongue of unholy magics and reached out for the halfling's bushy-haired foot.

    Haelan cried out as pain shot up through his limbs, assaulted his innards. It was only for a second, but very nerve of his being shrieked in burning pain. The Hilltender dropped to the ground, fighting to retain his consciousness, from the intense pain.

    The other standing cleric also intoned the hissing dark language of evil, “Essressstim Endore, Surevvv miclon etne aetuuundshaaaa!” <cleric spell, Spiritual Weapon. “Mistress Endore, attack your enemies with your [un]holy weapon!”>

    A putrid green skull ensconced in purple flames appeared in the air beside the Endoren and with a wave of his arm, flew through the air to strike Braddok, hard, as the warrior turned to face the oncoming hobgoblins.

    There's too much going on, thought Alaria. "Meeessh! Can you make your mist wall between us and those hobgoblins?"

    The steam mephit, who was flitting in his usual place beside (and slightly behind) the R'Hathi wizard let loose with the hiss-teapot-squeal that Alaria had come to recognize as his laugh and wrung his steaming and dripping long fingered hands together. "Meeessh hhhhappy to hhhhehhhlp mihhhssstrisss."

    The mephit flew up over the immediate battle and lowered himself directly in the hobgoblins path. The reddish-orange heavily armored goblinoids did not slow their advance as the mephit threw up his arms. A wall of steam, like a geyser, burst from the ground between the small elemental imp and the soldiers. That halted their advance, abruptly. Meeessh grinned to himself at the horrified scream that came from (the mephit could see perfectly well through the steam) the lead hobgoblin who'd gotten caught in the blast of superheated water and air, being half-boiled half-baked in his metal armor.

    The central priest had risen and from beneath the robes flowing around his skeletal waist, withdrew a mace with a skull-shaped head. He raised the mace, fully prepared to have it crush the insolent little hairfoot. His blow was stayed, however, by a sudden gleam of silvery light as his mace was stopped by a crescent moon and star tipped staff. The elf, Cyrillian, stood over/before the Hilltender. "Your evil shall not have the night of my lady." the elf almost growled to the surprised Endoren.

    The flaming skull flew around the field, striking both Braddok and Alaria before returning to the side of the cleric who had invoked it. A twisted smirk formed on the cleric's mouth, revealing a mouth missing at least half of its teeth. The gaunt figure threw his arm forward again and the skull surged forward toward the warrior once again.

    This time, the spiritual weapon did not land, as the blue light of Kandu's blade rose to block the attack. Braddok raced forward in an attempt to strike before the cleric could redirect his spell. His attack struck true and the cleric shrieked and fell to the ground, still alive but sorely wounded. Even as it was coming around the purple flames and green skull burned away into nothingness.

    Meeessh's wall of steam had dissipated as well and the hobgoblins began their advance again, including the scalded "leader".

    Alaria exhaled, she had hoped not to have to expend too much of her higher tiered spells, should they have the misfortune of encountering Tresahd, again, directly. There seems little choice but to use some.

    As the magess began to call to mind the secret words of arkanic she was shocked to see a small dart lodge itself in the lead hobgoblin's neck.

    "RAAAAAAAHHHHH! EAT CROSSBOW BOLTS GOBLIN SCUM!" came an all too familiar voice.

    Alaria whirled around to see Duor...and Fen...flying?

    The zepharim, Pirnyon, diving toward their position, the dwarf hanging from one arm and the druid, his great cloak flailing out behind him, hanging from the other. The winged man lowered the two within 10 feet of the ground and droped them before immeidately taking to the air again, ripping out his broad bladed hand axe.

    Fen hit the ground and rolled to a kneeling position to bring the butt of his sacred spear slamming to the ground. The streak of green lightning shot across the ground to beneath the approaching hobgoblins and seemed to seep into the ground.

    Alaria smirked to herself, knowing what came next. Shouts and holler erupted form the goblinoids as the vines and roots and blades of trampled grass burst up all around them, like vegetative tentacles, firmly halting and holding the soldiers where they stood.

    Duor, similarly, hit the ground in a roll and came to his feet, just beside Alaria, a fresh dart somehow reloaded into his signature hand crossbow as he came to his feet and fired this one into the back of the black-robed cleric that seemed to be locked in battle with some robed elf.

    "Hail Pirnyon!" Braddok shouted to the air, even as the Grinlian brought his blade around to swing at the toppled cleric, hoping to finish him off. Somehow, that strike missed and the warrior found himself off balance and unable to recover enough to back away when the cleric reached forward to grip his leg, another line of the tainted speech hissing across his cracked thin lips.

    Braddok was seized with immediate panic as everything before his eyes went black. He made a wide circling swipe with his blade to try to give himself some room.

    "Alaria! What's happened?! I cant' see!" the warrior called out.

    Alaria turned to the swordsman with great concern to see the panic across his face. There was no evident issue about his head or eyes. He had been blinded by some curse of the wicked cleric, who was scrambling to get out of the warrior's reach.

    "Do not worry, Braddok, Haelan will help you. Stay calm. Meeessh, watch Braddok!" the wizardess shouted across the field to where the daelvar had risen to his feet, though still sorely hurt and was preparing to aid the elf-priest against the chief cleric.

    "Everx zaar!" the magess let loose with two of her violet-blue energy shards slammed into the wounded crawling cleric. He ceased to crawl.

    The winged Pirnyon had made short work of two of the hobgoblins trapped in Fen's entanglement spell, easily hacking away at them from aloft, above the twining vegetation's grip.

    The druid, himself had gone to engage the Endoren cleric with the other two priests. His spear's leaftip caught the Endoren in the side for a solid blow, but the half-elf, then, did not avoid the whirling response of the skull-headed mace and caught a solid clock against the head, himself.

    Haelan had now retaken his place in front of the not-very-battle-hardened Cyrillien. As the cleric was distracted by Fen's sudden inclusion in their fight, Haelan was able to connect with a solid crack to the priests ribs.

    There was another trade of blows before the high-priest finally fell and the remaining hobgoblins were plant food.

    The group formed up around the warrior. Alaria gently took Braddok by the shoulders and tried to calm him.

    "But I can't SEE!" the swordsman protested.

    "You will. You will." Alaria soothed.

    "Yeah, Braddok, I should be able to cure that...I just need a bit of time to rest and pray first." Haelan tried to explain.

    "We don't have time! We're in the middle of a battle!" Braddok ranted.

    "Not quite. Looks almost done." Fen said absently as he looked out over the sloping field below them. With the elimination fo the necromantic priests, the undead were being quickly eliminated and the newly dead were staying that way. The elves had nearly carved their way all the way up the sloping field to the party's position near the tree line of the broad open glade.

    "Hail and well met Stormriders!" came the friendly cry from the stag-mounted Soraryn captain. He waved his curved scimitar-like blade over his head even as the first pale blue of morning was forming over the treetops in the east. "The field is ours! The Bulgruch..."

    "Is here." a growling boom rumbled around the party like thunder.

    The soraryn and a few foot soliders around him turned to the tree line, some 50 yards from where the party had just concluded their fight. Their handsome chiseled elvin faces took on the serious concentration of decades (if not centuries) of training and battle-readiness.

    A massively tall and broadly shouldered bugbear0ish goblinoid looking creature crashed through the brush into the open field. As they all watched, the creature's 10 foot tall frame seemed to arch back and hunch forward, the coarse black and grey hair that flowed frm just about everywhere on his body grew longer before their eyes, as did the goblinish noise, turning into a great wolf-ish snout, and its ears struck back, against its head, pointed and sharp and longer than any normal canine animal. Its arms ended in huge long fingered hands that eneded in longer still claws of gleaming black. The arms, which also seemed to function as forelegs, were significantly longer than its legs which snapped and cracked to reform from normal "knees front" humanoid legs to canine-like hind legs.

    The transformation comlplete, the creature opened its large fang filled mouth and...kept opening it...and further...til, impossibly, the jaw was nearly touching the ground! Visible waves of heat rippled through the air as the Bulgruch expelled a thunderous roar across the battlefield.

    Indeed, Alaira thought to herself as the whole party covered their ears, the whole of Miralosta must have shuddered from the bellow.

    "Th-th-that's the Bulgruch!?" Haelan quaked near Braddok's knees.

    Before any of the party could say or do anything, the demon-wolf-goblin-warlord-thing they'd only heard of as "the Bulgruch" lunged forward toward the soraryn and elves before him. There was little more than a blur as one, two and three of the foot soldiers were clawed into multiple sprays of blood from various sized pieces before they could even lift their blades.

    The soraryn, maintained control on his rearing stag enough to get in a single attack before the Bulgruch, literally, tore the stag in half. The elf captain stood his ground, with determination until the beast again opened its maw, the jaw nearly touching the goround before him.

    Alaria could not recall if she had ever seen absolute undiluted horror on an elf's face before. That was what was on the soraryn's face. Eyes wide. Mouth agape. His scimitar blade lowered as if suddenly much to much weight for the elf to wield.

    The party watched as the rippling waves of heat usheered forth with another roar. Fen was almost certain he saw an orange-yellow flickering light licking forth from the creatures mouth as well.

    The elf shrieked...actually shrieked a blood-curddling scream of unadulterated fear as the great monster's opened mouth literally came straight down over/upon him.

    The Bulgruch clamped its mouth shut, threw its head back and reared up in a baying howl of triumph.

    As his arms/forelegs slammed back into the ground, the wolflike head with glowing red eyes turned slowly to face the party. Saliva or bile dripped form the sides ofthe creature's mouth, a slight yellowish light to them, as if it were lava or acid.

    "And now..." an orange glow evident from somewhere back in the monster's throat when it opened its mouth, "You are the Storm Riders I've heard so much about?" the Bulgruch said with mild questioning amusement.

    Next time...Battle of the Bulgruch.
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    Awesome!

    Thanks, SD, have a terrific weekend!

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    There was little Alaria remembered about fear. She had been afraid when they had first met the thugs on the streets of Hawkview. But she had overcome it. She had been afraid of the goblins that had ambushed them. That fear was almost nothing compared to what she'd feared from the giant crabs on the boat en route to Dragonbone Isle. The crab demon had been a shock, but not really a fear to compare with watching Haelan carried off by a harpy. The were rats had been a scare because of their unnatural nature. The trolls outside of the Feldmere were a concern more than a fear. But they'd conquered all of those.

    The toothy maw of the piercer lunging for her was a memory she yet encountered in troubled dream. The "rock of death" was awful, but easily enough overcome. The battle with the ghouls in Shafton was a battle to live on in legend and song. The dark wizard, Tresahd, who she was now certain was a dragon was a foe she wished not to face again ever in her lifetime. The night hag in the Gorathgraard dimension of night and the demons in Tresahd's stronghold had filled her with apprehension and questioning their survival.

    But this...this Bulgruch...this was something she had never dared to imagine was a creature she would ever face. It was only 50 yards away. A complete horror filled her being.

    "Haelan, elf-priest. Make your invocation of protection. NOW!" Alaria shouted in evident panic as the great wolf-demon began the very few strides toward them.

    Deisa Faerantha, ep localis sanctum a spiritaii.” <spell: Sanctuary. “Holy Faerantha, let this place be a sanctuary to your devoted follower.”> Haelan immediately invoked even as he watched the great beast pounce toward him.

    "Suprima Matra, Arinane, ep localis sanctum a spiritaii." <spell: Sanctuay. "Great Mother, Arinane, let this place be a sanctuary to your devoted follower."> intoned Cyrillian.

    The two clerics, positioned before the rest of the party, almost simultaneously, had a circle of silver light surround their position. The Bulgruch came to land upon the mystical barrier in a great burst of silvery sparks.

    It recovered immediately, shook its head and growled at the assembled heroes. I began topaw itself slowly to the left...the clerics could not move their holy spaces to match him.

    "Abomination! You shall assault the Green no longer!" cried Fen and began to incant a powerful spell.

    "Shall I not, tree priest? I beg to differ." the Bulgruch growled back. Gaging his position to be around the elf-priest's protection lunged forward again to be halted, half of him at least, pushed aside from a bruch with the invisible barrier in a silvery spray of light.

    "Stay behind us, Braddok. We will take care of this." Alaria said, and without a second thought, loosed a lightning bolt from her staff.

    The electrical streak shot forth, sending a rolling rumble of thunder behind it. This struck the demon-wolf and threw it a few feet to the side. Fen continued to chant under his breath.

    "Ahhhh. So you are the magess, eh?" the beast growled at Alaria. It shook its head back and forth, as if to reorient itself.

    *Kandu. I need to see. You showed me things before. Can you be my eyes now?* Braddok thought, desperately, toward his sword.

    *Kandu can, warrior. But this evil is greater than my power alone can subdue. Open your mind to my...uh...eyes* the sword replied.

    A hazy image framed in blue came into Braddok's mind. It was as if he were there...but not there...he saw the huge wolf creature leap toward...ALARIA! As if by instinct more than thought, Braddok swung his enchanted blade.

    It caught the beast in the neck. And forced its reaching claws to fall just before the edges of Alaria's robes.

    The magess looked at the blinded warrior is utter surprise.

    "HYAHHHH!" came Duor's eloquent battle cry as the shadow-shrouded dwarven rogue leapt up to sink his green-ethereal-flamed dagger into the monster's side.

    The Bulgruch bellowed. These heroes were, indeed, the threat he'd been told of. Their weapons bit into him where no other mortals encountered had been able to pierce his supernatural coat.

    Suddenly, there was another pain, deep in its back...from above. Pyrnion's axe sank into the creature with a mighty force.

    The Bulgruch did a complete flip coming to land back on his legs. The dwarf, the warrior and the winged thing were all thrown from it. The magess still stood, fear obvious on her face. She would be easy prey. It would engulf her and send her to the planes of the Abyss. But it couldn't...Tresahd wanted her, for...something.

    The magess completed the obscure phrase and the Bulgruch found itself covered in luminescent strands of webbing. Nonsense...this "magic" of the mortals. It began to pull itself free, with obvious ease.

    As it pulled itself free and reached again for this magess, scalding hot steam filled its eyes.

    "Noh hhhurtsss mihhhssstrisss! Bahd Buhhhlgruhhh" Meeessh shouted in defiance.

    "Insolent IMP!" the Bulgruch shouted in return as it swiped up through the air, through the mephit, disipating him like swiping its claws through a cloud of smoke.

    "MEEEEEEEEESSSSSsssssshhhhhhhh" the mephit's "dying" cry hissed through the field as he disappeared from view.

    Alaria again commanded the Staff of Azanna to loose a lightning bolt, even as she saw her companions recover from begin thrown off the creature.

    The lightning struck, to be sure, but it did not seem to stay the monster at all. In fact, a wicked grimace showed on its face.

    *TANNNNNGGGGG*

    The Bulgruch shook his head, as the clanging reverberation of the metal edge of the shield bounced off its head. It looked to its left to see the daelvar cleric reclaim its small round shield as it returned to his waiting grasp.

    "You'll be next, lil' priest." the Bulgruch growled.

    "You'll not have a FIRST!" Braddok cried as he brought Kandu down, with both hands, upon the monster's neck.

    The enchanted blade bit into its hide. The sword's enchantments burned. The Bulgruch knew he could not suffer many more blow like that.

    "Groooooosssssssssssuht!" it growl and the globe of darkness encased the whole of the battle. Its prey, it knew would be utterly blinded. Its demonic magic was not easily put aside. The magess, outlined in white to the demon-wolf-goblin's sight, was evidently surprised by the sudden darkness. Severring her head from her shoulders would be a single easy swipe.

    "I can't see it" cried Pyrnion from above the globe of blackness. "Who's gotta a shot?"

    "Blind as a bat here!" Duor's voice came from...somewhere.

    Alaria felt the sweat on her forehead...she was completely blind. The monster was not 20 feet in front of her...or was...the thought of hard deadly claws raking into her flesh at any moment filled her with terror. She sank to the ground. Maybe it wouldn't know she was shorter than she was. The magic...the magic was her only hope...as she had always held it in her heart...she had to steady her mind...find the words of power...find the words...the creature's hot breath was felt through the unnatrual darkness...

    "Theran...arkana rebismio THERAN!" Alaria shouted. <mage spell: Dispel Magic> The magic flowed through her...the intoxicating ecstasy of power flowed through her. This tier of magic was something she had not dreamt.

    Suddenly the blackness disappeared. The slight light of predawn was practically blinding for the party, let alone the dark-sensitive Bulgruch. It let forth a painful howl as the ever so slight light struck its abyssaleyes unexpectantly.

    "Get it!" Cried Duor. The dwarf lunged at the creature even as Fen's voice rose in the unperceivable tongue of druids.

    The half-elf through his hands to the skies above him...which none had noticed had turned the deep dark grey of storm clouds. With a single swift gesture pointing at the Bulgruch, a rumble of thunder went up from the sky and a streak of almsot green lightning surged down from the sky, turning not 5 feet from Fen's head and slamming into the side of the Bulgruch.

    The blow sent the beast reeling to the side. Only Duor's deft reflexes saved him from benig crushed beneath bristled demon-wolf.

    "EH! Lil' warnin' next time, tree-hugger!" Duor protested to the druid.

    The half-elf's eyes were filled with green light. If he heard the dwarf's protestation, there was no evidence of it.

    Pyrnion had again taken flight and, following the lightinging strike dove in to hack again at the beast's back.

    It howled in pain and roared at its surroundings.

    Braddok, through the mystic gaze of his sword, took up a position between the Bulgruch and Alaria. "It shall not touch you while I draw breath." the swordsman proclaimed for all to hear.

    "Nor you my valiant love." Alaria returned.

    "Aw, c'mon! Really, you two?!" Duor grumbled under his breath. "Just KILL IT!"

    "Suprima Matra, Arinane...
    " Cyrillian began began again but never finished.

    The Bulgruch's impossibly opened maw lunged up and over the elfin priest. In a single smooth movement Cyrillian, the moon-priest, was engulfed in the creature's mouth and disappeared with a shriek of terror.

    In a simultaneous movement it grabbed Haelan and crushed the daelvar in its massive grip.

    Alaria was stiken with the horror of seeing terror upon an elfin face for the second time that night...she hoped never to see suchan expression again.

    "DIE MONSTER!" Pyrnion cried as he dove down into the monster's face and hacked at the side of its face. The swing missed by less than an inch.

    It tossed the daelvar tens of feet away and the small body bounced and rolled several tens of feet more.

    "HAELAN!" Alaria cried in abject concern.

    The Bulgruch clamped its jaws around the winged man in mid-flight. Pyrnion brought his axe down upon the monster's snout. It cut badly, but did not release the zepharim.

    Another direction of Fen's arm brought another bolt of lightning slamming down from the sky into the wolf-beast. Pyrnion cried out in pain as the electrical energy danced around the two creatures. One of a heritage of immotal light and one of immortal darkness. Both were wracked in pain.

    The Bulgruch, spasming, released the winged-humanoid. Pyrnion fell to the ground at the demon-wolf's feet.

    Alaria backed it up with a lightning bolt of her own for good measure and the whole of the company saw the Bulgruch falter from the blow of magical energy.

    "I will not be brought down by such as you." the Bulgruch protested, struggling to regain its footing in defiance.

    "I think yeh might." said Duor throwing his ethereal dagger into the beast's side, not daring to make a strike in person should one of these lightning-happy spellcasters be throwing any more at him.

    It proved a wise choice as, not a moment later, another bolt from Fen found its mark.

    Braddok surged forward and took another overhanded strike at the beast's neck...nearly severring it.

    The massive wolf-goblin-demon form fell to the ground with an audible thud.

    Braddok hacked at it again...and again. The third strike removed the beast's head.

    *It is done.* came Kandu's voice to Braddok's mind again even as the mystical sight withdrew from Braddok's perception, leaving him again in an unconcerting darkness.

    Alaria turned to see the elfin forces, who none had realized were watching the battle from a distance looking at the collected heroes in disbelief.

    "The Bulgruch is fallen!" she proclaimed out over the field.

    A cheer went up across the field even as the first pinkish orange rays of dawn broke the tree tops. Followed by the chanting cheers of the "N'cynbiiri Hallae! N'cynbiiri Hallae! N'cynbiiri Hallae!" <literally from the elvin: "Champions of the Storm">

    Alaria grasped Braddok tightly around the neck. "We've won! The Bulgruch is no more." she said.

    "Do you hear that?" She said with a tear in her eye, whether the joy of triumph or the overwhelming relief of the fear leaving her, she neither knew nor cared.

    "I still can't see." Braddik said quietly even as he smiled with the chants rushing over him and the close, reassuring touch of Alaria.

    "Yes, I know. We'll fix it. Haelan will fix it." she smiled through her tears, listening to the elfin adulation.

    "Haelan, do you hear that?" Alaria looked with a smile to where she'd last seen the daelvar. A small lump still lay there.

    "Haelan?"
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    Steel Dragons' "All Things Orea" Blog right here on EN world!

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