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  1. #201
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    The band came around the last bend in the corridor of conjured "prisoners" to the final alcove. It was set a bit more distant from the rest and appeared a bit larger. The corridor ended with a raised platform that appeared to be of the natural stone of the surroundings.

    Fen noted with his magic sight still in effect, that the platform radiated some form of powerful magic. But that was relatively ignored at the odd sight within the final chamber.

    A demon, for sure. It was small, not more than a foot long, purple and red scaled with four horns, two sticking straight up and two sticking rather perpendicular to its head. Its thin long arms were crossed across its chest and its similarly skinny legs, ending in two-toed clawed feet were also casually crossed. It was reclined against the wall, obviously relaxed. It had a thin barbed tail wrapped around a two-pronged pitchfork that couldn't have been more than 3 feet long. It was "holding" the pitchfork with its tail and using the prongs to pick at its many pointed teeth that protruded from every angle of a roudn circle of a mouth.

    A bit away from it, toward the center of the alcove was a puddle of steaming water. The wisps of steam seemed to be coelescing a few feet above it, just billowing, formign a small cloud of mist/steam/fog, in mid-air.

    The creature pulled the pitchfork out of its mouth and looked at the party casually with hollow black eyes.

    "Zzzixzik ZAK? Zak ak!" it said in what sounded like annoyance.

    Receiving no response from the confused party, it raised its voice and its abyssal inquiries became more annoyed...or forceful...or something.

    "ZAX! Zik zix? Zizzz!"

    "Sorry scree. We don't speak demon." Duor said offhanded.

    Then the party began to hear, very weak at first and then gaining volume a low "sssssss" as the last of the water evaporated and flowed into the cloud.

    "Ssssssssshhhhh" the sound came again longre and marginally louder. Two parts of the cloud seemed to darken into what appeared to be darker grey ovals of "eyes" within the cloud.

    "No way." said Duor at first.

    A slice of mist darkened below the "eyes" and widened open into what looked like a mouth "howling".

    "Shhhhhhhahhhhhsssss..." came the sound again.

    Now the little demon got to its feet and shouted its incomprehensible language at the cloud. It took the pitchwork in its clawed hands and jabbed in the direction of the cloud. The mist seemed to float away from the demon.

    "That...is that...?" Haelan asked uncertainly.

    "It can't be....can it?" Fen was the next to ask...anyone.

    "I'm...not sure...but if it is..." Alaria said studying the cloud of mist.

    "What?! What's everyone talking about?!" Festus said with some irritation.

    A portion of the cloud slowly began to take form. Two long pointed ears formed to theside of a small flatish head. The eyesw took a more definite shape and long wisps of steam seemed to form "eyebrows" that almost looked like they floated off of the face. A long hooked nose elongated off the face and the mouth became more fully formed.

    "Meeeeeessssssssshhhhhh" the face said weakly.

    "Mister Meesh!?!?" Braddok said in complete surprise, not knowing from where in his memory this name came forth.

    "What's a Meesh?" said Festus, still in the dark.

    "Mihhhssssstrihhhhsssss hehhhlpssss Meeeeeessssshhhhhh..." the face managed to say before the diminutive demon jumped forward and stabbed the cloud with the pitchfork.

    There was a cry of apparent pain from the mist and a loud "HHSSSSHHH!" as the cloud completely dispersed and plopped down to the floor in a splash of steaming water.

    The puddle just laid there for a moment before, again, slowly, wisps of steam began to rise from it and again start to form the small cloud.

    "We need to get him out of there." Alaria said.

    "Him who?!" Festus said.

    "Mister Meesh!" Haelan said as if it was the obvious answer. Then realizing the satyr had not been with them during the excursion to Dragonbone Isle, the daelvar explained in brief. "A steam mephit that we encountered when we first encountered Tresahd. He was enslaved by him but helped us get that crystal orb, and this mystic pearl we were after...and he was set free!

    "Why is he here, Alaria? We have to help him." Haelan said in his pleading way, to the magess.

    "We will Haelan...I'm just not sure how right now. To act rashly could prove fatal...even with so small a demon." Alaria answered.

    "It would seem the dark wizard conjured him again. No doubt to punish him for his betrayal." Erevan said dispassionately.

    "Could be another trick, though." Duor said. "Demons are demons after all. Might be another illusion to bait us into a trap."

    Fen confirmed that while there was magic active in the alcove and the body of the puddle of water gave off a slight dweomer of its own, it was no greater or more foreboding than that of fairies or other magical or elemental creatures.

    "Well, what're we waiting for then. Let's destroy this tormentor and free him again!" Braddok said and without awaiting consensus, stepped into the alcove, his magic blade before him.

    As the blade passed the boundaries of the magic circle inscribed around the alcove the enchantments of the blade and the circles flashed angrily with/around each other. Braddok felt a tingling around him as his body passed the sorcerous perimeter.

    "ZAZK!?" said the tiny demon in complete surprise and turned toward the invading warrior.

    Braddok swung his blue-glowing blade with expert precision but the demon, due to size or magic or demonic nature, was preternaturally fast! It lept up to the wall of the alcove, crouching there just fine, jabbing its pitchfork menacingly at the large human, "Zz-ing" and "Ak-ing" angrily.

    Fen, knowing that they were in "it" now, rushed forward, his leaf-tip spear blazing with the natural energies of the Green and stabbed at the creature on the wall.

    It, again, easily avoided the blow, leaping clear across the alcove to the other wall and scurrying higher toward the ceiling.

    "Everx zar!" came Erevan's voice from behind the two men and blue-green shards of energy flew between them and smacked into the small demon. The impact flung it to the floor at the back of the alcove.

    Before the creature could recover, Braddok and Fen were upon it striking deep into the creature. In a small burst of purple and black flames and highpitched "ZZZzzzzeeeeeee", there was nothing left of it but a small blackened patch of stone and the three foot long two-pronged pitchfork of cold black iron.

    The party watched, in concern as the cloud of mist again formed and lowered itself to the remaining moisture on the floor. The three foot tall humanoid with small wisps of steaming wings laid there on the alcove floor looking, weakly at the party.

    "Meeessh ihssss freeeee onsssse more. Meeessh thhhhankssss the mihssstrissss."

    "No thanks are necessary Meesh." Alaria replied.

    "Meeessh." the mephit corrected quietly.

    "Yes. Right, sorry. Meeessh." Alaria corrected her pronunciation of his name, recalling his general annoyance about it at their first meeting.

    "What does it...do?" Festus asked in wonder. He'd never seen a "mephit" before...or even heard of one for that matter.

    "It's an elemental creature of water vapor and air...hot air...steam, to be precise. It is not of this world." Erevan explained.

    "Can help him, Haelan?" Braddok said, looking at the apparently weakened and frail form of the mephit.

    "I...well...I don't actually know." Haelan admitted. "I've never tried to heal anything that wasn't...you know...a real person."

    The mephit's wispy eyebrows seemed the slant into a furrow. "Meeessh ihssss reeeeal." the creature was trying to convey its annoyance, but it was so weak it finally just slumped where it had half-laid during his reformation and looked at the floor.

    "We're sorry Mister Meeessh. Of course you are. Let me try." Haelan said, feeling sincerely sorry at insulting the poor trapped thing. "This shouldn't hurt at all..." (I hope, thought Haelan.)

    The daelvar Hilltender knelt beside the frail mephit and attempted to invoke his goddess' blessing of healing. The pressing evil of the place weighed down upon him, but he felt the glimmer of a connection to his beloved Hill Mother.

    Unfortunately, that glimmer was just about all he could perceive and the slightest, faintest of faint feminine voices came to the halfling's mind, *My graces do not extend to such as these, my gentle one.*

    "I...I can't?...Faerantha says I can't." Haelan said in utter surprise. "I'm sorry Mister Meesh."

    "Meeessh!" the mephit said with more force this time.

    Erevan was examining the pitchfork with his magical sight and could determine nothing inherently enchanted about it. Though a residual aura of blackness surrounded it...and the space where the demon had been vanquished. Hearing the halfling's defeat, "Perhaps Fen can help." the elf suggested offhanded.

    "He is a creature of the elemental planes, Fen. Maybe your order's affinity for those energies could be more useful." Alaria posed. Her concern for the mephit was now replaced with her innate curiosity at the working of Fen's druidic magics which, from all she'd observed, worked rather differently than her own.

    The druid shrugged and decided to give it a try, though technically (he kept to himself) it was not a creature of this world and thus not, specifically, within the Balance. He quietly incanted a spell of healing which, to his utter surprise, seemed to morph in his mouth even as he spoke...the healing energies were not forthcoming, but a flow of water manifested instead.

    In short order, a gallon or so of water had sprouted from his hands and streamed "into" the mephit's shape. Meeessh's face took on its more fully round form, as did its belly and in a moment, the mephit stood of its own accord and looked at its rejuvenated shape.

    "Mhyyyy thanksssshh druid...mhy many many thankshhh. Meeessh ihs muchhhh behtter!" the mephit hissed in approval. He jumped into the air, his small wings that looked as though they should not support his flight, fluttered quickly, leaving trails of steam as they did so. The mephit hissed what was presumed to be a giggle and did a back flip in mid-air. 'Muhhhhch behtterssshhhh!"

    "Now, Mister Meeessh, if you are up to it. How did you arrive here? I thought you'd returned to your own home plane?" Alaria began her inquiry.

    "Nahhhhstyyy mahhhhsssster sssssummonssss Meeessh againsssshhh. Hurtsss Meeessh fohhhr trehhhcherysss. Lockssss up wihhhhth nahhhhstyyyy demonsss. Hurtsss Meeessh mahnyyy timessss shhhhh." Meeessh explained obviously pained by the memories of his recent plight.

    "Meeessh hehlpsss mihssstrissss ahnd frehhndsssss. Helpsss desssstroyssss nahsssty mahssster." Meeessh said as he alit in front of Alaria. "Meeessh hehlpsss."

    "Great so we've got a meeshphit guide now!" Festus joked.

    "MEEESSH!" the mephit corrected, looking up at the satyr in annoyance.

    "Uh...yeah...Right. That's what I said." the satyr looked down at the mephit in confusion.

    "Nevermind!" Alaria said, wantign to get back to business. "Meeessh, can you tell us what this plpatform is or does? Is there any other way out of this dungeon? We're trying to get to Nor Gorthok...Find what it is Tresahd is holding here that might be dangerous to our world."

    "Nothin' here that I can see." Duor said from around the platform. The dwarf had been going over the walls and floors carefully, searching for some hidden passage or doorway.

    Erevan confirmed that he, too, could find no mundane way out of the place.

    Meeessh pointed at the platform and hissed, "Thihsss ihsss waysss out. Nahsssty mahssster cohhhmesss ahnd gohhhhsss thhhhrough thihhhsss."

    Alaria now took some time to examine the platform. There were indeed arcane marking around the edge of it. She had seen them before. Though of a much smaller scale, the magess was certain they were similar to the runes and sigils of the teleportal platform they had used in Daenfrii to bring them to the Feldmere...Manat's star, Alaria wondered, how long ago was that?! She realized what had been a few weeks seemed like an eternity...even not taking into account the "weeks" they'd spent in the dimensional folds of Gorathgraard.

    The mephit went a flit up to the edge of the platform, beside Alaria.

    "Do you know where it goes, Meeessh?" Alaria asked.

    "Brohhht Meeessh frohhhmm nahsty mahsters hahhhll. Meeessh dohesn't knohhh where thaht ihsss. Meeessh wahs hhhohhhm! Ihn the mihhhssstsss. Hhhhappy Meeessh. Tohhhsssty hhhhot! Then wihth nahsty Tresssahhhd ahgain. Ihn the cohhhld stohhhn hhhahhhll. Poor Meeessh."

    "How long ago was that, Meeessh?" Braddok inquired.

    One of the memphit's wispy eyebrows rose at the warrior in a questioning look. The memphit merely shrugged, leaving two streams of steamy rising off of them.

    "Were there other demons...or any kind of guards in the cold stone hall?" Alaria asked, gently.

    Meeessh seemed to be thinking about this and finally answered that he had not seen any. His demonic tormentor had been conjured when he was already here in this alcove.

    "What about other wizards or evil priests?" Fen asked.

    A flash of comprehension flashed across Meeessh's steamy face. "Ahhhh, whihhhzzzzahdsss...yehsss. Ssssseverahl buhlack rohhhbsss...ssshhh. Wihth wuhhhite fasssesss...ssshhh."

    This caused some concern among the party. Black robes with white faces? Could the mephit mean the bone-masked faces of Endoren priests? Given Tresahd/Desaarthal's plan to bring the monstrous dragon-mother, Shaarzak to the realms, and their limited contact with/information from the Endoren priest of undeath in Shafton, it made sense the wizard would need some help from the unholy order.

    "You mean there's gonna be undead around here too?!" Haelan said with some concern. The memory of his triumphant clashes with undead since their time in Shafton helped to calm his fears a bit...but undead and demons...AND a dragon?! The daelvar really was not sure he was up for what probably lay ahead.

    "Be stalwart my hairfooted friend." Braddok said reassuringly and clapped his large gloved hand on Haelan's shoulder.

    The daelvar looked up at the warrior with a forced smile.

    "Well, we can't get out the other way...again. Can I just suggest, you know, as a formal Stormrider member, that we stop cutting off our avenues of retreat?" Festus piped. He received several looks from the party. "You know, just as a precaution."

    "A wise strategy, indeed, friend Festus. I must concur." said Braddok.

    The satyr smiled widely at receiving some affirmation from the swordsman.

    "So...how's this thing work? We ain't got some old elf to send us on our way, this time." Duor said, rubbing his bearded chin, and careful not to get onto the platform before anyone else.

    Alaria had been examining the runes and with a bit of luck (QUITE a bit), believed she had found the activation phrase among the arcane writing.

    Unwilling to "take a break" in the demonically evil pressing dungeon, the companions steeled themselves to whatever might lie ahead.

    One by one they stepped onto the platform. Alaria and Mister Meeessh beside her were the last.

    "Ready?" Alaria asked tentatively. She wasn't certain she, herself, was.

    Grim nods from her companions, who all held weapons at the ready, told her it was "now or never."

    "THREZAS KAZKREL!" the magess shouted and in a flash of violet light, the party disappeared.

    ***
    The succubus, Athrizz, had been listening to the goings-on at the end of the hall with great interest. She heard the command word of the teleportal platform and saw the flash of purple light.

    A smirk formed across her beautiful face as she calmly stepped over her "binding circle" and out of her alcove "prison" into the corridor.

    Yes, Athrizz grinned to herself, this information was sure to glean her quite a bit of favor with the Overseer...perhaps even warrant her release..or at least one or two of the companions' souls to play with. That warrior was a handsome one.

    In a billowing column of acrid smelling smoke the succubus, also, disappeared from the dungeon corridor.
    Steel Dragons' "All Things Orea" Blog right here on EN world!
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    Steel Dragons' "All Things Orea" Blog right here on EN world!

 

  • #202
    Steeliest of the dragons SILVER SUBSCRIBER
    Spellbinder (Lvl 16)

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    The company stood, tense and battle-ready, as the purple light and remaining energies floated off of them like smoke.

    Their initial expectation of meeting with resistance soon faded as they came to realize the figures they saw "standing" about the huge pillared hall did not move.

    The whole place flickered in the light of many braziers and torches set in sconces along the innumerable pillars that extended far above them into shadow.

    They stood upon a dais at one end of this chamber. Not far from them sat an immense throne of crystal. The back of the throne was shaped like a great swan. Its long neck arched up over and looked down upon the seat of the throne. Two outstretched wings flanked the back of the throne. The whole thing glittered with a thousand facets in the flaming light.

    Sensing no imminent danger, movement or sound, the party spread out cautiously to take in their immediate vicinity.

    The pillars and hall seemed to extend beyond their vision to either side of the throned dais and stretched out before them into a forest of carved columns. Any entrance to the hall was far beyond their view, though the flickering glow of unseen torches could be seen for some way.

    Festus and a still invisible Erevan padded their way to the nearest of the pillars. They revealed a multitude of figures and carvings. Swans, birds, vines and trees with squirrels and songbirds climbing among them. In several places, carvings had been vandalized, either smashed in places or scrawled with black smears. There were several skeletons that appeared to be long bound and/or "pressed" into the columns.

    Braddok stayed near Alaria who was examining a small console of stone that was raised near the circle they'd just appeared in. It was akin to the console in the teleportal chamber in Daenfrii. Alaria hoped against hope that it might prove a direct exit for them...if she could decipher how to operate it.

    Haelan and Fen were most interested in the crystal throne. The druid wandered down the few steps of the dais to examine the closest "figure" standing near the bottom step. It was a statue of am man. Rather tall and regal looking. The detail of his finery and face were uncanny. A neatly trimmed beard and bejeweled crown about his brow lent to his noble appearance. He was partially turned, as if looking back at the throne. A mild look of surprise or questioning on his face.

    "I think we've found Lord Gorathiel." the druid said quietly.

    "Haelan, do you or Fen sense anything here?" Braddok asked in a hushed tone.

    The daelvar and half-elf confirmed that the pressing "evilness" of the demons' alcoves was not present here. Just the foreboding shadows of the unseen ceiling and a general staleness in the air. The whole place just felt...and smelled "musty." Not even a whiff of smoke from all of the fires burning. A fact that Festus and Haelan found odd.

    "Undoubtedly, they are magically fueled. The elves of my homeland use similar enchantments to light our halls. Though not so crass as flickering flames." Erevan's disembodied voice whispered.

    Alaria was trying in vain to decipher the [what she assumed to be] "controls" for the teleportal circle on the dais. She was loathe to resort to magic to read the advanced sigils and runes. The day had severely depleted her energies for the day and she feared they would not be leaving this cursed mountain without at least one other fight. Still, as best she could tell...from their brief time outside the mountain, that the sun would not have set just yet.

    Duor, to no one's notice, had wandered a bit further into the hall, taking in the carvings in the pillars. Other statues were placed around, most had been destroyed, smashed into various pieces by who knew what. He did note more than a few of the pieces and some of the bones of skeletons about seemed to be goblins and hobgoblins, as well as several that he presumed to be humans...or whatever it was those sorceress daughters from the dimensional realms had been.

    "Think it's safe to say we're actually in Nor Gorthok now. We have to be getting close to the treasure. I can feel it in my beard." Duor wondered out loud. His voice carried quite a ways through the cavernous hall which caused several of his companions to cringe.

    "Erevan's right, Duor...You are by far, the least, stealthy rogue I've ever encountered." Festus chastised to the dwarf who was somewhere he couldn't see.

    Duor's head poked out from behind a pillar to retort, "And yer the least stealthy ranger, hoof-foot."

    "Be still!" Erevan's voice hissed. If he'd been visible, the party might have noted the elf's ears twitch as an unseen sound caught his attention.

    It was a...like a shuffle...like the sound of robes dragging upon the mostly dust-covered ground. It moved slowly. Almost a like a scrape to the elf's enhanced senses. There was another...maybe a third? Erevan could not be sure.

    Then he saw a shadow cast upon one of the pillars some distance from them. It shuffled along, no speed to its moment. Erevan pointed in the direction and then realized that no one could see him!

    "I hear it too, now." Festus said and quickly traded his dual blades for his short bow.

    Then, about 30 feet into the chamber (by the party's vantage point) a figure, hunched over, came shambling into the light from behind a pillar.

    Its flesh was entirely white and drawn close to its bones. A haphazard mess of course black hair sat upon its head, like a nest. Its clothing, which at one time might have been a fine gown or robe was so dirty and tattered as to make its original color of appearance unable to be discerned. Some jewelry hung from its thin neck and gaunt wrists. It looked at the party with cold but darkly intelligent eyes.

    "WIGHT!" cried Haelan in alarm. His hand going immediately for his holy symbol.

    The creature made no sudden or menacing movements. Merely continued to shamble toward the dais and stop some distance away.

    "How do you know?" Braddok asked. He'd never encountered a wight before.

    "LOOK at it!" Haelan said in alarm. "It's WHITE!"

    "Haelan, I don't think that's how..." Fen began to correct, though the druid's innate sensitivity to the abomination of undeath was rising in his hackles.

    "What do you want heeeere?" said the scratchy hoarse voice.

    "It talks!?!" Festus said in surprise. In their time together, Festus had never encountered an undead thing that could speak.

    Duor, to everyone's surprise, strode out to within a few feet of the thing and replied in his most commanding tone. "We've come to relieve your master of his treasure. Where might that be, exactly?" the dwarf said, unabashed.

    "Heh heheheh HA! Heeheeheeheeeee!" the thing laughed in response.

    "You can't take the treasure. None can. Would you carry it all yourself little thieeeeef?" the once noble-woman of Gorathgraard replied.

    "Don't you worry 'bout that. We'll make do." Duor said nonchalantly. "Now, where is it?"

    "You should not beeee heeeere. There is naught but death in Gorarthgraarrrrrd." the wight said.

    "Yeah. Yeah. We're heard it before. But here we are. Now, the treasure if you please." Duor said.

    "Duor, get away, there are more than one!" Erevan's voice now raised through the hall a moment before the elf's form became visible again, firing arrows passed Duor on his left flank to slam into a column inches away from the crouching form of another of the hunched white figures.

    The addressing wight seemed surprised by this assault and growled before she opened her fang filled mouth and shrieked at the top of her lungs.

    "KREEEEEEEE! INTERLOPERS! INVADERS IN THE LORD'S THRONE! TO ARMS! DEFEND THE MASTER'S HALL!" again she let out a peeling shriek that echoed throughout the hall.

    With that, several other of the hunched undead creatures bounded from behind or upon the pillars. Shadows of their forms could be seen against the columns in the distance of the hall.

    Fen ran forward, his sacred spear blade bursting with the holy green aura to defend the Balance. Festus let fly two bolts from his short bow at the wight that Erevan had missed.

    The creature jumped up onto another of the columns to avoid the first, the second sunk into the creature's shoulder.

    Braddok ripped the blue-glowing bastard sword from its sheathe once more and charged for Duor even as the robed wight pounced with amazing speed at the nearby dwarf.

    The rogue, anticipating an attack, easily evaded the creature's first swipe of its claws. The second, however, bit into his calf as he dove away.

    Immediately an icy chill filled the dwarf's being. His strength seemed sapped away...like when those shadows attacked him. He recovered enough to roll away from another of the creature's who'd lept out of hiding.

    "Lil' help now would be good, Hilltender." Duor shouted through clenched teeth as he drew his green glowing dagger and swiped at the new attacker.

    The strike dug into the wight's reaching arm and it jumped back in surprise at the pain of the mystic blade's ethereal energies. The wound trailed a bit of green glowing "smoke."

    Another wight pounced upon Festus' back as the satyr was again taking aim at the with across the hall from him. It's claws raked through his cloak and unarmored back.

    The satyr cried out in pain as the unearthly cold filled his being and sapped his strength.

    Erevan, in elvin grace, whirled about, whipping his long sword out of its scabbard and sliced into the creature atop Festus, sending it rolling away.

    The ranger was not dead...yet...but nearly felt like Death itself was gripping his neck. Even getting back to his feet required a huge effort.

    Two wight bounded for Fen and Braddok. The swordsman easily avoided their attacks. The sword in his his practically felt as if it were singing (?!) in his head as is bit deeply into one of them.

    The thing did not die, but appeared sorely wounded.

    The second swiped at the druid. Fen's half-elvin blood again came to his rescue as with a fluid grace to rival Erevan's, he whirled around passed its clawing attacks and swiped across its back with his spear's blade. It was wounded, though far from slain.

    "Fen! Braddok! GET BACK!" Alaria called from the dais. The magess was not going to dare to go further into the chamber and released one of her few remaining lightning bolts from her staff. The electrical discharge flew through the chamber and blasted both of the creatures assaulting the warrior and druid. Both laid some tens of feet back away from where they'd stood, blackened and smoking. Neither rose again.

    Erevan was now dancing around with the wight that had attacked Festus. The two traded minor blows against the other. UNfortunately, the wight's "minor" blows seemed to do quite a bit more damage to the elf than the other way around. But at least, thought the elf, its attention was off of the satyr.

    Duor tried, in vain, to race toward the protection (or at least more advantageous position) of the dais only to be clawed and grabbed twice more by his two assailants.

    "DAMMIT! Haelannn..." the dwarf felt as weak as the satyr. He tripped and fell after the second attack and could not muster the strength to rise again. Reaching in a panicked look toward the halfling and magess near the throne.

    "FAERANTHA SHOWER THESE DEFILED SOULS IN YOUR GLORY! REMOVE THEIR UNHOLY PRESENCE FROM YOUR GRACE AND PROTECT YOUR LOYAL FOLLOWERS!" Haelan cried out, the pinecone shaped holy symbol held high above his head.

    There was a momentary breath of a pause...enough for Alaria to question (and worry) that the plea would go unanswered. Then, the whole of area was bathed in the honey colored daylight emanating from the daelvar.

    It seemed to "pulse" a bit, unlike any other time they'd seen the channeling effect. But with each pulse, threw its divine light further and further into the chamber until it reached just beyond where Duor laid on the ground.

    The wight that had been fighting Erevan immediately threw up its arms as if to protect itself from the hateful holiness. It was, effectively "thrown" out of the area of the daelvar's light. The two about the rend Duor to shreds were also thrust away from the rogue. Rolling to a distance, just beyond the extent of the light. The creatures reeled in pain and smoked where the light had burned into their undead skin.

    Even as the Hilltender strained, obviously, to maintain his field of protection, Braddok and Fen ran up to aid the dwarf to his feet and drag him toward the dais. Erevan did likewise with the severely wounded Festus.

    "We need another way out of here! ANY way out of here!" Braddok shouted.

    Alaria saw, with great alarm, the figures racing toward them from somewhere at the other end of the hall. They were roughly human sized, armored and baring weapons, long polearms mostly from what she could see.

    Hobgoblins? They would not be kept at bay by the halfling's "turning."

    Fen left Duor to the swordsman and turned at the goblinoid hoops and hollers. With a quickly cast incantation, vines and roots broke up through the floor of the hall in as long a line as he could muster, forming a "wall" of sorts among the first rank of the charging hobgoblin soliders. It wouldn't stop them for long. The rest would just have to go around the enchanted plants, but at least for a moment, they were halted.

    "Alaria...I...I can't..." Haelan said with obvious strain in his voice.

    "Just a another few moments, Haelan. Another few moments. You can do it!" Alaria cried in attempted assurance as she ran back to the console by the teleportal circle. She had no choice now. They needed to get out of here...wherever that might take them.

    She quickly called to mind the spell for comprehending languages and hoped that it would show her what she needed to know.

    The spell took effect and the sigils began to make sense to her. Then her attention was broken by the sound of something...splashing? and then the cries of pain and the acrid smell of sulphur and something else burning.

    "NOOOO!!!!" Fen cried out. Utter agony filled his voice.

    Alaria turned with a jump at the mournful sound to take in the scene in an instant. Braddok was helping Duor up onto the dais. A few steps behind, Fen stood, staring in horror at the melted blobs of bones and blood and tattered pieces of fabric, sitting in a pool of orange liquid that sizzled and steamed acrid fumes from the floor and twisted form.

    Part of that form was the upper half of Erevan staring blankly, in complete shock, up at the dais...at her! The elf's mouth seemed to move weakly, though no sound escaped as his handsome face fell to the floor and began to disintegrate in the acid pool beneath him.

    "Ooooohoohoo....Pink flesh....Silly pink flesh. I tooooold yooooou we'd play again soohoon. Ooooohoohoohoo." came an all too familiar lilting voice.

    From behind the wall of entangling vines, circling down one of the columns like a snake and "clapping" its forearms together in glee, was the behir, Rach'sha.

    Braddok had dragged Duor back to the teleportal circle and, more or less tossed him inside the inscribed runes. He ran back down to the druid who stood, staring in shock as the last of his killi dissolved before his tear filled eyes.

    The large muscled human threw his strong arms around the half-elf and pulled away from the shock. Fen watched, but offered no resistance, even as Braddok dragged him up the stairs to the teleportal circle. Seeing Alaria, similarly, staring in shock, the warrior shouted at the magess in as commanding a tone as he could. "ALARIA! NOW! HURRY!"

    The R'Hathi magess only half-heard the Grinlian swordsman. She only half noticed as the daylike honey colored light subsided. and the wights took up positions with the advancing hobgoblins who only slowly neared the dais as the behir coiled his way down the rest of the column behind the lines of hobgoblin soldiers.

    It was only the faint tug on the sleeve of her robe that caused Alaria to look, dumbly, down at Haelan's tear-filled eyes.

    "Alaria, we have to go. We have to go now." Haelan chocked through his tears gently.

    The image from Alaria's spell sleep burst into her mind and she was again 100% in this room...this room of death and defeat and doom.

    "Yes! Yes of course."

    Holding Fen tightly in his grip, Braddok watched as Haelan backed into the circle and Alaria, with another glance at the console, pressed a few of the curious shaped crystals.

    "Come now, pink flesh...can't get out that way." said the behir. "Surrender and we can go back to my lair to play some more. I promise."

    "Yes, Rach'sha. We shall play again. But not this day." Alaria replied, her voice full of threat.

    The behir gave a command in some language and the hobgoblins and wights raced for the dais.

    "THREZAS KAZKREL, Bridgetower!" Alaria commanded.

    In a burst of violet light the companions were gone from the great hall of Nor Gorthok.

    As the wisps of purple energy trailed off where they had stood and the hobgoblins turned to look, confused at the behir, Rach'sha merely said, more to himself than any of the other, "Hunh. Guess you can get out that way."

    *

    The party felt the esoteric "banging" of striking an unseen barrier. In the corners of her mind, Alaria recalled that the tower of Bridgetower was barred from magical intrusion, as was the whole of the keep of the Dragonmage (which was why she'd elected for Bridgetower instead).

    The party materialized just outside the tower, upon the wide bridge that spanned the river D'Evand, connecting the gatehouse to the tower itself.

    Braddok looked around in alarm as blue-tabbarded guards came racing up to their position from either side. The warrior had never been in Bridgetower and, at first, was concerned they were in for another fight or capture.

    "It's alright, Braddok. We're safe. These are friends." Haelan said gently to the warrior. But enough to cause the swordsman to lower his weapon.

    Alaira looked blankly at the guard who demanded to know who they were before a familiar moustached sergeant...or was he a lieutenant now?...pushed his way through...

    "Magess?" the man said. "Stand down! Stand down! The Stormriders are returned to Bridgetower!" the man commanded his men.

    Alaria nodded weakly and then collapsed into wracking sobs.

    Braddok moved to console her and looked with sorrow at the face of the lieutenant who moved forward to do the same. The seasoned veteran did not need any explanation from the swordsman.

    Fen just stared off the bridge, on his knees. The tears flowed silently down his cheeks in the waning light of the evening.

    "Fen...I can't...I don't know...I'm so sorry." Haelan said quietly with a hand upon the druid's shoulder. If Fen heard the Hilltender's gentle condolence he made no indication. He simply stared down the length of the Silver River and cried in silence.

    "Call the Daughters! Summon Old Midge!" called lieutenant Goren.

    The priestesses of the healing goddess, Gilea, were quick to arrive.

    As the rosy light slipped from the day, the remaining Stormriders were attended and ushered, gently, into the Tower.

    <Author/DM's note: Not all paths lead to riches and glory, dear readers, and the Stormriders know/knew that better than most. Not every foe is able to be defeated at all times. Sometimes you get lucky...and our troupe has been many many times. But, sometimes...you don't.

    R.I.P. Erevan and Festus. You were great characters in this saga of Orea and were/would be missed. Yes, this means they're gone "for good." The party, at this point, was not nearly powerful or rich enough to bring them back without a body. Twas a dark day [session] for the Stormriders, indeed.
    One of my worst/saddest, on record, as a DM.>

    EDIT: Just realized I relayed this entire "episode" with no mention of Mister Meeessh. Well, it might come as little surprise that Meeessh is essentially a "cohort" or "follower", to use the vernacular, for Alaria, though not technically a "familiar." It can be assumed that Meeessh is hiding behind Alaria's robe/skirts throughout this encounter...and upon their arrival in Bridgetower, was told that he's "ok"/not to mess with him./EDIT
    Last edited by steeldragons; Monday, 16th July, 2012 at 05:48 PM.
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  • #203
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    Alaria sat at the table, staring idly at the spiced wine and tray of food brought to the chambers by the attending Daughters of Gilea.

    It was a similar set of chambers as she'd stayed in on her last visit to Bridgetower. But were obviously elsewhere in the tower.

    Braddok stared out the narrow window into the night sky. A goblet of wine in his hand. He turned to look at the "shellshocked" magess. His heart cried for and with her, though her tears had stopped flowing some time ago.

    "Alaria, are you sure you don't want to retire? A good night of sleep might proof a world of good for you." the swordsman offered cautiously.

    The wizard just shook her head and continued to stare into her goblet. She was tired, to be sure...but it just didn't seem right for her to sleep...when Festus and Erevan couldn't...It didn't make sense and she knew that. But she just couldn't bring herself to go to bed.

    Haelan entered the chamber. "They've restored Duor. He is sleeping, but intact. Fen...well, Fen is another matter." the daelvar trailed off as he climbed into one of the chairs at the table near Alaria and poured himself a smaller cup of the spiced wine.

    "What's wrong with Fen?" Braddok said, seeing Alaria was not going to ask.

    "Well...that's the thing. Nothing is 'wrong' with him. He is unhurt and suffered no wounds from those unholy horrors. He's just...well...not really 'there', if you know what I mean. He just stares and tears come out of his eyes...but he makes no sound. Acknowledges no one or nothing. I've never really seen the like. Ole Midge says she's seen it before and he'll kjust 'snap out of it' when he's ready...but she's done all she can do." the daelvar said with a deep swig of the wine.

    Haelan, himself, had run out of tears some time before and while his heart was heavy at the loss to the company, he simply had no more tears to shed at the moment.

    Braddok solemnly nodded his head in understanding. "He'll snap out of it...sooner or later...You have to, eventually." Braddok's thoughts turned to the horrors he'd seen when Barforth had fallen to the usurper. He'd been just a boy and had been in that sort of..."catatonia" the priests had called it at the time...for a while before coming to his senses.

    "What do we do now?" Haelan asked Braddok, specifically. "Word among the guards is that the fight goes badly in Miralostae. Some say the Steel Dragons met with defeat...though others disagree."

    "We shouldn't have gone." Alaria said quietly.

    Braddok's eyebrows rose in surprise at the first words Alaria had said since their return, as did Haelan's.

    "We didn't really have a choice, my lady." Braddok said calmly.

    "No...we did...and we made the wrong ones. We opted for greed and glory when we should have opted for the more valorous path." Alaria said, again to her goblet as opposed to the others. "And now Festus and Erevan...and Coerraine, have paid for our folly."

    "You can not blame yourself, Alaria. It was all of our choice." Haelan attempted to soothe.

    "No...I'm not to blame...that blasted dwarf is. I curse the day I ever offered to bring him with us." the magess replied.

    "You speak in anger, Alaria. You know, in your heart, that is untrue. You did the right thing then...and Duor has been a valuable companion. He's helped us through a great many trials." Haelan said.

    "And gotten us into a great many more!" Alaria spat. She put her head in her hands and closed her eyes in exhaustion. "You are right, of course, Haelan. I just am not in the mood to hear it right now. And I fear for Fen."

    "He'll be alright, magess." Braddok offered. "He just needs a bit of time."

    "Time we don't have! All of Orea might not have!" Alaria barked back and then, again, ashamed of her outburst, put her head back in her hands.

    A soft knock at the door was met by Haelan. One of the acolyte Daughters of Gilea entered with a tray holding three small cups and was followed by Ole Midge.

    "Here you are, dearling. I thought for sure you'd be back in Stenthil's library working on your magics." the gentle old woman grinned. Her attempt at a warm hearted greeting was met with silence.

    "Well, I've brought you these. They will help you sleep." the elder priestess nodded at the young woman with the tray and she placed the cups upon the table and with a silent nod of a bow to Haelan and Braddok retired from the room.

    "There will be much to discuss tomorrow, Magess Alaria. The seneschal has already declared that you take precedence to meet with him tomorrow...whenever you like. The Hilltender has told me what's happened and there's nothing else you can do about it, this day." Midge said with obvious sympathy and offered the cup to Alaria.

    Alaria nodded at the old priestess and sipped at the cup. It was warm and sweet...minty.

    "Yes. Yes, of course. There will be much to do tomorrow." Alaria replied weakly. "I am tired. I shall adjourn to my chamber and begin anew tomorrow."

    Midge smiled and began to exit. She turned in surprise as Alaria's hand gripped her sleeve strongly.

    "Thank you, Midge. Please convey our thanks to the holy Daughters." Alaria said as she rose from the table.

    Midge grinned back, the gentle grin of a grandmother. "No thanks at all are necessary, Magess. The Merciful Mother be praised that you and the others were returned to us safely. Now...rest."

    Alaria nodded dumbly and left the common room.

    Meeessh watched her go with obvious concern. He then took a position near the warming glow of the fireplace and, as he appeared to fall "asleep" or whatever it was mephits did, he kind of "evaporated" out of view.

    Haelan and Braddok watched her go and observed with curiosity as the mephit "left", as did Midge.

    "You boys too!" Midge said with a wink when Alaria's door had shut. "I suspect you have a long day ahead...and much yet to do. Hilltender Haelan, I think the druid will be in sore need of your attention."

    "Thank you, Midge. I will look after him." said Haelan.

    "We shant be up late." added Braddok.

    With a grin and a nod, the elder priestess took her leave.

    "So...what do we do next?" Haelan asked the swordsman again.

    "We do what we are trained to, Haelan. We do what good we can, where we can...and eventually, some day, we avenge our friends against the forces of the dark wizard...dragon...whatever he or she is." Braddok replied absently, staring out the window at the starlit sky.

    Haelan nodded in agreement and sipped at his wine. The two adventurers passed the remaining time in silence and contemplation before saying their goodnights and retiring to their respective beds.

    *

    Braddok awoke with a start at the screaming of Alaria.

    The swordsman lept from his small bed, naked, grabbed his scabbard and raced from his room. He barged into Alaria's bedchamber to see the wizardess sitting bolt upright, her night-shift covered in sweat. She was panting and staring straight forward...at least until the warrior had burst her door open, blade flaring.

    "What is it!?!" Braddok said, ready to slay anything he saw in the room. There was nothing there. "Are you alright?"

    Alaria looked at the warrior in surprise...His chest heaved in expectation of combat. She looked at his naked form in the moonlight filtering into her room. "I...uh...Braddok?..."

    He relaxed his stance and sheathed his blade, not seeing any obvious intruder. Looking down, the warrior blushed and placed the sapphire studded scabbard over his...privy.

    "I heard a scream! WHOA!" Haelan said in surprise. The daelvar had come racing from his room as well. He had his mace and shield and was clumsily trying to set the slightly oversized helmet on his head. He got it adjusted just in time to see Braddok's bare buttocks very close to his face.

    "I'm fine, Haelan...I'm sorry. To you both. I was having a nightmare. But I'm fine now." Alaria said calmly...attempting as best she could to keep her eyes off of Braddok's glistening torso...at the very least above his waist.

    "Uh...huh...O...K." Haelan said, also averting his eyes to the nape of the swordsman's broad back. "I'll...uh...I'll be going back to bed, then." Not awaiting any comment the halfling blushed his way back into his bed.

    "Yeah...I'll...uh...I mean...I should...uh...go...then...too." Braddok stammered and threw a thumb over his shoulder as he edged his way, backward, toward the door.

    Confident that Haelan had gone, Alaria stopped the swordsman.

    "Braddok, wait...don't go. I think..." she looked toward the moonlight streaming in the narrow slit of a window.

    "I think I'd rather not be alone tonight." Alaria said quietly.

    "Alaria? I mean...my lady...I mean..you want...?" Braddok couldn't believe what he was hearing.

    "Stay with me...please?" Alaria asked softly.

    "If you...I mean...if that's your wish?" the swordsman forced himself to respond. He looked over his shoulder as if someone might hear him saying what he was saying.

    Alaria nodded and drew back the down comforter from the vacant side of the bed. "I think...no, I know, it is."

    The warrior gently placed his sword down beside the bed and climbed into the bed.

    The two bereft adventurers looked at each other for a while before Alaria lay back down and snuggled up to Braddok's muscled form.

    "Yes...this is better." Alaria said softly. "You will keep me safe" she added as sleep quickly drifted over her once more.

    "Always, magess." Braddok said quietly.

    Braddok placed a thick arm over her. After a few moments, he too drifted into slumber.

    The warrior dreamed of awakening with tentacles instead of arms. But after once being shocked awake by that image, to find the still clothed magess in his actual human arms, he fell back to sleep.

    Next time: Of Druids and Dwarves.
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  • #204
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    Fen's bright green eyes opened and stared at a stone ceiling.

    He felt the stiffness on his cheeks where tears had dried while he slept.

    He weakly turned his head to the side. The dull glow of dawn was filtering through a narrow slit of a window in this small room. He laid upon a bed. He saw, with not interest, his sacred cloak handing upon a peg at the opposite wall. His leaf-tipped sacred spear leaned against it and his boots sat upon the floor near his pack and pouches. The druid realized, with no emotion, that he was still in his leather armor and leggings.

    Shortly after his waking there was a soft knock upon his door. The half-elf could not be bothered to rise from his bed. Not that it mattered.

    A moment after the door softly creaked open a crack and he heard Haelan's soft voice calling to him.

    "Fen? Are you awake?" the daelvar all but whispered.

    The druid stared at the rays of the dawn striking into his chamber like a plane of gold.

    "Oh! You are up. That's great!" came the daelvar's voice again. He neared the bedside and place a small tray (though large in the halfling's arms) upon the small bedside table.

    "I've brought you a break fast. Midge says you need to eat. There's some nice honey buns here...and nuts and some of the Tower's freshest berries. I know how you like berries." the daelvar smiled down at the half-elf.

    Fen just stared at the rays of light. He had no appetite. Somewhere inside him, he knew the daelvar had a good heart and meant the best for him...he just couldn't be bothered to acknowledge his presence...the size of the daelvar's heart had no baring on the fact that his was shattered.

    "Come on Fen...there's some fresh milk here too. I don't know if you like milk...but Midge said it would be good for you. Rejuvenates the blood, she says." the daelvar chuckled to himself. He lifted the cup of milk toward the druid.

    Fen's body made no motion to take it. What's the point? kept flowing through his mind.

    "Ok...well, some berries then? Or a bun? The honey buns are particularly good. I confess I tried one on the way up. I hope you can forgive me." the daelvar said with characteristic cheerfulness.

    If only I would ever feel that cheer again, thought Fen. But I will never.

    The Hilltender just looked at the druid for a moment and sadness filled his eyes. This caused Fen some inward pain...he did not want the daelvar to feel sad...he felt sad enough for all of Orea.

    "Please...Fen...say something!" Haelan asked as he returned the plate of berries and nuts to the tray. "This isn't healthy. You need to eat or you will expire. It's been three days now!"

    Had it? Fen thought inwardly...a pittance of time to those of the star-blood...and even though his was diluted, he still did not feel time pass as these others...and his kiili would never feel the passage of time, however slight, again.

    "We need to get going, Fen. There is much to do...and we need you to do it with us. We won't leave you. You want to help us, don't you?" after a moment of consideration, Haelan added, ever-so gently, "Erevan would want you to. Don't you think?"

    Erevan? Erevan...yes, his kiili...his lost 'dear one.'

    The unbidden image of his face melting into a pool of goo assaulted Fen's mind.

    Erevan would want nothing from him...never wanted anything from him...just to share their minds and bodies...just to BE with each other as those of the star-blood wanted...This silly hairfoot, kind and gentle as his heart might be, could never understand that.

    "Fen, please..." the halfling's voice seemed to crack from some sorrow...but the sunlight was nice to see...

    "We need you. You have to come back to us. Alaria and Braddok...well, they're mad with revenge...but seem to be...uh...consoling each other pretty well..." Haelan's voice went from a conversational tone to a whisper to add, "You know, how humans do?"

    Haelan grinned at the blankly staring at what he thought a fine, but not vulgar, joke.

    "Duor is ready to go too...though Midge thinks he should remain abed for a bit more." the cleric added.

    Duor...DUOR!...the name raked at the half-elf's mind and something clicked (or snapped).

    The half-elf's eyes blinked and he sat bolt up in his bed.

    Haelan spat our a bit of milk and nearly choked on the mouthful of honey bun he'd been helping himself to from Fen's tray.

    "FEN! Oh, breff vuh Hill Muvuh, *swallow* I knew you'd come back!" said spitting crumbs of honey bun all over the front of himself.

    "Duor...Where is he?!" the druid said absently, not looking at the halfling cleric wiping crumbs off of his newly gifted pine green tabbard.

    "Well, he's in just next door. You're both in the..." Haelan began to explain, thankful at the druid's apparent return to life. He did think it odd that the half-elf jumped up from his bed and grabbed his cloak from the peg and took up his spear.

    "...the Daughters' special private infirmary rooms." Haelan finished as the druid exited the room in a flourish of green, brown and grey cloak. Eyes widened in understanding.

    "Oh dear."

    Stuffing the last of the honey bun into his mouth, Haelan raced out after the druid.

    He was barely into the hall when a scream of alarm came up from the chamber next door. A young Daughter of Gilea in her pristine white robes edged in pink thorny vines came running out, linens flying from her arms. She almost ran over the halfling.

    "FEN! DON'T!" Haelan called as he entered the room.

    The druid was stabbing the bed, over and over again. With each full force jab, tear-strained words came out of the druid's mouth.

    "IT'S. YOUR. FAULT. IT'S. YOUR. FAULT. DAMNED! GREEDY! DWARF!" cried Fen.

    Feathers of down flew around the room like a blizzard as the druid stabbed, over and over, into the empty bed where the acolyte cleric had been changing the linens.

    "Fen!? STOP IT!" called Haelan, invoking a bit of divine presence behind his words <cleric spell: Command.> The druid halted his attack on the empty bed, immediately, and turned with a feral fury in his green eyes toward the Hilltender.

    "Where is he, Haelan?! you can't protect him. Where is he!? He will pay! It's his fault and you know it! TELL ME WHERE HE IS!" Fen cried at Haelan.

    "Where who is?" said Duor coming into view in the doorway behind the Hilltender, taking a munch out of an apple.

    Aw, horse pucky, thought Haelan. Not now!

    "YOU!" the half-elf lunged at the dwarf, easily thrusting aside the halfling.

    "WOAH!" Duor said and dove to the side of the doorway into the hall.

    In a flash of green, the druid was in the hall and looking to stab at the dwarf, who had regained his footing some feet away from the druid.

    "Have ye lost yer mind, druid?!" Duor cried in alarm.

    "I'm sorry, Fen, but you leave me little choice...Beatius Faerantha benifica spiritum con u guda rihvahlt!" invoked Haelan again <cleric spell: Hold Person>.

    The druid's spear tip halted, inches from the dwarf's face...and shook there. Unsure of the extent of Haelan's enchantment, Duor quickly scampered out from under the spear and trotted several tens of feet down the hall.

    "Look, Fen. I'm sorry about Erevan. I'm sorry about Festus too! He was a great drinkin' partner. Best satyr I ever knew...well, the only one...but still...However things was we said to each other, I had a great deal of respect for the bloody point-ear...and I'd like to think he for me." Duor said in an attempt to placate the half-elf.

    The druid was obviously fighting against Haelan's magic and making some progress and his arms broke free of the spell to finish the thrust which moments before would have dug into the dwarf.

    Tears streamed down the half-elf's face in frustration or sorrow, none could say.

    "We were comrades, the elf and me...like you and me!...we did our best. It was friendly jabs...you know how it is...I never in an age and a half wanted him dead..." Duor continued.

    The druid broke enough of the enchantment to move his head and mouth and cry out in pain and sorrow at the word "dead".

    "Duor, SHUT. UP!" Haelan commanded down the hall. "You're not helping! Get out of here!" beads of sweat were forming on the halfling's forehead...the druid was fighting the cleric with everything he had...Haelan had never felt such a resistance.

    "Look...I know you blame me. You SHOULD!" Duor continued (in typical fashion not listening to anyone else). "Everyone else does...and I blame myself, too! It wasn't right what happened. It was MY fault! I KNOW that, now...and I'll do everything I can to avenge their loss and see that bastard dragon-snake worn as a belt...There's plenty of him to make belts for all of us!" Duor ended with an attempt at levity.

    Haelan fell back as Fen burst out of his holding spell. He scrambled to the doorway, expecting to see Duor skewered on the end of Fen's spear.

    Instead, thankfully, he saw Fen on his knees, crying uncontrollably. His leaf tip spear lying on the ground beside him.

    After a moment of this, Duor relaxed his stance and stood watching...A grown man to cry was a pitiable sight among dwarves...but Fen wasn't a dwarf, and Duor understood that. The rogue wiped a tear from his eye before anyone could see.

    Haelan put his hands upon Fen's shoulders and simply held them as the half-elf wracked himself with sobs.

    "Let's get you back to bed, Fen...you can eat later, huh? That'd be ok won't it?" Haelan said gently.

    Without a word, Fen rose to his feet and reentered his room, leaving his spear on the floor of the hall. He threw the sacred cloak to the floor and flopped back down in the bed.

    Duor and Haelan waved away the guards who had come at the young Daughter of Gilea's alarm.

    The dwarf handed the halfling the sacred spear and Haelan indicated it would be best for Duor to go.

    As the dwarf exited Fen's room, Haelan offered softly, "And Duor...perhaps it would be best if you took other chambers."

    The dwarf nodded and left, again wiping a tear away that no one saw.

    Next time: Elves n' Ninjas n' Elves n' thangs.
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  • #205
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    Oh wow, lots happened. Looks like a new character needs to be rolled up.

    The nightmare scene made me laugh
    My Story Hour campaigns. What are they up to this week?

  • #206
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    Loving the story, SD!! It was quite the treat to log in last night after a few days' time and see so much new material. Thank you for continuing to entertain us with the adventures of the Stormriders.

    It was so sad to lose Festus and Erevan, but I think it was portrayed in a manner which was keen and heartfelt. It's so easy when playing the game to miss out on the emotional impact of a character's death, but you've captured it here in elegant fashion. Please keep up the great work, I'm looking forward to reading more!

  • #207
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    The first days in Bridgetower passed in something of blur for Alaria.

    Following the first night, which she had passed with Braddok and to her surprise and somewhat embarrassment she had thoroughly enjoyed, her days were filled with the activity of one bereaved...just looking for anything and everything she could do to keep busy.

    She had had her first report and meeting with Captain Rynthis, followed by a visit to Magist Stenthil. They arranged to meet later in the week to identify the companions' unidentified items and recharge her staff. Stenthil apologized for his lack of time, but the Captain, it seemed, had the old magist scrying day and night to keep tabs on the borders of the realm and occasionally to see how things went on the front.

    The second afternoon had presented a lengthy and somewhat tiresome afternoon tea with the Lady Elhianne. Her sincerity and well-meaning nature was, however, difficult to be annoyed with. The lady's condolences had been heartfelt and her utter dismay at the horrors Alaria had endured in the passed weeks was completely sympathetic.

    Later that day, she had sent one of her ladies to the party's chambers to offer Alaria an array of gowns and robes, one more elaborate and poofy than the next (having been horrified at the tale of Alaria "loosing her clothes" to some magical trap in the lizardmen's den). Though beautifully crafted, Alaria had to admit, they were not exactly conducive to travel and adventure. Still, Alaria selected one of deep midnight blue velvet with elegant silver trimming that had sparked an idea.

    Arrangements had begun to be planned for a memorial for the fallen Stormriders, though all agreed it would be inappropriate to hold them without Fen's presence. So that would wait.

    Braddok spent his days familiarizing himself with tower and small keep, befriending several of the soldiers and shared an ale one evening with Lieutenant Goren who, after little conversation, Braddok remembered slightly. The two traded "battle stories" like two old veterans would.

    His nights, to his great surprise, were being spent in Alaria's bed and he found himself acknowledging and enjoying feelings he had held for some time, it seemed.

    Though he spent much of his first days praying and waiting and chatting with the catatonic druid, Haelan the Hilltender was surprised to find himself hailed as something of hero, separate from the rest. He enjoyed much time in the kitchens with Bridgetower's head chef, Mrs. Pottle. To his utter glee, the egg-laying hen, Elsie, had been not only kept safe in the keep, but had a sign outside its private coop reading "The Hilltender's Holy Hen."

    It seemed many of the locals from the surrounding lands came to make visits and leave "gifts" of feed for the chicken, in exchange for ONE of her allegedly "holy eggs." Haelan thought this silly, but as the wise Mrs. Pottle pointed out, "Folks need sumthin' to give them comfort in uncertain times like these. And your Elsie is the best egg-layer I've ever seen!"

    Haelan, though uncomfortable still, was forced to see the wisdom of this statement. He did request the sign be changed to "The Hill MOTHER'S Holy Hen" as the daelvar was quite sure the blessing of the chicken's bounty ought rightfully be due Faerantha and not himself. Mrs. Pottle promised it to be done that day.

    Following their...altercation in the infirmary ward, Duor had moved in to the party's collective chambers and shared a room with Braddok, though in effect had the room to himself as the warrior was busy "smelting with the magess", as the dwarf jabbed in good-nature.

    On their fourth day, the party sat about taking in their break fast.

    They were not accustomed to the attention and soft spoken "awe" the servants and guards around Bridgetower offered them and preferred to take meals themselves. While normally it would be seen as rude, the Lady Elhianne insisted that the companions be given as much privacy as they wanted in their time of mourning...though, as etiquette demanded, sent daily invitations to join her in the main hall for supper.

    They had already decided that as soon as Fen were able and Alaria had completed whatever she was spending hours a day doing with Stenthil in the library, they would be off to Miralostae to aid in the fight and defense of the elvin capitol. Specifically, the treasure within, the mystic Eye of Arinane, was their main concern.

    To their surprise, Fen entered the chamber, fully clothed and holding a pack and his spear, in apparent readiness to leave.

    "FEN!" Haelan cheered with all of the brightness and smiles the halfling so easily conjured. He rushed over and gave the druid a tight hug around his waist.

    Alaria, also, jumped up from the table and through her arms around the half-elf's neck. She said nothing but a light tear came down her cheek.

    Fen returned the embrace and grinned, ever so slightly."It is alright, magess. I am alright."

    The steamy form of Mister Meeessh floated over from [what had become] his place near the fireplace that burned all day and night, keeping the mephit as warm as it could in the near constant chill of the encroaching winter. He stood and looked up from with hands clasped together. "Meeessh ihs happy to shhheee mahssster Fehhn ihsss well."

    "Thank you Meeessh. Good to see you too." the druid smiled back. He'd all but forgotten the mephit was in their company.

    Duor had silently gotten up from his seat and edge his way to stand behind Braddok.

    "It is fine, Duor. I hold no blame upon you...anymore. You were merely acting as is your nature. I have had my tears...and my crazed moments. I hope you will forgive my outburst and am please our friend, Haelan, was able to stay my angry hand.

    "What transpired, and transpires still, is all the will of the Balance and I can only accept that Erevan and Festus are returned to the Cycle and shall, again, work their bravery and good for Orea in their own time...in their own new ways." Fen explained seeing the nervousness on the dwarf's face.

    "Welcome back, my friend. Are you going somewhere?" Braddok asked with a smile, taking in the druid's traveling gear, as he gripped forearms and clasped him on the shoulder once Haelan and Alaria had backed away.

    A look of shock flashed on Haelan's face. "Go somewhere? No, Fen, you can't! We have to..."

    "Alas, my friends. I must away. It has been too long since I've conferred with my order and I have much to report. It may be they, also, have some insight that might aid our cause." the druid said in all seriousness.

    Haelan's eyes again filled with tears. They'd only just gotten Fen "back" only to lose him, too! It was almost more than the halfling could bare. "But...you can't...not you too..."

    "Do not feel sorrow, friend Haelan. I have not the words or means to thank you for your unerring attention and care. But do not fear. I will return before the greater moon's next fullness. I shall rejoin you as soon as I am able...wherever you may be." Fen explained.

    Alaria, also shocked with the news, could make no argument. The druid had to do as he willed...or rather as his order willed. She had no doubts he spoke true and they would see him again as soon as he could.

    "Be well, Fen. Keep yourself safe." Alaria said calmly, though tears also welled up in her eyes.

    "And you, magess. You all!" Fen replied. "By the next full silver moon. I promise...my friends."

    Braddok gave the half-elf another tight grip on the forearm and a serious but understanding nod.

    The druid turned to leave before Duor said, through a throat-clearing cough, "Fen...take care o' yerself."

    The half-elf looked over his shoulder at the dwarf and grinned slightly with a nod. Then he left the chamber.

    Haelan looked at Alaria, then Braddok, then Duor...just the four of them now...well, and Meeessh. "What are we going to do? What about the memorial? What about Miralostae?"

    Alaria sniffed back the tears in her eyes and sat back down to finished her tea and light breakfast. "We do as we planned, Haelan. You heard Fen, we'll see him in a couple of weeks. Til then..."

    "We do what we do, Hilltender. Remember?" Braddok said with a reassuring hand on the daelvar's shoulder.

    *

    The whole of the tower thundered and clapped with the unknown flurry of magics being set off within the library. Servants shook and guards gave each other nervous looks with each long rumbling. Everyone had been alerted that the Magess Alaria "Stormrider" and Magist Stenthil would be in deep conference for the extent of the day and under NO circumstances were they to be disturbed.

    A particularly loud crash of thunder caused Haelan to flinch visibly. The halfling stood outside the doors of the library as Braddok came walking up.

    "By the gods, what are they doing in there? Am I early? Is Alaria alright? She said to come at one bell passed midday." the swordsman said.

    "I believe..." the daelvar flinched as another peel of thunder shook the hallway, "...they are recharging Alaria's lightning staff. But, yes. you're on time...I think, though I could not hear the bell above all of this fury."

    Inside the library, Alaria stood back, her lightning spell exhausted almost as much as she.

    Stenthil, on the other hand, was giddy with power. He exercised his magical craft in a way he hadn't done (or had cause to do) in years. "HAHAHA! By the Blue Star, I'd forgotten how FUN this is!" the grey-bearded wizard chuckled.

    The lap-drake, Amarys, had found herself a spot on a shelf, buried under rolls of scrolls, clasping her forearms over her unseen ears.

    By contrast, Meeessh flitted and flipped through the air all around the staff that hovered across the library from the two mages. The mephit was letting out a constant stream of tea-kettle like hisses and whistles which alaria took to be laughing. Being a creature of air and water vapor, the mephit had no fear of electricity and found the discharging and residual sparks lovely and tickling...as close to being in his own plane as he had encountered in this strange "solid" world.

    "That should be enough, I think, Master Stenthil." Alaria said finally. "Perhaps one more...Devrim, would you care to do the honors?" she said turning to the awestruck apprentice who had been standing by with a tray of wool and copper wires and some beverages for the "true Magi." The young man's dark hair stood on end in all directions from the static that pervaded the entire library.

    "Really?!" he said excitedly, almost dropping the tray. At Stenthil's instruction, he'd studied the incantation for shocking grasp, but had not dared to dream that in the presence of these "powerful wizards" he would be called upon to help!

    Stenthil looked at his pupil and smiled. "Go ahead, young Devrim. Give it a try! Just like we've practiced."

    Devrim neared the staff and reached out cautiously.

    "Don't ACTUALLY touch it, mind! Just near...That's right." the kindly old magist offered instruction and encouragement.

    Devrim cast the spell. He'd memorized it and ran it over in his mind a hundred times that morning. His hand burst into a ball of electrical sparks and, almost immediately, felt the energy being pulled...ripped...from around his wrist and into the banded staff.

    "Wow!" Devrim said with as much excitement as he had uttered before the spell. "That was awesome!"

    "Heh heh heh. Yes, Devrim...it is. Well done." Stenthil smiled in approval.

    Alaria, similarly, grinned at Devrim. Though the man was little younger than she, if at all, she still thought of the young man as a child...and in the ways of the Mysteries, he was. She went and grabbed the staff out of midair.

    The staff sparked at her touch and Alaria felt the give and flow of the energies within it. Yes, this would do nicely...for a time, she thought.

    "Now!" Stenthil clapped his hands rubbed his palms together. "What's next? You've some items, I believe? Won't be as exciting as this has been...but still a good lesson."

    Alaria shook her head in agreement and ushered in Haelan and Braddok. The halfling toted their one remaining pack of holding and Braddok with the sapphire studded scabbard hanging from his swordbelt that clasped the warriors soft long blue tunic around his waist.

    By Manat, he was handsome, Alaria thought to herself. As fact she had been noticing more and more with each passing day. The two humans shared a grin of mutual admiration and affection.

    Haelan pretended not to notice, though his eyes rolled in reflex. This "lovey dovey stuff" had been going on more and more every day since their arrival. The Hilltender wished the image of Braddok's butt an inch away from his face would leave his mind forever.

    "Very good. Very good. Just here. Place them here. What do we have then?" Stenthil said as he hastily cleared away some tomes and scrolls from one of the many tables scattered around the library.

    "Let's start simple." Alaria said and instructed Haelan to remove the potions they'd found in the behir's treasure trove. Thankfully, to all of them, Haelan had somehow become the unofficial "carrier of the potions" and so they had not been lost, as so much of the coins and gems had been, with Festus' demise. Alaria shook the image of the blob of melting flesh and bone in the acid pool from her mind.

    "Ah yes. Excellent. Pay heed, young Devrim. The Divination of Identification is one of the Mysteries most valuable and closely guarded secrets. It will tell you everything you need to know about what an item does and cannot do, how to access their powers and, perhaps, if you're lucky" Stenthil winked at the assembled audience, "a bit of its history as well."

    He looked over the various flasks of colored liquids with great interest. "Now, there are many in the Craft that can identify potions simply on sight and smell. Alchemists, mostly, but there are others with the experience or knowledge.

    "You friend, Magess, the Emerald Lady...what is it they crudely call her in the Laklans? Ah yes, the 'Green Witch'. heh heh heh. Ah country folk...Manat bless them. But she is particularly skilled in the identification and crafting of potion.

    "THIS, " the old wizard exclaimed, holding up the blue potion, "should smell like winter berries and if I don't miss my guess would offer the imbiber great strength." The wizard pulled out the stopper and took a brief whiff. "We shall see, eh? Yes, we shall see. But you have to make sure!" he said with a tone of warning to the apprentice. "Potions, like any other magic, are never a sure thing and might be cursed or enchanted to appear as other than they are.

    "HENCE, the divination of identification is always advised, if not strictly necessary. I will require ABSOLUTE silence to heed the pings of the ether." he finally concluded.

    With some intricate hand movements (like fingers playing a piano) Stenthil passed his hands over the bare table. He mumbled some unheard syllables and a ring of arcane symbols appeared in a circle, glowing just above the top of the table.

    He placed the vial of blue liquid in to the circle and placed a hand to his forehead.

    "Uh huh...uh huh...Yes...it's coming..." the others simply watched the curiosu old man.

    "What's an 'imbiber'?" Braddok whispered to Haelan.

    "The guy who drinks it." Haelan whispered back.

    "SILENCE!" Stenthil said, without opening his eyes. His voice echoed through the library as much as the thunder. Haelan and Braddok's eyes opened wide.

    The two seasoned adventurers looked like youths with their hands caught in the cookie jar under a disapproving glance from Alaria.

    "Yes...there it is. HA!" Stenthil said in triumph as his eyes snapped open and he picked up the blue potion from the circle. "A potion of strength...just as I said. Heh heh heh. Old Stenthil's still got it!"

    Next he sniffed at the pink potion with red flecks in it. "This...*sniff again* This is curious...I'm not sure...smells like *sniff a third time* PHEW! Body sweat and...blood?"

    He placed the potion within the glowing circle of runes. Closed his eyes and placed a hand to his forehead again.

    "Ahhhh..." the wizard intoned before quickly opening his eyes and removing the potion from the circle. "This is NOT to be ingested orally!"

    "Huh?" Braddok said.

    "You don't drink it." Haelan said as way of explanation.

    "Quite right. Quite right, Hilltender." Stenthil explained. "It is an elixir to return a petrified creature to its normal, flesh and blood, state. Terribly handy if you happen to be come across a basilisk...or the medusae...There are the spells for it also, of course, attributed to the ancient necromancer Themgrior, which cause a similar effect...Terrible fate for any, I tell you that! The breath of a gorgon is said to cause the transformation also..." Stenthil began to ramble.

    "Magus Stenthil...if you please. The next potion?" Alaria interrupted recalling at once the magist's propensity for long-winded, however informative, monologues.

    "Ah yes, indeed..." he pulled the stopper off of the flask of the clear but thick liquid. "It...huh...it smells like...well...like you, Meesh. heh heh." said the wizard.

    "Meeessh! Mhyyy name ihsss Meeessh! Meeessh nohhhht smehhhhll!" the mephit said in annoyance.

    Stenthil looked at the mephit in confusion...that's what he'd said, or so he thought. He again closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment.

    "Ah...uh huh...yes quite..." Stenthil said to himself more than his audience.

    After a moment the three companions seemed ready to fall into the table leaning forward awaiting the wizard's discernment.

    He pulled the flask out of the circle of runes and put the stopper back in.

    Another few beats passed.

    "Well?!" Alaria finally said in frustration.

    "Oh, yes quite. This potion will give the imbiber the form of mist...a sentient gas for up to a day's time, unless they wish to return to a solid form. Now, mind! Once you've become solid again, the transmutation is spent. But you will be aware, able to see and hear and move upon the air, even as a cloud, for the length of you intangibility."

    Alaria nodded in apparent understanding. Between "sentient" and "transmutation" and "intangibility" Braddok was thoroughly lost, but he felt he had the gist...and if Alaria understood, he had no worries.

    "Now...this sword?" Stenthil said and held out a hand to Braddok. "Magess Alaria, would you care to conference? You are familiar with the identification divination, are you not?"

    "I am...by your own generosity and that of Bridgetower. [Alaria had transcribed the spell in this very library...I think, though had never had the time to invoke it in their travels.] Thank you, Magus. I shall indeed." Alaria said with all formality.

    She had memorized this spell specifically for this purpose, though she had wished to be able to get a gleaning of those magic acorns Fen had received as well...the curious blade had puzzled her ever since Braddok's assertion that it "spoke" to him.

    Alaria moved closer to the table, beside Stenthil, and ran her hands over the surface of the table in flickering fingers just as Stenthil had and spoke the same syllables. The ring of runes floating slightly above the table grew in size to an oval before the two wizards.

    Stenthil gently placed the sword, still in its scabbard, upon the table within the oval. It stuck outside the runes at either end (being nearly the length of Braddok's impressive arm span).

    The two wizards placed hands to their forehead and closed their eyes in tandem.

    "Oh my...yes...very powerful...Do you see that, Magess?...This is some thing..." Stenthil began to babble before his eyes shot open as he called out, "MANAT'S STAR!"

    As the older wizard was exclaiming, Alaria's eyes also shot open, but instead of her eyes, bright blue light shown forth. Alaria's mouth opened and began to speak, and the light shown from her mouth as well.

    The magess' voice ushered forth but was...behind?...or within, a different voice, sharp...it sounded...emotionless...cold...metallic?

    Braddok moved toward the table but Haelan pressed a hand into his abdomen to stay him.

    Devrim backed away from the table and made the five-pointed star motion with his hand of Manat's Blue Star to protect him from the unknown magic.

    "I am Kandu...Fourth of Six...as is evident from my gems of power...We, brothers and sisters all, were forged in the Dawning Age by the titan Grangidon...our sole [or was that "soul"?] purpose to bring Order to the Chaos of Ahl's making..."

    "Alaria?" Braddok asked softly.

    Her mouth again opened and the blue light ushered forth again, "I am, BY FAR, the most intelligent of us...I can see afar at great distance...as I told you, though was not fully awake after so long left to sleep...I can reveal the defilement of evil and magic upon a whim...None under enchantment escape my notice...My specific purpose to destroy the horrors of the Chaosbringer...None can escape my notice...nor resist my wrath...And with my jeweled sleeve, no effect of the Unholy shall again assault your body or soul..."

    "Well, that sounds...all good...doesn't it? Uh...Mister Kandu...sword-guy, sir...can we have our magess back, please?" Haelan cautiously offered.

    The daelvar was unceremoniously shushed by Stenthil, "Do not break the trance!" the wizard whispered in wonder.

    "I have read your heart, Braddok Kar Barforth, and find you true and righteous...I am yours to wield in this time of trouble...I have seen your mind and trials, your unfortunate past and present...I will be your arm and you shall be mine. Together we shall quash the rising tide of evil as was and ever has been the intention of my maker...to the never ending glory of Ahl and Zho and all of the forces of good in this world..."

    Alaria closed her mouth. The light faded from Alaria's eyes even as she closed them, unconscious, and fell to the floor in a feint.

    Braddok jumped over the table as Stenthil and Haelan rushed around. She was already returning to consciousness.

    Devrim ran to get a cup of water from the tray he'd previously held. The magess took it and gulped thirstily.

    "Are you alright?" Braddok said, his voice full of concern. "If that weapon has cursed you in any way, I shall cast it into the river even now." The swordsman looked at the weapon lying on the table.

    The ring of runes was fading from view. The sapphires in the scabbard glittered a bit, whether it was the light from the glowing runes or some internal magic, he could not say, but in a blink they looked as they always had.

    "I am fine, Braddok...but did not realize the identification divination left one without memory! What is the point of that?" Alaria said with mild annoyance.

    "You don't remember, Magess?" Stenthil said in confusion.

    Alaria shook her head.

    "Well, it seems your man Braddok, here, has found himself quite the enchanted blade. seems we have much more to do!" Stenthil said as Braddok helped Alaria, who protested several times that she was fine, to her feet.

    "Yes, much more research is needed. If you are up to it, Magess, your aid will be most welcome. My good warrior, will it be alright if we keep this weapon for a few hours more? I have so many questions!" Stenthil more said than asked.

    "If...uh...if Alaria thinks you should. Then yeah, fine." Braddok answered. "But I'm staying too."

    "Yes, yes. Of course." Stenthil said over his shoulder as he moved to the rows of books and scrolls. "DEVRIM! Bring me Abalard's Accounts of Ancient Arms...OH! And the histories of the Dawning Age...you are welcome to stay as well, Hilltender...eight eyes are better than six, after all. heh heh...Eh, you can read can you not?" the wizard said as he disappeared into the rows of shelves.

    "Of course I can read!" said Haelan indignantly. "But this seems a bit more of Alaria's area. If you please, I shall go find Duor and take in a bit of lunch."

    "Amarys, get outta there! I need the Treatise of Titans...Grangidon... Grangidon..." the mage's voice returned as it trailed off as he moved further and further back into the library.

    "Good sword you have there, Braddok. See you later." Haelan said with a cautious look at the sheathed sword on the table. "And...uh...nice to meet you, too, Kandu."

    Alaria looked at the daelvar's back curiously before turning to Braddok.

    "Who's Kandu?" she asked.
    Last edited by steeldragons; Wednesday, 18th July, 2012 at 05:48 PM.
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  • #208
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    The hours in the day passed, slowly.

    The sun had set an hour or so ago and the two experienced wizards continued to pour over various books and scrolls. They had declined Haelan's invitation to come to dinner and had barely touched the tray of food the daelvar priest had had sent to the library for them.

    Braddok had fallen asleep in one of the more comfortable chairs at a different table from where the wizards worked. Poor Devrim had also drifted off, his occasional snores reminding the magi that he was face down in some large manual. The lap-drake, Amarys had similarly curled up in one of her favored nap spaces in the stacks somewhere. A periodic hissing, like steam escaping a kettle, told Alaria that Meeessh was still about soundly sleeping.

    Alaria took a break from the research to work on edging her new dark blue gown with runes of protection. She had removed several of the underskirts so that it fit and fell more simply and would allow better movement in her travels. Some simple cantrips aided in her removing and re-sewing the silver trim. She had never really spent time learning the finer points of embroidery, much to her mother's displeasure.

    When all was said and done, Alaria hoped, the robe might lend her some added protection from various magics and elements, much like Fen's sacred druid cloak.

    The afternoon, evening, and now early night were proving useful and informative. It did not take long for Stenthil to track down that "Grangidon" had been a titan of the Dawning Age. Not the least of his accolades was fathering the legendary titan smith, Doron, creator of the great artifacts of power known collectively, now, simply as the "Gifts of Doron." They were attributed amazing powers throughout the histories and myths of Orea and were said to bring about the Age of Order out of Chaos, long long ago. Ages, even, before the Godswar.

    Gragidon, himself, had also been a master smith (as many of the Children of Ahl, the great titans of old were well-versed in the working of stone and the riches of the earth). Among the tales of his achievements was the crafting of a series of blades simply referred to as "The Six." Each was imbued with powerful magics, as only the titans possessed.

    They were described in Stenthil's ancient book, to Alaria's initial confusion, as daggers or knives. Stenthil was quick to point out that what would be a "dagger" to a titan would easily be a sword, even a very large one, to human hands.

    Each of the blades were named and decorated with various gems (the perfection of the beauty of the treasures of Ahl's earth being one of the titans' greatest pleasures). Sunstone, Emerald, Amethyst, Sapphire, Moonstone and Ruby were all mentioned, in order. The fact that Kandu's scabbard was decorated with four sapphires seemed to confirm the sword's assertion that "he" was "Fourth of Six."

    This caused Braddok to immediately think back to the inn of the Ruby Scabbard and the great two-handed sword and scabbard crusted with six giant rubies, that hung over Bobrik's bar in Hawkview.

    Stenthil and Alaria agreed that this could, very possibly, be one of the titan's great works.

    As to the location of other of the mystic blades, there was some limited detail to their powers and proposed uses, but no inkling as to their whereabouts all of these ages later. Alaria had little interest in this, believing their possession of ONE of the great swords was more than enough to handle at this point.

    Alaria and Stenthil also spent some time seeking anything they could find about the realm once called "Gorathgraard", "Nor Gorthok", the Lord Gorathiel and his daughters. Of this, they could find very little other than one account of a clan of dwarves from Naradun who came to the east to construct and renovate a great citadel for what was called an "great aelfin king and lord of magic."

    The tale went on to assert it became one of "the great Nors" which this same clan constructed across the north in the days before the Five Tribes of Men had moved throughout the world. They included Nor Gorthok, Nor Tyrilith (also constructed for a "great aelfin warrior-king"), Nor Caerkiard (reputed to be destroyed during the reshaping of the realms during the Godswar), and Nor Avadok (which Alaria and Stenthil concurred was the current fortress-city of the now elf realm of Miralostae called Nor Evand).

    Shortly after eight bells, Haelan returned to the library. "The seneschal's boy came to the chambers. He said Captain Rynthis needed to see us, right now! All of us."

    Alaria apologetically took her leave from Stenthil and the large library where she felt so at home. They roused Braddok and Meeessh and the group met Duor outside of the captain's office.

    Being ushered in at all speed, Rynthis greeted the party and moved the side table behind which, Alaria knew, was the hidden room with the giant magic mirror (via which Bridgetower maintained contact with the Dragonmage's keep two days deeper into the realm).

    "My apologies for calling on you at this hour, Magess, but the Stormriders are summoned."

    Rynthis explained hastily as the party moved into the hidden chamber lined with sconches that rose in flames to light the room and flicker across the massive reflective surface. "They are here, my lady."

    The surface of the mirror glowed faintly and rippled and the image of the Lady of the Emerald Tear, Rhea, appeared larger than life within the glass.

    "My greetings and condolences to you all, Stormriders. Captain Rynthis has relayed the reports of your recent losses." Rhea began. "I am sorry to not be able to convey them in person, but the time grows short for the security of the realms. It is, however, good to see you again among the living, Braddok kar Barforth." the lady smiled poltiely.

    "My thanks, Rhea. What can we do for you?" Alaria replied. The magess felt herself blushing to recall the words of the Green Witch from their time in Welford about men being "good for some things." Alaria prayed to herself that Rhea would not be reading her mind and the all too fresh memories of being in Braddok's arms. In an attempt to not linger upon those thoughts, Alaria quickly continued, "We have heard conflicting reports of the Steel Dragons' time on the battlefront. I trust you all are well?"

    "The Dragonmage-apparent did suffer a grave wound some weeks ago. He is well now. However, that does go to what I wanted to speak with you about.

    "The Lordmage, Montor's father, has forbidden his sons' return to the front. The line of the Dragonmage is far too tenuous at this time to risk his life further. Montor, of course, is not pleased by this decree, but is in no position or inclination to disobey his father. Silran and his sister, Erilyn, remain in Miralostae aiding their people...as is their duty. Carak remained as well. But the rest of us have returned to Daenfrii to do what we can to thwart the rising tide from here.

    "Your news has proven most enlightening. Though the Lordmage's war council considers the word of a goblin as scant proof, even the possibility that Tresahd might be, in fact, the wyrm Desaarthal in some cloaked form is too grave to ignore. The supposition that the necromancer might be trying to take the Eye of Arinane and revive Shaarzak is doubly troubling."

    "I had meant to send word about that, actually. Is the Ihs Repahl safe? Might it be possible for me to reclaim the orb? I think it would be a great boon to our cause." Alaria interjected.

    Rhea looked at the magess with curiosity. "The orb remains secure, however, it is the decision of the council that the dark wizard's quest for the Eye to be our greatest threat. The powers of the elves' sacred orb are not entirely known and if Tresahd is able to claim it, the consequences could well prove unstoppable. My Sight has recently proven unable to pierce the veils of the future...there are too many forces in flux." Rhea admitted with some evident disappointment.

    After a moment of thought, Rhea continued, "As to returning the Ihs Repahl to your hands, Magess...I am afraid I can not say. I shall propose it to the council. Though I can already imagine the idea will meet with resistance.

    "Our request for you, Stormriders, if you choose to accept it, would be to journey to Miralostae and do some reconnaissance. Hopefully provide some solid evidence of Tresahd's intentions and, if possible, his true identity."

    "Well, we were going there anyway." Haelan now piped in. "I know Erevan would want us to."

    The others were quick to agree and accept the mission.

    "Very well. I shall arrange transport for you on the morrow. You will meet an ally upon your arrival in Evandrial. An aid in our cause. From there, he can help direct you on your way.

    "You have our thanks, Stormriders, and the thanks of the Lordmage. May the gods heed our prayers for your safety and success." Rhea said in closing.

    As her image began to fade from the mirror, the Emerald Lady glanced at Alaria and gave her a knowing grin and a wink.

    In the magess' mind, Rhea's words echoed across the ether, *And Magess Alaria? Good for you.*

    Then Rhea was gone and the mirror went dark, simply reflecting the company and flickering magical flames around the room.

    Alaria returned to the library to continue her projects while the others all retired to bed.

    Tomorrow was sure to prove a long day on their continuing adventure. Haelan, moreso than the rest, wondered repeatedly at who this "ally" might be.

    "Nuthuh point-ear, no doubt. Won't be any substitue fer Erevan, though. I'll tell yeh that." Duor responded in sincerity.

    "Of course not, Duor. But any aid will be welcomed." Braddok replied, sharing the dwarf's unspoken mourn.
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    "I...HATE...THIIIISSSSS!" Duor cried into the wind as the world blurred beneath him from the back of the great hawk.

    "YOU ATE WHAT?!" came Haelan's unseen voice from somewhere else in the air.

    "IT'S NOT LONG NOW, DUOR." Alaria's also unseen voice replied to the dwarf.

    An hour or two before...


    The companions, minus Alaria, rose and had a hearty breakfast. Braddok had woefully noted that Alaria had not returned to her chambers that night but was informed by the servant that brought their morning meal, "The Magess spent her night in the library. We've brought her and Master Stenthil their breakfast there." This was enough to waylay Braddok's concerns and the warrior broke his fast with Haelan and Duor.

    Haelan had to admit, through a full mouth (of course) of bacon and eggs, that "haffin' home cooked meavs ish *swallow* much nice than the food from the stone bowl. Don't you think?"

    Duor ate in relative silence. The dwarf wasn't sure whether the daelvar's table manners or his unending cheerfulness in the mornings was the more annoying trait. What the dwarf did know, was that the loss of three companions on their last venture (Duor did not count Coerraine's death as specifically his "fault" as he did for Festus or Erevan) but he was going to do everything in his power (even give his BEARD!) to avenge their deaths and thwart the plans of the evil Tresahd/Desaarthal...if the Bulgruch, as it appeared, were directly involved, he'd feel the dwarf's dagger in his back as well...and any other wizard or dragon, dragon-snake or goblinoid
    that got in his way.

    Girded for travel, freshly supplied and freshly clothed, armor and arms well-oiled, and travel cloaks clasped (all of the Stormriders had been gifted fresh new traveling cloaks in the blue and grey striped style of the Bridgetower guard by the Lady Elhianne) the men were guided by Captain Rynthis' manservant to the large open top of the great tower.

    To their surprise, two giant hawks and a griffon and their armored elvin riders awaited their arrival. From the highly elevated vantage point, they could see the dusting of snow that had fallen the previous night, quickly melting in various places of their immediate vicinity, but providing a solid blanket of white to the north.

    Haelan was sure to keep behind Braddok...the giant hawks made the daelvar incredibly nervous even if they were "tamed."

    To their greater surprise, as well as Braddok's appreciation, Alaria stood with one of the elf warriors and the magist, Stenthil. She had donned the midnight blue sleeveless robe, a long slit up the right leg. All of the edges were trimmed in silver runes that sparkled in the bright morning light. Her dark blue cloak billowed in the cold air of the full-on winter morning. Her long dark brown hair, normally free flowing, was bound high on the back of her head into a thick ponytail held by a thick silver clasp engraved with winding scrolling lines. She held her Staff of Azanna and was girded with a belt of white leather, also clasped with silver. The multitude of pouches and sacks that normally cluttered her belt was much reduced in number, but a cord held two scroll cases to one side.

    She was a lovely vision to behold in the bright morning, thought Braddok.

    "Alaria! You look lovely! Very...uh...wizardy." Haelan was the first to admire, from his "safe place" behind Braddok's thick thighs.

    She smiled at the compliment. "I'm glad you approve, Haelan. Your new tabbard is equally sharp...very fetching. And you all."

    The Hilltender smoothed out the front of his new pine-green tabbard with a smile of pride. The Hilltender's wooden holy symbol had been replaced with one of silver, as a gesture from Ole Midge. The large amulet in the shape of a pinecone sitting on a bed of pine needles also glittered in the morning sun. The daelvar had also taken the time and a few coins, to have the slightly oversized helmet of the fallen elvin defender of Silverfall resized in the passed days by the resident smith. It's fresh polish gave the halfling's head a halo of sorts.

    Braddok had also acquired a new long flowing blue tunic, one of the Bridgetower soldier's uniform, to wear over his armor. The sapphire studded scabbard and freshly shined shield emblazoned with the stylized swallowtail hawk of his family crest also shone in the early light.

    Duor's dark brown armor and dark grey cloak had also been mended and cleaned, but maintained its lusterless plain color, exactly as the dwavish rogue desired.

    Meeessh looked as Meeessh always looked, giving off wisps of steam from any bent point or edge. Though, the companions noted, he was nearly invisible as the morning sun passed through his white-bluish-grey misty form.

    They did, indeed, look like a group of heroes from legend.

    "These are your Stormriders, Magess? I had been told you were a larger group." said the elf lieutenant. His nose curled up in an obvious lingering sneer at the dwarf, "That they were more...diverse. Where is the half-human? I had also been told there was a kiiri of Eres'ka Aiiri?"

    "I'll give yeh some diversity right now, point-ear." said Duor in direct opposition.

    "Alas, lieutenant, we are those that remain. Our druid companion shall meet us in Evandrial (Alaria very much hoped). Your kiiri, to our great sorrow, met his end on our last foray." Alaria replied coolly.

    "I do hope this won't pose a problem for you or your men."

    "Not at all, Magess. Though we are greatly grieved to hear of our kiiri's loss. The songs shall be sung beneath the moons." the lieutenant replied, seemingly unperturbed by the magess' condescension.

    "You and the warrior may join me atop the griffon. The vaari and dwarf may take their places on the backs of the hawk-riders."

    No sooner had they said their farewells to Stenthil and Rynthis and a teary-eyed Elhianne than the companions mounted their respective winged transports and risen into the air. They moved away from the tower with great speed before, at the lieutenant's lead, the three elvin riders intoned a simple masking spell and the griffon and two hawks disappeared from view.

    A few hours later, not even yet midday, they were whisking above a thick green wood that seemed to show no signs of having been snowed upon and with a stomach-jolting dive circled around down into view of a village?...no much larger and more intricate than a village...of domiciles of white wood, arching and spiring among the talled tree tops.

    Upon another command from the lieutenant, the griffon and hawks again became visible to each other during their descent. They alit upon a wide open platform at the end of a railed walkway that extended out along an unnaturally thick branch of one of the silver-trimmed leafy trees.

    Two guards stood at the perimeter of the platform.

    The guards made no movements at the party's arrival. They simply watched, standing stoically with quivered bows and elegantly curved spears in hand. Their flowing silver and green tunics and cloaks rustled in the wind created by the great winged creatures' landing.

    The lieutenant, Althan by name, dismounted and held out a chivalrous hand to aid Alaria off of the giant lion-eagle beast. "Be welcomed to Evandrial, Alaria of the Stormriders." Althan said.

    Duor landed, quite unceremoniously on his face and simply looked up at the hawk-rider that had easily lept off of the giant bird's back. The elf looked down at the dwarf but made no comment.

    Haelan was more lifted down than aided by his hawk's rider.

    "Thank you, Eliel." Haelan said gratefully. "That was quite a trip. And thank you, Soral." the daelvar added patting the golden brown hawk's side with an appreciative but still cautious hand.

    "Not at all, Hilltender. It was a glorious flight." replied the hawk.

    Haelan jumped in surprise at the talking beast. "Yes...uh...it was. Well done. heh heh. Thanks again." he smiled up at the giant curved beak that could easily snap him in twain before trotting over to where Alaria and Braddok waited.

    "Did you hear that?!" Haelan said in an excited whisper. "My hawk talked! Duor, did yours talk?! Can you imagine? I mean, I knew the realm of the elves was a magical place...but talking hawks!"

    Lieutenant Althan smiled down at the daelvar cleric as one would a child. "Yes, indeed, Hilltender. Evandrial is a realm of wonder...and one we seek very much to protect. I believe you are to meet with Lord Seniiris. This way please."

    The party was led to a comfortable space. Puffballs of blue-white light sat in sconces shaped like opened lilies along the impossibly narrow columns carved and etched to appear as leafy boughs themselves. They turned to pointed arches high over the party's heads and sloped, further, into a high pointed done inscribed with imagines of stars and clouds and birds flying.

    The "chamber", if it could be so called, was open via these arches on all sides, providing breath-taking views of the surrounding "city" of Evandrial and the Miralostae forest. They could easily see many elves going about their daily business, moving to and fro other similarly open "buildings" over branch paths and delicate bridges...some of which seemed to have no supports at all, merely sticking out of the side of the trees.

    Duor knocked upon the bleached white wood and scoffed. "Pff. Wouldn't stand up to a single hammer strike. Daft point-ears don't know how to construct a proper stronghold."

    With a disapproving look from Haelan, the dwarf added/defended, "Well, I don't mean Erevan! He weren't any engineer. But whoever constructed this place didn't know his archways from his elbows."

    "I suspect, Duor," Alaria offered as she poured herself a bit of clear water from an elegant silver pitcher into a crystalline goblet that was also shaped like a lily, "that the elves support their construction with magics. However, humans have been making perfectly good construction with timber for as long as there have been humans on Orea."

    "Aye. True enough, Magess. But not this skinny!" Duor retorted in apparent disapproval. "I mean, lookit this! How'd yeh hide behind this thing?! I've got thicker ankles!" Duor said and stood before one of the slender arches. The dwarf's girth easy extended a foot to either side of the "column."

    "Ehem!" came a surprising sound from one end of the chamber behind the companions.

    They turned to see an elf in a silver and green flowing tunic. He...or was it a she?...was slender and beautiful. The chiseled features and bright green sparkling eyes of the elf reminded Alaria of Erevan's inhuman beauty. Golden flowing hair that seemed to move in some unfelt breeze trailed off his?...her?...back, unbound save for a delicate silver ring around its brow.

    Alaria, who had long desired to visit the elf realm, envied the overall air of natural beauty and unearthly freedom that exuded from the elf. From everywhere they had been since their arrival.

    "The Lord Regent will see you now. This way if you please." the elf said calmly. He or she turned with a disapproving glance at Duor, and led the party down a long bridge of white wood.

    The railings were carved to also appear as leafy boughs and vines...occasionally there was the image of a squirrel or chipmunk climbing among the foliage or the occasional finch or robin with its beak opened in song.

    Haelan was surprised and felt, for sure, he'd seen one actually move! A chipmunk climbed up and along the bridge with them as they passed, until it came to rest and hold up some nut or seed to its mouth. Haelan was going to say something, but thought the others would find him foolish. After a blink or two, the "eating chipmunk" appeared unmoving, as nothing more than another carving.

    The party continued at an even, though somewhat slow pace, as they passed over the bridge and along another path that spiraled around an impossibly wide tree trunk, eventually becoming wide open stairs that led up.

    They finally came to a huge platform at what they presumed had to be the top of the tree. The "hall" was again, mostly open on all sides, though a few solid walls appeared here and there.

    Some were obvious construction, all engraved and carved heavily to appear as if they were in the tree itself, and some looked to be the actual branches of the living tree.

    There were many small tall tripod tables on slender legs. Some held pitchers and goblets, others crystal bowls of fruits and berries and nuts, while still others were completely bare.

    Around these tables stood many elves. Most were dressed in long almost gossamer robes or flowing tunics. They each bore delicate jewels of glittering metals and precious stones about their heads, necks and wrists. They were wrapped with the various colors of nature. Most were the deep blues and violets of a night starlit sky. But there were others in the rosy pink of dawn, the purest palest blue of an untouched stream, the soft silvery greens of the silverleaf trees that surrounded them.

    None spoke, to the party or each other, simply watched with emotionless faces and a sparkling diversity of vibrant eye color, as the party followed their guide, directly through the center of the hall to another collection of figures upon a dais at the far end.

    Meeessh made flourishing waves to either side at the observing elves. A broad smile on his misty face. He was a few paces behind the others and so did not receive any rebuke from Alaria.

    "My lord, Seniiris, regent of Evandrial, I bring to you the Stormriders as requested by the Emerald Lady of Daenfrii." the guide said calmly.

    The central figure upon the throneless dais, turned slowly and nodded at the guide before returning to speak in hushed tones to the others with him upon the dais.

    The guide, with an unacknowledged nod in return, turned and left the hall.

    The Stormriders stood for a moment. Uncomfortable enough with the apparent attention their entrance had warranted. They were made to shift more uncomfortably to simply standing, ignored (?), by the elflord they had been told they were come to see.

    "Well...?" Duor said. His voice, somehow, in this elegant audience chamber, sounded crass and hard and louder than he had actually been...completely out of place among these regal figures and surroundings.

    Alaria stayed any further word from the dwarf with a quick motion and disapproving glance.

    The lord regent slowly rose an arm to a doorway at the side of the dais and the elf he had been speaking to in unheard voice, turned with a nod and a glance at the Stormriders as he left.

    Alaria and company noticed, for the first time, it was the lieutenant Althan. The magess was surprised just how similar all of the elf soldiers looked to each other. If not for the blond hair, green eyes, and heavier armor Alaria would have sworn it was Erevan, even at this close distance.

    The Lord Regent Seniiris was tall and toned, the obvious muscles of his chest and arms that were free of the single-shouldered glittering white tunic he wore, bulged. The lord regent had hair that extended nearly to his knee, bound in a silver circle at his head with two long strands bound to either side of his face (in front of his pointed ears) with silver star-adorned circlets, and flowing unbound down his back. His eyes were a penetrating deep blue that seemed to glint with silver in the shimmering lights of the chamber.

    The whole place seemed in a perpetual state of twilight even though, beyond the open archways, the bright midday sun filtered down among the high branches.

    Bands of silver and gold circled his biceps and forearms, his bare thigh and, Alaria noticed, his ankle? The magess noticed the regent wore no shoes. She looked, as inconspicuously as she could, behind them to see that, in fact, none of the assembled elves wore shoes or boots or even sandals of any kind. All of the adorning jewelry was thin and delicately woven, looking like vines and/or leaves and/or many-pointed stars meeting at their points.

    Just as Alaria was gearing up to break the uncomfortable silence, the Lord of Evandrial, the elvin province that translated as "Silversong" in the common tongue, spoke first.

    His voice was thick and low, but seemed to trickle like honey over the party's ears. It too was easily heard throughout the hall though there was no hint of the elflord raising his voice at all.

    "Greetings to you, Stormriders of Daenfrii." Seniiris said, plainly.

    Alaria and Braddok, followed by Haelan and a reluctant Duor, bowed deeply at the elvin regent.

    "Greetings Lord Seniiris. We..." Alaria began to reply before being cut off.

    "I have heard of great deeds done by your company. The Emerald Lady and the seneschal of Bridgetower have spoken quite highly of your prowess." he said evenly...and again stopped.

    "We are humb..." Alaria attempted to begin again.

    "You are welcomed to Evandrial and Eres'ka Staliirosta in these dark times." the lord regent again addressed with seeming disregard for the magess' attempted responses.

    This time, Alaria made no reply even though the others looked at her in question during the uncomfortably (to the humans, daelvar and dwarf) long pause.

    "May I present to you, my first, Alharanda, the Morning Sun." the regent said and slowly stretched out an arm to the elvin woman (at least she was evidently a female!) to his right.

    She all but shown with sunlight. Whether the glittering about her was due to the reflections of her shining dress or some elf magic said to be innate to the fabled star elves, the companions could not say.

    The Lady Alharanda was dressed in a gown of shimmering gold, like the sun out of these doors.

    Her jewels and adornment was almost entirely gold as opposed to the mostly silver of the regent and many of the other elves present. Oddly, the only bit of her that did not include gold (including the flecks in her violet eyes), was her silvery hair that was bound in bands of more shining yellow gold, almost to the floor.

    "Very nice to meet you Lady Alharanda." Haelan managed to get out as the whole of the company bowed again at, what they properly assumed to be Seniiris' wife...and further presumed "first" wife.

    The companions received the smallest of nods in acknowledgement from the shining elvin noblewoman.

    "This," the regent continued in his slow even-metered speech, "is my eldest...the Prince Parthyr." Seniiris turned, ever so slightly and raised his other arm to indicate the male elf to his left.

    The Prince Parthyr, Alaria was SURE could have been Erevan. His eyes were almost the exact shade of lavender, offset somewhat starkly and yet complimented by the metallic coppery red tresses that flowed free (other than the glittering copper circlet around his brow) to the middle of his back. The prince wore a jerkin of deep violet purple edged in silver. He also, wore no leggings or shoes of any kind, his ankle and shin wrapped in a flowing band of silver and copper that looked something like a vine twining its way up his leg.

    Parthyr gave the companions no nod of acknowledgement, just a slight blink in his penetrating stare.

    "Oh! So you're Silran's brother then!?" Haelan again piped up with a bright smile. "We've met him. Fine elf, yes indeed. Saved our bacon back in Daenfrii. Wonderful swordsman!"

    Parthyr just looked blankly, emotionless, at the Hilltender's (shocking to the prince) direct address.

    "Silran is my third. I thank you, vaari, for your kind words. He is, indeed skilled in his arms." Seniiris replied.

    Making progress, Alaria thought to herself. At least the regent was acknowledging something that had actually been uttered.

    "My lord, Seniiris. You have our thanks at your hospitality in this most glorious of realms."

    Alaria paused in due ceremony.

    "And our arms are here at the behest of the Emerald Lady, directly...To aid in whatever way we can to the destruction and defeat of the dark forces rising throughout Miralostae."

    "Nay, Magess." Seniiris replied with his palm held out toward Alaria. "The evil 'rises' not. It is in no way of the making of Miralostae...It is an invader that seeks to undo the whole of our realm...Our entire world if possible."

    Alaria lowered her head. "Indeed, my lord. My Apologies for my misspeak."

    "Have you not the child of Mistwood with you?" Seniiris said, not apparently swayed (or simply not caring) by Alaria's apology.

    "Fen will be along shortly. By the next full silver, he said." Haelan offered.

    The lord regent's midnight pupils shifted to the daelvar and he blinked in a slow nod. It seemed this was all of the acknowledgement he felt the daelvar needed.

    "Apologies for our haste, my lord. But evil knows no propriety nor slows its pace." Alaria interjected, "We were told there would be an ally for us to meet here before we continued on to the front for our allotted mission."

    "Indeed." Seniiris said. Another pregnant pause followed.

    "Bloody hellfire and dragon's bones!" Duor finally said in exasperation. "Where's this ally of ours? And where's the front. Don't bother yerself! Just point us in the right direction!"

    Alaria wanted, once again, to throttle the dwarf. Braddok's eyebrows rose in surprise as well.

    "Duor!" Haelan chastised outwardly made a backhanded slap in the dwarf's stomach.

    "Oof. What?! We gonna wait around here all day?! Day's a-wastin'!" Duor answered angrily.

    "I have been...forgetful...of the speed with which your kind experience the world. The apologies...are mine, dwarf." The regent, slowly, placed his palms together and nodded toward the party.

    Apologies aside, it seemed among these elves, Duor would not be afforded any complimentary or human realm titles. "Dwarf" was the only name they had for his kind. "Feorn's beard, we're never gettin' out of here.", Duor thought to himself.

    Seniiris, not noticing (or, again, caring) about the dwarf's indignity, turned and looked to an attendant at another of the formerly unnoticed doorways out of this hall.

    The party waited but no one was immediately forthcoming. Unsure how to proceed, Alaria opened her mouth to again make pleasantries with the Lord Regent. She closed it before she made a sound as the golden lady Alharanda made a motion toward some other elf in the hall. Two robed elves came to the party. One with a tray of refreshment and one with a bowl of fruits and nuts.

    "Please, take refreshment." Alharanda offered in what, compared to Seniiris, sounded a kindly manner.

    "Got any meat?" Duor said in an obvious displeasure at the fruits and nuts offered.

    Unphased, Alharanda made another slow motion with her arm and another elf came forward with a tray sporting a collection of cured and salted meats and pale but firm cheeses.

    "Oh...well...uh...Thanks." Duor said in mild embarrassment.

    "Your ally shall join us...shortly." Seniiris said stoically.

    "Care to join us?" Haelan offered in friendship. "These are bloody good fruits! And this wine is fantastic!"

    Alharanda smirked. Again, Haelan was met with the smile one would offer a child. "Our thanks, vaari. The kindly spirit of your race is a rare pleasure for us. Please, enjoy." the lady answered.

    To everyone's surprise, the attending elves with the trays made their way to the single step of the dais and the royal family took, each, a goblet of wine and a single fruit, nut and piece of cheese, respectively.

    "The songs shall be sung for the son of Eres'ka Aiiri this night." Seniiris offered, seemingly out of nowhere. "If you remain, you are most welcomed to partake."

    "Our thanks, my lord regent. But I feel that we should be on our way as soon as possible. Erevan...er...the son of Eres'ka Aiiri would want it that way, we feel." Alaria replied in that casual but formal way one might at a cocktail party to someone one doesn't know well.

    She sipped the simply luscious golden elfvine and grinned at the 'royal' family. She turned and nervously raised her glass to the other elves further back in the hall. This elicited a few nods and some soft grins. She was entirely uncomfortable to be partaking of refreshment in the presence of these noble elves when the others did not. It was like they were on display!

    Duor had no such qualms. "Got any proper ale?" the dwarf said through a mouthful of thinly sliced salted venison.

    "Regrettably, dwarf, we do not...Is the wine not to your liking?" Alharanda said after a moment.

    A nudge in the ribs from Haelan's elbow altered the dwarf's initial response to a smiling "Oh yeah. It's great! Good venison too!"

    The lady and lord regent looked at each other, turning their heads in tandem ever so slightly and slowly. The regent, his wife and the prince stood, motionless while the party had a polite modest (standing!?) repast.

    "My lord, " Alaria began attempting to be formal but casual again, "can you tell us anything of the Eye of Arinane? We fear that may be the goal of the evil ones' invasion."

    "We have known this for some time." Seniiris replied. "The Eye shall never fall into the hands of evil. It has not for the entirety of our history. Even when my mother brought it from the Everyoung land...The Eye of Arinane has never left the hands of the ShiStaliiri."

    This received a few low murmurs and agreeing nods among the assembled elves. Even a giggle or two. The Eye of Arinane to be taken from Miralostae? Out of the hands of elves?! Laughable.

    It did, however, confuse Alaria a bit. The ShiStaliiri, the elves "of the Blood of the Stars" were the fabled elves of the realm far to the west and southern region of the continent. The Miralostae, to her knowledge, were a different race of elves who left and/or were subsequently expelled from that kingdom...apparently referred to as "the Everyoung Land" by these elves...for entering into Orea's defense against the demon-godson, Aishapra during the Scourge Wars nearly five centuries passed. The Miralostae were not, any longer according to her teachings, of the Star Blood...It seemed, however, these elves firmly believed...or wanted to believe, they were.

    "So, your mother was the fabled sorceress Nirastelyn?" Alaria asked in somewhat more surprise than she intended. "Erevan spoke very highly of her." she attempted to cover.

    "She was." Seniiris answered. There was no need to say more than that, the elflord felt. "She was no fable, magess. I promise you." he added. These poor limited creatures called humans. History became legend and legend myth in the blink of an eye for them.

    "My lord Seniiris, regent of Evandrial, may I present..." began the elvin attendant who had returned unnoticed from wherever he or she had gone. The elf looked curiously at the figure that moved passed him (or her) without ceremony.

    Alaria deftly replaced her goblet of elfvine upon the tray of a nearby elf before they all nodded a bow and took steps further back into the hall. Apparently, the repast was concluded. She watched the figure enter with complete amazement...as did the other companions.

    This figure, barely clothed in a short wrap of a fabric about his waist, sauntered into the hall. He was tall , as tall as Braddok if not an inch or two more, and thoroughly muscled. His skin was a bronzed tan broken only by the belt about his waist, on which hung an impressive looking single bladed axe to one side and a short curved sword (more of a long dagger really) on the other, and a thick harness of leather that cut across his rippled torso. Attached, it seemed, to that harness in the center of his back was a quiver filled with arrows and a short bow.

    To either side of the quiver, from his back, sprouted two huge wings of near golden color. Stripes of what seemed metallic bronze striped the pinions and were mirrored in the multitude of feathers among his golden hair that flowed from his head down to his shoulders.

    A zepharim?! Alaria thought, immediately recognizing the winged humanoid. Our new ally is a zepharim!?!

    "He's got wings!" Haelan whispered (loudly).

    "Thank you, Haelan. I see that." said Alaria.

    Seniiris nodded to the new arrival and the zepharim took a step back from the dais. He looked, briefly, at the assembled companions and returned his attention to the lord regent.

    "Stormriders, I present to your company, Pirnyon <Author/Dm's note: "PEERN-ee-on">." Seniiris paused.

    The companions stood with expectant looks of welcome and smiles to the back of the winged man.

    He made no further indication of their presence.

    "An agent, " Seniiris continued, "of our good friend and ally...Car'Tyr...the Wind Wizard."

    Alaria looked again, askance, at the great muscled back and wings to their right but closer to the dais than they. Nope, he's not moving.

    "He has been charged to aid your mission...You will find him a most capable companion." Seniiris concluded.

    "My thanks, lord regent." Pirnyon said, finally, with nod before turning toward the Stormriders.

    "Welcome, Peernion." Haelan said enthusiastically. "Are those real?! I've never seen an angel before. Are you a real angel?! I mean, you must be, right? Look at you!" the daelvar practically bubbled all over himself.

    A wispy eyebrow of either hair or feather (it was tough to tell) rose over the zepharim's eagle-like round amber eye as he looked at the daelvar.

    "Greetings Pirnyon. I am Alaria. This is Braddok kar Barforth and..." Alaria began to make introductions.

    "I have learned on your names. I am Pirnyon." Pirnyon answered. "It is good to meet you. I am...in sorrow?...No, 'sorry'...I am sorry that it is under the dark circumstances we find ourselves around...Apologies that my human speech is not as very good as I would like." the winged man said calmly. His face did betray a hint of sincerity and embarrassment and overall relaxed softness that the elvin faces they'd been around all day lacked. Though his high cheekbones and chiseled jaw could have belonged to an elf.

    "Sounds fluent enough to me! You speak very well!" Haelan said in another broad smile.

    "Oh yeah, this guy's gonna be a barrel of laughs." Duor said under his beard. Unfortunately the acoustics (or more of the blasted elfin magic) made his mutterings easily heard by all.

    "My lord regent, may we adjourn to chambers to discuss our next move?" Alaria asked cautiously of the elflord.

    "Of course." Seniiris replied. He raised another slow arm and the guide that had brought them to the hall returned after a moment and led them back to the open "chamber" where they had initially waited.

    Haelan gave a careful look at the carvings in the railings on the bridge. He noticed no movement...but didn't that bird have its wings open when they'd come by before?
    Last edited by steeldragons; Saturday, 21st July, 2012 at 06:04 AM.
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    Celerion stood to the right of the great throne of Daenfrii, slightly in front. He stood watching and listening as the members of the Lordmage's council debated amongst themselves at Rhea's "preposterous" suggestion that the Ihs Rephal be returned to the fledgling magess of this band of "heroes" called the Stormriders.

    The Lordmage Arganor similarly sat upon the throne and listened with little interest. Such debates were to be expected and allowed...for a time. His eyes looked over to the Staff of Wyr, standing upright of its own accord, the golden wings of the dragon carving atop it tightly closed, covering the great diamond-shaped sapphire within its clutches.

    "My lord, I must protest and renew the desire of Manat's Witch-Priests to have the Repahlentim orb moved to our temple in Zarcha for safe keeping." said a young blue robed cleric of the goddess of magic from behind his blue five-pounted star tattoo/dyed mask.

    The witch-priest's name was Endrom. He was an enthusiastic and capable advocate for the temple's desires though, Arganor (and several others in the Lormdage's court) felt simply liked to hear his own voice far too much.

    "My consultations with high-priestess Corandralla are private and most thorough. You do your lady's house honor with your steadfast interest to her wishes. But she is in complete agreement that the Ihs Repahl is in safe keeping in Daenfrii's hands and has absolute confidence in our judgement. Rest assured all possible precautions have been taken." the Lordmage finally retorted. The Lordmage's steady tone brought an abrupt end to all other debate and all eyes turned to the high seat of the throne room.

    "Zhiranth, what says the Tower of Wyr?" Arganor asked of another older looking man in plain brown robes tied with a simple length of rope. The man had a chest length golden brown beard which he stroked thoughtfully as he'd listened to all of the earlier uproar.

    "Alas my lord, on this matter, the Halls of Wyr are silent. We await confirmation of the Stormriders' supposition that the necromancer is indeed the age old wyrm Dessarthal. Once they know this, one way or the other, they may have more to offer." the man said clearly.

    "Matron Uma, do Gilea's Sacred Daughters have anything to weight this request?" Arganor posed to the elderly, white haired woman sitting calmly at one of the long council tables. She looked to the Lordmage, her face a wizened visage of tranquility and peace, as she stood from her seat. Her flowing white robes trimmed in the twining thorny vines and occasional bright red and white roses of her goddess and station cascaded off of a rounded matronly form.

    "The Merciful Mother's care and protection are, as always, unending for our house and cause, my lord." Uma began. "However, beyond those assurances, I can offer no counsel. The concerns of the White Rose for our health and safety, heretofore, have not extended into the comings and goings of such arcane artifacts. I shall defer to the will of the council on this matter and, as always, trust in your judgement." she concluded and calmly returned to her seat.

    Arganor nodded politely to the old high-priestess of the healer goddess.

    A large gloved fist slammed into the table across the hall from the table where collected priests and priestesses sat. The large mailed form of the Steel Dragon, Malak, rose from his seat as the younger prince spoke with some force.

    "Father, allow me to assemble a team to raze this mountain of Nor Gorthok to the ground. Surely, the Steel Dragons would prove more than a match for the motley forces of the evil one's stronghold. We could bring this threat of a returning Shaarzak, possibly the entire war, to an immediate end!" Malak said impassioned.

    Arganor raised his hand calmly. "My son, the Stormriders' account of the forces arrayed at Nor Gorthok was far from complete. We have no way of knowing what is actually arrayed there..." the Lordmage began.

    "But father..." Malak attempted to interject.

    "...and I will not put my sons at further peril, regardless of their good intentions. Our first priority is, and shall remain, aiding the defense of our allies in Miralostae. Following the unthinkable fall of Ayla Nirai, then Daenfrii's own defense must take priority." Arganor continued.

    "I am certain we could..." Malak again tried to argue his point. The warrior-prince had little to no interest in this council of mages and priests. His place was on the front lines, matching steel and ending, in no uncertain terms, the evil that assaulted their lands and allies.

    "I am afraid, my son, on these points, our judgement is absolute." Arganor again cut off his son without the slightest hint of anger or reproach.

    Malak sat. He knew his father's will was unmovable once he had decided a course of action.

    "Does the Emerald Tear have any further insights or recommendations, Lady Rhea? What says the Hidden Halls?" Arganor said, turning his attention back to Rhea (who had remained standing throughout these exchanges, at her place beside Malak).

    "I am afraid, my Lord Arganor, that I have not been in conference with my master. Our last communication revealed no more of the coming times as my own Sight." Rhea replied, somewhat quietly. It was embarrassing for her to admit her own shortcoming, but to admit that of the master of her order, the great seer Krellen, whose own clairvoyance and precognition far exceeded her own, was...troubling to say the least.

    "I do feel, however, the Stormriders to be a capable force and true ally to our cause. It is my recommendation that Magess Alaria's request be granted."

    Arganor nodded his acknowledgement of the vote of confidence. He leaned slightly toward the aged elf chamberlain.

    "Where is Car'Tyr's representative?" Arganor said, aside (though still heard by the assembled council), to Celerion.

    "The Herald, Thillian, and his contingent left to return to the south mountains this morning, my lord. He was quite explicit that the Wind Wizard, as he so often does, defers and relies upon your wise judgement and that of the council."

    "Just so." Arganor said in some annoyance. He did not require, of most of Daenfrii's visitors or ambassadors, a personal request to leave. Still, it was in bad form, thought the Lordmage, particularly of so close and longstanding a friend and ally as Car'Tyr.

    However, the lordmage admitted to himself, the wizard's herald and representative was of the Shi'Cynallae and so did as he willed, as most of Car'Tyr's servants (as the wizard himself), with the blowing of the winds.

    "How says the council, then? Does the Magess...Alaria, is it?" he looked to Celerion.

    "Aye, my lord." the elderly elf nodded in agreement.

    "Does the Magess Alaria warrant the return of the Ihs Repahl to aid in her coming trials?" Arganor posed.

    The vote was close, with Rhea, the Steel Dragon protectress Lela Eth Mitar, prince Malak, and Matron Uma voting "Aye."

    Witch-priest Endrom, high-priest Denlap of the temple of Astar, and the elvin representative from Miralostae (Silran's man who sat in on the council when the Evandrial prince was absent...whose name Arganor could never recall) voting "Nay."

    Celerion, Zhiranth and two of the Lordmage's other captains-at-arms abstained. The warriors had little interest or understanding of these sorts of "wizard's affairs" and often declined to vote on such matters. The Lord Chamberlain and ambassador of Wyr simply being wise enough to not speak, endorse or decline, the possible ways the request might aid or threaten their cause.

    The future, as for the others of wisdom and foresight, offering no direction.

    Arganor thought on the matter for a time. The members of the council were accustomed to this long pensive moment after any vote.

    "Very well. Celerion, see it done." Arganor finally said.

    "As you will it, my lord." Celerion said with a limited bow, tightly gripping his twisted staff and with a ceremonial, "By your leave, my lord." the violet robed wizard turned and left the great hall.

    None on the council dared to raise their voice in objection.

    "Now, Captain Bergus, what news of the north?" Arganor said calmly, moving the council on to their next order of business.

    ****

    Fen stood in the calm glade. The dusting of snow from the previous night was melting slowly around him in the nearing midday sun. The clean crisp air was invigorating for the half-elf. He was certain, he was in the right place for his meeting...according to the raven that had brought word of his imminent report to the Ancient Holy Order of Mistwood.

    He was fairly surprised when the ferret, Buttercream, came shuffling through a nearby thicket.

    Fen immediately invoked the power to speak with animals to converse with the giant ferret.

    She had more than a few unkind words about being left in the Feldmere by the company. But, still, as happy to see the druid well and hear of the Hilltender's safety and the companion's escape from the lizardmen's den. The news of the elf and satyr's demise seemed to effect her little. All part of the balance and the cycle...the ways of nature by which the ferret experienced the world.

    "I lost half of my brothers and sisters in our first winter." Buttercream revealed as way of explanation. "It is the Way. There is no fighting it. You keep going for the spring to come."

    Fen was taken aback by the hidden wisdom in such a statement and wondered how it was that Haelan had been gifted with speech with the ferret instead of himself.

    She had been..."drawn", she said, to return to the environs of Bridgetower by some unknown force. But, was not terribly concerned with it. She did complain, more than once, about the cold and supposed that the company would be staying in Bridgetower for the winter.

    "I think not, Buttercream, but we shall see." Fen said calmly.

    "If you don't mind, I shall rest now. If you need me, I will be in this thicket here." the ferret shivered a bit. "And greencloak, please do not leave me again without some notice." she added over her shoulder as she disappeared under a holy bush.

    "Of course, Buttercream. My...all of our apologies." the druid said to the ferret's rump. He received no reply.

    a rustling from a different edge of the glade caught his attention and a lone red deer buck came into view. It stood, some distance away and stared at the druid.

    The half-elf rose and took up his spear in the ceremonial position of greeting. He bowed his deep-hooded head at the deer.

    The animal did the same before becoming ensconced in a pale green aura. When the light subsided, another druid in robes and hooded cloak, more grey almost white than green, stood before the half-elf. He appeared middle-aged, bearded with a chestnut beard beginning to be flecked with the greys of age.

    <translated from the druidic tongue>"Brother Fen?" the man said, sounding unsure.

    "I am, Fen...of Moonglade. And you?" Fen answered. He had expected to see, as he usually did, Sister Sage. This member of the order he did not recognize.

    "I am Brother Badger...of the wood of Anveram
    in the Land of Sleeping Giants." the man responded.

    "And yet you travel in the form of the buck." Fen smiled a reply. Then, again, shot his gaze to his feet, recalling his past transgressions of protocol with Sage, who he was, at least, familiar with.

    The man chuckled. "Indeed. But the buck travels on much fleeter feet than the badger." the man said replied in explanation. "Please, Brother, raise your eyes. We are not of such a circle as to require those archaic observances. Brothers all in the Cycle and the Balance, are we not?

    Fen liked this guy already.

    "Your time is well passed for a report to the Lord of Ash...oh yeah, and whose greetings I am tasked with relaying.
    " Brother Badger added, apparently unaccustomed to such missions and the protocols of the druids' greetings.

    Fen began his recitation of the course of the party's actions since his last meeting with Sister Sage. It was lengthy and full of detail. The druids of the Ancient Order were trained for many years in accurate observation, and "perfect" perception. Their observations were required to be unaltered by emotion or personal desire. The retaining and, and most importantly, recitation of their memories was one of the druids' most sacred duties...and Fen had learned these skills particularly well. Even in the language of druids, such exacting accuracy required some time. The day was well into afternoon by the time the younger druid finished his tale.

    "Distressing tidings to be sure. But well remembered. I do offer my condolences for the loss of your kiili, Fen of Moonglade." Brother Badger finally replied, having thoroughly absorbed and stored all of Fen's information.

    Fen asked if the elder druid could identify the magical acorns that he'd been gifted by the druid Ornfael. Badger took a long time to mull them over and finally admitted he could not discern a specific purpose, other than they were highly enchanted.

    "I would say to you, Brother Fen, that if the ancient one told you to use them for that specific purpose, then that is what you should do...the Balance shall take care of the rest." was all of the guidance Badger could offer.

    "Is my mission changed, brother? I do hope to continue on with my companions." Fen finally asked.

    Brother Badger looked at him with a questioning shrug. "I was told you were Willow. As such, I have no particular direction to point you. At least, I was given no specific instruction thereof. Do you know where your companions are?"

    Fen had to admit, he'd left them two days ago and could not be sure.

    "Ok then...let's see here..." the older druid said in Common as he wandered over to one of the large oak trees that lined the glade. He stroked his beard and tapped upon the gnarled bark. "Hmmm...yes, this will do..."

    Fen wandered over beside him. What was he doing?

    Brother Badger made a few syllables in the sacred tongue and traced a circle with his finger about a knot in the trunk. The edges of the knot widened on their own and an image came into form within.

    To Fen's complete surprise, it was Alaria and Braddok and the others, they were in some lovely tree filled place. The whole image had a haze of pale green over it.

    "Oh! They're in Evandrial! Lucky devils. BURSTING with the Balance. Lovely place. Have you ever been?" Badger asked.

    Fen shook his head that he had not.

    "You're in for quite a treat, my boy. Be wary however...the powers of the elves hold sway there and Holy Mistwood's magics are...unpredictable." the man chuckled again at some unknown remembrance. "Yes...powerful...but unpredictable. Use care."

    Fen nodded his understanding and conveyed his thanks. "I should be going then, Miralostae is a large place and I have several days to get there."

    "Nonsense!" Brother Badger said in disagreement. He again intoned some words of the sacred tongue with which Fen was unfamiliar.

    Fen could not believe his eyes as the knot in the tree opened to a size he could step through.

    "There is your way, Brother of Willow." Badger said.

    Fen called Buttercream. Badger was a bit surprised to see the giant ferret come out of the thicket of holy bushes.

    "Are you serious?" the ferret said.

    "Indeed, this is where the Hilltender is." Fen replied.

    "Ok then." the ferret said, nonplussed and hopped up into the tree-door.

    "My thanks, Brother Badger. I will not forget this kindness." Fen said as he too stepped through the tree.

    "Not at all, Brother Fen. It's the least I can do." Badger replied. If the Fen heard his response, he could not say. But once the tree-door had closed and shrank back to nothing more than the knot in the side of the oak tree it had originally been, the elder druid chuckled again.

    "You might not thank me so much once you've arrived, druid." Badger said to himself.

    A column of acrid yellow smoke came into being around the older druid. When the column of smoke had subsided, the succubus Athrizz strutted off, to the edge of the glade. She disappeared from this awful world of "natural beauty" with a high pitched cackle.

    Moments after the demoness' exit a red deer buck wandered into the empty glade.

    The deer waited, grazed, and waited some more. As the evening sun was dipping into the west, the buck turned and left.
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