Steel Dragon's "Tales of Orea"

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
'Tis the season to be...oh $#!T!

Happy New Year, fellow Orean adventurer’s! May 2014 be a boon to us all...and may the opportunity for more regular attention to updates be ours as well. ;)

Wishes for all good thigns in the year to come and hopes that everyone has enjoyed the holiday season [respective to whatever holiday that may be or might have been. :) ]

Now, when we last left the Stormriders...where were we?

Ah! Yes.
-------------------------------

The party descended a narrow and terribly worn staircase down into Gorathgraard’s wine cellar. Time, moisture and ages-old use had worn the stone steps to a near-ice slippery smoothness. More than once one of the companions had to grab one of their fellows to steady their descent.

Pyrnion, of course, flapped his way out into the great open space as soon as he was able, floating effortlessly to the floor below.

When the floor of the cellar was in view, Jovias similarly leapt from the hazardous steps to land with a light “clop” on his caprine haunches.

The rest of the party made their way down and then stood, in awe, at the bottom.

The stairs had been long, for a cellar, but the ceiling disappeared in shadows at heights well above where Duor asserted they should be.

The cellar itself, extended well beyond even Duor and Pyrnion’s exceptional eyesight...in all directions.

Row and row after row of shelving, standing at least 20 feet high, extended into the darkness. Some filled with dust and cobweb-strewn bottles and casks. Some empty. Some shelves of stone, some of wood. Those, that could be seen, of wood had long decayed and collapsed in sections. Large “pool-like" spots of darkened stone dotted with broken shards of age old bottles of long lost vintages were visible from place to place. The entire area reeked of a “heady”, in fact nearly nauseating, combination of what was now vinegar combined with the sickeningly sweet smells of various indeterminable fruits and spices used to flavor the forgotten wines and liquors. Their distillation now seeped well into the stones of the flooring and surrounding wood which remained.

“Ugh.” complained Haelan.

“You kidding?!” Jovias, argued. He took a long deep sniff. “Whew! You can get a high right of fthe air down here. And LOOK at all of the bottles still intact!?! This is any red-blooded satyr’s paradise!”

“All yours, good minstrel.” Braddok scoffed, covering his mouth with his shield arm.

“Indeed. I’m getting a headache already.” Alaria complained. She, and several of the others, wrapped their cloaks around their faces to avoid some acrid air.

“So which way to the vault?!” Duor said, excitedly.

“I can not say, Duor.” Alaria said with some annoyance. It was only for the dwarf’s greif they were there in the first place. She very much wanted to vacate the deadly mountain and regroup. “Gorathiel said only that it was hidden behind a cask.”

Haelan looked off into the darkness, extending beyond his and Alaria’s light sources...and the number of casks and bottles and uncounted rows of shelves. “You’ve got to be joking.” the Hilltender said without humor. “We could be here for the rest of our natural lives!”

“That seems a likely possibility, Hilltender.” Fen responded with a smirk, though no humor in his tone.

“Where do we even begin?” Haelan asked.

“With ye, hairfoot.” Duor said, triumphantly.

“Huh?” said more than a few of the companions.

“Ye had the spell that was s’posed to lead us to the orb. Ye can use it again to lead us to the treasure!” Duor said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“But Duor, I would need to rest and recouperate my strength before trying so advanced an entreaty again. I have no doubt we have neither the time nor the...desire...nor will we be permitted the opportunity to rest here, for long.” Haelan protested. “She is sure to return at some point.”

“Haelan is correct, Duor.” Alaria piped in. “And both Fen and myself are at a sore loss of energy should we be forced into another encounter. I say, we retreat and return some future time.”

“We’ve DONE that! And we’re in spittin’ distance of a dragon’s hoard...Braddok, my boy, talk some sense into these whining magic-users. We can’t abandon this now!”

“Mmmm...that’s a lovely....’mell...” Jovias said, taking a deep breath of a still moist and sticky looking pool on the floor at the periphery of their light. “Mulberry...n’ tones ovvvv...cinnamon?...mmm...”

Pyrnion watched, somewhat disinterested, until the satyr reached out with a long finger and pulled a bit of the sticky reddish substance up toward his nose and lips.

“NO!” Pyrnion cried...too late.

The satyr’s tongue touched the long spilt wine even as a “lump” formed in the middle of the area of stained, moist looking floor. Jovias’ eyes rose, his finger still attached to his tongue, to follow the growing lump turned mound turned giant “hill” as two appendages separated from its sides and a large space opened beneath what seemed to be two large corks stuck near the top of the...thing, like eyes. A gurgling dripping roar escaped the opening that must have been its “mouth.”

”Mudman!” Pyrnion shouted even as he took wing, grasping his enchanted axe in both hands.

“WINE ELEMENTAL!!!!” Haelan shrieked.
 

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steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
“You’ve gotta be kidding me.” Braddok said with exasperation. The warrior looked to Alaria, as if for some explanation.

“Don’t look at me!” Alaria protested. “Kill it!”

“With what, a goblet?!” Braddok half-jested in return as he dodged a swipe of a long red reeking “arm” (for lack of a better understanding). At a mental command, Kandu flared with its mystic blue flame and the warrior charged forward.

Pyrnion was the first to react, slicing through the creature’s “torso” with his axe. To the zephari’s surprise, there was resistance in the purple-red goo. Its consistency was akin to tar and the winged man needed some force to pull his weapon clear.

“Jovias, get clear!” Fen commanded.

“uh camt” the satyr replied as best he could with his finger, stuck to his tongue, and the whole of him stuck to the base of the pool forming the monstrous, obviously magic-spawned, wine-thing.

“Great.” Duor said, deadpan, as he dove for the abundant shadows surrounding their limited space of light.

Alaria backed away. Her powers were nearly spent and she dared not use the Ihs Repahl again for anything other than their escape. She could not attempt to use her staff without getting close enough to put herself in jeopardy or, from afar, without risking Jovias and the others moving to engage in melee.

“Haelan, can you do something?” Alaria asked, with concern. She knew the daelvar cleric was similarly near the end of his magical reserves.

“Fen!” Haelan passed the proverbial buck. “It’s an elemental of some kind, right? Your order is the elemental type.”

“My dear Hilltender, the Ancient Holy Order of Mistwood deals in the elements of the natural world...not the elements of the barkeep!” Fen protested, though did grip his sacred leaftip spear with both hands, causing the leaf-shaped blade to flare with the energy of “the Green.” He moved before Alaria and the Hilltender in a defensive stance, but was inwardly unsure of his ability to effect this type of creature at all.

The creature’s other appendage flashed up and forward in an attempt to grasp or simply swat, none could say, the flying feather-winged zephari.

Pyrnion deftly avoided the somewhat slow and clumsy attack.

Braddok’s attack at the creature’s base found its target, though Kandu’s blue energy flamed for only an instance before being extinguished by the creature’s, presumably, liquid-like body.

It roared at the assault. The companions took that as a good sign, that the creature had somehow been “hurt”, if only a little.

“Think a moment, Fen.” Haelan encouraged from behind the grey-green cloaked druid. “What is wine? It’s plant juices...mostly water, isn’t it?”

Alaria looked at the daelvar in surprise. that actually made a lot of sense.

“Yes. You’re right, Haelan. Yes! Fen, remember that incantation you used on Dragonbone Isle?The one you used against the water hydra?” Alaria coaxed.

Nah. Really? Thought Fen to himself. Well...maybe...

Another swipe of Pyrnion’s axe did dig into the creature, but the weapon became stuck and the zephari’s forearms with the “splash” it created.

“Whatever you mystics are discussing, now would be a good tiUMOOF!” Pyrnion began to say before becoming engulfed in the creature’s slowly fluid form.

“Pyrnion!” Haelan cried.

Another attack by Braddok met with a similar success. Though not engulfed, himself, his sword was thoroughly “stuck” in the creature‘s tar-like body.

Up to his waist in sticky purple-red tar, Jovias’ struggling led him to slip and fall only to find himself, now, up to shoulders thoroughly stuck. The more he struggled the more entangled and trapped he became.

“Now, Fen. NOW!” Alaria commanded.

Fen began reciting the simple incantation in his order’s sacred secret tongue. <Druid spell: Destroy Water> He thrust his open hand forward on the final syllable. The utterly cryptic sound assaulted Alaria and Haelan’s ears.

Both felt somewhat dizzy, though whether it was from the druidic speech or the olfactory assault of the magic wine-turned-vinegar-turned-angry-elemental-being they did now know.

As the magic force left the half-elf’s body, a large section (nearly half, in fact) of the creature’s body seemed to evaporate away. The creature roared once more, in obvious defeat, as its hulking form sank back into the sticky fluid pool on the floor.

As it “receded”, Braddok and a coughing drowning Pyrnion were released. With some effort, they released the zephari and satyr from the creature.

Duor appeared from the shadows as Fen and Haelan were straining to pull the satyr free.

“Well, if that ain’t taught ye not t’go ‘round lickin’ at weird things, I dunno what will.” the dwarf said in chastisement of his henchman.

The dwarf received hateful glares from everyone except the satyr.

“What?! It’s true!” Duor protested innocently.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
“...so I can only surmise...and this is pure conjecture, mind...that the combination of the liquid and the magical nature of this place, over the countless ages we know Gorathgraard has been here, led to the creature’s creation. I suspect it was entirely mindless. Very similar to the creation of mudmen, as Pyrnion initially proposed.” Alaria concluded her lengthy explanation of how a pool of spilled wines might become a giant tar-like killer monster.

“So it wasn’t a wine elemental?" Haelan asked innocently.

“Not as such...though very similar, Haelan." Alaria responded kindly. The magess had found, in times when she was nearly spent, being kind to Haelan was easier than when she was tightly wound with energies.

The party had traveled for over an hour in the sprawling wine cellar beneath the ancient keep. Passing row after row. Peering down to a limited distance and continuing along the perimeter. Gorathiel’s instructions had said there was a gate “in the wall" behind some old casks of wine. So they were hugging the walls, in hope.

Barring that, it was their fervent hope to find some chamber or alcove in which they might safely “camp” for a time, if not a full night. If they came along some casks, then great.

In the wake of the “wine elemental’s” attack, the companions had debated their course and it was decided that ‘in for a penny, in for a pound,’ as it were. All, except Alaria, believed leaving now might surely be missing their only chance at the dragon’s treasure vault.

At nearly two hours after their encounter with the wine-thing, they saw a light glowing from the wall ahead of them.

Against all objections, Duor raced forward with Jovias close in tow. The light was coming from behind an elaborately fashioned golden gate. Images of swans and humanoid figures seemed to swim and fly up and down the bars of gold.

Beyond the gates, a vast chamber, deep and high vaulted, was filled with mounds of gold and silver coins, jewels and gems, goblets and platters of shining metals, all lit and glittering from the shining golden light of an equally elaborately crafted chandelier hanging from the ceiling in the center of the chamber.

“By Feorn’s beard.” Duor said, breathless.

“I will write such a song as has never been heard.” Jovias said, wide-eyed in wonder at the wealth and riches strewn just before him, just beyond these gates.

The rest of the company arrived and were similarly awestruck.

“Will you look at that." Braddok said, almost as breathless as Duor.

“Manat’s star." Alaria breathed.

Through his amazement, Haelan mentioned offhandedly, “But...didn’t the stone face say that the gate was behind some casks?”

“Who cares what it said?!” Duor burst. “He’s been trapped upstairs for who knows how long. The casks prolly disintegrated years ago. LOOK AT THIS!” Duor argued.

“Makes sense." Pyrnion said and looked around at the floor and walls. Another wine-creature was not on his list of things to encounter again soon. The walls showed no signs of having anything before them. The floor also. No pool of goo.

“That’s good.” the zephari thought to himself.

No shards of wood, either...or the rusted metal of ages old bands that would have bound barrels of wine. In fact, even the all-pervading sickly-sweet smell didn’t seem to exist here.

The dwarf sniffed and rubbed an eye with a gloved hand. “This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Now...stand back! Give a dwarf some room. I’ll get us in here.” Duor commanded and even shoved Jovias back from the gates as he pulled his slender wrap of licks and oddly shaped tools from his belt. He began examining the obvious huge padlock.

“Take care, Duor. Gorathiel did say there would be traps.” Alaria cautioned.

“Yeah, yeah.” Duor grumbled under his beard as he fiddled with the lock.

Pyrnion stepped back and examined the walls and floor some more. No signs for scraping on the floor. No movement on the dust covered floors other than their own, that he could discern. He turned his gaze above them. Shadows...darkness...very complete.

The zepahrim were renowned for their distance vision, but in darkness it was little better than humans or daelvar. Was that movement or just his mind playing tricks in the shadows?

“Alaria, perhaps you should...” Haelan began to suggest.

“Yes, Haelan. Arkani...” Alaria began to intone. <the beginnings of the Detect Magic cantrip>

Movement! Pyrnion’s mind cried even before he could voice it.

Pyrnion wrapped an arm around the nearby magess and half-grabbed half-threw and half-leapt with the magess in his muscled forearm, wrapping them both in his golden wings.

What happened next was a blur, depending on whose point of view you had.

Duor was knelt before the golden shining gate and lock. He went from fiddling with a lock to feeling nothing at the end of his lockpicks and seeing nothing. Blackness filled his eyes and, indeed, mind. A thunderous jolt shook him, literally, off the ground to land heavily in the complete darkness.

Braddok and Jovias, the nearest behind Duor, were similarly ensconced in darkness. A force, like the hammer of Dunric the god-smith, slammed into them both.

Haelan, standing beside Alaria and slightly behind the satyr, was thrown several feet from the shockwave of the impact of the darkness.

Fen had begun to wander down the aisle between the rows of shelves behind them, to ensure nothing was “sneaking up on them." He flinched and instinctively sunk to his knee, wrapping himself in the sacred cloak as the shockwave of force shook the entire are they were in. He turned to see a towering globe of darkness give way to an abomination.

Alaria, hastily grabbed about the waist and carried/thrown by the zephari, found herself in the muscled embrace of the winged man. She looked in surprise and concern at the zephari’s face. His feathery eyebrows above tightly closed amber eagle-eyes. The shudder of the forceful slam...somewhere they had just a breath before been standing, shook her innards.

“What?!” she began to say, even as her mind knew 'we’re under attack!’

Turning, Pyrnion moved his wing, even as he looked at the magess and said “Are you unharmed?”

“I am...” Alaria began to reply even as the cloud of darkness before them dissipated, “o...” In the place of the darkness stood a creature, “...k?”...Evil in bestial form.

A torso and great powerful arms and claws, akin to a bear, a face not unlike a gorilla...except for the tusks of a boar...jaws and teeth like a lion...the legs and hooves of a goat, not unlike Jovias’ own.

And strewn about those hooves...the unconscious forms of Jovias, Duor and Braddok.

“Rejoice, mortals! For you find your end in the esteemed presence of Nishkibuul, the Ever-damned and Ever-damning!” the creature said without saying. The presence of its voice in their minds was like nails grating on a chalkboard.

“Abomination!” Fen cried and, spear tip flaring in green light, raced forward.

Pyrnion grabbed Fen about the waist as he tried to charge passed his and Alaria’s position. In the other large muscled arm, he hooked Alaria and with a lunge of his large thighs, launched the three of them into the air, turning invisible as he did so.

“BRADDOK! Haelan?!” Alaria cried in Pyrnion‘s ear, more question than command.

“Yesshh. Fly little bird-man. FLY! Heh...hehhehhehhehhehhahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAWHAW
HAWHAWHUHUHUHUH!!!!
the creature’s inhuman voice echoed behind yet all around them.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
There was little time for thought, yet worry consumed the three companions winging along. Pyrnion took them high up into the chamber and darted to the side, over a few rows of shelving to give them a momentary space from the massive demon.

“We have to go back, Pyrnion!” Alaria protested. “Haelan and Braddok need us.”

*Yesshh, Shtormridersh. Do come back. Your little Hilltender needsh you.* the demon’s voice again surrounded them in the darkness. The “sound” filled them with dread and seemed to pervade the entire cellar in a palpable evil.

“Aaagh!” Haelan’s cry of agony echoed through the chamber.

Fen and Alaria and Pyrnion looked to each other in concern.

“There is nothing to do but retreat, Magess.” Pyrnion said in earnest. “If the others still live at all, they shant for long.”

“I will not abandon them, Pyrnion.” Alaria said, angered at the mere suggestion. “But retreat we shall.” She pulled the Ihs Repahl from its pouch. “But we need a distraction. I must be closer to them to save us all. You will have to wing yourself, Pyrnion. The rest of us will use the orb to escape.

“As Braddok suggested, our best chance is the teleportal platform in the throne room. After I’ve made the transmutation, we will make our way there and remove ourselves immediately for as far from here as we can." Alaria hastily explained.

Fen and Pyrnion gave the magess a grim nod.

“Ready? Let’s go.” Alaria said before revealing herself from the aisle in which they had cowered for a moment.

A hundred or so feet away, along the wall, stood the demon. The only light coming from a fiery glow that surrounded it. Braddok, Duor and Haelan hung ten or so feet off the floor, against the wall that showed no sign of any gate or treasure room. The crumpled form of Jovias still laid on the floor as well as a small lump of fur...Buttercream!?

Alaria charged forward, the Staff of Azanna blazing with its silver sparks. Fen, charging beside her, his leaftip spear flaring with green energy. Pyrnion winged his way above them, short bow nocking and releasing as quickly as he could.

A half dozen arrows whizzed directly at the large creature. Its massive girth made it difficult to miss, yet all but one of Pyrnion’s arrows rebounded, harmlessly, of Nishkibuul’s otherworldly hide.

*HAWHAWHAWHAW...come lil’ advenshurer’sh. You will make shuch delishioush treatsh when I return you to my fortresshh and feasht on your shoulsh.*


“Ye really should do somethin’ 'bout that speech thing, buddy.” Duor said, weakly, from his hanging telekinesed place along the wall.

Nishkibuul turned and glared at the dwarf. A moment of orange light filled the demon’s beady eyes. Duor immediately cried out in pain and slumped back into unconsciousness.

Fen twirled the spear above his head and slammed the butt into the stone floor. The green lightning struck forward along the floor and roots and vines burst through the stonework to encircle the demon.

The enchanted vegetation existed only a moment before blackening and withering about the creature. The natural magic unable to pierce the demon’s absorbing abyssal energies.

*Heh heh. You think you will defeat me with weeds, nature priest?*

The demon bent down and picked up the pulverized body of Jovias, still dripping innards and blood. He gave it a lick with an inhumanly long forked tongue nd threw it at the would be saviors.

Pyrnion swooped down and scooped up Alaria again, taking her out of the way. Fen dodged the poor satyr’s corpse which landed with a loud cracking *splat* and bounced/rolled somewhere into the darkness behind him.

“Take me to them, Pyrnion." Alaria said silently before letting loose with a lightning bolt from the staff. The demon raised his arms before him and the lightning bolt struck them only to reveal no damage when the bolt had ended.

*My turn*
the monster replied. This fear and withering effect of the demon’s mind-speech was much more intense this close.

It raised a clawed hand into the air and pointed toward Alaria and the zephari, who were just nearing the floating/hanging daelvar.

A streak of lightning flew up from the demon’s fingers and arced down upon the two would-be rescuers.

Both Alaria and Pyrnion crashed to the ground. The winged man was sorely burned and smoldering but clung to consciousness. Alaria had her protective cloak to thank for keep her marginally away from death.

The demon laughed at them again, its otherworldly guffaws shaking the whole area as the magess and zephari struggled, visibly, to regain their feet.

“Alaria, your lightning again!” Fen called and immediately began the incantation of Unmaking that he had prepared that day. The half-elf shouted the spell at the top of his lungs, hoping that the archaic language of the druids might effect the demon, if only to stagger him for a moment.

The spell that disrupted magic surged from the druid, visible ripples in the air flew at the demon and did seem to “strike" him physically. Fen found himself surprised that a spell to undo spells would be accompanied with such a rush of power.

Alaria spoke the command once more and was instantly filled with the “feel” of the last of the staff’s energies leaving it. This was the final time, until again recharged, it would evoke such energies.

Following in the wake of Fen’s Dispel Magic, the lightning bolt pierced Nishkibuul’s resistance and did considerable damage to the creature. The demon roared out in surprise and pain.

“Now Pyrnion!” Alaria cried, even as the smoldering zehari snatched her up and launched her toward their held fellows.

The magess hooked an arm around Braddok, and held out the orb in her other arm, invoking its most potent charm. An instant later, she, Braddok, Haelan and Duor were transformed into cloudy images of themselves and, directed by Alaria’s mind, the four sot off back for the staircase, far behind them in the darkness. Thankfully, since following the wall, it was only moments before they reached it.

After hurling Alaria, Pyrnion turned and lunged back toward the druid. Fen held up his arm and the two clasped forearms. With a single tug, the zephari pulling the half-elf up and onto his back. The winged man beat his wings ferociously to attain as much speed as possible even as the infuriated roar of the demon pursued them.

Another lightning bolt blasted down, just beside the two retreating heroes. Shortly therafter, multiple shrieks were heard behind them. They recalled the raptor-like cries of the vulture-demon they had fought in Miralosta. There was no need ot take a look back or worry about pursuit.

The two found the stairs up and soared through. Unfortunately, the kitchen was a bit too confining and Pyrnion was forced to land. The druid and ranger raced for the doorway and rose up to the great throne hall.

A veritable tornado of cloudy forms was swirling over the teleportal dais. Alaria was unwilling to bring them back into physical form before their final two companions arrived. Pyrnion gripped Fen around the waist and in a single gliding lunge, brought the two to the dais.

Alaria brought herself into physical form at the control-pedestal. The cloudy near-invisible forms of Duor, Braddok and Haelan, similarly sank to the dais and re-solidified at Alaria’s command.

A shriek of pure terror ripped through the throne room as two vulture-demons burst through the doorway that led down to the kitchens.

Alaria gave them not a moment of notice, engaging the teleportal device to send all of them to the farthest place she could imagine where they would be, at least temporarily, safe.

A flash of silver and blue sparkles surrounded them as Nishkibuul appeared in a roaring torrent of shadow interspersed with beams of rainbow colored lights.

*****
There was a cry of alarm when six bodies appeared in a shower of blue sparkles beside the dolphin and merfolk sculpted fountain.

Several acolytes ran back to the gates ensconced by giant sea-lion statues. Some others, in robes or wraps of blue and green fabrics, raced toward the arriving obviously wounded, beaten and battered companions.

Alaria looked, exhausted, and saw a blurry dark-haired green-blue figure running toward them.

“Bring the Tidemaster! HURRY!” the figure cried out.

I know that voice, Alaria's mind said before consciousness slipped away.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Braddok bolted upright as darkness gave way to light before his eyes.

“DEMON!” the Grinlian swordsman shouted and instinctively reached for his blade...which wasn’t there.

He looked down at his hip in surprise. Only then he noticed he wasn’t on a cold stone floor in a shadow filled cellar. He had no armor nor weapons. He was...naked?...on a cot?...Only a soft white linen sheet edged in a pattern of blue embroidered cresting waves covered him from the waist down. He was in a softly lit room with several other cots...with bodies on them! There was Duor and Haelan and...Alaria!

He went to rouse himself from the bed. A shooting pain in his leg stopped him before feeling a soft hand on his bare shoulder. He turned in surprise to see Fen, hooded and draped in his druid’s cloak which had taken on a decidedly bluish sheen to the grey-green it usually was.

The half-elf smiled gently at him with kind green eyes. “Be still, my friend. You have much mending to do yet.” the druid said softly.

“Fen? What happened?! Where are...” he now saw, beyond the half-elf, the attending healers looking at him strangely. The warrior relaxed back into his cot to see they wore the robes that began with a deep blue at the shoulder, fading and changing about midway to shades of green of the order of Tyris, the sea goddess. “We’re...Shoal? How...”

“Yes, Braddok. We are in the temple of Tyris in Shoal. Rest now.” Fen said, again with gentle softness the swordsman had rarely heard.

“But Alaria...” he began to protest. Gods his leg did ache and his mind was heavy with exhaustion.

“She is fine, champion. Well, fine for her.” Fen said. He looked to Alaria’s cot with a bit of concern.

“What does that mean?!” Braddok said, somewhat disheartened by the comment.

“We believe she is again in the spell-sleep.” Fen said. He again smiled at the warrior with a tested believability. “The healers have done what they can. Now we must wait, as before. She will rouse when her mind and body are ready.”

"Before...?" I don't understand.

"Ah...right. I will explain later. Now, rest." the druid answered.

Braddok settled back into his pillow. “What about the others?”

“Duor and Haelan shall recover. They live, by the merciful graces of the sea goddess of Men, and rest comfortably...as you must.” the druid explained.

“And Pyrnion? Jovias?” Braddok asked though fatigue was certainly creepign up on him again.

“Pyrnion is out. He was tended and recovered the best. You know he is not content in confined spaces. But he is around...familiarizing himself with the area and keeping watch for any strange goings on or pursuit from Gorathgraard.” Fen answered him softly.

“Pursuit...?” Braddok prodded.

“We fled with three demons on ours heels. One was of a magnitude of dark power I had not known existed.

“I have little doubt they search, even now, for our whereabouts. I believe we have some time. Our cunning magess brought us here instead of returning us to Daenfrii, I believe, for just such a reason...to throw off any pursuit. Buy us a bit of time.”

Braddok nodded and exhaled. “And brought us within striking distance of Dragonbone Isle.”

“Just so.” Fen replied.

”What of...where are...” Braddok asked, looking at the beds confused. Shouldn’t there be more of them?

“The satyr and...I am sorry to say, Buttercream are dead.” the druid answered matter-of-factly. He knew that a warrior of Braddok’s experience had no need of honey-coated words to speak about fallen comrades.

“Oh gods. Haelan will be devastated.” Braddok said.

“He was. He rose a few hours ago and sobbed himself back into sleep. He is strong for a daelvar, Braddok. He will survive.” Fen said, again with a detached matter-of-fact-ness with which he sometimes spoke.

The acceptance of death of the druid sometimes alarmed Braddok. Part of the whole “balance” or “cycle of life” or some such, the warrior knew. But it still came off chilly when expressed. There was definitely a quality...not “uncaring”, certainly, but a coolness to Fen since Erevan’s death, the swordsman thought. Now they had visited the lair of the dragon again...and again had come away with losses.

“So how do we proceed?” the swordsman asked, even as his head sunk back into the pillow.

“You proceed by resting and healing, my friend. Nothing else matters at the moment. We need you, Braddok. And we will need you at full strength...she will need you thus, as well.” he grinned.

“Yes. Of course. You are wise, my friend. I am glad that we are both still of this world.”

“And I, Braddok. Rest, now.” the druid managed to reply before the dark-haired Grinlian slumped back into sleep.
 

SolitonMan

Explorer
Thanks for more great updates SD!

I can't seem to get enough story hour-y goodness. Since your last story post in October, I've re-read Lazybones' Doomed Bastards and Travels Through the Wild West, and picked my way through a few others in bits and pieces. Not time to re-read Sagiro again just yet...need a few more entries before the big finish.

I have to say it's really fun to be able to indulge in these little escapes. I appreciate all the work done by each of you who takes the no doubt considerable time to create them. Thank you! :)
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
In honor of today’s [un- or semi-official?] “40th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons"...have an update! Hope everyone gets a chance to play, even if it’s not a full “game session” or at least roll a few dice and muse fantastic.

...and, as always, above all, HAVE FUN WITH IT! :D

Cheers and happy birthday, D&D!
-SD
--------------------------------

Nearly two weeks passed and everyone but Alaria had recovered fully, by the attentions of the Tyrisian healers. Braddok, Haelan, Fen, Duor and Pyrnion had been reunited with the sea-priestess,Trihna. She was overjoyed to see them and then horrified as Haelan (with certain additions and amendments by Duor) recounted their adventures since they were last in Shoal. She offered sincere condolences on the death of Erevan. The tale of Braddok’s death and subsequent resurrection especially awed the Waverider, as the raising of the dead was a power beyond the followers of Tyris.

At the end of the first week, following their initial recovery, they were presented to Tidemaster Jocuque <author/s note: “Joe-SOOK”>.

Jocuque was an aging man, though lacked both the apparent age and some of the vitality of the former head of the temple in Shoal. His hair and beard, kept growing long in the style of the Tyris’ clerics, but his receding greying chestnut hair barely passed his shoulders and his beard came no further down his chest than Duor’s own. Hardly the waist-length cascades of snowy white Kama had possessed. He has fit enough, as the priests and priestesses of the goddess of water were want to be (spending much time swimming). But there was a slight bend to his posture and he walked with a noticeable limp, leaning at times on a cane of bleached driftwood.

He also lacked Kama’s easy-going and hospitable attitude. He was much more taciturn than the party expected, shrouded in an air of formality almost as physical as his white and sea-green vestments. The intensity of his grey-blue-eyed gaze assured any observer that there was little the Tidemaster missed. If there was concern or disbelief about the party’s tales, some of which he already knew from Kama’s journals, he showed none.

After their initial meeting, they saw the Tidemaster only one other time, when they were instructed that Trihna would be their liason. They were invited to share no meals with the high priest, eating instead with the other temple residents and, on occasion, going to the village itself for a simple meal among the Shoal fisher-folk.

According to Trihna, after Kama had gone missing, she sent word to the nearest enclave of Tyris’ priests, some leagues south of Hawkview. He was, apparently, of the appropriate age and power to assume leadership of a temple. As far as Trihna could pull out of the new Tidemaster, Jocuque was more of a mystic and cloistered scholar than an “active” priest in that temple’s significantly larger community. While he was somewhat stoic compared to their beloved Kama, Trihna had no questions of the man’s devotion to Tyris and administrative know-how.

Trihna had essentially been designated “acting Tidemaster” when it came to dealings with the villagers and directing many of the temple’s acolyte training.

He had, Trihna explained with approval, taken quite an interest in the twins’, Dihm and Suhm, apparent mystical potential. He had personally taken up their training, meeting with them often, and the three spent much time in meditations and practicing rites that would lead the sun-bleach blond youths onto a path of oracular tradition. The first of the Shoal temple’s devoted to exhibit that particular blessing from Tyris’ “depths”, to Trihna’s knowledge.

The party was heartened to hear that the sacred black pearl of the temple was, indeed, still here and it was training with the relic in the temple’s sanctum that Jocuque, Dihm and Suhm spent much time.

The party was saddened to hear of Tidemaster Kama’s disappearance nearly two months prior to the party’s arrival. The high priest of Tyris had gone out for his daily afternoon “communion” in the sea. After some time, he returned to shore only to say that the Shoal Spirit was in dire need and he would return when he could.

Trihna waited for three weeks, attempting several divinations on Kama that proved unfruitful. With a heavy heart, she sent word to their neighbor temple to explain the situation. Jocuque had arrived by ship about two weeks prior to the party’s arrival.

Braddok, not surprisingly, spent much time at Alaria’s bedside. Waiting. Hoping. Praying. The magess’ condition was indeed stable, but showed no indications of improving. Haelan was also often there, adding his limited healing talents and sharing what he’d learned from the Daughters of Gilea in Bridgetower to tend and nourish the inert body.

After the first week, the healers began to express concern about their ability to maintain Alaria’s physical form, they simply didn’t possess all of the needed materials to create a fully effective nourishment potion. The head healer, another Waverider named Harran, suggested sending word to Hawkview to summon a Daughter of Gilea or Desri’s Shaalir. Either of whom, the middling aged Tyrisian priestess admitted without any hint of envy, might possess more advanced healing arts for this peculiar ailment of the mind.

With little debate, the party agreed and Pyrnion volunteered to fly to the port city to enlist what aid he could. He took a message explaining and outlining the situation and their needs. The scroll was stamped with the formal seal of Tyris, the standard cresting waves, holy symbol of the goddess, surrounded with specific runes and sigils by which the temples of Orea’s various gods knew the veracity of each other’s official documents. It had been three days since the zephari’s departure.

Duor, though taking longer to recover than the others, had been up and about for a full week and was beginning to go a bit stir crazy in the holy halls of the sea goddess. He tried to keep out of the temple’s courtyards, with their strange “under the sea” painted walls that even now made him feel a bit seasick if he looked at them too long. The temple’s library was of no interest whatsoever, though he did pass an afternoon reading up on various mythical relics and treasures that had been attributed to Tyris and her clerics over the ages. There was nothing indicating actual current locations of these treasures and the only one that interested him even a little was a helm that was alleged to allow its wearer to breathe underwater...and he already knew he could get potions for that, easily enough from the temple stores.

Fen, uncharacteristically, ventured from the temple infrequently and then only to instruct the local fauna and receive reports of any mysterious goings-on in the area. The druid was sure that the demons from whom they’d fled, would find them eventually. His inquiries to the temple clerics and research in the archives yielded no information about any demon named Nishkibuul, though a few “sea-demons” were mentioned in a single ancient manuscript, written in the second age of Men by one “Tidemaster Telehm.” One referred to repeatedly, called “the Sahuagin”, seems to have been a fairly regular threat in that Tidemaster’s time. The archaic speech of that era was unclear, to Fen, as to whether this was an individual or a specific type of the demonic legions.

When Pyrnion left on his mission to Hawkview, Fen, regrettably, informed the party that he required a meeting with his order to, hopefully, gleen some useful information. The half-elf did not expect to be away for more than two days. On the third day since Pyrnion’s departure, the druid had not returned.

Haelan, after his initial upset at Buttercream’s passing, was kept busy with tending and caring and fretting over Alaria’s “spell-slept” body. He did, after some persistence, enlist Jocuque to send word to the Lady Rhea, seeking to summon the Emerald Tear initiate to Shoal in hope her mental talents might bring Alaria “back.” The following day, an acolyte delivered a response.

He read it to Braddok and Duor at Alaria’s bedside. It said, “Unable to come. Tyrilith rising. Will attempt what I can from here. Be alert and wary. Gods keep us all.”

While not the immediate aid Haelan was hoping for, he was confident that Rhea would do what she could to help them.

Braddok, visibly disheartened, grasped Alaria’s hand and looked at her closed eyes. “Wherever are you, Alaria, come back to me.”

Haelan, and even Duor, looked on the warrior with pity and sympathy.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
The Stormrider's Valentine's Day Special

In the grand tradition of Charlie Brown and...ya know...all of those other famous Valentine's specials :erm:

I thought I'd post up a quickie, completely non sequitur!!!, special Stormrider's Update.

Happy Valentine's Day all! :p
--SD

----------------------------------

The Stormriders wandered through the snow-covered woods. It was pristine and clear, mild even for the day. More than once snow dropping from the high branches of the enchanting wood landed with a soft fluffy “phlump” near one of the companions.

Their mission into the allegedly magical wood was at the behest of nearby townsfolk. Several of the small town’s young people had been disappearing (or getting lost) in the woods over the past week or so, always in pairs. The townsfolk claim a despicable enchanter was luring their younger residents into the wood and...then the gods know what. Were they being enslaved? Eaten? Sacrificed to some dark master? One rumor claimed they were being transformed into the animals of the wood.

So, the Stormriders were, of course, willing to help.

They broke from the treeline at the edge of a broad snow swept clearing in the midst of which a small mound rose.

“Well that’s...unusual." Fen voiced as all of the company stared at the mound.

The low hill was devoid of snow, sporting instead a plethora of brightly colored springtime flowers, though spring was still at least two months away.

“Magic?” Braddok asked softly.

“Durr. Yeh think?" Duor scoffed.

Alaria simply nodded. She didn’t require her magical sight to feel the energies filling the clearing. She’d known the wood was, undoubtedly, enchanted since shortly after they’d entered it. The tingling sensation of arcane energy prickling up the back of her neck had increased steadily as they’d neared the clearing.

Fen began to skirt the edge of the clearing, his druid’s cloak shrouding him from time to time, seeming to appear and disappear periodically against the natural backdrop. His movements seemed not to disturb a single flake of the fluffy snow.

Pyrnion was somewhere, high above, circling invisibly before bringing himself to land on a high overhanging bough. Clumps of snow fell from the branch and elsewhere on the tree, the only indication the zephari was present.

”So, what now?” Haelan asked quietly. “Should we, ya know...announce ourselves or something?”

Not coming up with a better alternative, Braddok strode boldly forward a few paces into the clearing.

“Show yourself, enchanter! We are here to return the youths of Targsbury to their people.” t swordsman pronounced toward the mound.

His voice echoed through the crisp afternoon air.

Nothing stirred.

“Reveal yourself, release the captives and we promise you a fair trial for your transgressions.” Braddok called out again.

Again, nothing.

Braddok turned back to look at the others still hugging the clearing’s edge. He was at a loss as to what else to do.

“There!” called Duor as he took a step back, further into the woods to cloak himself in the dappling shadows of the undergrowth.

A shimmer in the air above the top of the mound gave way to the appearance of a male youth of obvious beauty, a cherubic face with blond locks flowing in some faye breeze. He was swathed only in a wrap of white cloth about his pelvis. It too flowed in the unfelt breeze. Two great feathered wings of white, pale gold and a slightly pink tinge to the pinions sprouted from his back, though he appeared to remain aloft, effortlessly, without any flapping necessary. A leather strap, beautifully detailed with golden scrolling, split his torso diagonally, holding an obvious quiver to his back. A pure white bow was curved in a most unusual but delicately beautiful, manner rested in his right hand at his side.

“There are no captives here, good heroes.” the winged youth answered. “Be at peace. All who come here, come in love and stay of their own will.”

His voice was soothing. Calming. Dripping with sweetness and honey to all of the companion’s ears. Braddok and Haelan immediately lowered their weapons. Alaria, too, felt her entire body relax at the simple innocent, even inviting, words.

The beautiful figure hovering above the mound pulled an arrow from his quiver and raised his bow. He nocked the arrow and took aim at Alaria. A playful grin on his shining face.

Haelan blinked. The daelvar shook his head to clear it. He quickly looked about at his fellows. They stood, staring at the winged one, a serene peace completely devoid of thought was glazed across their faces.

“My friends, enchantment!” the Hilltender shouted before raising his arms and voice in the powerful clerical abjuration, akin to Alaria’s spell of “Unmaking.” On the final syllable, he slammed the butt of his pinecone headed mace into the snow around his hair-covered feet.

Waves of divine power spread out from him in all directions and the companions all blinked, momentarily confused.

“No! What...?” the angelic man said confused.

“Weapon!” Pyrnion’s voice was heard through the clearing.

A moment later, an arrow whizzed at the winged enchanter, knocking the nocked arrow from the his hand.

He looked up in the split second to see Pyrnion diving at him, before the zephari tackled him in the air. The two fell and rolled down the mound, a ball of flailing feathers, into the snow beneath it.

“What are you doing?! I’m...” the enchanter began to say before Pyrnion launched himself back into the air as a flash lit up the snow surrounding him in a soft green glow from underneath.

Vines and grasses tore up burst up, sending up a cloud of fluffy snow, as they entwined around one of the enchanter’s arms and wrapping his torso to pin his wings to his back. He heard the woman’s voice begin to incant arcane syllables.

“Stop it! I’m just trying to...AAGH!” the winged figure began to protest before four blue-violet energy shards slammed into his bound form.

The devious charmer looked in surprise across the clearing as the last “fumes” of blue energy dissipated from the magess’ outstretched hand. The warrior was charging toward him, a great sword bathed in blue light slashing through the crisp winter air.

As Braddok was closing the serene beautiful face twisted into a scowl and, without a sound or movement, a cloud of pink and white sparkles surrounded the figure, hiding him from view.

Braddok got a face full of the magical “dust.” It smelled sickly sweet and vaguely fruity, like a nose full of fresh strawberries and blooming flowers. The swordsman was halted in a fit of sneezing and coughing, waving his blade and shield in an attempt to dissipate the sweet cloud.

The sparkles cleared in a moment to reveal the winged figure was no longer entangled in Fen’s enchanted vegetation.

The companions look about wildly, expecting the creature was still in the area.

“There!” Fen cried out and pointed back above the mound. Having left the treeline, the others could clearly see the druid moving toward the hill.

The winged enchanter drew another arrow and let fly. It struck into the ground ahead of approaching half-elf. Either a lousy shot or...

Fen was suddenly entangled himself, in a bramble of branches and thorns that quickly turned green with leaves and then burst into a ball of rich red rose blooms. The druid cried out as the magical thorns bit into him from all sides.

Pyrnion, again diving form the winged foe, slashed with his hand axe, but the creature would not be caught unaware again and easily dodged the blow. Whereas Pyrnion had to wing his way about, the enchanter seemed to simply float as he willed, making him much more agile in aerial combat.

“Pyrnion, get clear!” Alaria called, not wishing to use her more powerful magics or begin wielding the Ihs Repahl while the zephari might be caught in the winds.

A small dart caught the floating man in the arm as he was drawing another arrow. He turned, pain and anger evident on his face, to see the dwarven rogue reloading his hand crossbow.

“You insolent blind hateful...” the enchanter now growled.

Again, he was unable to finish his thought as a glowing pine bough, full of cones, slammed him over the head, sending him reeling, again, to the top of the mound. His bow fell just out of reach.

“Feel the wrath of the Hill Mother, deceiver. Hilltender Haelan shall never again fall to wicked enchantment!” Haelan shouted in defiance as he mentally had the spiritual weapon slam down on the winged one several more times, to keep him from rising. After three such strikes, the weapon missed and the agile creature again began to take to the air.

He made it about 5 feet above the ground before Alaria’s lightning bolt, sizzling passed the racing Braddok, slammed into the enchanter. The air was filled with the scent of burning flesh and feathers left the creature smoldering and dazed.

Braddok was crested the small hill and with a single swipe of his basttard sword, removed one of the burnt and smoking wings from the enchanter’s back.

He cried out in obvious pain and shock, falling with the force of the blow, back to the ground.

“You...can’t...” he said weakly, holding up a hand in a feeble attempt to block Braddok’s next strike.

The blow cleaved into the wounded creature who, summarily, “exploded” outward in a shockwave of pink, red and white sparkles.

Braddok was knocked back, flying off the mound to land heavily at its base. Pyrnion sent reeling through the air to right himself high above them. As the shockwave washed over the trapped Fen, the rose bush seemed to “wash” away in the sparkles, leaving the druid free. Alaria, Haelan and Duor, still near the edge of the clearing, simply felt a soft breeze and were washed over with the feint aroma of sweet fruits and flowers.

The spring-touched mound seemed to collapse in on itself. Disappearing as it did so to reveal a dozen dazed young couples, in various positions and states of...amour.

“What...happened?” the first young man to regain his senses said to no one in particular. He looked in disbelief at the rising warrior and the other adventurers around them.

“It’s alright.” Braddok said calmly.

The youth blinked. Clearly not comprehending.

“You’re free now. We’ve destroyed the enchanter.” the swordsman said proudly.

“Free?” the maiden slowly freeing herself from the arms of the first youth.

“Destroyed?” the young man questioned.

“Yes. We have broken the creature’s wicked charms.” Haelan said soothingly as the companions all gathered around the confused young people.

“Free...destroyed...broken?!” the maiden said to the Hilltender, aghast.

“Well, yes.” Haelan smiled cheerily at the lovely girl.

“You...destroyed...love?” another of the young men asked.

“Wait...we what now?” Haelan, now confused, said.

“You’ve 'broken’ the ‘wicked charms’...of love!” the first youth said, apparent sorrow beginning to cross his face.

Haelan gasped audibly. “We...killed...love?!" Abject horror plastered on his face.

“Ohhhhhho ho hoooh! Well done, one and all!” Duor laughed.

“Shut up, Duor.” Alaria glared.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Countdown: Part I

Fen had returned in the night. The sea-priests more than a bit disconcerted by the druid’s appearance within the temple when noone acknowledged having actually opened in the gates in the night to allow him entry. The half-elf merely shrugged and grinned at the acolytes’ queries, claiming simply, “I didn’t want to bother anyone. It was the middle of the night.”

He happly reported that there were no reports of any demons in the area and that a small enclave of Miralostae elves (significantly more militant in their make up than the previously butchered community) had re-populated the Silver Falls outpost. They conveyed heartfelt greetings and offers for assistance as the Stormriders required.

Later that afternoon, a full six days now since his departure, Pyrnion returned from Hawkview. He lamented that he had been unable to sway either the Gilean or Desriite temples to send aid, possessing no means of transport that they felt would avail the waning magess.

As the evening sky turned from blue to streaked clouds of bright pink and orange and the shadows began to lengthen, Tidemaster Jocuque summoned the company to his office. He suggested a plan for bringing Alaria out of her malady. Their only option, the party readily agreed.

The rite would take place that night, when Arinane reached her zenith. The great silver moon was full that night and it was due to this fact, according to the dry scholarly high-priest, that there was even a possibility of success. The party was instructed to leave the magess’ bedside as the rite was an ancient one, of deep mystery.

Braddok insisted on being present, as did Haelan. Jocuque, eventually, acquiesced seeing that the warrior and hill-priest were adamant. Braddok, he reasoned, could serve in the rite as a beacon for Alaria’s spirit, “If your feelings are true and shared by the magess.” Haelan, it was reasoned, was already a member of an order and so at least aware in the ways of mysteries (however divergent) that all clerics of the gods were learned if not fully or truly versed.

Given that, Jocuque extended the invitation to the “heathen” druid. Fen, politely, declined feeling that the bedside was already hosting an adequate audience.

“Tonight then. At the half-ten bell. Now if you’ll excuse me.” Jocuque said stoically as way of a dismissal.

“I miss Kama." Haelan said longingly after the company had left the Tidemaster’s office.

“As do I, my friend. But Jocuque seems to be our only option. We can but hope.” Fen replied. “we can not stay here indefinitely.”

“Why do you say that?" Braddok asked with some concern. The warrior’s face was heavy with worry and lack of sleep.

“A simple feeling...and obvious fact." the druid shrugged. “While my woodland friends have not found any indications of pursuit, we can not assume that Desaarthal, Nishkibuul or others of her minions are not, in fact searching for us. Nor can we presume that the dragon has waylaid her own plans simply because we are around.”

“True.” Pyrnion said matter-of-factly. Braddok simply nodded a tired agreement.

“The Overseer told Alaria that the resurrection of Sharzaak would take place on the Spring Equinox.” the winged zephari continued. A scowl furrowed his feathery brows. “We have little more than a week and a half.”

“Twelve days, to be exact.” Fen said. His voice had a tone of cold stone.

The half-elf sank into deep thought, having heard himself actually say the time. They could very well be looking at the end of the world. He’d been keeping mental track of the calendar. For initiates of the Ancient Order it was second nature, a sixth sense almost, to track the cycle of the Balance around the year. But something about hearing it out loud for the first time that put a heavy note of urgency and added a bit of horror, even, to the unrelenting march of time toward their most feared outcome.

All irritated by the Tidemaster's demeanor, but hopeful that the ritual might return Alaria to them, the party members went to the dining hall to share the evening meal in their collective near-silent hope.
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
Alaria rested her head against the soft snowy white back of the giant owl. The cooling breezes as they soared through the ether was comforting. She felt more at peace than she had for months. A blissful relaxation consumed her as the avian moved through what some part of her understod as the spirit world.

*Hoo-oot.* the giant owl cooed.

“I don’t have to right now.” she answered her mount casually.

An ethereal “Hoot” echoed all around her.

“I don’t know...Wherever we were, I suppose.” Alaria replied, rolling lazily onto her back.

Where was that? She had only a glimmer of a memory. She had been in a place of darkness and pain, sorrow and loss. Here, it was calm, cool, her mind soared even as the owl pitched and dropped, flapped and rose in the “air.” But rose away from what or where, she had no conception. There was no “ground” that she could see, yet a feeling of “down” and “up” and moving around was apparent.

“Where were we, anyway?” Alaria asked the owl before catching herself. “We”? She kept thinking in the plural...Why?

*Hoot.* the owl’s response again echoed about her.

“Shoal?” Alaria answered in surprise. Why Shoal? Shoal was...a coastal town...there was a temple there...a temple to...the sea? She didn’t need to go to the sea...she had to get...

“The dragon!” Alaria cried aloud.

*Hoot Hooooo.* the owl’s voice said simply. It’s tone and meaning clear to Alaria’s mind.

There was a flash somewhere in the distance before her. A green light, merely a glimmer, far off and then it was gone. She knew the green light...there was something about it...some...one...

The calming grey peace that surrounded her immediately darkened menacingly. Soon, the pale grey ether was plunged into a complete blackness.

The owl pitched and dove, letting out a cry of alarm as it did so. Alaria gripped large handfuls of feathers to avoid sliding from the spirit-creature’s back. The sudden jolt spared something in her mind.

“I’m in the spell-sleep!” Alaria gasped.

“Hoot!” the owl replied, again with a tone of fear.

Two large red slits of eyes appeared before them. They loomed huge in the “air” before them.

The owl made to turn about as Alaria saw the tiny beacon of green light appear again, twinkle for a moment and disappear. It appeared, as best she determine, somewhere “behind” the eyes.

“No! No! Keep going! We have to go back! I have to go back!” Alaria commanded.

Without a sound, the owl resumed its course toward the large glowing red eyes.

A maw of black teeth opened beneath them, discerned only by the glowing red within the “mouth.” An ear-shattering roar of defiance and malice filled her perceptions. A burning heat and force of wind jolted the owl from its flight and the creature, with Alaria still clinging to it, was “knocked” by some unseen force. They were falling toward the mouth.

As they fell, she saw apparitions fly passed here. Erevan. Festus. There was Haelan sobbing over the smashed body of Buttercream. The satyr Jovias skipping along, oblivious to her, strumming on his lyre. The elf-priest Cyrillean being consumed in flames. There was Montor!

“Montor! Help me!" Alaria called out even as she and her owl fell beyond him. He looked down at her. A pained expression filled his face before he turned and faded away in a flourish of his midnight blue cloak. A flock of elvin knight hawk-riders raced passed her, flying “upward”.

Suddenly she was assaulted by the scents of sulfur and burning wood, pillars of smoke surrounded them. Beneath her, they now fell toward Ablidon...the Flaming City consumed in a blanket of flames and billowing smoke...Then falling toward a field of corpses, armies of elves and men spread out as far as she could perceive into the darkness...then it was Bridgetower...in ruins...standing in the midst of the rubble of the courtyard behind the great tower stood a lone figure...Braddok!

Alaria tugged with all of her might on the owl’s back to right the spirit-mount. It came out of its plummet and soared away from the red-glowing maw. She circled back around to where, she perceived, Braddok had been.

The warrior’s form appeared again, faintly, translucent. He stood, eyes closed. His hands clasped before him in a posture resembling some kind of prayer or...like one would position a corpse in reverence.

“Braddok!” the magess called out. There was no indication the ghost-image heard her but two sets of glowing white eyes, one set to either side of the swordsman, appeared. They were small twinkling spots of light.

“I must go back!” she cried out again, whether to the owl or Braddok or these white lights, even she could not say.

She noticed, quite jolting, that the darkness through which they now flew was now reaching at her and the owl. Dragging on them. The perceived speed of their flight noticeably slowed, like trying to sludge through a mire.

*HOOT!* the owl cried out. Whether to her or to their circumstance, Alaria wasn’t sure.

A cacophony of *Hoooooooooo* erupted all around them. It wasn’t her owl’s sound. Definitely multiple different voices.

From the shining eyes to either of Braddok’s form, tendrils of silvery light ripped forward, forming as they came, into great clawed draconic hands. Alaria felt complete fear for a moment before noticing that the silvery claws were ripping away at the darkness around her.

The glowing red maw now opened in the blackness “behind” Braddok and the silvery eyes. A thunderous roar shook the whole of the unearthly realm as the maw neared the back of the trio before her, threatening to dive down over them, consuming them all.

“NO!” Alaria cried out and felt the rush of arcane power, which she knew so well yet had completely forgotten she’d possessed. Without archaic phrases or finger-tangling gesture, even before she could throw her hand out toward Braddok, a silvery globe surrounded the warrior and his attending “spirit-eye-things.”

The maw seemed halted where it was. Not touching the globe, but unable to continue its apparent assault.

Then, the white glowing eyes took on a decidedly blue tint and grew in size, as forms surrounded the pinpoints of light. Draconic forms. Growing massive as Alaria watched and the owl, continued to fly toward them, though without ever, it seemed, getting any more close.

Their outlines, like silvery thread laid on a canvas of black, grew long necks and powerful claws, massive wings stretched out from their backs until they formed a wall of silvery wing between Braddok and Alaria and the giant red-glowing face that threatened them.

A duo of high-pitched piercing roars filled the area, though without the shaking force of the black draconic face. They filled Alaria with an obscure calm and security that gave way to a pulsing strength and...direction...purpose...clarity.

The two silvery dragons swirled together, weaving back and forth with each other, nose to tail, forming a silvery horizontal figure “8.“ Alaria immediately recognized it as the ancient magical sigil of infinity.

As this draconic infinity swirled before her, Alaria distinctly felt herself moving again “forward.” Braddok was getting closer. For a few beats of the owl’s wings, they were making a measurable, though slight, headway.

Then, in a moment, it was as though they were being “pulled”, sucked, toward the warrior and dragons, uncontrollably. In a split second, the owl and Alaria became a blur, distorted, stretched, accompanied with the sensation of moving at a breakneck speed and her perceptions was filled with silver light that flashed through eyes even as she shut them in fear. Thunder again filled in her ears.

Blackness. Ringing. A droning buzz that took on a definite tone and pitch...multiple notes...then a different harmony. The scent of...sea salt? What was that fishy odor? Was that humming?

“Hooooooohhhhhhmmmmm. Toooooooohhhhhmmmm. Bless-ed be Her dehhhh-epths." the unseen voices intoned.

Alaria’s eyes cracked open. A golden light blinded her before a moment before blurred forms began to take shape.

“She’s waking up!” she heard Haelan squeal, as if from a distance.

Alaria opened her eyes fully and lifted her head and shoulders from the pillow of the cot. “Where...” she tried to say.

Braddok stood at the foot of the bed. Relief and joy filled his face as his eyebrows rose in question.

To either side of him stood the bleach blond, heavily tanned and toned forms of the Shoal twins, Dihm and Suhm. They were bare to the waist save for a stole of sea-green, each with trim and serpentine shapes embroidery in silver thread. Their faces, like the stoic masks she remembered, betrayed no apparent emotion.

Alaria though she noted the slightest glimmer of silver light fade from Suhm’s eye...or was that Dihm?

“Oh Alaria!” Haelan’s voice came again as the Hilltender slammed into the bedridden magess with a daelvar-sized bear hug. “Praise Faerantha you’ve come back. Oh..ehm..and Tyris, too, of course.” the halfling added.

It was then that Alaria noticed the rest of the room was filled, nearly to capacity, with attending priests and priestesses in assorted wraps and robes of blue and green. Several held incense burners giving off a faintly bluish smoke. Many others held candles of white and pale green. A stern looking bent middle-aged man was beside her bed.

He simply nodded and said, rather dispassionately, “I suppose I must welcome you back to Shoal, Magess Alaria.”
 

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