Steel Dragon's "Tales of Orea"


Steeliest of the dragons
The reunion was bittersweet as Alaria discovered that she had been unconscious for over two weeks.

Her alarm was doubled with the realization that they had a mere twelve days...”Eleven, now, actually.” Fen corrected...before the horrifying prospect that Desaarthal would attempt to revive the elder wyrm, Sharzaak.

She thanked the twins and the somewhat off-putting Tidemaster for their intervention and assistance.

The following morning,the team began to weigh options and possibilities, taking into account the magess’ visions from her spell-sleep. How much were portents, precognition and/or simple images from her own mind and fears could not be discerned.

Their time was quickly becoming more limited. Aid from Hawkview was out of the question. Even though Pyrnion could make the flight in a little more than two days, any forces to be rallied and reach Shoal or the coast near Dragonbone Isle would require far more time than they had.

Similarly, treks on foot to reach Bridgetower and Daenfrii would need almost as much time, though the sorcery of the Dragonmage could guarantee a faster response time.

It was decided that Fen would send avian messengers to the elves at Silver Falls, the guild-tower in Hawkview, and Bridgetower. The elves at the Falls had at least one Hawk-rider to carry on their news to Evandrial. Bridgetower could easily contact the Dragonmage’s keep. Of course, three sea-eagles were sent to the druidhold of Moonglade and the two other nearest druid “Keepers.”

The Tidemaster reluctantly agreed to use his Sending magic to contact other associates at various temples in Hawkview, Daenfrii and to Tyrisian temples farther afield to spread the word of a potential assault or, at the least, to be aware of the possibility that an ancient evil might be returning to Orea.

Alaria, herself, directly contacted Rhea through the emerald teardrop talisman she still carried and that might save them some time. She also requested, at Pyrnion’s urging, that Rhea contact the zephari’s liege, the Wind Wizard Car’Tyr, and apprise him of the situation.

Finally, in response to her visions, a messenger would be sent directly to the court of the magelord in Ablidon. What, if anything, might come of it the companions could not say, but they were secure in the belief that the message would reach its intended recipient.

At her request, Fen would also send a messenger to Alaria’s family to warn them to be prepared to protect themselves and flee, if necessary. Haelan, similarly asked for word sent to Hillmother Saran in the Free Hollows.

The essence of these messages was, “We have ten days to thwart this plot or Sharzaak will rise. The Stormriders will do what is necessary, but we can not guarantee success. If we fail, the security of your realms, indeed for all Orea, will rest with you. All assistance will be appreciated.”

It was two more days until all of the messengers and magic messages were relayed.

There was immediate response from the Lady of the Emerald Tear saying that the court of Daenfrii had been visited by a very angry Witch-queen of Dunsmoor. Her staff, which <the companions knew from the Overeer> held the Fehs Repahl, had been stolen from her possession.

On hearing of the dragon/wizard, Tresahd/Desaarthal’s involvement, the witch-queen Selara had disappeared in a ball of fiery rage. It is assumed, she has gone to reclaim what is hers.

This was “good” news, the companions assumed. They hoped the legendary wizardess might live up to her reputation, as told them by the Lord Gorathial. At the very least she would slow the dragon’s plans, if not deprive her of the fire-based Repahlentim (thus thwarting her plan), or best-case scenario, slay the dragon herself.

Then the companions had to decide on their own course of action. Exhausted from the days of conference and planning and message preparing and sending, the companions adjourned for the night and met again at first light...with seven days, one week, until the vernal equinox.

“My friends, we have seven days. What can we do?” Braddok stoically began.

He was seated a large circular table in the temple’s main dining hall. The companions surrounded the table, and looked to each other uneasily. Each unsure how to begin or respond.

Waverider Trihna joined them, as she had the passed two days, in Jocuque’s stead. She was the first to stand and speak.

“The isle is only a little over a day’s sail. We could, and I would pose 'should’, go there now and try to stop this thing before it starts.” Trihna suggested.

“But how do we do that?” Haelan asked. “Desaarthal’s power is easily beyond us. She has shown that at least three times now.”

“We are not the same adventurers who met ‘Tresahd’ on the road to Deanfrii all those months ago, friend Hilltender.” Fen pointed out. “I am confident we can rely on assistance from Moonglade.

“I would not be surprised if my kiri <translation from Elvish: “those-nearly-family”, alternately or more simply translated as “cousins.” All elves -and more liberally, those with elvish blood- of Miralostae are considered to be close enough to be considered “kin” in some way> in Evandrial will not also rise in support. Though I wouldn’t expect confirmation of this for a few days yet.”

“Are you suggesting we wait for that confirmation?” Braddok asked calmly.

Fen thought for a moment. “No. As I can not say that, for sure, that aid will come... and by then it might be too late. I recommend we take the offensive.”

Braddok grinned at this.

“You have been noticeably silent these passed days, Duor. What do you think?” Pyrnion urged the dwarf rogue.

The dwarf sat, arms crossed and sullen. He had, in fact, been rather silent through their entire stay in the Tyrisian temple. Perhaps more alarming, he’d noticeably not caused or gotten into trouble.

“No treasure in it. What’s it matter to me?” Duor grumbled with a shrug.

“Are you serious! The whole flippin’ world is at risk and you’re still sulking because you didn’t get the dragon treasure in Gorathgraard!?! Have you no shame?!” Haelan burst.

“Are you saying you won’t come with us?” Alaria said, similarly horrified.

“Oh, I’ll go with yehs. If there’s treasure to be had, and I’d wager there’s gotta be sumthin’ there, I’ll go along. Better yet, if we slay the first dragon, then I need to be there to claim my share of th’treasure that’s still in that mountain in the swamp.”

“Well, there’s a ringing endorsement for trust, friendship and solidarity.” Haelan scoffed. Now the Hilltender folded his arms and scowled at the dwarf.

“‘Trust, friendship and solidarity’ have n’er a coffer filled, hairfoot.” Duor replied blandly.

The others looked at the dwarf strangely.

“Ole dwarvish proverb.” Duor said plainly.

“You’re making that up.” Fen stated but couldn’t contain a smirk at the dwarf’s apparent attempt at a “hoodwink.”

“Think of it this way, Duor. If we fail the Dusk gets what you think is coming to them. There won’t even be a Hawkview to claim, let alone pilfer.” Braddok said, half tongue-in-cheek, to offset the tension.

“Or, how about this way...if we fail, there won’t be treasure anywhere for you to claim because the whole damned world will fall to darkness and the super-dragon will take all treasure for itself.” Haelan said, lacking any tone of humor.

At this, Duor’s bushy eyebrows rose. This was an outcome he hadn’t considered. The dwarf rose to his feet and pounded a gloved fist on the table top.

“What’re we waitin’ fer!? Y’heard the druid n’ the wave-priest. We gotta go now!” the dwarven rogue exclaimed.

“We can assume the demons we’ve encountered will be there, assisting at their mistress’ bidding.” Fen added, turning the conversation back to the idea of a direct assault on Dragonbone Isle.

“Is there anything we can do...or find out to help us against them?” Haelan asked, obviously nervous at the prospect of again encountering abyssal horrors.

“For that matter, is there anything about the ritual itself that we know? Something we can do to stop it without, perhaps, taking on Desaarthal directly?” Pyrnion added.

All turned to Alaria. The magess, sadly, was lacking any more knowledge than they already possessed. She knew only the elements the dragon knew to conduct the ritual...all of which, save the Ihs Repahl, it was assumed she now had.

As to the demons, Alaria knew there existed certain magical inscriptions and circles that could be used to trap or deter demonic creatures. This filled the companions with a momentary hope until Alaria continued.

“However, I am certain we do not have the time for me to properly learn them. I wouldn’t even know where to begin researching.” the magess admitted. Seeing her friends’ disappointment, she added most sincerely, “I’m sorry.”

“If that is the case should we, perhaps, move you, Alaria?” Trihna suggested.

This brought questioning looks to all of the companions.

“If the dragon needs your wind-orb to conduct the ritual, should we not do everything we can to deprive her of it?” the Waverider stated, as if it were obvious.

Several of the companions found themselves feeling particularly stupid at that moment.

“Perhaps we can find a way to magic you to the other side of the continent? Or hide you in some unknown enclave. If Daenfrii is truly as secure as I’ve heard the Hilltender tell, could you not just return there? We need only wait until after the vernal equinox, do we not?”

This warranted some thought. Alaria was somewhat annoyed with herself and her hubris. In her single-mindedness to “stop Desaarthal”, the idea to simply deprive the dragon of what she needed had not entered the magess’ mind.

“Can we?...hide from the dragon, I mean.” Haelan asked tentatively. “It seems she knows where we go all of the time.”

“She doesn’t know we’re here.” Pyrnion said with more than a little ascending enthusiasm that the idea had merit. The looks on several other party members’ faces took on a similar hopeful light. Braddok’s did not.

“As far as we know.” Braddok amended.

Crests visibly fell and shoulders slumped all around the table.

“True.” Alaria admitted. It would be a very simple matter for the dragon to get from Dragonbone Isle to the temple and back again on the very day of the ritual if she wanted to.

“Well, you said Dihm and Suhm protected you in the spell-sleep. Couldn’t they, maybe, mask you somehow if you stayed here?” the Hilltender asked with typical innocence.

Twelve hopeful eyes shot to Trihna.

Somewhat taken aback, the Waverider answered as honestly as she could.

“I couldn’t say. We would have to consult the Tidemaster and see if he feels the twins are up to, or at all capable of, such an thing. I am inclined to say no. They are very young, after all. The training in their mystical abilities, and I will grant I do not fully understand what those are, has only been a few weeks now. Since Jocuque’s arrival. Tidemaster Kama had inklings for the twins potential, but he had not yet begun to explore it.”

“Can’t hurt to ask.” Haelan insisted.

Trihna nodded and excused herself to go consult with the Tidemaster.

“Let’s assume for the time being they can not,” Braddok continued as Trihna left. “What can we do?”

“That arcanist in Bridgetower hid us from ‘Tressie’ before. Couldn’t he do it again?” Duor off-handedly offered.

Alaria shook her head in the negative. “That was a relatively minor masking enchantment. Short term. I doubt it could thwart her and all of her demonic minions is she put them to the task of finding us.”

“You don’t believe she has already done just that?” Fen said, in some disbelief.

“She hasn’t found us yet.” Haelan piped in.

“...That we know of.” Braddok again amended.

The party mused silently for a few moments.

“What do you think, Braddok?” Alaria asked. “You are the warrior. If we are to make a direct assault on the island, how would you suggest we succeed? None of us have ever had to fight an actual dragon.”

Braddok thought for a moment. His mind raced with years of training, military histories, and legendary tales of heroes defeating dragons.

“I say we just go in and slit the damned thing’s throat. Works on jus‘bout everythin'.” Duor mumbled, now bored with the council. He took to flipping his ethereal dagger into the air, catching it effortlessly by the pommel every time.

The companions looked at the dwarf with some annoyance. Braddok’s eyes focused on the ethereal green flame circling through the air with each of the dwarf’s tosses. The magical energy blurring into circles as it rose and fell, seeming to be located in multiple places at once.

“That!” Braddok said aloud. “That’s it. Multiple places at once!”

The rest of the companions looked at the swordsman in obvious confusion.

“Most successful battles and military campaigns, throughout Orea’s history, have been the result of a multi-pronged assault.” Braddok explained. Poorly, it seemed, as the questioning looks did not change.

“Are you saying we should... split the party?... to assault a dragon's lair?!” Pyrnion said, unsure.

“Yes!” Braddok exclaimed, pleased with the plan that was forming in his head.

“We do as Trihna suggested. Keep the Ihs Repahl, and Alaria, away from Dragonbone Isle. While most of us go there to disrupt the ritual. We’ll need a decoy. Desaarthal will know we are coming to her, and if she believes Alaria is with us, she’ll let us come.”

“Devious, my boy. I approve. I volunteer to remain here and guard the magess.”
Duor smiled broadly.

“Then how will you claim your share of any treasure to be had, my roguish friend?” Pyrnion jibed.

“Eh! I’ll be doin’ my part!” Duor defended.

“Stealth will be paramount, Duor. I am afraid you do not get to stay behind.” Braddok said.

“She’ll blow us outta the blasted water before we ever get near her! Stealth won’t be an option.” Duor replied deadpan. “I’ll be dipped in goblin guts...again...before I’d go along with that!”

“As much as I dislike agreeing with Duor, beloved, I am not comfortable with sending you there alone as a decoy for a dragon.” Alaria chimed in. “Without substantial magic on our side, it’s a suicide mission.”

“Prolly a suicide mission anywho.” Duor grumbled under his beard.

“Not helping!" Haelan scowled at the dwarf before taking on a worried countenance. The daelvar inwardly acknowledged the dwarf was very possibly correct.

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Steeliest of the dragons
Desaarthal stood, in her feminine human form, before the cistern in the great rounded chamber deep within Dragonbone isle. She’d never bothered to re-conjure the water wyrd to protect the aquatic “battery” she now possessed. She peered, with glee, at the image in the water before her. Only three days remained until the appointed time.

The succubus, Althrizz, stood beside and slightly behind her, looking with her mistress into the brackish water.

A small single-masted fishing boat was nearly to the isle. The adventurers crowded in its frail shape. The dullard warrior at the til, the daelvar, the winged one and the magess, hooded, used her staff to steady herself on the increasingly choppy waters that surrounded the overgrown remains of the mother dragon.

“Where are the others?” Althriz posed cautiously.

“No doubt,” Desaarthal replied without concern, “the druid has retreated to his order, as the feeble tree-wizards so often do when defeat threatens the realms. The cowards.

“The dwarf has decided that the potential gains do not outweigh risk to his neck, as he has displayed so many times in the past” the dragon-lady said, unable to pass up the chance to flaunt her superior observations, “obviously.”

Letting the slight pass, Althriz answered, again cautiously, “Then, Great One, would it not be prudent to go collect them now? Stop them on the water, where they are most vulnerable? Perhaps Nishkibuul...”

“No." Desaarthal said plainly. “My command of Nishkibuul does not extend beyond you well know." she turned to the succubus with an arched ebony brow.

Althrizz met the gaze, with all the innocence she could muster.

Returning her gaze to the scene in the waters for a few moments more, the dragon continued.

“No. Let them come. Let them believe they stand a chance...until all hope is so inexorably lost before their eyes.” the black-robed lady of raven hair replied.

“The crushing of the paltry delusions of mortals’ heroic deeds is just too 'delicious’ to pass up. Don’t you think?” she added.

Desaarthal took in a long breath, conveying near ecstasy in her obvious enjoyment. She exhaled with a satisfied slowness and turned toward the succubus with a decidedly evil smile. Her gaze then went, slowly, to the silvery-blue-skinned captive, bound in stone by wrists, ankles and neck, above the cistern.

Althriz couldn’t help herself but to smirk a wicked grin. For everything else she thought of her mistress, Desaarthal did have a knack for cruelty and evil that demanded appreciation, as potent as any demon.

“Indeed, mistress.” the succubus grinned a reply. The demoness’ own gaze rose to the shapely thigh, small waist, buxom chest, to the lovely unconscious face and elegantly tapered ears poking out from beneath teal-colored cascading curls. The succubus' forked tongue licked the edges of the razor-sharp teeth that filled her lovely-lipped mouth.



Steeliest of the dragons
The companions landed and disembarked in a cove, north of the rocky protrusion where the harpies had laired, much closer to the cave mouth they knew led deep into the oddly curved mountains of the island.

Pyrnion immediately took wing and did a quick reconnaissance. “Nothing evident in view.” the zephari reported as he alit on the rocky beach.

Braddok, Haelan, Pyrnion and Trihna (hooded in Alaria’s protective cloak and carrying the Staff of Azanna) set out from the beach, weapons at the ready and clear in their objective.

It was nearing nightfall as they came to the bubbling pools where they’d first encountered Mister Meesh <"That’s Meeessh!”>. They knew it was only a short jaunt up the rocky path to the “side door” to the mountain’s strange halls and chambers.

“She must know we’re here by now.” Haelan said, worried. “Where is she?”

“Undoubtedly unconcerned with our arrival, my friend.” Pyrnion said.

The explanation did nothing to alleviate Haelan’s jittery nerves.

“But we’re not s’pposed to go inside!” Haelan answered. “If she doesn’t come out...what’re we gonna...”

“Be still!” Braddok hissed. “We have no way of knowing if we are watched or not.” the swordsman said as he casually took off his pack and began setting to make a campfire.

The dark-haired, blue-eyed Grinlian warrior looked sidelong at the disguised Trihna.

The sea-priestess nodded and took out her own crystalline orb, half filled with water. A near-silent incantation later, the orb clearly glowed with more vibrance pointed toward the mountain.

“She’s still inside. Though, from here, I can not say where.” Trihna whispered to Braddok.

“Demons?” Pyrnion asked quietly.

Trihna concentrated a moment more...there was something..."Behind us?!” Trihna exclaimed.

She and all of the company turned, weapons at the ready to look behind them.

“Nice trick, magess” the sultry voice came from nowhere before Althrizz’s form shimmered into view at the edge of the companions’ campsite.

“Demon!” Haelan blurted in his panic, though the voluptuous woman’s large bat wings, pointed tail and delicate horns protruding from her forehead left little doubt to any with sight.

“Be at ease, champions.” Althrizz soothed with her honeyed tongue. “I bare a simple message.”

The companions did not relax their battle-readied stances.

“Just give my mistress the Ihs Repahl.” Althrizz explained. She looked, casually, at her talon like fingernails. “You can even just leave it here, if you like. No need to even go inside.

“That’s all she wants. Doesn’t have to kill your magess...or any of you, for that matter.

“Just give up the orb and you might...could?...well, possibly survive the devastation that will herald the coming age.” Althrizz now looked up from her manicured hands at Pyrnion, then, Haelan, then Braddok. She shrugged. “That’s all.”

“If that’s all she wants...” Pyrnion began to say.

“Pyrnion! Focus! She’s trying to charm us.” Haelan shouted.

Braddok shook his helmed head and blinked twice.

“No dice, demon. Be gone and tell your mistress that we will thwart her wicked endeavor!” Haelan blurted. He inwardly shook at his own assertiveness and silently thanked Faerantha for the fortitude which the Hilltender always attributed to Her blessing.

Althrizz shrugged again. “Have it your way, hairfoot. She will have the orb one way or the other. As I said, I am merely the messenger...and your last offer or hope of getting out of here in one piece.”

She smiled at the assembled companions for one moment more and then shimmered, as if surrounded by waves of heat, out of view.

Haelan immediately dropped into a channeling trance and looked around, in every direction he could see in the dimming twilight. What the empowered vision showed him, much to Haelan’s relief, was the demon had in fact gone. There was no discernible, singular, trace of evil in view. But...<quote noted from in game: "Why’s there always gotta be a ‘but’?!?”> the whole of the isle pulsed with a low-grade ‘radiation’ of Evil.

Haelan shook his head to dismiss the troubling pulse from his consciousness and end his entranced sight.

“She’s gone. But evil is everywhere. I fear we may be too late after all.” the daelvar sulked.

“We have three days until the equinox.” Braddok asserted. “We can succeed.”

A slight green lizard, no larger than a man’s hand, scurried its way along the rocks toward the gaping cave mouth that, he knew from their first foray on Dragonbone Isle, was the primary entrance to the corridors and caverns beneath the island...the long decayed, calcified, covered and grown over remains of the internals of the mother-wyrm, Sharzaak.

It effortlessly climbed up onto a wall and sped into the darkness. It rounded corners and licked at the air with its reptilian tongue. Once it ducked into some shadows as a patrol of goblin guards wandered by.

Coming to the end of a long corridor, the lizard was surprised to find many goblins, with some hobgoblins which appeared to be their overseers or captains, shouting commands in goblinese as the smaller humanoids scurried about, loading and packing sacks and chests and crates of wood with all manner of riches and treasures. Coins, gems, bolts of rich fabric and barrels of wine and/or spices. All booty, undoubtedly taken from the surrounding waters’ heavily trafficked trade-routes of the Whitegull Bay between Hawkview and across the bay to the edges of the Mage-lands of R’Hath...possibly even beyond.

Sets of goblinoids packed and moved the containers back toward the entrance. It seemed the mistress had demanded they clear out before the equinox and a ship was arriving that evening to be loaded at the closest beach, just at the foot of the cave-mouth.

*Duor will be very interested in this, I should think.* Fen thought to himself. But this was not what he was looking for. The lizard scurried, unseen along the edges of the cavern, through the only other corridor leading from the chamber.

At his size, the druid easily noticed the edges of a series of pit-traps along this corridor. Not surprising considering the wealth located at the end.

He rounded a corner and was struck by a wall of scent. Most off-putting. Guano. The odor flooded down the corridor from the darkness beyond. Carefully check the vicinity, the lizard curled up, then stretched, then began to ungulate and give off a soft green glow.

A moment later, where the lizard had been, a bat took to the air, hugging the ceiling of the corridor. Some bats were known to feed on small lizards. Better safe than sorry, Fen thought.

The source of the guano scent was a large, high roofed cavern at the end of the corridor. By the size and amount of guano coating the floor, a very large bat colony must have resided here. But only until recently, Fen reasoned as he grasped a crag of rock in the cavern’s ceiling with his feet. There were no other bats to be found in the cavern. His echo-location revealed nothing else moving. Odd.

The lack of vermin of any kind, throughout the caverns, was becoming a source of concern. Surely, at least rats, bats and other reptiles or insects would have found their way to reside here over the centuries since Sharaak’s demise. There had been plenty of time for ample vegetation. Where were the other lifeforms that would be common to such a habitat?

Fen took wing again and flitted his way out of the bat-cavern through a crevice in one of the walls revealed by his unusual senses. It soon dove, nearly straight down, and the air began to become very warm.

He came through a similar crevice near the ceiling of another cavern, aglow in golden light. The floor of the cavern was dotted with pools of bubbling, glowing magma. A few large shards of blackened rock and relatively flat “pathways” of stone veined the chamber in black among the flowing lava. Two corridors exited with cavern. Fen took the more northerly of the two, banking on a guess from his last visit to these caves.

Sure enough, the corridor twisted and turned a long slow curve before coming out to the cavern all of the Stormriders remembered from their earliest adventure here. He found a place to grasp the ceiling once more and took in the cavern.

There were four small jutting stones in the walls of the large domed cavern, each above a cistern- like half-wall of stone. On one, a bowl. On another, a staff topped with a large jewel. The third was empty. The fourth held a captive. Small, slight, obviously female and elvish in features. Who was that unfortunate, Fen wondered...and how did she figure into the dragon’s plan?

Two figures were within the chamber. The one with large bat-like wings jutting from her back, small horns on her head and a long barbed tail. Fen recognized Althrizz immediately. The other draped in a flowing robes was obviously the humanoid form of Desaarthal.

“They refused, as you said they would.” Althrizz said.

“Fine. They are here. My victory is nearly assured. Release the hounds after them when the sun sets. They will be ours by morning. See that as few are slain as possible.” Desaarthal replied. “How goes the evacuation?”

“Goblins are inefficient.” the demoness said, more as a statement of fact than a reply. “But the hogomors seem to have them well in line. They say the ship will arrive at moonrise. The treasure should be loaded before morning.” Althrizz reported plainly.

“Good. Mother will be pleased to begin her new reign with at least a small hoard.” Desaarthal replied, distracted by the unconscious figure above the cistern of water where they had battled the water-hydra to reclaim the Shoal temple’s sacred pearl.

“What of the others, mistress? Is it wise to leave them here?” Altrizz asked.

“The rising will be difficult and will require as much...sustenance as possible.” Desaarthal answered. “Their power should greatly help Her return...and a few of the adventurers can only help, however paltry their existence.”

“And when the rising is achieved and you no longer require...” Althrizz began to prod gently.

“Yes, yes, Althrizz. You may have their souls. I only have need of their lifeforce and material forms.” the dragon-woman snapped back.

“Now, I will go rest. The rising will require a great deal of strength. Do not disturb me unless absolutely vital.” Desaarthal said, turning to the demoness.

Desaarthal began to leave and stopped, mid-exit. She looked around the cavern. Her gaze did not find or rest on the lone grey bat hidden among the shadowy crags in the ceiling.

“Do not disappoint me, Althrizz. There is nothing here beyond your capacity to handle.”

The demoness gave a low bow. “Certainly not, mistress.”

As the dragon-in-human-form left the chamber, the demoness turned her head, still bowed, and hissed a nearly imperceptible, “Rest well.”

When Desaarthal was gone, the succubus batted her wings and effortlessly flew away, disappearing down the corridor that led to the lava pits.

Fen took wing again and flitted down toward the figure on the cistern. She was elvish to be sure, but smaller than the elves he knew. Her figure was certainly not that of a child and her bare hands and feet revealed webbing between them.

A Karolostae?! <literally translated from elvish: “Those who Watch [or ‘Follow’] the Deep”>. An elf of the Orean seas. Unusual to say the least. But the druid was at a loss what even so unusual a being could do for Desaarthal’s plan.

The sea elves were nearly legend. But nothing Fen had heard or learned in his teachings indicated they would have a magical power to rival that of the Tyrisian’s holy pearl relic.

The half-elf was torn with pity for the woman. But his mission was reconnaissance. Not to interfere with anything, at this moment, that might tip their hand. He had to finish scouting and return to the party before nightfall. He had to warn the others of the impending attack.

*By the Balance and the Blood of the Stars, I will be back for you. I swear it.* Fen thought to himself.

With that silent farewell, the bat exited down the third passage that left the chamber.


Steeliest of the dragons
Althrizz “flew”, effortlessly moving along the grey mists of the ethereal plane through the early night. The two horse-sized black shadows of the hellhounds raced through the corridors and out into the surrounding night. The flames of their tongues spewing about their snouts as burning spittle sprayed onto the rocks and plants to either side, leaving a path of sizzling and smoking as they went.

The galloping magical beasts thundered down the rocky path toward the party’s location. Between that and their incessant baying, their approach would be no surprise.

The succubus had used her clairvoyance to find the camp site. The group had moved, slightly, into the a clearing in the woods. A bit away from the hot springs. Must have been the swordsman’s idea to offer them more maneuverability.

She debated, only a moment, the idea of appearing before them and offering them surrender. But where’s the fun in that. Let the hounds have some exercise and she could still claim a couple alive, as her mistress wanted. At the least, the fire-based beasts could soften them up a bit first...and if any died, she could claim them for herself.

The hellhounds bounded into the clearing.

The heroes were at the ready. The swordsman and daelvar forming a 'perimeter before the hooded magess. The winged one took to the air as soon as the dogs appeared.

Arrows rained down on them, but most snapped harmlessly off of the hellhounds iron-like pitch black fur. Then, all of the heroes weapons glowed with the accursed golden glow of the Hilltender’s blessings. After that, two arrows sunk into one of the hounds’ shoulders.

The painful distraction was enough to cause one of the dogs to leap and snap up at the winged archer. This left it open to a long slash from the sapphire-hilted blade of the Grinlian. Flames spewed forth from the wound and glowing red blood, flowed down the black fur like lava. The confused and sorely wounded beast swiped a clawed paw at the warrior, but missed.

Haelan shouted a prayer to his Hill-goddess to protect his friends from the fires of the wicked.

He completed his entreaty none too soon as the second beast breathed a cone of fire at the Hilltender. The diminutive cleric closed p into a ball no larger than a foot and a half around, behind his magical shield. When the flames had passed, the ball of cleric was coated in a soft reddish glow. He seemed no the worse for wear.

Now, the magess was busy casting something as well. But something about the motions and tone was strange, to Althrizz.

Still, as she threw up her arms on the final syllable, the warrior and cleric backed away from their attackers and the zephari easily lifted and twisted himself into the air as a maelstrom of ice and snow burst into being and fell upon the two hellhounds.

Intriguing, thought Althrizz. The magess was expanding her repertoire to include other forms of weather magic besides always throwing lightning around.

The party regrouped at the far end of the clearing as the beast were battered and frozen by the torrent of cold. The spell seemed to only last a moment, but when it cleared, one of the hounds (who had already sustained wounds from Pyrnion and Braddok) lay coated in ice.

The second beast paced cautiously around the edge of the clearing. Its instincts were to circle its prey, but with no other pack-member to aid it, there was no trap to press his foes into. The creature’s wicked intelligence was enough to have it continue to circle, looking to line up the land-bound heroes for another blast of its fiery breath.

The zephari was setting to pelt the remaining creature with arrows.

With a sigh, Althriz exited the ethereal plan beside the winged man and grabbed at him.

“Wuthuh???” Pyrnion uttered before he felt the warming caress of the demoness.

“Am I not lovely?” Althriz’s face was painted with a visage of innocence and hopeful longing. Her wings appeared feathered and flowing golden hair was perfectly accented with silvery plummage. Her eagle-like eyes and the feathery brows above them were the softest blue of the most perfect brightest spring sky. She was the most lovely zephari woman he had ever seen.

“You!” Pyrnion said calmly. Had he ever seen such a beauty? Of either gender. This woman before him, she could be his mate. His mate above all others.

Among his own kind, males and females only came together for their ritual matings, every 4 years. The rest of the time, the zepharim preferred to keep to their own genders for companionship and other familiar bounds. Male fledgings were taken after their second year, when they were capable of flight, to be raised by and with the males, likewise for zepharim women. But this...this female...he could nest with her the remainder of his days.

*CLANNNNNG* reverberated between the two flying figres as a small round shield bounced off of the woman’s head.

“AHHH!” she cried and turned to look at the Hilltender’s outreaching arm as the magic shield flew back to it.

“You dare!?” she said at first. “Beloved, you must stop him. He means me harm!” Althriz pleaded in her most weak and helpless voice.

A snarl formed on Pyrnion’s face. Not even the daelvar could harm his beloved. He set his bow in his quiver and drew his magic hand axe.

“You like throwing things at helpless women, beast! Catch this!” Pyrnion shouted at the tiny daelvar as he let loose with his axe. The golden weapon flew in a tight circle and landed, firmly, in the cleric’s shoulder.

“Pyrnion STOP! The demon has fooled you. LOOK! Look at her!” Trihna cried at the zephari while Braddok was desperately trying to keep the remaining hellhound’s attention on him.

“I have seen her, deceiver! She is the most lovely thaAAGHHZZZZ!!!” Pyrnion began to retort before a lightning bolt flew from the sky to strike both him and the shapeshifted demoness.

Althrizz shrieked as well, though maintained her flight. She sneered in disgust at the zephari’s weakness as he plummeted to the ground, streaming smoke. She should not have felt such pain from magical had the magess...she looked to the sky.

A funnel of dark clouds circled above her. How had she...the druid! He was here somewhere.

Althrizz scanned the clearing. Sure enough, the half-elf was at the clearing’s edge, having moments before appeared as nothing but part of the treeline.

“You!” she shouted and teleported before another streak of lightning flew through the air where she had just been.

She reappeared immediately before the Fen and swiped at him with her taloned fingers, having fully reverted to her demonic shape. The attack struck the druid by surprise, but not before he had summoned another bolt down, directly on his location.

Althriz shrieked again, her form ravaged by the natural magic of the Ancient Order. She teleported again, immediately, back to the opening of the mountain’s “side door”, well away from the melee.

Braddok dispatched the hellhound while Haelan healed himself, then Pyrnion. He trotted on blond-topped feet to the smoldering form of the cloaked druid knelt.

“You shouldn’t have done that.” Haelan reprimanded before calling on Faerantha’s grace to heal his friend.”They weren’t supposed to know you were here.” he continued after the druid’s wounds were healed.

“I will survive, Hilltender. A calculated risk. My cloak’s enchantments softened the blow a bit. Didn’t know that incantation packed such a wallop.” the carrot-topped druid admitted as he stood.

“Maybe you’ll think twice before using it on a friend, then, in the future.” Pyrnion glared, rubbing the back of his neck as he rose.

“Haelan is correct.” Braddok also frowned. “You’ve given away one of our cards.”

“I apologize, warrior, but the daelvar was in jeopardy and, plan or no plan, I could not simply permit the abomination to persist.” Fen half apologized without sounding at all apologetic.

Braddok nodded. He understood the nature-priest’s tenets to an extent. He silently acknowledged that keeping the druid inactive among demons and supernatural creatures, like the hellhounds, was going likely to end just like this. Another calculated risk.

Either way, they were victorious. It could only be hoped that this victory would not rouse the dragon from her needed rest.

“What now?" Trihna asked, concerned that their gambit might prove exposed.

“We will press the attack. We’ll venture into the mountain and hope that we can achieve our goals without...or before...Desaarthal will become involved.” Braddok said grimly. “The succubus is obviously wounded. If we can end her now, our position is all the stronger.”

“But what about Al...ahhhh...Duor?” Haelan asked, nearly slipping.

“We will still be in the position we need to.” Braddok said plainly. He tightened the straps of his shield and adjusted his grip on Kandu. “Let’s go.”

The hellhounds smoldered and eventually caught fire and burned, consumed by their own blood, through the night. By the morning, nothing but horse-sized scorch marks were left in the clearing.
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Well, after a long hiatus I've been reading this storyhour again and enjoying it no end ....

... well, actually, with an end, because now I've caught up and am going to have to wait for updates. :mad:

Great stuff, Steel Dragon - I particularly love the personality you've added to many of the monster.

Hope there's more soon ... :D


Steeliest of the dragons
Fair enough and thanks very much to all for your patience.

[also, sorry for any false alarm this post may cause for some of you as this is more apology than continuing story. :( ]

The first half of the summer is has been packing up and moving from Andorra back to the states.

The last...month of so has been getting things settled here including (but not limited to): getting a car, arranging for storage for the things being shipped back; getting the shipping itself squared away as that was kinda floating in limbo for a few weeks (I can expect it "end of Aug./beginning of Sept."...I kid you not); helping my partner get ready for a year working abroad (in a...shall we say rather "restrictive" country that doesn't require naming, including running around for METRIC TONS of paperwork, tests and signed this and that); finding a permanent domicile for myself (which I have yet to do)...Why is it 1 bedroom places/single people are apparently not allowed to do their laundry INSIDE the house/apartment/condo where they live? 2 bedroom? Sure, we have washer/dryer. 1 bedroom...get out! go blocks down the street...or the next town's "very close!" EFFYUH! I'm not a college student anymore [nothing against college students, of course!]. But one hits a certain age/point in life where you're just not willing to "make do"/give up certain amenities. Where convenience becomes oooo, really important. Dishwasher, washer, dryer...preferably NOT an hour [minimum] from everyone I know! Why is this so hard?

ANYwho, you guys have been great and my partner actually leaves this coming Monday (1 week). Sooooo, be looking for an actual real [action-packed ;P ] update to week some time...after Monday.

I promise.

Hope everyone else is getting to ENJOY their summers. I, for one, am REALLY ready for some calm and quiet autumn after 3-4 months of utter chaos.



Cute but dangerous
The great mystery of house hunting. It is either no washer/dryer in one bedrooms here, or you have to pay extra water damage insurance. As if the water could make any more damage in one room than in two.

Anyway, I hope you can update soon (says the one behind in like 10 SHs)

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