The Doomed Bastards: Reckoning (story complete)


Cerulean_Wings said:
Come to think of it, your first name doesn't suit you; you're anything but "lazy" :p
Well, I can afford to be more lazy in some areas because I am so non-lazy in others. :)

* * * * *

Chapter 21


“I don’t know what the hells we’re wasting time here debating,” Corath Dar said, slapping the table with his hand to emphasize his point. “We know who was behind it, we know where they are going, and we know what they want.”

“I respect your passion, general, but thus far there has been no hard evidence that they were anything but very resourceful thieves,” Sukat Koth said.

Dar’s expression was a thunderhead. “They were there for that dagger. You may not know what that means, councilor, but Allera and I were there, and we do.”

The big Emorite leaned forward in his seat. “I defer to your knowledge, general, lady healer, but other things were taken as well. A cache of scrolls, a fortune in emeralds...”

“Among sixty lockboxes left unmolested...”

“For which we are grateful to you, general. Had you not interrupted the thieves in the midst of their heist, they might have cleaned out the vault entirely.”

Dar fumed at the reminder. While it was almost certain that the intruders had been in the vault just minutes before Dar and the others had arrived—Allera had been able to determine that from the condition of the dead guards—there had been no trace of them once they had entered the interior of the vault. They found a small pile of scrolls—old records of the church, of great historical value, but not magical—burning in one corner of the innermost chamber of the vault, but that hadn’t been any real threat to the place, and they stamped out the flames without difficulty. The clerics had scanned for invisible or otherwise hidden traces of the thieves, but they had found nothing, nothing at all.

Allera placed a hand on his, and Dar turned back to the others. “Even if I’m wrong, we cannot take the chance. We need to get to Rappan Athuk, and without freaking delay.”

“I do not disagree with your reasoning, general,” Sukat Koth said. “I want to see these bastards brought to justice as much as you do. But unless you have learned to fly, we can do nothing until the morning.”

Dar turned toward a woman in a gray robe seated to his left across the table. “And you are telling me that there is no one in that freaking Guild of yours who can transport us to Rappan Athuk?”

Jalla Calestin swallowed; for a senior member of the Guild of Sorcery, she seemed rather uncomfortable to be present at this gathering. Barely past thirty, she certainly did not have the presence to stand up to an angry Corath Dar. “That... that is correct, general.”

Dar opened his mouth to speak further, but Koth interrupted him with a raised hand. “We require more information before we act rashly. Jaduran will be here soon, and he can tell us what he has learned.”

Allera moved her hand from Dar’s hand to his shoulder, but instead of sitting down, he turned and walked across the room. The council chamber had no proper windows, only long slits protected with heavy slabs of leaded glass. They didn’t really offer much in the way of a view, but Dar could see the lights of the city faintly through the nearest.

The sun had only set a little over an hour past, and it already looked like it was going to be a long night.

The conversation went on behind him. Kiron Tonneth was saying something about the readiness of the Dragon Knights, but the words buzzed together in Dar’s tired mind. He rubbed his head, but the headache that had been building there refused to yield. Allera would be able to help him later, he knew, but he also knew that his wife was under her own personal strain.

Allera had left Rappan Athuk scarred deeply. She was strong, stronger than anyone he had ever known, stronger than him, certainly, inside where it counted. But while they had been happy in the lives they had built in the aftermath, he could still see the shadow that she carried with her. She had poured her life into rebuilding the corps of healers so needed in the difficult years that had followed their victory over Orcus; it had given her meaning and purpose in life. But while she still commanded an awesome power, he had never seen her draw as deeply upon the healing energies of the world as she had on those final days within the bowels of the Dungeon of Graves.

The fighter turned as the doors opened. Commander Octavius and General Cossus Velius of the First Legion entered first, both men looking very tired. Behind them came the Patriarch, supported on the arm of his young assistant. The cleric was talking quietly to Setarcos, the two aged men walking with heads leaning close together for privacy. The old monk’s younger companion brought up the rear, along with a guard who closed the doors once they were all inside.

The existing conversation evaporated as all eyes focused upon Decius Jaduran. The Patriarch made even Setarcos seem youthful by comparison, and he nodded in thanks to Maricela as she pulled out his chair at the head of the table, and helped him settle into it. The old cleric sighed as he adjusted his robe.

“Well?” Dar finally said, impatient.

Jaduran shifted his head to look at Dar, then turned back to the rest of those gathered at the table. “Commander Octavius.”

The head of Camar’s city watch addressed them. “Word of the theft has been kept quiet. We’ve spoken to everyone who was present at the vault, and the rest of the temple staff that knows about the alarm. As far as the public knows, the memorial ceremony was cut short due to the Patriarch’s weariness.”

“That will not last,” Sukat Koth interjected. “Too many people were there. At best, you are only delaying the inevitable.”

“What about the thieves?” Kiron asked.

Jaduran made a small gesture to Maricela, and the priestess spoke up, saying, “We... ah, I was able to use a speak with the dead spell to ask Naela... questions, about the men who did this. There were two of them, both men, posing as priests. They knew... they knew enough about the temple and its procedures to fool her.”

“What about the guards?” Dar asked. “I would have thought your men would have been more alert.”

Again Jaduran deferred to his assistant. “These men possessed considerable magic,” the priestess said. “The vault has two layers of defense, one magical, and one physical. Both were bypassed by the invaders.”

“Were either of them undead?” Dar asked suddenly. The question raised a stir around the table, but Maricela replied even before Jaduran could prompt her.

“That is... impossible, general. No undead creature could get within fifty yards of the cathedral without triggering multiple alarms and wards, let alone the vaults. No, that cannot be.”

Jaduran nodded in confirmation. “I have contacted the Father, using both divination and commune spells. Talen Karedes and his followers were not involved with this attack.”

“What about Zafir Navev?”

Jaduran shook his head. “Even if the warlock could have transported himself through the wards into the cathedral, the alarms that Maricela mentioned would have discharged the moment he materialized within its walls.”

“So what have you learned, Patriarch?” Sukat Koth asked.

The priest paused a moment, as if gathering strength to speak. “I have confirmed Setarcos’s story. The leader of the cult that his order defeated in Drusia was... involved in the theft.”

Dar weighed him with a hard look. “You know more, priest.”

Jaduran nodded. “You were right, general. The theft of the dagger-key was not incidental. The objective of the cult is Rappan Athuk, and more specifically, the lost well where the Ravager is imprisoned.”

There was a moment of silence. “The ravager? What is that?” Kiron asked.

“You don’t want to know, kid,” Dar said, his jaw clenched.

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Richard Rawen

First Post
Lazybones said:
...I'm also starting a new Neverwinter Nights campaign soon that will run on Saturday mornings. If any of you loyal readers are still playing that game, look me up at Neverwinter Connections; I will likely have some open slots.
darnit Darnit DARNIT! :(
I work Sat Morns :(

As to the story, great stuff, really enjoying how the characters are developing, both old and new. Still has enough mystery to keep me intrigued...
the Aegis ? Hmmmm...


Chapter 22


Outside of the old ducal palace, the city of Camar was relatively quiet as the deepening night settled upon the city. Inside the massive stone walls of that complex, however, a buzz of activity persisted despite the late hour. Small parties of armed men rushed about, dodging the servants who moved with no less haste as they attended to various errands. In the armories weapons and armor were being attended to by teams of smiths, while veteran guardsmen carefully checked and rechecked supply packs. Messengers departed on fast horses, heading for locations within the sleeping city, or toward the permanent camp a mile from the city’s walls where the First Legion was headquartered.

In their modest but comfortable suite of rooms in the wing of the palace complex reserved for guests, Corath Dar and Allera Hialar were likewise still awake. Both looked tired, but they had only just returned from the meeting with the leaders of Camar, and there was a lot to be done before they could seek the comfort of sleep.

Dar drew out a heavy leather satchel from their luggage, grunting as he lifted it onto the hutch at the foot of their bed. It clanked with the sound of metal as he laid it down. “I don’t know why I even brought this,” he said. “Instinct, I guess.” He ran his hand over the flap, but paused as his fingers reached the clasp. “I don’t even remember the last time I wore it.”

Allera looked up from where she was going through her own bag of healing supplies. “Six years ago, Harvestide. The hydra.”

Dar nodded. “Yeah, I remember that.” He looked wistful for a moment, but then he snorted and released the satchel, striding back and forth across the room as if he was trying to work off some extra energy. “I guess I’m going to need a new sword. I could go to the armory, I suppose... or maybe Alzoun might have something useful.”

Allera did not respond, but her mouth twisted slightly; she did not like the priest of Dagos, and his new position of relative “respectability” in Camar did little to ameliorate that.

Dar picked up on that without having to look at her. “Yeah, maybe you’re right. But if we’re going after a bunch of freaking cultists, I will need something more than this,” he said, picking up his scabbarded knife from where it rested next to the heavy pack.

“Maricela told me that Jaduran wants to see you in the morning, before you depart. Perhaps he can help with that.”

Dar grunted. “She’s young, very young, that priestess.” At Allera’s raised eyebrow, he grinned and added, “That’s not what I meant. You’re more than enough woman for any man, angel.”

The healer shot him a wry look. “Maricela’s the most powerful priest of the Father currently serving in the capital, save Jaduran himself. As far as I know, she’s the only one other than the Patriarch and myself who are capable of raising the dead, although I wonder about Alzoun.” At Dar’s look of surprise, she continued, “There’s something between her and that knight, Kiron.”

Dar nodded. “Yeah, I picked up on that as well. I’d rather we didn’t have to bring either of them, but Koth and Octavius both agree that the boy’s the best that Darius has. And there isn’t exactly a crop of veterans from the legions or the Watch that are clamoring to go to Rappan Athuk. Most of those who were smart took their pensions after the Demon War and got as far the hell away from Camar as they could.”

Allera put down her bag and came over to him. “We can’t do it alone.”

He took her in his arms. “Yeah, I know. Damn it, angel, when did we get so old?”

She smiled up at him. “It just sort of creeps up on you.” She elbowed him slightly in the gut. “And besides, speak for yourself, old man.”

She started to pull away, but he held her. “Maybe I’ll show you just what this old man can do.”

Her smile deepened, but then she shook her head. “I... I need to spend some time in meditation tonight. I thought I’d go to the grove at Camarellia.”

“In the middle of the night?”

“There is too much dead stone here, too much fear, and anxiety, bred deep into the foundations of this place itself. I need to be in a place where I can feel the energies of the land and the pulse of its lifebeat.”

She pulled away from him again, and this time he let her go. She walked across the room. “I have a feeling that we are going to need every bit of power that I can channel, on this mission,” she said. “I haven’t used... I haven’t drawn as much as I did, since that last time...”

“I know, angel. I understand.”

She took up her cloak. “You should get some sleep...”

He snorted again. “Like hell. You’ll get your privacy, but if you think I’m going to let you out of my sight, then you’ve taken one too many shots to the head over the years.”

She started to protest, but he spoke over her. “Look, these guys are bad news; not only did they have the resources to invade the cathedral and penetrate the vault, but they are planning on breaking into the freaking Well, for gods’ sake. If they think they can take on Amurru...”

Allera shuddered; she had a particularly vivid memory of their last encounter with the ancient lich guardian.

“Anyway, an enemy like that is going to know that you and I are a possible danger to their plans. They have to know that we’ll try to stop them; I wouldn’t put it past them to try to take us out. The very least we can do is not make it too easy for them.”

Allera digested his logic, found no fault with it, and nodded. “All right.”

Dar buckled on his belt, adjusted the hilt of his dagger, and grabbed his own cloak. “Let’s stop by the armory on the way. Let’s see how much sway a retired old general still has in this place.”


Chapter 23


The night was absolutely still; not even a hint of breeze or the chirping of a lonely cricket shattered the perfect quiet that surrounded the Temple of the Final Sacrament. In their camp outside, set amidst the wreckage of a once-massive dead tree, the living members of Ghazaran’s company slept fitfully, their dreams given dark substance from their proximity to the corrupt place. Parzad kept watch from a perch atop the bole of the fallen tree, a vague shadow in the nearly perfect darkness. Navev was perhaps somewhere nearby as well, but the mummy was one with the night, and not likely to be found by casual observation.

Within the temple, Ghazaran knelt upon the cold hard stone. The cleric had removed his armor and tunic. The skin of his bare torso was taut like old parchment, and covered with ritual scars that marked his body like the sketched borders of an old, faded map. His lips moved soundlessly, and periodically he would stretch. The movements were not those of a man trying to relieve tired muscles; rather, during those episodes it seemed almost as if he was being pulled by some unseen force, and each time he would return to his previous stance, sucking in air in weary gasps.

His meditations continued for hours; midnight came and went, and then the quiet hours that comprised the darkest, deepest stretch of the night. Still there was no interruption, either from within or without, until suddenly his entire body shuddered, and his eyes burst open, staring into the dark.

He remained kneeling there for several minutes more, his body trembling with effort. Finally, he crawled over to where he had left his gear, and drew out his everburning torch. Careful to shield the light, so that it only cast a tiny flicker of flame from its source, the cleric went to work.

First he took out a small pouch, and used its contents to trace a pattern in the floor, using fine silver dust. The pattern, once complete, formed a summoning circle some seven feet across. He drew upon a small amount of his power to invest potency into the circle, closing it.

That task complete, the cleric began to incant. The spell he cast was similar to the one he had used the day before, when he had called the nycaloth Zuur’ka to his service. But this spell was far more potent, and each syllable built a reserve of energy that grew to the point where it could almost be felt in the air.

Above the circle, a flickering distortion became visible in the air.

And then, without fanfare, it was done. The distortion was gone, replaced by a newcomer that stood within the circle.

The new arrival looked human at first glance, but was a bit too lean, his proportions a bit too... off. He resembled one of the aelfinn, the race that humans called “elves”, but his skin was a dusky gray, and his eyes were vertical slits, with cat-like pupils that shone golden in the faint light from the cleric’s torch.

The elf looked down at the silver perimeter of the summoning circle, and his eyes narrowed dangerously. “You seek into insult me, human?”

Ghazaran rose, with some difficulty, and bowed. “No, Lord Zhunxa. I was merely being cautious.” He stepped forward and smudged the perimeter of the circle with his boot. At once, the elf stepped forward, flexing the muscles of his arms and back.

“In this place, you shall call me Ozmad. Just Ozmad, you understand?”

Ghazaran nodded slightly; he made the gesture seem a grand bow. “As you command, great lord.”

The elf rubbed his arms, as if restoring circulation. “I was beginning to doubt whether your brain would ever be able to grasp the higher mysteries,” he said. “Current status.”

The cleric seemed unaffected by the elf’s harsh comment, and immediately reported, “We are in the Temple of the Final Sacrament, a few leagues from the main entrance to Rappan Athuk. We have recovered the third key. Duke Aerim has been restored to life and has been persuaded to join us, although he is reluctant. Our enemies are aware of our activities, in a broad sense, but no counterattack has materialized as of yet.”

The elf raised one eyebrow at the last statement. “The Camarians are of no concern; their hierarchy is muddled and divided. By the time that they are able to respond, it will be too late.”

Ghazaran nodded but did not offer further comment.

“However, there is need for haste. There are others working against us; an agent of the Eye was approaching my citadel as you initiated your calling.”

“The Eye? Will they be able to follow you here?”

Ozmad looked at the cleric with a desultory expression. “The agents of the Mind’s Eye are far more effective than your feeble human organizations on this Prime. That is why I do not intend to give them the opportunity to intervene. Once we are within the prison, their ability to interrupt our activities becomes almost nil.”

“Very well, lord. It will take a short time to prepare our forces. With your permission...”

The elf waved a hand in dismissal. As the cleric departed, he walked over to the open arch where Aerim had stood pondering the night not so many hours before. However, unlike the resurrected knight, the elf’s expression was one of eager anticipation, his lips twisting into a smile that promised grim things to come.


Nightbreeze said:
Uh...what was that...a LeShay?
I'll give you a few hints; Ghazaran's spell was Greater Planar Ally (he just hit 15th level, thus Ozmad's biting comment about his brain capacity), and it wasn't a standard creature, but something from the SRD with a template.

* * * * *

Chapter 24


Dar was slightly out of breath as he approached the top of the stairs. While he was still in pretty good shape, despite the encroaching hand of age upon his frame, he wasn’t used to wearing forty pounds of metal, and it showed.

Still, he nodded in greeting to the clerics in the small nook at the top of the stairs. Maricela was there, looking quite different than she had the other times Dar had seen her. The young priestess was clad in a breastplate of shining mithral sized to her lithe figure, and a flanged mace as big as her arm was slung across her back like a broadsword. Behind her stood two tall, muscled, and probably teenaged young men who flanked a small wooden chair with handles attached to its legs. A torch, probably magical, glowed brightly over the door at the top of the stairs, reflecting bright spots off of Dar’s armor upon the walls.

“His Holiness is expecting you,” Maricela said, pulling open the door and stepping aside to give him room.

Dar entered; the door closed soundlessly behind him.

The private office of the Patriarch of Camar was appointed with functional but good quality furnishings that were a bit subdued; Decius Jaduran lacked the sense of opulence of his predecessor. There was a bit of dust visible on the shelves along the far wall, and there was a slightly stale scent in the air, both testifying to the infrequent use to which the room had been put of late.

Jaduran was standing at one of the windows that offered a spectacular view of Camar, and the curving bay to the east. Down in the city it had still been night, but up here one could see the brightening of the horizon out over the ocean, as dawn crept steadily nearer.

The most powerful cleric of the Shining Father in Camar turned as he entered. “Sorry to make you trudge all the way up here. I wanted to get a look at the dawn. I don’t get up here very often, all those steps, you know.” The cleric made his way over to his desk, and clasped a slender hand to the back of the tall chair there. There was a bundle of the desk, a long wrap of pale leather bound with cords of cloth-of-gold.

“We are nearly ready downstairs,” Dar said.

“Yes. Yes.” The cleric ran his other hand across the surface of his desk. He looked up. “I see you have a new sword.”

Dar shrugged, and the hilt jutting up over his right shoulder jerked a bit. “Octavius had an extra blade in his armory. No fancy spells on it, but sharp enough, I suppose.”

“Perhaps that is all you should ask of a sword. Still, I have spent some time working on... this.” The cleric unbound the cords on the bundle, and unwrapped the leather to reveal a longsword, lying there bare.

Dar could not fully suppress a gasp of surprise.

The pommel, hilt, and crossguard were plain enough, blocky and functional, the hilt wrapped in black leather and elongated to suit a two-handed fighting style. But the blade... the blade was alive, or it seemed to be, glimmering with streams of silver, gold, and blue that traveled up and down its length as the lights of the room played upon its surface. As he looked closer, Dar saw that there were striations within the steel, distinct channels of blue running through bands of lighter and darker steel. It made the weapon look flawed at first glance, but as he stared at it he realized that there was a pattern beneath the surface, a fundamental sense of order that he could somehow feel resounding within his very bones.

He looked down and realized that he’d reached out and touched the blade without conscious thought. He looked up at Jaduran with an astonished expression.

“Yes. There is a part of Valor in it, and some of Beatus Incendia as well. I had the remnants you brought back reforged, along with some... older... materials that we had in the Vault. I thank the Father that I had gotten into the habit of keeping it up here, instead of down in the Vault. I haven’t worked on it for years, but it’s been waiting here. Waiting for you, General Dar.”

“What is its name?”

“It is Sanctus Justicia, the old cleric said. “Or more simply, Justice.”

Dar took up the sword. It felt right, and he could feel the thrum of magical power pass through him.

“Exceptional,” he said.

“Thank you. It had been a good twenty years since I’d enchanted a blade, but I’d like to think that the Father worked through me, on this one.”

“What are its properties?”

“It is axiomatic, as was Valor. But you will also find that Justice does not suffer easily the existence of undead.”

Dar nodded.

The cleric uncinched the belt of white leather that encircled his waist. Dar raised an eyebrow, but the cleric said, “This is a belt of health, which provides a potent boost to one’s constitution. I know that you already have a magical belt, but Allera could...” He trailed off as he removed the belt, and sagged forward against the desk. Dar hurried over to catch him before he fell, but the cleric shooed him away, clutching at the back of his chair for support.

“I... I am all right. I did not realize how much I had come to rely upon it...”

“Maybe you’d better keep it, Patriarch.”

“No. Allera will have greater need of it. It will be her strength that will carry you forward on this mission. Hers... and yours.”

“All right.” Dar accepted the belt, slinging it over his shoulder.

“If you would please get Maricela, let her know that I am ready. We should not keep the others waiting.”


First Post
Nightbreeze said:
Uh...what was that...a LeShay?

Nah, Leshays are epic, and you can't just summon one, barring a Miracle empowered by a Tear of the Gods. And that one looked evil, and his eyes didn't look like typical Leshay eyes.

So it's something else :s


First Post
6 month lurker here, delurking to post:
What a great story Lazybones! I really enjoy the places you've taken it and your writing style, which keeps appeals to me as both a gamer and reader. I'm really interested to see what the new characters, Kiron (paladin? or paladin/dragon knight?) and Maricela (standard cleric, but with a cool name?) can do as well as what's in store for them, and I really like the description of Dar's new weapon (lawful undead bane longsword?).
(too many questions in parenthesis? :) if so, sorry). It would be neat to the new guys/sword in the rogue's gallery, though I certainly understand any desire to postpone/decline that idea.
At any rate, great story, and thanks for being a consistant poster! :)


Faren said:
6 month lurker here, delurking to post:
What a great story Lazybones! I really enjoy the places you've taken it and your writing style, which keeps appeals to me as both a gamer and reader. I'm really interested to see what the new characters, Kiron (paladin? or paladin/dragon knight?) and Maricela (standard cleric, but with a cool name?) can do as well as what's in store for them, and I really like the description of Dar's new weapon (lawful undead bane longsword?).
(too many questions in parenthesis? :) if so, sorry). It would be neat to the new guys/sword in the rogue's gallery, though I certainly understand any desire to postpone/decline that idea.
At any rate, great story, and thanks for being a consistant poster! :)
Thanks, Faren! I only have partial stat blocks for most of the new heroes/villains, but I'll post at least their outlines in the Rogues' Gallery later this week. Justice is a fairly potent blade: a +4 axiomatic undead bane longsword. If I recall correctly (don't have my notes right in front of me) Kiron is a paladin/fighter/dragon knight; Maricela is a cleric/radiant servant. Both are 10th level.


First Post
Lazybones said:
Justice is a fairly potent blade: a +4 axiomatic undead bane longsword.

What, no Holy? ;)

Just commenting on the continuation of the story, LB -- really enjoyed our side trek with the villains, but it's *great* to see us getting back to Dar and Allera. Of course, I'm still waiting to see Varo resurface... :)


First Post
Cerulean_Wings said:
Nah, Leshays are epic, and you can't just summon one, barring a Miracle empowered by a Tear of the Gods. And that one looked evil, and his eyes didn't look like typical Leshay eyes.

So it's something else :s
Well, I'm pretty obsessed with LeShays, so I jumped on it. However, it is possible to summon them: a Gate would accomplish it. If it is not a leshay, and it is not the real appearance, then I don't know what it is


Chapter 25


By the time that Dar, Maricela, and Jaduran exited the cathedral through the back door into the rectory courtyard, the glow on the eastern horizon had brightened enough to see those gathered there, waiting. Even so, the guards set around the perimeter of the courtyard remained vague shadows, and the buildings of the city beyond were even more indistinct, angular black shapes rising out of the lingering morning fog.

There were a few muted greetings that died quickly. Those gathered knew their roles, and they had a fairly good idea of what lie ahead for them. They were professionals, all of them, diverse in backgrounds and experience, but united by common cause.

Setarcos was not going with them, but the old monk was speaking quietly to his disciple, the iron Selaht. The younger monk accepted something from his elder, and bowed respectfully before coming over to join the rest of those gathered in front of the cathedral.

Kiron Tonneth was resplendent in full plate armor, polished to a brilliant shine even in the muted light. His greatsword, a weapon of holy power, was slung across his back along with an unstrung longbow, and he wore the sigil of the Dragon Knights of Camar boldly on both his surcoat and his cloak, the dragon seeming almost alive as it rippled with his movements. He was flanked by a pair of knights who were both older than he was, but were more conservatively clad in breastplates of blacksteel and plain gray cloaks. Aldos carried a wickedly curving glaive as his primary weapon, while Petronia’s expression was as cold as the blade of the heavy waraxe she carried.

Octavius was speaking to the veteran guardsmen who would make up the balance of their squad. Primus, Secundus, and Tertius looked almost identical in their heavy kit, with suits of chainmail topped by halfhelms with protruding noseguards. They bore the classic Camarian features, with strong jaws, pale skin, and eyes colored like mountain pools. They looked calm, joking quietly among themselves, but someone as experienced as Dar could see that the behavior was forced. Their leader was a centurion named Qatarn, who looked as though he might have been sculpted as the archetype of the warrior ideal; he overtopped Dar by a good six inches, and his biceps bulged with corded muscle as he checked the buckles and straps of his soldiers’ kit. For all his physical presence he had a reputation as a cool, decisive leader, and his only replies were curt nods as he absorbed his commander’s instructions.

The last member of their company was a scout loaned to them from the First Legion. Zethas was an olive-skinned Eremite who seemed ill-at-ease on his feet; like many of the men of Camar’s westernmost province he seemed built to ride. There was a nervous energy to the man, but his eyes missed nothing as they shifted back and forth around the courtyard.

A temple guard ran up, bearing an assortment of leather scabbards hastily gathered from the armory. Dar picked out one that fit his new sword, and slid it into the sheath, testing the draw a few times to ensure that it would not stick. Allera came up to him as he finished. “Everyone is ready,” she said. Jaduran was speaking with the others that would accompany them on this mission, but Dar did not need to listen; he had heard it all before.

He looked over their company one more time. “We could really use a wizard.”

Allera followed his gaze over them. “The Guild doesn’t have anyone left even remotely as strong as Zosimos or Letellia, let alone Honoratius. Jalla has talent, but she...”

“She doesn’t have the gut for this kind of thing,” Dar finished for her.

“She gave us a few names, but Jaduran agreed that having someone who’s barely more than an apprentice join the team would be more of a hindrance than a benefit to the mission. Octavius’s men, at least, have all seen action, and they are are all volunteers to boot.”

“Yeah, the people we had at Alderford were all veterans as well. And Southwatch. And Janaris, and Trajaran, and Highbluff.”

She did not flinch from his gaze. “What can we do? If we fail, a lot of people are going to die.”

He did not respond immediately. Finally, he said, “Jaduran wanted you to have this, it boosts your stamina.” He offered her the belt, and she accepted it, adjusting it to fit around her waist. When she was done, she began, “Corath, I...”

But when she looked up, she saw that he’d already gone to join the others.

The twelve who would travel south to Rappan Athuk gathered closer together around the Patriarch. The old cleric leaned on a young priest; Maricela had already joined the company. She and Kiron shared a glance that said much, but no one spoke, until Jaduran addressed them one last time.

“Follow Dar and Allera; they know the way. Captain Nonius will be expecting you; I sent him another sending earlier this morning. Trust in your training, and in each other, and in the Light. Camar and its people rely upon you, as it relied upon its heroes in the past.”

“Stay close, and stay alert,” Dar said to the others. “This means of travel can be disorienting, so stay focused, watch your assigned sector, and remember the signals. It will be a good six hours to Rappan Athuk, so if you have to take a piss, better do it now.”

They waited as Jaduran summoned his magic, casting three wind walk spells. As the magic took hold of them, clusters of the men and women gathered in the courtyard dissolved into insubstantial forms of pale mist, almost invisible in the morning fog. Dar and Allera were among the last group, along with Selaht and Zethas. As Jaduran finished his final spell. Dar reached out and took Allera’s hand. She clung to his as the magic took hold, and their bodies became indistinct. Dar did not linger, launching himself into the sky like a catapult stone. The others rose after him, forming a ragged line that quickly extended out toward the south.

Toward Rappan Athuk, where the Dungeon of Graves waited for them.


First Post
Sweet :D

Dar mentioning the names of the cities that had veterans, yet had been overrun by undead... a nicely implemented reference to the not so distant past, and a not so subtle hint indicating character development. Well done, Lazy Bones :)

By the way, does anyone else get the feeling that Primus, Secundus and Tertius might have Red, Crimson and Vermilion for last names? :p


First Post
Nightbreeze said:
And where are Quartus, Quintus, Sextus and so on? :D

:D I think the "arn" family has the next three (Qatarn), (and maybe Quintarn, Sextarn :) ? that's probably a stretch).

I was going to say something about Kiron choosing to wear super-shiney armor instead of blacksteel like the other knights and guards, but come to think of it, hasn't everyone who ever wore blacksteel into Rappan Athuk died? Like Serah, Varo,Talen, and a bunch of guards?


Nightbreeze said:
And where are Quartus, Quintus, Sextus and so on? :D
Sextus was squished under the foot of a corpse gatherer in Chapter 133. He was one of the Fifteen that were sent to Alderford to intercept the legions of Orcus. I seem to recall Septimus buying it during that encounter was well.

As for the blacksteel armors, it does seem like perhaps that material has an unexpected side effect of attracting lethal blows. :)

* * * * *

Chapter 26


It was around noon, but the cloud cover that blanketed the sky was so dense that the sun was completely lost behind a shroud of gray. The column of wind walkers that streaked in low over the hills was almost invisible, flickers that came and went in a speed faster than the swiftest horse, outpacing even the occasional bird that dared the unpleasant sky this day.

The leader suddenly banked and dove, the others lagging behind as they adjusted. By the time that they had caught him, Corath Dar had already reached the ground, and was taking on solid form.

The look on the fighter’s face was grim.

“Damn it, I hate it when I’m right.”

Dar stood in the midst of what looked to have been a small camp. All that was left now was a wreckage of torn fabric that might have been tents, and some broken gear scattered around in a wide radius.

And bodies. There were a lot of bodies, horses and men alike, slaughtered in grim fashion. Many of them were too badly damaged for clear identification, but Dar’s experienced eyes saw a holy symbol to Soleus around a neck that glistened red with blood, and the insignia on another dead man’s chest that identified him as Captain Nonius, the leader of this patrol. All told, there were maybe two dozen bodies here, and Dar could make out a few others in the distance, enough to suggest that if Nonius’s entire force hadn’t been exterminated in this attack, it had been damn near close to it.

The others had landed and were materializing around him. Dar was already striding forward, his boots crunching on the weathered rocks beneath his feet. The soil here, throughout all of the hill country, was sparse and poor, and little more than weeds, tangled brush, and tired, stunted trees grew in the area. And as Dar walked forward, even the weeds petered out, leaving only dead earth, marked by the occasional bit of material too white to be stone.

Only Kiron and Selaht followed him as he left the camp. Behind him the others were checking the bodies, hoping against the slight chance that someone might have survived the attack. Qatarn was giving orders, setting up a perimeter. Dar didn’t bother with any of that; he trusted his people to do what needed to be done.

He needed to see for himself.

It didn’t take long; Nonius had set up his camp almost on the edge of the dell.

The valley seemed smaller, now. Once a gaping wound in the earth, now it was a shallow bowl, its low point maybe thirty or forty feet below its edge. Dar had not been here since that last operation, when a thousand men and half again as many animals had worked for two weeks to seal the entrance to Rappan Athuk away from the world of men. Nature and the years had worked to conceal the evidence of their work, but Dar could still recognize the hills they had cut into to get the stone and earth that they had used to fill in the valley, thousands and thousands of tons of it.

They had left no marker, no memorial. And indeed, there was nothing here to suggest that this place was in any way special. Nothing but the absence of any growing thing within the dell, and the memories that came unbidden as he looked down into it.

Well, that, and the fresh hole excavated in the bottom of the depression.

Kiron said something, but Dar ignored him, walking straight down toward the site of the dig. What had once been a steep, treacherous slope before was now just a gentle descent, and it only took a few minutes to reach the site.

Piles of earth and stone were scattered haphazardly about. Whoever had done this had been preoccupied with speed rather than order. The hole itself was considerable, and slanted at an angle; it had to be, to enable whoever or whatever had dug it to remove the dirt and stone as it was uncovered. A big job.

And Jaduran had been in contact with Nonius just that morning...

Selaht picked up a piece stone the size of a melon, and looked it over. He showed it to Kiron, turning it so that the knight could clearly see the edge where it had been roughly broken off of a larger formation. “This was done by a creature of great size and strength.”

The knight nodded. Behind him, the others were coming into the dell. One look at Allera’s face was enough to tell the tale of what they’d found in their search for survivors in the camp.

Placing his feet carefully, Dar leaned over into the excavated shaft. The poor light was enough to show that it went down thirty, forty, fifty feet. He could just make out the vague form at its bottom, but he didn’t need to see it clearly; he already knew where they were.

He turned to Kiron. “Get the ropes—”

He was interrupted by a flare in the sky above, a brief explosion of light accompanied by a rumbling hiss like that of a distant rockslide. Twelve heads came up, and witnessed the appearance of a tear in the sky, an opening that remained open just long enough to disgorge an intruder.

The figure looked human, or at least it had the form of a man; it was clad in heavy robes that swathed any details of its identity, swirling around it as it hovered in the air nearly a hundred feet above the ground. The robes were blue, trimmed with a lacing pattern in black and white that formed odd geometric designs as they traveled across their owner’s body. The newcomer wore long boots, gloves, and a pair of belts, one encircling its waist and the other rising over the left shoulder; they supported dozens of pouches. It carried a long staff with a hooked end that looked like it was fashioned of solid silver, and as it descended, drifting down out of the sky toward them, they could see that a mask covered its face, deep within a cowl that shrouded its head.

Oddly, the mask bore no slits or other openings; it was not clear how the newcomer could see. But it was clear that whoever or whatever it was, it knew they were there; as it flew down it was clearly coming toward them.

Weapons were readied among the Camarians, but Dar held up a hand. “Hold,” he ordered, though his own hand fell to the hilt of his sword.

They watched as the robed traveler descended to a point just above them, on the far side of the hole in the ground. It did not quite touch the ground, hovering through the agency of some magic or other power.

“Who are you, and what do you want here?” Dar asked.

“I have come in pursuit of a powerful being bent on mischief,” the newcomer said. Its voice was thick and scratchy, but there was something oddly familiar about it that raised Dar’s hackles. “It appears that it has already entered Rappan Athuk; we can lose no time if we are to have a chance to stop it.”

“You still haven’t answered my first question,” Dar said.

In response, the traveler lifted a hand to its cowl and pulled it back, sweeping the mask off its face as it brought its hand forward. The face behind the mask was marked with an intricate, creeping tattoo that wound around her right eye, and there were obvious marks of scarring around the left side of the jaw, stretching from the mouth all the way back to the ear. But those changes were not enough to stop Dar from recognizing the newcomer at once.

“Letellia!” Allera exclaimed.

The sorceress nodded. “Allera. Dar. It is... good to see you again.”


First Post
Poor Letellia...I am sure she had a tough time (nice reward for the one who killed Orcus). And sadly, I think that she is up for a tougher time.

By the way, Lazy, kudos to you for remembering when Sextus died...I remember that he died, but not where :p. Ah, well, I guess it is a side effect in being the one who writes that stuff :D

Important question: is Dar going to bond to his new weapon? (Well, he could whoop the ass of that arrogant Kiron even without it. Yeah, I already don't like him. And maybe you recall that I didn't like Talen, too, and we all know how it ended :D)

Anyway, I'm talking too much.


First Post
:( B-but he hasn't done anything yet but look shiny. You can't blame him for wanting to be shiny, can you?:)
But I agree, it's good to see that Letellia's still around, and I was wondering about Dar's weapon bonding also.
Great story and fun read!

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