The Doomed Bastards: Reckoning (story complete)

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 88

FORCED ASIDE


The Ravager lurched forward eagerly to do to Maricela what it had done to Kiron earlier. The cleric did not shy from its fury, but drew back her mace to strike, her guttural cry echoing the loud roar of the creature.

Dar dove toward the priestess, but there was no way he would reach her before the two foes clashed. But Letellia was faster, and in the heartbeat before the Ravager’s long claws would have torn into her, the sorceress called down a wall of force between them. The transparent barrier crossed the intersection like a knife, rising a full forty feet into the air, forming a diagonal line between two of the four corners.

The Ravager hit the wall and rebounded off it like a sling stone striking a shield. It fell onto its back but was up again in a flash, shrieking with fury. Maricela was no less angry, slamming her mace against the barrier, looking up with frustrated grief twisting her face.

Given a moment to consider, the Ravager could have easily gotten around the barrier; the buildings that fronted the wall’s termina were stout two-story structures with sound foundations, but that just meant it would have taken the beast four seconds instead of two to get through them. But its attention was drawn anew down the street, as Varo called a flame strike down upon the creature. The Ravager could sense the source of the magic that burned it through the haze that lingered over its mind, and it turned to the easier target, lurching down the street toward the square. The street, the broadest in Highbluff, was still a bit small for it, and its claws tore deep gouges in the facing buildings as it came. A wagon, left behind with a broken wheel in the middle of the street, was crushed into kindling by one tread of its huge feet.

The Ravager went through Varo’s blade barrier without breaking stride. The whizzing blades of force bit into its flanks, for the most part merely scratching its hide, but a few droplets of black blood were left splattered on the paving stones, seeping into the gouges left by its claws in its passage. The creature burst through the barrier and stepped into the square.

And then it got to experience the spinning blades again, for Letellia had raised another wall of force on the far side. As it had before, the Ravager rebounded off the wall and fell back, right into the midst of the spinning blades.

The Ravager got up, leaving more blood upon the stones. It was looking like a mess now, its crimson hide smeared with blood, both its own and that of others, bits of debris from the buildings it had destroyed, black smears where spells had struck it, and a few lingering gobs of tanglefoot mixture that hadn’t fully crusted off. But it continued to regenerate, and it was starting to recover from the mental fog that Varo’s symbol had laid upon it.

Once back on its feet, the Ravager took the most direct course around the wall of force, tearing through a line of buildings fronting the square. A tavern, a cabinet maker’s shop, a brewery, and two houses were destroyed in quick succession, and then the creature emerged once more into the square, sheer murder burning in its black eyes.

Standing to face it, on the far side of the square, his tattered robe billowing around him, was Licinius Varo.

The Ravager started forward once more, and this time, it would not be turned from its prey.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 89

KEEN INSTINCTS


Spellpower blasted mercilessly into the Ravager. Letellia launched another chain lightning through her staff, relying now on her higher-order capacity to fuel more of the destructive bursts of electrical energy. Sultheros had used his own staff to summon a trio of avorals, to whom he directed brief instructions before flying ahead to circle around the Ravager. The bird-like outsiders twined into a gliding line formation that circled broadly around the monster, firing pulsing streams of magic missiles into it. A good number of the force bolts vanished as they struck, but most scored, inflicting slight wounds that nevertheless slowly added to the tally of wounds suffered by the beast. With his own summoning spells mostly depleted, Dra Mak Mor added his own firepower to that barrage, hurling flickering green bolts from his fingertips that flashed brightly as they impacted the back of the creature’s head.

The Ravager ignored the attacks.

Varo held his ground. He lifted a hand, and fired a beam of searing light into the creature’s face. The divine radiance was empowered by the touch of the sun god, but to the Ravager it was just another irritation.

Varo’s gaze shifted as he sensed another enter the square. Recognizing the newcomer, he nodded to himself, then turned back to regard the onrushing foe.

In the shadows of a doorway nearby, Allera started forward, but Petronia grabbed her arm, stopping her. On the far side of the square, Dar and Maricela emerged through the wreckage of the line of buildings that the Ravager had crushed, unable to do anything more than watch.

The Ravager, bursting through a last ineffective fireball from the half-dragon mage Koros, lunged forward to seize Varo, who still had made no move to evade. The Ravager’s claws passed right through the cleric... or rather, through the figment he’d created via his mislead spell. He’d remained in the place of the illusory double while spell-casting, but after he’d fired off the beam of searing light he had moved away, protected by a cloak of improved invisibility. It was a familiar tactic for the priest, who had a canny understanding of battlefield tactics.

But the Ravager was possessed of incredible senses, even distracted as it was. It turned and lashed out with another arm, bending to extend the length of its reach. Its claws smacked into something, and a moment later that something landed hard on the stone a good twenty feet distant, leaving a slick of blood upon the flagstones. More droplets fell from the air as Varo got up, grunting with effort.

The cleric looked up to see the Ravager bearing down on him, intent on finishing what it had started.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 90

RAVAGES


Duke Aerim stepped into the path of the Ravager. He held the epic brilliant-energy weapon, recovered from where Kiron had dropped it, still attached to the remnant of his arm. The blade had shifted slightly, still a greatsword, but taking on the form of the sword that they’d found with Aerim, when he’d been captured in the vault under Rappan Athuk. Its glow cast a ruddy hue over the Duke’s features. Clad in torn clothes covered in gray dust from the collapse he’d survived, the Duke still somehow managed to appear noble and confident as he lifted the weapon in one hand, pointing the blade unerringly at the Ravager’s head.

“You and I have business, beast,” he said simply.

The Ravager paused. It sensed something odd coming off the body of the man defying it, but it certainly recognized the sword that had wounded it earlier. It lashed out with a claw, intending to remove the threat quickly.

Aerim stepped into the attack and spun in a blur, the sword coming down in a two-handed grip that met the descending claw. The sword carved deeply into the Ravager’s limb, taking off three fingers and a good part of the hand behind them. Black blood jetted out, spraying over the Duke’s torso and arms, but he merely shifted his position and lifted the sword once more into a defensive stance.

“You will have to do better than that,” he said.

The Ravager gave him his request, lunging forward, smashing down with two of its intact limbs, crushing the Duke between them. Aerim swung the sword again, and again bit into the claws that sought him, but he could not avoid being caught up, and lifted into the air. The Ravager did not hesitate this time, opening its jaws wide and thrusting the man into its gullet whole, swallowing him with a single gulp.

A wedge of pain shot up the creature’s leg, as Varo delivered a harm spell. The creature’s will was such that it resisted the full force of the magic, but the attack had certainly gotten its attention. Varo was still invisible, but as the Ravager stomped its foot in reaction he was again knocked flying, and this time he had no sooner bounced on the hard stone than he was snared and lifted in the creature’s iron grip.

Lightning again flashed into the creature’s blunt skull, and the magic missiles that descended into it formed a bright halo, a constant flickering of light as the bolts struck the creature in a steady patter. Sultheros had added to his coterie attacking the Ravager, imitating Allera’s earlier tactic of summoning lantern archons to the cause. Four of the creatures now dipped in to fire their blasts of holy light, each forming a perfect white circle on the creature’s hide that was slow to fade.

Dar shot forward, carried again by the power of the fly spell cast by Callyse at the start of the battle; the spell was starting to wane, but the fighter did not hesitate as he streaked straight for the Ravager. A beam of light shot past him, but Maricela’s searing light dissolved as it hit the creature. The priestess charged after it, but Dar reached it first, diving in with Justice a gleaming blur in his hand. He dodged under one claw, taking a glancing blow that did not dissuade him from his target. He stabbed the blade into the thick web of flesh connecting the thumb and forefinger of the fist that held Varo captive. It was like trying to hew open a steel manacle with a toothpick, and just as effective.

But before the creature could consume Varo as it had Kiron and Aerim before him, the Ravager suddenly convulsed. It opened its jaws wide again, but instead of another roar, a gout of black blood rose from inside it, splattering out in a fan that darkened the churned-up ground at its feet. Its distress was only momentary, but it loosened its grip enough for Dar to yank the cleric free. The respite was only momentary; the Ravager struck out with another long arm, smashing both men hard with its raking claws. Dar and Varo fell together, finally coming apart when they struck the ground some fifteen feet away from the creature. Their momentum carried them a bit further, and they finally slid to a halt, battered and bruised, but alive.

The Ravager smashed its lower set of arms into the ground, shattering flagstones and sending bits of stone flying across the square. The hand that had been ruined by Aerim’s had stopped oozing blood, and the buds of new fingers had just begun to appear, but the damage it was taking now was exceeding its ability to regenerate. It roared up at the flyers circling it, or rather tried to; only a choked sound and another gout of blood came out of its jaws.

“What the hell is happening!” Dar yelled, having to shriek over the noise of the creature’s wild gyrations.

But Varo only pulled himself up on one elbow, clutching his other arm—obviously broken—against his body. “Now!” he cried, his voice sounding like Dar’s over the din. “We must strike it now, with everything that we have!”

He lifted his own hand, and fired off another beam of searing light that lanced into the creature’s flank. Maricela rushed past them both, the tread of her might-enhanced boots making ponderous thumps on the ravaged ground. She cried out as she swept her mace around in a heavy arc, but the Ravager proved that it was far from crippled a moment later, intercepting her with two claws that smashed through her guard, and knocked her roughly onto her back. It turned toward her, bringing its other claws around to finish her off, but it did not get a chance.

The beast shook again, but this time no blood issued from its spattered jaws. Within its gut, almost as armored and durable inside as without, Aerim had continued his attack. The weapon of epic power that he held responded to his thoughts and his need, reforming into a long-curving dagger that he used to open gashes in the Ravager’s stomach. But even as he inflicted distress upon the creature, the fluids that covered him worked their way into his flesh, burning, penetrating into his ears, his nostrils, and his mouth, wreaking damage that mercilessly punished his every motion. By the time that the Ravager struck down Dar and Varo, he was blind, and as much of his blood as that of the beast accompanied his persistent strikes. The white of bone showed through the bright red covering his fingers, clenched in a death-grip onto the haft of his weapon, and more became visible as the flesh melted from his face. Still, he kept attacking, a noise that was not human issuing from deep inside him.

“...not... yield...” he said, his last words, as he thrust one final time, with all of his remaining strength behind it. The dagger penetrated flesh and stuck into one of the monster’s ribs; a moment later, the glowing red blade flickered and died.
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Chapter 91

A LEGACY OF BLOOD


Duke Aerim. The Bloodwraith. A man bound by a failure centuries old, bound to a fate he had not chosen, but had been sealed to nevertheless. As the Bloodwraith, he sought life but could not live; as the man, he had sought death but could not die. When Ghazaran Jawad had brought Aerim back to a semblance of life, he had used the power of the Bloodways as part of his ritual, letting him steal the soul of the Duke away from its torment, to make him a stronger ally in his quest to free the Ravager. Allera had masked that bond, allowing him to be taken from Rappan Athuk without tearing him apart. But for all that he looked and sounded a man, the power of the Bloodways still flowed through him. He was a part of it, and it a part of him, one and the other fundamentally the same.

That bond had allowed him to survive the collapse of the castle keep, and even after the Ravager swallowed him, it had continued to pour life into him, to restore his body. But the power of the Ravager proved too much for the curse of blood under which Aerim existed. Aerim’s body faltered, and failed.

And the power of the Bloodways, suddenly losing its anchor, flowed out of that receptacle in an unrestrained flood.

Outside of the creature, just a few strides distant, Maricela lifted her mace and waited for the death. But as the Ravager loomed over her, it abruptly clenched, its head coming back, jaws stretched wide in a soundless scream. Its claws dug into its own flesh, opening rents that oozed tendrils of red vapor.

And from its mouth, a cascade of swirling, eager mists, long fingers of crimson far deeper than the creature’s natural coloration. The fog, as dense as though they were the true digits of some corporeal thing, twined around the Ravager’s body like strands of creeping ivy. It kept coming out of it, vile, sinuous, the threads tightening until the Ravager wore them like a second skin.

For a moment, the defenders of Camar could only watch in fascinated horror. Then Varo shattered the silence with a loud cry.

“Now!” The priest yelled, his voice cracking with the effort, though his words echoed clearly through the square. “Strike it down!”

Cascades of magical fire, lightning, and bolts of force slammed into the Ravager from every direction. Each impact penetrated the cloak of vapors around it, blasting into the flesh beneath. Whatever was happening to the Ravager, it seemed to have drained its defenses. It tried to get up, to surge forward to fight, but a film of red had fallen over its eyes, and it was clear as it thrashed wildly that it could no longer see. Arrows lanced into it; Selanthas had come into the square, and a few of the knights had taken up their bows as well, some faint hope creeping up to replace the despair they had felt earlier.

“AAAAAAAAAA!” Dar yelled, drawing the creature’s head around as he dove in. Jutice carved a deep path, and this time he hit his target, cutting through the creature’s right eye as though it had been a melon. The creature jerked back, now almost pathetic as it coughed up a final plume of red mist, and then staggered to the left, then forward, then left again. As the skeins of fog began to shift around its body, they could see the monster’s hide, the brilliant red now cracked and oozing black. The monster took a faltering step, no longer toward those souls whose richness seemed now to taunt it, but away, anywhere it could go to escape the destruction ravaging it from within and without.

Maricela had regained her feet, and now walked around the creature, moving ahead of it before coming back around toward its head. She lifted her mace to strike, but the blow never landed.

A huge fist of white energy slammed down into the Ravager, striking solidly in the center of its skull. Letellia’s clenched fist caught it like a hammer, and the creature suddenly went limp, leaning forward slowly until it passed a certain point of balance and toppled forward onto the ground with a loud thud. It lay there, inert. The last of the blood mist trailed away, revealing a carcass riven with incredible amounts of damage. Black fluid oozed from cracks that spiderwebbed across its hide, and trailed from the slits of its nostrils and ears. The eye that Dar had lacerated pulsed several gouts of sick ochre goop that trailed down the fallen monster’s cheek, and then it too became quiescent.

Dar stood there, watching it, when Varo came up beside him, limping heavily.

“Is it dead? For good?” Dar asked, without turning toward the cleric.

“Yes.”

Allera emerged from the nearby building, half-supported by Petronia until she saw Dar; then she broke free and ran toward him. Those flying above descended slowly, hovering over the creature warily. Their summoned allies began to wink out, one by one, as they returned to the planes of existence from whence they had been drawn.

“I must depart, as well,” Varo said. But Dar turned on him.

“First, I need an answer. What the hell just happened?”

“Duke Aerim was bound to the power of the Bloodways, an ancient font of dark magic that had been bound to Orcus, but which became independent upon the demon’s fall. When he died, that power flowed out through him, overcoming the Ravager. It would not have been enough to destroy it alone, I think, but it made it vulnerable.”

Dar’s expression darkened. “You knew, as always. If you or your god had seen fit to just tell us this earlier, we could have fed the Duke to that big red bastard straight off, and a lot of good people would still be alive.”

“Kiron,” Maricela said. She had returned to her normal size, and there was a haunted look in her eyes as she came to stand before them. Blood still slaked the side of her face where the Ravager had struck her.

Varo’s expression showed pity. “Kiron Tonneth’s soul was sheltered by the hand of the Father, and was not consumed by the beast. He stands at the side of the Father, but his work here is not done. He will return.”

“Is that your answer for all this?” Dar said. “Just raise the hundreds who died? Just rebuild the lives shattered by this destruction?”

Varo looked up at Dar. “The gods are not omniscient, nor are they omnipotent.”

“Bull.”

“Of all people, I thought you could understand, Dar.” Varo’s smile was sad, but he did not turn from Dar’s anger. “If that were the case, then the Choice that we... that you have as mortals would be meaningless. We would all be mere tools of the gods, and life would be without purpose.”

“We’re all just tools, anyway,” Dar said, but it was he who turned aside, staring at the broken body of the creature. Allera took his arm.

“It is not so,” Varo said. “Someday, you will understand.”

A bright glow began to surround him. He walked past Dar, pausing to lean toward Allera. He whispered something, and then continued walking, the glow brightening as he drew further from them. By the time he had covered a few steps, it was so strong as to force them to look away, but that was only for an instant; when they looked back, he was gone.

“What did he say?” Dar asked Allera.

“He said to remember, that no one is ever truly beyond redemption.”

As she finished speaking, the dawn broke, and a bright glow of sunshine crested the eastern horizon, shining down the long main street of Highbluff, reaching through the piles of scattered rubble and wrecked buildings to cast a warm glow over those gathered in the town square. They stood there for a long time, looking at the wrecked hulk of the Ravager, now diminished in death, just sharing their collective presence, and reveling in the simple fact of being alive.
 
*smiles and sighs deeply* A satisfying ending, if there could be, to such a terrific battle. =-)
I like the implications for Talen and Shay, among others...
Thank you once again, and a hundred times more, for sharing your gift!
 

jensun

Visitor
It's been a great ride, many thanks Lazybones. I wonder, will we ever know just how Talen and Shay end up?

Also, now we are at/near the end, just who was Ozmad and why were they trying to release the Ravager?
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Thank you once again, and a hundred times more, for sharing your gift!
You're welcome Richard! As my most prolific poster, I thank you for your support of this story throughout.

It's been a great ride, many thanks Lazybones. I wonder, will we ever know just how Talen and Shay end up?
I was going to write a "50 years later" story that focused on Talen and Shay, but a) 4e intervened, b) I got a little tired of this setting, and c) my plot outline started to resemble very closely that of some of Ray Feist's novels. Who knows, maybe someday I'll revisit them in a shorter format.

Also, now we are at/near the end, just who was Ozmad and why were they trying to release the Ravager?
I kept his motivations murky on purpose; I figured it would spoil some of his malevolence to make his intents comprehensible. Servant of a god of destruction? Secret grudge against Camar? Just in it for the power? Insert whatever makes the most sense to you after reading this story, and insert a kicked kitten or two. :)

Today, a loose end is tied up, and tomorrow will be the last post of the story. I am working on a PDF compilation of the entire thing, and will post it on my Web site once it is ready. "The Doomed Bastards" came in at about 633k words, compared to roughly 468k for "Travels", and 733k for "Shackled City."


* * * * *

Chapter 92

A SINGLE THREAD


Parethi had once been a bustling seaport, back when the Drusian Empire had been an empire in deed as well as name, and the sleek white galleys had carved the world’s oceans in its name. People of a dozen races from twice as many nations the world over had walked its streets, visiting the five huge markets where it was often said that any item fashioned by civilized hands could be found.

But those days had long since faded from memory into history and legend, and now Parethi was a backwater, a quiet place where people came when they wanted to avoid the bustle and chaos of the world.

One such man sipped strong coffee in a café just off the waterfront. He was lean, angular, looking a bit haggard despite the obvious quality of the tunic and long leggings he wore tucked into knee-high boots. He carried no obvious weapons other than a long knife at his hip, but the other guests at the café gave him a considerable berth, avoiding his table without seeming to actively do so.

A figure approached the table from the side. The rough-looking man could not have seen him directly, but he said, “I’ve been waiting for you. You, or someone like you, I guess.”

The newcomer came around the man, not quite entering his reach, and stood above the far chair. He looked more like a Drusian than the first, with olive skin and a neatly-trimmed black beard that came down to a lightly oiled point below his chin. He too was clad in clothes that bespoke coin, and his eyes were penetrating, the sort that gave men pause. He said nothing, and barely shifted when the other man suddenly leaned forward in his chair, slapping his palms lightly on the table in front of him.

“Well, I wondered how I would respond. I’m not going to make it easy for you; that is not the kind of man I am. But I am tired of running, tired of... all of it.” With those words, the man seemed to relax, and he even managed a small smile as he leaned back in his chair. Suddenly the place seemed more dangerous despite the lack of obvious change, and several people at nearby tables left coins for their drinks and took their leave hastily.

“You mistake me, sir," the olive-skinned man said. He gestured toward the chair before him. “May I?” At a gesture and an amused look from the other, he sat down. “I presume that it is Jasek Haddar to whom I am speaking?”

Jasek’s eyes narrowed, but finally he nodded. “Yeah, I suppose it is. If you’re here to kill me, I’d appreciate it if we could skip the preliminaries; I dislike drawn-out scenes when it comes to such matters. And if you’re not going to kill me, I hope you’ll do me the favor of telling me what you do want with me. As I said, I’m tired.”

“Understandable, for a man who’s been running away as long as you have, ser Haddar.”

Jasek’s expression darkened a shade further. “Such a man is not generally one to poke at, ser...?”

“You may call me Alzoun.”

“Well, you still haven’t told me what you want, Alzoun.”

“I offer a choice. To stop running.”

Jasek snorted, and shifted in his chair, as if to rise. “I’ve got plenty of choices, and none. If you’ll excuse me...”

Alzoun looked up, and pinned the other man with his eyes. “I had a friend once who used to say that we always have a choice. It’s what makes us mortal. If you choose to depart, ser Haddar, I will leave you to your running, and will not trouble you again. But if you would like to hear me out, I believe that I can offer you an alternative that will challenge a man of your talents. A way you can live without having to run any more.”

Jasek hesitated, just for a moment, then sank back into his chair.

Alzoun gestured, and a man came over with a tray on which a tiny cup of caff rested; steam rose from it with a tiny wisp. It wasn’t until Alzoun had taken the cup and nodded in thanks that Jasek noticed that the man wasn’t the same server who had attended to him earlier. This man was muscled under the loose fabric of his zurqa, and moved with the simple grace of a trained warrior. He noticed Jasek’s attention, of course, and as their eyes met he gave a simple nod of acknowledgement.

Jasek looked back at Alzoun, and laughed. “So much for choices!”

“We all get to make choices,” Alzoun said, as he sipped the caff. “We just have to accept the consequences of those choices.”

Jasek chuckled again, wryly. “So I suppose I will listen, now that you’ve made your position clear, and I’ve made my choice.”

“Fair enough,” Alzoun said, and he made his offer.

Jasek Haddar chose to accept it.
 
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Ahhh....obviously, no amount of praise would be sufficient, and I have no way to express it so that it doesn't seem the same things that you always hear from us. Let me just say that reading your story has been a wonderful story, and although I went back and finished both Travels and Shackled city, I still think that the Doomed Bastards is your masterpiece...
More praise to come after your last post, but I can't notice that it was Latellia, again, who dropped the huge beast. For someone who started as second-class party member, it's not bad, huh? :D
 

wolff96

Visitor
I'd like to think Latellia having a significant impact is due to all my proddings about LB's shoddy treatment of spellcasters... ;)

And it's yet another great story from start to finish, Lazybones. This is still my favorite group of characters to flow from your (virtual) pen. Dar is incredible, Varo is inscrutable, and you actually made a *healer* seem interesting. Now that's a feat...

Very much enjoyed the Ravager and his final destruction as well. You haven't lost your flair for combat description... and I'll be following the new 4e story hour with interest. (I lurk more than I used to, these days, but I'm still here and still love reading your posts.)
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Thanks, guys. I appreciate the kudos. Writing this story had its ups and downs but as I'm rereading and editing it for the PDF version, I'm fairly happy with how it all came together.

* * * * *

Chapter 93

EPILOGUE


A wind blew in fits and starts over the hillside graveyard. It whistled faintly as it slid between the stone markers, most of them still new enough for the chiseled lettering they bore to be clearly visible. A neat fence, kept in good repair, bordered the entire site, and bundles of flowers were laid out on most of the graves, staked down to protect against the wind.

A single man lingered there, keeping a solitary vigil, kneeling beside a grave that was obviously new. The others that had come with him had long since retired, but he remained, like a tree taken root, his head bowed, saying a difficult and personal farewell. He was old, and gnarled almost like the vines that had started to creep up onto the surrounding fence, but he did not let the cold or the wind touch him. It was not clear if he even noticed either.

When he finally rose, the day had all but fled, the sun vanished beyond the western horizon. As he made his way to the gate near the base of the hill, a man emerged from the small shack of whitewashed wood perched alongside the road. He was half the other man’s age if not younger, and clad in a long coat that didn’t fully cover the suit of mail he wore. A sword with an exceptionally carved hilt rode at his hip. The older man was not armed, but his hand drifted to his belt as if expecting to find a hilt there as well. A pair of horses were tied up alongside the shack, and looked up as the men met at the gate.

“What are you still doing here?” the old man asked.

“The First Citizen asked me to wait, m’lord.”

“Bah. I may be old, boy, but I’m not some feeble wretch needing a nurse to carry me to the crapper.” He waved a hand expressively. “I thought you Dragon Knights were busy these days. Seems I heard something about a new chief of the hill giant tribes thinking he might make a good king.”

The young man cracked a slight smile. “Well, word is that when Chief Drugga heard that Corath Dar was in the area, he took his wenches and fled for safer lands.”

The old man stabbed a finger into the younger man’s chest. “Don’t sass me, Cael. I tossed you over my knee more than once, and you’re not so old that I can’t do it again if need be.”

“Of course, m’lord baron,” Cael replied, with a serious half-bow.

“Gah, and stop with the freaking titles. Bad enough that those kneeling sycophantic wretches down in the town won’t let up when I’m trying to take a freaking nap, I don’t need you joining in. Don’t just stand there gawping, get the horses.”

Cael recovered the mounts, and brought them. He found Dar staring up at the hillside, a distant look on his face. He stood, and waited. It was several minutes before Dar started and looked back at him.

“Well? Gods, boy, you aren’t going to make much a knight if you’re always standing around, crowding people. Get back and give me some room.”

He mounted, with difficulty, although Cael knew better than to offer help. The two rode back together, the wind tugging at their cloaks possessively.

The road wound only a short ways before the hills parted to reveal a considerable town nestled in the vale below. Lights beckoned in the upper storeys of the homes and inns of Hope, the bright glow strongest around the wings of the hospital, shining like a beacon against the deepening night. But instead of heading down into the town, Dar directed his mount onto a trail that split off and headed back into the hills, following a stream that bubbled down a rocky course toward the town.

“You’re not going down, m’lord?” Cael asked. He started to add something, but clamped his mouth shut.

They’re expecting you down there, Dar heard, as clearly as if the man had said the words. Well, screw ‘em. He was the one who’d lost his wife, and he’d grieve her in his own way.

Cael followed, and Dar didn’t say anything; he knew that the man would follow regardless of what he said. Kiron seemed to think that there were still people out there who would be happy to see Corath Dar dead. Dar snorted; if so, then he probably hadn’t met them. The last serious assassination attempt had been seven years ago, and the bastards had made the mistake of thinking that Allera was less of a threat than he was. That had been a big mistake, for them.

Thinking of Allera drew a fresh edge across his grief, and the pair rode in silence the rest of the way. Finally the trail deposited them in front of the house that rose along the crest of the hill overlooking the town. It was a beautiful place, looking far older than it was in reality, as though it had always been here. The marble had come from Camar, along with the craftsmen who knew how to shape it, along with metalsmiths, carpenters, and other artisans. Allera had protested at the size of the house, which extended deeper into the hill than it first looked, but she had eventually gotten absorbed into the work, doubling the size of the herbcellar, and adding a subbasement where she could grow several varieties of mushrooms with medicinal properties.

Several of his people came out to greet him. He shooed them away, and caught Cael making gestures behind his back. He left them all with the horses, and entered through the side door through the kitchen. He was hungry, and he grabbed a sandwich from those laid out on the sideboard—they knew him better than most, he supposed—before retiring to his private study.

The place was calm, a sanctuary, but now it just reminded him of her. He was about to go back for a bottle when a voice out of the darkness startled him.

“Hello, Dar.”

Dar belied his age in the speed with which he reached the mantle over the hearth, and took down the sword that hung there. “Who is it? What do you want? By all the gods, if you’re looking for a fight, I’ll give it to you.”

“I’m not looking for a fight, Dar.”

“You...”

A globe of light appeared, hovering over Varo’s outstretched hand. The cleric looked exactly as he had the last time they'd met, almost thirty years ago, now. “I don’t want anything from you, Varo,” Dar said, lowering the sword with what might have been a bit of reluctance.

“I know. But she’s waiting for you. There’s no need to keep her waiting, not now.”

Dar muttered to himself as he put the sword back in its place. “You come to me now? After all this time?”

“Would you have gone with me, before, had I come?”

“No, I suppose not. Had a few things left to do.”

“You’ve lived a rich life.” He looked around. “Nice place.”

Dar snorted. “They call me ‘baron’ now. Can you imagine, me, some noble priss in silks and lace? Me, the bastard that the Duke tossed down into Rappan Athuk? Well, I showed that fat prick. Made him choke on my sword, I did.”

Varo smiled. “Yes. You showed the Duke, and Orcus too. You showed all of them what it was to cross Corath Dar.”

“Aye, and I’ve still got some fight left in me, if any of those other bastards try anything. I heard that there’s this hill giant, been stirring up some trouble up north. I’m half tempted to take my sword and go up there and show that bastard...”

“No, Dar. Your battles are over. You’ve fought well. Now it’s time to rest.”

“Rest?” He stopped pacing and looked at the cleric. “You said she’s... she’s waiting for me?”

“Yes, Dar. It’s only been a short while, but she doesn’t want to wait any longer. Come with me, and I’ll take you to her. I’ll take you home.”

Dar came forward. Varo extended his hand, and Dar started to take it, but paused. “Don’t think this means that I’m not going to kick your ass one of these days. You’ve earned it, over the years.”

Varo smiled. “Agreed.”

The two clasped hands, and a brilliant white light flared, obscuring everything.

When it had faded, Corath Dar was gone, having returned home.



THE END
 

Valthosian

Visitor
So far I've read without comment all of RA, some of Tales from the Wild Wild West and most of Shackled City and I'm amazed. I love your work Lazybones!
 

Lazybones

Explorer
So far I've read without comment all of RA, some of Tales from the Wild Wild West and most of Shackled City and I'm amazed. I love your work Lazybones!
Thanks, Valthosian! I appreciate the praise.

To all readers: I've been working on the PDF version of The Doomed Bastards for some time now. It's taking longer than I expected since I'm giving the book a quick editing job as I go through it again. As soon as it's ready (probably some time in November), I'll put it up on my Web site and post here.
 

Tamlyn

Explorer
Wow! I just finished the whole story and I am incredibly impressed. I've been slowly eating my way through it for a few months, savoring every post. I love how you wrapped it all up.

Now I have to choose which of your others to make my way through!
 
LB, I finally got around to reading the end of the Reckoning, since life has gotten in the way (I actually re-read the entirety of it to get back on track). I have to simply echo everyone who has posted before me in stating that this was a fantastic piece of fantasy writing. Some people may balk at the fact that this is based off of a published adventure setting but the cast and the larger setting was all you.

I rarely get excited while reading, as I read from a detached perspective. However I threw my arms up into the air when Varo came back against the Ravager, barely muting my "YES!". Its ironic because I thought earlier "Man, how great would it be for Varo to show up and do his thing?".

More than anything, for whatever reason, the end of this story feels like a fitting retirement to the 3.5 edition game, for whatever reason, even though I'm continuing my own setting and such. But I thank you for making it such an enjoyable ride, one I can come back and read again and again.

Grats and thank you!
 

Lazybones

Explorer
Thanks for the kudos! I am still working on the PDF (I'm in the final book, but as you know, it's a long one), and am going to try to stick to my earlier promise of a November release. It's going to be a plain PDF but will have the full text of the entire story, along with the few extra chapters I wrote for the other plot option that wasn't chosen (i.e. where Dar and Allera agree to sacrifice themselves to stop the release of the Ravager).
 
along with the few extra chapters I wrote for the other plot option that wasn't chosen
Weee! More doomed bastards!

Byt he way, Lazybones, we never got around to ask you this, after that poll decided that they were going the hard way: what was your preference? I know that you couldn't bring yourself to choose, but now that you think about it, do you feel satisfied by it? Or perhaps you regret never getting around to write something that would happen in the other possible path?
 

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