Adventures in Branterra

Session 8
On the Run
Session 7
A Narrow Escape

Lock, Selene, Suzanna, Khara, and Ayc in his Orkish form stood together on the docks with the forty other passengers from the barge. Guards surrounded the large group of people, and refused to let anyone pass.

The guards were arranged in a half circle around the throng of frantic commoners; at the center of the semi-circle stood a soldier who seemed to be in charge. He was speaking with the only surviving soldier from the ship, who was blatantly pointing toward Loch while they spoke.

“I don’t like the looks of this,” Loch said under his breath as three of the soldiers gathered and strode toward Loch and his companions.

“We didn’t do anything wrong, so there’s no reason to worry,” Khara replied confidently.

The soldiers approached Loch warily and stopped a few feet away. Each had their hand near their blade hilts and distrust in their eyes. “This man says you and your kind attacked the ship with a large beast. Is this true?” He stared hard at Loch.

“That is absurd!” Loch retorted. “Yes it is true people of my race attacked us, but I helped defend the ship and sent away the Kraken.” He turned toward the cowering soldier who had survived the attack, slightly cowering behind the soldiers. “I even saved this one’s life when he was stuck in the sea.”

The soldier in charge turned to the man, whose face had quickly turned from confident anger to meek embarrassment. “You failed to mention this Private Castor,” he said in a very stern voice. “I told me this Aquan Elf was a spy and helped plan the attack on the ship.”

Loch rolled his eyes as Private Castor stuttered and fumbled for words.

“Well yes he pulled me out of the water, but I figured that was just to trick me into trusting him…” He trailed off as he realized how paranoid his thoughts sounded.

“This man is with us, and we will vouch for him,” Khara chimed in.

“And who are you?” the soldier in charge asked.

“We are the ones who saved these people from the attack. We’re the only reason everyone is still alive, so I suggest you let us be on our way,” Khara replied.

“You truly have my thanks for helping our people. That was kind of you,” he hesitated, “however I can’t let you leave. The order still stands to keep everyone here until the Magikai arrive. They will have questions for you, but once you answer them, they should leave you alone. They are terrifying, but if you are innocent, they forget you exist.”

“It sounds like you don’t like the Magikai being here,” Khara said.

“It’s not the biggest secret that I don’t like the Magikai. They don’t care about anyone but themselves, and they think they are better than everyone. Do yourselves a favor, and never wrong any of them in any way. They act as judge, jury, and executioner on the spot.” He paused for a moment, “and there isn’t anything we can do about it. Our laws don’t even apply to them.”

The group stood silently for a moment, mulling over his words, when from atop the barge, a female soldier yelled down to them, “Captain! I need to tell you something!” A tall Human woman ran down the gangplank and quickly made her way to them.

“Sir! There are signs of necromancy on the ship!” she said in a hushed whisper, so as not to create panic among the commoners still milling about, waiting to be set free.

The Captain stopped her, and pulled her to the side, glancing at the companions suspiciously. They continued to whisper between them, and Ayc became nervous on the inside. He knew it would be hard to explain his actions during the battle, and the last thing he wanted was to be caught by the Magikai again.

Khara slowly walked to a small group of people sitting on crates near the soldiers guarding the docks. “Well I didn’t find anything out from the Captain,” he said with a fake furrow and frown.

“That’s a shame,” replied a short Dwarven man, holding his wife’s hand and cradling his sleeping child. “I wish we could leave. We need to feed our son, and gold only comes while your working. This is a waste of time.”

“I agree. Time is money and this is definitely a waste of time,” Khara said with a feigned glance of scorn toward the guards. Khara continued to make small talk with the Dwarven family while he strategically placed himself further from the Captain and his compatriots.

The Captain returned from his private meeting with the female soldier. “Which one of you was casting necromancy?” he asked.

The party exchanged glances and shrugs. “We have all known each other for a while now, and we don’t cast necromancy,” he looked slowly toward the Ork among them. “He, however, we have not known very long at all.”

Ayc looked at Loch in bewilderment until he realized he was the Ork they were referring to. “Ork!” the Captain barked. “Did you cast some sort of evil spell upon our ship?”

“No,” Ayc lied. His eyes shifted from his companions, who offered no aid, to the guards in front of him. They were tensed, and didn’t seem to believe his response.

“Someone did, and from what it sounds like, you have no one to vouch for you. That makes you my first suspect. What happened on that deck?” he asked impatiently.

“They attacked. We attacked back.” Ayc noticed the guards moving into an offensive formation around him.

“That’s vague. I’m sure the Magikai will find better answers when they question you. I…” the Captain stopped short as Ayc shimmered a sickly reflective black. Instantly, the Ork standing before them disappeared, leaving behind a small wisp of black smoke.

“What just happened?” the captain roared as he stepped forward to where Ayc once stood. The soldiers began scrambling in different directions, searching for the dark magic wielding Ork.

Ayc reveled in the consumption of the soul inside him as he burned it and forced his body to travel through the Ethereal Realm. He suddenly found himself falling into the ocean, through the docks which now only existed in the material world. He forced himself back into the world of the living once he was fully submerged. He swam down a few meters, then transformed his body into a large barracuda. The sickly pops and clicks from his body morphing were dulled under the water. Once he fully transformed, Ayc swam quickly away from the docks, not wanting to be around for whatever he had just left behind.

Loch, Selene, and Suzanna all searched the docks with the soldiers, trying to find the Ork who had just eluded them. The Dwarven family which Khara was speaking with turned their attention to the sudden commotion near the barge. Khara saw his chance, and activated his Ring of Blink. His body was instantly ripped from the physical world, and he fell through the docks into the ocean underneath.

He was unable to fall far enough to be fully submerged when the magic of the ring ended, and he landed with a splash. A soldier on the ship pointed down below the docks and cried out, “under you! I see someone!”

The soldiers ran to the edge of the dock, swords drawn and eyes scanning the ocean surface. Khara kept his body down, and swam into the dark depths of the sea. His breath was running out, and the pressure was increasing as he swam deeper. Using his shape changing ability, Khara became a Sharkfolk. He was unable to breathe underwater, but his webbed hands and feet allowed him to swim much quicker. He darted sideways and put as much distance as he could between the soldiers on the docks and himself. He came up for air cautiously, but couldn’t stop himself from gasping once his head was above the water. Luckily, he was far enough away that no one saw him. He took a deep breath and dove again, swimming even further from the danger on the docks.

Selene realized her friends were escaping, and intended to do the same. She ran toward the docks’ edge, pulling Suzanna along with her by the arm. She intentionally tripped herself and pulled Suzanna with her as she fell into the ocean. “Oh my!” she cried out as they fell, in order to make it more believable. She planned on pulling Suzanna down, and swimming away from this mess.

Suddenly, Loch appeared underwater next to Selene, and pulled her up to the surface. “You must be more careful,” he said in a stern voice. “The waters can be very dangerous.”

Selene shot Loch a hot and angry glare as he helped her back up onto the docks. After a moment, Loch realized that Suzanna had not returned to the surface. He dove down, and grabbed her, pulling her heavy, armored body back to the docks. She coughed and sputtered as she was hauled up onto land.

“You must be even more careful,” Loch said as he breathed heavily. “All that armor and you will sink like a rock.”

As they regained their senses, Selene looked around to find another way to escape the situation. It was then that she saw a blue robed figure striding confidently through the scene. He had an obstinate air about him as he looked down his nose at all those around him. People cowered and shied away as he passed them, even when he paid them no mind.

The Captain which the group had been speaking with quickly greeted the blue robed figure. “Lord Taygon. We discovered necromancy on the ship, but our suspect used dark magic to escape,” he said. He winced with every word of his poor report.

“Of course he did. Your level of incompetence contains no maximum height, does it Captain?” he asked with no emotion on his face.

“No sir. Sorry my lord,” the Captain muttered through gritted teeth.

“I heard the Seafolk attacked, and yet I see one here with no shackles.” the Magikai gestured toward Loch, still kneeling near Selene and Suzanna.

“Yes but he didn’t have anything to do with…” the Captain was cut off by a quick gesture from the mage.

“I will speak with him myself Captain. Your reports are less than valuable,” Taygon said as he beckoned toward Loch. “Come,” he commanded simply.

Loch frowned as he was being spoken to like a common pet, but stood and walked to the mage. “Yes?” Loch asked as he stood before the robed Human.

“Your kind attacked. Why is this?” he asked.

“I don’t know. I haven’t had any time to find any answers,” Loch replied. He didn’t feel the need to divulge that he knew the name behind the attack, for the Magikai didn’t seem especially trustworthy.

Taygon’s face didn’t change as he watched Loch with cold eyes. “And what is happening over there?” he asked as he pointed toward Selene and Suzanna.

“There was a bit…” Loch was interrupted by Taygon.

“I will question them myself. Secondhand accounts from detainees are for the Captain and his men. I only deal with firsthand information,” he said which caused angry looks from the soldiers on the dock.

Taygon strode to the downed women. “Well?” he said as he stood above them.

Selene stood. “We fell into the water, but our friend helped us,” she replied as she nodded toward Loch.

Suzanna attempted to stand, seeing her mistress being challenged by the condescending mage. As she stepped forward, to stand at Selene’s side, she stumbled, still lightheaded from her near drowning. Selene reached out to catch her, suddenly found her body unresponsive.

Taygon held his hand out toward Selene, and she glowed a soft blue. Her body wouldn’t move, and she watched helplessly as Suzanna toppled into the water again. Loch moved quickly, and ran toward the dock’s edge, but suddenly he hit the ground hard. His body couldn’t move and it felt like each muscle weighed hundreds of pounds.

Loch managed to turn his head toward Taygon, who was holding a wand with an embroidered M on it. He was pointing it toward Loch while holding Selene still with his spell from his other hand. They both tensed and fought the magic in vain as the bubbles slowed from where Suzanna had fallen in.

“Why are you doing this?” the Captain asked from behind as the Magikai showed his first emotion; a cruel smile.

“The Magikai are the nature of magic. Nature is cruel and takes lives if it’s time. We shall see if it is her time,” Taygon replied, almost in a daze.

Loch and Selene continued to struggle against their magical restraints, but they were unable to overcome the Magikai’s power. The bubbles at the surface had stopped, and there was no sign of Suzanna.

Just when it seemed there was no hope, an unarmored Suzanna erupted from the inky depths of the ocean. She gasped desperately for air and flailed as she barely grabbed the side of the docks. She weakly climbed back onto land once again.

“It seems it’s not her time. How unfortunate.” Taygon turned toward the guards. “Put the three of them in shackles and lock them in a cell. I will question them after I’ve inspected more of this ship.” He turned toward the ship and began looking it over from the docks, completely uninterested in Loch, Selene, and Suzanna. Once he turned his attention to the ship, Loch and Selene felt their bodies ease and were able to move their limbs.

Selene acted quicker than the guards, and grabbed Suzanna’s arm. “Run!” she commanded quickly and she bolted away from the scene. The guards were still somewhat shocked at the Magikai’s behavior, and the two women easily broke through the barricade. They sprinted away from the crazed mage and none of the soldiers followed.

“Why are you just standing?” Taygon said without taking his gaze from the ship. “Chase them.”

The Captain was obviously morally torn, and he turned to his men. “Go ahead and chase them,” he said halfheartedly. Three soldiers nodded, and ran after the women.

Loch stood with his trident held up defensively. “I do not wish to fight the king’s guards, but that man is a monster and will never hurt my friends,” he said angrily, his eyes locked on Taygon.

“Then just come with us,” the Captain pleaded. “If you try to run, he’ll just find you and make your life hell.”

“I cannot,” Loch replied. He glanced back and saw Selene and Suzanna dart into an alleyway, followed by the soldiers. He figured they were safe and now was his chance. He ran toward the water, but was quickly struck with that same heaviness in his body.

Taygon stood holding his wand toward Loch. “Now shackle him. I’m tired of your mistakes costing us interrogations,” he said to the Captain with disdain in his voice.

Loch used all of his strength to force his body to move, even under the immense power of the mage’s wand. The soldiers stepped toward him, shackles in hand, when Loch pushed his body to its very limit, and jumped into the water. He hit the surface hard, and sank fast. Relief and anger washed over him as he realized he’d escaped, but he couldn’t forget the cruelty of the Magikai mage.

He swam away from the scene, intending to meet with Torrik, then perhaps find his companions.

Ayc swam near the surface of the water in his barracuda form. He bobbed up and down, surveying the scene as it unfolded. He watched as Khara transported under the docks, and swam to safety.

Swim to the next town and meet me at the inn, Khara heard in his head as he swam down the coastline.

Which inn, cam a reply in Ayc’s mind.

The nicest inn, was all Khara heard in response as he swam away.

Ayc stayed and watched as a blue robed figure appeared on the docks. He watched as each of his companions escaped the dock and followed Loch once he’d made it to the water. He swam behind Loch, and did not go unnoticed by the skilled Aquan Elf warrior. Loch saw no threat, so he continued to a different part of the docks, where no one seemed to be near. He climbed out and began making his way through the city to find Torrik, his strongest ally in Torruga.

Ayc watched as Loch disappeared into the darkness of the city, and then swam toward the same direction of Khara. He knew he had to find a way to reunite the group, but he didn’t know how to find his friends in Dromduur, especially with a mage chasing them.

Selene and Suzanna laid flat under a pile of discarded cloths as they listened to the sound of their pursuers come and go. They had managed to be unseen throughout most of the night, and felt it was safe to leave this city. In the morning hours, in a cramped alleyway, Selene rubbed charcoal and makeup on Suzanna, making her appear older and sickly. Selene then used her magic to alter herself. With a soft green flash, Selene suddenly appeared to be a Half Dwarf.

They left the alley, and walked through the streets toward the nearest exit, which was the western gate. Selene and Suzanna walked casually toward the guards at the gate. They looked the two women over, one Dwarf openly leering at Selene.

“What takes you out of Dromduur?” one of the guards asked.

“I have business in the next town and I am bringing my servant,” she replied quickly.

“You mean Forgeton or Kosk?” the soldier asked.

“Forgeton,” Selene said. “And quite frankly I am in a hurry to arrive.”

The soldiers glanced at each other, then shrugged. Selene and Suzanna passed through without incident, and traveled along the road toward Forgeton, wanting to be as far from Dromduur as possible.

Ayc grotesquely morphed from a barracuda to a human, and exited the water a few miles outside of the city. He walked to the nearest road and traveled toward Dromduur, thinking no one would expect anything if he walked in through the gates. He happened upon two women walking away from the city. At first, he didn’t pay much attention to them, but then he realized who one of them was.

“Suzanna?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes it’s us,” said Selene. “Where have you been?” she asked. It was now her turn to be befuddled.

“I had some business to take care of,” Ayc lied quickly. “I’m just glad I found you. Where is Loch?” he asked.

“I don’t know. We ran while he stayed behind. I think he was caught,” she said with sincere worry in her voice.

“He wasn’t caught,” Ayc said.

“How do you know?” Selene asked. Her tone quickly changed to suspicious as she wearily eyed Ayc.

“I just do. I spoke with Khara, and he’s meeting us in the nicest inn in the next town,” Ayc said, ignoring the inquisitive looks from Selene.

“You mean Forgeton?” Selene asked, still squinting her eyes behind her darkened spectacles in distrust.

“I suppose. Just the next town on the coast. You go there too, and we’ll meet up after I find Loch.” Ayc already began walking toward Dromduur.

“You haven’t answered any of my questions,” Selene said angrily as Ayc headed out.

“In time,” Ayc said slyly.

Ayc traveled to the western gates of Dromduur, where he was met by the town guard.

“What is your business in Dromduur?” asked one of the soldiers as he raised his hand to stop Ayc.

“I have business in town.” Ayc remembered Loch mentioning a man by the name of Torrik, so he elaborated his lie. “A merchant by the name of Torrik.”

One of the guards perked up at the name. “Oh I know of Torrik. He’s not in Dromduur though.”

“I know. I am here to see his associates.” Ayc hoped his story was believable. He watched as they nodded in acceptance and opened the gates. “Thank you very much,” Ayc said as he entered Dromduur. The morning light was bringing the large city to life, and people were beginning to go about their daily lives. Ayc asked a passerby if they knew of Torrik, and they pointed him in the direction of the merchants quarter.

Ayc followed the directions, and found Torrik’s Shipping. A man was sweeping the walkway outside.

“Excuse me, I’m looking for an Aquan Elf. He’s blue and has two tridents,” Ayc said.

The man looked up from his chore. “I know of whom you speak. He was here only moments ago,” he replied.

“Do you know where he went?” Ayc asked.

“He said he was looking for Torrik, which means he’s going to Jettex,” the man said.

“Which direction is Jettex?” Ayc asked.

“To the north,” the man said, somewhat irritated by all the questions.

Ayc walked away, leaving the man slightly confused, but overall uninterested. He grumbled as he continued sweeping.

Ayc hurried through the streets toward the north, hoping to catch up to Loch before anything bad could happen.

Loch made his way to the north from Torrik’s Shipping. He had found out that Torrik was in Jettex and intended to seek him out. As he walked, he was approached by two guards.

“Hey! You!” one of the guards yelled. “Stop there. We need to speak with you.”

“What is this about?” Loch asked. He felt tense, for he was unaccustomed to being on the wrong side of the law.

“There’s been instructions to apprehend all Aquan Elves in the city. We need to take you in,” the guard said as they advanced cautiously toward Loch.

“I’m sure there is some sort of misunderstanding. Please go get your Captain. He will know what I am talking about,” Loch said. He kept his demeanor calm, but knew he may need to defend himself. “I would of course compensate you for your understanding,” Loch said as the soldiers hesitated.

“Compensation?” one of the soldiers asked, raising one eyebrow. “Jason go get the captain,” he said to his partner.

“Seriously?” Jason replied skeptically. The other soldier nodded, and Jason started off down the street. “I get half,” he said under his breath as he walked away.

“How much are you willing to compensate me for my troubles?” the guard asked.

Before Loch could answer Ayc appeared from behind him. “Sir I believe you dropped this gold back there. I retrieved it for you, so we’ll be on our way,” Ayc said quickly, dropping a few coins into the hand of the bewildered soldier.

“Oh thank you,” he stammered. Then his eyes narrowed and he said to Loch, “just because your friend here found my gold, doesn’t mean I don’t want that compensation.” He greedily smiled as he held out his hand.

Loch shook his head slightly and pulled five gold from his pouch. “Here. I apologize for causing you trouble.” Loch’s morality burned as he took part in this corruption, but he knew it was for the greater good after meeting the Magikai on the docks.

Ayc and Loch walked further north, then ducked into an alleyway. “We need to disguise you,” Ayc said as he rummaged through his pack. “Here we go. This paint will change your skin tone at least.” Ayc pulled out a small disguise kit and mixed together some pale cream. he applied it to Loch’s skin, and it changed from a teal-blue to a more pale green.

“Now you look like a regular Elf instead of an Aquan Elf. That should be good enough to get us out of the city,” Ayc said as he admired his handiwork.

“Thank you. I appreciate your skills.” He paused a moment. “Where have you been?”

“I had business to take care of so I came here early. I heard about everything that happened so I found you so I could take you to safety. The others are in a town called Forgeton. It’s the next town to the east,” Ayc explained.

“I must go to Jettex,” Loch replied. “I have a friend who is like an uncle to me there and I must find him. He will be able to help with all of this.”

“We can do that later. We need to regroup first.” Ayc looked up and down the street as they exited the alley. “Actually we need to get out of the city first. Just be inconspicuous.”

“I will try,” Loch replied. They headed west toward the western gate so they could leave to Forgeton. When they reached the gate, new guards were on duty, and they were accompanied by a man in red robes.

“Halt!” a soldier yelled as he stepped toward Loch and Ayc. “What business do you have outside the city?”

“We are meeting our friends in Forgeton,” Loch replied honestly. Ayc’s eyes widened as he realized Loch had no intention of lying to these soldiers.

The man in red robes stepped forward and looked intently at the pair. “What business did you have in Dromduur?” he asked.

“We’re just travelling through to Forgeton,” Ayc said quickly.

“Where did you travel from?” the robed man asked.

“We are traveling to find the Heart of Chymaron. We have been charged by King Weston so we must meet our friends,” Loch said in all honesty. Ayc once again couldn’t believe the Elf’s ability to ruin any chance of lying.

“Interesting,” the mage replied.

“Should we detain them lord Zilliat?” a soldier asked, readying his weapon.

“No that won’t be necessary.” The robed mage, Zilliat stepped forward, and placed his hand in the air between himself and Loch. A small white and blue pulse burst forth, then vanished as quickly as it had come. “Be on your way,” Zilliat said as he motioned toward the gates.

Loch and Ayc exchanged quizzical glances, then walked out the gate as the soldiers opened it before them.

“Thank you,” Loch said as they passed through. They walked for a moment, then Ayce stopped them.

“What did he do to you?” he asked Loch.

“I’m not sure. I feel strange, like I’m being watched by someone. I can’t explain it,” he replied, shaking his head.

“May I try something?” Ayc asked. “I believe I can dispel any enchantments he put on you.”

“Yes of course,” Loch said.

Ayc raised his hand, and pulled the energy from one his souls, and let out a dark pulse from his hand. Loch was enveloped in blackness, then it dissipated.

“I can feel that it’s gone,” Loch said. He shuddered slightly as the magic left his body. “I didn’t know you could do that. It was much appreciated.”

“I can do many things. Maybe one day you’ll see all the things I can do,” Ayc said with a smile. “For now let’s just travel to Forgeton so we can figure out how to get to Jettex.”

Loch paused for a moment, but didn’t press the issue. He followed Ayc, and they traveled to Forgeton to join their companions.

Loch and Ayc arrived in Forgeton, a small town with no walls. Wisps of smoke rose from the many blacksmiths which gave Forgeton its name.

“Where is the nicest inn in town?” Ayc asked a local guard.

“Depends on your meaning of nicest,” the guard replied, chuckling. “There are two inns in Forgeton; one on each side of town. Digger’s in is great for making some coin if you’re a gambler. Goldenrod Inn is more expensive but it usually has a much more mellow crowd.”

“Many thanks,” Ayc said as he and Loch walked toward the Goldenrod Inn. Ayc knew Khara and Selene would have chosen it even though the Digger’s Inn sounded better to him.

They walked into the inn, and instantly saw Khara’s familiar cat form sitting with the now normal Selene and Suzanna.

“I see you made it,” Khara said with a smile. “Loch why do you look so pale?”

“It’s makeup. With everything you guys did on the docks, we had to hide his identity,” Ayc replied. Khara gave him a strange look, but didn’t question his words.

“The plan we’ve come up with is to stay the night here, then go to Jettex in the morning,” Khara said after a moment.

“I agree with this plan,” Loch said quickly. “We need to get to Jettex as soon as possible. I may have an ally there and he could help us.”

“Good,” replied Khara.

The group headed to their rooms which Khara had procured, and slept. Ayc left and headed to the Digger’s Inn where he set up a card gambling table. He enjoyed watching as the drunken patrons emptied their pockets trying to beat him.

During the middle of the night, inside the Goldenrod Inn, Zilliat stepped through the doors and slowly gazed over the mostly empty tavern. Three heavily armored soldiers with the symbol of the Magikai emblazoned on their breastplates followed behind.

“Hello lord Magikai,” the barkeeper quickly said, bowing as he approached the robed figure. “What brings you here to our humble establishment? Anything you want is on the house,” he said frantically.

“I am seeking an Elf and a Human who met with friends,” Zilliat replied with a piercing gaze.

“Y.. Y.. Yes they came here,” the barkeeper stuttered. “Just upstairs in the first three rooms.”

“Get out and make sure no one touches my cart,” Zilliat said sternly.

The barkeeper quickly complied and ran outside to watch the mage’s cart. The few patrons remaining in the tavern sheepishly found their way out of the inn as well. Zilliat and his retinue went upstairs, and with a flow of magical energy, melted the handle of the first door they came to.

Suzanna was sleeping at the base of the door, and was startled when it suddenly opened.

“Mistress!” she cried out as she jumped to her feet to defend the now awake Selene.

“What is the meaning of this?” Selene yelled angrily.

“I am Zilliat of the Magikai. You will respect that. Did you meet an Elf and a Human here in town?” he said impatiently.

“No! Now leave my room. This is highly intrusive,” she said, playing her best prudish noble lady.

Zilliat didn’t waste any time. He walked from Selene’s room to the next one, and repeated the process. He melted the handle on the door, and pushed it open. Loch was perched in the window, ready to jump. He had heard the commotion, and wasn’t going to be caught by the Magikai after what he’d witnessed.

Loch dropped the twenty feet to the ground, and ran toward the nearest alley he could see. From the window Zilliat raised a wand with an M inscribed on it toward Loch, and with a jolt, Loch hit the ground. The all too familiar feeling of his body being pressed into the ground by an unseen force overtook him and he struggled to move.

“Go retrieve him,” Zilliat said to his guards, and two of them jumped from the window. They stood above Loch, straining against the power of the mage’s power.

“Go to hell,” Loch managed to say as one of the soldiers used the hilt of his sword to knock Loch out cold.

Zilliat continued to watch from the window to ensure his prize had indeed been captured. His third guard walked out into the hallway and was met by a raging Suzanna, mace in hand. He deflected the first mace blow, but then felt a blade sink into his rib-cage from behind. He turned his head to see a flurry of fur as Khara stepped around him and stabbed him again in the side.

Suzanna’s mace found its mark, and sunk deep into the guard’s head. His limp body slumped to the floor. Khara quickly tossed one of his inebriroot smoke bombs into the room with Zilliat. He slammed the door as an explosion erupted with intoxicating smoke blowing outward. Zilliat coughed and gagged as the fumes seeped into his lungs. His mind slowed and he felt and exhilarating physical surge. He felt that he could take on the world with his own fists.

Zilliat easily jumped from the window onto the ground next to his guards, who had grabbed Loch’s body by the arms and legs. He grabbed Loch with one arm and slung him over his shoulder. His guards looked at him curiously, but did not question his actions.

Khara activated his Ring of Blinking, and teleported through the floor to the kitchens of the tavern. He saw Loch’s body over the shoulder of the red robed mage, and took action. He let loose his phantasmal dagger, and it hit Zilliat in the shoulder. Khara ducked down after his attack, and when Zilliat looked toward the window, he saw nothing. His intoxicated mind jumped to the only conclusion it could.

“The windows are attacking,” he said to his guards who were defensively watching the windows. “Break them now!”

The guards looked at each other, then at Zilliat. “Lord Zilliat, are you feeling ok?” one of them asked.

“I’m fine. Just watch the windows!” he said angrily. He began marching around the side of the building with Loch in tow.

Ayc was making his way back to the Goldenrod Inn when he saw a commotion outside the inn.

“You can’t go in there. The Magikai are here so it’s best you find something to do for a bit,” the barkeeper said as Ayc approached.

Ayc ignored him completely and dashed into the inn. He ran to the back of the inn and saw through the window as Loch was being carried around the side. Loch closed his eyes, and focused on the souls coruscating through his very being. He consumed their energy and harnessed it to create a rift in reality, just in front of the Magikai and his guards. The rift extended and expanded to create a doorway to the Abyssal Realm. Screams of agony and malice could be heard through the door and eight demons erupted forth from the doorway. Each was covered in bumps and warts with patches of hair clumped in random places about their bodies. Putrid mucus membranes protruded out from their backs and small swarms of flies flurried around their faces and gaping mouths.

Each of the creatures rushed Zilliat and his guards. They yelled out as they rushed the onslaught of demonic pestilence, however they were quickly cut down. The guards’ swords glowed with an electric energy as they drew them and slammed them down on the oncoming creatures. Each blow spilled greenish black ichor onto the ground, but the creatures were relentless in their assault. Claws and teeth ripped portions of the guards off their bodies, and they were slowly dismembered and tossed aside like broken rag-dolls.

Zilliat threw Loch’s limp body to the side, and roared in rage. Magical energy flowed from his body and engulfed him as he charged the eight demons. Their claws and teeth couldn’t break through the magical barrier he had created, however he used his wand as a baton instead of using his spells. His mind was in a gleeful euphoria as blow after blow landed on the sulfurous creatures. His muscles strained as he continued to fight the beasts with his fists.

Eventually, the demons overtook Zilliat, and fatigue caused his body to fall to the ground. His spells ended, and the demons entered into a frenzy, eviscerating Zilliat’s lifeless body, reveling in the death and gore.

“Go now. Keep people away,” Ayc commanded. The beasts stopped their blood orgy, and fanned out into the darkness to do their master’s bidding. Ayc climbed out of the window, and began disintegrating the bodies, covering them in a magically created fungus and withering them down to patches of nothing.

Khara looted the bodies, and took all he could in the short time he had. He made sure to take the soldier’s swords, along with Zilliat’s wand, staff, cloak, and belt pouch.

Selene ran around the corner of the inn with Suzanna closely behind. “We need to leave,” she said hurriedly. “There are demons attacking and the guards are coming fast!”

“Seriously?” Khara said incredulously, staring at Ayc.

Ayc shook his head. He should have know better than to trust demons to keep people away quietly.

Session 6
To Each Their Own

Ayc, Loch, Selene, Suzanna, and Khara slowly approached the well guarded gates of Borgeport, and were met with wary stares from the soldiers motioning for them to stop.

“Have you encountered the undead?” asked a stocky Dwarf. His hand rested on his large mace on his belt as he questioned the group.

“Yes, unfortunately, we have,” answered Loch.

“And are any of you wounded?” the guard asked earnestly.

“No we are not hurt. We were able to dispatch the creatures without being turned ourselves,” replied Loch.

The Dwarven soldier paused for a long moment as he eyed the newcomers. “What brings you to Borgeport?” he asked finally.

“We’re just passing through to Torruga,” Khara answered smoothly. “We mean no trouble, we just need safe passage to the island.”

After thinking it over briefly, the soldier nodded and replied, “That’s good to hear. You may enter, but make sure you keep to your words and stay out of trouble.”

“Of course,” Khara said with a smile, and the group was let into the city. They stabled their horses and walked further down the road. Instantly they were met with the sights and sounds of a thriving marketplace. Shops of all kinds lined the street as they made their way deeper into Borgeport.

There were many soldiers walking among the throng of people, however, many bore different insignias. It was common knowledge that many expensive items came out of Torruga, and mercenaries made up much of the population of Borgeport. As the group walked, a strange hanging decoration caught Khara’s eye. It was hanging from the eaves of a small general goods shop, and he noticed that at the right angle, he could make out a distinct symbol of a cat’s face; he recognized it instantly as Benny Gogood’s mark.

“Hold on a moment. I want to check out this store,” Khara announced as he veered toward the front door of the shop labeled, Holgren’s Goods. The rest of the group followed closely behind.

Upon entering the shop, a loud voice boomed across the store, “welcome to Holgren’s Goods! If you need help finding anything, just holler!” A stout Half Dwarf stood behind the counter wearing simple clothes and a large smile.

The party members smiled back, and began perusing the wares of the store. It was a small general store, with a moderate selection of goods, but none specifically stood out to the group. Khara motioned to the Half Dwarf and began moving his hands in a pattern, which to the trained eye translated to, friend of Benny.

The Half Dwarf seemed not to notice as he began speaking loudly to another customer about the uses of silk rope versus hemp rope, however, he slyly moved his hands to reply, come back at night. Khara nodded slightly, and moved toward the door. “There is nothing here. I thought they would have more. Let’s go find an inn for the night and continue tomorrow,” he said as they followed him out of the store.

“Good idea,” Loch said as he looked at the afternoon sky. It was a few hours until nightfall, but the group was tired from their long travel, and wanted to rest in an actual bed.

The moved on until they came to an inn not far from the docks. “The Warco Inn. This seems satisfactory,” Ayc said as they approached a large building with a hanging sign above the door. It had the face of a laughing Dwarf painted on both sides, and there was the faint sound of music coming from inside.

The group entered the inn and saw a minstrel playing the lute softly in the corner, and an array of customers conversing among themselves. They were greeted by an Elven waitress who smiled and said, “welcome to the Warco Tavern and Inn. What can I get for you today?”

“We need three rooms. We’ll pay by the night if that’s alright,” Khara replied warmly.

“Yes that’s fine. One moment please.” She turned and walked behind the bar, and returned with a small ledger. “It’s two gold per room, per night,” she said as she scribbled something into the ledger.

“Here you are,” Khara said. He handed her two gold, then Loch and Selene did the same.

“Thank you very much. Here are your keys,” she said as she handed them each a key to their rooms. “You are upstairs at the end of the left hallway on the right. You are the first three rooms after you turn the corner. Would you like me to show you?” she asked kindly.

“No I’m sure we can manage,” Selene said curtly as she started toward the stairs. The Elf smiled and looked down.

“Yes I’m sure. My apologies. Enjoy your stay,” the Elven woman said while turning and mingling with the customers.

“I’m not feeling well. I’m going to bed,” Selene said. She walked toward the stairs along the side of the interior. “Come Suzannna,” she said sharply as she made her way up to her room.

“Coming misitress,” Suzanna replied quickly. She moved up the stairs after Selene and they went to their room, closing and locking the door.

“Being sick is never good. Especially in these times,” Loch said to no one in particular as he watched Selene disappear up the stairs.

“I’m going to explore the city. I’ll be back later,” Ayc announced. He walked back out the door into the streets, and turned toward the more lucrative part of Borgeport.

“I have possible connections I wish to find here in town. I will also return later,” Loch said as he followed Ayc out the door and turned toward the docks.

Khara also walked out the door, intent on finding an alchemist who could help him with an idea he had been mulling over for a while. As all three exited the inn, they couldn’t help but notice a group sitting in the corner of the tavern. The group could only be described as adventurers, and they spoke in hushed tones while glancing at Khara, Loch, and Ayc.

Loch meandered through Borgeport, perusing shops he found interesting, until he came upon a blacksmith who had ropes among his wares. “Excuse me, but do you know of a way to make this stronger?” Loch asked politely, holding up his net.

A short and scruffy Dwarf turned from his work as Loch spoke. “Well I can fasten metal clips at each of the knots there. Let me take a closer look,” he said as he all but waddled toward Loch. “Fine craftsmanship here,” he said as he held the net in front of him.

“Yes I am proud of it. I just don’t want it to break whenever I use it. I have had some bad luck in the past,” Loch replied.

“I could have this reinforced in a few hours if you have the coin. It’ll be four gold for the work and materials.” The Dwarf stood in front of Loch with his hand outstretched. “And I take payment upfront,” he said as he waited patiently.

“That sounds fair. Here you are,” Loch said as he handed the Dwarf the coins. “Thank you for your services. I wonder if I may ask you a question?”

“Depends on the question I suppose,” the Dwarf answered.

“Do you know of a Dwarf by the name of Torrik Fueger?” Loch asked.

“Of course I do. I mean I don’t know him personally, but most people have heard the name. He is a well-to-do merchant on Torruga. He’s a wealthy and powerful man. How do you know him?” the blacksmith asked curiously.

“He is an old friend of the family’s,” Loch replied. “He was basically an uncle to me when I was younger.” He was overjoyed to hear of the success his old friend, and excitedly looked forward to seeing him. “Do you know where he is on Torruga?” Loch asked the Dwarf.

“It’s called Torrik’s Shipping. You can’t miss it if you ask around in Dromduur, the port-town directly across the strait. He probably lives in Jettex, the capital city, but people will know more on the island,” the Dwarf answered. “Now no offense, but I need to get started on this.” He held up Loch’s net, and Loch nodded.

“Yes I understand. I will return in a few hours, just after the sun sets. Is that alright?” Loch asked as he turned to walk away.

“Ok, but don’t come too late, or I’ll close shop and you’ll have to wait until morning,” the scruffy Dwarf responded as he also turned away to begin his task.

Loch slowly made his way through the docks and seaside shops, stopping at several basketry shops along the way to examine the “crude” weaving patterns of the surface dwellers. He chuckled, knowing they would never get it quite right.

Khara moved through the streets with ease, and after some searching, found his destination. The sign above the door simply read, Alchemy, and from the look of it, was not heavily trafficked. He entered the shop and saw an array of alchemical tools and devices; mortars and pestles adorned the shelves alongside bottles of strange colored liquids. A Dragonborn woman stood next to a customer, and they spoke in hushed tones over a tome and a round bottle with a violet liquid inside.

“I will be with you in a moment. Please don’t touch anything without my supervision,” the Dragonborn woman said politely, yet with authority.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Khara replied with a well performed sincere smile. He walked through one of the three aisles of the shop, reading different labels on bottles and polished stones of various colors and sizes. After a moment, the Dragonborn woman made her way toward Khara.

“Good evening. My name is Allison. What may I do for you?” Her demeanor was cool and collected, and she had an air of wisdom about her which Khara quickly picked up on.

“I was wondering if I could get all the parts for a smoke bomb, but not assembled yet,” Khara responded.

“I see. You would like to make your own, with a secondary agent I presume?” she asked slyly.

Khara was slightly taken aback, but recovered quickly. “Actually yes.”

“This is easily done. I have the components here. It will be four gold for the parts without assemblage,” she said, but as she started to turn, Khara stopped her.

“Are there by chance any poisons here that are a bit more powerful?” He smiled slightly and raised his eyebrows.

“That depends on the reason for said poisons,” replied Allison, also raising her eyebrows and smiling. “And also on the discretionary details.”

“I simply need protection for traveling in these dark times. And discretion is my way of life,” he said confidently.

“Very well then. Return just before first light, so we may speak in private, and so I can prepare my other wares,” she said quietly.

“I shall do that. Thank you for your time Allison. It will be a pleasure doing business with you,” Khara said with a bow. “Until we meet again.” He walked out the door, and slowly walked back toward Holgren’s Goods, waiting impatiently for the sun to dip down so he could approach his potential new friend.

Ayc easily found an alleyway with men gambling. He wanted to earn some coin, and figured he could relieve some of these men of their gold. “Hello gentlemen. Do you mind if I play?” Ayc asked as he approached five men sitting around a makeshift table in an alleyway between a rundown tavern called, The Barfing Clam and a brothel labeled, Tony’s Whorehouse.

The largest of the men looked up and eyed Ayc in an openly judging fashion. “Do you have coin?” he asked impatiently.

“Indeed I do. What are you playing?” Ayc asked, peering over the man at the table.

“We’re rolling bone dice. If you’re in then let’s see the money,” the man replied aggressively.

“Hey Toby, calm down a bit. We can’t have any more fights or we have to move,” a scrawny man said in a meek voice.

“Shut up Keith. I know that,” Toby retorted as he took a swig from his mug. “Come on and play, just don’t whine when you lose,” he said as he laughed to himself.

Ayc smiled. “Oh I’m not worried. Why don’t we play cards though? It’s much more entertaining than throwing dice.” Ayc pulled out his deck of cards, and began shuffling skillfully.

“But we’re playing dice. If you don’t like it then leave little man,” Toby answered.

“How about this. We play one game of dice, then one game of cards. That way skill and luck are being tested,” Ayc responded cooly. His gaze was locked on Toby’s drunken eyes.

After a moment of inebriated pondering, Toby agreed. “Fine. I’ll beat you regardless. I’m on fire tonight, right boys?” he said loudly, and the group chuckled nervously, obviously intimidated by Toby’s actions.

They proceeded to play, and Ayc proceeded to win. He won every game of cards they played, and roughly half of the games of dice. They played deep into the twilight hours, almost until nightfall.

“These cards are rigged!” Toby yelled out as he slammed his losing hand down on the table. “I get to deal this time little man,” he said as he scooped up the cards and shuffled. “That way you can’t stack your deck you cheating scum.”

“Hey Toby, you can’t get mad at luck man. Maybe we should give it a rest for a bit,” Keith said, apparently the only one in the group willing to interfere with Toby’s rage.

“Shut up Keith!” Toby snapped, as he dealt the cards to the players around the table. Once again, Ayc won, and Toby stood quickly, throwing his cards down. “I’m done playing with you cheater!” He pointed his finger at Ayc. “Get out of here now before I beat the life out of you!”

Ayc smiled at the threat. “Why don’t we up the odds? One final game, and if I win, I get a small part of you that you won’t even miss. How does that sound?” he asked, his smile widening.

“Ha and what would I get out of this cheater?” Toby asked, stumbling slightly due to the liquor inside him.

Ayc pulled his pack forward, and reached inside. As he pulled his hand out of his bag, he summoned forth his scythe which appeared with a small dark pulse. Toby watched as the large weapon seemed to be pulled from the pack. Ayc then pulled out five vials, each with a red liquid inside them. “You may choose,” Ayc said quietly, never losing his smile.

“Woah Toby those will go for quite a bit of gold,” Keith said as he leaned closer to the small treasure before him. The other men around the table also looked greedily at the offer.

“Fine let’s do it. But we play dice, not cards,” Toby said after a moment of looking back and forth between the scythe and the health potions.

“That’s fine with me,” Ayc replied. He eagerly awaited the first round, but was saddened when he lost. “Double or nothing?” he asked as Toby laughed hysterically.

“Well sure, let’s get all of it!” he exclaimed as he picked up his dice with one hand and took a large swig from his mug in the other. They each rolled their dice, and Ayc won. “Damn it!” Toby cried out as he looked at the dice on the table.

“Looks like I win. Time to pay up,” Ayc said greedily.

“No you said double or nothing. I didn’t get double, so I get nothing. Don’t you know how gambling works you cheater?” Toby said angrily, his eyes watching with mirth as Ayc gathered his ante from the table.

“I believe I won so now you have to pay up,” replied Ayc innocently.

Toby flipped the table and the men jumped back as he stepped forward menacingly toward Ayc. “You’re an idiot, and if you don’t leave right now, you’re a dead man.”

The four men around them quickly found their footing, and began drawing knives from their belts. They smiled toothy grins as they inched forward. Ayc backed away slowly, drawing them from the entrance of the alleyway.

“Why don’t we just take all that stuff anyway?” Toby asked rhetorically. “Ain’t nothing you can do about it little man.” He shoved his fingers toward Ayc’s shoulder to drive him back, but Ayc quickly reacted, and caught Toby’s arm before it hit. Toby cried out in pain as Ayc slammed his fist into the outside of Toby’s arm, and with a sickening pop, Toby’s shoulder tore from its socket, leaving his arm dangling at his side.

“You should never have threatened me,” Ayc said coldly, and he brought his hand up to Toby’s face. A dark energy enveloped Ayc’s hand, and with a silent concussion, Ayc released the dark energy into Toby’s contorted face. Toby’s body jolted, then dropped limp at Ayc’s feet.

“Stay away from me!” Keith yelled out as he ran away from the grisly scene. The other three men exchanged frightened glances, then rushed forward.

“You killed Toby you monster!” one of the yelled as he sliced his dagger across Ayc’s chest. Ayc took the hit without flinching and stared, unblinking at the men. Another man slammed his short blade into Ayc’s ribs, and again Ayc stood his ground, showing no signs of feeling.

A dark aura began to radiate outward from Ayc, and he spoke in a dark and resonating tone. “Leave now or die,” he said simply. The men all backed away slowly, terrified by the presence of Ayc and the tormented voice which pounded through their skulls as he spoke.

“I’m out of here!” one of the men said through welling tears of fear. The other two followed suit, and Ayc was left momentarily alone in the alleyway. He picked up the leftover winnings from the ground, and looked up when he realized there was a commotion headed toward him. He turned and ran down the alley, looking over his shoulder to see a mob of people rounding the corner from the tavern.

He quickly ran through the next alley into the darkening street, where he banked left and kept running. He could hear his pursuers behind him, and darted into a smaller alleyway. Ayc dove down to the ground, and quickly transformed his body into a harmless looking black cat; his body twisted and snapped unnaturally as he became a smaller creature.

The group of angry men and women surged past Ayc as he jumped out of the way as “cat-like” as possible, so as not to draw attention. He quickly left the area, and headed toward where he could sense Khara through his soul link. He stealthily made his way through the now nighttime setting of Borgeport, until he saw Khara standing in front of Holgren’s Goods, knocking on the door.

Just as he was about to send a message to Khara through the link, Khara was let inside the building, and then his presence disappeared from Ayc’s senses. He knew he wasn’t dead, but something was blocking his energy, so Ayc settled into a curled position near the door, awaiting Khara’s return.

Khara was ushered into Holgren’s Goods quickly and quietly. Holgren looked around to see if Khara had been followed, but only saw a black cat making its way toward them. He shut the door, and held his finger to his lips to signal for Khara to stay quiet. Holgren pulled out a scroll, and quietly read the passage, which was written in a language Khara did not understand. A small burst of yellow energy flared out, and seemed to coat the interior walls of the shop.

“We can speak now,” Holgren said easily. “One can never be too cautious.”

“I agree,” replied Khara, admiring the spell which engulfed the shop.

“So you’re here about the contracts then?” Holgren said with a friendly smile. “It’s about time Benny sent someone to help with all the work around here.”

“Contracts?” Khara asked quizzically, unable to hide his interest.

“Wait you’re not here for the contracts?” Holgren said, his smile transforming slowly to worry.

“Well I wasn’t, but that doesn’t mean I can’t help. What contracts are they?” Khara asked.

“They are collection contracts. There are a lot of borrowers out there, and we can’t have them falling behind of payments,” Holgren replied. “If you are interested, the job pays twenty five percent of the contract owed,” he said as he watched Khara’s reaction.

“If it was thirty five percent I would definitely say yes,” Khara said quickly.

Holgren laughed. “You are definitely a friend of Benny’s. I can’t change the rate because you get twenty five, I get twenty five, and Benny gets fifty. It’s just the way it goes, so there will be no haggling on this one,” Holgren said after he finished giggling.

“Alright. I had to try,” replied Khara with a smile. “Do you have any goods besides this stuff on the shelves?” Khara asked as Holgren opened a drawer and pulled out a piece of parchment.

“Most definitely. Come this way,” Holgren said as he led Khara around the counter to one of two doors at the back of the shop. He turned the handle, and pushed the door open halfway. Khara could see inside the small dark room, which was entirely empty. Holgren shut the door, then turned the handle in a series of clockwise and counterclockwise motions. After a moment, there was a loud click, and the door opened again; this time revealing a large, well lit room with hundreds of oddities cluttered about in a haphazard fashion.

“Anything you could need can be found in this room,” Holgren said proudly. “I’m the biggest fence in the organization.”

Khara was awestruck. He saw so many things he wanted, but knew he couldn’t have, for Holgren did not seem like someone to steal from. Holgren showed Khara magical trinket after magical trinket, until one particular ring caught his attention.

“This here is a Ring of Blink. It allows the wearer to travel through the Ethereal Plane, which can be nice in a tough spot,” Holgren said as he held up the translucent platinum ring.

“I’ll take it,” Khara said instantly, pulling out his coinpurse.

“Perfect. It’s five hundred gold. That’s the good price for a friend by the way so don’t try to argue it down,” Holgren said with a chuckle.

“I don’t have that, but if you’re willing to trade, I have three Rings of the Magus Hand,” Khara replied, pulling two rings from his bag, and one from his finger.

Holgren took the rings, and inspected them in the light of a floating orb which was suspended in the air above them. “That’s not the worst deal I’ve ever made. Done,” Holgren said happily as he handed over the ring to Khara.

“I was wondering if you have a Bag of Holding anywhere around here,” Khara said as he looked around the large room.

“Actually yes I do. It’s two hundred gold,” replied Holgren.

“I’ll take it,” Khara said without hesitation.

Holgren chuckled again. “Every good working man needs one of these,” he said as he pulled out the bag. It was a normal looking bag for aesthetic purposes, however inside was a pocket dimension where larger items could be stored and recalled instantaneously.

“One last item I’m searching for is inebriroot. Do you have any?” Khara asked.

“I definitely have that. You aren’t a user are you?” Holgren asked sincerely.

“No, I just have need of some. Thank you for your concern,” Khara replied. Holgren showed him a small chest, where the plants were arranged by size. Khara bought a few doses for use later.

“Now as far as the contracts go, here is the list. there are four contracts we need collected, and sooner is better than later,” Holgren said as he handed over the parchment. It read,

Ferris Kahsa (100 gold) . . . Choral’s Shop . . . Borgeport
Toby Dulart (80 gold) . . . The Barfing Clam . . . Borgeport
Dillon Butte (50 gold) . . . The ports . . . Borgeport
Gregory Phanos (60 gold) . . . Gregory’s Blacksmithing . . . Dromduur

“Take this list, find these people, and return with the coin. Remember, only come at night,” Holgren said as they made their way toward a back door of the magical room.

“Thank you very much Holgren. I’m looking forward to working with you,” Khara said as Holgren repeated his strange door opening ritual, and opened the door into the back alley of Holgren’s Goods.

“Farewell, and safe travels,” Holgren said quietly as he shut the door, and locked it. Khara started out into the night when he was stopped by Ayc, the black cat. The cat looked around, then morphed from the small feline form into a looming Ork. His body grotesquely warped and bent into the large green humanoid. Khara didn’t even flinch at the unnerving sight, as the large Ork stood before him.

“Why are you that form?” Khara asked suspiciously.

“Some stuff went down and I had to kill a guy. But it should be fine,” Ayc replied. Khara was unable to tell if he was being serious or sarcastic.

“Good to know.” Khara paused for a moment to process Ayc’s new form. “I found a way to make some gold. Do you want to help collect some gold for contracts?” he asked.

“Sure. I have nothing better to do.” He took the list from Khara’s outstretched hand, and read it quickly. “There may be a bit of a problem,” he said after skimming the names.

“What’s the problem?” Khara asked, looking down at the list of names.

“I think I killed this Toby guy,” Ayc replied.

“What?” Khara retorted incredulously. “Why?”

“We were gambling and he tried to rob me,” Ayc answered, “so I had to kill him.”

Khara shook his head slowly. “Let’s go make these collections now so we can still head across the strait tomorrow. We’ll figure out what to do about this Toby guy when we get there. First we should go to Choral’s Shop, and retrieve that one hundred gold.”

“Good plan. Lead the way,” Ayc said happily, his guttural voice sounding very different to him as he formed the words with his new Orkish jaw. They set out into the early night, asking around and searching for Choral’s Shop, until they eventually came across it.

The shop was obviously closed, but Khara could see flickering candlelight shining through the shutters of the windows. He stepped up to the door, and knocked loudly. After a moment, the door cracked open, and a man out from inside.

“We’re closed,” he said simply.

“I’m aware of that, and apologize for the hour, but are you Ferris Kahsa?” Khara asked as he peered past the man into the shop. It was quaint, and the shelves were stacked with crystals and stones.

“I am. What is this about?” Ferris asked nervously, eyeing Ayc’s massive form in the darkness behind Khara.

“We are here on behalf of Holgren. You owe him money and we’re here to collect,” Khara said directly.

“Keep your voice down,” Ferris whispered sharply.

“Ferris who is it?” called a female voice from inside the shop.

“No one Choral, just some… merchants. We’re going to talk outside. I’ll be back in a moment,” he said as he opened the door enough for him to exit, and closed it behind him. “You shouldn’t have come here. This is embarrassing,” Ferris said in frustration after the door shut.

“Then you shouldn’t have borrowed money you couldn’t pay back,” Khara replied. “Now it says you owe one hundred gold. I’m going to need that now.” Khara stared Ferris in the eyes, judging the man’s face as he answered.

“I only have twenty,” Ferris said unconvincingly.

“Now Ferris, we’re here for one hundred. I don’t want this to get ugly, so why don’t you just give me what you owe,” Khara said darkly. Ayc grinned a large and menacing grin, and Ferris stared in fear.

“Please don’t do this. Choral doesn’t know that I had to borrow money to keep her shop going. She doesn’t get how much it takes to keep this place afloat. We don’t have enough customers so I borrowed the money. Please just take this fifty, and I promise on my life that I will pay back the rest by the end of the week.” Ferris was nearly in tears as he spoke, pleading for mercy.

“I’m sure you have lot’s of stress in your life, but you need to pay back what you borrow. That’s just how it works. Why don’t we go in and grab the full hundred, and we’ll leave you alone,” Khara replied. He let no emotion show on his face as he spoke, watching Ferris’ spirit break with every word.

“Please. I’m begging you,” Ferris pleaded one last time in desperation.

“Here let me get the door for you,” Khara answered as he stepped forward and opened the door to Choral’s Shop. He stepped in, and was followed quickly by Ferris and Ayc. A startled Elvish woman stood behind the counter, staring at the three men in confusion.

“What’s really going on?” she asked earnestly when she saw the defeated look on her husband’s face.

“Choral, these men are here to collect a debt I have. I had to borrow gold to keep this place going and they aren’t giving me more time to pay it. I’m so sorry,” Ferris said, still fighting back tears of shame.

“What?” she cried out angrily. “You can’t be serious. You always let me down Ferris!”

Khara stepped forward, between the fighting couple. “I don’t mean to be rude, but we are busy, and must be going soon. If you could give us the hundred gold, we will be on our way,” he said politely.

Choral’s eyes widened, “one hundred gold? Ferris how could you?” she said as tears streamed down her face.

“You live in a fantasy world and don’t know what it takes to run this place. I did it for you!” Ferris yelled as the tears finally broke free and ran down his cheeks.

Choral looked taken aback at the harsh words, and put her hands to her face to cover her sobbing. “I can take the pain away if you would like,” said Ayc kindly as he stepped toward the crying woman.

“Good lord, I’m not waiting around for this. Ferris, fetch the money, and then we will leave,” Khara said, looking from Ayc to Ferris.

Ferris disappeared into the backroom of the shop, then returned with a large bag, which clinked with the sound of many coins. He dropped it onto the counter, and Khara proceeded to count the coins to ensure there were indeed one hundred. Once he was done, he left Ayc to his conventions.

“How could you take away the pain?” Choral finally responded after calming down slightly. She looked up at Ayc, who’s Orkish face loomed high above.

“Well if you come with me, I can take away your pain and leave you with only happiness. All it takes is a kiss,” Ayc replied, his deep voice soothing to Choral’s ears.

“Hey!” Ferris yelled, watching Ayc apparently wooing his wife.

“You don’t speak!” Ayc barked back, glaring at the now cowering Ferris.

“Now my dear, please believe me that you will be happier and pain free,” he said, turning to Choral. She stood, wiping tears from her eyes.

“I’ve been praying for change,” she said after a moment. “Maybe you are the answer I have been looking for.”

“Perhaps I am. Come with me,” Ayc said as he led her out of the shop, leaving a slack jawed Ferris alone with his thoughts. They walked in the night toward a park near the center of Borgeport. There were a few trees, and Ayc led Choral behind a small crop.

“This is beginning to feel a bit creepy,” Choral said as she watched Ayc look around for onlookers.

“No I assure you, all you have to do is kiss me, and all your pain is gone,” Ayc said with a smile; his Orkish tusks took away from his charismatic demeanor, and she winced slightly.

“Is there a different way?” Choral asked skeptically, realizing she was in the dark with a large Orkish stranger.

Ayc’s patience ran thin, and he reached out and pulled her toward him. Their lips met, and Ayc drew in Choral’s soul with a silent rush of energy. Choral felt her core rip from her body as a torrent of energy leeched from her mouth, and into Ayc’s. Her soul spiraled down, and assimilated into Ayc’s being, and his eyes rolled back in elation.

He released her; she stumbled back, but caught herself. She stood up straight, and looked at Ayc with glossy eyes. “I feel nothing.” She stood for a moment, and then turned to walk away. “Thank you,” she said in a monotone voice. She walked into the darkness, and Ayc smiled to himself as he looked around once more for witnesses. He saw none, so he mad his way to where he could feel Khara, toward the docks of Borgeport.

Khara walked along the docks, asking each passerby if they knew the name Dillon Butte. There were not many people out at this hour, but there were enough that he found out the popular taverns along the docks. He made his way to the first, and was lucky enough to find his mark.

“Oh yes Dillon is right over there,” a female Dwarf answered Khara’s question as she pointed toward a short Human sitting among a raucous crowd. He assessed the situation, and planned his approach just as Ayc appeared behind him.

“Sorry for the disruption. Do we know where the next guy is?” Ayc asked. Khara shook his head and rolled his eyes as he pointed toward the man.

They walked over to the Human, laughing at a joke about an Elf and a Spriggin. “Excuse me, are you Dillon Butte?” Khara asked above the noise of the tavern.

The man turned. “Yeah. Who are you?” he asked. The table quieted as the men turned their attention to the newcomers.

“Can we talk outside?” Khara asked, noticing the tension in the group.

“About what?” Dillon asked.

“About personal matters. You owe money and we need to talk about it,” Khara replied smoothly.

A few of the men in group chuckled and Dillon dropped his head down. “Alright let’s go talk,” he said after a moment. He stood and followed Ayc and Khara outside into the cool night air. Once they were outside, Dillon began speaking, “I know I owe Holgren twenty gold, and I was going to go pay it later tonight. So it works out perfect that you came here to call me out in front of my friends.” His sarcasm was overly apparent as he spoke. He pulled out a coin-purse, and handed it to Khara, who tossed it to Ayc.

“Count it,” he said to the Ork beside him. “I appreciate your cooperation so far, but you owe fifty gold, not twenty. I need thirty more.” Khara watched Dillon’s face feign confusion and shock, but Khara knew how to spot a liar.

“I only owe twenty,” Dillon said, raising his hands to his chest in offense. “You have it so leave me alone.”

“This will get ugly if you don’t just hand over the other thirty. I’m not in the mood for negotiations. We’re leaving with fifty gold and that’s the end of it,” Khara said impatiently.

“Get ugly?” Dillon laughed. “You can’t come here and intimidate me. I’m not sca…” Dillon was interrupted by Khara’s fist hitting him in the gut. Dillon’s lungs emptied instantly, and he fell to the ground, gasping.

Two men in uniforms rushed over to the scene. “Hey what’s going on here?” one yelled as they reached for their weapons.

“He owes me money and he’s being a prick about it,” Khara said innocently. “Just pay up the thirty gold or we’ll involve the officials and you can try to pull your tough guy act with them,” he said looking down at the still gasping Dillon.

“Fine!” Dillon gasped as he pulled out two more pouches full of gold. Khara snatched them and handed them to Ayc to count.

“Thank you,” he turned to the soldiers, standing at the ready watching carefully. “And thank you soldiers for ensuring justice is served. I apologize if I caused you anxiety by punching this man, but sometimes scum must be beaten.”

“Next time handle it privately; not out here in public,” the soldier replied gruffly. They continued to walk along the dock, but glanced back at Khara repeatedly.

“Let’s go Ayc. We only have one more before we can return to the Warco Inn. I’m getting tired,” Khara said and they headed toward the shadier part of town, where Ayc had previously caused problems for Borgeport. “Take me to the Barfing Clam. I don’t know exactly how we’ll collect from a dead guy, but we’ll figure it out. Just stay out of trouble this time.”

Ayc smiled to himself. “Of course,” he answered slyly.

They arrived a few hours into the night, but where there should have been an almost empty street, there was a throng of soldiers and commoners milling about. Toby’s dead body was still in the alleyway, covered with a white sheet. A very large Human soldier sat at a makeshift table, taking statements from frightened people eager to give their version of the events of the evening.

“It was the necromancer!” a man shouted. “He was here and he’s going to bring back the dead to kill us all!” The crowd murmured their opinions as the large soldier stood angrily.

“Stop this nonsense!” he yelled out. “We are trying to get witnesses to see what happened so wait your turn to give your account!”

The man who had yelled previously shrunk down, and quietly waited his turn.

“Besides that,” exclaimed Ayc, “if the necromancer was here, wouldn’t the dead already be attacking?”

The crowd once again broke into murmurs of agreement and disagreement. The large soldier shot Ayc a glance, but saw that he wasn’t going to start yelling anymore, so he turned his attention to the person he was questioning.

Khara left Ayc to create a distraction if anything went wrong, and stealthily walked around the adjacent building. He deftly and quietly rounded the alley wall, and crept to Toby’s covered body. None of the guards seem to notice him, and he quickly searched the body. He found no money, but did find a key. He pocketed the key, and walked back the way he had come.

“Hey you!” came a loud voice from the group of people. Khara turned to see the guards staring at him. He bolted down the alleyway, and they followed immediately. He quickly ran into the street, and melted into the shadows of the night, where he was most comfortable. He noticed a door into Tony’s Whorehouse, and put his energy into his new ring. He blinked from existence, and found himself walking through the Ethereal Plane. He could see the soldiers running after him as quivering blobs of white light. He stepped through where the door existed in the plane of reality, and unblinked his physical body. He instantly appeared in the hallway of the brothel.

The soldiers ran after him, but lost him in the darkness. They continued through the streets searching for their suspect. Khara waited a moment, then used his Blink Ring again, popping out of existence and into the plane of souls once more. He looked around, and saw that the only living creatures around him were lying horizontal in private rooms. He chuckled and walked back out into the alley where he reappeared into his physical form. He focused his mind and energy on his appearance, and with a small flash of dull light, Khara changed his form into an Elf. He walked back around the building to the street where the crowd of people was speaking excitedly about the man they had seen.

“That’s probably the necromancer coming back for the body,” one man said.

Ayc quickly answered, “No that was probably just a looter searching for some easy coin. This scary necromancer you speak of probably doesn’t care about a bit of gold.” He was able to convince some, but not all of the crowd.

Khara walked past the scene, sharing a quick glance with Ayc as he walked into the Barfing Clam. He saw that it was mostly empty, save for the few drunks dipping their heads at the bar. Most of the patrons were outside, still excitedly speculating on the night’s events. Khara saw that a short Kobold stood behind the counter, stepping up on stools to clean the counter-top.

Khara approached the short reptilian creature. “Excuse me good Kobold. Do you know if Toby Dulart was staying here?” he asked politely, speaking slightly slow in case the creature was less than intelligent.

“Information not free,” replied the creature. He looked up at the Elven Khara and smiled a grin which showed his sharp and crooked teeth.

Khara smiled back and pulled out a gold piece. The Kobold quickly and greedily grabbed the coin out of Khara’s hand.

“Yes he stay here,” the Kobold said. “But he dead and have only key. Permanent guests have only key, so now you have nothing.” The creature laughed somewhat maniacally. “You pay for nothing!”

Khara’s smile widened. “I suppose. And what room was his?” Khara asked as he raised another gold piece. The Kobold’s tail whipped up fast from behind the counter, but Khara was expecting it this time, and he pulled back the coin out of reach from the lizard’s strike.

“Damn,” said the Kobold, eyeing the gold coin in Khara’s hand. “The second room on the left,” he said leaning forward to take the coin. Khara allowed him to take it, and the Kobold gleefully pocketed the gold. “You need more information?” he asked with eyes shining eagerly.

“No that is all. Thank you for your time,” Khara said as he turned and walked toward the stairs leading up to the rooms. The doors were spaced close together, and Khara picked up the stench of poverty wafting from the rooms.

He ignored his surroundings, and used the key fro Toby’s body to open the second door on the left. The key turned smoothly, and the door opened to reveal a small room with a bed and a dresser. Clothes were strewn about and bottles of liquor lay on the floor. Khara found a small footlocker, and oponed it to find a small pouch of gold underneath a dirty tunic. He pulled out the pouch, and counted the coins; there were sixty eight. Considering Toby was dead, Khara considered this a success, and he left the room exactly the way he found it. He locked the door behind him, and left the Barfing Clam.

The guards who had been chasing Khara were now back and talking with Ayc. "You’re a big strong one and you kept this mob calm. If you ever need a job, come talk to us. The Winged Knights of the Tempest could always use fresh mercenaries. The extremely large soldier slapped his palm on Ayc’s back. It was a mighty blow which should not have phased an Ork, however Ayc found it difficult to keep his footing. He managed to not show the pain which erupted from his shoulder blade.

“Thank you. I may just do that,” Ayc replied, faking a smile and bearing through the pain. With that, he walked away in the same direction as Khara, still an Elf. They looked back to see a cart being drawn in, and Toby’s body being hauled away.

“Did you get the money?” Ayc asked once they were out of earshot of the guards.

“Yeah I got it,” replied Khara tiredly. “We need to take this gold back to Holgren, then go back to the Warco Inn. I need to sleep.”

“What’s that like?” Ayc asked. Once again, Khara couldn’t tell if Ayc was being sarcastic or serious, so he ignored the question.

They went to Holgren, and knocked on the door. It took a while, but eventually the door opened and a tired Half Dwarf greeted them. “Back so soon?” he asked as he let them in.

“Yes we acquired most of three of the contracts,” Khara said as pulled out the various bags of gold. “All in all I was able to collect two hundred eighteen out of two hundred thirty. Toby Dulart is dead, so collecting from him was interesting, but we got the job done.”

Holgren nodded. “Nicely done. I can see why you are a friend of Benny’s. The missing gold comes out of your cut, but you did a great job.” He pulled out a small bag of gold, and handed it to Khara. “Now give it a bit before you come back here. Too many visits looks suspicious.” Holgren ushered them out the door.

On their way back to the Warco Inn, Khara gave half of their earnings to Ayc. “You did half the work, so you get half the gold,” he said.

“Sounds fair. Thank you,” Ayc replied as he took the coins. The arrived at the inn, and Khara fell asleep for a few hours after returning to his familiar Human form. He awoke just before sunrise, and went back alone to see Allison, the alchemist. He easily found the store, and knocked on the door. Allison answered, and let him in, closing the door behind him.

“I have the more potent poisons you inquired about,” she said with a smile. She led him to the counter, and opened a leather-bound case with vials inside. Each of these is very dangerous, and cost one hundred fifty gold each. They are expertly concocted and ready for use," she said with pride as she gingerly lifted a vial from the case.

“I see. Those are interesting, but that price is a bit more than I was thinking. I will just take the smoke bombs we discussed,” he replied. He watched as her expression changed from excited to bored.

“Yes your components are here.” Allison pointed to the counter top where bits of metal were arranged, ready to bundle.

“Could I pay you to teach me how to build effective smoke bombs with something inside it? I mean poison smoke bombs, I suppose,” Khara asked.

Allison perked up, and her reptilian tail waved slightly. “Yes I can teach you. I would need to charge you eight gold for a lesson though. Is that outside your budget?” she asked slightly cynically.

“No that is doable,” Khara replied with a smile.

Allison proceeded to teach Khara how to effectively build poisonous smoke bombs. It took almost an hour, but Khara learned quickly, and was able to master the technique.

“Thank you. Here is your gold. I will also need more parts for more bombs,” Khara said after his private lesson.

“Here you are,” Allison said as she handed him a parcel with assorted pieces inside. “Remember discretion is valued highly,” she said as she walked him out of her shop.

“Always,” he said with a smile as he headed back to the Warco Inn. Upon arriving, he saw Loch, Selene, and suzanna sitting with the group of adventurers they had noticed the previous day. He also noticed Ayc sitting at the bar, seeming lost in thought.

Finally you are back, Khara heard a familiar voice in his head say.

I had business, he replied mentally through his spirit link with Ayc.

Convince Loch Ayc had to go, he heard in response. And that the Ork is joining.

Khara nodded slightly toward Ayc, and sat beside him, between the large green beast and Loch’s new friends. He craned his neck slightly to hear their conversation, when he heard a voice say, “if you want to hear us better, wouldn’t you want to join us?”

A Human in dark clothes sat staring at Khara, making it clear he had noticed him listening.

“Oh yes Khara come join us,” Loch said excitedly. “This group is also on the quest for King Weston.”

Khara made a spot to sit at the table. Ayc followed, and sat beside Khara at the now crowded table. “This is a friend of mine. Ayc had to handle some business that came up suddenly, but my friend is here to help,” Khara lied easily. No one seemed to question his story, so he continued, “what have you found about the Heart?” he asked.

“Introductions first my eager friend,” exclaimed a stout Dwarf. “You’re friend Loch has much more manners than you.” The Dwarf laughed and his companions chuckled quietly. A large Dragonborn adorned in heavy armor drank from his mug, apparently not amused.

“My apologies. I am just excited to trade information about the Heart,” Khara replied.

“Aren’t we all?” the Dwarf answered with another short round of laughter. “My name is Frueger. This tall, dark, and angry fellow is Drak’To,” he said as he pointed at the Dragonborn warrior. “That’s Collin, the one who called you out for eavesdropping,” Frueger said as he laughed once again.

Collin tipped his head. “If you ever need lessons in being sneaky, you can let me know; however you probably can’t afford it,” he said with a snarky grin.

Khara smiled curtly, but didn’t show offense. Frueger continued, “and those two are Sam and Tillea, some of the best healers I’ve ever met. I owe them my life.” Frueger’s demeanor changed slightly as he spoke.

“You are too kind,” Sam replied.

“We have just been discussing what we know,” Loch said after Frueger’s introductions. "They believe they know where the Heart is, but it is in a place that is not accessible.

“Not accessible? I don’t know of such a place,” Khara replied. “Where exactly is it?” he asked.

“It’s in the Underdark,” Frueger responded. “We were traveling with another group, thinking we could put our heads together to find the Heart. We went straight to Torruga; to Jettex, the Dwarven capital. Apparently just before we arrived, a Chymaron emissary visited the king. Since that visit, the king has been acting rash and paranoid; with good reason I suppose. Because ever since the emissary left, the oceans around Torruga have become monstrously dangerous. No one knows how, but shipments have not been returning, and more and more ships are being lost at sea, without explanation. So far it’s only been the shipping lanes that have been impacted, but who knows when it will stop.” Frueger paused for a moment to sip from his mug.

“We asked to see the king, but as soon as he heard we were sent on a mission to capture the Heart of Chymeron, he wouldn’t have anything to do with us. The emissary reportedly traveled from Jettex to the Forbidden Caverns, where the entrance to the Underdark is located. I can tell you from growing up in Torruga, that no one goes into those caves and comes out alive. I wasn’t able to convince the other group that if the Heart is down there, it’s lost.” Frueger shook his head slowly. “We decided to wait a few days to see if they return, but I doubt it.”

“We let them walk into their death. We should have walked with them,” Drak’To said angrily.

“Suicide isn’t noble my friend,” Frueger replied. Drak’To scoffed, and returned to his mug.

“I’ve told them that we will go to Torruga and find out more. I have a connection there that may help us,” Loch said happily. He was excited to finally have a lead on their objective.

“That sounds good,” Khara said after taking a moment digest the new information.

“Say newcomer. How about a friendly arm wrestle?” Loch asked, looking at Ayc. “I have been wanting to test my strength, and you seem a worthy adversary.”

Ayc sat silently, unsure about what to say. He shook his head and let out a soft grunt. “But I will make it worth your while,” Loch said after a moment, and he took two gold out of his pouch and set them on the table.

“Go on, let’s see what you’re made of,” Frueger happily said, motioning for Ayc to position himself.

Ayc grunted, and set himself across from Loch. They clasped hands, and Loch counted to three; as soon as he said three he put his power into his arm and pressed down hard. Ayc had the body of an Ork, but not the muscle density, and his arm snapped down, popping his elbow and shoulder out of place.

Loch immediately reeled back. “My sincerest apologies! I thought you were ready.”

Ayc sat stoically with his arm dangling to his side. Loch turned to Suzanna, “please heal him,” he requested. Suzanna turned to look at Selene.

“You may heal him. Even though he doesn’t deserve it,” Selene said coldly.

Suzanna reached out toward Ayc and he panicked slightly. He knew that her healing powers would wound him, and he couldn’t have anyone seeing that fact. He stepped back quickly, saying, “no I’m good.”

Suzanna moved more forward and tried to reach out to heal the Ork again. Once again, he moved away and said louder, “I said no!”

Everyone at the table sat awkwardly watching the strange actions of the large creature. Each step back caused his arm to swing lifelessly by his side. Suzanna looked back at Selene with a face of distress. She needed to fulfill her mistress’ command.

“Never mind Suzanna. If the dumb oaf doesn’t want healing for a dumb action, that’s perfectly fine with me,” she said with a dark tone.

“I say we travel now to Torruga. It’s about a day’s boat ride, so an early start is better than a late one,” Loch announced after giving everyone a bit to deescalate.

“I need a while in my room for preparations, so we should leave in an hour or so,” Khara said as he stood. “It was a pleasure to meet most of you,” he said slyly as he shot a glare toward Collin, who sat smiling at the attention.

“Indeed it was a pleasure,” Frueger replied. Khara headed to his room, and began building smoke bombs using the inebriroot as the poison. He was able to put together quite a few, and he packed them safely away in his Bag of Holding.

After an hour, he returned to the tavern, where Loch, Selene, Suzanna, and Ayc the Ork were saying their goodbyes to the other group.

“Please Loch, take this,” said Sam as he handed a rolled parchment to the Aquan Elf. “It is a Scroll of Daylight, so that if you do ignore Frueger’s warning, you will have some protection in the Underdark.” Tillea scowled slightly, but remained silent as he handed the non-Human the scroll.

“Many thanks Sam,” Loch said as he took the scroll.

“You strike me as an honorable and exceptional man. Be safe on your travels,” Sam said as they parted ways.

The group walked to the docks, and found a large ferry boat boarding for Torruga. They paid their way, and made themselves comfortable on the cots made available for passengers. There were roughly forty other people aboard the vessel as it left the docks of Borgeport. There were more soldiers aboard than usual.

The first half of the ride was uneventful, and Selene even found time to sleep. She still felt ill, but was enduring as best she could. In the middle of the Eastern Strait, a large crash disrupted her slumber. The large boat lurched to a halt while people and items flew forward from the momentum.

Loch, Ayc, and Khara ran up the stairs to the main deck. “Watch the people!” Loch yelled back to Selene as they rushed up the stairs. When they emerged from the bowels of the ship, they were greeted by the gargantuan sight of a kraken rearing up and slamming down into the ship with its huge tentacles. Soldiers cried out in panic, and passengers on the deck ran down the stairs past the three men.

Atop the enormous beast was a blue skinned Aquan Elf, laughing with mirth as he reared a black trident in the air. Loch ran forward, “I’ll try to speak with them. I’m sure it’s a misund…” he was cut off as Khara zipped past him with devastating speed. He ran to the front of the ship, which was closest to the great ocean beast.

In one smooth motion, he pulled his phantasmal dagger from his belt, and flung it toward the Aquan Elf atop the creature. He brought his arm back from his downward swing, and released the same dagger from his hand. The first dagger flew wide, but the second found its mark in the side of the face of the blue skinned Elf.

The dagger slammed into his jaw, severing the bones and leaving it hanging slack off its hinges. The Aquan Elf screamed in pain and fury as he grabbed the dagger, which disappeared from his face. Blood oozed from the Elf’s face as he held his jaw up to his chin with his free hand. His eyes burned with hatred, and he pointed his black trident at Khara. A massive tentacle came flying from the water fast, and Khara was crushed under its immense weight.

Khara’s vision faltered for a moment as the intense force slammed him down into the wood of the deck. He felt himself being crushed to death under the fishy wall of death atop him. His skin instinctively hardened, and kept him from exploding outward like a squashed tomato. The tentacle slid slowly over Khara, scraping him against the wood until he was no longer grappled by the ridiculous weight. He scrambled weakly away from the front of the ship, pulling out a health potion from his bag.

Ayc noticed at the side of the ship, that bone and coral grappling hooks were being flung over the railings. “Cut the ropes!” he yelled out to the scared soldiers. Those close enough did as he commanded, and cut the hooks from the sides of the ship. On the other side of the ship, however, the soldiers did not hear, and they stood frozen in fear as Aquan Elves clad in rocky armor climbed over the railing. One soldier was flung into the ocean with a scream of terror, which seemed to break the trance of fear the soldiers were stuck in. They charged forward to fight the invaders.

Khara regained his senses in time to watch a soldier be ripped from the deck by a smaller tentacle from the terrifying beast. The Aquan Elf atop the creature still screamed and pointed toward Khara.

He knew he had to end this or that creature would destroy the ship, so he charged forward once again, and flung his dagger toward the Elf. It found its home deep in his chest, and the Elf stopped screaming. He slid slowly from the top of the creature, and dropped into the water. As soon as the trident hit the water, there was a silent pulse through the water, and the kraken seemed to become placid. Loch ran without hesitating and kicked his boots off as he dove into the water, intent on finding out why his brethren would attack like this.

Once underwater, Loch saw that multiple Aquan Elves were swimming quickly toward the sinking trident. He swam quickly, and managed to retrieve the trident before the assailants.

Attack! he mentally commanded, however nothing happened. He looked more closely at the trident, thinking that it should control the kraken. He swam quickly toward the now still kraken, knowing he didn’t have much time. He quickly analyzed the symbols running down the trident’s shaft and saw they matched scarred symbols along the kraken’s body.

He saw that the enemy was close, so he relied on faith, and touched the trident to the kraken. A silent pulse radiated outward, and Loch could feel the creature’s simple thoughts. Stop them! he commanded in his mind, and the creature lurched into motion, sending tentacles toward the oncoming Elves. They were entangled in the array of squirming arms, and Loch swam down to grab one by the throat.

“Why are you doing this?” he yelled in Aquan. The fighting Elf stopped fighting for a moment.

“Dorren has commanded it. You see I am protected,” he responded moving his hand to his belt and producing a golden seal. Loch saw red, and knew exactly who this vile creature was talking about.

Kill them all! Loch screamed psychically, and the kraken began ripping the entangled Elves to shreds, creating puffs of red under the surface of the water. One managed to escape, and swam as fast as he could away from the ship and certain death, but Loch followed, and the kraken easily overtook the Aquan Elf. A think tentacle shot forth, and impaled the Elf from behind. Dark violet tendrils of blood floated up from the limp body as Loch yelled in frustration under the ocean’s surface.

Ayc watched as the kraken disappeared under the surface, and looked at his situation. The Aquan Elves were making headway, and most of the guards were dead under the stabbing daggers of the assailants.

Khara was still hurt, having spent much of his energy in his final surge against the Elf atop the gargantuan beast. He was holding his own against two of the Elves, but it was apparent that he couldn’t keep it up for long.

Ayc ran to the middle of the ship, and began dancing vigorously while chanting a strange verse in a dark language. One soldier, still alive in the battle, noticed what Ayc was doing. He saw as a dark vortex of power began swirling above Ayc, and bolts of energy crackled forth from the cascading darkness.

“Stop! What are you doing?” the soldier yelled out, but it was too late. A huge eruption of deadly power exploded outward from Ayc. A black line of energy, roughly waist high, passed easily through the Elves, and their bodies slid in half as their surprised eyes went dim and lifeless.

The soldier was hit by the blackness, but was lucky enough to keep his torso attached to his legs. He slid down against the guardrail, watching as the the bodies of guards and Aquan Elves alike fell into heaps of gore. He looked toward Khara, who was somehow unaffected. Khara walked slowly toward him.

“Please help me. We have to stop him. We need to…” the soldiers words trailed off into a gargled mess as Khara slit his throat. Confusion and shock spread through his dying body as he was kicked over into the ocean. He landed in the water, unable to move or breathe, and darkness filled his vision until he pass on to the next life.

Thank you Khara heard in his head, and he looked toward Ayc the Ork. He stood above a pile of fresh corpses, and raised his head. Khara watched as Ayc drew in a huge breath, and the souls of the bodies around him raised out of their physical prisons and into the lungs of Ayc. They swirled and danced as they spiraled into Ayc’s large open mouth until they disappeared from sight.

Ayc looked at Khara with a smile, and Khara shuddered. Just then Loch appeared over the top of the guardrail. He had a dark expression on his face as he examined the ship. No one was alive on the main deck, but no one was hurt on the lower deck, where Selene still waited.

Loch noticed that a soldier was still alive in the water, sputtering and crying for help. He helped him onto the ship. “No!… No!… You’re one of them! Get away from me!” the man began yelling as he realized Loch was also an Aquan Elf.

“Don’t be stupid. I was on the ship the whole time and I fought with you,” Loch said, unable to hide his impatience with the Human’s ignorance.

“You’re a spy then!” the soldier yelled as he backed away again.

“Why don’t you go check on the passengers?” Loch replied as he turned toward the side of the ship. The soldier moved quickly to the stairs and ran down to check on the passengers and to get away from Loch.

Loch looked down at his trident, and then at the kraken which sat obediently below the surface. He knew that this was an enchanted trident used to command the kraken against its will. He didn’t agree with this, but didn’t know how to break the enchantment, so he focused his thoughts on the now gentle beast.

Go forth and be free from command. Return to your home and live freely he thought. The kraken shuddered for a moment, then speedily headed West.

Finally, the ship was repaired enough by the unarmed crew to continue, and they arrived at Dromduur only to find themselves surrounded by guards, all wearing the same uniforms. Unlike in Borgeport, these were soldiers of the Dwarven army, and moved with precision and intent.

“Search the ship!” a Dwarven soldier yelled out, and soldiers began escorting all the passengers off the boat. “No one is to leave our custody until the inspection is complete, as ordered by the King!” he exclaimed toward the crowd of rattled commoners.

Loch and Suzanna sat happily waiting, unafraid of being interrogated. Ayc, Khara, and Selene, however exchanged slightly nervous looks. They did not look forward to being questioned by any authority; each for their own reasons.

Session 5
The Arrival

The group arrived at Borgeport.

Session 4
Getting Away with It

Ayc paced back and forth for a moment as he analyzed his predicament. It was the middle of the night, and he was outside the walls of Stockseth as a cat. He made his way along the wall for a while, then quickly and quietly scaled the wooden wall.

Once atop the wall, he made his way via the rooftops to the manor where he was supposed to return. The balcony where he had exited the manor was guarded, and very well lit with torches.

Unable to return the way he’d came, he climbed down into the streets and found the least lit alleyway he could find. Once in the alley, he transformed into his human self, creating quite the disturbing commotion.

“What was that?” he heard a voice say from the main road. Footsteps began approaching Ayc’s location. He stepped forward, and tripped over a crate on the ground.

Two guards appeared in the flickering light with swords drawn. “Who are you? What’s going on here?” one of the guards said seriously and nervously.

“I tripped over that crate,” Ayc said as he motioned toward the downed box.

The guards looked skeptically over Ayc’s shoulder down the dark alleyway. “And what were you doing in that alleyway?” the guard asked, a bit more courageously. Both still held their swords toward Ayc.

“I was looking for the demon. I’m one of the travelers that helped with the zombies earlier. I heard there was a demon, and I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I would help look.” Ayc watched the guards faces to see if they believed his words.

“If that’s true, then you should probably be back at the manor. Come with us so we can verify what you are saying,” said the guard who had done the talking up to this point.

Ayc happily complied, and followed the guards to the manor where his friends were staying. Once it was verified that he was indeed with the party, Ayc was escorted to his room. “No more nightly outings for now, if you would,” the guard escorting him said.

“Of course. I shall stay in my room until summoned,” Ayc replied.

A few hours passed, and the sun rose with the beginning of a new day. The aroma of baked breads and cooked meat overtook the stench of death that lingered from the night before as the town slowly came to life.

Ayc, Celene, Suzanna, and Loch were each summoned to a grand dining room, where fresh foods were spread aplenty across a large oak table. Lady Gililia sat at the table with Captain Hona, and they ended their quiet discussion as the group entered the room.

“Welcome. We honor your presence with what food and hospitality we have to offer. Please come and join us.” She waved her hand to the empty chairs as she spoke, and the group sat down to enjoy their meal.

“I do hope you slept well,” Gililia said sweetly as the group ate their food.

“Your hospitality has been most gracious,” Loch replied.

“I am glad to hear this. Now for more somber news, which I do hate to bring up over a morning meal, but necessary nonetheless.” She paused for a moment. “It seems there has been some treachery and demonic sightings within the last few hours, and it is cause for much concern.” She let her words settle as she watched the party, her eyes resting on each for a moment as she spoke.

“We are unable to find your companion which you were travelling with, and we need to know everything in order to prove his guilt or innocence,” she said.

“Guilt or innocence for what?” Ayc asked.

“From what we have gathered, the demon we are searching for stole from the general goods store near the entrance of Stockseth,” she replied.

“And you think this could be our companion?” Loch asked.

“How well do you know your companion? What was his name?” Captain Hona chimed in.

“We have only known him for a few days, but I know he is a duke of upper West Haven,” Loch said honestly, “not a very good place in my opinion,” he added.

“Duke of which house exactly?” Hona asked suspiciously.

“He is the duke of Fredrikson,” Loch said.

“And you have only known him a short amount of time?” Lady Gililia interjected.

“We are on a mission from the king of West Haven to retrieve the Heart of Chymaron,” Ayc began, “we were brought together for this mission, but we’ve never met before in our lives.”

“And from what I have seen, he is a noble person,” Loch added.

Lady Gililia sat quietly for a long moment, then looked at the group. “I believe that you people are not in league with any evil forces. However, if we find that your companion is some sort of demonic presence, we will deal with him mercilessly. If it is found that you are indeed in league with any malicious forces, you will also be dealt with. Is that understood?” Her kind and sweet demeanor shifted to a dark and intense gaze.

“Of course. We understand you must do what you must,” Loch replied after a short pause.

“Good then let’s get to the bottom of this,” Lady Gililia said with a flourish and a smile. “Captain Hona please fetch Tomlin for us. We will question him, then let our friends be on their way.”

“At once.” Captain Hona stood, and exited the room. After a few seconds, he returned with a scared and scrawny man.

“Tomlin, these are the friends of the man who you claim is a demon. Please tell us what you told the captain last night,” Lady Gililia said kindly.

Tomlin nodded. “Well you see when all the fighting was happening, I watched this cat man go into Lenny’s shop, and I could tell he was up to no good. So i did what any good citizen would do and i went in to stop him. I told him to put all the stuff back, or I’d tell the guards.” Tomlin trailed off slightly, and he became visibly nervous.

“That was when the guy transformed into a demon and threatened me. He said if I told anyone about him, he was going to kill me.” Tomlin’s eyes remained staring at the floor as he spoke.

“Wait you went into a store that was being pillaged to tell them to stop amidst an undead invasion?” Ayc asked with confident skepticism.

“Well yeah I was just being a good citizen,” Tomlin stammered, his eyes darting from face to face. “Ok well I was going to see if I could maybe get in on it a bit, but then he turned into a demon and attacked me. That’s the point!” Tomlin’s words became rushed as he retold his story.

“Did you have anything to drink?” Loch asked as he cocked his head and raised an eyebrow.

“No I didn’t I was just hiding to survive like everyone else, and I saw this guy so I followed him, and he turned from a soldier to a demon.” Tomlin was shaking and desperation filled his eyes as he nervously looked for anyone to believe his story.

“A moment ago, you said it was a cat man that was in the store. Now you are saying it was a soldier?” Ayc asked questioningly.

Tears began to swell in Tomlin’s eyes. “Ok I’ll tell you the truth,” Tomlin said with defeat laced in his words. “I saw a cat man go into the store. He was looting and I could tell he was stealing, so I went in after him to get something for myself. When I got in there, he was a solder wearing a Stockseth uniform. I told him that I wanted in on his take or I’d tell the guards. That was when he turned into a crazy demon beast with deformed arms and the face of a devil. He told me that if I told anyone about him, he would kill me.” Tomlin was sobbing at this point as he blabbed out his almost incoherent tale. “I ran as fast as I could and hid until the guards came and brought me in. Please don’t let the demon kill me!” He continued crying in a chair, his body slumped over.

The group exchanged quizzical glances, and waited for Lady Gililia to speak. “Tomlin, you must realize that your story is quite fantastical, and there is no way to corroborate it,” she said in an almost motherly tone.

Just then, a soldier standing in the corner of the room interjected. “M’lady, there was a new recruit pulled from Stockseth General. If Scotch is telling the truth, then that would be our man.”

Captain Hona stood before Lady Gililia had the chance to give the word, and he set out to gather the new recruits of the city. He knew in his heart that if any of his recruits were to blame for taking advantage of last night’s situation, there would be no end to his wrath.

Khara awoke to the sound metal scraping against metal as his door was unlocked and opened. “How are you feeling Johnson?” the guard asked. It was the same soldier who had put him to bed the previous night.

“I’m feeling much better now. I was so tired and fatigued, that I don’t remember much.” Khara only half lied. His memory of the previous night were a bit fuzzy after not sleeping for so long.

“You were acting a bit crazy to be honest. We had to lock you in your room.” The soldier gestured to a metal bar leaning against the wall in the hallway.

“Well I’m definitely feeling a lot better after a good night’s rest.” He looked down at his bloodied tunic. “I think I’ll change and prepare for the day. We have a lot of cleanup ahead of us,” Khara said smoothly.

“That we do,” the soldier agreed. “Get changed and then report for your orders.” The soldier walked down the hall, banging on doors to wake others who were still sleeping.

Khara walked down the hall, and was stopped short by a Half Ork, dressed in the green and silver of Stockseth. “You’re Johnson right?” he asked.

“Yes that’s me,” Khara lied like a professional.

“When did you enlist? We don’t have you in the ledger,” the soldier asked, wiping a bit of drool from his enlarged maw.

“I enlisted with the batch of new recruits three weeks ago,” Khara said, watching the eyes and body language of his audience.

“Oh then you knew Torkinsky,” the Half Ork said knowingly.

“Yep I was in that group. How is Torkinsky?” Khara asked with a very well rehearsed feigned smile.

The soldier’s face became more serious. “He didn’t make it. He was one of the first to go down from what I hear.”

After a moment, Khara replied, “I am truly saddened to hear that. He was a great person. We’ve lost so many to this atrocity. Let’s go make sure it never happens again. That’s what I signed up for.”

Khara’s performance was perfect, and the soldier flipped through a thick ledger of names. Under the page dated three weeks prior, he wrote in the name, Johnson, and closed the book. “Well that mistake is fixed. Go get cleaned up.” The Half Ork walked away, exchanging friendly greetings with other soldiers walking the hall of the barracks.

Khara made his way to the common room, where clean tunics were available. He changed his outfit just as Captain Hona strode into the room with the Half Ork soldier in tow. “All new recruits from the last month are to report with me to the manor now!” Captain Hona commanded. Six other soldiers besides Khara rushed to follow the captain out, and Khara did his best to blend in with their actions. He walked with the group toward the manor where the group and the Dutchess were waiting for his arrival.

The small group of soldiers filed into the banquet room of the manor, where Lady Gililia, Ayc, Suzanna, Loch, and Tomlin all sat quietly watching. Khara wore a face of bewilderment to match his fellow recruits, but his heart was beating quickly as he saw Tomlin’s face. He would never be so reckless as to transform into the same soldier twice, but still the feeling of crucifixion in the room was evident.

As the soldiers were arranged in a line, a familiar voice came to life inside Khara’s mind. Be calm. They know nothing. Khara couldn’t help but share a glance with Ayc who sat emotionless, watching the small procession.

“Well Tomlin, which one of these men is the demon?” Ayc asked frustrated.

Gililia gave Ayc a look, then repeated his question in a much kinder tone. “Please Tomlin, put this all to rest, and point out your assailant. No harm will come to you.”

Tomlin’s head fell into his hands. He managed to sob out the words, “none of them.”

“I knew none of my recruits could have done this. Right?” he looked at each of the seven men standing in a line. Khara put on a face of innocence that would fool Circle of Truth. After a moment, the captain told his men, “go back and begin your daily tasks. Keep an eye out for any dark magic that may still be present.” The soldiers left the room, and Khara breathed a small sigh of relief as he exited the manor.

“Tomlin, I think you should go rest, and think about anything else you could tell us about what happened. For now I believe we have kept our guests for what seems to be a red herring.” Lady Gililia motioned for her guards to take Tomlin from the room. He wept quietly as he left, looking at each of the group members one last time for any hint of belief in his story; he was met only with pitiful stares.

“My apologies for keeping you so long. Before you continue your journey for the king of Humans, please take these for your journey.” She handed each of them a small sack with 10 gold coins and a small vial of healing potion. “You have proven worthy, and shall not be judged by your compatriot. Please be careful in your travels.”

“Thank you m’lady,” Loch replied.

“I wish there was more we could do,” Ayc said as he rose.

“Actually there is,” Lady Gililia quickly responded.

Ayc sat back down slowly, thinking his sentence to be more of a common courtesy than an offer of actual help.

“What is it?” Loch asked as he positioned himself on the edge of his seat.

“That amulet that you brought us, along with my dear daughter’s remains,” Lady Gililia paused a moment, “it is actually a keystone which opens a door in the under-croft of this very manor. My husband, rest his soul, was part of a long line of protectors of that door. It radiates some sort of magic, and is impossible to open without the keystone. I must ask good sir Loch, where did you find it?”

Loch hesitated in his answer, not wanting to hurt the Duchess’ feelings. “I found it within him. He had been brought to life by the necromancer, and we had to dispatch him. I do apologize, but when I saw the amulet in his corpse, I decided to take it to the next town to protect it from common grave-robbers.”

“Within him,” Lady Gililia said quietly, a small smile spreading across her face. “He was always so secretive of that door. He said his family had been guarding it for hundreds of years, and he would never let anyone find the keystone.” She paused for a long moment. “I believe you have found it and brought it back for a reason. I believe that whatever is inside that door may help us in our fight against whatever evil that has befallen our town. I know not what dangers lurk inside that door, and I know that it is a lot to ask, but would you be willing to venture into the unknown room and retrieve whatever magic which is hidden? It could save or destroy our town, but we must do everything we can.” The duchess’ calm face was streaked with tears as she pleaded for the group’s help in uncovering the mystery of the magical door.

“We will do it,” Loch said confidently.

“Hold on one minute Loch,” Ayc said quickly. “We need time to think about going down there. She said it’s an under-croft, which for all we know could be a tomb. And need I remind you, all the dead things are back to life ever since that necromancer attacked. I don’t know that I want to go down there, especially since it may not even be for anything helpful.”

Celene also spoke for the first time, “I agree that we should wait before we decide to take on this task.”

“We will discuss the matter, then come back to you with our answer. Is this acceptable m’lady?” Loch asked politely.

Lady Gililia smiled and nodded. “Of course. Oh and one more thing, if any of you should need healing, our Father Korska is a talented cleric. You may visit him whenever you need. As far as your decision for the magical door, know that the Magikai are on their way, and they will open the door regardless of your decision. I only fear they will take whatever they find instead of using it to help us.”

“The Magikai are coming here. Now?” Ayc asked, somewhat hurriedly.

“Yes they have been informed that we have a demon in our midst, and are on their way. They should arrive by tomorrow morning,” Lady Gililia replied. “Now I must attend to my city. Please make yourselves at home, and don’t cause any trouble. You may come and go as you wish.” With that, the duchess left the room with Captain Hona in tow.

The group was ushered out of the manor, where they walked for a while to be away from everyone. “I’m going to go around town helping until you decide we can help with that magical room. But know that even in time, I intend to help these people.” Loch said to the group. He turned and began walking the streets searching for people in need of assistance.

“We definitely don’t want to be here when the Magikai show up,” Ayc said in a hushed tone to Celene. “I don’t know everything about you, but I know you agree.”

Celene looked at Ayc through her tinted lenses. “Then what’s the plan? Loch seems pretty intent.”

“First we figure out how to get Khara out of here, then we worry about Loch,” Ayc replied as he began walking toward the far side of town. He seemed to know where he was headed, and Celene and Suzanna followed.

Soon they came across one of the soldiers that had been in the lineup from earlier that morning. He comfortably approached the three party members. “So what’s the plan?” the soldier asked. Celene looked at him very oddly.

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“It’s me Khara. We need to get out of town,” he said quietly, watching for anyone within earshot. Soldiers and commoners worked like ants trying to repair their decimated town.

“Yes we do,” Ayc replied. Then without speaking he sent a message directly to Khara’s mind through the soul link they had created. Magikai is coming. Time is of the essence.

Khara nodded, then mentally projected a message back to Ayc. Escape and meet at graveyard, he replied in his mind.

Ayc nodded, then led Celene away with Suzanna following behind. Celene looked confused, but accepted that a plan had been made and continued without argument. After a while, she couldn’t help but ask, “was all that back there a plan?”

“Actually yes,” Acy replied. “We are meeting him back at the graveyard.”

“But that’s out of the way. Why can’t he meet us in the direction we are headed anyway?” she asked. Her impatience about the whole situation was beginning to show.

“It’s a rendezvous point we all know, so that’s what we’re doing. Let’s just get Loch and go,” Ayc replied.

They wandered the streets in search of Loch, until they finally found him weaving small dolls for some children near the schoolhouse. A little girl was happily gloating that her doll was the best as Loch mad a second doll for a little boy. The second doll was made of burnt materials, and quickly fell apart, making the little boy cry and run away from Loch. “I’m sorry I only have what there is to work with.” But the boy continued to run away followed by a laughing girl.

“Making the kids cry Loch? I thought you were trying to help,” Ayc said sarcastically as he, Celene, and Suzanna approached.

“I tried,” Loch replied apathetically, knowing the children had just gone through trauma, so judging them was unfair. “Have we decided to help them with their town’s endeavor?” Loch asked the group.

“We agree that we should leave. The Magikai will handle it, and we don’t want to be here to deal with them, so we should go. Besides we have the king’s quest to deal with. The other groups are probably way ahead of us already,” Ayc said.

“Yeah let’s just go,” Celene agreed.

“You may go. I must do this. It is a question of honor, and I will meet my makers with noble intent,” Loch said defiantly.

“Is there no way to talk you out of this?” Celene asked.

“No. You go on, and I will find you in Borgeport. I know it well, so we will meet again.” Loch clasped hands with each of them, and walked back toward the manor.

“He’s going to die,” Ayc stated confidently. “It was good to know him. Shall we?” he said as he motioned toward the outer wall. Celene and Suzanna walked with him back to the front gate where they had entered the night before. They gathered their horses, and headed back toward the large cemetery where they had encountered the necromancer to await Khara.

Khara randomly walked from group to group trying to look busy. He needed a way to leave the city limits without looking suspicious; then he noticed his out. Huge columns of smoke were growing outside the town’s walls where the bodies of the undead scourge were being gathered and burned. Khara found an unused wheelbarrow and began searching for bodies to pile on. After three trips, he stopped outside the gates, and feigned being sick.

He walked a ways away from the gate and forced himself to throw up. He could hear chuckles from behind him. “Not everyone has the stomach to do what needs doing. Go help clean something,” a soldier jeered.

Khara paid them no mind as he continued his act of being sick. He continued to slowly make his way further from the gates and soldiers. He then quickly dropped to all fours, and scurried behind a tree. He held his breath as he listened for any signs of being noticed; there were none.

A feeling of relief washed over Khara as he realized he had made it. He used his innate magic, and transformed back into his human self which his friends knew him as. As the small dull flash of light engulfed him and changed his features, he heard a female voice cry out, “did you see that? There was something over there!”

Khara knew they were referring to him, so he quickly turned, and climbed the tree, keeping his elbows in tight until he reached a decent distance up the trunk and into the limbs. He watched as three guards fanned out around the tree, searching for tracks or signs of magic. Khara prayed to every God he could think of as they searched only fifteen feet below him.

After what felt like an eternity, the soldiers made their way back to the gate, while Khara stayed perfectly still. He stayed in the tree for most of an hour, then stealthily made his way down, and out into the thicker treeline to meet with his friends.

Loch walked up the steps to the manor of the Duchess, and asked a servant for Lady Gililia. He waited a moment, then was brought into an office where she and an Elf dressed in white and green robes were speaking and pointing at the amulet which Loch had found.

“Loch, this is Father Korska. We were just discussing the implications of what could be behind that door. Have you by chance come with an answer?” Lady Gililia’s eyes openly pleading for salvation.

“I have come to help,” Loch said confidently. He tried to hide the terror welling within him as he realized he was about to enter an ancient tomb alone.

“Where are your friends?” the Duchess asked.

“They are unable to help. But I will not let fear guide my life.” Loch gestured toward the amulet. “Shall we do this then?”

Father Korska stepped forward. “You are indeed a noble and brave soul. I offer you what I can.” As he finished speaking he raised his hands, and a blued light enveloped Loch. “May the gods bless you. This shield of faith will give you some protection against whatever you find.”

“Thank you Father Korska. I am ready,” Loch said with determination.

The three of them walked down a set of stairs to the basement, then down a spiral set of stairs which ended abruptly in a smooth wall, save for a small inlet which matched the amulet’s shape and size.

“This is the door. I know not what lies behind it; only that my husband and his entire family line have protected it. My prayers and hopes go with you as you enter, for our town’s safety rests in your hands.” Lady Gililia kissed Loch on each cheek, then on the forehead. “Good luck.” She handed the keystone amulet to Loch, and ascended the stairs with Father Korska.

“Wait!” Loch stopped them, and pulled out a quill and parchment. He wrote a message, then folded it and gave it to Father Korska. “Should I not return, please make sure this is sent to my sister. She would want to know of my demise.”

“Yes of course,” Father Korska said as he took the folded letter. “Hopefully there will be no need.”

Loch stood alone before the smooth wall with the keystone in his hand. He figured he was about to die, and had made amends with this world. Dying for a noble cause is the only worthy way to die, so regardless of what lie beyond the door, his conscious was clear. He held his breath and put the keystone into the groove.

A loud grinding noise erupted from the stone walls as dust blew forth from all sides of the wall. The wall in front of Loch slid slowly back, and then to the right, into a recess in the interior wall. The smell was old and stale as Loch stepped forward slowly, trident in hand.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but then as he fully stepped into the room, fourteen orbs of light flickered into existence. Loch stood in an circular room with columns of ivory carved into tropical trees. Around the room, statues of men charging forward surrounded a large altar. Atop the alter stood a golden totem.

Loch took a moment to inspect the room, knowing traps could go off at any moment. He felt a strange magical presence as he ventured further into the room. He couldn’t place it, but it felt as if he was being judged by some unseen force. Above the entrance, he saw the words, Let Only the Good Enter Here written in Primordial. It was an ancient language that Loch had learned, thinking he would never use it. He silently thanked his headmasters of his youth.

Loch noticed scroll-work written up and down the dais of the alter below the golden totem. As he approached the totem, he saw it was a bulky ape with jaws open and a tail running up its back. Loch read the scroll-work, and found that it was written in a Primordial dialect which was mostly familiar to him. He was able to piece together that long ago, a tribe of Apelings lived within the forest, and they had many treasures. Man wanted their treasures, so there was always fighting and death. One day, a friend of the Apelings, a man called Olrark Corinto, helped them hide their most sacred totem of their God. The Corinto family line was to protect this sacred totem for all time.

As Loch read the words, his heart sank. He knew Lady Gililia had put so much faith in a magical savior, and this was far from what she was expecting. He was torn, but eventually decided to take the totem back to the Lady Gililia. He hesitated, and braced himself for some sort of trap, then lifted the totem from its resting place.

Nothing happened. Loch slowly walked away, and exited the room, all the while awaiting some deadly surprise. Very anticlimactically, he walked up the stairs and back to the office where Lady Gililia and Father Korska were sitting anxiously.

“You’re back already?” Father Korska and Lady Gililia exclaimed in unison.

“Yes. It was not what you thought it was,” Loch said slowly.

“What do you mean? Is that what was down there? Let me see it.” Lady Gililia’s voice was filled with excitement.

Loch slowly handed the Totem of the Ape God to Lady Gililia. She examined it, turning it over and over again. “I don’t understand,” she said. Her voice had suddenly turned from excitement to confused shock.

“It seems your late husband’s family was placed in charge of protecting an ancient totem of an old Apeling race which used to reside here. My apologies that it is not the salvation which you were hoping for,” Loch said sincerely.

The duchess’ face drooped as she sat down, defeated. “My husband always made such a fuss about the secrecy of that damn door. He made it seem so important and what was it? A forsaken monkey statue?” she yelled as she tossed the totem back toward Loch. He caught it, and quietly let her rage.

“I don’t ever want to see that thing again. It’s yours Loch. It’s not your fault my husband was a fool. Please just go and take that with you. You have my gratitude, but I must be alone.” She motioned for the door, and Loch took his leave. He walked out of the manor, unsure about whether he should take the totem or return it to its rightful place. He knew that the Magikai would take it, so if it wasn’t going to stay regardless, he may as well keep it, knowing he would return it one day.

He made his way to the edge of town, and gathered his horse. He began to make his way toward Borgeport where he would reunite with his friends.

Eventually Ayc, Khara, Celene, and Suzanna met up at the designated point.

“Where is Loch?” Khara asked as they met.

“He decided he had to help some more in town. He said he would meet us in Borgeport,” Ayc replied.

Khara shrugged and then asked, “where is my horse?”

“We couldn’t take your horse because they were looking for you. I don’t know what you got yourself into, but they really want to find you,” Celene answered, not trying to hide her annoyance. “So you will be sharing a horse with Suzanna.”

Khara grumbled to himself, but climbed up behind Suzanna, and they set out toward the east to hopefully meet up with Loch, whom Ayc still figured was dead.

As they rode, they saw a figure in the distance; the closer they became, the more they realized it was Loch.

“Hey Loch!” Ayc yelled, surprised to see him alive.

Loch looked back, and with a playful gleam in his eye, set his horse to gallop. Ayc followed suit, and began catching up to Loch.

“Why are boys like this?” Celene asked Suzanna and Khara. Khara could tell from her tone it was rhetorical, and he didn’t want to start an argument.

Eventually, Ayc passed Loch, and he laughed as he took the lead, letting his competitive side take over. Ahead of them, a rider was coming toward them, riding at full speed. The group slowed down to greet the rider, except for Ayc, who raced past the rider still at full speed.

The rider approached them, and they watched as Ayc realized the situation, and turned around to join them.

“I won,” Ayc said with satisfaction.

“It was just for fun,” Loch retorted.

The man on the horse which had ridden toward them was a Half Dwarf, sitting stoutly on his horse. He appeared to be a short, strong Human with thick facial hair.

“I come bringing news from the East. All the coastal graveyards are being targeted and the dead are attacking everywhere,” he said. It was apparent from his appearance that he had been traveling for some time. “What news do you have from the west?” he asked.

“The same thing is happening there. We just came from Stockseth, and it was almost overrun by zombies,” Loch replied. “There is a necromancer that is raising the dead.”

“Aye we have the same predicament. So far it hasn’t hit Torruga, but all along the coast of the mainland, there seems to be the same necromancer raising the dead,” he said.

“We are on our way to Torruga now,” Ayc said to the messenger.

“Safe travels then. I need to continue to warn everyone. From what I’ve seen and heard, the necromancer started in the east, and is moving west. I hope we can stop him. Good luck to you.” The Half Dwarf started his horse off to a gallop and kept riding west, back toward Stockseth.

The party continued traveling until nightfall began to approach. To their right were mountain peaks, and to their left was dense forest. They decided to camp off the road, in the canopy of the forest until light. Each set up their watch, and they began to rest for the night.

Deep into the night, during Loch’s watch, the quiet sound of footsteps could be heard in the darkness. Loch motioned to Ayc, who was awake leaning against a tree. Ayc craned his neck, and nodded as he heard the sounds.

“Who’s out there?” Loch yelled out into the darkness. His voice woke Khara from his sleep, and he tensed, alert and ready from his treetop perch. Celene and Suzanna slept soundly.

“You are in our forest. You want to live… You leave everything and you go!” came a raspy and shrill voice from beyond some nearby trees.

“Is that a threat?” Loch replied. Ayc began to crouch, and move out into the darkness. He reached inside himself with his mind, and consumed a soul. With a rush of agony and relief, Ayc was able to see a shimmering outline around a small humanoid individual in the distance. His soul pulsated, and Ayc silently moved closer to the creature.

Khara climbed down the tree like a shadow, and quickly moved up another to gain a better vantage point.

“It is no threat. It is truth. You leave everything and go or you die!” yelled out the same raspy voice. As the creature spoke, a loud snapping noise of a breaking branch rang out.

“That’s a threat, and we don’t take threats kindly!” Loch retorted back toward the voice.

“Then you die!” the voice yelled out as a huge hulking creature burst forth from the trees. It was eight feet tall, and seemed to be made of dirt and mud. It let out a bestial roar as it surged forward, lumbering slowly but powerfully toward Loch.

Loch looked back toward the girls who were just now waking up to the scene of terror. He looked back at the lumbering giant, and called out, “come on! I’m over here!” as he moved his way away from the tree the girls had taken refuge in. He pulled out the Totem of the Ape God, and figured he may as well use it. He put all of his focus into the totem, and with a golden flash, he felt invigorated. His skin grew a thin layer of hair, his muscles bulked and tightened all over his body, and a long tail erupted from his tailbone.

He continued to taunt the menacing construct as it barreled toward him through the trees, snapping branches under its immense weight.

Khara used Loch’s commotion to move to a better place to attack the sorcerer controlling the golem. He jumped easily from tree to tree, using his claws to grip the branches as he searched for the source of the voice in the night. Suddenly, a green ray shot from the shrubs of a nearby tree toward Loch. It hit him in the shoulder, and vines began growing from the wound. Loch grabbed the vine tendrils, and ripped them from his shoulder, unhindered by the pain shooting through his arm.

Khara saw his chance, and pulled out one of his magical daggers he’d stolen. He raised his hand, and threw the dagger toward the small being in the shrubs. As his hand reached the bottom of its arc, he still had the dagger in his hand, and he flung it forth in one smooth motion. The first dagger hit the creature in the hip, and he fell from his hiding place. He was a Halfling, covered in leaves and debris. The second dagger missed its mark; however Khara still had the dagger in his hand.

The Halfling cried out as the dagger in his hip disappeared, and blood began to ooze quickly from his side. His eyes blazed with hatred as he lifted his hand and launched a green beam of energy toward Khara. He deftly dodged the beam, and took cover in the branches of his tree.

Ayc crept quietly around to flank the Halfling, which he could clearly see with his Soulvision blazing within him. He used the distraction of Khara’s attack to turn into an Arachion; an eight legged gruesome creature of nightmares. His bones broke and reformed as he sprouted his extra limbs, and scaled the tree before him. He used his powerful legs to leap into the tree just above the Halfling, still recoiling from his wound.

Ayc dropped down, using his momentum to bring his scythe down hard onto the Halfling Druid. It cleaved into his shoulder, ripping down through his elbow. The Halfling cried out in pain as his arm dangled limply at his side. He frantically reached for the nearest tree, and with a green flash, disappeared.

On the other side of the battle, there was a green flash, and the Halfling emerged from a tree, gripping his arm with a look of terror on his face.

Loch continued to keep the attention of the giant golem still stampeding toward him. Finally he engaged the creature, and struck blow after blow upon the golems chest. Each blow did little to nothing to the giant beast, and it slammed its fists down on Loch’s head. Loch was too fast, however, and was able to dodge the clumsy beast’s basic attacks. His body felt rejuvenated, and his reflexes were enhanced by the totem, so no matter where the creature struck, Loch was ready to dodge and counter attack.

Ayc contorted his body back into his human form, and emerged from the darkness. “What are you doing?” he asked Loch. He watched as Loch danced to and fro around a large mass with no glowing soul.

“You can’t be serious,” Loch replied incredulously. “Help me kill it!”

Ayc confusedly swung his scythe at the beast and scored a deep hit into its shoulder. It let out a guttural moan as Ayc removed his weapon from the beast as it slammed its fist down, missing any targets.

Khara skillfully jumped from tree to tree, following the Halfling across the battlefield. He saw as Celene and Suzanna sat atop a tree, a look of helplessness on their faces. “Shoot him!” Khara yelled to Suzanna as he raced through the trees toward the wounded Druid.

“Well do what he said!” Celene commanded as Suzanna pulled out her crossbow. She let the bolt fly, and it hit the Halfling’s leg. He grunted and fell as Khara rushed out of the canopy to land in front of the Halfling. With all his might, he hefted his dagger up into the chest cavity of the short creature. The Druid dangled in the air for a moment, then went limp as the life left his body. Khara let his body fall to the ground, then began searching him for anything of value.

As soon as the Druid fell, the giant golem began to crumble down. It slammed its fist one last time at Loch, who once again dodged it easily. The creatures arm splintered into hundreds of pieces, and its body began to dry up. Ayc swung a hard blow into the creatures wilting side, and dirt and particles of dust exploded out the back of the creature as it fell to the ground.

Ayc quickly walked over to the body of the Druid, and leaned in close. A cold aura surrounded Ayc, then he stood and walked away from the body. Loch thought it was strange, but knew he shouldn’t judge others and their view of death.

Khara didn’t find anything of value on the Druid, so he left the body. “We should probably camp somewhere else,” he said aloud to the group.

Celene and Suzanna climbed down from the tree. “I felt so useless in that fight. My apologies,” Celene said to the group.

“Think nothing of it,” Loch replied.

As they gathered their belongings, the chirping of squirrels could be heard in the near distance. Loch stopped for a moment, and realized that he could understand bits of what they were communicating. He felt a warm glow from the Totem of the Ape God, and decided to go with it.

Hello!” he yelled, focusing his mind on the totem.

The group looked at him strangely, for Loch just yelled out a series of chirps and whistles.

You know how speak us,” came a reply from a few meters up a tree.

Yes I do,” replied Loch, still focusing on the totem as he spoke.

The group looked dumbfounded from Loch to the squirrel which had just perched itself on a branch above them; both chirping away at each other.

“_You kill guardian. Guardians no like dying. They come more guardians to kill and eat,_ chirped the squirrel.

There are more of these guardians?” Loch asked in the squirrel’s language.

Yes the come now,” replied the squirrel.

Loch turned to his companions, all still slightly shocked by Loch’s ability to speak with animals. “There are more on the way. Apparently they kill and eat people.”

“How many are there?” Khara asked. “If they are robbing people like this they probably have some helpful supplies.”

“I can see them,” Ayc interrupted. “There are a lot.” He was looking off into the darkness of the forest, and through his glowing blue eyes he could see a large mass of souls headed their way.

The group gathered their belongings, mounted their horses, and rode toward the road. Ayc periodically looked behind them and saw the large mass of small souls continuing toward them. They stopped at the road however, and the group could make out a large group of blights, small creatures made of thorns and vines. Behind them stood three figures in the darkness.

The group rode on, and found that they were no longer being followed. “We should camp more near the road from now on,” Loch said. “It seems safer that way.” The group nodded in agreement.

They continued riding and camping near the road for three days, mostly uneventfully. They made sure to stay clear of any groups of slow moving undead they passed as they made their way to Borgeport. As the rounded the point of a large mountain range between them and the ocean, they saw a large city behind high wooden walls sprawled out along the waterfront.

“Borgeport. From here we can go to Torruga, and hopefully find the Heart,” Loch said optimistically. Most of the group was just happy to experience the comforts of society once again.

Session 3
"Saving" Stockseth

Carnage and anarchy. Those were the only two words that could describe the scene that Loch, Celene, and Suzanna witnessed as they rode through the gates of Stockseth behind the retinue of guards. Blood soaked the packed dirt roads and the air was filled with the screams of the townsfolk.

Three guards adorned in bloody green tunics greeted the travelers with a frantic look. “They’re everywhere captain!” one cried out. “The guards are trying, but they just keep coming. Don’t let them bite you!”

The captain jumped from his horse and charged forward, barking orders to his small unit. “Let’s go! You men take out those beasts, and you three with me!” The soldiers began fanning out as Loch and Suzanna dismounted as well. Celene stayed atop her horse as she brought it to a trot just within the walls of the town.

Loch surveyed the gory scene and saw a young woman clutching her baby as an undead commoner reached out to grab her. Loch sprang into motion, swinging his trident hard in an arc aimed for the creature’s head. He felt a thud as his weapon stopped short, hitting the pole of a market tent. The noise drew the attention of the zombie as a guard appeared from behind Loch and sank his sword to the hilt into its chest. The creature fell to the ground, blood oozing from the gaping wound.

“Watch them. They get back up,” Loch commanded as he saw to the woman and her baby. To his right the captain from the road stabbed his sword down hard on a crawling zombie. The blade sank deep into the dirt, pinning the grasping creature to the ground. It swiped at the captain’s leg, cutting him on his ankle.

Loch darted over to the downed zombie, and with a fluid motion brought his trident down with all his might onto its head. Brains and bone exploded outward as the creature’s head disappeared under his mighty blow.

“Well done,” said the captain to Loch as he nodded his approval. Sadness enveloped his face behind his steel gaze. He rushed to help the other soldiers fight off the wave of undead radiating from the center of town. “You there!” he snapped as he motioned toward a town soldier. “Make sure this woman and her baby are safe.”

“Yes sir!” the scared soldier replied as he frantically stepped between the sobbing woman and the bloody street-fight.

Atop her steed, Celene peered at her slave from behind tinted lenses; she smiled and quietly said, “kill them.”

“With pleasure,” Suzanna replied with a desperate smile. She charged forward, drawing her mace as she ran. The first zombie approached her with outstretched arms and a snarl on its face. Without hesitation, Suzanna lifted her mace, and brought it down hard onto its head. A bright flash appeared from the head of the mace as a resounding boom rang out. The mace slid easily through the body of the undead creature, cleaving it completely in half with a spray of bloody mist.

She turned her attention the zombie which Loch had yelled to watch. It began to rise up, releasing an unholy moan as it stood. Suzanna raised her palm toward the creature, and a white hot rod of energy erupted forth, hitting the zombie square in the chest. It let out an ungodly shriek as its flesh began to burn and peel back. White energy shone through cracks in the undead creature’s skin and it fell to the ground; it did not continue to move.

As the fight raged on, townsfolk became more and more scarce. Those who attempted to stand against the undead hoard were quickly brought down, and consumed by the chomping teeth of their once friendly neighbors.

On man jumped into a market tent, and hid behind a rack of clothes, peering out to witness the death before him. Another hid in another tent behind the entry flap. He looked down and saw another man trip and fall. He cried out, “please help me!” as zombies overtook his prone body. They grabbed him by the face, and pulled his spine into an unnatural angle while tearing the flesh from his back with their ravenous teeth.

The man watched in horror as they ripped him apart. “I’m sorry. I can’t.” He ran from the back of the tent with tears in his eyes to hide somewhere away from the battle.

Inside a shop labeled, Stockseth General, a portly man watched the horrific scene from behind a large, thick window. He couldn’t look away from the pure brutality of what he was seeing. It seemed that the living were slowly overtaking the dead, but their sheer numbers were intimidating.

Meanwhile, in the quiet serenity of nature, Ayc and Khara ran to catch up to their companions. Ayc kept a quick pace, but Khara was exhausted. His legs began to resist his commands to keep running, and his pace slowed.

“I can’t keep this up,” Khara panted as he slowed his pace to a jog.

Ayc slowed as well, then stopped. Khara happily stopped, nearly collapsing to the ground as he caught his breath. “I have an idea,” Ayc said.

Khara looked at him, puzzled, and replied, “what’s that?”

Ayc looked around and listened. Once he was satisfied they were alone, he stepped back, and a sickly popping sound began echoing from within Ayc’s body. He contorted each limb, and slowly began to take the shape of a Roc. His skin stretched to form the wings, and dark feathers sprouted forth from the outstretched webbing.

After an uncomfortable transformation, Khara now stood before a large bird, which flapped its wings and took to the skies. Khara looked up confusedly, as the great bird flew in a circle, then dropped low. His eyes widened as he realized the plan, and two large claws clutched Khara by the shoulders and he jolted violently into the air.

Ayc and Khara soared through air, just above the treeline until they saw the walls of Stockseth. Ayc flew lower, and released Khara fifty feet from the open gates. As he fell, a small, dull flash of light appeared around him, and he landed on all four legs at a full sprint into the town. His appearance was no longer human; instead, he was covered in silver and black fur with pointed ears and retractable claws. He was in his Catfolk form racing into the fray of battle.

The first undead creature he saw was a few feet from the street between the guard shack and Stockseth General. It was facing away from him, so he took the opportunity to lunge at it with all his speed. His momentum pushed his claws deep into the back of the zombie, and it let out an ungodly howl. The creature fell to its knees, and Khara raised his claws again for a killing blow.

He slammed his claws down into the collarbones of the flailing creature, and with a sickening snap, his claws sunk deeper into the chest cavity of the beast. Its howl became gargled as it slumped, lifeless to the ground. Khara examined the body to ensure it wouldn’t stand back up, and noticed a coin-purse. He didn’t want it to go to waste, so he quickly pocketed it and moved on.

As he rounded the corner of the store, he saw a zombie slamming itself against the window of the Stockseth General building. Surprisingly, the window shattered, and the zombie pulled the heavy shopkeeper through, cutting his large stomach on the glass.

“Help me!” he cried out as he hit the ground hard, and stared into his death as the zombie leaned down to eat him alive.

Khara flew into action knocking the creature back, giving the man enough time to scramble back into the sanctuary of his shop.

Ayc circled back, and landed near the tower outside of town. With all of the commotion, it didn’t seem anyone had noticed him, so he transformed back into his human form. Once he had finished his gruesome transformation process, he also rushed into the gates of Stockseth, his scythe appearing in his hand as he rounded the corner.

As Ayc and Khara arrived, Suzanna stood in the middle of the road, blood dripping from her glowing mace. Celene reared her horse away from Suzanna, and yelled to her, “use your powers to turn them!”

“At once my mistress,” she replied in elation as she raised her mace into the air. A glowing cloud of energy swirled around the head of the mace as a pillar of light shone upward from Suzanna’s powerful form. She brought her mace down hard to the packed road, and a silent explosion of holy energy rippled outward. The zombies near her rocked back, as if hit by a concussion. They wavered for a moment, then turned back with warped faces of fear, shambling at full speed away from Suzanna.

“The tide has turned! Slaughter them all!” the captain yelled out as he watched the creatures retreating slowly. From behind him, he heard a loud grunt, and one of his guards fell against him with three bloody walking corpses piling atop him.

The captain realized his comrade had stopped these creatures from flanking him, and he turned to help his fellow soldier. Two other soldiers stepped in to help as well, and they pulled the creatures off the fallen warrior.

“Are you good Danrick?” The captain asked in horror as they pulled the creatures off of his squirming body.

Danrick looked down at his own body. “I’m good. Keep fighting sir,” he replied quickly as he charged forward to overtake the receding hoard, the captain not far behind. They ran after the zombies, slashing and stabbing their backs as they retreated in fear of Suzanna’s holy light.

Ayc and Loch also rushed forward with the soldiers, hacking and decapitating as they followed. Before them, in the distance, a large force of soldiers were making their way through the streets, stabbing fallen bodies in the head at a steady pace. It seemed the end was finally near.

Lock swiped his trident hard across the spine of a retreating zombie, and it fell hard to the ground. He stabbed his three pronged spear down into the lower torso of the creature, as it continued to scramble away. It pulled itself away from Loch’s weapon as its entrails spilled onto the dirt. He stepped around the gory mess, and swung his trident down onto the crawling torso’s head. It quivered for a moment, then lay still.

Ayc easily swept his scythe under the legs of the retreating creatures, and they fell prone. He walked slowly about them, and with swift jerks, beheaded the kneeling undead creatures with disgust in his eyes.

As they kept up their steady advance on the undead, Danrick slowed his pace and dropped his weapons. His head felt fuzzy, and his vision blurred as his mind seemed to melt into oblivion. He couldn’t remember his name, his wife’s name, or even where he grew up. His body twitched as his eyes glazed over, and he turned toward Suzanna with a hungry look.

“Are you alright soldier?” Suzanna asked as Danrick stumbled toward her.

He lunged forward, and grabbed Suzanna by the nape of the neck; his muscles constricting as he slammed her down to the ground. His blunt fingernails sunk into her neck as she cried out in pain.

Celene’s attention snapped to Suzanna and Danrick. He had her by the neck, and was trying to bite her face as she pushed against his large chest.

“Get him off you now!” Celene yelled.

Suzanna’s head swirled with thoughts. She couldn’t recall why she wanted to badly to fulfill her master’s wishes, but she knew it was right to do so, and that if she died now she would disappoint her master. She desperately pushed with all her might against the Danrick’s breastplate. She felt blood trickle down her neck as she managed to sit up and shove him to the side. She scrambled backward, much faster than the undead soldier, and stood.

Danrick was attempting to stand, but halfway up, Suzanna’s mace caught him in his upper shoulder. With a flash of energetic white light, Danrick’s torso ripped from his body and landed a few paces from his severed legs. Blood and entrails flew as the upper half of Danrick landed on the road.

From the front lines, an anguished cry rang out. Suzanna looked up to see the captain running toward her with hate in his eyes.

As the turmoil of the battle continued, Khara took the opportunity to hop through the broken window of Stockseth General. He landed quietly, and saw a pair of eyes looking at him from behind a rack of camping goods.

“W-w-what do you want?” stammered the scared shopkeeper.

Khara looked down, and saw the bloody trail from the window to where the man was hiding. “Are you hurt?” he asked kindly.

“Yes I was dragged out the window. What’s going on? Why is this happening?” he cried out. Khara could tell the man was in the perfect state of shock and panic.

“A necromancer attacked and raised the dead. Don’t worry though, I am here to help.” He smiled as he spoke, trying to make his voice calm and soothing. “I have something here that will help you with your wounds.”

He reached into his pouch, and produced a shredded, gnarled root.

“Inebriroot?” the man said incredulously. “Why would I want that?”

“It is a rare root that looks the same, but has very different properties,” Khara lied. “It heals the body instead of hurting the mind. Trust me this will help.”

The man hesitantly reached out, desperate for reprieve from his painful cuts along his belly. “Well thank you for your kindness stranger. I won’t ever forget it.” He lifted the root to his mouth and ate it quickly. Khara watched with a satisfied smile on his face as the man’s demeanor changed from fearful to still.

“I feel… I feel good,” the man said as his eyes darted around the room as if seeing it for the first time. “I feel strong,” he said confidently, looking down at his hands as he flexed his fingers.

“I saw a baby in danger out there,” Khara said slyly as he watched the large man. “You should probably be out there protecting it.”

“Baby!” the man shouted. “Yes I will protect the baby. Baby here I come! Don’t die baby!” As the man continued shouting, he moved with unnatural speed toward the broken window. With a single leap, he flew out into the street. He frantically looked up and down the road, eyes searching for his single minded goal until they rested on Celene, who was just dismounting her horse.

“Where is the baby!” the man snapped at her.

She drew her darkened spectacles up from her eyes momentarily to peer confusedly at the man. Her brow raised quizzically as she pointed toward the only baby she had seen, which was still being clutched by its mother. He sprinted in that direction, giving no heed to anything or anyone in his way.

“Lenny!” yelled out a guard. The large shopkeeper continued his run toward the woman and her baby. “What’s gotten into him?” the guard asked aloud as he watched. Celene said nothing and shrugged while she walked toward Suzanna, who was now surrounded by the captain and his guards.

“Why did you kill him like that?” the captain yelled. His companions were uneasily holding their weapons toward Suzanna.

She smiled politely, and replied, “I was commanded to do so.”

Celene lowered her dark lenses, and smoothly stepped between the soldiers and her puppet. “Please, she was protecting herself. I watched as that man attacked her.” She pointed to Danrick’s strewn body parts as she spoke.

One of the soldiers stepped back, and knelt next to Danricks remains. “Captain. He has a bite here on his side.”

The captain turned, then returned his gaze to Suzanna. “I see you are handy with a weapon. I apologize for being rash. I just didn’t appreciate seeing my man torn asunder like that.”

Suzanna stood silently, and Celene answered for her. “I’m sure we are all just scared and edgy. She didn’t mean any offense.”

The captain nodded slightly, then turned his attention to some commotion near the market tent where two soldiers were arguing loudly with Lenny, the shopkeeper. They were all three escalating their voices as the woman cowered against the tent with her baby held close. The baby had begun crying loudly as she cradled and comforted it.

Loch ran back to altercation, and when he approached, he heard one of the soldiers say, “we have to kill it! I wish we didn’t but we have to! We can’t let this happen again.” As he spoke, he held his sword tip toward the whimpering woman.

Between the woman and the soldier stood another soldier and Lenny, who were both yelling, “Never! We can’t kill the baby!”

Lenny specifically yelled, “Come one step toward the baby and die!”

The soldiers looked to Lenny with surprised looks, but no one made a move toward the baby.

Loch immediately grabbed his net from his belt, gracefully flung it forward to entangle the soldier yelling to kill the baby. It hit hard, and he fell from the sudden force onto the ground. He flailed and grabbed at the net, but was unable to figure his way out of it.

“There will be no killing of any innocents this day!” Loch angrily yelled at the tangled man. “We must heal the baby.”

“Help the baby!” Lenny loudly echoed as Loch finished talking. Loch drew his brow low as he inspected the portly man dressed in shopkeeper’s garb.

“Are you alright?” Loch asked. “You seem… not ok.”

“I’m helping the baby!” Lenny replied stupidly.

“I can see that, but we must help the woman. We help her, we help the baby. Now let’s help her,” Loch said.

Lenny looked down, pondering for a moment. “Help mother!” he yelled out simply.

As all this was happening, Khara quietly peered through the broken window from inside the shop. He didn’t see anyone paying attention to him, so he walked to the back of the store, where three glass covered cases sat, ready to be opened. They were locked, which made Khara giggle to himself.

He looked over the three cases; inside the first, he saw two silver daggers with ornate carvings up their hilts. The second case held four identical golden rings. In the last case was a short spear with feathers hanging from the spearhead which were uneasy to look at.

Khara knew he had to work quick, so he pulled out his lock-picks and began working on the case with the silver daggers. It wasn’t long before he heard the familiar clink of the tumblers allowing him access to his prize. He opened the case, and reached in for the daggers. After closer inspection, he could see that the craftsmanship of the weapons was very well done. They were light and balanced. He slid each into his belt, but as he lifted his hands, the daggers were still in them.

Concerned, he looked at his belt, and saw identical daggers just where he had put them. He looked back at his hands, and watched as the silver blades disappeared from his grasp. Khara shook his head in disbelief as he realized he’d just stumbled upon a great payday.

He moved to the next case with the rings, and began working his lock-pick in the keyhole. Khara’s eyesight was beginning to blur due to his exhaustion, and his muscles ached to rest; his eyes closed for an instant, and his hand jolted involuntarily bending the pick bent to a 40 degree angle. He pulled and yanked, but the pick was wedged solidly in the keyhole. Khara sneakily turned, and positioned himself to see out the broken window. He saw soldiers, Loch, and the shopkeeper all standing around a woman clutching her baby to her breast.

He figured he still had time, so he extended his claw, and scraped the glass container with the rings inside. He scraped in a circular motion, until he had created a deep groove in the glass. Quietly, he tapped the glass until it gave way, and fell onto the rings; luckily, it didn’t shatter, and Khara quickly grabbed the four rings. He didn’t have time to fully inspect them, but he saw that each was the same, and had a small insignia of the palm of a hand on the inside. He pocketed the rings, then ducked down to ensure he was hidden as he planned to steal the spear in the final glass container.

Lenny stood outside, becoming more and more agitated as the soldiers bickered about the mother and her baby. He became sick of their words, and decided to take action. He turned, and reached to pick up the mother to take her to safety, however she wasn’t there. During the arguing, she managed to slip around the back of the market tent.

Suddenly, a blood curdling scream rang out from behind the tent. Lenny ran around to see the woman on the ground, her baby latched onto her arm with a twisted look on its infantile face. Loch ran around the corner as well, and stopped short as he saw what needed to be done instantly. The guards rounded the corner, and froze; one dropped to his knees and began heaving as the babies small mouth rhythmically gnawed on its mother’s arm.

“I told you, protect the mother!” Loch yelled at Lenny as he stood, confused about what to do next. “Take her to be healed now!”

Lenny didn’t hesitate. He rushed forward and scooped up the woman in his arms. The small undead creature rolled to the side as its meal was whisked away. Loch approached the writhing infant, and tears welled in his eyes. “I am sorry young one. You didn’t deserve this.” He raised his trident, and brought it down hard on the creature’s neck, severing its head from its small body.

After a few death throws, both portions of the body lay still. Loch walked back into the street where there were no more undead to be seen. Soldiers walked to and fro, hacking at dead bodies to ensure they stayed down.

Ayc watched as the soldiers systematically stabbed still bodies. Some were visibly shaking as they approached the unmoving corpses. He stepped forward and said, “excuse me. I know a way to make sure they don’t come back. It is a spell that deteriorates the bodies safely, however I do need space so the spores don’t attack the living.”

The soldiers looked at him skeptically. “You do?” one asked. His shaky voice gave away his desperation for help in his morbid task.

“Yes. Are you men able to form a perimeter around me so no one comes close?” Ayc asked.

“We can do that,” two of them answered in unison.

Ayc walked forward as the men gave him wide berth, and knelt down over one of the bloody corpses. He extended his hand down onto the chest of the body, and a sickly green and black fungus began to grow over the skin of the corpse. As he did this, he also made a subtle motion, and a ghostly mist rose from the fungus into the palm of Ayc’s hand.

He reached his hand under his cloak, and released the ghostly energy into the first object he felt. He continued to do this for each corpse as he walked along the street with his entourage of soldiers keeping people away.

“Not this one,” a Halfling said to Ayc as he approached Danrick’s body. “He deserves a warriors burial, not a rotting body. Shouldn’t we be burning our dead, not rotting them with some disease spell?” the Halfling said incredulously.

“It is a fungus spell actually,” replied Ayc. “And I will not cast it on your friend. It is just the safest way to dispose of the undead.” He turned and continued his work as Lenny rushed past him with a bleeding woman in his arms.

Lenny stopped before Celene and desperately looked into her dark spectacles. “Where do they heal?” he cried loudly. “She needs to heal!”

Celene answered, “we can heal her.”

Lenny smiled idiotically, and held out the woman at arms length. “Suzanna, heal this woman,” Celene commanded cooly.

Tears began gushing from Suzanna as she sobbed the words, “I can’t. I don’t have the strength to heal until I rest. Please forgive me I am so ashamed,” she cried as she fell to her knees before Celene.

“It’s fine, just get up,” she said impatiently.

Suzanna stood instantly and wiped the tears from her face. “As you command my mistress,” she replied.

Lenny dropped the woman’s legs, still clutching her by the arms in his other hand, and reached out to grab Celene by the arm. “You said you could heal her! Heal her!” he screamed, his grip tightening. Suzanna immediately tensed, but before she could act, the guards came over to investigate the altercation.

“Lenny what are you doing?” one of them asked.

“Yeah Lenny calm down,” another said.

His eyes were wildly shifting from person to person. He was having trouble comprehending their words. His mind was racing in a euphoric vortex, and the only thought he could latch onto as his body soared in his mind, was that this woman needed healing. Just then, the woman turned her head toward Lenny, and she bit a large chunk from his chest.

At first, he stood unaffected, but then he realized a blade was now protruding through his chest and the chest of the woman in his arm. His hand dropped from Celene’s shoulder as another blade fell hard onto his collar.

He fell to his knees and looked up confusedly. All he wanted was to heal this woman, but his legs wouldn’t move as another blow landed on his temple. Blackness swept over him as his thoughts floated into nothingness.

Celene backed away as the soldiers dispatched Lenny and the woman he had been holding. They were terrified, and the look in their eye showed they were desperate to keep the undead from coming back.

During the scene created by Lenny and the woman, the man hiding behind the clothing racks emerged, and made his way inconspicuously toward the broken window of the Stockseth General store where Khara was fiddling with the locking mechanism of the glass case with the spear.

Khara glanced behind him, and saw the approaching man, so he rolled into the shadows as a small puff of light surrounded him. He appeared Human, with the garb of a town soldier, as best as Khara could recall.

The man from outside climbed into the store, and made his way to the back.

“I know you’re in here. I was watching you this whole time. I had a great view of your crime, so if you don’t give me that stuff now, I’m calling out for the guards,” the man said confidently.

Khara didn’t move for a moment. He was sure he was well hidden, but the man was staring directly at him.

“Come on, I can see you. I know you stole stuff, so give it here or I’ll yell. I’ll do it,” the man said impatiently.

Khara stood, and reached into his cloak to pull out two iron daggers from his belt. The man’s eyes greedily lit up as he watched Khara begin to hand him his prize.

Without warning, Khara lunged forward, and caught the man by the mouth. He forced the man back against a cabinet, and then with a dull flash, Khara stood in his true form. Mangled fur and a disfigured demonic feline face hovered inches from the man’s.

Terror filled the man’s eyes as Khara pressed his head back. “You’ll take these daggers, and then leave me alone. Is that clear?” he said in a dark tone.

The man nodded his head as best he could, and hesitantly grabbed the daggers from Khara’s free hand. He winced as he noticed the gnarled extra set of limbs jutting out from the cat demon’s chest.

Khara threw him to the side, and without a moment’s rest, the man scurried out toward the outside. He quickly and frantically climbed out of the window, and dashed down the street toward the heart of the town.

“Scotch, what’s the hurry?” a soldier asked as the man blindly ran away from the store. “Hey what were you doing in there?” he yelled after him, but Scotch didn’t turn. He continued to run full speed away from the soldier.

“What was that about?” Loch asked as he watched the encounter.

“That was Scotch. I don’t know his real name, but he’s basically our town drunk. I just don’t know why he’d run away like that out of the store.” The soldier began walking toward the store’s broken window.

Ayc noticed the events as well, then realized that Khara’s soul was somewhere in the store. He focused his energy on Khara’s soul coruscating within him, and projected a short thought through the Aether.

Where are you? Khara turned his head to see where the voice originated, but saw no one from his hidden vantage point.

In the store, was the response Ayc heard back. He felt something was wrong, so he focused his mind again.

Soldiers are coming, Khara heard in his head. He shrunk down and disappeared in a soft flash of light. He no longer had the fur and features of his Raksasha form, but instead the green and silver tunic of a Stockseth guard, and the pale skin of a Human. He looked around for an out, but found none, so he took his rapier, and stabbed it into his side; not deep, but enough for a steady stream of blood to flow out onto his tunic and the ground.

“No don’t touch the body. The fungus could corrode your skin. Find a stick and then wash the key first,” Ayc was saying outside, slightly louder than normal. Khara heard the time he was being bought, and thought up a story to get out of this.

The double doors opened to Stockseth General, and four soldiers poured into the building. Khara dragged his body out from behind the shelves, dramatically clutching his side.

“What happened?” one of the soldiers asked as he ran forward to help Khara sit up.

“I was attacked. I saw someone looting during the battle, and they stabbed me when I tried to stop them,” he answered painfully.

Scotch attacked you?” one of the soldiers asked in a defensive tone.

“I guess. That man who jumped out the window is the one. I don’t know his name,” Khara replied, his brow drawing down from being doubted.

“What’s your name soldier?” the other soldier asked Khara.

“Johnson,” Khara replied without hesitation. “I’m a new recruit.”

“We did just get some fresh ones last week,” one of the soldiers said as the first soldier looked Khara up and down.

“Very well. Johnson, let’s get you do the chapel to see what they can do about that wound. Can you walk?” he asked.

Khara tried to stand, but between his fatigue and loss of blood, he legitimately fell to the floor with an ungraceful thud.

“Get this man a stretcher!” the soldier yelled out the doors. Bloodied men and women began moving about, and they brought in a stretcher for Khara. “Take him to the chapel,” the soldier said as he left the shop. A man and a woman each grabbed an end, and hefted Khara into the air. He was taken up the street to the chapel. He watched as he passed his companions, and they didn’t give them a second glance, except for Ayc, who looked at him long and hard.

I’ll find you, Khara heard the familiar voice in his head as he was taken out of view from his friends.

Ayc, Loch, Celene, and Suzanna each stood in the dark, under a burning torch near the soldier who had originally met them on the road. “You have my thanks a thousand times over strangers. I am Captain Hona of the Stockseth guard. I apologize for receiving you in such hard times, but please stay until the morning. It is too dangerous for you to leave tonight. We have closed the gates, and would be honored anyway to have you eat with us tomorrow.”

“This is no reason to feast,” Loch replied sullenly. “Many have died.”

“You misunderstand me my Elven friend. I know today was no victory.” Captain Hona paused. “But this town still stands and has hope because of you. You have brought Lady Isabella back to her home, and helped us fend off those beasts. You are worthy of celebrating in these dark times.”

“Very well. For now, we wish only to rest and clean ourselves.” Loch waved his hand over his body, displaying every inch covered in blood and bits of entrails.

“Of course. I’ve seen so much red this night, I can’t distinguish it anymore,” Captain Hona replied.

He walked toward Ayc, and stopped a few feet from him. With a steel gaze, he asked, “who are you stranger?”

Loch quickly replied before Ayc could speak. “He is one of our companions.”

Captain Hona shot Loch a quick glance, and returned his eyes to Ayc. “Why did you hide when we approached you on the road?” he asked seriously.

“In case you were trying to ambush us. You can never be too careful out there. We were just attacked by zombies before you arrived,” Ayc retorted.

“And why didn’t you come out when we called to you?” the captain asked sternly.

“I was relieving myself,” Ayc answered.

“And what of your other companion?” Captain Hona asked skeptically. He once again looked toward Loch for a moment.

“I have no idea where he is,” Loch replied insistently. I haven’t seen him since the road.

The captain looked back towards Ayc. “Well where is your friend?” he asked with suspicion in his voice.

“After we got to the gate, we separated. I don’t know where he went,” Ayce said.

“So he’s here in the town, but we don’t know where,” Captain Hona stated aloud. “Guards!” he yelled, “spread out and look for a stranger.” He turned to Loch. “What does he look like?” he asked.

“He’s a Human of average build. He has dark hair and a cloak. I don’t really know how else to describe him,” Loch answered.

“Look for a Human sneaking around!” he yelled to the guards who were listening for their target. “I want him found by daybreak!”

Captain Hona motioned for the group to follow him. “Please come to the mansion of the Dutchess. I’m sure she will want to thank you for your deeds. I’m also sure she would like to properly mourn her daughter.” He glanced back toward the gate, where the remains of Lady Isabella still lay motionless on the ground where he had dropped her.

They traveled past sullen faces and hunched shoulders as the townsfolk and guards scurried among the torch-lit streets. Extra torches were burning to illuminate as much of the town as possible. Eerie shadows danced down alleyways as they made their way to the North side of Stockseth, where a large mansion stood, surrounded by sparse trees.

Loch noticed the windows of the large double doors were shaped similarly to the golden signet he found in the cemetery. The doors opened, and a beautiful Elf emerged from the darkness of the mansion.

“I am GililiaCorinto, leader of Stockseth, and I am aware of your deeds. Please come in, and rest. You have been through much,” she said in a soothing and motherly voice.

“We thank you for your hospitality my lady,” Loch said as he stepped forward. He pulled the golden signet from his satchel, and handed it to Gililia. “Does this by chance belong to you?”

Her eyes widened for a moment in surprise, then returned to her cool gaze. “Yes. This belonged to my husband, rest his soul. Where did you get this?” she asked.

“We were attacked by the undead in the graveyard outside of town where we found Isabella. It was on one of the corpses, and it looked important so I kept it until I could find someone who knew something about it,” Loch replied.

She paused for a long moment, then said, “you are an exceptional being sir Elf. I am happy to have you and your companions under our roof.” She turned to a servant, and whispered something in his ear. He disappeared into the mansion. “Your rooms are ready if you wish to wash and sleep. I would very much like to speak with you in the morning.” She turned and walked away as men and women ushered the group through corridors to a row of guest rooms.

“Is there a room with a window?” Ayc asked as they showed him his room.

“My apologies, but guest rooms don’t have windows, but there is a balcony upstairs if you wish to feel the night air,” the servant answered.

“Of course. Thank you.” Ayc closed the door without another word.

“Each of you has your own room,” a man said to Celene as she and Suzanna entered their room. “Unless of course you are together then that’s fine too,” he stammered as his face flushed red.

“It’s nothing like that. She is my bodyguard, and I feel much safer with her near,” she answered indignantly.

“Right. I understand. I didn’t mean to offend.” The man backed away as he spouted excuses for his behavior, until he darted around the hallway corner.

Celene and Suzanna closed the door as they prepared to sleep for the night. Suzanna helped Celene bathe and wash her hair. When she was ready, Celene laid on the bed, and slowly entered her trance, while Suzanna curled on the rug at the foot of the bed, ever-vigilantly protecting her mistress.

Loch entered his room, and was excited to see a steaming hot trough of water awaiting him. He cleaned the gore from his body, and settled into a deep meditation, happy to indulge in well earned rest.

Khara arrived at a large chapel; torchlight flickered, making the large building appear ominous and daunting. “This man needs some healing. Is there a clergyman available?” one of the soldiers cried out as they approached the front entrance of the building. Khara noticed as they ascended the stairs, that there was a cemetery behind the chapel. It was lit with a series of torches, and Khara noticed the graves were freshly dug up. He also noticed dull green runes encircling some of the graves.

“Bring him here,” a man in bloodstained white robes said as Khara was set down on a pew. “What happened? Is that a bite? You know what we have to do if he’s been bitten.” The clergyman’s voice was shaky and wavering.

“I wasn’t bit, I was stabbed,” Khara hurriedly replied.

“Who stabbed you?” the robed man asked as he knelt down to inspect the wound.

“I guess he’s the town drunk. Scotch I think they said,” Khara said as he winced slightly. The clergyman was obviously not trained in medicine, but he still poked about.

“No. Tomlin has been doing so well lately. Why would he stab you?” the holy man seemed taken aback.

“He was stealing from a shop near the gate during the fight. When I tried to stop him, he panicked and stabbed me,” Khara lied, watching the eyes of the clergyman while he spoke.

“That is truly a shame. I am sorry. It looks like you will be well with rest, however, so sleep and recover. I put some numbing salve on the wound, so the pain will be bearable,” the man said.

“Thank you. I will go get some rest now,” Khara said as he rose from the stretcher. He noticed the pain was gone, but his fatigue still weighed heavily on his mind.

“We’ll meet you at the barracks Johnson,” one of the soldiers said as they walked through a door into another area of the chapel.

“Right,” Khara said. He stepped toward the door, then turned. “I’m not feeling so great. Could I get some help to the barracks?”

“Yeah I can take you,” another soldier responded. Khara breathed a sigh of relief as they made their way toward the barracks; the location of which he had no idea.

They made their way across town to a large square building with no windows. There was a single entrance, which they walked through. The inside of the building was basic and efficient. Every eight feet, a door stood on either side of a single hallway. Each door had a name carved above it, and Khara noticed that they stopped at one that read, Danick.

“I’m not sure where they are posting the new recruits right now, but I figured you could bunk with the big kids tonight.” The soldier chuckled as he spoke. “Tomorrow we’ll sort out where you’re supposed to be Johnson. Get some sleep. You look horrible.”

Khara nodded his appreciation, and he slumped onto the cot. His mind was so tired, he could hardly think straight. He needed to figure a way out of this mess, but his thoughts were fuzzy and muddled. He couldn’t remember the last time he slept and his body was beginning to give up on him. Sleep’s sweet embrace overtook him and he passed out cold.

Ayc paced in his room as he tried to think of a plan. He felt Khara’s presence shift from one side of the city to the other, and he knew he needed to act fast. He opened his door, and looked up and down the hallway to see if anyone was watching. He saw the coast was clear, so he made his way to the stairs, where he climbed to the second story. Quickly, he found the balcony, and walked out.

The city seemed ablaze with all the torches lit among the streets. The people were taking no chances this night, and were overcompensating with lanterns and torches. Ayc laughed to himself at the thought of fearing the dark.

He stepped back, and looked around to see who could see him. The streets were far from packed, and only the occasional town guard passed by the balcony on the street. Ayc began transforming his body into the body of a raven, all the while warping and breaking his body to force it into the shape of a bird. As he finished his transformation, a female voice erupted from below.

“Demon! There’s a demon on the balcony! It’s taken the form of a bird, but I know I saw it!” The sound of more commotion and footsteps filled Ayc’s ears as he realized the town guard was on its way.

As quickly as possible, he contorted his body into the shape of a cat, and scampered across the balcony; he leaped from the balcony to roof of the next building, then repeated the process until he was a few buildings away. He watched as soldiers filed onto the balcony, the glinting of steel in the firelight flashing as they searched for the alleged demon.

Ayc quickly, but stealthily made his way toward where he could faintly feel Khara’s soul. He found a large square building, and knew this was where Khara would be found. Ayc, as a cat, walked to the front door, and waited for it to open. It didn’t take long, and he snuck in the door to find himself in a long hallway with doors on either side. He walked slowly from shadow to shadow, until he felt that he was close to Khara’s location.

I’m here. Open up. Khara snapped back to reality. He had only had a moment’s rest before that familiar voice echoed through his head. He stumbled toward the door is a haze, and opened it. From across the hall, a black cat darted into his room.

The cat began to twitch and jerk as Ayc transformed back into his Human form. Khara was too tired to care about the disgusting scraping and breaking sounds as Ayc’s body took its new shape.

“We are getting you out of here,” Ayc whispered as he examined the room for any escape routes.

“I need to sleep,” was all Khara managed to mutter.

“You’ll sleep soon enough. Here’s the plan. I’m going to be a cat. You take me out and say you were instructed to get rid of me. Then you sneak away and find a place to hide. You can sleep until the morning where we’ll figure out what to do from there.” Ayc noticed Khara’s eyes drooping as he haphazardly listened to his plan. “Hey, come on. It won’t take long.”

Khara nodded as Ayc once again transformed into the cat. He picked up Ayc by the scruff, and opened his door. He walked toward the door, but was stopped by the soldier who had brought him to the barracks. “What are you doing Johnson?” he asked. “You’re supposed to be resting.”

“I need to take this cat out,” Khara replied tiredly. It was difficult for him to hide his exhaustion.

“We’ll take the cat. You sleep.” The soldier stepped forward to take Ayc just as the barracks entrance burst open, and a female soldier frantically stepped through the door.

“There’s been a demon sighting!” she yelled out. “Anyone who can needs to report to the streets!”

“A necromancer, a loose stranger, and a demon all in the same night? Aren’t we blessed,” the soldier in front of Khara said sarcastically. “Regardless, Johnson, you need to sleep. I’ll take that and go search while you stay here.”

Just then, the cat in Khara’s hands jerked its paws slightly, and a black raven appeared from thin air at the end of the hall. It flew forward menacingly as the soldiers filling the hall dove back into their rooms. The female guard shrieked and stumbled backward out the entrance.

Go now, Khara heard in his head, and he pushed through the pain in his muscles to run out the door while the soldiers drew weapons and attacked the bird.

“We can’t hit it!” a man’s voice yelled out from inside as Khara trudged out toward the front gates of the city. He approached the closed gates with Ayc in hand until he was halted by more town guards.

“What business do you have soldier?” one of the guards asked.

“I’m supposed to get rid of this cat,” Khara replied. His words were beginning to slur slightly, but he managed to get them all out.

All of the guards looked at him with very questioning looks on their faces. “What?” one of them asked.

Roll with it, Khara heard in his head. He was too tired to comprehend what he was supposed to do.

“I’m just a recruit. People outrank me. They say take the cat. I take the cat,” Khara replied with all the muster he could. His voice cracked slightly as he spoke.

“Ok recruit, well we’ll take it from here. You go back.” One of the guards stepped forward and took the cat from Khara. They opened a slat on the gate, and tossed the cat out of the city. “There. Done. Now go,” the man said sternly.

Khara stood for a moment. He had just lost Ayc and didn’t know what to do, so he walked toward the wall, and began climbing.

“What is wrong with you soldier?” the guard asked from the gate. “No one leaves the city tonight. I think this guy is delirious,” he said quietly to his fellow guard. “Why don’t we have someone get you back to the barracks.” One of the guards stepped forward, and took Khara by the arm.

“Let’s get you back,” the guard said as they slowly walked back to the barracks, where soldiers were running back and forth, frantically speaking about strangers and demons. Khara couldn’t even must the strength to smile to himself.

He felt sleep overtake him, and was out before he hit the cot. The soldier stepped out of the bunk room labeled, Danrick, and slid a bar through the handle of the closed door to ensure the safety of his delirious comrade.

“That should keep you safe,” the soldier said as he jogged back to his post at the gate.

Loch exited his trance after a few hours, and stood. He was feeling apprehensive in this town, and he didn’t like all that was going on. He opened his door and noticed two guards walking past. “What is the status currently?” he asked as they walked hurriedly down the hall.

“There has been a demon sighting in the manor. We were just coming to check on you and your companions,” the guard replied.

“Yes of course. I am well. You check on Suzanna and Celene. I shall check on Ayc.” The soldiers nodded as Loch spoke with confidence.

They opened the door to the room where Celene and Suzanna were sleeping. Suzanna sat up with a start, her hand on her mace. Celene asked in a calm and collected voice, “what is the meaning of this?”

Her demeanor offset the guards slightly, and they both bowed their heads. “We mean no disrespect, we were simply checking on the safety of our guests. There has been a demon sighted in the manor.”

“Then you have my thanks for intruding. We are fine here,” Celene said irritated by the entire situation.

They closed the door and walked back toward Loch who was standing outside an open door. “Oh dear. It appears our companion is not in his room.”

The guards quickly inspected the room, and found no signs of Ayc. “We need to find him. From this time forward, your people will have a constant guard,” the soldier said to Loch.

“You will have no argument from me, and I’m sure Celene and Suzanna are fine with those terms as well,” Loch replied. “Our companion, Ayc, is known to take nightly walks. I’m sure his absence is of no concern,” he said earnestly.

The two guards disappeared shared a look, then disappeared through a door down the hall, then after a few moments, six different guards returned from the same door. “Please stay in your room for the rest of the night,” one said to Loch.

“I am no threat to you,” Loch said. “In fact, I insist you allow me to help you search for this demon.”

The guards glanced at each other, and one said, “if he’s with us we know he’s not causing trouble.” A few of the other guards nodded in agreement, and they set out with Loch to search the city for any signs of Loch’s lost companion or the demon; or both if he is the demon.

After searching throughout the night, Loch returned to the manor, and awaited his summons for breakfast. He hoped his companions were alright, but did not fear for their well being, for he knew they could take care of themselves and wouldn’t intentionally cause too much trouble.

Session 2
Secrets on the Coast

Loch gasped as his senses rushed back to life from the healing potion coruscating through his veins; he felt pain in every part of his body. He slowly opened his eyes and the bright afternoon sun filled his vision. His mind was slow, and he couldn’t recall how he had fallen.

Loch sat up and analyzed his surroundings. Before him was the half destroyed dock, still smoldering as people worked to douse the embers. He stood and turned around, only to find himself surrounded by town guards.

“I can’t believe he died for you! You filthy dolphin head!” one of the men shouted.

Another yelled out, “he deserved a better death!”

Loch was taken aback. He had no idea what they were talking about. He confusingly looked around to find the reason for their aggression, and he saw Trevan, lying face up in a pool of blood.

“It is a great honor to die for another. I would help bury him with dignity,” Loch replied after a moment.

Two of the guards stepped forward menacingly. “You touch him. You die.”

The rest of the guards nodded their approval, and hefted Trevan’s body onto a stretcher, then onto a wagon which had just arrived. They shot Loch angry and hateful glances as they took Trevan’s body away.

Ayc stood near Loch. “Are you ok?” he asked.

“Yes I will be fine. Thank you,” Loch replied.

The man with no name walked toward the ship which had erupted into fire beetles. It was half sunken, but he figured he would investigate the interior, in case there was something of value.

The gap between the ship and the dock was only an arm-span across, so he took a few steps and jumped onto the ship. Just as his weight pressed down to jump, the board underneath him gave way, and he fell ungracefully into the ocean water with a loud splash.

“What’s he doing?” Loch asked Ayc as they watched from across the way.

“I have no idea,” Ayc replied.

The man popped above the surface, taking in a deep breath. He hadn’t expected that to happen. He looked at the side of the vessel, and saw a gaping hole through which he could enter. He swam over and pulled himself up into the side of the ship.

Inside, he saw large egg sacks dripping with a viscous red mucus. Each of the sacks seemed to have been burst from the inside. He looked around, and saw that there was nothing of interest on this ship. Whoever had sent it must have wanted pure carnage and nothing more.

He swam from the side of the ship to the pier, and hefted his body up. He walked across the dock to where Ayc and Loch were standing; both staring with a questioning look.

“Well there’s nothing on that ship,” the man said as he approached them. “Where is Celene?” he asked as he looked around.

Celene stood in the doorway of a shop, recently abandoned due to the battle. Her body shook as her mind soared through a euphoric state, yet every living creature around her made her blood boil. She wanted nothing more than to rip every one of them apart limb from limb, and watch in jubilation as their souls left their bodies.

She knew she couldn’t though. Some part of her mind kept her aware of the social norms of mass public homicide. A soldier approached Celene. “Are you ok miss?” he asked, noticing her visible shaking.

Her eyes met the soldier’s eyes, and for a moment, she pictured his throat open and gushing. She visualized the blood pumping from his severed neck, thickening the ground with every pump.

She snapped out of it. “I’m fine,” was all she managed to say as she stumbled toward the nearest alleyway, away from all these people.

Ayc, Loch, and the unnamed man walked up to her. “Hey Celene,” Ayc said, “you don’t look so good.”

Celene’s eyes darted from each of her comanpanions. Her mind raced as she saw visions of each of them falling apart. Her body yearned to be unleashed to indulge in the most primal of satisfactions: the bathing in the blood of freshly killed prey.

Again her mind snapped back, and she stopped herself from letting loose her desire to rend her friends apart. “I’m fine,” she replied in a hushed tone.

“You say so. We were thinking we should go back to Benny and cash in on that favor,” the man with no name said. “Plus he may have a way to hire a healer or something.” He glanced quickly at Loch. “We may need it.”

Loch ignored him. “Yes it is a good idea.”

The group walked toward where they had first met Benny. It was a long walk, and Celene kept jolting and muttering to herself. Just as they turned a corner near an alleyway on the boarder of West Haven and Nautilon, a familiar face appeared from the shadows.

“Well you are certainly good friends to have in these times,” Benny exclaimed as he stepped forward. “Thank you so much for help. And as a man of my word, I owe you a favor.” Benny stepped even closer, “none of you took from my wares right?” His demeanor darkened as he looked each of the members slowly.

“Nope. We don’t steal from employers,” the nameless man said confidently.

After a moment, Benny smiled. “I knew you wouldn’t. It’s just protocol.” He laughed embarrassingly and stared strangely at the man.

Benny’s shifted his gaze from the man to Celene. “Oh my dear, are you sure you didn’t partake? You seem to be under the influence.”

“She drank the blood of an intoxicated Kobold,” Ayc said.

The men all shared a puzzled look as that fact settled in. “That’s strange. I don’t judge, but that’s still strange,” Benny said slowly with a new expression on his face. “Here. Chew this.” Benny held out his palm and gave Celene a gnarled hairy root that showed signs of having been chewed before. She looked at the disgusting root.

“No,” she said firmly.

Benny giggled. “Trust me it will help you. Just chew it.”

Celene grudgingly took the root from Benny’s hand. As her skin touched his, she briefly felt his pulse, and her mind’s eye saw his body eviscerated on the ground with her hands around his still beating heart. She forced the thoughts out of her head as she threw the root into her mouth and chomped down. It was bitter, but instantly, she felt the dulling of her mind waning. Her body calmed, and her muscles stopped spasming.

She spit out the root into her hand. Benny held out his. “That’s expensive,” he said as she dropped the wet mound in his palm.

“Now that everyone is totally here,” he said as he motioned toward Celene, “we can get payment out of the way. What favor would you like from good ol’ Benny Gogood?” He smiled widely.

“Do you guys think we should use our favor now, or wait for another time?” the man with no name asked.

“Well we don’t really need anything right now,” Ayc said.

“Hold on,” the man replied, and he turned toward Benny. Without saying a word, the man began moving his hands about in a seemingly haphazard way. His companions stared in bewilderment as Benny began moving his hands in a similar way.

The group watched as the two stood in a dark alley and moved their hands around in strange ways. “What are they doing?” whispered Ayc.

“I have no idea,” replied Loch.

“Neither do I,” replied Celene.

After a short moment of watching their fellow member flick his hands around, and chuckle while Benny did the same, the two broke the silence by saying, “deal.”

The three exchanged worried glances as the man without a name regaled them their newest assignment.

“ok so I found a way to make some more money. Benny is being extra kind,” the man winked toward Benny, who’s face became red, even under the shadow of his hood. “He has given us a job that pays thirty platinum,” he continued.

“And what is this job?” Loch asked suspiciously.

“I’m glad you asked,” Benny interjected. “You see those Kobolds that attacked you were given a letter to carry. My men found it and it’s quite disturbing.” He pulled the folded parchment from inside his cloak.

The message read:
It seems my competitors are unable to guarantee the safety of their shimpments. Isn’t it about time you accepted my offer? Stop avoiding me Benny. Imagine if next time, there were more than three.

The letter was signed at the bottom with thick pen strokes, Wokshok.

As they finished reading the note, Benny said, “this guy, Wokshok the Ogre… Well he’s trying to take over turf in Edgetopia, but honestly I don’t trust the guy. He’s too greedy and I don’t know his angle yet. If you guys can talk him into calming down diplomatically, I’ll give you eighteen platinum each.”

Ayc turned to the man with no name. “You said thirty platinum.”

“Hold on. Let me finish,” Benny said as he waved his hands back and forth. “If you do the diplomatic thing, I pay you eighteen, but if you send a message to the boys in Edgetopia by killing Wokshok, then I will pay you thirty. I consider myself a diplomatic guy but sometimes you just gotta erase the problem. You know what I mean?” he asked as he watched the group’s reaction to the job.

“I don’t know that I want to be a hired thug who murders for platinum,” Loch replied after a long pause.

“Oh no you are doing Branterra a favor,” Benny retorted enthusiastically. “This guy is bad news all over the place. He’s way more aggressive and savage than my other sellers, so if he goes, there will be peace.”

Loch closed his eyes for a moment and thought about the situation. “What are your thoughts?” he asked as he looked at Celene and Ayc.

“It’s not something we need to do right now is it?” Celene asked.

“Don’t get me wrong, sooner is better,” Benny said quickly, “but no you don’t need to. Just know that there are others on their way to do the same thing, so if they beat you to it, you don’t get paid.”

“Alright then,” Celene said. The party turned their heads to Ayc.

“Sure. Why not?” Ayce said with a smile.

“Good. Good. Now on your way…” Benny began to say as he was interrupted by the man with no name. Do you know where we could find a cleric to travel with us?" he asked.

“Well you could buy a cleric from me. Only four hundred gold,” he said with a grin.

“That’s not really in our range,” the man replied. “What about health potions?” he asked as he stepped closer to Benny. Benny’s body wend slightly rigid with the proximity of the man with no name.

“I would love to help you. I really would. But potions are controlled almost entirely by the Altas Celeste,” Benny replied begrudgingly.

“What’s the Altas Celeste?” the man asked.

Benny’s face changed from its generally jovial smile, to a somber and serious look. “They are the ones driving the Humans above others craziness. They seemed to have good intentions at first, making West Haven a great place for Humans to be safe. Only now they have taken it way too far. They say that potions are made with ingredients from lesser races, so they need to be rationed. Apparently this is to stop Humans from being reliant on outsiders.” Benny shook his head.

“A word of advice. Don’t pick any fights with them. Especially you two,” he said as he motioned toward Celene and Loch. “If you want potions, you will need to go to the Healer’s District. Once again a word of warning. Don’t attract the attention of the Altas Celeste.”

Benny’s face quickly changed from stern to happy. “Safe travels, and don’t forget to find me for that favor later,” he said as he shrank into the shadows. In an instant, he was gone.

“Ok. Let’s go find us a healer then,” the unnamed man said happily as he started walked toward the Healer’s District. The party followed behind and they made their way through the lengthy streets of West Haven.

As they walked, Celene asked her companion, “just what is your name?”

The unnamed man answered quickly, “Khara.”

“Nice to officially meet you then Khara,” she said politely.

They continued walking until they found themselves before a magnificent archway, adorned with all manner of laurels and lavish designs carved from white marble. People flowed through the archway, many of them adorned in robes with religious symbols of every sort.

The group noticed that many of the robed men had the same symbol emblazoned on the front of their robes. It was a red sun with a hollow center. Within the center was a Human form reaching its limbs out in four directions. within a triangle.

“I think that is the Altas Celeste,” Khara whispered as they walked past a large group of men wearing these robes.

Ayc and Khara walked easily through the crowds of the entryway to the Healer’s District. Loch and Celene, however, were met with furrowed brows and hushed conversations. They walked until they entered the first street of the Healer’s District, and were awestruck at the beauty of their surroundings.

Hundreds of temples, mosques, and cathedrals lined the streets in every direction before them. Statues made from the finest materials littered the walkways of the road as people made their way through the district.

After they had taken it all in, Celene quietly exclaimed, “enough is enough! Stay here for a moment,” she said as she walked behind the nearest pillar. A dull flash appeared for an instant; luckily none of the onlookers seem to notice. From behind the pillar, Celene walked back to her companions, only her pointed ears were gone. They were replace instead by human ears, and her skin seemed less pale than before.

“This will make things easier,” she said as she continued walking.

“That’s a handy trick,” Loch said under his breath as they began walking. He could feel the mirth behind the eyes of those who looked at him like a heavy burden of guilt undeserved.

As they walked, they read the heading of each temple, not really knowing what they were looking for. Eventually they found a temple dedicated to Kiri Jolith. Above the arched doorway were two large bison horns protruding from the building. Both seemed to be made of solid gold. In the center of the horns was a huge upright mace made of marble with golden rays emitting from its head.

“Kiri Jolith: Clerics of War and Honor. That seems promising,” Khara said as they approached the tall doors leading to the interior. “Let’s see what we can find.”

They walked into a huge room with four large columns made of marble holding the massive stone ceiling. Upon the walls were tapestries and paintings of battles with white figures holding back hoards of darkness. Beside the door they entered were two young Human women talking and giggling in hushed tones. Their attention seeming to be on two men in robes standing across the corridor.

Beside the far pillar sat a man at a desk, his head down as he poured over a large tome. At the far end of the room stood a man in front of a door with two maces hanging at his sides. Each of the other clerics also carried a mace at their side, and from what the party could see, these were not for mere decoration.

Loch sat quietly on a bench, knowing that his mere presence made people uneasy. Ayc sat beside him. “I figured we’d let Khara do the talking,” he whispered with a small smile.

Celene leaned against a pillar and watched quietly as the clerics went about their business.

Khara approached the man sitting at the desk. He was older, with white hair and a large scar across his chin. He looked up as Khara spoke, “hello good sir. I wish to barter for potions if you would be so kind.” He flashed a friendly smile to the elder.

“Oh yes of course. These are trying times so I must ask for forty gold each,” the man replied as he set his book on the table.

“I know what you mean about trying times, however I will rephrase myself. I meant to say how much for a Duke of Upper West Haven?” He presented his hand, and upon his finger was the signet of the Duke.

“I see. What family may I ask?” The man raised an eyebrow as he spoke. “I frequent Upper West Haven frequently.”

Without hesitation, Khara responded, “the House of Fredrikson.”

The man pondered for a moment. “I am not sure that you know the boundary for Upper West Haven, but the House of Fredrikson is certainly not within it.”

Khara shook his head. “I see. I apologize for wasting your time.” He turned to walk away. He knew asking for a cleric to travel with would be foolish at this point. One of the girls near the entrance walked past him as he strode over to Ayc and Loch.

Celene walked over to the woman still near the entrance. “Hello. Is there a place where I can worship alone?”

The woman smiled. “Of course. Follow me this way.” She motioned to the southern wall behind the pillars. “We do ask for a donation for the use of our worship rooms,” she said with a smile.

“Yes it would be my pleasure. I’m sorry I didn’t ask your name,” Celene said as they approached a closed curtain.

“Suzanna Farlight,” she replied.

“It’s so good to meet you Suzanna,” Celene said with a seductive smile. “I know this sounds silly, but could you show me how to worship?” Celene looked down in shame. “It’s been a very long time, and I don’t remember if there are steps I need to take to do it properly.”

Suzanna put her hand over her mouth as she laughed. “I mean no disrespect. It’s just that worshiping comes from within. There is no wrong way.” She pulled aside the curtain to reveal a small room with a shrine to Kiri Jolith and thick blankets folded on the ground. “Simply kneel down and pour your heart out.”

Suzanna knelt down onto the blankets and smiled back at Celene. “See. Nothing to it.”

Celene rested her hand on Suzanna’s shoulder as she shut the curtain behind her. “Thank you for showing me.” As she finished her sentence, smoky black tendrils crept from Celene’s hand and burrowed into Suzanna’s shoulder. They winded their way into Suzanna’s very core, and she shuddered for a moment.

Suzanna turned toward Celene with tears in her eyes. “I am yours to command,” she whispered desperately.

“Where’s Celene?” Ayc asked as Khara finished telling them of the lack of luck they had found.

“I’m not sure. She was here a second ago,” Loch replied.

Just as he spoke, the guard at the rear of the room drew his maces. “Did anyone feel that?” he cried aloud as he stepped forward. “I felt something dark for just a moment.”

Suzanna walked out of the worship room with a smile on her face. “Act natural,” she repeated under her breath. She sat down on a bench near the entrance. Celene waited a moment, then followed suit, calmly approaching her companions.

“We should leave,” Celene said in a calm, yet urgent voice. The guard with two maces walked slowly toward the group. He looked to Suzanna, who was paying them no mind.

“Perhaps, if you are not here to worship any longer, and have no business here, you would leave,” the older man said in a surprisingly commanding voice. He bent his head slowly toward his book, but kept his eyes on the group; especially Loch.

“We want no quarrel. We were just leaving. My apologies if my friend has put you ill at ease,” Khara said as he bowed and moved toward the exit.

Celene made a slight motion at Suzanna to follow, and she promptly stood and followed the group. “Suzanna! Where are you going?” the other girl yelled out.

“She has agreed to show us to location where we can purchase potions. We don’t know the layout of this land, and Suzanna was kind enough to show us to our destination.” Celene kept a very cool demeanor as she spoke.

“Yes I want to please Lady Celene,” Suzanna said as she stared at Celene’s face.

“Your Suzanna is the epitome of your faith. You are lucky to have her,” Celene said to the young woman in the doorway. “She will be back before you know it.” The group walked away from the temple of Kiri Jolith toward the entrance to the Healer’s District.

“You want me to return?” Suzanna said after a moment of walking. “If you wish it I shall.”

“No you will not be returning,” Celene replied. “You are with us now.”

Ayc, Loch, and Khara exchanged skeptical glances. “Wait. So you got us a cleric?” Ayc asked incredulously.

“Yes,” Celene said simply.

“Wait… But how did you… What did you… When… Wait what?” Ayc stammered as he stared at Celene.

“She agreed to help us. I told you she is the epitome of her faith,” she replied curtly.

Ayc looked at Suzanna. “You’re just going to help us?”

“Anything for my mistress,” Suzanna said confidently.

“I’m not going to fight it. But that’s weird,” said Ayc as he let the subject die.

The group exited the Healer’s District as the sun was setting. “We can still make a ferry at this hour,” Loch said. “That way we can make good time to Falost. The port on the other side is called South Port, but from there I don’t know where we should go.”

Each nodded in approval, and the party set out back to the docks of Nautilon. The docks were lit with torchlight and lanterns as the hustle and bustle of the docks continued into the night. The distant flicker of lights on the ocean could be seen as ships arrived and departed.

“I’m surprised the docks are open so late,” commented Khara.

“This is really the only dock the Humans use,” replied Loch. “They can’t afford to shut it down that long.” He paused, “do you mind if we take a moment for me to make a purchase?” he asked.

They all nodded in a agreement as Loch walked to a fishing shop. “I need to purchase a net,” he said frankly.

The man near the entrance looked him up and down. “How big do you need?” he asked after an awkward moment.

“Just a simple river net would suffice. Also, I will need roughly seventy feet of rope,” Loch answered.

“That’s a strange combination, but yeah I got that. It’ll be six gold.” The man showed a hint of a smile as he said the amount.

“Of course. Here you are.” Loch handed the man the gold, and he gathered his purchase. “We may leave now,” he said to his companions.

The group approached a large ferry ship where other passengers were also boarding. “Four gold each,” said the gruffy man standing beside the gangplank.

“I believe our passage is already paid for,” replied Khara quickly.

The man pulled out a book and held it close to the firelight to read. “Who has procured your passage and what is your business?” The man’s voice was tired and bored.

Khara leaned in close. “We were sent by the king to find the heart.”

The soldier didn’t hesitate. He scanned down the pages until he came to a line of writing. He looked at the group, then looked back at the book. “ok, on you go. This doesn’t apply to the ride back though,” he said as he ushered them along the plank onto the ship.

The ship had one level, which was lined with bunks and chests. “Prepare to depart!” came a voice from the front of the ship. “We should arrive in six hours. There are cots and boxes to keep your valuables, and there will be no funny business on my vessel!”

The group found an area by themselves, for there were only twelve or so other passengers. After checking and tying the necessary knots in his new net, Loch sat and let his mind wander into a meditative trance. Celene also let her head nod into an almost coma-like state. Suzanna sat beside Celene, watching for any dangers that may lurk in their vicinity.

Ayc stood at side railing of the boat as it traveled forward across the dark waters of the Western Strait. The rhythmic up and down of the ship as it crested small waves was calming as he watched the stars move across the sky. Khara sat, watching the others; keeping an eye specifically on Ayc. He knew there was more to the man than met they eye.

The ferry arrived in South Port just as the morning light illuminated the land. The group saw that their docks had also been attacked recently, with dried blood staining the ground and shops. In the distance, thin columns of smoke trailed into the morning horizon. From the looks of it, an encampment of some kind had been built just beyond the outskirts of the port town.

The group left the ship and walked toward the small market beyond the docks. “Come see the wonderful magic items I have in store for you!” came a loud voice from a small shop. Druffel’s Oddities read a sign hanging precariously above the doorway. “Why right here I have a magical conch shell that allows you to translate the ocean’s language!”

The man’s wide grin faded as he saw the group approach, especially Loch, who was staring at his conch shell and shaking his head questioningly.

“That shell doesn’t really do that does it?” asked Khara as he watched Loch’s expression settle into dismay.

“No that’s a shell. He is a con artist,” replied Loch.

Khara walked straight toward the man, who’s body language showed fear and cowardice. “You are selling fake things to people, aren’t you?” he said angrily.

“N.. N… No,” he stammered.

“You are and now I am going to tell everyone about it. It’s their right to know that you’ve probably lied about lot’s of things here in this shop.” Khara looked around as he spoke, his eyes darting from item to item looking for the best purchase. His eyes rested on a cloak with runes along the hems.

“You can tell whoever you want,” the man said, obviously feigning courage.

Khara smiled. “Oh really. Well you will regret those words when you realize who I am. I am Duke Rufio Fredrikson of Upper West Haven,” he said as he flashed his signet ring.

“It’s true,” chimed in Loch sincerely.

“Sir I apologize with utmost apologies. Please accept my apology,” the man babbled. “I can afford a few people leaving my business, but you would ruin me. Please don’t blacklist me. I have children to feed.” The man continued his pleading until Khara raised his hand.

“We can make an arrangement, I think,” he said slyly. “What is the story of that cloak hanging on the wall?” he asked.

“That is a cloak of protection, infused with the scales of dragons,” the man responded.

“And how much does it cost?” asked Khara.

“It’s two hundred and fifty gold sir,” the man said sheepishly.

“I’m sorry I thought I heard you fifty gold. Did I hear you correctly?” Khara said more as a command than a question.

“That’s outrageous!” the shopkeeper exclaimed as he stood a bit taller.

Khara stood even taller, and with much more confidence than the shopkeeper had ever seen said, “I will pay you what I wish, and that is the way of the world. Do not try my patience. I will give you eighty gold based solely on the fact that your children’s worthless father has to con strangers for a living!” Khara’s voice rose in harshness as he spoke.

The man shrank as small as he could. “Of course sir. My apologies again.” He moped over to the cloak and removed it from is hook.

“Here. Eighty gold. Pleasure doing business with you.” Khara threw the cloak over his shoulders and walked out confidently with his companions. They each looked at him with quizzical expressions, but said nothing.

After walking a distance from Druffel’s Oddities, the group took a short pause under a large Oak tree. “So where should we go?” Ayc asked no one in particular.

“Well from what the king said, we can go to Mage City, the Midlands, or Torruga to start looking,” replied Khara. “But from the looks of that camp to the north, I don’t think the Midlands is such a good idea.”

“Mage City is very dangerous,” Ayc said quickly.

“Besides, I don’t think they would be able to hide the Heart with all those mages around,” added Loch.

“That leaves Torruga,” said Celene. “Which is smart because it’s also the closest.” She turned to Suzanna. “Do you know the fastest route to Torruga?” she asked.

“Yes of course. I have traveled there many times during my years as a cleric,” she replied joyfully. Her eyes never left Celene’s face as she yearned for approval.

“Perfect. You will lead us then,” Celene answered. Suzanna’s face lit up with exuberant joy.

“How far is the journey?” Khara asked.

“Well on foot it will take us eight days to arrive at Bourgeport where we can take a ship to Torruga. We can travel along the coastal route the entire time,” Suzanna replied.

“It would be faster with horses,” Khara said. The group nodded in agreement.

“Do we have enough gold?” Loch asked skeptically.

“Just leave that to me,” Khara retorted.

The group left the shade of the large tree, and set out toward the eastern edge of South Port. Eventually, they found a stable with nine horses grazing lazily on hay bales. A portly man was hefting large crates into the back of a wagon.

“Greetings and salutations!” Khara exclaimed to the man. He turned toward the noise. “I have need of horses to Bourgeport, and I heard you are the man to talk to.” Khara smiled a large and flashy smile at the man.

“Well then you heard right,” the large man bellowed as he set a crate on the ground. “I’m Henry, and my horses are the most dependable in all of Branterra.” The man beamed as he pointed at his horses in the stables.

“It is a pleasure to meet you Henry,” Khara said. “How much for your horses to travel to Bourgeport?” he asked.

“Well let’s see. With all the dangers that seem to be coming down on us, I would say ten gold each.” Henry smile wavered as he spoke the price, obviously upset at the amount he had to charge.

“How about four each?” Khara replied as he flashed his smile once again.

Henry let out a boisterous laugh. “That’s funny my friend. The price is non negotiable, so if you can’t pay ten each, then I’m not the man you were looking for.”

Ayc surveyed the stables as the men attempted to barter. He noticed a card lying in the mud, ripped on the sides, and no longer usable. He looked at Henry, and interrupted Khara’s reasoning for paying less. “How about we play for the horses? Do you know how to play beast and count?”

Henry shifted his attention from Khara to Ayc. “Of course I know how to play. But what could you possibly wager against my horses?” he said incredulously.

Ayc smiled and walked toward Henry. He set his pack down, and reached inside, cleverly keeping the opening away from Henry’s view. From the pack, he pulled his hand which had once been empty; a small flash of dark light appeared, and instantly, Ayc was holding his scythe. Its black sheen almost absorbing the light around it.

“Woah. That would fetch a copper or two,” Henry said as he greedily stared at the scythe. “I’ve never seen something so large shrink to such a small space. You my friend have a deal.”

Ayc followed Henry to a small table with three chairs around it. They sat, and Ayc pulled out a deck of cards from his cloak. “We’re playing best of three, and the wager is my scythe against five horses to Bourgeport,” he said confidently.

“Sounds agreeable to me. Deal,” Henry said with a huge grin. “You’re going to regret this. I’m one of the best beast and count players you’ve ever met.”

Ayc dealt first, and after a moment of taking cards from each other and laying cards on the deck between them, Ayc laid down his hand. “Count the beasts!” he yelled happily. “Looks like the first game goes to me.”

Henry threw his cards on the table. “I was so close!” he cried out. “The next game will be mine.” Henry’s demeanor had slowly changed from confident and happy to panicked and apprehensive. He shuffled the cards, and dealt the cards.

Ayc picked up his hand, and looked at the cards. He glanced at Henry’s cards, then at the deck in the middle of the table. His smile grew as he drew the third card from the left from Henry’s hand. Henry drew a card from the deck, and then Ayc drew a card from the deck.

“I am happily sorry to say that you are giving us horses for our travels.” Ayc laid down his hand to reveal three cards which had large 4 and three cards with horses printed on them. “Thank you so much for your generosity. It was a pleasure playing with you.” Ayc began gathering the cards.

“Best of five!” Henry burst out. His face was red and a look of dread had befallen him.

“The agreement was best of three. We are in a bit of a hurry, so if we could leave now that would be great.” Ayc bent down to his bag as he spoke, and put the scythe into the opening. A small dark puff of light appeared, and Ayc’s hand returned from the pack, empty.

“No I think best of five sounds much more fair,” Henry said with a darkened desperation in his voice.

Ayc leaned close to Henry, and in a raspy voice filled with hostility and malice replied, “the deal was best of three. Are you going back on your word? Because that would cause problems.”

Henry backed up slightly, taken aback by the sudden change in Ayc’s voice and demeanor.

After a moment of gathering his senses, Henry shouted, “Darrel!” angrily.

“Yeah boss,” an ironically scrawny Half Orc called back as he ran to his master’s summon.

“Saddle these five. Make it quick because I want them gone,” he said sternly; however his eyes gave away his unease around Ayc. Darrel seemed taken aback by Henry’s attitude.

A stout Human woman with fire-red hair came walking slowly toward the men as Darrel rushed to prepare the horses and Henry kicked a chair near the table.

“Oh I see we are renting some horses.” The woman glanced at the group. “Five? Oh that will be lovely. What did we pull in dear?” the woman said as she looked at Henry.

“Well Henrietta, I let them take the horses for free.” For such a large man, it was quite the impressive feat how small he made himself.

“Free!” Henrietta yelled. Her face turned more red than her hair as she stormed toward Henry with mirth in her eyes. “Why in all the heavens would you give away our livelihood?” she screamed. “If you lost to another damn card game I swear to every god I can think of that I will beat you from here to Chymeron!”

Henry’s face twisted into fear as he nodded slightly. Henrietta grabbed him by the hair and dragged him toward a building connected to the stables; the entire way, yelling obscenities and curses that would cause a soldier to flinch.

“I think we should leave,” Loch said nervously. Each of the members nodded enthusiastically and mounted their horses.

Darrel stood between Celene and Khara. “When you get to Bourgeport, just stable the horses at Goodwin’s Stable. That’s our partner, so they will make sure the horses are returned.” He glanced at the stables where Henrietta’s voice could be heard through the thin wooden walls and shook his head. “Good luck.” With that he turned and headed toward the stables to continue his chores.

The party began a semi-quick pace along the road; Loch, Celene, and Suzanna in the front while Ayc and Khara rode behind. The road was beautiful as it stretched over countless hills covered in thick grass and sporadic tropical trees. Roughly 300 feet from the coast on their right, they traveled in silence until they crowned a hill which looked over the edge of a large cemetery. Even from this distance, the group could tell the headstones were ancient.

The cemetery was quite large, spanning out of view behind another rolling hill. The group continued to ride, but Loch stopped his horse short. “Do you hear that?” he asked as he searched the horizon line toward the cemetery.

Just then, a woman burst into view from the nearest hill. “Help me!” she cried out desperately. Loch didn’t hesitate as he reigned his horse to a full gallop toward the woman who had just collapsed. Ayc, Celene, Suzanna, and Khara followed promptly.

Loch arrived first, and jumped from his horse. “What’s wrong my dear?” he asked. Right as he finished his question, he noticed shambling figures walking slowly toward them; behind them was a tall figure in black robes chanting in a foreign language. Below him the ground glowed a sickly bright green.

“I was visiting my father, and then he tried to kill me,” she whimpered. She held her hand to her shoulder, quivering.

“Let me see,” Loch said gently, yet sternly. He moved her hand to find a lemon shaped wedge of skin missing from her shoulder. Blood oozed out of the wound as the edges seemed to blacken.

“We need to heal her now.” Loch looked up at Suzanna. “Do it,” he commanded as he pulled out his trident and charged forward toward the walking corpses. Ayc and Khara also dove into action as they moved to flank the undead creatures.

Suzanna turned to look at Celene. She nodded, and Suzanna knelt down beside the woman. She put her hands to the wound, and a radiant white light glowed over the wound. When she removed her hand, the gash was no longer bleeding, and was now a small cut. The blackened edges, however, had not subsided.

Celene beckoned to Suzanna to follow as she moved slowly toward the creatures from a safe distance.

Loch pulled his net from his belt as he charged toward the figure in black. The man paid no attention to him, so he used his time and momentum to fling his net perfectly at the man’s center of gravity. The net hit, and entangled the man’s hand; the book fell to the ground and the glow from beneath the man faded.

The man turned his head to face Loch, his eyes burning the putrid green glow which had just diminished from the ground. Two beams of hot green energy shot forth from the man’s eyes. Loch jumped to the side behind a large headstone while the ground exploded from the impact of the beams.

Ayc moved around to the side. He noticed the robed man’s attention on Loch, so he charged forward and swiped hard at the man with his scythe. The moment his blade touched the man, Ayc’s vision blurred, and he found himself connecting only slightly instead of hitting his mark where he had intended.

The man shook off the net, and bent down quickly and picked up the tome from the ground. Instead of opening it and reading, he turned his glowing gaze on Ayc. Once again, two beams of acrid energy shot out from the man’s eyes, hitting Ayc squarely in the right shoulder. Ayc reeled back; not in pain, but in euphoria. The power radiated through his body as his muscles felt tighter, and his power felt unstoppable. He regained his composure to see the man staring at him with confusion and intent. Ayc rushed forward with a primal roar.

Khara moved forward, launching bolt after bolt from his crossbow. Each seemed to be headed for their target, but just as they reached the robed man, they seemed to shift and fly into the distance.

The zombies were beginning to gather as the group tried to hit the sorcerer. “We’ll take him. You guys handle the zombies,” Khara yelled.

Loch nodded as he watched attack after attack miss their aggressor. The slow moving zombies had surrounded Loch as he watched the robed man effortlessly and magically dodge projectiles. A decrepit hand grasped Loch’s shoulder. He swung his trident around and clipped the creature’s hand off. Another grabbed Loch around the waist from behind. He shoved his trident back, but the rotten corpse slid easily along the prongs. A third undead body appeared in Loch’s vision as he was pulled to the ground. He desperately flailed his trident from side to side with no avail.

He landed hard on the zombie which was clutching his waist. He felt an intense pain on the back of his neck as the near faceless creature chomped down. Loch felt the flesh rip as the gnashing teeth of the creature bit again; deeper into his muscles. The creature who’s arm he had severed thrust it forward, and Loch watched as it sank to the elbow into his abdomen. He cried out in pain and agony as blood spilled out of his body.

With his last amount of strength, Loch put his trident over his heart as his vision faded. He drifted from consciousness to the guttural growls of chewing mouths.

Celene saw Loch fall under a mound of writhing undead flesh. “Heal him!” she yelled at Suzanna, who was never more than an arm’s reach from her mistress’ side.

“As you command,” Suzanna said quickly as she thrust out her palm toward Loch’s fallen body. A beam of holy light raced forward and slammed into Loch. The resounding pulse pushed the creatures off of Loch’s bloody body, and their gaze slowly turned to the two women.

“Now kill them!” Celene commanded coldly.

“I shall for you Lady Celene,” Suzanna replied. Joy spread to her face at the thought of carrying out a command for her master. She raised her hands again, and another ray of white energy shot forth. It slammed into the nearest corpse, and with a slight crackling noise, filled the creature’s body with holy energy. The zombie’s skin began to split and crack and the light rushed through its body. Bits of dried rotten skin slumped off of the creature, but it held itself upright and kept its trudging toward the women.

Khara looked back at Loch and the girls. He knew they had to stop this sorcerer fast so they could help their friends. He looked back at Ayc who was charging headlong toward the sorcerer. Ayc swung with a might blow, and Khara could see it may be the finishing blow they needed. Instead of connecting with the man, however, Ayc’s scythe shook and hit far from its mark.

Ayc looked up in pure surprise. He didn’t understand how he could have missed. His eyes met the man’s eyes, and suddenly there was a flash of the familiar green light.

Obey my commands! Kill these people!” a booming voice echoed in Ayc’s head. His body felt heavy and he was unable to move, like the gravity of a thousand worlds pulled him from every direction. He watched in a haze as his body turned from the sorcerer, and silently made its way to Khara, who had moved in close enough to strike without being detected.

Khara dashed forward on all four limbs. He jumped into the air, arching toward the unsuspecting sorcerer. His hands hit the man in the back, and sunk deep into his flesh. Khara could feel the blood dripping down his arms as he put all his weight into the attack.

Suddenly, Khara felt an immense pain erupt from his shoulder blade. He pulled his hands from the man’s chest and looked up to see Ayc standing above him, his scythe’s blade buried deep into Khara’s shoulder.

“What are you doing?” cried Khara.

Ayc stared back without expression, his eyes glowing the same green as the robed man. The man stepped back, clutching his chest in pain. His robes began to glow black, and a green mist began swirling around him.

No one can deny the power of the queen!,” the man’s voice boomed over the hills.

With that the man disappeared with flash and a loud bang. Ayc felt the dullness in his mind begin to wane as his body felt much more normal. Before his senses could fully return, his vision flashed to a dark alleyway. Ayc watched from his own perspective as he stumbled into a building with a strange symbol which he had never seen before. From the setting, however, Ayc was able to tell he was somewhere in the Necromancer’s District of Mage City. He shuddered to himself at the memories this place brought back to his mind.

Violently, Ayc returned to the present, and looked around in bewilderment as he pulled his scythe from Khara’s body. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to do that,” he said to his hunched friend.

Khara was about to berate Ayc for his stupidity, when he noticed the woman they had first met slowly approaching Celene and Suzanna from behind. They had all of their focus on the small hoard they were fighting, and were not watching their backs as certain death edged closer by the moment.

He sprang into action; once again running on all four limbs to make good time. His shoulder ached incredibly each time his hand met the ground, but there was no time for him to whine. With almost demon-like speed, Khara ran around the corpses in front of his friends, and made a giant leap from atop one of the headstones.

Khara flew through the air for twenty feet and landed hard behind the now undead woman. He slammed his fingertips down on the woman’s shoulders, and they easily broke the skin and collar bones. His unseen claws ripped down through the woman’s chest and abdomen, slicing her into three ungodly pieces of former Half Elf.

Her body swayed for a moment as her ribs and entrails fell to the ground on both sides of her. Both knees buckled, and her horrific carcass melted to the ground to rest in a gory heap of body parts.

Ayc ran up to help the group dispatch the remaining undead creatures. Once they were dead, his attention turned to the disgusting mess that was once a person. He walked over, and pulled out a kerchief from his belt-pouch. Almost gingerly, he wiped some of the blood from her face, and set the cloth on her eyes. As his hand met her skin, a strange chill overcame his close vicinity, however none of his companions were near enough to notice.

“Is Loch alright?” Khara asked when he noticed the bloody blue body.

Loch floated in a state of euphoria along beautiful white capped waves. He could see a beautifully blinding light in the distance, like a lonely lighthouse beckoning him to safer travels. He could hear the voices of his ancestors calling out to him in harmonious tones, hinting at peace and calm in his native tongue. Loch pushed toward the light, but instantly found himself falling further from it instead.

Loch’s life flashed before him as he rushed backward through a vortex of confusion. Pain began to fill his mind and the euphoria was replaced with fear and panic. He jolted back to life gripping his trident with all his might, eyes darting to and fro trying to fight off the zombies that had just been upon him. He sat up after a moment and craned his neck to see around him, happy to notice that none of the zombies were still standing.

“We should go,” Khara said, holding his shoulder and staring at Ayc with hot daggers in his eyes.

Loch stood and wiped the blood from his face. His clothes were soaked, and he could still feel the pain of the bite on the back of his neck. It was a strange pain that seemed to linger, fade, then intensify in an uncomfortable cycle. “Yes let’s go. Where is the woman?” he asked as he looked toward where they had first encountered her.

Khara pointed to the messy pile of guts and bone. “She turned, so we took care of it.”

Loch looked at her with pity and remorse because he knew he had failed her. As he looked at the ground in shame, he noticed one of the zombies had a golden pendant lodged in its rib-cage. He bent down and plucked it from the bones. After a moment he spoke. “We are taking this girl to the next town. How far is it?” he asked as he looked to Suzanna.

“The next fork leads to Stockseth,” she replied. “I believe it is only a thirty minute ride from here.”

Loch looked at his horse, then back at the disemboweled body. “I will carry her.” He knelt down, and as best he could, lifted the remains of the woman over his shoulder. Fresh blood mixed with old blood down the front of Loch’s shirt as bits of her cascaded down. Loch didn’t flinch as he folded her flopping arms under his own.

The group shared a disgusted look, but did not attempt to stop him. They rode in an awkward silence as Loch walked with them, leaving a trail of blood and bits of body on the road behind them.

They took the next fork toward Stockseth, and after an awkward moment, Khara motioned for Ayc to hang back, and he slowed his horse’s pace. Once they were both out of earshot, Khara angrily said, “You need to tell me exactly what you are. You almost killed me back there.” He watched Ayc’s face for a reaction, but found none.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Ayc replied defensively.

“Don’t lie to me. I just watched you take a hit from a necromancer and it didn’t even phase you. Then he took control of you. They can only control the undead. So what does that make you?” He asked.

“What makes you think he was a necromancer?” Ayce asked. “He was a sorcerer who enchanted me to do his bidding. That’s certainly no evidence to show I’m undead or anything of the like.”

“It’s not just that. I’ve been watching you. I saw you do something to Trevan back at the docks, and it seems like everywhere there is a dead body, you are always there hovering over it. I want to know what you are hiding if we are going to be traveling together.” Khara said in a very serious tone.

“Well you have your own secrets, don’t you,” Ayc said cunningly. “I have been watching you as well.” He paused. “Rending flesh with your fingers. Now that strikes me as a secret.”

Khara paused for a moment, weighing his options. “What if we both tell our secrets? That way we both have leverage and closure.”

It was Ayc’s turn to ponder the situation. “I could live with that. When would you like to do this little exchange?” he asked.

“Now seems like as good a time as any,” Khara replied. "The vegetation is getting denser, so we could just step off the road for a moment.

“Riders are coming!” Celene called back, breaking the two men’s concentration. They looked ahead and saw four horses galloping toward them, still a few minutes out. Their pace indicated they were in a hurry.

Ayc and Khara exchanged glances. “Should we hide in case it’s an ambush?” Khara asked loudly.

“Yes. Good idea,” Ayc responded, also deliberately loud enough for Loch, Celene, and Suzanna to hear.

They jumped off their horses before a plan could be discussed and ran into the thickening treeline. The four horses quickly approached, and four soldiers dismounted aggressively in front of Loch and the two women, blades out and at the ready.

“Where are your companions!” the first soldier yelled. He was Human, and dressed in green and silver; fresh blood adorned his armor and drawn sword.

“I have no idea,” Loch replied honestly as he looked behind him to see two riderless horses grazing along the side of the path.

The Human soldier’s gaze focused on the bloody mess over Loch’s shoulder. “What is that?”

Loch slowly set down the messy corpse as the soldiers warily watched his actions. As he set her down, her head flopped back, revealing her pale, contorted face.

“Lady Isabella!” the man cried, and the four soldiers stepped forward to put their blade tips inches from Loch’s face. “You will tell us what you’ve done to her!” he yelled, his voice filled to the brim with rage.

“She was attacked at the cemetery back down the road,” Loch quickly explained. “We tried to save her, but she was killed in the battle because she turned into an undead…” His voice trailed off. “I promise if there was anything that could have been done, we would have done it. I carried her body here to put her at peace instead of being a feast for wild beasts.”

The man in front of Loch stood still for a moment while his eyes scanned the body, Loch, Celene, and Suzanna. “If what you say is true, we owe you a great deal of gratitude. Lady Isabella is the daughter of the Baroness of Stockseth.”

Loch nodded, and shared a nervous look with Celene. “We would simply like refuge for the afternoon and perhaps the night to tend to our wounds,” Celene said courteously from atop her mount.

“My apologies, but we are not in a state to offer hospitality. In fact, we must take Lady Isabella’s body back now, and continue the fight.” As he spoke, the group’s overall demeanor became more and more confused.

“What’s going on in Stockseth?” Loch asked.

“A necromancer appeared at our chapel, and raised the dead bodies of the people buried in the cemetery.” The man looked sadly at nothing as he spoke, his eyes expression blank and hollow. “They came out of the ground and started to attack. We had things under control, but then we found out if you don’t heal their bites fully, people turn into the undead themselves. The attack happened hours ago, but we’ve been unable to fully root out the curse. We were sent to find Lady Isabella and ensure her safety.” He paused. “But we failed.”

The three soldiers behind him shared the same sullen look as he recanted his story. “You owe us nothing, but would you be willing to help us?” the man asked with a hint of desperation in his voice. Then he stopped short as he noticed the bite mark on Loch’s neck.

“You’ve been bitten?” he exclaimed. “You must get that healed or you will turn. I will not bring more undead into my town.”

“It is a small wound, but I have no way of healing it I’m afraid,” Loch replied. “Do you by chance have anything that would help?” he asked.

“If it is indeed a small enough wound, I may be able to help,” answered a stout Halfling from behind the Human. He walked forward, and motioned for Loch to kneel down. After examining the wound, he reached into his belt-pouch and pulled out a small container of salve. He applied it to Loch’s wound, and instantly, Loch felt the pulsating pain cease. The wound’s black edges ebbed back, and the wound became nothing more than fresh scar.

“Thank you my friend. I am in your debt,” Loch said as the Halfling returned his salve to his pouch.

“I’m just glad we were able to heal you in time. Many are not so fortunate,” replied the Halfling.

“Now then. You will help us?” asked the Human soldier, looking intently at Loch.

“Lead the way,” Loch said, and the soldier’s eyes lit up slightly. They mounted their horses, then turned toward Ayc and Khara’s horses. “And what of them?” he asked as he pointed to the spot where they had left the road.

“Come on, we are going to the town!” Celene yelled. “You are acting like idiots. Just come out. They saw you already!”

There was no response.

“I guess they will catch up?” Celene said questioningly.

The soldiers rode to their horses and grabbed the reigns. “We’re taking your horses!” yelled one of the soldiers.

Still no response.

The seven of them rode toward the town with the body of Lady Isabella in tow, leaving Ayc and Khara alone in the woods.

“Do you think we should have just gone with them?” Ayc asked.

“No. You are going to show me your secret and I’ll show you mine. We’ve already committed to this, and I need to know.” Khara replied angrily.

“Ok you go first,” Ayc said with a smile.

“I know that trick,” retorted Khara. “What makes you think I trust you to go second?” he asked.

“On my honor,” Ayc replied simply.

“Fine.” Khara stepped back, and released his alteration spell he always kept on himself. With a dull flash, Khara became a Raksasha. His features resembled that of the Cat Folk, however his face was heavily disfigured. His nose bent at an unnatural angle and both cheekbones looked like they had been broken and healed hundreds of times over. The body of Khara was covered in patches of matted fur, and long claws protruded from each of his long fingers. Large tumor-like bumps dotted Khara’s body, and two short, stubby arms stuck out of his lower abdomen.

“This is me,” Khara said after a moment.

“I see.” Ayc’s body began to bend and twist in quick, sporadic motions. Khara could hear the dull popping sound of bones and cartilage breaking and reforming. Ayc slowly transformed into a mirror image of Khara, even down to the color of his fur.

“What?” Khara exclaimed in rage. “That’s not what I was talking about and you know it!”

“You didn’t specify which secret. You said we show each other our secret, then move on.” Ayce replied in a very matter of fact tone.

Khara hated to be mocked. “You promised on your honor. Is this what that means?” he asked.

“You’re right,” Ayc said quietly. “But in order for me to show you, there is a cost which I cannot control.”

Khara stood for a moment, then with a dull flash he became the familiar face of his Human form. “What is it?” he asked in an exasperated tone. He was weary from battle and lack of sleep, so his patience for this game had run out.

“It costs a small piece of you that you are never going to use anyway,” Ayc said coyly.

“I grow tired of your games and riddles. If you are going to ask for a piece of my soul just do it already.” Khara said angrily.

Ayc hesitated a moment. “You know?” he asked.

“Well come on, it wasn’t hard to put together. You are always looming over dead and dying people, you were controlled by a necromancer, and now you want, a piece of me,” Khara put his fingers up to show quotations marks in the air, “so obviously you are some sort of death reaper-like creature. I’m not scared, but if you misuse my trust there will be consequences.” Khara’s face darkened as he spoke the last part.

“Trust me this is a benefit for you and for me,” Ayc responded. “Shake my hand, and all your questions will be answered.” Ayc held out his hand toward Khara.

He waited a brief moment, then shrugged painfully and reached out his hand. As soon as their palms met, Ayc’s grip tightened uncomfortably. Khara’s brow drew down as he watched Ayc thrust out his free hand to produce a black light, then his scythe. Ayc brought down the scythe and Khara watched as the tip met with his chest. He watched as the blade soared through his body without leaving so much as a scratch. The scythe swung from one side to the other of Khara’s chest and he watched as a cloud-like figure of himself was wrenched from his body. Helplessly, his soul was dragged through the air then stopped short inches from Ayc’s face.

“Divine,” he whispered as he opened his mouth and devoured the transparent version of Khara. Khara’s soul spiraled into Ayc’s mouth until there was nothing.

Khara gasped as an death-like chill left his body. He blinked and reached out to strike at Ayc, but Ayc was faster, and hit him square in the chest, knocking him back onto his rear.

“I told you I would reveal myself and answer your questions,” Ayc said as he looked down at the infuriated Khara.

Once again, the sickening pop of bones and tendons burst forth from inside of Ayc as his body twisted and warped in ungodly ways. Instead of becoming a Human, he changed into a distorted being. Robes, blacker than night, spilled down over his shoulders which were writhing faces underneath the grotesque flesh. More faces crawled along Ayc’s skin; across his torso, Trevan’s face contorted in agony as it passed down his side and behind his hip.

“I am a reaper of death,” Ayc boomed in voice that sounded like a hundred tortured souls screaming in unison. “And you have parted with your soul.”

Suddenly, a rush of knowledge raced through Khara’s mind. He understood aspects of death and the soul that he had never even fathomed in the past.

A long moment passed, and Ayc forced his body back to his Human form. “Do you have regrets?” Ayce asked after bending his arm 120 degrees back to its natural position.

“No. I think I made the right decision,” Khara replied. “But I expect my little piece inside you to stay safe regardless of what happens to my body.”

“Most definitely,” Ayc responded. “Now should we catch up with our companions? They are probably missing our charm by now.”

They shared a laugh and made their way back onto the trail, and then toward the town of Stockseth; both groaning simultaneously as they realized how far of a walk they had created for themselves.

Session 1
The Quest Begins

General Rudolph Malark sighed as he walked down the cobblestone road with his companions. People scurried and rushed out of the large man’s way as he strode with intent in his eyes. This was just one of many trips he would be making on this day.

The general and his entourage entered the market district of West Haven and he peered out over the crowd. He was searching for one person specifically, and easily spotted him. Malark approached the Aquan Elf from behind.

“Are you Lochlen Anterome?” Malark asked in an gruff and impatient tone.

Loch turned to see the very large general standing with three men and a woman behind him. They were all adorned in weapons and armor, and looked ready and willing to use them.

“What is this about?” Loch asked.

“You have been summoned by the king. Come with us.” The general motioned toward Loch, and his four soldiers stepped forward and led him away from the basketry shop he had been perusing.

Once Loch was securely in his cell at the castle in the center of West Haven, General Malark set out again to gather the rest of the individuals the king desired to meet. He headed with his guards toward the healing district, where he found the man he was looking for.

“Are you the man they call Ayc?” Malark asked.

A skinny and lithe man peered back at Malark from under his hood. “That depends on who wants to know” he replied with a slight smile.

“The king demands your presence. I have no patience for your backtalk.” The general motioned for his guards to take Ayc into custody, and he was taken to the castle to await his fate in a cell.

General Malark then traveled to the common district where he found his third target of the day. A beautiful woman with pointed ears and pale skin walked toward a local inn. Malark and his men followed her into the inn, and stopped her just as she reached to open her door.

“Miss, you are Celene, correct?” Malark asked as he looked her up and down. She wore large tinted spectacles which hid her eyes.

“Who are you? What have I done?” She replied, her voice filled confusion.

“You aren’t in trouble, but the king requests your presence.” Malark said. His guards seemed uneasy as they slowly crept toward her.

She eyed them warily, and with a calculated nod replied, “ok I will go.”

She motioned for them to lead the way, and they led her to the castle to await the king.

General Malark then made his way to the shadier part of West Haven where he quickly found his mark near the gambling hall.

“Hey you! The king would speak with you.” Malark snapped as he approached the shady figure. “I have been instructed to come down here and escort you to the castle.” Malark’s tolerance for gambling was slim and he was running out of patience.

“Oh really, and what if I don’t want to go?” the man asked as he stood with his winnings in hand. His fellow gamblers shrank into the darkness of a nearby alleyway.

“We can do this the easy way or the hard way, and after today, I’m praying you say the hard way,” Malark replied with a cold stare. His hand moved slowly and deliberately toward his massive sword. His companions also tensed as they began to unhook daggers and axes on their belts. The woman raised her staff and a cold, electric aura began to radiate outward.

“You know, I think I will go with you,” the man said as he watched the scene unfold. He glanced around, searching for any way out, but these five people in front of him were too much for him to attempt to take alone.

They escorted the man back to the castle, and Malark set up preparations to speak with each of the prisoners.

General Malark entered the room with Loch first. It was a small room with a table and two chairs. He gave him a long look, which Loch returned without wavering.

“What is your business here in West Haven?” Malark asked as he took a seat across the table from Loch.

Loch looked at Malark a bit quizzically, and said, “I’m just here doing business in the markets. I didn’t know being a craftsman was against the law in the land of Humans.”

Malark paused and continued staring at Loch. “What are your thoughts on the Chymaron scourge?”

“I don’t really have an opinion either way. I don’t know enough about them to pass judgement,” Loch replied.

“Hmmm. What would you say to job that pays 100 platinum?” Malark asked. He leaned in closer to Loch, studying his response.

“Money is money. I am not desperate,” Loch answered.

“We have been watching you, and we have noticed you purchasing many basketry items. If this is a passion of yours, we could arrange for you to have all the materials you require, and could even open up a basket weaving shop for you to call your own.” Malark said.

“Well, there isn’t much use for me to own a basket shop on land, for I make much better quality baskets than you surface dwellers underwater.” Loch looked back at Malark with a matter of fact look on his face.

Malark’s blood boiled slightly under his skin, but he was instructed by the king himself to convince this Aquan Elf to help, so he swallowed his pride, and slowly said, “Well then we can build you a basketry shop just near the piers in Nautilon, under the water, so you can make your better baskets and live out your life in peace.” Malark’s words were slightly strained, but Loch smiled back.

“I suppose that will suffice,” Loch answered. Malark stood, and walked to the door. He exited the room while shaking his head.

The general moved to the next room where Celene waited patiently. He opened the door to a room identical to Loch’s, and sat in the chair across the table from her. “I have some questions for you before you meet the king,” he said.

“Of course, what is it you want to know?” she asked.

“What is your business here in West Haven?” he asked as he stared into his own reflection shown in the darkened lenses hiding her eyes.

“I’m just travelling. Why have I done something wrong?” As she asked the question, she lowered her lenses and batted her eyelashes at the general with the face of innocence.

“Your pretty face may get you out of trouble where you are from, but we have been watching you. We know what you have been doing in the night.” As he finished his sentence, Celene’s face darkened. She knew she had been caught, but his demeanor did not show malice.

“What do you want from me?” Celene asked in a hushed and threatening voice.

“We just want your help. Your nightly behavior is not something we want in the city, but if we can put it to good use, I see no harm in it.” He paused for a moment. “I must ask that you refrain from claiming any more lives while you are here in the city, however.”

Celene paused for a moment, weighing the words the general had said. “Fine, what is it you actually want?”

“In time. Now for my next question,” the general continued, “what are your thoughts on the Chymaron Elves?”

“The Chymaron Elves? I don’t really associate much with them,” she replied. Her body language was still tense and her tone defensive.

“And now for my last question. What do you say to 100 platinum? That’s enough to make a new life somewhere with some leftover to hide your,” he hesitated a moment, “habits.”

Celene waited before answering. “Fine. I will help you as long as this isn’t a trick.”

“No tricks. We just need your assistance in a national matter.” Malark rose and walked out the door, leaving Celene with her thoughts.

He walked to the next door where Ayc was being held. As he entered, he shuddered slightly at the chill in the room. He paid it no mind, and sat across from Ayc as he had with the other two. “What brings you to West Haven?” Malark asked.

“What?” Ayc replied quizzically.

“Why are you here in West Haven?” Malark asked again, this time with agitation in his voice.

“My feet did. I walked here.” Ayc answered.

Malark paused for a moment. He wasn’t sure if this man was feigning stupidity or if he really was incompetent. “Ok,” he said slowly, “what are your thoughts on the Chymaron Elf problem to the northwest?”

“What Chymaron Elf problem?” Ayc asked.

The general’s gaze focused intently on Ayc. “Have you been living under a rock?” he asked. “How can you be so dumb? Fine here is a question I know you can answer. What do you think about 100 platinum?” the general asked as his voice raised in frustration.

“What’s that?” Ayc asked.

“How is it that you can go around at night and kill people in our city, but you don’t know what platinum is?” the general yelled angrily. Had the king not adamantly demanded Ayc’s presence, General Malark would have attacked him where he sat.

“It was their time to die,” Ayc replied with a cold and serious demeanor.

“Well as dumb as you seem, we could use someone versed in killing. We are willing to overlook your actions in West Haven and even pay you for your services, but after this conversation, I don’t know how you’ve survived this long. Are you willing to help the king or should I just take you to the stockade for your crimes?” At this point, the general was yelling as his face turned red. It had been a long time since the general had let someone get under his skin as Ayc had.

“I will accept your offer,” Ayce said in a level tone.

Malark stormed out of the room in a daze. He couldn’t fathom how someone so stupid had been able to sneak around at night so well. He shook it off as he opened the last door. He entered and sat across from the man, still wearing his hood.

“We don’t know what to call you” Malark said as he studied the man before him. “From what we’ve found out, you don’t give many people the same name. That is a quality we are looking for in this endeavor.”

The man sat silently and watched the general speak. “I have some questions for you,” the general continued, “what brings you to West Haven?” he asked.

“You tell me,” the man said, never showing any emotion as he spoke.

“Interesting answer,” Malark noted aloud, “What are your thoughts on the evil Chymaron Elves?” Malark asked.

“They never wronged me so I don’t really care about them,” the man said.

“I see. And as for my last question. What do you say to doing a job for your king and earning 100 platinum at the same time?” he asked.

“I like 100 platinum, but I will need some up front,” he said smoothly.

“I am not the one to negotiate with. You will have to take that up with the king” Malark replied. He stood and walked out the door. “You will be permitted to speak with King Weston momentarily,” he said as he exited the room.

A few moments passed and each of the detainees were taken through the stone walled corridors of the castle. They were led to a great arched room with columns stretching for hundreds of feet in the air. The walls were adorned with epic tapestries depicting human wars and triumph. The sheer size of the room was daunting, even for the noblest of creatures. General Malark walked them through the great expanse of the antechamber, to a door with elaborate carvings of eagles in mid flight.

“Before we enter the king’s chambers, you must relinquish your weapons. They will be returned to you when you are finished,” Malark said as they approached the beautiful door. Loch, Celene, and the unknown man gave up their weapons without struggle, and made their way into a very well lit round room. Ayc had no weapons to give, which made Malark give him a questioning look. “I would also ask that you remove your spectacles in the king’s presence miss Celene.”

She nodded curtly, and placed them in the front pocket of her overcoat. Her eyes shone a fiery green as they glinted in the torchlight. The group entered a room filled with desks, each littered with papers and maps. In the center of the room stood a man of medium build with blonde hair and an ornate crown atop his head.

“Welcome to my humble home,” the man said as they entered the room. “Do come in and make yourselves comfortable. Let’s see,” the man said after a short pause, “here we have Lochlen the seafarer. Always important to have an ocean traveler in a group. And this must be Celene,” he said as he motioned toward her. “A woman’s intuition is also important in many circumstances.” He smiled slightly as he spoke. Celene looked around the room uncomfortably.

The man continued, “next we have Ayc, correct?” as he pointed at the cloaked Human. “I didn’t want the group to be made entirely of outsiders, as these are Human concerns we are dealing with; and with your talents, I’m sure you are a good man for the job.” He motioned toward the last man. “And you. Well we don’t know exactly what to call you, do we?” He chuckled.

“As is preferred,” the man replied with a sly smile.

“Interesting,” he said with a curious look. “From what we have seen your talents will also not go unnoticed on this journey. General Malark has given you some information about the situation I presume?” he said as he looked them all over. His gaze passed quickly over the unknown man and Ayc, but as he noticed the inhuman qualities of Celene and Loch, his eyes revealed a touch of scorn.

“Not really” said Ayc. As he spoke, Malark looked down to the ground and shook his head.

“Well let me enlighten you on the situation then” the man replied. “As you probably know, I am King Titus Weston III, ruler of all humanity, and I am in need of your help to end this terrible war that has ravaged our world for two centuries now. You do know how the Chymaron Elves started the war right?” King Weston asked.

“Honestly no” replied Celene.

“Well let me tell you. Just over two hundred years ago, when we Humans controlled the midsection of Falost, we were attacked by a Goblin and Elven hoard. They had superior numbers, but we had superior strength and we beat them back. After our victory, the Elves kept attacking, killing many of us with their destructive magic. They weakened us, and made it so my grandfather, King Titus Weston I, had to retreat to the island of Faeraqueue where he built the castle we now stand in. West Haven is a great city, but it used to be so much more.” The king began pacing and staring off at nothing as he recounted the tale. “After they attacked us, we had to retaliate, so my grandfather commissioned the mages to create a weapon so powerful that the Elves wouldn’t know how to recover. We used our weapon, and turned the very land against the Elves. They are creatures of trickery, however, and were able to survive. Now they are the twisted creatures we call Chymaron Elves.”

Each time King Weston mentioned Elves, he glanced quickly toward Loch.

“We now know how to destroy the Chymaron Elves once and for all, and that is where you come in,” he said as he motioned toward the four people listening to his monologue. “Long ago, we found out that the Chymaron Elves have a queen. If she is killed, then the rest of them will have no will to fight and we will know victory. My father, Titus Weston II, sent in an army to dispatch her, however, she is impossible to kill without destroying her heart first. We lost many lives to learn that lesson, and the next time we found the heart first. My father plunged his dagger into the heart, and we marched to war the next day.” The king’s head lowered in sadness. “That was when we learned that she can regrow her heart within a matter of days. Our forces were repelled, but not before we saw her new heart being whisked away by one of her lowly servants.”

The king paused, and looked at the group once again. “I need you to find the heart, and bring it to me. Once you have completed your task, you will be rewarded, and we will march on the Chymaron Elves one last time,” he paused, “only this time we will destroy her heart moments before we destroy her, and end this war once and for all. Any questions?” the king asked.

The group looked at each other, then at the king. The nameless man stepped forward. “If I do this, I want half up front.”

The king laughed and replied, “there is no way I am giving you 500 gold up front. You will receive your reward upon arrival of the heart.”

The man stepped forward again, causing Malark and the other guards in the room to tense. “Think about it. Without anything in advance, how am I supposed to find this heart? And without that advance, how am I supposed to purchase preparations?” he asked very matter of factually.

The king stood for a moment, pondering his options. “Ok I will give you 1 platinum to begin your journey,” he replied.

“Let’s add a zero onto that,” the man answered.

“But that’s 100 platinum!” the king replied incredulously.

“Actually that’s 10,” said the man, chuckling to himself. General Malark also laughed softly, however the other guards held their demeanor.

“Fine you can have it, but no more negotiations,” the king said embarrassed by his own miscalculation. “You must leave soon, for I forgot to mention, there are nine other groups searching for the Heart of Chymaron as well. Whoever finds it receives the reward. Oh and if you aren’t the ones to find it, I will be expecting my advance back,” the king said as his eyes rested on the unnamed man’s eyes.

“How are we to find this Elf that took the heart?” Loch asked.

“She ran toward the east, which means she could be in one of three places; at least in theory. She could be in the Lost Lands, hiding near the barbarians; the Mage’s City, taking refuge with those pompous magic users; or on Torruga, trying to bury its existence in the Dwarven mines. We don’t know exactly where it is, but you could start your search in any of those places,” the king said as he pointed to a cluttered map.

“Now go. I have many important things to take care of. I am the King after all,” king Weston said as he shooed them toward the door. “General Malark will see you to the exit and on your way.”

General Malark led the group back thought the huge chamber after letting them reequip their gear. He then led them through a maze of corridors and hallways, each slightly less lavish than the last, until he showed them through the outer doorway. The group walked away from the immense castle toward the port town of Nautilon, where there would be ships they could take to Falost.

Celene swiftly lifted her tinted spectacles to her face as they stepped out into the sunlight. As they walked, they found themselves in front of a high end magic shop. “We could probably use some supplies,” the unnamed man said as he walked confidently toward the shop. The rest of the party followed, thinking it was a good idea, but unsure about how they would afford expensive supplies.

Once inside, the party began looking at the assorted items on the shelves, noticing that there were many strange and magical artifacts, all arranged neatly inside glass containers. The nameless man paused momentarily near some rings. “What kind of rings are you selling?”

An old and motherly woman from behind the counter smiled, and said, “Oh why we have many different rings. Rings of Protection, Rings of Water-breathing, and even a Ring of Strength.” She smiled again at the man, but her gaze shifted slightly to watch Loch and Celene with distrust.

The man looked around the store, and saw what looked like a noble shopping amid the aisles. “Thank you for your time miss,” he said as he excused himself from the conversation. He cunningly placed himself behind Ayc, and whispered, “follow my lead.” With that he shoved the confused Ayc into the nobleman. They both tumbled to the ground; hands flinging into the air to catch themselves as they fell.

The nameless man took this opportunity to slyly clip the nobleman’s coin-purse from his belt.

“Watch where you are going! Do you have any idea who I am?” the nobleman cried out toward Ayc. Ayc sat with a dazed and confused look as he pulled himself up off of the downed nobleman.

“I’m sorry. I don’t even know what happened,” Ayc said with authentic confusion in his eyes.

As they stood, the old shopkeeper came forward from behind the counter. “There will be no trouble in my shop,” she cried as the nobleman’s temper seemed to rise.

A town guard also appeared in the doorway of the shop to see about the commotion. “Is there a problem here?” he asked with his hand on his sword and his eyes on the situation.

“No problem. We were just leaving. I apologize for my friend. He can be a bit clumsy at times.” The group hurried toward the door as the nameless man spoke.

The party exited the shop, and before they were able to decide which direction to go, a smooth and handsome man appeared from the shadows. “I do enjoy watching another’s handiwork,” he said with a sly smile.

The party froze for a moment, unsure about this man who apparently had been watching them. “Oh don’t worry. I’m a fellow man of the trade myself.” His gaze met with the unnamed man’s eyes. The man with no name began to move his hands in strange ways, and the newcomer followed suit.

Loch, Celene, and Ayc all looked dumbfounded as these two men stood silently, moving their hands in strange ways. After a moment, the nameless man said, “we can trust him.” Each party member shared a hesitant glance with each other, then eased their muscles slightly.

“Of course you can trust me,” the newcomer said with a large smile. “I’m Benny Gogood, and anything that isn’t supposed to happen in town probably happens because of me.” He chuckled to himself. “I have my hand in most pockets here in West Haven, and everyone knows: whatever you need, just call on Benny.”

“Ok, so what do you want?” Loch asked. He still seemed more apprehensive than the rest of the group.

“I’m so glad you asked!” Benny exclaimed. “Well you see I know about the groups the king is putting together to find the Heart of Chymaron. I’ve been out here all day stopping you, special groups, trying to get a little help. You see I have a shipment of some very lucrative supplies, if you know what I mean. The guards know not to go near my shipments, but my men won’t open up the ship either. Apparently there are some problems, and I could use a group like you to go find out what’s going on. I would go myself, but hey I’m more the brains than the brawn. You know what I mean?” Benny laughed at some inside joke he seemed to tell himself.

“What do we get out of it?” the man with no name asked.

Benny leaned in close, hushing his voice. “You see, this lucrative shipment happens to be a shipment of inibriroot. If you figure out what’s going on for me, I will give you a bit off the top for your travels.”

The party exchanged skeptical glances, and Benny interjected before they had time to answer. “I can see you people are probably high class killers and probably don’t want to cloud the mind. I get it. How about if you do this for me, I owe you a favor? Favors from Benny Gogood are worth more than platinum.” He smiled again as he watched the group ponder the new offer.

“We’ll do this for you, but then you owe us a favor right?” Ayc asked.

“Yep!” Benny said happily. “Just go down to the docks, and look for a ship with this insignia.” He handed Ayc a piece of cloth with a symbol of a cat with a snake coiling out of its mouth.

The party headed toward the port-town of Nautilon where Benny said his shipment was waiting at the docks. As they traveled, Loch and Celene received many side glances from the Humans of the town. A group of clerics even marched by, spewing rhetoric about the infernal races, and the power of Man.

They arrived at the docks to see a group of men all crowded around a medium sized vessel. The men were dressed as sailors, except for one man who was dressed in the armor of the town guard. As the group approached the crowd, they overheard the men speaking to each other.

“You open it.”

“No you open it.”

“But I can hear noises.”

“Well I’m not going to open it. This is Benny’s shipment and you never know what’s inside his boats. No way am I opening it.”

The group stood just behind the crowd, and the sailors and soldier looked at the newcomers with intrigue. “Can I help you?” the soldier asked.

“We are here to help,” replied Ayc. “Benny sent us to see what’s going on with his shipment.”

The sailors glanced at each other, then back at the group. “That’s great. Once you open it up, we’ll unload it,” one of the sailors said, as he and his compatriots edged away from the rear of the ship.

“You! Sailor!” Ayc yelled to the closest one. “You open the door, and whatever is making noise in there will have to come out.”

The sailor looked to his friends for help, but they continued to back away from the ship. He looked back at the barge door, and shook his head as he mustered the courage to pull the lever to open the door. The soldier stepped forward to help, but his unease was blatantly obvious.

“Ok on three. One. Two. Three!” Ayc yelled as the sailor pulled the lever. The back wall of the barge fell down, much like a drawbridge, and light poured into the ship. As the light spilled into the interior, shrieks could be heard. Three Kobolds were hunched over the inibriroot, their eyes wide in shock and outrage at the sudden blinding light which had interrupted their binge.

The nameless man took quick action, darting into the boat and slashing at the nearest Kobold. The creature dodged the hit with almost inhuman speed and lashed back out at the man. He was able to dodge it, but the speed and power of the Kobold surprised him.

Ayc also used the initial shock of the light to make a blitz attack at the other nearest Kobold. As he rushed forward, his hand emitted an uneasy black glow, and a large scythe appeared in his hands. He swung hard, but the crazed Kobold was able to dodge his attack. The third Kobold ran forward with its jagged dagger. Hate raged in its eyes as it bore down on Ayc.

Loch roared in anger as he charged forward, catching the Kobold assailant square in the chest with his trident. It made a sickening pop as the trident’s tips tore into the Kobold’s rib-cage. It howled in pain and grabbed the trident protruding from its chest. With a primal yell, Loch lifted the Kobold into the air and lunged into the sea with his catch. The Kobolds eyes became panicked as Loch swam deeper and deeper into the ocean.

The Kobold was able to free itself from the trident’s barbed point, and it frantically swam toward the surface. Loch was faster than the Kobold, however, and he appeared in front of the creature with his trident ready. He came down onto the Kobold with another powerful strike. The Kobold stared up toward the sunlight of the surface as the life left its eyes. The Kobold shuddered for a moment, then stopped moving altogether. Loch swam full speed toward the surface of the water, and launched out onto the docks.

“Nice job Loch. That’s one less we have to deal with” Ayc exclaimed as he reared back for another swing. The scythe whipped through the air, but once again did not find its mark. Instead, he slammed his blade down into the bottom of the ship, and it became stuck. One of the Kobolds dropped his blade and grabbed the scythe with both hands.

“Mine!” the Kobold yelled as it tried to take the scythe from Ayc.

Celene stood back from the carnage, watching and waiting for the right moment. She looked over at the guard, who was very hesitant to join the battle her companions were fighting. “Aren’t you going to fight?” she asked. “They could probably use a hand.”

“I was thinking I could protect you?” he replied. Nervousness shown through his eyes like a glaring light of a lighthouse.

“You are too kind. Come here, and protect me.” Celene motioned toward herself, and the guard slowly walked toward her. “You can protect me forever,” Celene said with a malicious smile. She touched his hand, and smoke-like tendrils of power crept from her hand to his.

His body shuddered and his eyes glowed black for an instant. Then, he was still as stone. “That’s better. What is your name soldier?” Celene asked.

“Trevan m’lady,” he replied. “Please let me serve you.” Tears welled in his eyes as he looked at the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on. Trevan knew he would do anything he could for Celene, for she was the most important being in existence.

“Well Trevan, start fighting,” she said as she looked toward the battle on the boat.

“For Celene!” he cried as he pulled out his crossbow and began shooting toward the deranged Kobolds. After each miss, he turned to look at Celene with self hate and loathing. “I won’t miss again,” he yelled frantically after each bolt he shot.

Ayc and the unnamed man watched as bolts flew past their heads, none of them finding their mark. The Kobold with his hands on Ayc’s scythe pulled hard again, trying to steal a new weapon for himself. All of a sudden, the scythe dissapearred, and the Kobold fell over from its own force. A sudden flash of black light brought forth the scythe into Ayc’s hands. He swung it down in a smooth arc to rest below the neck of the downed Kobold. Ayc pressed his foot against the back of the writhing Kobold, and pulled up on his scythe. With a wet, squishy sound, the Kobold’s head rolled clean of its shoulders, and a sickening black energy wrapped from the wound up Ayc’s scythe.

The nameless man kept dodging attacks from in front and bolts from behind. He had one Kobold to dispatch, and had scored many hits on the creature with his rapier, however it would not fall down. Blood poured from multiple wounds as the man quickly stabbed and dodged. The Kobold was unable to keep up, and began swinging more wildly. Finally, a bolt from Trevan’s crossbow found its mark, and the Kobold reared back in pain.

“M’lady I hit one! I hit one!” Trevan cried in elation from behind the unnamed man.

The shaft of the bolt stuck out straight from its shoulder, and the Kobold’s arm fell useless to its side. The man used this opportunity to strike a killing blow with his blade; he stabbed his rapier deep into the heart of the Kobold. With a hard twist, he wrenched his blade out the side of the creature, spilling its entrails onto the wet wood of the ship, and the Kobold went limp.

Each member of the party began looking through the cargo, trying to figure out what was going on. Celene took out a vial, and collected blood from one of the dead Kobolds while Ayc examined the final Kobold’s body. A strange cold presence seemed to encompass the ship’s interior, but then it was gone. The unnamed man quietly stashed a few inibriroot bundles into his pouch.

As they were investigating the scene, a group of guards arrived. “Alright everyone out!” a man yelled. “We are taking over from here. You men grab those bodies. You two start an inventory count so we can see what’s missing.” Guards began running about as the soldier barked his orders.

“Great job Trevan,” the soldier in charge said. “We need good soldiers down here to make sure strangers don’t cause too much trouble.”

“Anything for Celene,” Trevan replied. The soldier looked at him strangely.

“Hey we just helped you,” Ayc said haughtily. “And where are you taking that stuff?”

The soldiers looked a bit uneasy at being asked questions. “Never mind us. Thank you for helping with the shipment, but besides that you can leave now.” The guard stared at Ayc as his men continued their orders.

As the soldiers gathered the Kobold bodies, they picked a parchment out off one of their pockets. “Sir I found something,” the soldier said as he strode over to his commanding officer. The man looked at the paper, and mumbled under his breath as he folded up the parchment and put it into his belt-pouch.

The group watched quietly as the guards began cleaning up the scene, taking the bodies and drugs to some unknown location. As they watched, Ayc quietly nudged Loch. “Could we get that body out of the sea?” he asked.

Loch nodded quizzically, but as he looked into the water where the Kobold’s body had been, he saw nothing but the deep wine colored haze of blood. “Something probably came and ate it,” Loch replied quietly.

Everyone’s focus was on the guards and the cleanup process, when all of a sudden a scream came out from behind them. “That ship is coming too fast!” People on the docks began to run as a larger ship headed toward the docks at full speed. On the side of the ship was a large symbol and words branded into the wood: DEATH TO ALL HUMANS.

The symbol was a large Ork head with massive tusks and flaming eyes. Celene knew that this was a War Call. The Orks she had encountered in her travels did the same thing to other tribes. They would send a random attack, then allow one month to pass before an all out attack. She never fully understood the tactic, but knew it was related to their honor codes.

As the ship reached the dock, there was a loud crash as it came to a halt over splintered wood. Most people had ran, but a few brave onlookers cautiously approached the ship. Smoke was beginning to billow out of the holes in the ship. The man with no name looked around nervously, then closed his eyes, and with a dull flash, became a Raksasha instead of a Human.

“Get back!” a guard yelled. Just as he finished his sentence, the back of the ship burst outward in flames and ash, and giant fire beetles began pouring out of the ship. People screamed as they ran. The guards looked at the people in need, then back at the payload they had just unloaded. “Let’s get this stuff to the safe house!” The guard and his companions grabbed the Kobold bodies and the crates of inibriroot, and ran in the opposite direction.

“Seriously?” Loch yelled as the men ran in fear.

The sound of the fire beetles’ chattering mandibles filled the air, and they rushed toward the unarmed commoners on the dock. The people screamed as their flesh was torn from their bodies. The people near the fire beetles also began to sizzle and pop as they burned alive from the immense heat produced by the beetles.

Loch pulled out his net, and threw it over the assailing creatures. The creature reared back as the net began to burn and singe. Celene called out to Trevan, “kill them!” He loaded his crossbow, and shot the beetle. The bolt sailed through the air and found its target. However, when the outer shell of the fire beetle was pierced, an explosion of liquid fire burst out in all directions. Loch’s net disappeared in the blaze, and the people near the beetle fell silent as their bodies became molten piles of gore.

Loch shot Trevan a nasty glare, and moved in closer to the onslaught of giant insects. The insects turned their attention from the corpses, and ran toward Loch. He met them equally in intensity, but their sheer numbers were overwhelming. He couldn’t believe how hot it was in their vicinity. He deftly maneuvered his weapon, and was able to catch a few beetles by the jaw but one beetle was able to bite Loch on the side, and its mandibles ripped Loch’s flesh from his left hip. He fell, unable to power through the pain and fatigue. His body went limp among the ravenous beetles.

The nameless man saw what he needed to do, and he began backing up and shooting beetles with his hand crossbow very strategically. “Don’t shoot them around us!” he called to his companions. “They explode!”

Ayc ran into a corner building in order to get a better vantage point on the battle. He saw Loch on the ground, and knew he didn’t have much time to get to him. He burst through the side window of the shop and found himself flanking the beetles. He saw one of the beasts about to rip into Loch’s lifeless body, so he raised his hand and a black and blue ray of power erupted forth from his palm. The energy shot through the beetle and it let out an ungodly shriek.

“Save Loch!” Celene cried out as the beetles charged forward. Trevan ran to do his master’s bidding. He grabbed Loch by the shoulders and began dragging him away from the swarm of flaming insects. Trevan’s skin began to blacken and burn as he pulled Loch from danger. Beetles bit at his legs and arms, but Trevan could not let his mistress down. He turned to see a beetle attack Celene, and his mind twisted in anger and despair. He had to save this man so he could rush to his master’s side. Tears welled in his eyes and turned to steam as he felt his body losing its ability to fight.

Celene retreated away from the calamity. She had taken a hard hit to her thigh, and was loosing blood fast. She pulled out the vial of Kobold blood and drank it. Instantly she was filled with rapture as the blood trickled down her throat. Then something odd happened. Her thinking became fuzzy and dulled, and she was unable to focus on anything but her anger. Her muscles swelled and her body felt ready to take on the world. She stood in a daze, unable to make sense of what was going on. Then she realized with her last coherent thought that the Kobolds had inibriroot in their system.

As the group fought against the small hoard of giant fire beetles, the town guard was making their way down to help. When they arrived, they saw the scene of carnage. The group had killed a few of the beetles, and flames were raging along the docks.

“Don’t kill them up close. They explode when they die!” the nameless man yelled out to the approaching guards. “You two come fight near me. You other men try to flank the beetles.” The men nodded hesitantly as they took in this strange cat folk, but began to follow his orders.

Some of the men helped Ayc target the creatures surrounding Trevan and Loch, each of them waiting for commands for fear of making the situation worse.

The two men who were fighting near the man seemed to know each other. “Look out Johnson!” one yelled to the other as a fire beetle lunged toward him. He was tackled into the water, where the beetle screamed and hissed, but did not explode. “Nice job Johnson!” the soldier yelled.

“Thanks Stephen,” the man in the water replied with a special smile.

Stephen looked back toward the remaining fire beetles. It was starting to look like they were winning. Then from the water where Johnson was swimming, a loud splash and a guttural growl burst forth, and then the water was calm. Stephen looked back to where Johnson had been. “Nooooooo!” he screamed as he saw his friend’s body disappear in the darkness of the sea in the jaws of a large underwater creature.

The group and the soldiers were able to dispatch the rest of the giant fire beetles, each one exploding as it died. Throughout the fight, they found that the beetles could not see far, and used that to their advantage. They lured the beetles away from the downed bodies of their friends, and then destroyed them. The dock was mostly ablaze with molten lava seeping thought the wood. Steam roared up from under the docks as the red hot goo dripped into the sea.

Once the battle was over, Ayc hurried over to Trevan’s body. He was breathing still, but only barely. He knelt down, put his hands on his chest, and began pumping air back into Trevan’s scorched lungs. No one paid him any notice as they began doing the same with other wounded. The man without a name, however, watched Ayc closely. He watched as Ayc leaned close to Trevan’s body, and then Trevan seemed to float upwards. It was almost as if a clone of Trevan was made of clouds, and was exiting his body. Ayc quickly engulfed the strange clone, and then Trevan’s body went limp and pale.

Celene was unable to focus on her bond with Trevan, and she realized he had died. She still was unable to calm down and everyone she looked at seemed to be the enemy. She stood away from the rest of the people. Her body would not stop shivering.

The man with no name, still with ears and fur, looked around to see if people were watching him. He thought none were, so he closed his eyes, and with a dull flash became Human again. Two guards saw this, and cautiously approached the man.

“What was that about?” the soldier asked.

“Oh, well I saw the ‘Death to All Humans’ sign and decided I should use a spell to look inhuman. It seemed safer to be a Raksasha than to be a man at the time,” the man replied.

The soldiers exchanged glances, then looked at the man. “You should never be ashamed of being human,” the solder said. “But it makes sense tactically. Smart move.” The soldiers walked away looking for anyone who needed their help.

The guards surrounded Ayc and Trevan. “He’s gone,” Ayc said as the soldiers jostled him to the side and began pressing on Trevan’s chest. “I tried to save him, but his wounds were too great. He died saving our friend.” Ayc pointed to Loch’s burned and battered body. The guards spat at the ground toward Loch.

One of the soldiers was visibly holding back tears. “Trevan was always the best of us. He even sacrificed himself for a stupid outsider. I hope it was worth it!” he yelled as he stared cold daggers at Loch, still lying on the ground.

Ayc backed away, and searched Loch’s body for a Potion of Healing. He pulled off the stopper, and poured the healing liquid into Loch’s unconscious mouth. After a moment, Loch sputtered and coughed as air filled his lungs. Ayc stood and surveyed the aftermath of the battle. So much death; and yet Ayc couldn’t hold back a smile.


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