Sylvan Skies

Part 3: Chapter's 43-45

Part 3: Of Sylvan Retribution

Chapter 43: The Lich King By Don Fuller

1

Thrain sat at the helm of the huge manta ship, which Erroyl had dubbed The Gopher based upon some ancient creature no one else had heard of. He was still trying to master the intricacies of controlling something so large. The green chitinous helm was strangely warm as it conformed to his body, and his arms gripped the rests tightly. The sides and back of the helm were covered in a mass of swirling patterns interconnecting a dozen or so three inch long oblong crystals. Only five of them were glowing brightly like miniature stars; all the rest were dark. They had started off with twelve, but already one of them had burned out with their jaunts across Antheria, and he was worried about how long the remaining ones would last before the ship was rendered powerless.

The red multi-faceted view ports were set on either side of the cramped cabin, but the pilot at the helm didn’t need a port to see. Thrain’s senses were extended throughout the ship, its body becoming his own. He could see in any direction that he focused on as if the ship were a great eye, and his mind the retina. Additionally, the surface of the ship felt like his skin. It was a dull sensation, and he kept experiencing the desire to scratch in places that weren’t truly his own. There were other quirks too. Unlike a typical enchanted item, where mastering it required intense focus and intuition to explore the spell matrices, the ship gave up its secrets differently. There was a sentience that he hadn’t figured out yet. He could sense an animal-like presence at the edge of his mind, somewhat timid and afraid like an animal that had been kicked, seemingly unaware of its own vast potential. He had to coax it to him, and slowly it was giving him control. In a drop of fortune, he was able to discover the cloaking ability that turned the ship invisible, which had gotten them this far. He was very grateful for that boon, as he looked out upon the undead horde surrounding the tower where his companions were holed up.

He had pulled the ship back out of range, and was hovering silently some three hundred feet from the tower; once Derth’s ritual had started and the mega-crystal at the top of the tower began to glow, the Lich King’s minions had swarmed from the palace like ants. Dozens of armored undead warriors were zipping around the area on floating wooden disks, half-a-dozen Fell beasts with mounted warriors holding lances circled slowly above, and hundreds of soldiers were taking positions as the base of the tower. Of all the enemies deployed, only one truly concerned Thrain.

The Lich King stood casually atop a large, gaily colored red carpet, its corner tassels fluttering in the breeze. Once a man, he was tall and gaunt, his ghoulish grey skin hanging from his frame draped in a flowing blue gemmed robe. He held a serpentine staff and had numerous glowing rings, necklaces and a jewel encrusted platinum crown. Not physically imposing to the casual observer, but with Thrain’s arcane sight, he could see a vast array of spell defenses and contingencies, and judging by his aura, the Lich King was easily three times as powerful as himself and Derth combined.

For the last several minutes, Thrain was certain that the lich would see him, but he was obviously focused on the ritual going on in his palace. They could all sense that it was about to end, as if the gigantic glowing crystal that was getting brighter and brighter wasn’t clue enough. Then it happened.

The crystal erupted in a burst of pure focused mana brighter than the sun. The shipped dimmed his vision, protecting his eyes, as a beam blasted upwards to the heavens, and a clap of thunder boomed from the top of the tower, immediately followed by a powerful shockwave. The ship was buffeted back, and as he recovered control he could see that all of the aerial enemies had been blasted back from the force, and at least two of the warriors on the disks were thrown off and plummeted two hundred feet to the stone courtyard below. A moment later, the crystal erupted again with a second blast, smaller than the first, but it traveled not up, but outwards and across the sky roughly in a southwesterly direction, and then it was gone.

The air was supercharged with Essence, and Thrain’s skin tingled all over. Far above, the sky was rumbling and he knew it was time for them to go. The Lich King had recovered from the blast, and was directing his forces with loud shouts and gestures. If only this ship had some weapons, Thrain thought. It suddenly occurred to him. It does. Thrain grinned evilly.

“Hang on”, he projected his voice throughout the ship, giving Ash, Fezla, Myste and Loda Shar some small warning of what was about to happen. He then focused on the Lich King with the manta’s tail, and fired.

A crackling bolt of green elemental lightning cut across the sky. The lich turned in surprise as the massive bolt caught him square in the chest, cutting through his defenses and projecting him off of his carpet in a burst of hot energy. He arced out and downwards, trailing a plume of smoke while Thrain cackled with glee. The carpet raced down after its master.

“Here we go!” he shouted, and the manta sprung forwards, seemingly materializing out of thin air to the surprise of the remaining forces. They tried to scatter as the ship rapidly accelerated and roared through their ranks. He felt the repeated thumps and crashes as he clipped the flying soldiers with the huge wings, sending several more to their doom. Two managed to hang on, and he could feel them climbing up and trying to find purchase to get atop the wings. “Boarders”, he alerted the others, and Ash went running for the top hatch.

2

Dramm was a second too late. The room that he, Derth, Zane and the goblins were in was hot, and he was sweating profusely in his armor. Derth had sealed off the exit with a magically created wall, and he could hear the sounds of fighting that he was missing out on just beyond it, where Av, Oz and Erroyl were engaging the undead. He had watched uncomfortably as Derth stood before the strange crystalline spire with arcane looking levers and knobs. Bursts of multi-colored energy were coursing up and down its length and through the ceiling which connected to the thirty foot tall crystal that was mounted there. He had no real understanding of what was happening. Meanwhile, Zane and his damned goblins were fidgeting about and making him nervous. There was something decidedly smarmy about the little thief, but as long as he kept the goblins in check he could stay a bit longer. His patience had nearly worn thin, but he could tell it was almost over. The lights were pulsing too fast to follow, and the room was blazing hot now. It was so bright that he could barely see clearly, and he didn’t know how Derth stood there in the midst of it. With a deafening roar and a clap of thunder, the room shook and filled with a blinding white burst. His ears were ringing and eyes were burning, and he thought he should react when one of the goblins leapt over next to Derth and pulled a lever. His axe came up a moment faster than Zane could fathom what was happening, and hot goblin blood splattered across the far wall as its limp body hit the ground in halves. Another bust of light erupted from the crystal spire, blinding him again, and he heard Derth sit down with a loud thump.

“What was that?” he yelled, but Derth was still reeling from his effort and didn’t acknowledge him. He spun on Zane, but from the look of surprise and fear on his face he doubted the man knew either. “We gotta go Derth,” Derth nodded his head, shaking off the fatigue. They all heard a loud crackling explosion from outside, following by more of Oz’s gunfire. Derth waved his hand and his wall vanished into mist. Av, Oz and Erroyl were on the landing leading down the stairs, where undead were hacking through a stone wall. Av fired her bow again, sending a flaming arrow through one of the holes and knocking back a soldier on the other side, and Oz fired at something beyond the balcony outside. Erroyl was chanting and glanced at them expectantly. Dramm stepped out onto the balcony, prepared to fight, and observed an unexpected spectacle. Their ship had apparently just raced through the area and was spinning around for another pass. Half-a-dozen undead warriors on flying disks were chasing after it, while two others on foot were perched precariously on one of the wings. Ash, their great gray skinned ally, was standing on the ships main deck holding the railing, and he cut loose with a firebolt that caught one of the undead in the head. It staggered around in flames and then fell off and away. Two fell beasts with mounted fighters were closing in fast, and another four circled around and prepared to charge. The ship hovered in place for several long moments, and then a brilliant burst of green lightning leaped from the point of the arching tail and cut across the sky, blasting off the wing of one of the fell beasts. It roared in agony, and then fell in a jerking spiral, its rider hanging on futilely. “It would seem Thrain has them occupied”, Derth said, as he moved up next to Dramm. They both looked far down upon the courtyard, where hundreds of undead stood ready, unable to get into the fray. Erroyl finished his spell behind them, and white lightning shot from the sky and struck one of the charging fell beast riders; his chest exploded and he fell off to the side in the stirrups shaking violently. The ship leapt forward at the charging disk riders and smashed two more off of their disks. A third managed to leap clear and onto the wing. The second of the original two nearly made it to the railing when Ash sent him spinning with another firebolt. He lost his balance and slid off of the wing, flailing wildly. Loda Shar popped up at the opposite railing, hand-crossbows blazing. Four bolts pin cushioned the third boarder, taking out a kneecap and sending him sprawling. The ship spun in a tight arc, and the warrior gracefully slid off the edge. It looked like Thrain had the ship on a collision course with the tower, but he spun it again and brought the starboard wing right up to the balcony, just a bit too overzealous as it made a scraping noise against the railing and vibrated the balcony beneath their feet.

“Your carriage is here,” they heard Thrain’s voice echo from the ship. Derth glanced at the closing fell beasts, and jumped onto the wing, moving quickly towards the top deck. “We’re leaving!” Dramm yelled, as he followed suit. Erroyl hopped on with Zane, Av and Oz close behind. The second goblin made to jump, and then leaped off the balcony to his death; Zane paused briefly at the edge of the wing, and then ran after the others. Ash and Loda Shar continued with their cover fire, and Av sent several arrows into a fell beast, while Oz fired again grazing one of the closing riders. No sooner had the last of them cleared the railing when the ship lurched forward again turning away from the closing fell beasts, and rapidly sped away, easily outdistancing even the fastest of their pursuers.

Derth came up behind Thrain in the helm room. “Well done.” “You too. Nice light show. Looks like you started something big up there.” Derth looked out a portal at the sky above where a dangerous looking storm was brewing. “What of the Lich King?” “I gave him something to think about. We didn’t make any allies back there.” Derth shrugged. The undead army and their king was no longer a present worry, but the forming storms across the sky looked like their next crisis to deal with. “Take us up. We’re going to Glantri.”

Chapters 44 & 45: Return to the Sky By Don Fuller

1.

The manta ship cut through morning sky like a knife, occasionally buffeted by the strong crosswinds from the forming storms. The thunder from the exploding gases could still faintly be heard, as the combustion spread outwards and around the world. The bright sun was scouring away shadows below in places that had not seen the light of day in hundreds of years. Thrain surveyed the countryside in all directions, sickened by the blight that the demons had spread.

Derth stood on the top deck, casually holding the railing. His curved hazy arcane shield blocked the wind, and gave him free opportunity to observe what was happening in the sky. He watched astrally as all of the energy that had been released from the demon clouds began to pool. He guessed that over the next three days and possibly more, powerful elemental storms would continue to form and run rampant until the energy was spent. The irony that they had saved all of the falling cities from a poisonous death only to have them obliterated by the ensuing storms was not lost upon him, and he was determined to save as many cities as he could.

Ozmandimus came up behind him, pushing through the wind until he was fully protected by the shield. “I need to return to my grove as soon as possible.” “I know. I too am concerned about that second energy burst.” Oz nodded. He knew that his master was powerful, but if SkyFlame had found a way to strike at him, Oz was duty-bound to defend the grove. “It would cost us too much time to make for the grove first though; we have little of it to spare before these storms become a threat to the cities.” Derth glanced over at their draconic ally, who had finally shed his mask in their company. He too wanted very much to race back to the dragon WindSong, so that he could continue on with his primary quest of purging the world of taint, but again pressing priorities were leading him astray. They had ascended to over a thousand feet, and were still slowly climbing to the south east. With Ohtar lost, and Kaycian somewhere below them searching for his father, they didn’t have a fully trained navigator. Thrain was using the navigational charts and studying the landscape; it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the massive floating city of Glantri, but he’d calculated it was about five-hundred miles away, easily an eight hour trip. If all went well they’d make it by dusk. Where are you Kaycian, Derth mused, studying the terrain below. He intended to recover the others soon, and then meet the Wind Sprite at Fort Reid. If it all went the way he hoped, they could reunite the crew and continue on his quest. If Thrain’s speculations were correct, they couldn’t continue on for as long as he needed in the Gopher, unless they could find a way to recharge the power crystals, so his best bet might be to travel on Kaycian’s new ship once they got it crewed and refitted. One thing at a time though.

2

The Gopher hit a strong downdraft, and everyone’s stomachs lurched. Dramm cursed to himself and held on to his chair. Avinatria and Erroyl were engaged in a deep conversation in Elvish in an adjacent room, Myste was lying down in the bedroom, and Ash, Loda Shar, Zane and Fezla were playing cards at the table. He was wondering who was cheating more, and opted to stay out of the game lest he be tempted to hurt one of them; the scoundrels could have each other. They all had decisions to make, but by his guess only the elves were seriously planning their futures. He mulled over his own. On the bright side it wasn’t too likely anyone would remember his sentence. On the downside, the people who would remember were the only people important to him. He knew returning to his home city of Kazad was in his future; the question at hand was, how long before the dwarves opened up the great city-kaer and came back into the world? Clearing the sky the way they had done today was a big step towards that he figured, but the rock man apparently in charge of this show had crazy ideas of cleaning the whole world. That had to be a good thing; if he could return to Kazad a hero, it might just put him in good standing to get his rank and title back. But then again, they could all die in this mad quest. From the sounds of it a lot of people had already died following Derth. Bah. What did he have to lose? He chuckled to himself at that. Not a damn thing.

3

“City spotted”, Thrain’s voice echoed throughout the ship. “I wish he wouldn’t do that. Ain’t natural,” Dramm muttered. “C’mon little man, lets see this thing!” Ash said gravelly. “You call me that again, I’ll cut your kneecaps off.” The gray giant laughed boisterously and climbed up the top hatch. “No, I’m serious about that,” Dramm scowled. Loda Shar snickered and darted up the ladder. The rest of the crew, save for Myste, climbed up to join Derth on the main deck. Thrain slowed the ship down appreciably as they leveled off with the massive floating city. “Whoa.” Ash said aloud, and the others murmured agreement. “Now that is somethin’” “Come in slowly, Thrain. There are certain rules to follow here, and unfortunately I don’t know them in detail. We should be given an escort when they spot us. Hopefully not having any proper flags won’t be a problem.” “I should go below,” Oz said. “Me too, I s’pose,” Ash grunted. “Wouldn’t want to make them unfriendly.” Derth nodded.

The city was circular, easily one and half miles across. It was surrounded by a low wall that enclosed an outer ring of crops and parks, broken up only on one point by the dock area. The inner ring was comprised of hundreds and hundreds of independently floating buildings some connected by portions of sidewalks or courtyards, but even more having nothing more then small private docks. The sky above was filled with countless manned skiffs, carpets, hypogriffs, or small flying disks zipping around from place to place. The docks were swamped with people, as dozens of ships of all sizes were crowded in, and half that many were waiting for a berth. It looked like the city was preparing for the storms, and the ships were trying to get to whatever safety the city could offer.

They didn’t have to wait long to get noticed, and apparently not having the appropriate colors made a difference, as a dozen armored guardsmen with bright blue capes on disks escorting a larger armored skiff big enough for ten men broke away and quickly approached. Once within hailing distance, the officer in charge bellowed from the skiff. “Hail ship! Identify yourself, and state your allegiance and business.” “My name is Derth, of Haalkitaine, and this is the… Gopher. I have pressing business with Emissary Otarie that involves the safety of Glantri from the coming storms. He should be expecting me. There is no time to waste.”

4

As usual, it took some time to convince the right people to make the correct decisions, but once they pushed through the bureaucracy, the ship was cleared for docking. Due to space issues, they had to wait for an actual spot, but a skiff was sent for Derth. He left them with clear instructions, and said that he would need the ship for a while, but anyone who wished to stay in the city should do so. When they finally docked, it was agreed that Thrain would stay with the ship, and Ash would provide guard duty. The rest proceeded into the city to find food and to do some sight-seeing. At some point during their jaunt, Zane detached himself and vanished into a crowded street, apparently back in his element.

Derth moved quickly through the echelons of ranking mages, rapidly presenting his theory on how to protect the city from the storms. He was soon given access to the Mage Council, where they discussed his idea for a short time, but given the pressing need, they bypassed the normal lengthier arguments and opted to put his plan into effect. The council soon sent out communications to the other cities in the region, as far out as it seemed feasible for Derth to travel based upon his projected travel times in the ship. Within a few hours, the council was casting a ritual to magnify his essence stabilization field a hundred-fold across the entire city, with tremendous success. Exhausted, but with several ranking mages as allies, he then returned to the ship with the mages and told Thrain the plan.

5

It was a taxing three days for Thrain, Derth, the ranking council mages Sirian and Dorlas, plus a navy appointed navigator by the name of Amvar. Moving at top speed, they passed through Bazilar, Salaza, Erewan, Rasul, Calambre, Haalkitaine, Norek, Nomikos, Kaitaine and Sel-Kai, and then returned to Glantri. The sky lanes were empty by the time that they returned. On the way, Thrain learned a bit more about the ship, in part through answering the myriad of questions that the council mages had in regards to how it worked. They never would have been able to get safely through the storms otherwise, but Thrain took the ship continually higher until they were at last above them. Derth was anticipating the need to cast his environmental sphere, but the ship took care of that itself, so the air was perfectly breathable and at a normal pressure even upwards of twenty thousand feet. He wondered just how far up he could go, and determined to find that out sooner than later. To his dismay, two more crystals burned out in the journey, leaving them at nine.

While Derth and Thrain were gone, the others had been put up in private suites in the Palladium, a small token of thanks from the city. They wined and dined with a number of important city officials, mages, scholars and artists, causing something of a stir in numerous social circles. They also toured the city, exploring shops, markets and landmark attractions. Oz was desperately impatient, but there was no safe way to navigate through the storms, and so they waited for Derth to return and the storms to abate.

6

Derth woke from his meditational slumber slowly, the efforts of the last three days still hanging on him. He stretched his stony arms wide, producing cracking noises clearly not of human origin. He opened his eyes, taking in the lavish suite with little concern, instead focusing on the noise that had awakened him. Tap. Tap. Tap. He stood, producing more creaks from his joints, and walked over to the large balcony doors where sunlight was streaming in, and gently pushed them open. A moment later, a small blue bird fluttered in and landed on his shoulder. “Greetings little one,” he rumbled. “Are you lost?” The little bird chirped a tune, but it wasn’t what Derth heard, as he immediately recognized a language spell. He briefly considered a defensive spell, and then relaxed as a feeling of calm washed over him.

“Blessing to you Sky Friend and Wind Savior. The Sky Mistress Gwynne sends you her gratitude for the service you have provided to all of Sylva.” Dumbfounded for the first time in his short life, Derth listened. “While you have done much, there is still more to do. She asks a boon of you. One of her daughters, no stranger to you, is in need. Kethia is in grave peril. Go to her now, if you can, and take this feather as a token of gratitude and goodwill.”

The bird flicked its wings, and a small blue feather came free on his shoulder. It then chirped again, and flew out the window and was gone. Derth carefully took the feather and slipped it into one of his pouches for safekeeping, and then gathered up his other meager belongings, grabbed his Laen staff, and headed out the door to find the others.

INTERMISSION: LOST AND FOUND By Don Fuller

Kaycian

Kaycian jerked awake, and immediately groaned from pain. His arms were numb, and his wrists chafed from the heavy metal shackles that secured him to the damp stone wall. He could still feel the burning slashes on his back from his last round of interrogation, and his right eye was bruised and puffy. He readjusted to the gloom of his tiny cell, and once again he accepted that it wasn’t all just a bad dream. He pulled himself to his feet and stretched, working out the kinks in his sore muscles. At least it isn’t that cold, he thought. They’d left him with his trousers and a pile of straw to sleep on. The only light he had was from the thin cracks around the door, but he could make out every minute detail of the room with his keen elven vision. He paced the small cell until his legs were awake, and then someone was coming down the hall, and he could hear rattling. A small panel slid open at the base of his cell door, and a tray of gruel and a cup of water were pushed in. It was unpleasant stuff, but he knew he had to keep his strength up if he was going to get out of this. He sat back down and ate the meager breakfast, his mind retracing the steps of the last few weeks.

It had started well enough. After Derth’s group had left Fort Reid, Kaycian’s group stayed another night. It ended up being well worth it, as somehow Kethia used her wiles on the horsemen and procured not only mounts for the first leg of their journey, but an escort. Originally they didn’t want the burden of horses once they reached the great forest, but the horsemen agreed to take their mounts back once they made it to the border of their territory. It was nearly one hundred twenty miles across the dusty plains, and the riders kept a hard pace. They knew the lay of the land and good camping spots, so overall it was largely uneventful. They did have to fend off a couple of minor attacks against some creatures called Blightworms, and there was a nasty acid rainstorm to contend with, but they all made it alive and in an unbelievable four days. They camped with the riders one last time, and then in the morning it was a brisk parting, as he, Kethia, Trel, Tolani, Tyr, Colwyn and Squee limped their way to the eastern river, bruised and aching from the rough ride, very glad to be free of those horses.

Crossing the river had been a bit tricky. It was Colwyn who had insisted that they bring ample rope, and it proved useful. Trel flew across the river and tied it off, and they climbed one of the taller trees and glided across one at a time with a harness that Colwyn put together. Once across without mishap, they entered the forest fringe, the plan being to cover the next two-hundred or so miles keeping as much cover as possible without compromising their overall hiking speed. The weather was temperate, and with the continual cloud cover and additional shade from the trees they went through the drinking water slowly, to Kaycian’s relief.

He had hoped that they would cover at least twenty miles a day, but that proved impractical if they wanted to keep good cover. The undergrowth was heavy in many places, and they had to continually contest with tangling vines, dry ravines, impassible walls of trees and hampering swarms of stinging insects. By day three, he reckoned they had only covered forty miles, but the truth was he couldn’t be sure. Without any stars or view of the sun, and no landmarks to match what was on the map, navigating was beyond difficult. Both Trel and Kethia were able to do aerial reconnaissance, which was helpful, but they both said the same thing. The line of trees went on and on, well out of sight.

On the fourth day, after a nasty fight with a large, leathery skinned black bear, the group overruled his preference for staying in the trees. At their current rate, it looked like it could take three weeks just to get past the forest, and everyone was tired. Once that was decided, they moved out into the thick rolling grass, and with Trel and Kethia keeping watch, they picked up the pace considerably, and everyone’s spirit improved.

On the sixth day, Kethia spotted the ruins of a small town nestled up against the forest, but neither she nor Trel could see any signs of life. The last two nights they had heard distant howling of numerous animals, but nothing had approached yet. Thinking the ruins might offer them shelter for the night, they approached cautiously.

Kaycian sighed, going over their actions again. Looking back, he still blamed himself for Trel and Colwyn’s deaths, but couldn’t come up with a scenario that would have gotten them around the ambush safely. Somehow the dog men had spotted them, and prepared for their arrival. Dozens of spears flew out of the ruins, seemingly from nowhere. Trel fluttered in the air for a moment, and then they all watched in horror as he fell to the ground, his lifeless body impaled. Then the dog men were on them.

They were tall and lanky, covered with light fur, a mix of brown, black and grey. Most wore fitted leather armor, and all of them were armed with spears, swords, axes and maces, some also using circular leather shields. He figured that there were at least fifty of the creatures, and he recalled shouting a retreat to the trees. It was a losing fight from the beginning, but his crew was dealing out furious death, just not at a fast enough rate. Colwyn was the next to fall, going under a pair of slashing blades. They all took wounds over the next minute of fighting, and it was just a matter of time before an attacker got through with a crippling injury. And then the elves came.

The wall of arrows filled the air with a ringing hum unlike anything he’d heard before. Half the remaining dog men went down in the first volley, and the other half scarcely were able to stop their charge, the surprise was so complete. Some managed to turn and run, but none made it more than a dozen steps before the next wave hit. Less then ten were still running, and they almost made it back to the ruins. Almost. The last volley dropped them all.

Breathing hard, he and the others spun to face their saviors, and were immediately surrounded by five dozen or more of the blood elves, their bows drawn and now pointing at Kaycian and crew.

Kethia

Kethia concentrated again, and again failed to find a connection to Gwynne. The thin silver manacles on her wrists somehow were preventing her from recharging her power or casting spells, and she felt even more naked then the silky low cut blue gown and exposed midriff ever could worry her. She looked at Tolani, who was chained and similarly attired at the other side of the dais. The sky elf was battling hard with the indignity of their situation. She had already been whipped twice for her behavior, and while she was acting cowed Kethia guessed it was a matter of timing before Tolani tried a new tactic. She was a strong one, having suffered so many losses. First her ship was destroyed by the pirates in the red corvette; then one by one her remaining crew died before her eyes, the last one suffering the most.

They were nothing more than Lord Valdak’s latest playthings, imprisoned in his fortress dubbed Castle Lakeguard, possibly because it overlooked the nearby bay. He was an ulpir lord, ruler of the eastern demesne of their province. From conversations, she’d gathered there were five or six such lords who reigned over a large stretch of land, much of which once comprised the City-States of Tenryk and Glantri. One of these ulpir was the High Lord Lucard, and he was the master of the others. Even now, the castle was in a hectic state of preparation, as Lord Valdak’s liege was on his way to see the sky people. She suspected one or more of them would be offered as a gift, and if that happened she doubted there would be any hope of escape.

Originally this was meant to be a rescue mission to save Kaycian’s father, but things didn’t go as planned. They’d lost nearly half of the team getting here, and this was the second time that they had been captives. She shook her head sadly, thinking of those who had died, of the plight that they were currently in, of the cruelty inflicted upon the ulpir subjects, but then her eyes welled with tears thinking of the beauty and tragedy of the Blood Elves.

After their initial rescue and subsequent capture by the Blood Elves, she and the others were disarmed, bound and whisked into the forest. It was more than a bit frightening seeing them at first. Over the next two days she learned a great deal about the elves, of their fight against the demons, and the ultimate sacrifice that they had paid to survive.

In first few years of the Scourge, the demons began to spread across the world, as more and more of the rift gates opened. Following these lesser demons, creatures of a darker nature came though; These the elves dubbed Horrors. These new enemies were nearly unstoppable, their hunger insatiable. Unlike the lesser demons that thrived on murder, destruction, and chaos, Horrors attacked the mind, feeding on emotion, feasting on the fear that they created and growing stronger with it. The ancient arcane barriers that protected the forest slowly failed under this new onslaught, and the elves were struck from within, as many went insane under the constant mental barrage of the Horrors.

Realizing it was too late to hide away in a Kaer underground or in the sky, the elven council came up with a plan, and their queen enacted it. They would cast a powerful ritual on the entire clan, a ritual that would alter them in such a way that would strip the remaining joy and happiness from their lives, and give them a life of pain and suffering. It was believed that eventually the Horrors would leave, unable to feed, and at some point the ritual would be reversed.

The ritual was a dark one, but it was successful. With its culmination, every surviving elf was struck with a Curse of Thorns, their bodies as one erupting with painful thorns covering all of their skin. The thorns caused constant agony, and blood dripped freely from the thousands of tiny wounds that would never heal. This new state of being was too much to bear for many elves, who ended up taking their own lives or running to face death at the raking claws of the demons still laying siege to their home. Yet most survived, and soon the Horrors moved on. The demons were a threat that could be managed, although over the years many still perished in defense of their homeland. The worst realization came later. All of the surviving mages worked together to reverse the ritual, and failed. Worse still, there was no hope for the next generation. Newborns carried the curse, and these births were cruel affairs, usually resulting in the death of the mother. Now, what little hope that remained is that perhaps an infusion of new blood would break the curse of the Blood Elves.

Kethia and the others were not mistreated, but they were captives to be sure. She had been gawked at much of her life, her family strangers in the sky cities, rarely more than outsiders. They kept to themselves, working in the aqueducts, and her childhood was a lonely one. When she grew into woman hood, she was only occasionally pursued by foolish boys who were lusty for something exotic that they could brag about. That alone prepared her for the exhibition of their first day, as hundreds upon hundreds of the elves came to see the strangers, to touch their smooth skin and to remember a time when they too were free of the curse. Some seemed angry and hateful, their jealousy palpable. Others seemed to pity them, as if they were not worthy of being there. However, many of them wept at their sight, tears flowing like rivers, mixing with small bloody trickles and washing down their pained faces. She had embraced a few of the women with compassion, accepting the pain as the thorns pierced her body from the embrace, offering what words of kindness she could muster, until at last all she had left was a silent hug to give. More and more returned to her, until by the end of the day her clothes were torn and stained with her own blood.

Through all of this, there was one who lingered though, and she saw him watching her from the edge of the crowd for hours. He came back to speak with her when they had left, the guards allowing him to see her alone in the community room that she had spent the day in. He introduced himself as Prince Ralen Selenestor, nephew to the queen. He had food and wine brought, along with fresh clothes. He assured her that the others were unharmed, and he tenderly wiped the blood from her face.

They spoke for hours that night, and he shared stories of his people, and she hers. He was hungry to hear of life in the skies, and while it clearly pained him to speak of the struggles of the Blood Elves, he answered her many questions in a straightforward manner, his green eyed gaze never leaving her. He assured her that she would see her companions in the morning, but the Queen wanted them all separated until their fates were fully decided upon. By the time he took his leave, she found she wanted nothing more then for him to stay.

Tolani

Tolani winced in pain from the lashes on her back. Apparently the whip was a popular punishment for nearly any infraction in this lovely castle. Spitting on the lord of the castle certainly qualified, but then he had made the mistake of manhandling her more then a little suggestively. She suspected he would have had his pleasure with her, had some higher up not been on his way. She knew the ulpir was not human, though in most regards he looked it. He was tall and broad shouldered, and moved with a dangerous grace normally seen in highly trained warriors. His skin was pale , and his eyes sunken in such a way that made her think he was undead, but when he touched her she could feel his heat radiating. His eyes were slitted, piercing hungry orbs that probed into everything he looked at, and she felt he was as likely to feast on her flesh as he was to take her woman hood. She drew away from the thought, rattling her chain and ignoring Kethia, her mind wandering over the last few days.

After their capture by the Blood Elves, the group had been separated from each other and made into a spectacle for all to come and see. She spent the day with the thorn covered elves pawing at her as if she was some sort of zoo animal. Though many of them cried, she couldn’t bring herself to feel too sorry for the creatures. It had been their arrogance that led to their fall to begin with. As far as she knew, only the elves of Erewan rebelled against their queen before the Scourge and built an aerodel of their own. The sky elves and the land elves, though never enemies, were never truly allies either, each reclusive enough in their own domains to almost never come into contact. Still, they probably didn’t deserve this final cruel fate, but there was no way for her to help them.

Later that evening she was approached by one of their nobles. He gave her food and wine, and did his best to ingratiate himself with her. He would have been handsome, but she couldn’t look past his curse, and his refusal to answer her pointed questions about what plans his clan had in store for them got him nowhere. He finally left her alone, and she got some much needed rest before their imminent escape.

They were reunited in the morning, and brought before the queen and all of the lesser nobles. One thing could be said; their forest city was extraordinarily beautiful, and was the first thing in years to take her breath away. Most of the city was built into the giant trees using wood shaping magic, and the treetops were filled with walkways and balconies illuminated with glowing flowers and draped with colorful vines. The palace was fashioned from great branches interlaced with crystalline formations, and the floor was a red stained polished marble. The queen and retinue were lavishly dressed, she in a flowing gown, adorned with diamonds and fine jewelry and wearing a golden crown.

Tolani recalled bits and pieces of what the queen said to them, but none of it was terribly important or heart warming. But she would never forget what followed. Apparently the elves had watched them from the forest for a day or two before intervening, and their plans were quite nearly solidified by last night. The queen had appointed the equivalent of a life mate for each of them, and they intended to try some sort of bonding ritual with hopes that it would reverse the curse on each of their respective mates. Clearly their mages had come up with this idea quite some time ago, but not having any untouched elves to try it on, it remained a theory. Until now.

They didn’t plan on wasting any time either, what with the daily existence with pain and suffering. In fact, they had already selected Tyr as the first candidate, and that’s when it hit her. The kind young noble-elf who came to see her last night was her chosen one. Then she realized that each of them had their future loves in close attendance, and the way that Tyr was making eyes with the elven princess, he didn’t seem too upset just yet. At least Kaycian didn’t seem as enraptured. She might just have to kill him if he was. Her shouts of objection and attempt to disarm one of the royal guards and take his weapon earned her a bloody nose, and she was dragged yelling from the throne room. She relished the look of shock on her fiancé’s face, and gave Kaycian a quick smile as they took her away.

It had been a long day, again locked in her private suite. She was in one of the tree towers, and judging by the sounds of revelry from the window, she figured that she was very near to the meeting grounds, possibly even overlooking it. The tree walls were polished and smooth, and the window was barred with iron hard branches too big to get her head through to see down. All she could surmise from listening was that Tyr’s union was close at hand, and she couldn’t do anything to stop it.

Kethia

Lord Valdak came into his throne room mid-morning to attend to the business of running his little kingdom. The room was filled with various lesser ulpir magistrates, dozens of the dog soldiers, and a line of downtrodden looking humans. She listened for a while as she and Tolani knelt before their new master. Scarcely paying attention to them, he wisely made party preparations, settled disputes and dispensed judgments that almost invariable involved someone being whipped or an offender’s throat being ripped out. It wasn’t the first time on her knees in the last few days though, and she cringed at the thought of how it ended badly with the elves.

Kethia and Kaycian had been kneeling for the last few hours, their arms bound behind their backs. After Tolani’s outburst this morning, the elves weren’t taking any chances with them disturbing the celebration. And celebration it was. Tyr and his chosen one were dressed for a wedding, and the way he couldn’t take his eyes off the girl convinced her that he was under a spell. No, these elves weren’t taking any chances. To think, she too had nearly been duped by Prince Ralen. She scowled at him again for good measure, but he hadn’t gone far from her side all day, occasionally caressing her hair and trying to whisper in her ear, but she would have none of it now. Kaycian’s princess fawned over him too, although he didn’t seem nearly disgusted enough. She could see he was frustrated, his devious mind likely going over plan upon plan. She couldn’t see any way out for them though. “Gwynne, help me if you can”, she prayed.

The red shrouded mages were finally done with their ritual preparation, and the crowd grew hushed as a white robed priest read through a marriage ceremony. Tyr and his bride to be were standing in a vine covered gazebo, a sea of elves surrounding them on all sides expectantly ready to witness the future of their salvation. The nine mages had formed a circle around the pair, and when the priest finished his portion he stepped back into the crowd. The mages began their chanting, and astrally she could see them locked together and summoning a great deal of power. The spell was too complex for her to even begin to figure out, but she could see it spiraling like a whirlwind around the two, and the energy in the air was thick and shimmering. The whirlwind spun into the pair and washed over them, binding them together. They were each visibly glowing, and the crowd gasped at the beauty of it, waiting to see one of their own freed at last from the curse. And then Tyr screamed.

His body jerked violently, and he screamed again, his voice echoing above the shocked crowd. He looked around in confusion, his pained gaze finding her own, and then the thorns began to erupt from his body, blood splattering his and his bride’s fine clothes. He screamed again and buckled to his knees, as the crowd let out an echoing communal wail of despair.

Ralen grabbed her arm, thorns tearing into her and she jerked back in pain. “You have to go,” he said into her ear, fear on his face. She was too shocked to react as he pulled her to her feet. Kaycian looked up at her, and then Ralen pulled him up to, and dragged them into the distraught and distracted crowd. Kethia saw Kaycian’s mate following behind, probably thinking this was part of the plan. Once free of the crowd, they ducked through a door in one of the tree towers, and Ralen produced a knife and slit their bindings. “What’s going on Ralen?” The princess asked, her voice somewhat cracked. “I’m sorry Lorenna. They must leave us now.” “Leave us? They can’t leave us… they have to save us!” she said as she lifted her arms wide. “I was told we would be freed of this curse. I just want to be freed!” “It’s no use. We are all damned. They will just join us, and to what avail is that?” “No, No. NO! The council will get the ritual right. They will find away.” “It is wrong to use them against their will. I’m freeing them.” Lorenna looked aghast, her face shaking and pail. She then turned and fled. Kaycian made as if to chase her, but Ralen held him back. “But she’ll call the guards, won’t she?” Ralen nodded. “There’s time. Come, your friend is upstairs.” “What of Tyr, we have to save him,” Kethia said. “He is one of us now. You must leave without him.” “And my goblin, is he alive?” Ralen looked surprised, as if someone could actually care for a creature like that. “He is alive, I believe.”

Squee

The last few days had been harsh, but that’s what a goblin expects from life. He was thankful that he hadn’t been killed outright several times already. Fortunately there were those that appreciated a goblin’s usefulness. The lord of this castle had taken one look at him after their capture and ordered his execution, but someone called out from the mob and asked for the goblin, and mentioned something about the sewers. Spared again, Squee wasn’t sure what happened to the others as he was roughly dragged away before the lord could change his mind. His newest master was a large, one-eyed human introduced as Garp. Garp made it clear that the pain flowed down hill around the castle, and seemed overjoyed that there was something for him to pass it on to. He was quickly informed that his only reason for living was because there were plumbing issues to be dealt with. Squee was shown the various sewer access tunnels, given a beating, some tools, and told to find where it was backing up. He was told that if he didn’t have it draining properly by the time the high master arrived, or if there was a whiff of sewage in the air, they would flay his skin and feed him to wild hogs, alive.

It took him three hours to find the first major clog and clear it. He nearly drowned twice and was dizzy from the pungent fumes, but when he weakly crawled his way out, Garp was standing there with a crooked smile. “By the demons, you did it goblin! It’s flowing now. Get yourself some bread and water, and then fix the one under the north wing. After that, find a spot in the stables.” Garp gave him an appreciative kick, and headed off no doubt to report on his own success.

At least there was an offer of food, which was more than those elves had given him. He grumbled, and went in search of a trough to rinse off in, thinking about the last few days. While the others were enjoying their stay with the elves, no doubt eating the finest foods and drinking the finest wines, they had obviously forgotten about him, regardless of Kaycian’s assurances that they too had been captives.

When Kaycian called a retreat from the dog men, he’d been the first to follow the captain’s orders. He saw the elves a moment too late, and the next thing he knew someone tangled him up in a net. He tried to shout a warning but an elf kicked him hard and he lost his breath in whoosh. They had bound him and put a bag over his head so tight he could barely breathe. And that’s about all he saw. He had been shoved around for hours, trying to make sense of what was going on. He gathered they were taken to a city, and there were lengthy discussions. Someone asked if they should kill the goblin, but praise be to the one who overruled that idea. At last he was roughly shoved into a small closet, and he heard the door lock.

He figured a day and a half had passed. Initially he had slipped out of the bindings and pulled the hood off once convinced that he was forgotten about. There was nothing else in the closet, and it was dark and smelly. He fiddled with the door, but without anything to pick it with, he was trapped, and so he sat there and waited, his throat parched and his stomach rumbling. There had been muffled noises most of the second day, and he figured it was a grand party for the others. At long last, the door rattled, and master Kaycian opened the door. “Squee! Can you walk?” Squee had nodded, and hopped to his feet, ready to serve.

It looked like they were leaving in a hurry. Tolani came down with a finely dressed thorn covered elf, and there was a heated discussion about Tyr, and then she seemed to break composure and cried. Kaycian held her for a moment, but the other elf insisted that they leave. He then led them out a back door. They all had got their weapons back and drawn, as the five of them ran silently through the city forest. There was yelling, and a chase, and a few brief fights that left some of the other thorn elves dead. And then there was the tree door.

He had never liked magic. It was a dangerous and mysterious thing to him. The thorn elf had stopped in a quiet part of the forest that seemed especially dark. They were in a small ring of trees, and Squee could make out strange symbols etched into them. One particular tree was larger than the others, and the elf approached it and began to sing a low song in his language that made the hair on Squee’s neck prickle. A few moments later, a crack appeared in the tree releasing a chill wind with a hiss, and then it quickly widened into a dark maw big enough for a person to squeeze into. “Come,” the elf said, and then slipped inside immediately vanishing. The others seemed concerned, but Kethia and Tolani followed, and then Kaycian gave him a nudge and pushed him through. All he could remember is that it was cold. Not just cold like a winter day. No, it was a cold that crept into his body completely and seemed to saturate his spirit. It pulled at him too, like icy hands were trying to drag him down beneath water. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see, and there was just the feeling of someone pulling him along. The trip lasted forever, or perhaps a minute or two, he couldn’t decide which, and then they stepped out of another tree and he could hear the others gasping for breath.

The elf gave them directions to head out of the forest. Kethia thanked him with a kiss on his cheek, and he promised to do what he could for their friend. And then they were running again.

Kaycian

Kaycian’s mind drifted in his small cell. He had gone from one bleak situation to another, so close to finding his father he was sure of it, but he might as well be back at the beginning for what it seemed to matter. Had it really only been eleven days since they left the fort? He tried to count them again, going over the events of each day, second-guessing his decisions until he pounded on the cell door in anger.

After parting with Ralen, they had ran for hours until their muscles burned, and at last they all collapsed in a narrow gulch with the smallest of streams trickling through it. Kethia said it didn’t appear to be tainted, and the four of them drank their fill and lay on their backs, still trying to catch their breath. They had lost Trel, Colwyn and Tyr, and all of their supplies. They were caught between two enemy territories, less than a days hike from their objective, but with no real return plan. To make things worse, they were a week ahead of schedule, which would mean at least three weeks or more before there was any real chance of the Wind Sprite looking for them. What would a great leader do in this situation, he wondered?

They rested for half an hour and he realized that they were all looking to him to figure things out. They needed to find food and shelter, and he wanted to get as far away from the Blood Elf forest as possible before it became to dark to hike. They each drank as much water as they could hold, and then headed out at a slow jog.

It was getting almost too dark to see, even with their night vision, when Tolani spied what looked like a run down farm house. Leary of ruins, they approached slowly, weapons ready. The place appeared to have been abandoned for months, and inside they found a few tattered blankets, some pots, pans and other dishware. Kaycian found an old storm lantern with a broken glass hood, and in a coup there was just enough oil and matches to get it going. They rifled through the house, gathering what useful supplies that they could, before setting a watch and settling down to a nights rest.

Feeling much better with some rest and at least a few useful supplies, the day got better when they discovered a well with water in it. To top things off Kethia took to the air and spotted some wild pigs which Kaycian quickly tracked and killed, and before long they had a fire going and were roasting some meat. Tolani found some wild vegetables to go with it, and by late morning they left the farm house feeling a lot more hopeful. They soon came across overgrown dirt tracks, and used that as their guide, sticking to the grass and staying low. Hours passed, and the track began to look less and less overgrown when they came across the first corn field, another farm house in sight, this one clearly occupied. Wishing he had his scope, he asked Kethia to carefully survey the area. She returned shortly with news.

They needed information, and if possible allies, so Kaycian led the group slowly up to the farm house to meet with the humans there. They were spotted, and one of the farm hands shouted and they all came running. There were eight of them, Kaycian guessing an extended family. Two of the men had rifles, not unlike what the riders carried, and the two younger teens had pitchforks. The women and two younger daughters stayed in the back, also holding tools, all ready to fight for their land no doubt. They were a seasoned lot, accustomed to long days of hard work, but there was a beaten look to them too. “Greetings, I am Kaycian. We mean you no harm.”

They stayed the night with the Pursley’s. It didn’t take long for the family to warm up to the strangers, especially once they realized that they had no association with the Ulpir. Durick and Jayna made a pleasant couple once you got passed the grim demeanor and pitchforks, and by later that evening the kids were playing around the visitors from the sky, as Kaycian regaled them with stories of their travels (leaving out the darker parts of course). The three of them were offered plenty of food and hot baths, which the women were especially grateful for. Once the children were in bed, and the eldest son Dane and his wife Tora retired, the three of them were finally able to press their host for more specific details of the land and its rulers over several cups of wine that Durick produced for the occasion.

The ulpir had governed the people of Ulthar for hundreds of years, dating back to the early days of the Scourge. No one knows where they came from, but they brought with them powerful magic that could drive back the demon horde. For ten years the ulpir waged their war, securing more and more land until they had stretched their power as far as they could. They raised armies of the dog men, who became the eyes and ears of their ulpir masters, and soon they had divided the land into the present day regions. The humans that they had saved became their subjects, but this salvation came with a blood price.

Kaycian woke the next morning, a bit groggy but overall feeling refreshed from a good nights sleep in a soft bed. He could smell breakfast cooking, and made his way downstairs. Jayna was putting on a special breakfast for them, and even though it was already later than he had hoped to leave, they stayed and talked and got their fill. Their hosts implored them to stay another day and recover, but his suspicions didn’t go off in time. As they opened the door to leave, he realized all too late that they had been betrayed, as the house was surrounded by a small army of the dog men and half a dozen of their ulpir masters.

Squee

Squee woke early, and climbed out of the bale of hay that he had curled up in. Hungry again, he slipped in through a servants’ door, and wandered down the castle hall, deftly avoiding the staff bustling about, although most avoided him if they saw him first. It probably helped that he smelled of shit and sweat, his ragged clothes permanently stained with unpleasantness. It was perfect cover, as nobody wanted to even come near him long enough to question his activities, especially since they all had more important things to do. Never underestimate the guile of a goblin, he thought to himself, and chuckled.

While he appreciated the opportunity of an honest day’s work in exchange for his life, Sqiee missed the pleasant days back on the ship, stealing food, sneaking rum, and spying on the lovely Felf through the cracks in her cabin. He figured the only way to get back to those happy days was to find a way out of this place, and to that end he needed to find his Captain so that they could make their escape. He had spent the last day and a half getting the sewers flowing again, and had crawled through things that were even offensive to a goblin. With the final banquet preparations happening this morning, he hoped that he had at least an hour before Garp came looking for him, if at all.

The castle was huge, and he got turned around, inadvertently finding the kitchen. He tried to sneak in, but apparently his cover was too noticeable, and a white aproned cook threw a pot at him followed by some colorful swear words. A cook’s boy came around the corner pushing a tray of dirty plates, and he nicked a half-eaten chicken drum when the kid passed by, dodging a kick and running down the hall. He cut through a series of servant’s quarters, pausing only briefly to spy on a young girl getting dressed, her door open just enough for him to get an eyeful. Grinning happily, he then went down a flight of stairs and trailed some dog soldiers on patrol, finding what he believed could be the armory.

He spotted a gaggle of porters carrying crates filled with something sweet, and stalked them to the door to the main banquet hall. He peered in, where dozens of humans were arranging tables and chairs, clearly preparing for a feast. He could hear a familiar voice giving instructions for the porters and their crates, and then a moment later someone approached and came into the hall. He was about to duck behind a tapestry by the door, and then froze, dumbfounded, his voice caught in his throat for a long moment.

The tall, finely dressed elf stopped in his tracks, quite equally surprised, carefully studying the little goblin in disbelief.

“Master Tellivani?” Squee croaked.

Kaycian

Kaycian woke with a start, hearing someone trying the keys to the door outside. It must be time for some more questioning, he thought. It was his second night in the cell, and he was wondering what they planned to do with him. “Need help with those keys?” he yelled through the door. After a few more tries, the oaf found the right one and the door swung wide, the bright light in the hall making him wince. For a moment the change in light played a trick, and he’d swear it was his father. “Kaycian? Is that you?” “Father..?” “My son! By the Passions…it’s true!” Kaycian was nearly knocked off his feet as his father grabbed him in a fierce hug. “Oh my boy… How… why.. what are you doing here?” Kaycian hugged him back, overflowing with joy. “I came for you father! I’ve been searching all over for you. And we crashed… and I heard of another downed ship… we’ve come so far…” It all came out in a rush of emotion. “I’ve got to get you out of here son. The ulpir high lord will be here today, and the master of this castle is bound to send you and the others as gifts.”

“That’s why I came here, to rescue you. Do you know of a way to sneak out of this place?” His father shook his head sadly. “I can’t leave. I can try to cover for you, maybe create a distraction” “What are you talking about? You can’t stay here. These creatures are.. are..,” he was at a loss for words, finally seeing his father was dressed in fine clothes and didn’t look like a prisoner. “There’s so much to explain. After the crash, I and the few other survivors were captured. The lord of this castle spared my life because I am an elf, and that is more than a novelty here. He questioned us for days, and determined that I was useful. He made me his thrall, but soon realized I was smart and a good leader, and now I am his personal steward. I’ve told him so much Kaycian… so much. But my will is his own to do with as he wishes.” Kaycian’s mouth went dry as he absorbed what his father was saying. “We can still escape father. Kethia, one of my companions, is a powerful priestess of Gwynne. I’m sure she can break this spell. We just have to find her. And Tolani. Tolani is here.” His father moaned. “Oh Kaycian… you don’t understand. I can’t fight his commands. I only have free will because I have demonstrated a certain degree of loyalty. He wants me to build him a sky ship, but we don’t have enough Xenium yet. There is a small sailboat though that you and a few others could use. My lord plans for me to demonstrate it today when his liege arrives.” “Enough father… we’ll figure it out. How did you find me here though?” “Squee, my lucky goblin,” he chuckled. “We met in the halls; I only just got back this morning from fetching some special foods for the feast. I didn’t risk bringing him down here… he’s quite odious.” Kaycian nodded in agreement. “I have a plan Kaycian. It’s important that your initial escape isn’t linked to me, or I won’t be of any help. Squee is fetching your weapons now.” He looked thoughtful. “Tolani and this priestess are in the lords meeting hall. There shouldn’t be many guards, as there is no session this morning. Once the high lord arrives it will be too late for any of you. I will go and make as if to prepare the sailboat for the demonstration. It’s up to you to get the others and meet me in front of the castle.” “How will I pass through the halls… aren’t there guards everywhere?” “I brought you some of my clothes. Pull your hair back like mine. We look enough alike, if you walk like you own the place, the servants won’t even meet your gaze. Act like you belong here.” “Brilliant father… I’ll meet you. Be ready to go.” “One more thing son. The ulpir are supernatural in nature. Normal weapons are useless against them. I can’t explain now, but take this. It’s the only one I have.” Kaycian took the lon

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Part 2: Chapter's 17-42

Prologue By Don Fuller

Kalikth Selkthor of the T’Klith tribe was on demon watch. It had been months since there had been any type of coordinated invasion and he found himself drifting slightly in the dim night. Scouts such as he were spaced out all along the border area of the camp, and he could just make out the familiar sound of the waves hitting the breakers in the distance. Something caught his eye, and he scanned the sky. Fire demon? He wondered briefly. No, too high. Something else. Something bright falling from the sky. He whistled into the night with a series of alert signals. He kept his eyes trained on the light though, not quite able to make out details. It was coming in from over the water, and definitely coming down. He thought he knew what it was though. He had seen one fall when he was a youngling and he had heard many other stories. It was ship. A ship of the sky people, and it was going to fall into his swamp. The light twinkled out but his keen eyes were able to track the tiny dark shape. He hoped that the raiders hadn’t seen it. It might just trigger an invasion. He whistled again, giving an update. The reply came back that the war chief was coming quickly. He watched, and waited.

Chapter 17: The Beach By Scott Montgomery

The dust settled around the ship as it came to a grinding stop along the beach. Debris thrown through the air fell from the sky and landed all around the crash site. Sailors tossed over the railing and jostled about the deck sprawled in various directions wounded by snapping masts, flying crates, and whipping sails. A drowning silence drifted in from the water’s edge off of the ocean. Cries of pain slowly began to settle among the crash as Kaycian stirred to his feet holding his head. The ground stopped spinning and adrenaline started to kick in. Clutching the railing he stood to his knee and looked among the poop deck. The helms wheel was no longer attached and was missing. Ohtar was not on the poop to be found. To his right Slade and Colwyn were still reeling in pain. To his left, Tolani and her entourage were beginning to stand. Drawing on his remaining energy he pulled himself up. Larys and Derth made their way to the maindeck and began casting spells of illumination. Seeing the wounded in the glow of the light, Larys started mending those she could get to. Overhead a falcon circled the downed Wind Sprite looking for a spot to land. Seeing the open poop deck, Kethia swooped down and morphed back into her natural form canceling her falcon spell. Moving with a purpose she hopped down onto the deck and began to assist Larys. Skragg came to a rest near the treeline as his floatbelt kept him drifting from the crash site. Deactivating the belt he dropped to the sandy beach below with a grunt. Searching the swampy trees near him for any hostile activity he snorted defiance and turned back to the ship. Gathering the most able crew who were milling about, Skragg began to organize a perimeter defense. Moving debris and supplies from the ship he began forming the barricade. From the prow barrels and crates stood waist high forming an arc pointing to the aft of the ship extending thirty feet at its apex towards the treeline. This hasty fortification provided partial cover for the sailors to hunker down behind. Silken sails draped from the railing of the vessel covering the partial barricade from rain. The leanto did not afford much protection from anything else, but provided shade and a false security of cover. After the barrels and boxes were in place, Skragg began to issue bows, crossbows, arbalests and ammo. Distributing of the arms was rather quick as men did not hesitate to ready themselves for whatever fate had to offer this coming evening. Many wished dawn would hurry. Derth began walking the perimeter incanting and scribing magical runes in the air. From the pale light fringe mystical symbols shimmered in a bluish arclight. Spaced bout ten feet apart and ten feet out from the barricade were six such runes. Once completed Derth walked back into the perimeter and informed the crew not to leave the perimeter or they would suffer the effects of the magic and the wards would not work against any potential threat. Any crewman who was crazy enough to step away from the safety of the stranded party did not make any motion to cross the beachhead. Confident that no sailor would breach the runefence he began to enter the ship. Along the main railing Tolani began setting up her elven entourage in intervals to best cover arcs of fire. Dispersed with the elves were the best capable sailors who could use a bow. Ten crew in total lined the railing and hunkered down for a long night with two quivers of ammunition each. The young elven female captain urged each archer, elven and crewman of the wind sprite, to only fire if they were sure of a target. Every bit of ammunition was precious and needed to be used sparingly.

Among the crew on the ground Kaycian was overlooking the perimeter and tending to fortified positions. Kethia was an arms reach away binding her last wound. Ohtar tied down the last rigging for the leanto sails when he stopped and faced the woods. His elven bloodline provided his keen senses an audible hearing far above those sailors around him. Focusing for a moment he began to hear the trees crushing and branches snapping. Many sounds of snarls and growls grew louder as trees continued to fall. “They approach captain. From the northwest. I cannot tell their number, but it is many.” He whispered in sylvan, so as not to alert the crew. “Kethia, can you detect them?” Answering in elfkind, Kaycian began to look around for Derth and Tolani. “Baldrick, prepare defenses!” Kethia concentrated with her arms out steady in front of her. With her eyes closed she began murmuring while her hands flowed side to side in a slight wave of the wind. Her nose wrinkled slightly and her face expressed disgust. “Captain, there are two dozen, varies in strength. They are being led by a stronger one. They will be here in a few minutes.” Kethia opened her eyes and evaluated her position in the barricade. She began to focus her power into being.

A sailor Kethia had just tended to began to squirm uncomfortably. Kaycian leaned in and touched the sailor on the arm, “It’s going to be okay sailor. We are prepared for them, you will live through the night. Fight for you home, as the Wind Sprite will take you back to the sky. Fight for me, as I am going to be fighting here next to you.” Stepping up he turned towards the crew speaking louder. Every sailor stopped what they were doing and listened intently. “Men! The time has come! In moments we will face your fears. Whether you live or die depends on each of you!” He paused for a second to ensure he had the right thoughts to convey the situation but not to provide false hope. The men held their resolve waiting for the captain to finish. “Our situation is not as perilous as you may think. I need every man to fight! Your officers will be fighting besides you, let no brethren among us fall. Watch each other and repel our borders!” With a resounding “houssah !” the men armed themselves ready.

Skragg caught the attention of Larys and asked the healer to place summoned light among the beach so the attackers could be seen. In sections along the beach illumination circles sparked to life bringing the nighttime into artificial daylight. As the last circle completed the treeline broke splintering branches and debris along the beach. Emerging from the woods twisted black bodies cloaked in horror and fear sought their prey. Seven of the hideous foul beasts molten from deformed men formed the front rank. Without any command archers along the main rail and from behind the barricade below sprang to life. Closing the hundred foot distance arrows screamed towards the front rank impacting with their intended targets. Two of the demons fell as the ranks poured forth revealing more demons behind the first rank. As the third rank continued out the demons looked slightly larger and more twisted. Another round of bowfire erupted from the crewmen. Two more demons fell under suppression of mass arrows. Howling in a demonic answer the remaining first rank closed the distance in blinding speed. Emerging behind the third rank a silver skinned demon slowly walked from the treeline flanked by four of the bigger demons.

As the first rank closed Derth released a spell he was holding. Behind the first rank a shower of black twisted demonic mass expanded outwards from the center of the naether ball placed in their midst. The demons approaching the barricades immediately stopped and scowled as the mystic rune wards sparked electricity down the bodies of the mindless demons. Stunned in place more archer fire pierced the demons as electricity washed over them. Kethia stopped her prayer and opened her eyes with ferocity. Commanding the final word and pointing from sky to the ground the area surrounding her in every direction up to thirty five feet illuminated in holy blue tinted light. Caught among the area of effect demons screamed and scowled in pain. Two demons were knocked off of their feet with holy power and flew back twenty feet stunned. Other demons caught in the circle blistered black oozing goo and were unable to move. More archer fire erupted and caught the demons in the chest, head, and arms causing a few more to fall where they stand. The first rank of demons charging the ship did not make it past the barricade. The sailors who prepared for the onslaught continued to hold their position and waited in fear and awe. Around them demons were dieing and not one sailor was being confronted. Archers continued to pour fire into the demon ranks while they were held stunned by Derth’s rune ward fence and Kethia’s encompassing column of light. Focusing his power in a concentrated effort Derth pointed to the silver demon commanding the minions before him. With a command word the blackest murkiest mist tinted in crimson flowed along the wind swirling around the demon. Seconds later the black mass goo beneath the skin of the leader began to ooze from every open pore. As the demon had lost this battle with his minions it started to retreat into the woods. It continued to bleed uncontrollably for a hundred feet then ended its life in the debts of the woods out of sight.

With the demons repelled the crew cried a victorious shout. A quick detail was issued to ensure the demons were dead and moved back from the barricade. Men began utilizing ropes from the rigging and staves made from the treeline branches to heave bodies of the dead demons off the battlefield. When the task was done and the sailors tucked behind their barricade again Derth stepped out to the ring and placed new wards. Settling in for another strike the crew waited patiently in anticipation. Kaycian ordered Morwen to start passing out ale and grog to the men for their victory under conditions they kept watch and did not become a liability. Under their watchful fearful eyes the night passed in silence.

At daybreak along the beach to the west behind the ship approached twelve creatures. Stopping two hundred feet down the beach the creatures did not appear to be a threat. Upon closure inspection through his spyglass Kaycian could tell they were intelligent as they carried weaponry and clothes. Ordering his archers to cover the railing and Baldrick to keep the men alert for an all sides attack, Kaycian formed a small party to meet the new threat. Approaching the creatures at a similar distance and maintaining his archer cover Kaycian and his team stopped one hundred feet away. The creatures looked scalish with long tails and no visible hair. Four of them were larger than the other eight escorting one of the smaller creatures wearing a cape. The leader stepped forward from his entourage and hissed something in unfamiliar clicks and tones expecting a reply. Looking around curiously Derth attempted to respond with his arcane knowledge. The lizardman looked puzzled and clicked then hissed again. Derth tried another language with no success. Kaycian interrupted Derth with his knowledge of Antherian dialects. The lizardman stood with a changed expression and squinted at Kaycian. Changing to a similar speech he made out a greeting. Kaycian smirked slightly and offered his name and birthrite city. Both parties exchanged common information for why they were standing on this particular bit of soiled beach. The lizardmen were interested in the livelihood of the mages who defeated the demons in the previous nights assault and offered hospitality to the crew for the duration of their needed repairs. It seemed the ship had landed at the border of their controlled territory. They offered to bring the ship to their village in exchanged for information about the world above, and they promise protection. Turning to Derth, Kaycian asked if there was some magical way to determine the truth to a species words. Derth looked perplexed and began to cast a spell placing a truth ward around the group. Acknowledging the captain he explained that anything spoken in this warded circle would be truthful by the party speaking it. Kaycian turned back to the lizardman leader and asked for the details of his offer again. Both parties offered their bargains and it was agreed the lizardmen would assist to move the Wind Sprite back to the village and begin repairs.

One of the four larger lizardmen pulled a horn from his belt and bellowed. A minute later, two hundred lizardmen emerged out of the trees and quickly began to lay down logs and ropes to begin moving the Wind Sprite along the beach. Kaycian returned to the ship with his team and began to make preparations for moving to his new ally in this harsh wilderness.

Chapter 18: The River By Don Fuller

One

The grey sky weighed on the spirit as much as the thick air weighed on the skin. Baldrick breathed another heavy breath, still trying to acclimate to the new air pressure. He looked out over the early-morning slith village from the poop deck, still in a state of disbelief. He was on the ground. Terra Firma. And wonder of wonders, he was alive. It had already been over twenty-four hours since they had crashed and then been attacked by the seething mass, and the truth of it was his dreams had been terrible all night. He knew that there were more of those things out there, and that it was just a matter of time before they had to fight again, and he wondered if any of crew would ever truly be all-right even if they survived. He spied Kaycian and several others walking through the village with the chieftain, shaman and elders, but opted to keep to himself for a while longer.

Nob stepped out of the make-shift tent and surveyed his surroundings. They had arrived at the camp after dark and completely exhausted after hiking a good fifteen miles down the beach yesterday. His legs, though muscular, both complained. He didn’t even want to think of his feet and the blisters there. Long distance walking was not something he did much; unless you lived in cities such as Eidolon, most places were close at hand. The village was teeming with activity, and he stretched as he took it all in. He’d gathered that over five-hundred slith lived here, and it looked it. Hundreds of small domed huts, most little more than ten-feet in diameter stretched about in all directions, and he noticed that they were placed into connecting circular patterns of eleven. Other sailors were coming out of the tent, and from the haunted looks on their faces he could tell that they felt the same way that he did. We’re all in shock, he thought to himself. He saw that Ox had drafted some helpers and they were forming a chow line. His stomach rumbled and he headed over there.

Squee followed a few paces behind Kaycian and several other senior officers as they meandered through the village chatting briskly with the leaders, and he didn’t think any of them had really noticed him as usual. He listened attentively to what they were saying, all the while soaking up the strange sights and smells of this place. The slith were busily preparing their breakfasts, and he took special notice of their diet, just to make sure that goblin wasn’t part of it. Most of the food was unfamiliar; they were cooking a type of mashed tuber on hot stones, eating fresh colorful fruits garnished with herbs, and some were even roasting a meat that had a wild, gamey smell that made his mouth water. He heard the morning bell over by the ship announcing that the crew’s food was ready. He figured that he had heard enough for now; from the pointed questions the Captain and Derth kept asking he was already convinced that they were going to be leaving soon, and not on the ship. Shrugging, he slipped away, darting between two of the huts and narrowly avoided getting stepped on by one of the towering shurg hunters. The oaf didn’t even pause as Squee leapt to the side, bumping into a slith child who was standing in his way. The slithling squealed in surprise and then hissed at him, scarcely a foot taller than the goblin. Before he could react, its mother stepped in and glowered at him threateningly. “ ‘scuse me” he creaked, “just passin’ through”. She didn’t reply as he scooted out of reach and then jogged back to the ship. Grumbling to himself, he wondered if anyone else had noticed the ground. It was springy and damp, and was enough to distract him for the moment anyway. They were standing on actual ground, not floating in a ship or a city. It felt different. There was absolutely no movement. He spotted an unattended fire, and as he passed he swiped one of the roasting meat-sticks, then came up near the row of tents that the crew had hastily put up the night before. He bit into the steaming meat, and almost giggled at how good it tasted. He quickly wolfed it down, and then tossed the stick into the trees and headed to the chow line. Most of the crew had already been served, and they were sitting around the tents and on logs eating. He couldn’t wait to see their reactions when they got the news of what the officers had in mind.

Garion circled the Wind Sprite for the tenth time, making notes and sketches in a ledger, and then paused to remove his spectacles and wipe his brow. It was hot down here, far warmer than it ever got in the sky and he was perspiring miserably. Even though he was tall, some might say lanky, it didn’t seem to help. Surely the bigger crewmen had to be suffering more. He scowled and looked up at Corian and Tora who were supposed to be marking off the ship with string but instead were flirting with each other. Both of them were young; Hell, almost everyone on the crew was young. At twenty-eight, he felt like a senior in this bunch, save of course for the elves, and maybe the obsidiman. No one had any idea how old Derth was, but from conversation somehow the rock-man had memories of times long past and he found that to be bothersome. He had the information that he needed for now; it would take him a day or so to finish drawing out the plans, but he was convinced that he could craft a new ship from the damaged Wind Sprite. The captain and several others had been cooped up for the last four hours in the council hall, and Morwen was overseeing a complete inventory of what survived the crash, while Baldrick was getting the tents fixed up properly now that they had daylight, or graylight. He chuckled at his cleverness.

Two

It was after noon by the time the officers returned to the base camp, and Morwen was first to intercept the captain. “We’ve got a saboteur” he said, getting all the attention that he needed with that line. Morwen quietly showed the officers to the two skiffs that had been in the hold, pointing out where the spell crystals had been cracked. Derth examined them closely, confirming that the spell matrices were destroyed and the skiffs had been rendered useless. The third remaining skiff that had been fastened to the starboard prow came lose on their original impact, and the crystal shattered when the skiff tumbled down the beach. That left them without any means of flying transportation. With this new information, Kaycian organized a one-on-one interrogation with the entire crew under the guise of a payout. Morwen finished tallying the crew’s shares, and after everyone had finished having lunch Kaycian met with the officers again, and then it was time. He gave the crew an uplifting speech regarding their situation and informed them what the plan was. He would be taking several other officers and traveling north to Arelios to try and recover some missing spell books that were needed to save their cities. Baldrick would remain in charge, overseeing the reconstruction of the Wind Sprite, and as soon as Kaycian returned, they would all go home. There were many questions from the crew, and all were answered in turn, after which the booty and pay was distributed. As each crewman got his share, he was then directed into one of the tents where Derth had his truth spell ready. The crewmen were then quizzed on what they knew of the skiffs, their general opinion and outlook on the situation, and where their loyalties lay. It took several hours, and when they were finished the officers concluded that the sabotage was likely done by Cyr, one of the three recruits taken from the red; he unfortunately went overboard during the assault on the two towers. Beyond that, the crew was shaken, but feeling a bit better with so much wealth in their hands, and they were ready to rebuild the ship and go home.

Later that evening word had passed around the crew that the slith were holding a banquet in their honor. Everyone had gotten as cleaned up as possible, some even bathing in the nearby stream, which really helped to wash their troubles away. Rodan, feeling much better aside from an ache in his knee, spotted Larys walking towards the feast hall with the rest of the crew. He looked around for Aardalea, and saw her walking with the boy Varlad and talking quietly. “May I join you?” he said to her with a smile. “Of course. I see you took advantage of a bath. “Yes, quite refreshing. Looks like Arda has found a friend.” “Yes.. I think so. I think they’ve found a connection in their mutual losses.” “Mmmm.. I heard that the boy was a squire to a paladin of Gwynne and his master was killed. It’s quite the story. I’d say nearly unbelievable if I hadn’t lived through this last week”. She nodded somberly. “You know that I’m going with the captain to Arelios.” “I suspected as much. Which is why I plan on going too.” She arched an eyebrow. “If he’ll have me of course. There are some others who have been talking about volunteering.” “Need I say that it’s going to be dangerous; and like as not, we’ll never return. And I don’t say that to be dramatic.” He shrugged. “Somehow, I think otherwise. It’s a feeling like a pendulum has been set into motion. I aim to see where it stops. But tonight is our one chance to relax, perhaps for a long while.” They waited as the crowd shuffled into the feast hall. It was an impressive structure compared to the smaller wood and mud thatch huts. Huge trees had been cut and fashioned into a long arched building seventy-five feet long, forty wide at the center, and thirty tall at the top of the arch. As big as it was, it was completely packed, and the damp smell of the slith permeated everything. Long tables were set into rows, and there was enough space reserved down the center for the entire crew to sit down on the hard three-legged chairs, though the whole time it felt like the slith were pressing in from all sides to get a good look at the strangers. The chieftain gave a welcome speech, the shaman gave a blessing and something akin to a sermon, and then Kaycian was directed up to the dais to give his own speech. At last, food was served in huge portions, along with an intoxicating berry-wine that the slith called ‘crackow’. Rodan tried several pints of it and deemed it thoroughly refreshing. For once in what had seemed a lifetime, the tired crew embraced the moment and enjoyed themselves. Many of them had brought their instruments, and Orion led them in dozens of lively songs as they drank and danced into the night.

Three

T’klek rubbed his throbbing temples and took another long sip of the manga juice. It had been a long evening, filled with song and drink, and he realized now that he had partaken of too much crackow. He looked at the other members of his tribal council and saw that they too felt the effects of last nights feast, except for R’slok, his shaman, of course. R’slok had sworn off the crackow from the day that he had apprenticed to his former master Irsalth. T’klek had been chieftain of the Shula for eight cycles now, the first chieftain of the scarthen world having fallen to the demons in the third year of light; he knew that he had the respect of the others, for though their tribe was small, they had counted much coup against the demons and proved themselves to be mighty in battle against the border attackers. Urkalt, his war leader waited patiently, but the three elders Okal, Mekal and Voru were scratching their chests impatiently. R’slok’s apprentices, Skithra and Karaka sat in silence. The other four house leaders all looked bleary eyed. He felt their pain. It was time to make a decision. “As we agreed in council, we have sought out the fallen sheol. We have carried their ship into our village, offered them succor and drank crackow with them. They have acted honorably, and answered many questions that we have had about the sheol. We have much more to learn, but their presence here may cause… ripples in our standing. Furthermore, their leader, Kaycian Tellivani of Sellaine, has beseeched us for aid.” He watched the faces of the other five. They all knew these details, but now was the time of to decide which branch of the river to take. Urkalt scratched his head and they listened. “As your Chukra, it is my duty to protect our people and to guide us in battle. These sheol have many weapons, some finer than we have made. We can deal with our brothers at the grand council; if however we can improve our skill at crafting these weapons, or if we can barter for some in exchange for more succor, I so state that we should do so.” The other elders nodded in agreement at Urkalt’s words, a very good sign. R’slok scratched his head and stood. “As your shaman, it is my duty to protect the spirit of our people, to guide us in the ways of Sulaka the earth mother. These sheol have unfamiliar magicks. The rock-brother is powerful in the essence, and the two priestesses are in favor with the Eagle and the Centaur. We would do well to learn from them. In exchange for succor, Skithra must be allowed to apprentice to the rock-brother and learn his magicks. This will benefit both the Shula and the Slith. Thus I state.” This statement got everyone’s attention, and T’klek had to raise his feather-rod to quiet the room. They had much more to discuss, but it was clear that they would be aiding the sheol, and if Sulaka smiled their tribe would grow in standing.

Four

It was the morning of the fourth day with the slith, and everyone was a bit anxious. Baldrick was doing what he did best, barking orders at the crew. They had spent enough time recovering, and now it was time to work, though yesterday had been busy enough. He was now officially in charge of the camp, and he’d be lying if he didn’t have some trepidation about the situation. Seven more of the crew had volunteered to go with the away team, plus a slith shaman, making the total leaving at twenty-two. That left twenty-two behind to rebuild the ship, which is all Garion said that he needed. Baldrick would have figured more the merrier, but there was a limit on skills and tools, and Garion seemed to know what he was doing. He had nearly volunteered to go himself, leaving Morwen in charge, but Kaycian wanted him here to run things. So be it. I’ll get this ship off the ground, captain, you can count on it. They had discussed supplies at great length, and there shouldn’t be any shortages. He’d been authorized to bargain with the slith as much as needed, but Kaycian was specific on what they could trade with. If they couldn’t find any metal, they’d be melting down weapons to make nails, but there should be enough of those to spare. Garion had been the busy one too; he had fashioned a pair of xenium belts for Derth and Skragg, though Lord Vok’koroth refused one. They’d also put together a xenium platform and carefully loaded it with food and supplies. And now, they were off. The caravan would be hiking for the first few hours, and then they’d be traveling by boat north. Barring any major obstacles, they’d be back within ninety days, though they had arranged for a set of contingency plans that only Baldrick was privy too. They didn’t want to get the remaining crew worked up for now. He walked down the line of the departing, shaking hands and slapping backs, while a small crowd of sailors and slith gathered round to wish them off. He walked up to Kaycian last and shook his hand. “Good luck captain. May the Passions keep you safe and carry you back swiftly.” Kaycian squeezed his hand. “It’s in your hands Baldrick. I’m trusting you to get this rig sky worthy. It has been an honor working with you.” “You too Cap’n, you too.”

Five

Squee sat atop their floating supply platform and watched the swamp. Once they had left the village amidst some mild fanfare, it was obvious that it would be a long, hard journey. He gnawed on a meat-stick and watched the others hiking in front of him. The troll had taken first turn at pulling the supplies, and made a point of glowering at him from time to time. He shrugged, and ducked another branch, sure that Skragg was pulling him through every overhanging tree and vine that he could.

Skithra led the troop down the barest trace of a path through the swamp. She explained as they went that no matter how often they used the path, it just kept growing back over; plus the ground was too soft and wet to ever pack down. To be honest, she was still a bit stunned by R’slok’s decision to send her. No slith had traveled more than a handful of miles beyond their swamplands, and she was to travel not just a few, but eight-hundred or so miles north. She’d been given careful instructions, and a stack of parchment to record every step of their journey. And of course, she was to learn as much as she could from the sheol magician. Glancing back, she could tell that many of them were still struggling some with the heat and the air, but they were doing well. As they walked, she answered Derth’s endless stream of questions about flora and fauna, and she interjected with her own whenever she could. They made good time overall, and in just over two hours they reached the river camp. Their village was built near enough water sources to sustain it, but they had learned early on to not build much near the river, because in the height of the rainy season it always overflowed its banks and mired the swampland ever more than it was. They maintained a few small huts near the water, along with their supply of river skiffs. Their village owned ten such skiffs, and the troop she was guiding would require three of them. The guards had already been notified by advance scouts that they were coming, and it took far less time then she had counted for to get the three skiffs into the water and loaded. Most of the group was seasoned sailors, but they were still largely unfamiliar with intricacies of boats and water. Once everyone was stowed, the slith at the camp went over the rigging briefly. They opted to keep the supplies on their floating platform, which was still a wonder to her; then the one they called Windmistress summoned her magic, and the sails filled full. Soon the three skiffs were slicing through the water against the gentle current, traveling due north.

Six

Slade sat in the aft of the third skiff near Ohtar, who was piloting. A steady magical breeze had been driving them north against the current for the last three hours, and between the unbearable heat, air pressure, and the eerie quiet of the swamp he felt himself drifting into a waking slumber. They’d already been groundside for four days, and he still couldn’t believe that they were planning on being here for a month or more. This place isn’t right, he thought to himself. The demons had been here too long, and he doubted that their mark could ever be cleansed. The voices where quiet for now, not like when the demons attacked. He could hear them then, their thoughts were mixed and chaotic and somehow they carried to him. Murder, Death, Kill. Rend the flesh, eat the flesh. There was no plan, no order. Just an uncontrollable desire to destroy life for the pleasure of it, or perhaps for the need of it. He’d heard everyone grumbling about the air, or the heat, or the myriad other discomforts of being in an unfamiliar place. No one spoke of the taint. He could smell it though. Even here, it was a subtle tang drifting on the wind, permeating everything ever so slightly. And if he could smell it here… what of when they came closer to the demon lands? The skiff bumped over something in the water, and the girl Arda yanked her hand back in the boat. He was watching her while she’d been curiously touching its murky surface, unaware of the black shape that darted by. Everyone looked alert, clutching their bows which were all a moments notice from firing. They hid their fear behind brave faces, but he knew that they all felt it. Death was close at hand in this place. Nothing erupted from the water though. He wondered if the shape had been a large fish. Not a demon though; he would know. The winding swamp river slowly passed them by, and the endless line of trees and vines and muddy banks blurred together. Sometime later, he’d guess around noon, but with the sky a gray haze it was hard to tell time, there was a commotion up ahead. Numerous bird-like wails echoed back and forth across the water, and in the lead skiff the slith shaman stood up holding a totem stick above her head. The calls continued, and then dozens of slith warriors appeared on either sides of the bank holding their spears and slings and shouting in their guttural hissing tongue. She cawed back at them repeatedly, waving that stick of hers. The shouting match went on for several minutes, but the boats never slowed. He felt their eyes glaring at him from the banks, at all of them, and he could only guess at the exchange that the tribe had wanted them to stop. Cats out of the bag, Shula’s got visitors folks. Genuine Sheol. Sky people, that is. He chuckled to himself and then caught Ohtar’s inquisitive gaze. He shrugged. Everyone was watching him, and in truth he knew that it wasn’t paranoia. He was touched. But they had no idea what that entailed… and then… neither did he.

Seven

Unlike the sky, where dusk could last for hours in a beautiful display of colors and hues, the scarthen world had gray and night, and the blending between them seemed a sudden thing. Lianna had ridden in the prow of the third boat, and after ten hours her nerves were a tangled mess. She ached to get out and stretch her legs and comb her fur, and to eat something cooked over a fire. They kept the boats close to each, but even with her keen vision it was getting hard to see anything. After some low discussion between the two lead boats, Kaycian called back to them. “Skithra says that we just cleared the swamp. We’re pulling up on the port side, nice and easy.” Lianna turned back to the others in the boat and could make out the relief in their faces. Several minutes later they managed to beach the boats without incident, and she nimbly leaped to the shore and began to scout closely around, her sais drawn. The others pulled the boats halfway onto the land and tethered them securely, then Skragg came over to join her. “Smell anything Li?” he grumbled. Of course she did. This place was full of strange smells. But she didn’t pick anything predatorial up, which was what he meant. She gave a low growl and shook her head. “Werr alone.. forrr now”. He nodded. “Keep yer eyes open while we make camp.” She nodded and crouched, her eyes staring down the line of trees, daring something to come for her.

Twenty minutes later they had three small fires burning and food cooking. The slith had shown several of them how to assemble their portable yurts that they used for shelter, but there were still some sharp words exchanged before the crew got them put up correctly. She patrolled the perimeter until the elves spelled her, and then went to her group fire to get some food. She wondered if she had been assigned to the moody bunch because she didn’t often have much to say. Slade had been reclusive since whatever happened to him, and Ohtar and Vok’koroth were the only ones really talking with any volume. Larys and the girl were sitting alone while the monk worked the fire and dished himself some food. She finally finished stretching the kinks out of her legs and began brushing her fur when Rodan eased over and sat down by her. She smiled at him, which she knew always came across threatening to humans. He smiled back though. “We haven’t really spoken yet” he said. “I’m Rodan.” She purred slightly. “Lianna”. “I saw you move when we fought back at Nomikos. You’ve had some formal training, but your style is unique.” “I studied at the Molai temple for a while” she replied carefully. “Really?” he said, clearly surprised. “Then I’m honored to share your company. The Molai monks are quite renowned, and their temple is difficult to join. But you said… for a while?” She made a light growling noise of embarrassment. “I was there six months… but they… released me. My master said I lacked the discipline needed. And… there was an accident.” She said, showing him her claws. “I’m sorry. I’m sure that they were wrong.” “It is the passst”. “We may be traveling for some time together. If you would like, perhaps we could practice, maybe show each other a few things.” “Yes… I would like that.” “Great. All day in that cramped boat is rough on the bones.” She nodded. “Perhaps in the morning then.”

Eight

The camp had quieted down, not that it had ever been loud. The fires were burning low, and Tolani figured it was nearing ten. Derth and the shaman had been talking for hours discussing something called ‘elemental theory’ and Kaycian was over talking to the felf. She sighed, and stared off into the night. What have I gotten myself into? She could ill-afford to be stranded down here for months. She needed to get back to the Naval HQ and report everything that had happened, including how she had lost her ship while docked at Nomikos. She scowled at that, still so angry. Ten good elves had died under her command, and their families deserved to know. She wondered if her career would even recover from this. She looked over at Kaycian in the flickering light. He was a puzzle, someone from her childhood. He reminded her of good times. “He is interesting, no?” The woman startled her. Tolani looked back at Myste who had seemed to appear next to her, and then sat down by her. “Yes, he is” she said guardedly. “What do you know of him? And how did you two meet?” Myste smiled, her face seeming to glow in the firelight. Her skin was so perfect; Tolani would swear the woman had elf blood in her, but none of the features. She had high cheekbones and long, thick dark hair pulled back. And plump rounded lips of course. “Do not worry; I have no claims on him. He freed me from the ones who did this to us, and I owe him my life.” Tolani looked a bit skeptical. “Freed you, did he. He’s quite the hero from what I hear, if I can believe half the stories the crew tells.” “Oh, I am certain they are true. You like him, yes?” “I can’t say that I’m comfortable discussing that”. “Of course. I understand. Elves keep their feelings close” “You presume to know things of my people?” “I know many things.” “Ha. I suppose you’re a seeress too.” She wasn’t sure why she had said that. “I do see things. The swirling patterns of Ka are all about us, Some things are visible.” “Ka. That’s an eastern term isn’t’ it? Fate or something?” “Ka is fate, and destiny, and purpose. It is the universal force that pulls us in the right direction.” “Really. How interesting. I believe we make our own fate, and the Passions meddle when they choose.” “As you wish. Ka acts as it will regardless of our beliefs.” “That’s nice. And what does Ka have in store for us?” Myste looked thoughtful, and then closed her eyes. Who is this strange woman? Myste opened them, and her pupils looked dilated so that they appeared to be large dark pools, somewhat blank. A light breeze blew threw the camp, making the fire flicker and casting shadows all about. In a monotone voice, Myste spoke. “One will bring freedom and lose their own. One will wash the sky but darken their soul. One will die for love unrequited. One will lead us into shadow. One will triumph over a great evil. And one will betray us in our hour of need.” Tolani shivered. “And what of me, seeress?” There was a pause, and Myste answered her. Tolani kept those words to herself, and walked away from the woman who was clearly disturbed.

Nine

“Incoming” Vok’koroth yelled. Kaycian had already seen it and was drawing his bow, the words of warning lost on his lips. The black shape in the sky quite nearly went unnoticed but he just happened to be glancing up at the time. Colwyn drew his bow as the nuld yelled for the others to run for the trees. He saw the elves scatter apart, bows ready. Tolani moved over near Kaycian, following his gaze, and Derth was scanning the sky, a black misty barrier forming around him and the shaman. Varlad stood ready beside him. He bit back the urge to tell the boy to take cover, but knew how much that would betray him. Boy he might be, but he was wearing a man’s shoes now. “Do you see it?” Varlad asked. Colwyn was staring intently and then got a fix on the gliding black shape, recognizing the tail and wings just as Vok’koroth yelled out “It’s a drake!”. The creature swung wide and circled them, probably deciding if they were worth the trouble of an evening meal. “Will it attack, do ya think?” Colwyn nodded. “I think so, lad. I hear drakes are not the brightest creatures for their size. Here is comes.” Sure enough, it wasted no time in lining up. He glanced around briefly and saw that it would be coming down at an angle to catch them in as close to a line as possible. Maybe they are a little brighter than credited. “Here it comes. Ready men. Fire at will.” Kaycian said. Colwyn knew his limits and didn’t want to waste his shot. He heard Kaycian’s bow fire and a second later Tolani’s. It was so hard to make out details in the light. Above them a death shriek echoed across the plains as the black shadow took definition faster than he would have thought it could safely dive. Then he realized it was falling, not flying. “Scatter men!” Vok’koroth yelled.

“Run” he said as he and Varlad sprinted to the side, where seconds later the creature smashed into the ground with a horrible cracking impact, and then it was flipping and thudding through their camp before crashing to a tangled halt. “Check the sky” Kaycian yelled, as they all re-readied, scanning for another one. A long tense minute passed. “We’re clear” Vok’koroth announced. “Huzzah!!!” Colwyn yelled. And then all the others cheered. “That was a fine shot, Captain” he heard Tolani say. “Thank you men, Thank you. Now, let’s take a look at this thing. Derth, if you would?” Ten minutes later, after extensive poking and prodding, Derth pronounced the beast untainted and edible, and those who had any idea on how to carve something so big began their work. Two hours later after draining the beastie, and cutting out as much meat as they could use, everyone pitched in to drag the thing into the water and let the stream dispose of it. He made a note to himself to check for it in the morning, and when he did get around to it, the body was gone.

Ten

Zul woke with a start, sweating, the night’s dream still lingering in his mind. In it he was standing alone on the plains beneath the hazy sky. In the distance a group of riders were approaching fast, but he could not make out any details. As they grew closer, they began to gallop faster and faster until they were racing past him. He felt the wind and dust blow about him, and he turned to see where they were headed and only then realized that an entire army was arrayed behind him, filled with Demon’s, Ulpir, Dogmen and worse. The horsemen clashed into the line of monstrosities, and then vanished as if they were swallowed whole. He rose from his cot and went to the sink, splashing water on his face from the ceramic basin and looked in the mirror. Age lines had steadily advanced across his brow, and between the constant outdoor exposure and steady supply of violence, he could see that he looked older than the twenty-five that he was. He tied his shoulder length dark hair back and got dressed quickly, strapping his sword and pistol on last after checked them both over carefully to see that they were well oiled. He then pushed back the tent flap and headed outside through the camp. Like most of the Jani camps, there was always a feeling of impermanence. There was little wood to be had out on the plains for extensive building, and nearly all of the camp was comprised of varying sized brown and khaki tents. They had a wooden palisade of course, but even that was designed for mobility. The entire camp could be broken down in about six hours, which was still longer than many of their generals desired, but a certain practicality had to be maintained. Riders were gearing up for the daily patrols, and a group of workers were busily unloading a supply caravan that had arrived this morning. This was a border camp, and aside from hunting parties, all of the camp’s supplies had to be shipped in from the permanent towns far deeper in clan territory. The reality was that they could be attacked at any time by demon or ulpir forces, and this was no place to grow roots. He reached the officer’s mess and ducked in for the day’s breakfast of hot corkmeal (a spicy porridge) along with some fruit, cheese and goat’s milk. He was one of the first to arrive, but before long the other eleven lieutenants trickled in, got their food and sat at the table prepared for them. The room quickly filled with the usual crude banter, barely mindful of the women assigned to them. Of course, border camp women were hardly known for being prissy. It was rough duty and they did a lot of work to keep the camp running. “So Zul, tell me, have any more of your weird dreams lately?” Reg jabbed, and several others laughed nervously. He’d heard some of the whispered rumors that the taint was getting to him, even though he’d been in for several checkups and showed clean, enough. Any unusual behavior was closely monitored; it had to be. He regretted mentioning last week’s dreams, and had said nothing of the ones from the month before. “Just of your wife” he replied, which set the room chuckling. Reg frowned at him, but then gave in to the pressure of the joke. Reg’s wife was always a good source of humor. It was within conduct to take a wife while assigned to the border, and it happened often enough. Just if any woman got with child, both of them were reassigned to a permanent town and it was considered shameful by many, as it was a way to get out of finishing border duty early. Captain Vallus stepped in to the tent as the laughter tapered off, and everyone quickly stood and saluted, fists to chest. “At east, riders” he replied, saluting them and taking a seat at the head. Rikard Vallus, like many of the riders, was not an overly tall man, but his stocky frame and commanding aura radiated commanding strength. His deep voice helped out in that too, especially when yelling commands in battle. Vallus shuffled some papers and placed them in front of him. “What news?” They all looked at each other briefly, then Targus motioned a hand and spoke. He had just returned late last night from a lengthy southern patrol down to Fort Fulgard, and still looked a bit haggard. Six days in the saddle would do that to a body. “Word from the southwest border. Colonel Fulgard reports that the demons have been pulling back, yet more evidence that Chorkatha may, indeed, be dead.” General murmuring broke out at that, but Vallus hushed them. “We shall see. Anything else?” Targus shook his head. “Just that they are sending in some deep scouts to find out more information.” Zul got tingles at that. ‘Deep scout’ meant deep across the border. It was hard to avoid the slang of ‘death scout’, but the truth was that the farther one went into the wastes, the less chance there was of ever coming out. “You got something Lieutenant Deshain?” Vallus directed at Zul. He must have made a face. He paused a moment, and then said “Just requesting river patrol sir.” Vallus looked inquisitive but didn’t ask. River patrol was considered light duty for the most part, and Vallus hadn’t earned five red stripes for light duty. Everyone knew that he was due a promotion, but few knew that he had already turned it down once. “As you wish Lieutenant.” Vallus made some notes, and then passed the papers around. Here are your assignments then. “Dismissed. Lieutenant Deshain if you’ll wait a moment.” Zul nodded as the others filed out, Reg giving him an overly curious look. He ignored it and walked over to the captain. “River Duty?” He was hesitant to come out with the full story, but men lived and died out here by having the information that they needed. “I had another dream Captain.” Vallus frowned slightly. “Tell me what you remember.”

Eleven

It had been another typical day on the plains. Zul lead his twelve man squad at a steady pace almost due west towards the river. Patrol duty was for the most party uneventful; nobody complained about uneventful, since the opposite usually involved fighting for one’s life. The nagging feeling that something was going to happen only grew stronger, and he told the men needlessly to look sharp. Do you want to talk about it? Herloth said into his mind. The Frinlan horse had remained stoically quiet all morning, sensing Zul’s mood. Not really, he replied. It could be just a dream. I know. But it’s not. Hmmm. Well it’s certainly a metaphor then. I don’t know what it is. All I feel is that something is happening. It was hard to describe a mental nod of agreement. It was just a sense. The same went for shrugging. Mastering a mental shrug was truly an art form. Herloth could shrug like no other.

It had been hundreds of years since the first Frinlan chose a rider. It was probably a lot less complicated back then than they made it these days, but the one thing that had not changed was that the horse always did the choosing. General practice was that once a rider earned his fourth stripe, he was taken to a Frinlan Field, an area of land sacred to the telepathic horses for reasons they kept to themselves. There, after a lengthy presentation ritual that from the outside largely looked like a herd of wild horses riding in circles around a line of naked men, the horses made their offers. It was made clear over and over that the bond was a permanent arrangement, but until it was complete, it simply could not be understood. Why the horses agreed to this arrangement was another one of those mysteries. Zul thought he understood better now, but he chose not to explain it to others. Two other members of his squad had been chosen, and he was thankful that he could only hear one horse. The Frinlan could speak to each other and to other telepaths, and they could read thoughts, but only a telepath could speak back to them, though he was sure that they could read enough thoughts to gather what the sender wanted to say anyway.

They had reached the river just after noon, and he turned them south. His stomach told him that it was lunch time, but he pressed on for another mile before reigning in. He pulled out his binoculars and scanned the horizon, quickly homing in on the three boats coming up the river. His nerves quivered with the anticipation. Calm down, you’re making me nervous, Hersoth complained, mostly in jest. Zul patted his back and then gave orders to the others. They quickly lined up and headed for the river bank, as it looked like the boats were moving unnaturally fast up the river.

Twelve

“Hail traveler’s” the lead rider called out. Kaycian had been watching closely with his spyglass as the twelve horsemen cut the remaining distance across the grassy plain and then lined up near the riverbank ahead. He had kept the three boats close and near the center of the narrowing river. It was unavoidable though; they were going to have to parlay. He quietly instructed Kethia to slow the wind, and as the three boats glided to a stop, he came to his knees, bow still ready, and steadying himself with the mast. “Greetings Riders” he replied aloud. “What brings such strangers through our land?” the leader continued. “We are journeying north, on the river.” “I see you came from the swamplands, and have a sohleguir guide. I thought that they knew better than to trespass.” “We have little choice. We are on an urgent mission.” Something was prickling at the back of his neck, but he couldn’t place it. He looked over the riders, and it seemed like the horse to the left of the speaker’s was staring at him. It was an odd feeling. “You are from the sky cities, yes?” “I am Kaycian Tellivani, of Sellaine.” “So it is true. There are elves falling from the sky.” Kaycian looked puzzled as a knot formed in his stomach. “Have you heard of others then?” “Indeed.” Kethia took that moment to cause a stir. “Captain, they are reading our minds!” One of the horses snorted violently and stepped back. Derth shouted, “Do not do that again, or we will be forced to take action!” There was a silent exchange on the bank, and then the leader spoke again. “We must insist that you join us for parlay on shore. There is much information that we can share, and some that will help you on your journey to Arelios. We mean you no harm.” Kaycian gave some quiet commands, and they brought the boats to the shore, still very wary.

Thirteen

Kaycian and several officers spoke privately with the leader, Zul and his two senior riders for over an hour. They had indeed learned a great deal about the horsemen and about what to expect on the road ahead. If Zul was a man of his word, as Kaycian believed, they had secured some potential allies. Now all they had to do was finish their trek upriver and find the border fort called Fort Reid. There, according to Zul, they would meet with the Colonel and learn all they needed to know about the beings called the Ulpir, who were the rulers and wardens of the people to the north. The remainder of the day was spent in quiet conversation, and to Kaycian’s relief no other deadly encounters. It gave him time to mull over the possibility that his father was not only alive, but a prisoner somewhere to the north. A prisoner of these beings called the Ulpir.

Chapter 19: The Plains By Don Fuller

One

They made camp just before dark on the outskirts of the forest once called Elfost. Tolani felt a certain sense of dread as night had settled in, and paranoia aside, it was more likely than not that great evil was lurking in the forest, waiting for them. Per the instructions of the riders, they stayed on the east bank. To the west were the demons and a stretch of land called the wastelands, or the blight. There the demons were still active, and they had corrupted the land for hundreds if not thousands of miles. Kaycian sat alone for the moment, having been distant since this afternoon’s meeting. She knew he was worried about his father, but they had yet to learn anything specific enough to say that the captured elf was he, or some other unfortunate crewman on a lost ship. She idly watched as the others entertained themselves after another long day on the boats. Rodan and Lianna were sparring, finding a connection in the martial forms. The boy Varlad was giving archery lessons to Colwyn and Arda, while her crewmen took the first watch. Myste sat alone, a recluse in their little band, and Derth continued his lessons with Skithra. The others were playing a game of dice, leaving her with some quiet time of her own. She stared at the sky, picturing the perfect field of stars concealed by the endless gray haze, and thought of home, her family, and those who were waiting for her to return.

Two

Morning came early, and the traveler’s broke camp at the first haze of light, wanting to be well clear of Elfost by dark. The Riders had given them a wide range of warnings about the western forest, but none of it would be safe to camp in. Ohtar had looked the map over earlier with Kaycian and the officers, and by his calculations they should have no problems reaching the other side, barring any complications. Somehow though, he was sure that there would be complications. He continued to helm the third boat, keeping a casual eye on Slade as the morning passed. The river narrowed some, bringing the wall of dark leafy trees closer on each side. There were signs of life almost immediately, and both Skithra and Derth had been talking animatedly and making notes as they progressed. There had been no signs of demons, but the strange alligators with the tentacles on their heads were unnerving to look at. They didn’t seem hostile, and the boats continued unmolested. Around midmorning, Slade began to act more and more fidgety, so he felt the need to inquire. “Are you ok, Slade?” Ohtar asked him in a low voice. Slade shrugged. “It is the taint… and the voices.” “Voices? You hear voices?” Slade looked around nervously. “Yes.” “What are they saying to you?” “Nothing now. Just faint whispers that are hard to pick out.” “Have you heard them louder?” He nodded. “When they attacked us on the beach. It’s like I can hear their thoughts. They are… violent and dark.” Ohtar wondered if bringing Slade was a good idea after all, but maybe he could be useful. “Have you been hearing these whispers all day?” “No.. they just started. It’s like someone’s out there, but he doesn’t want me to hear him. It’s hard to explain.” “We need to tell the captain.” He suddenly had a very bad feeling. He passed the message up through the others to call to the captain and let him know something was amiss.

Kethia tapped on Kaycian’s shoulder. “Captain, a word from Ohtar. He says that we are being watched.” Kaycian broke from his reverie and scanned either river bank. If that was the case, there wasn’t much they could do at the moment. He considered getting out of the boats, but if someone was watching them, that is where probably were. Right At that moment he experienced a strange premonition of danger but couldn’t place it. He readied his bow and called out. “Look alive everyone!” he shouted, alerting the group to trouble. That’s when trouble came.

Derth reacted immediately and surrounded Skithra and himself in a swirling barrier of force, sensing the working of magic very close. Suddenly a wall of churning water twenty feet wide burst up directly in front of the lead boat. The boat hit it hard, and while it started to pass through everyone was jolted forward as they dropped from ten knots to almost a dead stop. Skithra slammed into the wall of force and was shaken, most of the crew slammed knees and lost their balance, and in a freak accident Colwyn jerked forward having been resting on the rudder, and his arm twisted and snapped. He cried out in pain. After that it all happened fast. Gators attacked from below, ramming the bottoms of the boats, busting holes and cracking the hulls of the lead two boats, which quickly began taking on water.

Lewyn swung the middle boat hard left as Kaycian ordered them to get to the shore. Ohtar swung to the right, sending the last boat angling almost straight to the east bank. Everyone had their bows ready, searching for targets. The middle boat swung around the lead, clearing the wall and then arced to the bank as Kethia’s wind died off, and her demon ward sprung up. Boat three hit the bank and Lianna jumped clear, just as an elemental hail storm engulfed their boat. Vok’koroth saw the alligators coming from under the water, and shot one just as magically created hail lashed through their ranks, tearing at flesh and seriously bruising all of them. Derth saw the storm and hit it with a black tendril that dispersed it only seconds after it did its damage. Then the gators sprung from the water all around them. Arrows flew from the two lead boats, keeping the creatures at bay a moment longer. Kaycian’s boat hit shore, and everyone started leaping out except him and Lewyn. Derth cast another spell, weighing some heavy options, and then with a flash their boat shifted in space, suddenly appearing next to the shore. Several gators splashed from the water where their boat had been, taking numerous arrows. He focused on the energies flying about, trying to home in on their assailant. The hail storm lashed out again, and again he cancelled it, but most of the crew in the third boat were battered and stunned. Two more gators leaped from the water by the lead boat; Lewyn evaded his attacker, but Kaycian was not so lucky, and the gator got its jaws around his torso and gave him a crushing bite. Somehow he twisted free, agony searing through his abdomen. All but Derth and Skithra leaped from the middle boat, just as the water beneath the boat vanished in a hiss, toppling the two of them forward and into the rush of water that replaced the vacuum, though they were unhurt inside of Derth’s sphere. With another round of arrows, the last gator either fled or died, leaving Derth focusing on their underwater foe. He concentrated with another spell that gave him positional information on underwater creatures, and he homed in on the elusive water demon. He sent a blast of energy its way, clipping it, and he scowled to himself as it fled out of his range. He and Skithra climbed out of the muck just as Tolani was calling out to him. “Derth, it’s Tyr! Something’s wrong!” Everyone looked over at the elf, who was collapsed on the shore clutching his throat, his body enveloped in a watery film. Derth concentrated and dispelled the drowning spell, and the elf began to cough and gasp for air. They all stayed ready, scanning the shore and the water for several minutes, but the demon and his minions did not return.

Three

Several hours later around noon, those with keener hearing picked up on the roaring sounds of rushing water up ahead. Before long the boats rounded a bend in the river and came across a sizeable lagoon at the based of a sixty foot tall three stepped water fall. The sounds of the crashing water made communication difficult, and Kayen motioned them to head for the east bank. In the third boat, something was amiss again.

“What is it Slade?” Ohtar asked, as Slade began to look nervous. “More demons?” He looked thoughtful. “I don’t know. There is something… nearby, but it is different.” “Perhaps you could concentrate on it, maybe find out what it is, see if there is danger?” Slade shrugged, still new at whatever was going on with him. H

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Part 1: Chapters 1-16

EDITOR’S NOTE: I GM’d the entire campaign, and I wrote most of the summaries. However, one of my player’s did assist and wrote a few here and there, including the first three. Each session credits are at the begging under the title. I probably should have done a separate post for each session, but don’t have the time for that right now. I already had the sessions broken into three “Parts”, and that is how I’ll post them. Since there is no way to support an index here, you can search on “Chapter 1”, etc. to find a specific chapter.

Enjoy!

Don Fuller

Part 1: Of Sylvan Skies

Prologue By Don Fuller

Andirion is a magical world rich with history and ancient cultures. It was once the battleground for gods, it has been ruled by wizard-kings, invaded by aliens and conquered by men. Empires have risen and fallen, and the oldest cities are founded upon ruins from times long past. Scholars have claimed that the world itself is a nexus point, a crossing between the forces of order and chaos. For a hundred-thousand years it has known war upon war, some so destructive that the face of its lands have been dramatically scarred.

The Sundering

In 6097, on the continent of Antheria, there was another war that would alter the future of the world. For the third time in a thousand years, a wizard recovered Shadar’s Crown, a divine artifact that gave its wearer mastery over forces of darkness. Assuming the title of ‘Dragon King’, and bolstering his already significant power with these new legions, he waged his campaign to overthrow the empire and establish his own rule. A group of heroes recovered Eitvar’s Blade and attempted to slay the wizard. Using an ancient ritual, he fled to Andirion’s second moon, Karos, where the God Shadar had been imprisoned six-thousand years ago. The heroes followed him there, and in an epic struggled they slew the wizard, but in the fight the moon was sundered and Shadar was freed. The bulk of the moon remained in orbit, but pieces of it were cast into space by the release of cosmic energy.

The Cataclysm

In the year 6100 the prophecies began. Across the world, prophets, seers and diviners all began to proclaim that the end of the world was finally upon them. They claimed that the remains of Karos were returning and would soon fall from the heaven’s and destroy the world and all life upon it. The greatest rulers and magicians consulted with each other and concluded that all of the prophets could not be wrong, but with so little time to act something had to be done to save the peoples of the world. Many solutions were presented, but the two most popular alternatives were to either build vast underground sanctuaries, or to construct massive floating cities that would lift people into the skies. There were many empires across the world, but the most powerful and magical empire was the Mythian Empire. The Mythians had long been known to possess arcane secrets that allowed them to lift up huge floating fortresses, but no one had ever seen an entire floating city. Emissaries were sent to consult with the Mythian government, and the answer came back. Yes, they knew how to lift cities into the sky, but at a great price. Only the wealthiest cities could hope to afford this. The rest of the world would have to go underground, and the Mythians offered the means to build their sanctuaries quickly and to protect the occupants from the cataclysm. With only months to spare, the first cities were lifted into the sky, and even as the shards of Karos began to fall as prophesied, more cities were still rising. Death and destruction rained from the heavens. The oceans boiled, the polar caps melted, and the land erupted with fire and brimstone. The Cataclysm was so powerful that the energy it released soon began to tear away at the fabric of reality. By cosmic fluke or mad design, the strands that made up the world and everything on it began to fray, and holes began to open between Andirion and Shadar’s realm of shadow. Hundreds of thousands of Shadowspawn poured through the rifts and began to spread across the world rejoicing in the destruction. Whatever the Cataclysm did not kill, the Shadowspawn feasted upon. And so the world was cast into darkness.

Five hundred years later

It is now the year 6608, and the people of the sky cities have forgotten what life was like before the Cataclysm. A dark poisonous cloud filled the sky below the cities, called The Veil, denying the sky people all but fleeting glimpses of their former homeland. Passing through the veil has only lead to death from its deadly vapors, and those who have dared press through have never returned. The new society would likely have continued as they were for many years to come, but now a new challenge has arisen. In the city of Haalkitaine, formerly of Antheria and part of the Star Crown Empire, a worried city council is debating what to do. For over five-hundred years the city has been held aloft by ancient Mythian magic, but now the city is drifting, albeit ever-so-slightly. For the last few weeks, the city recruited emissaries and sent them out in sky ships to seek aid from the remaining mage councils and libraries scattered around the world. And on this night, the only son of Kerous Telivanni, a Ashiri sky captain, packs his bags. His father has been missing for months, and now Kaycian Telivanni intends to recruit a crew for his father’s old ship and then go out and find him. Across the same city, a young Stondari is tasked by his people to take up an ancient cause, and a certain brawny Tragarr is looking for a bar fight. And thus Fate begins to weave a new tale.

Captain’s Log By Scott Montgomery Edited by Don Fuller

Witchwind 9th, Moon day Father hasn’t returned still. It’s unusual for him to be gone on voyages longer than 4 months. Longest was 5 months, but that was due to The Big Storm. I recall him telling me about Daris and picking up extra spice for trading on the return trip. Mother says he’ll be home soon, but she has been saying that for weeks. It’s been 10 months, I don’t have her optimism. At night I hear her crying, silently she mourns.

Witchwind 22nd, Sabbath day Passed through the market streets today, wandered into the warehouse district. I recall the days of youth helping father unload his cargo and oversee his crew. While in the docks, I’ve heard rumors spreading through the city that Haalkitaine is drifting. None know why, and a few are commissioned for seeking out the answer. I think Krazel’s father is one of them. I wish my father were here to provide his ship, I know he’d take me on this adventure.

Witchwind 27th, Garlen’s day I’ve decided to find father’s clipper and claim an early birthright. Father has been gone far too long, and I must put his remains to rest or find him if he’s still alive. My mother’s agony and grief is slowly taking her, she must no longer weep. I believe my father’s clipper is mothballed in Y’kleth district, I’ll search for it tomorrow.

Witchwind 28th, End Week An interesting day indeed. Found the Wind Sprite, definitely an eye sore. Amongst the abandoned hull I found rotting sails and major hull damage needing replacement. The spars, struts and beams are intact, and salvageable. The forward catapult is missing, needs replacement. Maneuvering systems are intact but need fine work. Amongst the captain quarters was an unusual guest. Father seemed to have left behind a stowaway, goblin really by the look and smell of him. Don’t know how long he has been there, but the poor creature was foul. Luckily my superior movement and training from father’s soldier-at-arms provided me the speed to dodge it’s attacks. After it’s failed attack and grabbing him by the scruff, I convinced it I was not intending him harm. The creature recognized me as my father’s son. Immediately taking me to be it’s captain and replacing my father. I am not sure why he let such a creature in his presence, but together we shall find my father and ask him. His name is Squee.

To pick a crew... First day as captain, and already dreading my choices. It seems anyone of any caliber is already shipped out or in the Royal Navy. I wish Tolani was here, I could use her charismatic abilities and leadership as a First-Mate. Too bad she's already got her commission from the Alfar Sky Captain Academy. I hope she would approve of my choices. 
Financeer: For the first in my knowledgeable life, an Stondari has become an acquaintance of mine. Interesting species, they are mostly rock with no apparent fighting ability. Met one in the Red Hook intent on sampling the local ale by the half-case. His race has a knowledge of the Elfen language, but it wasn't as fluid as his common. Oddly enough, the barkeep mentioned he was looking for a captain to take him on a quest. He called himself Derth.
FirstMate:  Rough and tumble. When there is nothing to pick from, I suppose a bad apple is still nourishment. Bart, the tavern owner, mentioned that Baldrick was between jobs. What he didn't mention was that he was an ork. Maybe he'll be better to keep the men in line that way. When asked about his career, Bart hastily changed the subject. I'll have to look into it further.
Sergeant-at-Arms: I would tend to believe the biggest meanest brute in the bar would be a good choice. Unfortunately it just happened to be a trow who was throwing my only available First-Mate out of the bar. After the slight fisticuffs I approached the trow and offered services. He seems a bit dimwitted but maybe his brute strength and ability for close quarters combat will overcome that. I think I heard his buddies grunt his name, Skragg.
..... Baldrick stated he'd get the finer details of the rest of the crew. I gave him my limitations and we should set sail in the week.

Midyear 3rd, Ashyra’s day At services, High Priest Olar mentioned that High Paladin Ozmeer has been slain. It cannot be, High Paladin Ozmeer was only here last week. His hippogriff has returned, but his squire has not. By the fortune of Ashyra, I pray for guidance in knowing my path when it comes. I must take it upon myself to find the squire and bring him to safety, and to find out what became of Ozmeer.

Midyear 11th, Winds Day First day of voyage, not completely how I wanted to leave. But finally we are underway. As we were preparing to set sail Baldrick identified an approaching merchant/priest in robes. She looked like she was of the faith of Ashyra, but there was something else that was showing. I recognized her as the Numeri from the reservoirs. Odd to have this visitor, one of a kind from this city, giving us departing rights. To my astonishment, she was wanting to partake in our voyage and claimed that she had the healing ability. Skeptical, and with Baldrick forgetting our ship’s healer, I allowed her passage. Derth almost fell overboard worried about food consumption for the new arrival. Seriously, I think his math skills are a bit on the downside. He’s overloaded our hold with Two months of food. Most of it will spoil by then! Immediately she started to make demands for living quarters, the arrogance. I put her in the forecastle with Skragg. She’ll have to cross through the hold with the crew. That ought to take some wind out of her sails. While she was en-route to her quarters, it seems she met Squee and assaulted him with a sleep spell. I only wish she would hit him with a bathe spell of some kind. And if that didn’t top the cake.. the local magistrates decided to stop by. Not having one for being grounded before I could even get in flight, I decided to take to the wind and get the voyage underway. Perhaps the new passenger could explain, I’ll have to ask later. It was nice of them to give us a four frigate escort out of the docks, for 5 hours, out for 125 miles…..

Derth mentioned we're heading to see Felzar the mage. I've heard of him, and father has taken me near his tower, never making contact only showing it in the distance. It should take us a day or two to arrive. My fledgling crew looks pretty green, father may be pleased as well as Tolani. I wonder what their first crew were like. I've decided to take the two most experienced sailors, Slade and Colwyn,  and promote them to Helmsman and Sideman. Still wet behind the ears, I had to explain the helm operation and sail manipulation to them both. But they're the brightest of the bunch.
The twins, Larryk and Larryk, got into a scuffle today with the cook, Ox. My father had this way of dealing with unruly crew. What I recall was this tunic he'd have the crew adorn and strip their normal assigned duties while ordering them to do special tasks in these tunics. The Red-Coat policy, he called it. It was more of a shirt than a coat, but I didn't argue with him then and I can't argue with him now. In his honor, I implemented the Red-Shirt policy with Larryk and Larryk. I think it put the fear into the others, it was a clear day of sailing after that.

Midyear 12th, Garlen’s Day Almost lost Navar earlier today. The bloody fool wasn’t tied down and we were in a heavy storm. Seemed to roll on us from below. The ship buffeted and pitched but luckily Squee was there to provide quick action and save Navar. Maybe Squee is better around the ship than I give him credit for. Dreaded storm continues and we’re nearing Felzar’s tower. It looks more ominous that I remember it, we should be arriving in the hour. I hope we’re welcome, perhaps he’ll have some warm food for guests.. if he’s taking guests. First docking attempt, I must oversee the men and pray.

Chapter 1: Demonclaw, part 1 By Scott Montgomery Edited by Don Fuller

1

Storms. Haalkitaine loves storms, Kaycian thought. It was common practice for the elemental wizards of the city to produce their own storms in order to provide fresh water. Avians in the local bestiaries tended to remain grounded during such storms, but that wasn’t an option for the Wind Sprite today. For the last ten months, Kaycian had watched the storms, worried for the safety of his father. Today, he had his own worries about the darkening sky ahead

“Land-Ho!”, cried the top man. Kaycian looked up, wondering if Navar was hallucinating, “Verify!” answered Baldrick. “Aye, fifteen degrees high on our ten. Range, fifty miles”, replied Navar. Kaycian quickly pulled out his spyglass and scanned for the target. “Spot on,” he confirmed to Baldrick. “Felzar’s tower,” he whispered under the breath, “A bit darker than normal.” He handed his glass to the stony financier, urging him not to break it. “See for yourself, we’ll be there in about two hours.” Derth awkwardly took the spyglass, and with a moment of adjustment, examined the tower. “Not very inviting in the light of this storm.” Kaycian nodded in agreement, taking his spyglass back.

“Baldrick, call me from my cabin when we are about to approach.” “Aye Capt’n,” Kaycian put his spy glass away, nodded to Derth and then went into his cabin to enter his midday journal.

Two hours later, Squee burst in. “Capt’n, Felzar’s tower is close, and there’s a nasty storm upon us! Colwyn almost went over, but I saved him.” Kaycian sighed, wondering why his father ever employed the goblin. “Thank you Squee.” He then took his sheathed heron-marked rapier off a rack and proceeded topside.

“Baldrick, report!” The first mate finished reprimanding a deckhand for casting the wrong line, before addressing Kaycian. “Capt’n, Felzar’s tower has no dock. This storm quickly overcame us, but we’ve climbed above the thunderhead. We’re looking for a suitable spot to land.”

Taking them in high over the storm was good judgment . Perhaps the first mate would work out after all, Kaycian thought. “Very well, keep us high until we close, and then find us a spot.” “Aye Capt’n! Larryk, secure that line!”

The tower was of dingy white stone, probably five or so stories, and rested in a rocky bowl with high sides. The bottom of the “bowl” jutted down into a crag nearly a third the size of the tower itself. As they got closer, Kaycian spotted a small landing platform set into the side of bowl, with a narrow bridge that extended to the second floor of the tower. From his vantage, he could see the depression was filled with water like an ancient moat from the old stories.

“They don’t get many ships out here,” he said. “We’ll come up alongside, and use the gangplank. I’ll take the helm.”

Kaycian took the wheel as they came level with the tower landing. The cross-winds buffeted the ship, and she rocked back and forth. “Raise the sails!” Baldrick commanded. Tense moments later Kaycian called for an all stop. Colwyn pulled both brake levers to the all stop position, and the four large canvas flaps extended out to catch the wind. It was a tricky maneuver stopping an airship where you wanted it, and Kaycian smiled as they executed it perfectly. “Grapple’s away!” said Baldrick, and the line crew tossed their grapples to the platform and the rocks. Several found purchased and held. The line men quickly tied them off, and the Wind Sprite came to a gentle stop. “Gangplank out,” Baldrick ordered, and two of the men extended it out to the platform and then locked it in place.

“Good work men.” Kaycian said. “Boarding party, let’s go. Baldrick, rotate the men and have them break for mess. Keep half the crew ready for a quick departure. If you see us running, get the sails down fast.” “Aye Cap’n.” Kaycian was not sure if he’d see his ship again. Judging from what he’d seen so far, they were short on crew, and half of what they had were ruffians with little experience. Baldrick seemed competent, but Kaycian was slow to trust. They might just end up as Felzar’s guests until the Haalkitaine Navy caught up with him.

2

Derth led the group, followed by Kaycian, Squee, Kethia and Skragg. They carefully crossed the slippery rain drenched platform towards the bridge connecting the hippogriff pad and the tower. Several dozen feet below the bridge, the base of the cauldron was filled with murky water and jutting rocks, and around the sides encircling the rest of the tower was the rocky outcropping that prevented all approaches to the tower except for pad. Fifty feet across the bridge was a large set of wooden doors. There were no windows visible except for one near the top, nearly a seventy feet up.

Derth stopped at the foot of the bridge, apparently lost in thought to the rest of the crew, though in reality he was astrally perceiving the area for magical wards or traps. Kaycian watched the expressionless stone man impatiently. Thus far, he knew little to nothing about the financier; the Stondari were a mysterious race that up until days ago had stayed reclusive from the rest of the city’s inhabitants. “Derth, the door is still across the bridge, and we’re getting wet. It’s a bit late for second thoughts.” Derth ignored him a few more moments, then spoke “This place is tainted. We must be careful and not linger long.” “Time to go!” announced Squee hastily and turned to walk back aboard the gangplank. Kaycian and Derth pressed on, and Kethia and Skragg followed closely behind. “Uh.. Capt’n, you’re goin’ the wrong way..” Squee said. “This way Squee, we’re not leaving yet.”

They crossed the bridge, and on each door there was a unique knocker, one with the symbol of Kareg and the other Shadar, both considered the more chaotic of the gods. Derth knocked using Kareg. Mintues passed, and no response came. “Given the presence of taint, We must enter and discern the well-being of the mage,” Derth said. “Skragg, please assist.” Skragg grunted, glanced at Kaycian who nodded the go-ahead, and then the two of them began to kick the doors in. It took them only a few solid blows before the bar split and the doors swung wide, gusting with the wind and slamming hard against the frames with a loud crack. Skragg readied his halberd and stepped in expecting trouble.

The rest of the group followed him in; just inside there was a short entry hall with opposing tapestries on each wall. One depicted a beautiful silver dragon roaming the skies, the other a horrific battle with demonic creatures devouring the living and dead in a battle long forgotten. On the far end of the hall were three doorways, one to each side and straight ahead.

Skragg moved up to the three doors, and checked the one on the left. Derth moved to the door on the right. Kethia wasn’t sure what to do with the two large-framed allies blocking the hall, and stood near the entryway. Kaycian drew his rapier and stopped to study the silver dragon depiction closely. Squee stayed behind his captain for his own safety. Kaycian lifted the side of the tapestry from the wall to check for anything conspicuous, and halted. A quick blur darted back through a hole the size of a hand. Kaycian grabbed the tapestry and pulled hard, tearing it from the hanging bar in a cloud of dust, revealing the secret spy hole to his companions. “Be prepared, they know we’re here.” With the warning, Skragg busted open the door, and they all heard a man’s charging scream.

Not having fought together before, the party of five seemed to work in graceful unison without any communication. Skragg blocked the maddened attacker who was wielding an axe. In such close quarters his pole arm was not as effective. Skragg considered his options and decided it was brawling time. Dropping the pole arm, the muscle-bound brute engaged his attacker and took a swing at him; the man jumped back, eyes wild. Stepping quickly in the room behind Skragg, Kethia concentrated on neutralizing the threat. She shouted a spell, and a small burst of energy darted across the room and caught the mad man in the chest stunning him. Derth, in the rear of the combat, stayed his position at the other doors watching the fight. Kaycian backed into the corner near the doorway next to Derth, rapier in hand facing the other tapestry, ready for anything. From the corner of his eye Kaycian saw a mystical dark mist leave Derth’s upper torso and fly into the room where the three were fighting. Skragg grappled the man and disarmed him, lifting him off the floor in a bear hug, legs flailing.

Kethia walked up to the pair and studied the man, concentrating. His hair was tousled, clothes dirty, and he smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days. She spoke another spell and charmed him hoping to befriend him and learn the secrets of what happened. Unfortunately nothing but babble and confusion spewed from the man. “He’s got a strange mark on his neck,” Skragg said. “Turn him around please,” Kethia replied. Skragg pinned the man’s arms and turned him around, watching his feet. They both looked at the hand shaped burn mark on his neck. “He’s tainted.” Still not sure what Derth meant by that, but suspecting it was very bad, Skragg immediately broke the mans back and dropped his crumpled body to the floor. Kethia gasped, but Derth nodded approvingly. “Is there nothing we could have done?” She asked, shaken. “No. He was demon touched. The perversion of the shadowspawn, called taint, is only curable in very small doses. He was beyond help.”

With a search of the room, Kaycian located a small panel in the corner, too small for a man to fit inside. He called for Squee. “Shimmy up this and find out where it goes,” he ordered. Squee looked concerned, but obeyed immediately. They all waited a minute before he returned. They looked expectantly as he whispered to the captain. “There’s another madman in the next room, sitting facing the door with axe. He’s shorter though, with a beard,” he said, pointing to the door at the end of the hall opposite the entrance. Kaycian moved to the others and quietly shared the information. As the group readied to engage the second assailant, Kaycian knelt by Squee and whispered to him. “Head to the ship, and get some help taking these two tapestries back.” Squee nodded, and headed back out of the tower, clearly glad to avoid the next confrontation.

Derth and Kethia had spells ready, and Skragg burst through the doorway where the second man was waiting in ambush. He never had a chance, as Skragg impaled him and threw him against the wall spitting blood. Derth checked the man’s neck and confirm that he too had the strange hand shaped mark. There was two flights of stairs on the back side of the semi-circle shaped room, one leading up and one leading down, and between them was a fireplace filled with ashes. They hastily searched the room, and then Skragg led the way up the stairs.

Chapter 2: Demonclaw, part 2 By Scott Montgomery

Squee ran back across the rainy walkway to the ship. Baldrick watched him with great concern, and nearly gave the command to lower the sails, but decided to wait to hear what the goblin had to say. He ran across the gangplank to the deck, and addressed the first mate. “Cap’n Kaycian wants you to send two men to fetch the tapestries from the front hall,” he blurted breathlessly. Baldrick looked at him puzzled. “Why?” Squee shrugged. “Should I tell him you refused?” He scowled. “Let the Captain know its done. Larryk, you and your brother follow the goblin and bring back some tapestries.” Squee ran back across the bridge, the brothers Larryk barely able to worry about their task as they chased after the goblin.

On the second level the group found the mage slumped forward at a table. His neck was severed from the rear and barely held his head in place, and his body was soaked in dried blood which was also pooled on the floor. There were bloody footprints prints that wandered around the room with no sense or purpose, perhaps providing a grim insight into the assailant’s mind. Kethia got close and studied the body. “He’s been dead for a couple days now.” Saddened, the party looked about the room for any further signs of the attackers. Rummaging through the fireplace, Kethia discovered many documents burned and charred; at least one was partially salvageable, and she handed it to Derth. Other than the book, they didn’t find anything else of value. Just as they finished their search, Squee came running into the room dripping from the rain. A roll of thunder shook the tower, and Squee nodded to Kaycian that the task was done.

Leaving the mage as he was, they cautiously ascended the semicircle of the tower, Skragg leading the way to another landing. Near the top, they all paused when they heard someone talking. Suddenly a wall of fire crackled to life, blocking off the stairway. From behind Skragg, Derth called upon his own magical powers to banish the flaming wall; black mist flew from his hands and sizzled into the flames, and a moment later they vanished into smoke. Kaycian readied his bow, and then as one the party rushed into the room prepared for combat. The room looked to be a library, study and lab, and was in total disarray. Tapestries lined the circular wall interspersed by bookshelves. On a central workbench there were alchemy vials and jars filled with colorful concoctions.

Realizing the room was empty of foes, Skragg, Derth, and Kethia ran up the next flight of stairs in haste pursuing the magician. Kaycian stayed behind, bow still ready. “He didn’t take the stairs, we would have seen him. Squee, search for another exit or hiding place!” he commanded. Squee ran about the room, frantically searching. He found what he was looking for behind an ornate tapestry depicting an oceanic underwater city, “Capt’n, over here!” he called, pulling it aside. Kaycian acknowledge the portal and ran over to it. Pushing the tapestry aside and stepping through revealed a narrow hall behind the wall that ended at a ladder up. He climbed up the ladder to the next floor, but wasn’t able to find the secret hatch; it appeared to be solid stone. “Squee, climb up by me. Do you see anything?” The goblin squeezed up next to Kaycian and looked closely, but couldn’t find any sign of a hatch either.

Moving up the stairs to the next level, the stairs ended at a closed trap door leading up. They could make out lantern light through the cracks. Unable to see more of the room, Skragg pushed open the hatch and started to climb through. No sooner did he get his head inside, then he heard someone mutter a spell. Skragg didn’t even get a chance to react, as he succumbed to a magical sleep and fell back to the floor. Derth pushed Skragg aside, readied a spell, and hastily shoved through the hatch looking for his target. Waiting for an opportunity, the unknown figure released another spell. In much the same way Skragg reacted, Derth crashed to the floor next to him. With both the stondari and trow on the floor sleeping, Kethia decided to try a parlay.

“What is it you want?”, she called up. After a long pause, a man replied, “You shouldn’t of come here. I killed the Paladin you know, and I will kill you too!” Judging by his tone, Kethia suspected the man was out of sorts to say the least. Something was driving these people insane. Disappointed, Kethia waited for half a minute for the initial spell effects to weaken, and then she knelt by Skragg and Derth and pulled out some smelling salts from her herb pouch. Noses twitching, both of them groggily opened their eyes in confusion. Skragg growled, and climbed to his feet, rubbing the back of his head. Derth joined him, looking thoughtful. Kethia wonder if he was embarrassed at losing the spell battle, but couldn’t tell. Kaycian and Squee caught up to them while they were standing there shaking off the sleep spell. He looked at the three of them and the open hatch above; obviously something had transpired. “e’s up there,” Skragg said. “He’s quick with his spells too.” “Ah. Derth, go with Squee and see if you can open this mage’s door. We may have another way in” he whispered. You two, go with them too. Maybe you can flush him out. I’ll wait here and see if I can get a shot.” Kaycian crouched down in shadows waiting in ambush, bow ready, staring intently on the hatch. For several minutes there was nothing. He hoped Derth could get the other hatch open, and startle the mage into a retreat. If he gambled right, the mage would catch an arrow in the forehead when he came to look. What’s taking Derth so long, he wondered. Apparently his prey was wondering too, and lost the battle of patience. Kaycian was ready, but didn’t expect what came next. Two small eyestalks peered over the edge, and they seemed to be attached to a grey skinned hand walking on its fingers. Kaycian recognized the foe instantly and let loose his shot. The foul demon caught the arrow across the thumb and squealed in pain from a fanged mouth in its palm. Recoiling from the attack, it scampered back into the room. What is going on here, thought Kaycian, shivering at the sight of the creature. Secluded in darkness he prepared another shot and waited, but the creature didn’t show itself again. Finally Derth returned to report Kaycian looked at him, disappointed. “There is no magical doorway above the ladder,” He said. It is just stone. I could pass through it, but do not yet know the spell to open it for others. Given the amount of taint here, I chose not to join with the wall.” Kaycian briefly described what he had seen, and that the creature was wounded. “Then we are definitely dealing with a demon,” Derth said. “Very well. Let us not give it time to heal; perhaps it won’t be ready with its spell so quickly this time. Skragg, are you prepared for another try?” Skragg nodded an agreement. “Wotcha have in mind?”

Derth explained, and then knelt. Skragg got on his shoulders, halberd ready. With an impressive heave, Derth lifted Skragg through the hatch with enough force for him to make the landing. Skragg immediately dodged and spun, looking for their foe. Distant lightning illuminated the sky and silhouetted a swaying figure standing in the opened window. Oblivious to the trow, the mages apprentice continued to look out the window He was standing in. “Your mine!” yelled Skragg as he rushes the unarmed man. Derth vaulted Kaycian into the room, just in time to witness the carnage. “No!” he shouted to Skragg, but it was too late. Skragg impaled him, and had him dangling precariously from the end of his weapon, blood spattering from the force of the blow. Kaycian scoured the room, looking for the hand, his bow ready for the shot. “Skragg! We needed to interrogate him! Pull him inside.” Kethia flew up into the room, landing gracefully next to Kacyian, and Derth started climbing through with Squee on his shoulder. “Close the hatch, and Skragg close that window. The creature must still be in the room” He secured his composite bow and drew his rapier. The room was large and filled with old wooden crates and barrels, many filled with odd collections of junk. They started searching through the boxes, weapons and spells ready, until Kaycian found a trail of ichor leading to a corner of the room, where a small hole lead out into the eaves of the tower. It appeared that the demon hand had made its escape, and the young apprentice was very much dead, so the group decided it best to finish their tower search and head to the basement.

They didn’t find anything significant below, except a concealed doorway to the outside of the tower which lead to path along the sides to the waterline. Before the party could investigate the path, Larryk came down the stairs. “Capt’n, Baldrick requests your presence! There’s a disturbance on deck. We found a boy.” “Looks like we are done here.” Kaycian said. “I’ll join you. He may need healing attention.” “We’ll head up and investigate the study more closely,” Derth said. “I’ll stick with Derth,” Skragg said.

Kaycian and Kethia got back on the deck of the Wind Sprite where Baldrick had a boy of eleven or so near the main mast. His hair was matted and his clothes torn, but aside from being pale and shaken there was no sign of injury. “We found him on the rocks; he was climbing to take a gander at the ship. Could have easily fallen to his death.” “Are you the captain sir?” the boy said, near tears. Kaycian nodded, “I am”. Well sir, I am Varlad. Squire to Paladin Ozmeer, They..” “Hold that thought, child.” Kaycian cut him off with a motion and looked to Baldrick. “Baldrick, I want all the men on deck and accounted for. Have them all in line for inspection. Windmistress Kethia will oversee this inspection.” Not sure what the order was about, Baldrick barked “All hands on deck!” Looking for a crewman to report to Derth, Kaycian called to Ohtar. “Ohtar! Head into the tower and inform Derth we’ve located the squire. They’re on the second floor.” “Aye Capt’n.” responded Ohtar, and he ran down the gangplank.

Kaycian led the boy below deck and into the mess, where Ox was about to leave from. “Belay that order Ox, and fix up something hot for the boy,” Ox nodded, and started the stove. Kaycian motion the boy to have a seat, and then joined him across the table. “Start from the beginning. What is your name, and what were you doing out there on those rocks. Tell me no false details.” “I am Varlad, squire to the paladin Ozmeer. Oh sir, they killed him!” he sobbed. Ox brought over a cup of rum, handed it to the boy. Kaycian nodded his thanks. Varlad choked back his tears, took a drink, and continued. “We came to the tower to with the Mage Felzar about the drifting city. One of his servants let us in but I could tell by the crazed look in his eye something wasn’t right.” . His small frame looked weak due to hunger, and cold due to rain. The boy looked around the mess cabin again and was glad to be out of the elements. “Shortly after entering they ambushed us; there were several of them with axes, and one struck my master in the back and killed him. I fled through a concealed doorway and made it across the water to the rock outcropping. I prayed to Ashyra someone would save me. The crazed servants called out but were unable to get to me. That was two days ago. They finally gave up, and then you arrived today. I was planning to sneak aboard when your men spotted me.” Ox slid a plate of leftover stew before the boy. “Ox, prepare enough for the rest of the officers for when they return shortly, and, bring another plate for Varlad too.” Kaycian rubbed his chin, taking in the details, while the boy was devouring the stew and bread given to him. Sad news indeed, with both the paladin and the mage dead, and no explanation for either.

Baldrick came running in. “Capt’n, we have a slight problem. We’re missing a crewman.” Kaycian didn’t like the sound of that. His instinct told him it was bad news, and it meant the demonic hand. He hoped he wouldn’t have to kill a crewman in front of the others. “Baldrick, who is it?” Kaycian asked reluctantly. “Slade sir.” replied Baldrick. Wincing, Kaycian knew he would be in dire trouble if he lost his best helmsmen. While he mulled over what to do next, they both heard a noise within the crew quarters. “Baldrick, summon Larryk and inform him to get Derth and Skragg here immediately! Open the weapons locker and provide Ohtar a weapon. Ox, take the boy above deck and ensure no one else comes down here.” Not wasting any precious seconds, Baldrick ran and unlocked the weapons locker and handed Ohtar a cutlass. He then followed Kaycian and Ohtar into the quarters. They quietly moved through the dimly lit quarters area, and then from below in the hold came a clanking of chains and a thud. The ship lurches slightly and instinctively Kaycian charged ahead to see the cargo hold door open in the wind. Kaycian dropped down the seven feet onto the cargo deck facing the open cargo door, and then sensed his assailant behind him. Ohtar landed between Kaycian and Slade, parrying the attack just in time. Kaycian spun, and they faced off. From the crazed look in Slade’s eyes, Kaycian knew who the true adversary was. Not wanting to kill his helmsman, he attempted a disarm maneuver; Slade kept his weapon, and then swung wildly at Kaycian again, who parried him easily. With an opportunity to act, Ohtar stepped in with an assist and broke Slade’s grip, sending the cutlass to the deck. Off-balance and weaponless, Slade lunged and attempted to grapple Ohtar. Quick to act, Kaycian struck him in the back of the head with a solid blow with his pommel and knocked him out . As he hit the deck, they both stepped back and watched as a grey clawed hand with tentacles seemed to materialize on the back of Slade’s neck. The hand leaped onto the deck and scurried for the open cargo hold. Dropping his rapier and quick drawing his bow, Kaycian readied a shot. Ohtar pursued the hand to the cargo doors edge hoping to stab it to the deck. Kaycian fired, just missing the creature, which made Ohtar pause for a fraction of a second. Then the hand leaped from the edge, and quickly plummeted out of sight. Disgusted, Kaycian put his bow away and sheathed his rapier.

Kaycian knelt by his helmsman and checked for breathing. “What was that?” Ohtar asked. Kaycian shrugged, not sure how to answer. “Something from the tower. Whatever it was, it killed both the mage and the paladin, and drove the servants mad.”

Above, they heard the pounding steps of Skragg and Derth. Kaycian called out their location, and soon the two joined them on the cargo deck. “Wot happened?” Skragg asked. Pointing to Slade, Kaycian replied “The hand possessed Slade and made him attack us. I’m not sure what its plan was though. We’ve knocked him unconscious and the hand fled over the cargo hold door to the clouds below. Derth studied Slade. “Hmm. He was possessed for a very short time, even still, some taint lingers.” “Do what you can, and monitor his condition. Skragg and Ohtar, secure that door so we can depart. Baldrick, get the ship prepared for departure. I will hold a captain’s meeting in the mess in 15 minutes.” “I will conduct a quick search of the ship for any taint, then we can proceed.” Once the door was closed, Ohtar secured Slade and left Skragg standing Watch. Kaycian headed back to his captains quarters. “Aye Capt’n.”

Chapter 3: Demonclaw, part 3 By Scott Montgomery Edited by Don Fuller

Walking from the cargo hold to the mess, Kaycian contemplated who his new helmsman would be. He could hear Derth behind him in the crew quarters. “Captain, there is a safe in the library’s study that still needs to be opened. I believe there could be documents there that we can utilize”, Derth called out. “Very well, I’ll go investigate.” He answered. He cut through the mess and up onto the deck and looked around. The crew was busy preparing for departure. Two deckhands attempting to skirt the eyes of Baldrick failed to notice Kaycian come from the mess, “Kaldak! Lethra! You two come with me! You too Squee.” Wearily, both acknowledged with an “Ay Capt’n” and followed him off the gangplank to the platform with the goblin trailing behind. Once back at the tower, they headed up the stairs and onto the second landing. “You two hold here until I call for you.” He said. Motioning to the goblin to continue, the two went up the next flight to the study.

Squee quickly spotted the safe. “Can you open it?” The goblin shrugged, and pulled out some small tools. He then began to carefully poke and pry at the lock. After several attempts to open the safe, he sighed in frustration. “I’m sorry Capt’n this one is beyond my skill. I can’t open it.” Kaycian looked the complex lock over and attempted to open it himself. Unable to unlock the safe, he turned to Squee and said “Show me the other location.” After removing the contents and swapping containers, Kaycian calls out “Kaldak! Lethra! Get up here.” Moving swiftly the two crewmen move up the stairs and enter the library. “Carry this safe back to the ship and put it in my quarters.”

After Kaycian returned to the Wind Sprite, Ohtar approached. “Sir, I’d like to discuss something with you.” “Very well; join me in the mess.” The two headed down and took a seat after Kaycian requested some food from Ox. “What is on your mind Ohtar?” “Sir, I’ve been watching Slade and Colwyn man the helm and elevators, and have made note that we have no navigator. I am trained in the ways of navigation and feel I can serve the Wind Sprite greatest in this position.” Impressed with the confidence of the sailor, Kaycian drummed the table. “You think you’re a good navigator eh? Agreed, we do need a steady navigator, so I’ll test your knowledge.” Pulling the flotation map out first, Kaycian drops the parchment onto the table. “Show us where we are currently on the map,” mused Kaycian, knowing that Felzar’s tower would not be on the chart. In minutes Ohtar had removed his sextant and compass from his crew quarters, finely ornate devices only given to navigators in the naval commissions. “We’re here sir.” pointing to a location on the map. Tersing his lip, Kaycian pulled a more difficult, second chart from his tunic. “Identify this map, and plot a course from Haalkitaine to Eidolon.” Smiling, Ohtar studied the map thoughtfully, “Ah, that is a thermal aerodynamics map. And this is the quickest route” outlining a proper route. Impressed with the proof that Ohtar wasn’t just coughing for a field promotion, “Very well Ohtar, you’ll be head navigator. Slade and Colwyn will report to you. As will Thorpe, he’ll replace Slade for the moment until Slade returns to duty.” Ohtar, putting his supplies away. “Very good Capt’n”.

Baldrick entered the mess, “Capt’n, the crew is prepared and we’re waiting for next destination.” Folding his maps together and stuffing them back into his tunic, “Let them be for the moment, we have something to discuss first. Call the officers to the mess.” Baldrick returned with Derth, Kethia, and Skragg. Peering through the doorway, Kaycian spotted the twins moving by. Calling out to them, “Larryk! Man the door and ensure we’re not disturbed.” Under muttered breaths, both immediately make three quick vertical hand motions and end in different hand gestures. The loser of this hand game frowns and Larryk is left standing at the door, while Larryk heads off the main deck quickly.

After watching everyone take a seat, Kaycian opens the conversation. “Well, we’ve found the squire, Varlad. He was in hiding for two days on the rocks. Varlad, repeat your story to the other officers.” The young boy, at most the age of 11, begins his story again. The other officers listen intently to the details he provides. When he completes Kaycian responds, “Are you capable in melee combat with your training as a squire?” Boldly looking around at the armed officers around him, “Yes sir, I am learned in the sword.” Nodding to the squire, “Very good. You’ll be a crewman then until we set port next. In the event that we must defend the ship, you will defend her as well.” Sizing the squire up a bit more, “You will report to Baldrick for assignment and learning of basic airmanship.” In a mellow deep tone Derth notes, “Our next port will be Eidolon.” Bewildered with the change in course Kaycian looks to Derth, “Eidolon? Ok, we’ll make the change.” Shifting to face Baldrick, “Promote Thorpe to helmsman. Inform Thorpe and Colwyn that they report to Ohtar now. Make all crew know Ohtar is now ship’s navigator. Take Varlad with you and assign him under Colwyn.” Turning further to Ohtar, “Plot a course to Eidolon.” Without confirmation, Ohtar and Baldrick leave the remaining officers in the mess and head to the top deck.

As the bustle of the deck above continues, the ship lurches from its mooring release on the platform and begins to drift into the wind. Concerned about the change in course from original planning the captain of the ship confronts the financeer, “Derth, why the change in course?” In an expressionless face Derth responds monotonously, forming his words slowly “The box we found in the tower was delivered. The ship delivering the box most likely is on the way to Eidolon. We must head there, and identify who ordered the box delivered.” With recognition of the box from the tower, Kaycian turns to Squee insightfully, “Squee, go fetch the treasure map burned on the wood”. Thoughtfully, Squee hops down from his table and runs to obtain the scap of cargo box etched with the shipping label and returns. With the scrap of wood on the table Ohtar speaks up, “Capt’n, that’s the Lucky Lady’s insignia. Tramp freighter out of Eidolon, Capt’n Tolivar.” standing up, Kaycian places his palms on the table, “That’s all we have for now, eat up now since you didn’t get to earlier. Ox’s swill is actually pretty decent today.” Adjourning the meeting, Kaycian exits the mess and heads onto the deck to oversee the tower’s departure.

Over the next two days, the skies were mostly uneventful. Each member of the crew had their own hobbies and interest to attend while Varlad’s training in basic airmanship was coming along well. Thorpe was also grasping his new responsibilities. Under Ohtar’s watchful eye, the helmcrew ran through drills. Skragg had crew members, during off watch times, running through mock combat to keep his and their skill up. Unfortunately for the crewmen, they walk away worse for wear. Derth remained in his quarters, studying Slade for any sign of taint reduction, as well as studying the books brought aboard from the tower. In her private quarters, Kethia took ample time available to submerge herself in the water-sealed barrel provided her by the captain to remain hydrated. In the cargo hold with Larryk and Kaldak, Kaycian was practicing his rapier skills against multiple opponents. Somewhere else on the ship, a couple of other unlucky crewmen were being swindled out of their silver by Squee with a few rounds of Dragon-poker.

In the afternoon Navar calls down, “Land ho! Eidolon, 10 degrees to Starboard!” Against the lilly clouds and blue skies sits an impressive city of display. The first perimeter tower ten miles out from the city’s edge sits as a sentry post. Equidistant apart from each other at five mile intervals, the perimeter tower has sibling towers forming a ring surrounding the floating city. Some of them crumbling from decay, others intact and still in use. From the time of the second Cataclysm, the towers were used to bolster defense against the demon attacks. Now that there are fewer known sightings, the towers have degraded in use. At the base of Eidolon, a six platform ring connected by suspension bridges sits with alternating city and agriculture platform’s. To maximize space, on the underside of the platforms, hangs towers protruding the underskyline. Two miles up from the six platform ring and centered towers the city proper of Eidolon. With underskyline towers hanging and massive towers on its surface, this city bustles with life. Slightly rotating in the center ring, the city of Eidolon revolves three times during the day. Quartered in the top section of the surface, a busy skyport for incoming and outgoing vessels harbors great import and export for the local economy. Baldrick didn’t need to verify the contact Eidolon was massive and easily seen in the clear skies.

“Baldrick, ready the men for docking approach.” commanded Kaycian, stepping from below deck. “Aye Capt’n.” Responded the first mate, “All hands on deck! Prepare for docking approach!” The airship jumped into immediate action. Men lounging on the deck offduty immediately stepped lively into responsibilities. As the vessel navigated the outer perimeter craft from all over could be seen. All sizes of boats and yachts coming and going. There was even adolescents weaving through ship masts on a flying carpet with the only goal seeming to agitate the captains shaking their fists in response. With all this commotion only a skillful navigator and crew could land on such a massive skyline that rotated to cause further problems. A small skiff with a magistrate or steward to be more correct zipped through the skylanes with ease avoiding near collision multiple times. The skiff operator looked determined and focused without fluster, probably a veteran of the great war. Coming along side of the Wind Sprite, the magistrate called to attention, “Seeking the captain of the vessel.” Standing on deck expecting such arrival procedure Kaycian resounded, “Captain Kaycian Telvanni of the Wind Sprite on deck.” Looking over the captain the steward made a few marks on his chart and provided docking protocol with the landing berth. After the captain of the Wind Sprite acknowledged the berthing location the skiff veered off to find another arrival.

“Ohtar, make course for the landing berth.” looking at Thorpe, Kaycian wondered if the ship would make its second landing under a new helmsman. “You heard the Capt’n, Thorpe. Proceed to Yellow 21 berth.” gave Ohtar while monitoring the sailor’s new station promotion from days before. Without much event and the slight intervention of Ohtar on the last moment, the ship was nestled in drydock berth unharmed. A sigh of relief could be heard amongst much of the crew. “Baldrick, man stations, no ship leave at this time. If any one approaches, no contact with crewmen and those in Eidolon. If anyone asks, we have not been to Felzar’s tower.”

Chapter 4: Raggok’s Keep, part 1 By Scott Montgomery

Mistful clouds bound across the sky bumping into each other giving way with thunderous claps and intertwining mixture. White and grey forms of puffmist beckon women and men of young and old who yearn for adventure. Children daydream by forming shapes of hippogriffs, dragons and other mystical things. Experienced ship captains heed caution to the clouds for dangers wait among them; beasts, collisions, pirates, and unseen portals to elemental planes. In all their mysteriousness; mistforms provide wonder and fear. For some it also provides a habitat and haven from the mortals of the prime material realm. Drifting through the sky among the other clouds, islands of spongy earth float with a cloud undershell. On the surface they look much like a normal landmass with elemental trees, hills, and water. A few become home to avian creatures and marooned shipwrecks. Many of these uncharted floating anomalies go unnoticed masked among the clouds. The small enclosed keep on the center of the island was quiet. A slight unnatural breeze through the cloud rustled the trees surrounding the clearing. There were no scurrying animals or flighting avian. There were no sign of fauna alive on the silent habitat. Two miles out through a path in the forest was a dock. Rickety in nature built by someone previously; the dock would hold at most a skiff and crew of four. Two men in shabby clothes sat on watch waiting for anyone to approach. Both men dressed in garb of a commoner and lightly armed, one with shortsword and another with a light crossbow. The swordsman edged himself over to the treeline and sat against a trunk. Looking to the other man with a toothy grin, he pulled a flask from his tunic and took a swig. “Did you imagine that when you took this job you’d be sitting up here on a cloud?” asked the crossbowman. “Eh, it does not phase me. I’m just here for the pay. These goons said they would pay and pay big. Any idea what they are going to do tonight?” responded the swordsman; taking another swig of the flask. “No, they wouldn’t tell me anything. Only thing I know is they don’t want any visitors.” A snap of twigs alerted both men. The swordsman came to his feet a bit startled. Whirling in place the crossbowman took aim up the path where the noise was heard. Emerging from the forested path fifty feet away were four men; a scant human with a bullseye lantern leading the way, a stocky dwarf with heavy crossbow followed up behind him, a half-elf with longbow in third position, and another lanky human with shortsword taking the rear. Recognizing the troupe of men the guardsman lowered his crossbow. Keeping to themselves the four men moved past the two guards towards the dock. Grabbing the mooring line from the skiff attached to the dock, the leader waited to step into the skiff. The other three men quickly set themselves into the small craft quietly. The leader stepped into the skiff and nodded to the rudderman. Swiftly they zipped through the cloud and away from the island leaving the two guardsmen alone again on watch for the night.

Morning activity on the Wind Sprite was bustling. The final day in port and the ship was making final checks for departure. Nustled on the deck of the vessel was a small skiff. As Owen Danwyck had promised earlier, Tybor delivered the skiff to the Wind Sprite for use in the recovery of his daughter. With the ship in preparations, Kaycian decided to visit Ashyra’s temple and attend service. “Kaycian, Sir, Capt’n..” Kaycian heard a small voice to his left. Looking for the source of the voice, Kaycian found Varlad sitting with him in the row. “Varlad, It is good to see you again. Have you found a new mentor?” questioned Kaycian getting up from his prayers and sitting himself back into the row. “Well sir that is what I am here for. I would like to request to rejoin the crew. I do not think the life of a paladin’s squire is for me. It is a noble profession, but it just is not the same without Sir Ozmeer. I would like to sign on with the Wind Sprite, if you will have me sir?” Varlad meekly looked upon Kaycian hoping for acceptance. “I would be glad to take you back into the crew. You will have the same responsibilities you have been assigned earlier and still report to Colwyn. When you are complete here, return to the ship and we can proceed on our way. The Wind Sprite is making departure this afternoon so do not delay in completing your needs here.” “Thank you sir, it will be an honor to serve under you. I will be at the ship quickly.” Varlad smiled excitingly leaving the captain to his prayers. After a bit of time Kaycian returned to the Wind Sprite and found Varlad already on board. With all the crew accounted for he ordered the Wind Sprite into action. Almost at a full compliment of crew now the vessel was swarming with sailors able in their duties. A couple of sailors removed the mooring lines with ease and shortly Thorpe and Colwyn whisked Wind Sprite out of dock and on it’s way to perimeter towers 22 through 24. “Baldrick, I want to approach on a dry run for perimeter tower 22 and 24. Get us within 200 yards and run us draft.” Spoke Kaycian from the quarterdeck, with his spyglass extended viewing the three target outerrim towers. Baldrick made motions and commands to comply for his captain. “Ohtar! Get the skiff ready. Boarding team! Prepare to depart! Baldrick, you have command until I return.” Collapsing his spyglass Kaycian boarded the skiff. With a slight twist and clutch of the rudder grip, the skiff launched into the air. Ohtar was definitely a skilled navigator and sailor. Kaycian remarked to himself how well it was to promote him to the officer ranks. Turning their attention to the tower, the party sternly viewed what they were about to face. Isolated against the sky the tower with beacon on top sits solemnly decaying from age. Approaching with caution Kaycian motions Ohtar to move the skiff towards the two feet wide ledge around the side of the base. Catching his foot on the rim of the skiff, Skragg stumbles out with an almost graceful move. Following closely behind him, Kaycian less nimbly leaps off the boat and on to the ledge as well. Finding the door locked the trow takes a quick crushing grip on the old handle. Contorted metal and splintering of wood gives way as the trow leans in on the door forcing his way into the small occupancy of the tower. Previously ransacked the tower holds nothing. Ascending the ladder with graceful ease, Kaycian opens the hatch to survey the roof. Convinced the tower is clear everyone loads into the skiff and returns to the Wind Sprite. “Well, we know what to expect in the tower. I do not like the edge being so small.” Kaycian began the discussion before they reached the Wind Sprite. “We should try another method to enter. Perhaps the roof,” mentioned Skragg. “Agreed, we should come through the roof hatch. The platform will surely be large enough to hold us all without risk of falling through. On the next run, we will descend from above the tower, via the skiff. This way if anyone is on the tower roof they will not see our numbers until it is too late.” Kaycian was determined it was the best method of approach for surprise and safety. Arriving over perimeter tower 22 the Wind Sprite drifted slowly with the wind current ready to pickup action at a moments notice. Ohtar kicked the skiff into gear and brought it over the side of the vessel. A slight wind picked up towards the objective and the skiff started to slightly buckle. Shrugging off the drag effects Ohtar compensated with ease. Looking over the side Kaycian spotted the tower below at thirty feet. Motioning Ohtar to stop Kaycian prepared to hop over the side. “Kaycian, I would like to have you wait until I can put a spell on you to ease your landing. In case the tower is not as strong to hold your weight.” Derth spoke monotonously. Kaycian complied with the resquest. Swirling black and green smoke seemed to fuse from Derth’s pores and move against the windflow towards Kaycian. Surrounding him with sparkling energy the mist subsided. Nodding with approval Derth acknowledged he was complete. Kaycian hopped over the side of the skiff and was gone from view. On the rooftop Kaycian landed with a soft thud. Not having familiarity with the spell cast upon he landed softer than anticipated and gave a slight compensation roll. Quickly securing the roof he looked up to the skiff and found Skragg halfway down already. Not worrying about providing a thumb up for clearance, he opened the door. Waiting for Skragg to clear the room below Kaycian watched with his bow ready. Landing on his feet the trow made a quick assessment of the room and found the same bare contents as before. Seeing everything is clear both boarded the skiff and prepared to move to the last tower for the real run. It was beginning to be dusk and the party had to make a decision. The meeting time was not for another five hours. On board the Wind Sprite the officer corps gathered around the galley for a quick conference of events to come. “We are going to run on the next tower just as we did this last tower, from the top. If anyone inside is waiting it will be better for us to have the platform to our advantage. If no one is inside then the skiff will leave and wait behind tower 22 with a load of archers from the Wind Sprite.” Kaycian looked to each of them in turn. “Ohtar, I want you to wait for the signal of the beacon going out. Bring the skiff to the front of the tower and cover anyone leaving or arriving with bowfire. Baldrick, I want the Wind Sprite to approach with the same signal. However I want you to wait five miles out. We should be able to handle anything a local gang may try to perform.” From up top Thorpe called for officer on deck. The officers in the galley gathered themselves and went topside to prepare for the last run. Skragg, Derth, Kethia, Squee, Kaycian, and Ohtar climbed into the skiff and lifted from the deck. Moving through the air with precision the craft descended on the tower and the motions ran the same. Derth cast a spell of mist surrounding Kaycian and the captain lept over the side. Landing on the tower skillfully, he noted the hatch was locked. Kaycian turned to find Skragg landing behind him. “It is locked. Can you open it?” Kaycian questioned the trow. With a thud and splintering of wood, the trow pounded the weak structure of the door and sent the hatch down. With nothing left to obstruct him Skragg descended into the tower. Waiting for clearance Kaycian stayed on top with bow drawn. Skragg looked around the tower and found two cots, a night table, and a satchel with fresh cheese and dried meat. Quickly confiscating and eating the foodstuffs, Skragg called the all clear. Everyone unloaded from the skiff and climbed inside. Ohtar returned to th

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Prologue

Prologue By Don Fuller

Andirion is a magical world rich with history and ancient cultures. It was once the battleground for gods, it has been ruled by wizard-kings, invaded by aliens and conquered by men. Empires have risen and fallen, and the oldest cities are founded upon ruins from times long past. Scholars have claimed that the world itself is a nexus point, a crossing between the forces of order and chaos. For a hundred-thousand years it has known war upon war, some so destructive that the face of its lands have been dramatically scarred.

The Sundering

In 6097, on the continent of Antheria, there was another war that would alter the future of the world. For the third time in a thousand years, a wizard recovered Shadar’s Crown, a divine artifact that gave its wearer mastery over forces of darkness. Assuming the title of ‘Dragon King’, and bolstering his already significant power with these new legions, he waged his campaign to overthrow the empire and establish his own rule. A group of heroes recovered Eitvar’s Blade and attempted to slay the wizard. Using an ancient ritual, he fled to Andirion’s second moon, Karos, where the God Shadar had been imprisoned six-thousand years ago. The heroes followed him there, and in an epic struggled they slew the wizard, but in the fight the moon was sundered and Shadar was freed. The bulk of the moon remained in orbit, but pieces of it were cast into space by the release of cosmic energy.

The Cataclysm

In the year 6100 the prophecies began. Across the world, prophets, seers and diviners all began to proclaim that the end of the world was finally upon them. They claimed that the remains of Karos were returning and would soon fall from the heaven’s and destroy the world and all life upon it. The greatest rulers and magicians consulted with each other and concluded that all of the prophets could not be wrong, but with so little time to act something had to be done to save the peoples of the world. Many solutions were presented, but the two most popular alternatives were to either build vast underground sanctuaries, or to construct massive floating cities that would lift people into the skies. There were many empires across the world, but the most powerful and magical empire was the Mythian Empire. The Mythians had long been known to possess arcane secrets that allowed them to lift up huge floating fortresses, but no one had ever seen an entire floating city. Emissaries were sent to consult with the Mythian government, and the answer came back. Yes, they knew how to lift cities into the sky, but at a great price. Only the wealthiest cities could hope to afford this. The rest of the world would have to go underground, and the Mythians offered the means to build their sanctuaries quickly and to protect the occupants from the cataclysm. With only months to spare, the first cities were lifted into the sky, and even as the shards of Karos began to fall as prophesied, more cities were still rising. Death and destruction rained from the heavens. The oceans boiled, the polar caps melted, and the land erupted with fire and brimstone. The Cataclysm was so powerful that the energy it released soon began to tear away at the fabric of reality. By cosmic fluke or mad design, the strands that made up the world and everything on it began to fray, and holes began to open between Andirion and Shadar’s realm of shadow. Hundreds of thousands of Shadowspawn poured through the rifts and began to spread across the world rejoicing in the destruction. Whatever the Cataclysm did not kill, the Shadowspawn feasted upon. And so the world was cast into darkness.

Five hundred years later

It is now the year 6608, and the people of the sky cities have forgotten what life was like before the Cataclysm. A dark poisonous cloud filled the sky below the cities, called The Veil, denying the sky people all but fleeting glimpses of their former homeland. Passing through the veil has only lead to death from its deadly vapors, and those who have dared press through have never returned. The new society would likely have continued as they were for many years to come, but now a new challenge has arisen. In the city of Haalkitaine, formerly of Antheria and part of the Star Crown Empire, a worried city council is debating what to do. For over five-hundred years the city has been held aloft by ancient Mythian magic, but now the city is drifting, albeit ever-so-slightly. For the last few weeks, the city recruited emissaries and sent them out in sky ships to seek aid from the remaining mage councils and libraries scattered around the world. And on this night, the only son of Kerous Telivanni, a Ashiri sky captain, packs his bags. His father has been missing for months, and now Kaycian Telivanni intends to recruit a crew for his father’s old ship and then go out and find him. Across the same city, a young Stondari is tasked by his people to take up an ancient cause, and a certain brawny Tragarr is looking for a bar fight. And thus Fate begins to weave a new tale.

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GM's Notes

It was my original goal to write the journal in complete story form. Due to time constraints here and there, I wasn’t able to do that. Some sessions are fully in story form, but sadly some got little more than a few paragraphs. None are completed edited. Also, a few of the sessions were contributed by one of my players. All credits are at the top of each session entry.

Just as a note to new players; Towards the end of of Part II there are some massive party deaths that never got their due in story form. Don’t be shocked about this; most of them were “planned” as the players wanted to try out some different classes. They were still legitimate deaths, there just wasn’t a lot of effort put in to avoid them.

I’m not really THAT evil.

Really.

;-)

Don

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Welcome to your Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

Every campaign gets an Adventure Log, a blog for your adventures!

While the wiki is great for organizing your campaign world, it’s not the best way to chronicle your adventures. For that purpose, you need a blog!

The Adventure Log will allow you to chronologically order the happenings of your campaign. It serves as the record of what has passed. After each gaming session, come to the Adventure Log and write up what happened. In time, it will grow into a great story!

Best of all, each Adventure Log post is also a wiki page! You can link back and forth with your wiki, characters, and so forth as you wish.

One final tip: Before you jump in and try to write up the entire history for your campaign, take a deep breath. Rather than spending days writing and getting exhausted, I would suggest writing a quick “Story So Far” with only a summary. Then, get back to gaming! Grow your Adventure Log over time, rather than all at once.

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