Bonds Of Blood

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This is a collection of stories that tell of the adventures and history that took place in the platinum instance, written by the players.

Bonds of Blood, Part 1: Jaynon

With the paid for assistance of the chronomages it had taken Jaynon less than a day to travel to Immuron by their magicks and not too much more than a second day to travel out into the countryside to his childhood home. He found himself filled with worry and stress during the journey. About the impending meeting with his Mother, whom the servants once called the Iron Lady less than affectionately, and how he was going to convince her to give her blessing to his and Tanai’s marriage.

The gravel crunched under foot as Jaynon strolled down the path towards his family’s manor house. An expansive lawn spread out before the large greystone house, edged with meticulously kept floral gardens.

He paused for a moment at the heavy oak arched doorway, running his eyes over the dark black riveting. His mind was awash with childhood memories. Some were good; at rare times he would sneak off to play knights and outlaws with the servants children. He always got to play as a knight of course. Others were of him looking out his window, when his aged tutor had fallen asleep, down into the courtyard where several teenage boys aspiring to knighthood sparred with each other under the tutelage of their commander of the houseguard. He had always yearned to join them; Mother had other plans. It was to be stewardship, trade and politics that he would learn of. Useful things to help advance their minor house’s position. He had hated those long boring lessons with a passion, often daydreaming his way through them much to his Mother's fiery scorn.

As his memories began to drift to beatings with slippers and canes, he brought himself to the present and announced himself with the heavy iron door knocker. Waiting for a response he looked over his shoulder back towards the estate's gates, which unguarded had lain open. Where was everyone? It would have been unusual for a visitor to have made it this far unapproached during his time here.

After a time, rushed footsteps could be heard approaching the door. With a loud clunk from the lock and the sound of a long wooden bar being withdrawn, a small face appeared round the side of the door. “Who is it? The Lady has no time for visitors today,” the maid whom Jaynon did not recognise asked in an annoyed tone. From somewhere behind her came a distant crying. Was that a baby, Jaynon thought bemused. “I am Jaynon, heir to this household,” he said absently push his way passed her into the entrance hall. As he passed inside his mind was flooded with memories again. Most prominent of all of them was that night when he was thirteen and his Father's undead corpse had attacked them. His eye followed the path the monster had travelled up the stairs, passed his old bedroom door up on the landing balcony, pass that towards… His eyes fell on her, looking down on him with that same regal sternness he had know all his life. “Jaynon,” she stated his name in simple hard note, but it still somehow managed to convey years of disappointment and judgment. The crying came again, it was definitely a baby and it was coming from the direction of his Mother's own bedroom. His Mother must have seen the question in his eyes as she answered it primmly, “One of the serving girls allowed herself to become pregnant. The child was born some weeks passed”. “But why is it in your....,” Jaynon began but was cut off by something truly unexpected. Something that in all his childhood had never happened before...

His Mother smiled at him.

The expression looked so alien to him upon her, seemingly so genuine and warm, he was poleaxed by it. “Why don't you have the cook fetch you something to eat my dear boy and I will attend you in the dining hall shortly,” with such sincerity in her voice Jaynon barely noticed the sharp severe look she shot the maid at the door. “This way m'lord,” the maid tried to usher him away towards the dining hall with more than a little fear in her voice. Jaynon barely noticed her though, staring up slack jawed at his Mother. “Maybe then you can tell me all about your Fiance, and we must discuss when I get to met the girl. She does sound like such a capable woman. I am so looking forward to meeting her in person.” Her tone was almost lyrical in its warmth and sweetness. Doubt and suspicion itched at the back of his mind, but they were forced down by a sense of awe and wonderment. Could his Mother have really changed so much in all these years? More than anything else in the world in this moment he wanted to believe it was true. The doubts slipped away from him, and he smiled back, allowing himself to be lead along by the maid. His Mother immediately turned away and gracefully walked down the landing towards her bedroom.

As Jaynon followed the maid he by chance glanced into his Father’s old library. It was filled with the same old books he remembered from his youth, except to one side of the room stood a small pentagonal table that had never been there before. Something spherical stood upon it shrouded by a grey silk cloth. There was something strangely familiar about it.

Before he could consider it further the maid was closing the ajar door and ushering him along down the hallway with a worried frown. “Noone is allowed in the library Master Jaynon,” she noted respectfully, “M’lady likes to keep it just so, in his memory of course”. Jaynon knew that to be true; it had been his favourite place and also served as his study. But that table had definitely not been there before. “I could show you the new fountain if you’d like Master Jaynon,” the maid said quickly, “M’Lady had it built not more than a few days passed. She said it was in honor of your upcoming marriage”. Jaynon’s attention was immediately brought back to the maid by that. “She really said that?,” he asked, a touch of disbelief in his voice. “Oh yes,” the maid nodded enthusiastically, “She seemed very set on everything being just so, ready for her arrival with you. When will the young lady be visiting sir?”. “Next week I think. No, definitely next week.” He smiled to himself, thinking now how pleasantly surprised Tanai would be with his Mother’s acceptance after so much stress and worry.

The next few days seemed to fly by. The baby had apparently been moved from the Manor into the care of a wet nurse and Jaynon wasn't to trouble himself with further thought of it. His Mother was like a new person. Friendly, warm and attentive. She was keen to hear all about the recent events in the Landing, asking about things in much detail. So disarmed by his Mother's demeanour he could not help but be near totally honest and candid with her, leaving out only mention of the Siren and her beloved song. Occasionally he noticed the odd stern look or frown, but they passed quickly and really, how could he have not expected her to have some small part of her old self within her still? After she’d had the stone masons alter the new fountain to honor Charl, his newly bonded patron, he found himself preparing the letter to send to Rose, his own house maid, so that she could read it to Tanai and inform her to go ahead with the arrangements for her to come to Honneland to meet his Mother.

To be continued....

Bonds of Blood, Part 2: Tanai

Tanai eyed the coach warily as the young Maid open the door for her. “Really there is no need to be shy, Miss.” The Maid took note of Tanai’s unease. “We will have you with Master Jaynon in no time”. “The quicker the better,” Tanai muttered to herself, getting into the coach reluctantly. The Maid clambered in herself once Tanai was settled, closing the door behind her. She tapped on the wooden wall signalling the driver to move off. As the coach rattled along the cobbled streets of Immuron, Tanai leaned back into the comfortable seat to watch the view out the window. She couldn't help but remain wary. For all her outward appearance of calm, she felt coiled like springtraps inside. Tanai kept the Maid at the edge of her vision, ready for any sudden or suspicious movements. The Maid poured her a glass of white wine from a bottle that misted with condensation as it was lifted from an ice bucket. Tanai took the glass and held in front of her like it was a snake that might bite her at any moment. The Maid chuckled and overtly looked Tanai up and down, inspecting her attire. She relaxed visibly and began to pouring herself a glass of wine. She stopped halfway through the pour and turned a casual glance towards Tanai. “You don't mind do you?” she asked in a friendly tone as if between equals. Tanai couldn't help but frown; this was all wrong. She hadn't had much experience with servants but she knew this was not the way they were supposed to act. Still, she was no Lady and had no sense of airs, caring little for nobles and their stuck up ways. Shrugging as nonchalantly as she could, Tanai just managed to stop herself from drinking the wine instinctively, lowering the glass back down to her lap. “I don’t care what you do.” The Maid leaned back relaxing, sipping at the wine. “It's really quite good you know. You should try it,” she noted with a wry grin. Tanai shot her a dark, dangerous glare. “Fair enough.” The Maid sipped at her wine a while longer, the silence in the coach cabin dragging out for bit, before turning her attention back to Tanai. “So tell me, how did you manage to snag a young Lord then?” Tanai snickered at that and replied snarkily, “Why, you want one for yourself?” “I wouldn't say no,” the Maid chuckled. Suddenly the Maid snapped her fingers and reached down, picking up the long thin box Tanai had been eying on the floor carriage. “I almost forgot. A gift from Master Jaynon. He wanted me to give you this right away. Please don't tell him I almost forgot. He said he chose it for its sweet fragrance.” The Maid opened the box and carefully removed a single orchid. It was immaculate but oddly colored, the petals alternating between black and white. Holding it low on the stem, she left plenty of room for Tanai to take it, and offered to her. Tanai reached out and took the delicate flower between two fingers. Still wary, she kept it away from her face, bringing it to her lap to examine it more carefully. It was then that the sensation began. Htundreds of miniature, clear needles pushed through the stem, digging themselves into the pads of her fingertips. Pricks of blood glistened around the multitude of tiny wounds, and she felt a sudden lava-hot warmth flooding through her body. The Maid was laughing at her as Tanai’s fingers curled open, ready to throw the flower to the floor. However, Tanai had a better idea. In a lunging motion she thrust the flower forward, pushing it into the stupid woman's mouth, opened wide with laughter. Weakness took her then, and she lulled forward as her head fell awkwardly into the Maid’s lap. The forgotten wine glass she was holding rolled across the floor, spilling its contents and staining the luxurious wood. Spluttering for a moment, the Maid regained her composure and carefully extracted the crushed flower from her mouth, tossing it out of the open window. She laughed and stroked Tanai’s tawny hair as if she were petting a dog. “There there, little urchin, you’ll see your beloved Jaynon soon enough”. “…,” Tanai forced out weakly, her consciousness fading fast. “I am afraid you won’t be saving anyone,” the Maid mocked amusedly, taking a casual sip of her wine.

Jaynon watched his Mother come out of the library and lock the door behind her. She hadn't noticed him at the bottom of the stairs. As she turned she jumped a little surprised to see him, a flash of something on her face that looked like it could have been annoyance. She tried the door to ensure it was locked before joining him with a smile, offering her arm for Jaynon to escort her. She was dressed in a very formal looking gown and wore her best diamond jewelry. Her dark brunette hair was pristinely styled, pulled back from her face and temples so that long ringlets fell down her back in a neat cascade. ‘Everything just so’ as her Handmaid had been so fond of noting. “I have been informed they will be arriving shortly. Let's go meet them outside,” his Mother instructed him in a firm but not unfriendly tone. Jaynon glanced at the arm that he had linked with. Was that a tremor in her hand? He knew that could happen to older folks, but his Mother was not of such an age as that, still very much in the prime of her life. It must be something else, nerves at meeting Tanai for the first time? That didn't seem right. He wished he was better at reading people. By the time he had finished this line of thought they were outside of the Manor waiting on the gravel as a coach turned in and through the gates. There were guards everywhere now, but oddly they wore no livery as he would have expected. Jaynon glanced at his Mother, then a sense that something was wrong built within him. If Tanai was close, where was the song in the back of his mind? He suddenly felt underdressed lacking his armor, wearing only a formal and neatly creased shirt and trousers. He released his Mother's arm, and instinctively eased the sword at his hip. He’d refused to be parted from the blade while his sanctified bond was still fresh and incomplete, a fact he felt glad of in this moment. She noticed the gesture and frowned at him, offering a disarming smile. “Jaynon my son, be at ease. All is well. Perhaps you let your nerves get the best of you. Everything will be as is should be,” his Mother tried to assure him as the coach almost reached them.

“Olivia,” a man's voice called from behind them stepping out from within the house. Jaynon turned and saw Lord Holster, one of his Father's most bitter rivals. Jaynon had drawn his sword halfway out of his sheath before he realised he'd even moved. “Oh do calm yourself you insufferable brat.” His Mother's tone had lost any sense of warmth and was back to that harsh bitterness he'd know all his youth. She was muttering something under her breath then. Jaynon began to recite the prayer to raise a faith shield reflexively, but it was cast from his mind by a sudden and blindly painful mind jolt. A few long moments later he realised he was flat on the gravel, his mother standing over him. Lord Holster was by her side, his own sword drawn, and he held its tip a few inches from Jaynon’s exposed throat. A body like form was dumped unceremoniously to his side by his Mother's handmaiden. “I told you to gag her,” his Mother barked at the Maid angrily, then turned her stern gaze back to the still dazed Jaynon. “That's right, you should have told your little wretch to be more discrete. But alas I fear any opportunity for that has passed. You my Boy have interfered with our plans one time too many. I knew that if I cut off your coin you’d come running to find out why. But to bring this street harlot to me to ask for my blessing? You insult me, your Father's memory and your Family name”. Her expression changed from a snarl to a twisted wry grin. “But where are my manners. Jaynon I believe you have met Lord Holster, my beloved husband. Oh and you would of had a Brother, except I'm afraid you are officially already dead and your family line broken. All of the Murchadha wealth has been passed to my dear Husband through our recent marriage, and will pass to my newborn son and our heir. The letter you sent had made that arrangement all too easy you, witless fool”. Jaynon wrenched his sword the rest of the way from its scabbard and tried to rise to his feet. Lord Holster stepped on his blade with a foot and with an all too smug grin, forced it out of Jaynon’s grip. The point of his longsword pressed into Jaynon’s chest, drawing a bead of blood. “He's not to be harmed.” His Mother spoke in a strange tone that had an out of place sense of regret to it. “If only you had gone through with your deal and killed Izaar; I could have brought you in. Finally allowed you your place as it should always have been. But no, you and your bumbling sense of morality. What has it ever gotten you really? Well your involvement has made it complicated for me, and my... confederates... have asked me for a show of sincerity to our cause. So here we are Jaynon. Since on Imperial record you are already a victim of murder, I have seen it appropriate for that to become a reality. You’re being sent to Lord Whick, to appease my colleagues and as an apology to him for your involvement in his current circumstances”.

Jaynon glared at his Mother, fury wrought on his face. In that moment his concern was not to himself, but to the woman he loved unconscious beside him. He could see she was still breathing. The Handmaid had stuffed a rag into Tanai’s mouth and was tying a cloth bandage tightly around her head to complete the gag. He had to think fast. He needed a way out. The surrounding guards were closing in on them like a net. Stall. He had to stall to give him time to prepare a final judgement in defense of one of Charl’s own. “And Tanai?” he asked, beginning to form the prayer in his mind. His Mother chuckled at that. “I have something special prepared for that thing. In honor of your abandonment of me to that damned Order of Voln, she is being sent to a Priest of the Emerald Serpent, I imagine to be used as parts. You never know Jaynon, she may even out exist you, but I’d hardly call it liv…”. His Mother cut off, suddenly noticing Jaynon’s attempt to subtlety cast, and rubbed the diamond hanging from her neck. A sudden wave of force scattered everyone before her. The Maid slammed into the coach with a grunt. Jaynon and Lord Holster went tumbling back across the gravel; suddenly locked into an unexpected wrestling match, the Lord landing on top of the much younger and stronger paladin. Jaynon forced them to a roll bringing himself above, raining furious punches down into the Lord’s face. “You have vexed me for the last time,” his Mother clucked her tongue and began an incantation. Jaynon’s head seemed to ring like a bell and he fell awkwardly face first into the gravel.

His Mother took one long last look at Jaynon, seeming to linger thoughtfully before snapping her fingers at the Maid. “Take the coach, deliver him to Lord Whick in Solhaven. It would be painful for me to have to see him again. You understand? One way or another he doesn't come back. But he must reach Solhaven untouched”. “Yes, M’lady. I have potions to ensure he will arrive unharmed without him causing any further issues,” the Maid replied with a dark grin. “And the girl?”. “Leave that to the houseguard. They will deliver her to the priest and collect my payment.” She glanced over at the prone Lord Holster and snarled, “Do get up darling Husband”.

Thunder crashed, and Whick woke with a start, sweat covering his lightly muscled frame.

He couldn't quite remember what he had been dreaming, but the import of whatever revelation he had been on the brink of stuck with him in the waking world...drapped across his awareness like a damp cloth. His dreams were all like that these days. They showed him things, omens and portents of a coming storm. The past weeks since 'the event' (he refused to call it a Hanging, even in his own mind) had seen him denied any true rest. He was restless, and he got up from the expensive linens and climbed the ladders up to the deck.

The gentle rocking of the boat against the dock soothed him. At first it had gave him a mild sense of nausea, but he had quickly gotten used to the mild motion. He frowned as he opened the final hatch to have a beam of sunlight hit his still sleep-deprived eyes, and he squinted against the harsh morning glare. The scents of salt and brine filled his nostrils, and the cawing of gulls rang out across the bay. The city proper was just awakening, but the fishing boats were already hard at work, trawling for the food that would help feed the Empire.

Not a cloud in the sky. Whick frowned.

A loud SQUAWK assaulted him, and Whick turned to observe the seagull stubbornly perched on the side of his residence. It cawed loudly at him, ruffling his feathers, and Whick sent a small arc of electricity out towards it and it skipped lightly out of the way. Damnable bird. Sighing, Whick walked up to a bucket hanging nearby from one of the posts of the pier and retrieved a small shrimp, which he tossed toward the fowl absently. The bird squawked again and snatched the prize up with an alacrity which defied its plump frame.

"Another fine day, eh Nevermore?" Whick drawled, yawning once again. The bird replied with a loud and greedy SQUAWK, and did a small dance on the corner of the boat, obviously wanting another treat. Obligingly, Whick reached into the chum bucket once again and froze.

Within the bucket was a small, spherical object. Retrieving it, Whick turned and quickly went back into his new residence, slamming the door hard behind him. Descending back into the darkness of his cabin, Whick snatched a towl from the sink on the way down and wiped off the orb, clearing it so it shined. Setting it on the chest in front of him, Whick next wiped his face, threw on his best shirt, and fastidiously attended to his appearance. Making the proper sign, the Orb responded by growing brighter and brighter...the fog within lifting to reveal Olivia Murchadha. Well, Olivia Holster now, if reports were to be believed. In a respectful tone, Whick gave the cutomary greeting "In Law, Life. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

The image on the other end wasnt perfect. It flickered and dimmed, remaining somewhat unclear and hazy, but the grim expression on the other end came through clear regardless. Whick inwardly frowned...was he to be punished? Did he not do all they had asked? No...if they had wished to punish him they would not be contacting him in such a way. He would wake up, tied up and stuffed in some chest buried deep within the bay. Or some other horror. Whick absently moved his left hand to cover his right, unconsciously hiding the missing stubs there.

The voice was feminine and distinct, though Whick had to strain to make out what she was saying through the interference "In Obedience, Meaning Agent Whick." Agent. That was good. It meant she still considered him one of them, and more importantly, was still considered useful. "I will be brief. Unlike my colleagues, I was not at all displeased with your actions of late. In fact, I was perhaps much more aware of things than perhaps I led you to believe. You were not the only one with stake in this...part of the plan." She grimaced slightly, and Whick frowned. Had another agent been at play? In his territory? Insufferable! He would make an official complaint to the council, he would see her punished for the temerity of interfering in- He was cut off and blinked at her next words. "I had hoped you would son, Jaynon, see the light but..." she sighed, obviously distraught. "It seems he is more of his Father's Son than I would have liked." Jaynon was one of the Grandmasters offspring? The implications were...well. Whick listened, not a hint of the thoughts running through his mind showed in his face.

"I know it was...highly irregular, and against policy, to arrange things so he and you would have contact but if anyone could have set him straight, it was you." She coughed, a dainty, wrinkled hand covering her red lips. "As an Apology, I am having him delivered to you personally to dispose of. He will not further trouble us in our endeavours. I would have taken care of it myself but..." She smiled wanly. "Blood is blood. I have yet to achieve the final Transcendence, and this is a weakness in me." A grandmaster, admitting weakness? This must've been far harder for her than he originally assumed. "He will arrive soon, and you may do with him as you long as you make sure he is given no chance to escape." Her face hardened, and her eyes grew cold...and Whick recognized something familiar about the dead shadow behind them...something from his dreams.

"If he does, you will wish that when they Hanged you, no priest had ever brought you back. Nothing is beyond our reach, Agent Whick. Not even behind the Gate itself." With that final, ominous warning, the orb went dark and lifeless.

Whick shivered. A chance to kill that meddling whelp himself. He had fantasized how he would cut into him...draw out the agony for days- No. No. When he arrived, he would make it quick. He was the son of one of the grandmasters. He owed her that much. He had much to do. The day was bright indeed. For the first time in many days, Whick began to whistle and smile, and it genuinely reached his eyes.

Bonds of Blood, Part 3: Ori Had a Dream

Quiet relaxation. An interesting concept, the Priest thought. I should try it more often. He sat on the small divan in his living area, gazing thoughtfully out his westward facing window, the setting sun turning the sky into a flaming orange and red tapestry. ‘Red sky at night, sailors’ delight’ he murmured aloud, the old adage still fresh in his mind, however true or false it might be.

Books lay opened and unread on his table, next to the remains of his dinner. It had been a quiet few days since the trial and the hanging, and the Priest was hopeful that order had been restored, and the normalcy of daily life could return. He gave a contented sigh, allowing himself to believe for a moment, that all was well in the world. Just quiet relaxation. Then came the knock on the door.

He rose to answer, and saw a young Halfling, garbed in the robes of the Voln monastery of Icemule. A student, judging by the style of robe, and his youth. ‘Sorry to bother you, your Lordship, sir,’ the boy started nervously. ‘but we received a missive, from the brothers in Ta’Vaalor. Appears there’s a young Lady at the Temple, looking fretful, and they thought you might be one to talk to her.’

‘A young Lady? Did they say who?’

‘A Vaalor Elf, Sir. Ora-something’

The Priest nodded slowly. ‘Oriphine, yes of course.’ He smiled at the lad ‘Here, let me give you something for your trouble’

The future Monk looked aghast. “Sir! You know I cannot take coin for attending my duties!’

Another smile, as the Priest reached into a kit attached to his belt. ‘My young Brother, of course I would never give insult to your order by paying you as some simple errand boy. I just thought you might like one of these?’ From the kit he withdrew a remarkably still-warm golden brown caramel apple crumble with a dusting of powdered sugar. The boy’s eyes lit up and, glancing nervously around, said ‘No harm in that right, Sir?’

‘None at all Lad. As a long time Master of your Order, I insist you take, and enjoy. I made it myself.’ With a grateful nod, the boy raced off into the night.

Bareth closed the door just long enough to don his robes, and pick up his crook. He felt no sense of alarm from the summons, the young Lady had only just joined the order, and many new initiates expressed doubts early on. He would no doubt be back in time to get some reading in before bed.

The Priest entered the Garden, and saw the Elf maiden sitting on a small wooden bench. Her head was bowed, her eyes closed, though a quick glance at her face showed a troubled countenance. Gently, the Priest spoke "Good evening, Lady Oriphine."

Her reply was in a soft voice, tinged with relief. "Good evening, Shepherd. I'm glad you were able to come." ‘Of course, I am happy to help. How might I be of service?’

In that same, soft voice, she replied, "I seek your wisdom. I have been having a dream.’

A dream, he thought. Well, this should be easy enough. Though dreams he heard on occasion might hint of sorcery, or vision, most often they were merely a symbol of the dreamer’s anxiety, and a few well thought-out words often eased the worry.

He sat next to her, folding his wings across his back. ‘A dream? Please tell me more, as much as you wish, and perhaps together we can make sense of it.’ She nodded, and with a slight exhale of breath, began to speak.

"It is now the third time I've had this dream. It always starts the same. I’m walking in a field on a bright spring morning. The sky above is blue and a fresh breeze is blowing, the heads of the wildflowers bending gently before it. As my bare feet walk through the grasses, I have a sense of the many small creatures beneath my feet."

She paused, and the Priest nodded, adding ‘Life abounds everywhere, above, below, within and without us’

Softly agreeing, Orphine said "And all life has its proper place."

She continued. "Then as my awareness of the ants and worms of the earth increases, I notice that I’m no longer my normal size. The grasses now tower over my head and the insects appear to be the size of roltons. My feet continue to step forward, now feeling the dampness of the soil beneath my tread, the grasses and flowers so tall above me that the blue sky is no longer visible, but the breeze seems stronger and my skin feels colder."

"A sense of unease comes over me and I notice that a herd of rolton-sized ants are closing in behind me. My pace increases and I frantically push through the stalks of the giant grasses but, the more I try to move faster to keep ahead of the ants, the more I am impeded."

Her voice taking a slight tremor, Oriphine continues, "Now the soil underfoot has become mud, and even as I try to battle ahead the grasses seem to suddenly transform into a dark green corridor. I feel compelled to see where it leads.”

Taking a deep breath, the young Elf fell silent.

With an encouraging nod, the Priest, a bit more intrigued than he thought he might be, asked "And where did it lead?"

He noticed the light beads of sweat on her forehead, despite the cool night, and understood the difficulty she had telling this, and how very seriously she took it.

She continued the narrative, "I slip in the mud and then the ground is no longer level and I slide, for what seems like forever and ever. I try to call out in alarm, and worms erupt from my mouth."

After a short pause, she added, “The first time I had this dream I woke at this point. But the other times it continued in more or less the same fashion, as I will try my best to retell." The Priest said nothing, just nodded and smiled in what he hoped was an encouraging manner.

Resuming her story, Oriphine spoke again, her voice never changing from it’s soft, almost musical tone "I land in a cavern underground, the air hot and still, my eyes unable to make out much, though I can hear movement close by. Despite the heat, my own skin feels cold, deathly cold. I fumble around trying to get away from the sounds, but they continue to come from in front of me, whichever way I turn"

A note of hesitation crept into her voice and she glanced up at the Priest. ‘I think I can remember the rest clearly now. I know there were differences to the next part each time I had the dream."

With another smile and nod of encouragement, the Priest said quietly, “Take your time, and tell me all you can recall. Details matter in these things. Oriphine softly continued, "As I struggle I realize I’m no longer on my feet. I’m caught, bound by something and suspended from the ground."

With a flash of insight, or perhaps merely recalling a similar experience of his own, the Priest quickly asked ‘Bound by a web, perhaps?"

Oriphine nodded. ‘Yes, that is it. Beneath me I am able to see a large spider and an equally large scorpion. They seem to be conversing, but with words I cannot hear clearly nor understand. It seems to be as if they are arguing. And here is where the dream differs in its ending."

Nodding thoughtfully, the Priest asked, “Two dreams, two different endings?”

Oriphine softly responded, "Yes, but I ... have trouble remembering which parts belong to which dream."

Gently taking her hand, the Priest calmly said “Relax, and tell as best you recall. If the two combine as one, that is fine. Nodding, Oriphine agreed, "Yes, Shepherd. I will just tell it as best I can."

Now her voice contained an even greater tremor, sounding almost fearful in spite of the serene location. "I sense the fierce animosity between the spider and scorpion and they become aggressive and ..." Here she was unable to continue, a brief sob wracking her body as she held her head in her hands. Gently, the priest continued squeezing her hand, “There is no need to continue now, if this is too difficult?”

After a moment, the young (though probably a few hundred years older than me, the Priest thought wryly) Elf composed herself and resumed her tale. "In my dream they... tore apart another bound being."

Bareth glanced at her in some surprise. “Another bound being? Not each other?”

Oriphine shook her head. "It didn't occur in both dreams... that bit. "But I know in one dream, I sense another is also bound. I know not where that person is or who, but I sense a closeness, and concern, and then... then the singing started."

With a shudder, Oriphine again placed her head in her hands, eyes closed as if hoping to not see, that which her inner mind could not forget.

Only a moment though, and the Priest mentally noted her strength, for she sought no relief from her tale, only the release in the telling of it.

"The song is beautiful in itself, yet dreadful in its intent. At the sound of the song, the exoskeletons of the scorpion and spider begin to buckle and crack. There is little more that makes sense after that. Just some disconnected images."

Perplexed, the Priest asked, “Can you recall any of them? I sense this may be important”

Her forehead slightly wrinkled as she searched her memory, Oriphine was only able to respond, hesitantly, "A seagull and…a baby."

To himself, the Priest thought ‘A seagull…that brings to mind something, but what. Penin’s bird? No, that is a pelican or something. Where have I seen a seagull lately?’ To her, he asked “Do you recall more of where you were? Anything else about the surroundings?

With a sigh, Oriphine softly said "I can only think that everything had an overriding sense of water. That water was close by."

Sharper than he intended, the question came out “As if on a boat? Where you on a boat?”

Taken slightly aback, the lady quickly answered “No…no, I do not think so. It was a cave, on land. Perhaps an island, or somewhere near the sea?” Bareth nodded slowly, and smiled, hoping to take the sting out of his last words. “Lady Oriphine, I thank you for coming to me with this. I will ponder, and pray, on the words you have spoken. Perhaps my Goddess, or Lord Ronan, can tell me if there is more to this than just a dream.

Nodding gratefully, Oriphine said "The dream has troubled me these past three nights. I hope tonight I will not dream it once again."

Standing, the Priest placed a hand on her forehead. “I fear I have no power to grant you a dreamless sleep, but I will offer up a prayer, that your sleep this eve is untroubled.” He spoke a few words in his native tongue, wings fluttering slightly, and then removed his hand from her forehead. “May you rest well, this eve, and wake refreshed, and without worry”

Just an odd dream, he told himself. Nothing more. The detail was more than he was used to hearing, and there was a sense of something wrong, but still, just a dream.

Glancing at him, she spoke again, “oh…and there was one more thing, I only just recall. The bound being…the other…In one moment, I sense her crying out.”

A chill passed over the Priest, for a reason he could not identify, and his wings gave a quick flutter as he asked “Cried out? Do you recollect what was said?”

With that slight wrinkle of the forehead once again, she responded slowly, “to an Arkati, first, the God of the Sea…Charl. And then…a name…one I do not know. Chanon perhaps?”

The cold chill came again, but did not pass so quickly. A woman, begging for Charl. And the name. “Could it have been Jaynon?”

She nodded slowly. “I am not certain, but perhaps.”

The Priest smiled, not wanting to show his own concern. “I will go now to pray. Get some rest, Lady Oriphine, and if anything comes from this, I will find you, and let you know.”

She smiled for the first time, and bowed her head slightly. “Thank you Shepherd. And I hope you hear from your Goddess.”

With a slight wave, she walked quickly from the Garden, leaving the Priest alone. Alone with his thoughts, and an unpleasant sense that his night was not going to end as he hoped.

Bonds of Blood, Part 4: Bareth and the Steam Punk


>Tanai’s eyes fluttered open slowly at the sound of faint hissing. She was lying in near darkness, as if in a box, with a tiny sliver of light shining through an air hole above her head. Turning towards the hiss, she found herself face to face with a snake, its tongue sliding out to tickle her cheek as it studied her. After the first few seconds of sheer panic washed over her body, she took a long breath and assessed her situation.

>She had been traveling in a carriage. With a maid. No, not a maid. A vile woman who had drugged her with an orchid of all things. She should never have touched that bloody flower; her senses must be dulling from happiness and softer living. Every fibre of her being had told her something was wrong, and yet she had climbed in to that carriage, had taken the orchid anyway, realising too late she should have trusted her instincts. And if she had been taken prisoner, what had happened to Jaynon? Was he anywhere near? Or worse, had he been killed?

>She was on the move yet again, although this time it was not in a luxurious carriage. The creaking of wheels and the bumps and jolts, more than likely caused by rocks and holes, told her she was on a road. Possibly in a wagon. Definitely in a box. With a snake, who was doing nothing but staring at her and occasionally tickling her skin with its hissing tongue. There was also a nasty smelling rag half covering her neck, and given that her mouth tasted dry and awful, she guessed she had been gagged at some point during the ordeal. Thankfully for her, they hadn’t done a very good job.

>“So, little friend, where are we going now, I wonder?” she mused aloud, her mouth pasty from the bad combination of poison and rag. She swallowed a few times and licked her cracked lips, wishing desperately for a drink of water.

>The snake twitched its smooth head at her voice, coiling as if ready to spring. She couldn’t move away or throttle it, as her limbs were still nearly paralyzed and bound together with coarse rope, but her eyes narrowed at the snake, as if daring it to strike. It remained stationary by choice, as did she, not by choice, and for a long while they stared at one another.

>“I won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me,” she finally offered, her eyes beginning to droop in weariness. She knew it would be a long while until her body was functionable, and hoped the journey was a lengthy one. She couldn’t do much with a paralyzed body, let alone a paralyzed and bound one. And she had no intention of dying by snake-bite.

>As if in response, the snake slithered closer to her and wound itself into a coil. She almost smiled as she felt its head rest atop her unfurled hands. If her captors had placed the snake with her intending to cause harm, or even just fright, they were in for a surprise.

>Her eyes finally closing, Tanai began to drift back into sleep, wondering how she was going to get herself out of this predicament to rescue Jaynon.

The room was dark, the sunset of a few hours before now given way to a moonless night, and the flickering candle threw meager light.

The Priest unfurled his prayer mat, and knelt, wishing his knees would not make that slight popping noise each time he did so. ‘Too young for that’ he muttered, for not the first, or the fiftieth, time.

Prayer was needed this night, for he felt there was something to the dream the young priestess had relayed to him. He strongly felt that what was given to her, in so much symbolism, might be revealed to him more clearly. At least he hoped so. His search for the woman he suspected might be the referenced captive had been fruitless, and he was now quite certain that evil was afoot, and she was in danger.

There was some trepidation within him, for it was not the Goddess he prayed to this evening, or even his patron, Ronan. It would have to be Charl. That grumpiest of Liabo Arkati, whose name even seasoned sailors were hesitant to invoke, choosing rather his daughter to be the one they chose to beseech in times of need.

But he had been present at Tanai’s conversion, and knew her link with the Lord of Storms was strong. If Charl sent the vision to Oriphine, it was because she had yet to choose an Arkati to follow, and if no follower of his was about these last few days, it may have pleased him to choose one unaffiliated, rather than a Priest or Priestess devoted to another.

Bowing his head, and with a light flutter of his wings, the Priest closed his eyes and opened his mind. He thought of the sea, that wide expanse, dark and unknowable. Wind, sea spray, the sting and taste of salt as the ship pitched and rolled. ‘Charl’ he spoke softly ‘God of the Oceans. Lord of Storms. Master of the Seas. Your servant is in need. She calls to you. She seeks your aid. So great is one such as you, to be bothered with such matters, but allow a humble Priest to aid her, in your name.”

He did his best to block that part of his mind which rebelled against this virtual heresy to his own Religion. Charl was no more worthy of worship, or such flowery words, as any of the Arkati. But though not gods, they were powerful. And they did love flattery. Tonight was not a night to trouble L’Naere with worldly problems.

His breathing slowed, his muscles grew limp, and anyone looking in on him might worry if he still lived. But this was how one reached the Arkati. It was, in a sense, a mental surrender. Long moment stretched into long moment, and he was about to despair, when he felt the sudden wind, the taste of salt on his lips and the sting of sea spray in his face. His mind’s eye open, he looked out across the waves moving swiftly beneath him.

In the distance was an island…a distance that closed rapidly until he recognized it as one he had spent only a short amount of time on. Teras Isle. The vision kept moving him forward, the pace slowing and then stopping before the huge volcano. He felt the heat, red and hot and then came the soot. And then he awoke.

After a moment he opened his eyes, stretched his wings and slowly rose to his feet. ‘Teras Isle’ he said aloud. He knew where she was. He had hunted there for a short time, and the Temple of Luukos was known to him.

Silently praying he was not too late, he grabbed the crook, and the ticket that allowed travel between realms, and made his way to Burga Hall, and from there to the Voln temple on Teras Isle.

His surroundings blurred into a white fog.

‘By the Goddess, it is hot in here’ the Priest said, as he made his way through the Temple. Steam and lava and noxious gases made him admit a grudging admiration for clergy so dedicated to their Arkati that they would practice their arts here.

Casting a minor piece of magic, he was now able to detect Tanai. Another spell, and he stood before the Alter of Sacrifice. She lay upon it, breathing but not moving. Her hands were manacled, and her unkempt hair pooled around her head. At a quick glance, she appeared unhurt.

He was alone in the room with her for only a moment. Striding in through the gate came a robust man, clearly giantkin from height and girth. He was cloaked in black robes, tied around his ample middle with a black belt, and carried a tall staff, formed in the shape of intertwining serpents. “Beware, Stranger!’ and hurled a spell at him.

Bareth turned to face the stranger, unimpressed as his own magic absorbed the spell and rendered it harmless. ‘Who are you?” he asked.

“I am the Great Lassiveren! Mighty Sorcerer of the Emerald Servant!’ Another spell was cast, this one beaten back by the crook. Two more were equally unsuccessful, and at last Lassiveren lowered his hands. “That’s a bit off, innit? Yeh walkin’ right in, not so much as a ‘by your leave’ and then I canna touch yeh. What gives, mate?’

Bareth peered closer at the giant, and through the hood he could see he was younger than expected, with bright red hair and bushy beard to match. The reddish nose and an obvious paunch made him look as though he’d be more at home behind (or in front of) a bar, than at a sacrificial alter.

‘You don’t know who I am, Lassiveren?” he asked quietly. The larger man peered at him and shrugged. “Nuh. Yeh donna look familiar, mate. Reckon I don’t get out much these days though. Yeh here ta rescue her, are yeh?”

Bareth nodded. “I am. Be so kind as to unlock those manacles, and we’ll be on our way.”

The man flipped his hood back and stroked his beard. “Wait a minute, I do know you, don’t I? You’re the pacifist, who made up his own religion, ain’t yeh?”

“I am Bareth Cordellon, Prophet of the one True Goddess, and High Priest of Her Church.”

“Aye, call it what yeh will, takes some stones ta make up yer own religion, then put yerself in charge of it. “He paused. “Still, yer a bit of a joke around the ole campfire, pardon me fer sayin’. All that power and afraid ta use it. Bit like givin’ a rabbit a claidmore, innit?”

Bareth’s face reddened slightly and he said in an icy tone, ‘Do not test me, Boy, or you will find out how ‘afraid’ I am to use my powers.”

The sorcerer smiled companionably. “Donna go getting’ mad an’ all mate. Was just sayin’ what’s said, if yeh know what I mean. Still, bit of an impasse here, ain’t we?

“How so?”

“Well, clearly me own magic’s no good on you. But yeh wouldn’t harm me, what with me bein’ all livin’ and whatnot. So, why don’t yeh just, well, bugger off. And I’ll get to work on me little princess here. One less half breed, more or less, will nah matter much.”

A slight smile crossed Bareth’s lips as he said ‘In all my life, only one other has spoken to me that way, and he was far more powerful than I at the time. You are younger and weaker than him, though probably a more decent person, and certainly better looking. So, I don’t have to take this from you.

A movement of hands, a flutter of wings and the young man found himself magically bound, and unable to move.

‘Bloody hell’ he muttered, as he struggled.

Bareth took two steps toward him, and deftly pulled the large key ring off his belt. “Why are you doing this, Lassiveren. You are clearly no true High Priest of the Emerald Serpent, yet you are here ready to do L’Naere knows what with someone I consider a friend. Tell me why.”

Still futilely struggling, the man gave a wicked grin “Look mate, yeh can bind me till yer little wings fall off, and maybe yeh can wake her up and she’ll do some worse things. But there ain’t nothin’ either of yeh could do, ta compare to what he’ll do, iffn’ he finds out. I like me arms an legs where they be, and donna think I’d like watchin’ em attached ta someone else. Take me meaning?”

Bareth nodded, knowing full well that he would never torture another for any reason, or allow anyone else in his presence to do so. “You could come with us, you know. I sense good in you.” Lassiveren grinned again, and even managed to shake his head a bit. “Me thanks ta yeh, mate, but I’m all in with this serpent stuff. Quite a bit more fun, than bein’ a goody two boots all day, innit?

The Priest sighed, and nodded slowly. So be it, Lassiveren. “Do remember that no matter how far we travel down a path, it is never too late to change directions.” He waved a hand, and the magic around the giant dissipated

“The Priest will come back. And with her gone, will not your life, and soul, be in jeopardy then?”

Waving a large hand, Lassiveren smiled again. ‘Nah, she was me own ta do with what I want. He said choppin’ up pretty girls be good practice, fer what comes next. Bit of a load off, really, not ta hafta. I’ll tell’m she went down tha chute in little pieces. “

Bareth quickly unlocked the manacles and held Tanai’s limp hand in his own. “As you wish. I must get her to safety, and hear her story. Consider my offer.”

With a tip of his cap, and a flutter of wings, he spoke a word.

Their surroundings blurred into a white fog.

Bonds of Blood, Part 5: Special Delivery

It took four of the dockworkers to heave the crate up onto the deck of the Sidewinder. Whick had spared no expense for the vessel, and watched in silence as the captain and his crew made ready to sail off. They had been paid for discretion, and though the captain was not, most of the lieutenants were fellow believers and would ensure cooperation if necessary.

Thunder cracked in the distance, dark clouds stirring idly on the horizon. Whick frowned. Haste would be necessary.

Unfortunately, he had been given...contradictory orders. His initial assignment had been to dispose of the Paladin immediately, and he had planned to do just that. However, the other Headmasters had contacted him soon after Olivia had with more specific instructions.

The mists had opened. The path to Caligos lay clear and a perfect opportunity to give sacrifice to the Dweller of the Depths lay before them. And what more appropriate sacrifice than a Paladin of Charl? Whick had to admit, he liked this idea much better than his initial plan.

A cry rang out as the crate crashed down, splintering into pieces as Jaynon strode out, an aura of lightning and power surrounding him. Whispering phrases he struck out wildly around him as the sailors cursed and alternated running for cover and charging at the man futiley. Whick paused a moment to admire the man...such conviction. And he channeled power with a furty and will that would do Charl proud.

Ah, what an ally he could have been. It was in his BLOOD to rule and to follow order. How could he be so blind? Sighing in weariness, Whick stepped forward and cleared his throat before echoing a low, baritone spell and flicking his wrist in Jaynon's direction. Suddenly the Paladin dropped like a sack of wet grain onto the deck of the ship, snoring softly. Tentatively, the crew began to step forward and began to secure the prisoner.

Whick turned to the Captain whose face was livid at the chaos that had been unleashed on his deck and spoke in curt tones "Step lively, Captain. We've many miles to go, and I would surely think that we've drawn the attention of powers we would rather not at the moment. I would suggest, for the safety of all aboard, we get underway as soon as possible."

With that, Whick turned on his heels and went below deck.

In the distance the clouds rumbled, and a dark wind began to churn up the waves of the sea.

Bonds of Blood, Part 6: Tanai

Tanai woke with a pounding headache. The last few days had kept her in a sour mood, though she did her best to keep a positive front when encountering anyone she actually cared about. She couldn’t fool herself, but she was confident she could fool others, at least somewhat. Rubbing the grit from her red, puffy eyes, she sat up in bed, her mind churning with too many unwanted thoughts. She was so tired; sleep eluded her ever since she had been rescued. She couldn’t rest until she knew where Jaynon was, and this was proving difficult.

Her stomach growled loudly, but she ignored it. Since her rescue she had lost her appetite, her already thin frame practically nothing but bones. She was literally unable to swallow food, yet her stomach still protested. She had journeyed to Solhaven yesterday hoping to confront Whick, as loathsome as the idea was to her. Desperation, however, causes one to do almost anything. And at this point, Tanai would do anything to find Jaynon.

She was nearly ready to beg Whick for information, and it made her skin crawl to remember what she had been ready to offer. Things did not go the way she had expected, however, and though most of her Solhaven excursion was rather foggy in her memory, it had not produced any results. An alchemist had babbled something about ingredients and siren tears, Whick had grabbed her hand, and she had been doused with water. After that, her memory became foggy - she was really getting tired of these episodes - and after she came to, people were talking about things she couldn’t understand.

Rouste had been the only friendly face she could remember, aside from a little gnome who had decided Tanai was hers. Had Tanai not been so out of it, she would have been more amused. And of course, Whick had disappeared. Typical.

Bareth was the key, she decided. She hadn’t seen him since her rescue, and she was only half lucid when he brought her home, leaving her in Rose’s care. Since then, she had no contact, and all searches for him proved fruitless. Today, however, she felt differently. She almost felt hopeful, though she was never fully trusting of that particular sense. If she found the priest… no… when she found the priest, she would implore him for help. He had helped her, so surely he could help Jaynon.

Several hours later, Tanai’s instincts paid off. She was almost giddy when she found him at Thraks; strange that he had been so close this entire time and she only just now found him. Still, no time to dwell on anything but the task at hand. Bareth greeted her with a kind smile and a murmured blessing. She did her best to look appreciative, as she knew he was only doing what a priest would do; blessings and prayers were just part of the package.

“What can I do for you, Lady Tanai?” he asked, sensing her barely controlled impatience.

“Find him!” she burst out, her voice breaking awkwardly to her everlasting embarrassment.

The Aelotoi was calm and collected as usual. “I cannot guarantee I will be able to find Jaynon,” he told her gravely. Her face scrunched up in a mixture of disappointment and frustration. “Still, with the blessing of my Goddess, I will try,” he finished.

Her breath out was long and ragged. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ll owe you. Anything.”

Smiling again, he placed a gentle hand on her thin shoulder. “I do not ask anything from you, Lady Tanai. I do this willingly, as all life is precious. And Jaynon is a fine man, who warrants our aid.”

She wanted to mutter “Not all life,” but bit her tongue just in time. Instead, she sat on one of the plush sofas she had shared with Jaynon so often, trying her best not to fidget anxiously.

Tanai was silent as Bareth did his magic, or whatever it was that priests did to find people. There was muttering and moving of hands, and fluttering of wings. She chewed on a fingernail, then her lip, then sat on her hands to keep them still. It seemed like eons before he finished, and she was about to give in to her depression until she noticed his features relax

His answer was simple. Two words that swelled her heart with both hope and dread.

“Caligos Island.”

Bonds of Blood, Part 7: Off to Sea, a Wizard

“Caligos Island” the Priest repeated. ‘Why does that sound familiar?’

Tanai glanced at him. Even through her worry and fear, she managed to gain a bit of her old spirit. “Why does it sound familiar?” she said incredulously. “Do you live under a rock?”

“Why no,” Bareth replied calmly. “I live mostly in a small house in Icemule, though I occasionally stay a night or two at the Thrak, if I am weary and dinner was especially hearty.”

Rolling her eyes, Tanai said with some exasperation. “It’s the island that Captain found, off the coast of the Elven nations. The one hidden in the mists. There’s a big festival this month? I’ve been unconscious most of the last two weeks and I know about it.”

For Bareth, who considered his utter lack of knowledge of current events a point of pride, the harshness of her tone was completely lost. “A festival you say? Probably dark arts, as well as light, to be found at such a place. I can see why Whick might be drawn to it. “

Fidgeting, Tanai said quickly “Yes, a festival. Let’s get Jaynon rescued in time for him and me to enjoy it!”

“However,” he said, “I do not believe he is there yet. At such a distance my magic is imprecise, but the sense I get is that he is near the Island, not on it. A boat, I would have to assume.”

Tanai nodded eagerly “And if he’s alive now, and being brought to the Island…”

“He will no doubt remain alive, until the ship reaches Caligos.” the Priest finished.

He rose and nodded abruptly. “There is no time to waste. We cannot risk travelling to the Island and meeting him there, he will expect that and traps will be laid. If, however, we can meet him at sea…”

The thought trailed off, but Tanai took the meaning. “But how? How do we get from here to there? We’ll never find a boat that fast!” Cursing she slammed a hand down on the bar and in a chilling voice said “When I find that murdering sonofa-“

Resting a calm hand on her shoulder, Bareth looked into Tanai’s angry eyes and spoke in his most confident tone. “You came to me for help, Lady Tanai, and help I shall find. Prepare yourself as you will, and await my word.”

With his usual lavish bow he left Tanai alone, with her equal feelings of dread and hope.

Stepping out of the Thrak Inn, Bareth folded his wing tight to his back and began to walk. The problem, of course, was that all of his former friends and associates from the sea, most of whom were involved in some kind of smuggling operations, were either tragic victims from the Ak’Wyn, or holed up in either Solhaven or River’s Rest. The Nations, so far as he knew, were to be visited quickly and in secrecy by these sailors. Unlike so many in Solhaven, River’s Rest and the Landing, Elven palms did not always oil easily.

As he walked, his feet took him south, past the bank and then down to the small park. A place with many fond, and a few not so fond memories. Lately it was deserted most times, so he found it an excellent place to meditate.

“Hello, Priest” said a deep voice. Glancing up, Bareth noticed a muscular elf, clad in a tight fitting cloak, practicing some martial maneuvers. Fortunately, Bareth knew the man well, or he might have been alarmed by the fact that his cloak was on fire.

“Oh, Lord Qadheon” the Priest said, somewhat distractedly, “good to see you. I hope you are well?”

The large man nodded, giving a cheerful ‘thumbs up’. “I am quite well.” He paused for a moment. “You seem troubled, Priest. Something bothering you?”

Head back down, in that same distracted tone, Bareth replied “Troubled? What makes you say that?”

“Because you have a deep frown on your face, and you’re about to run into that –“



Rubbing his sore shins, Bareth sat down. “I suppose I am a bit troubled. A rare problem that prayer and faith may not aid me”

Qadheon’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Never thought I’d hear you say that. What can it be? Maybe I can help?”

Smiling, the Priest sighed, “It is kind of you to offer, but unless you happen to know someone with a boat, and a capable crew, docked near Ta’Nalfein, then I fear there is little you can do.”

Crossing his arms and thoughtfully stroking his chin, the Monk said “I don’t know many from that town, to be sure. But I do know a fellow in this town near Ta’Faendryl”

Bareth looked up sharply. “Ta’Faendryl? But that’s not near wate--;”

“Near there”, Qadheon interrupted. “An acquaintance I made. Nice enough fellow, I think you’d like him. Just best to keep an eye on his hands, and your pretty satchel there closed tight.”

Standing quickly, the Priest said, “This man, he has a boat? A good one, with speed, that can handle heavy waters?”

A nod. “Aye. He’s in the type of business where that is, shall we say, a necessity.”

Eagerly, the Priest asked “if we go by the Portals, and with my magic, can we locate him quickly? I would not ask, if the need were not great, and a time a factor.”

Once more stroking his chin, Qadheon nodded after a moment and said, “Give me a bit of that bread you make, and we can go right now.”

Bareth grinned, fluttered his wings and made a small gesture.

Qadheon returned the grin as he accepted the flatbread, with another hearty thumbs up.

The town, such as it was, didn’t really have an official name. It was more a lose collection of shops, taverns, shipyards and jetty’s, all designed with the sole purpose of helping those who preferred to avoid official channels, when repairing their boats, or replenishing stores after the difficult journey around the Southron Wastes.

The Priest was not unfamiliar with this type of village, he’d been in a few in his day, though it had been some time. He was sitting in a tavern. With other matters to attend to, Qadheon had left him here, promising that the ‘friend’ would arrive shortly.

It was loud, with what could charitably be described as a motley group of sailors from every race, most of them from more than one. A group of musicians played near the back, using enthusiasm and volume to make up for lack of talent. “What is this music?” he heard one patron behind him ask, with the response being “local lads, think they’re Mithril Mayhem or somethin’, silly sots”

“Whaddaya havin’ mate?” the bartender, an immense man who clearly had Krolvin, as well as Giantkin, in his family’s past.

Without thinking, the Priest replied “A glass of apple juice, chilled, please”

Music stopped. Heads swiveled.

“Ah…that is to say, a large pint of your best ale”

Music resumed. Heads back to previous positions.

“We only got one kind, yah nutter” muttered the barkeep angrily. He filled a dirty mug with a frothy looking liquid and set it down. “A fiver, yer Lordship” he said in a mocking tone.

“Five? Well, of course” Bareth pulled out a handful of coins and said politely, “And a couple for yourself, Sir.” The coins clinked rather loudly on the bar.

Music slowed a bit. Heads surreptitiously swiveled. Hands went to daggers, knives, clubs, bows, table legs.

Unaware of the sudden change in mood of the bar, the Priest took a small sip of his ale, and managed not to gag. Barely.

Knives were slid from sheaths. Swords pulled silently from scabbards. Arrows nocked. Clubs hefted.

The door to the tavern opened letting in a stream of light, momentarily breaking the tension. A burly man, heavy set with a face that went beyond weathered, strode in. He walked in that rolling gait of one who has spent far more days at sea than on land. Age and countless battles had clearly scarred him, but there was no denying the respect of others in the tavern, as he passed them toward the bar.

Bareth turned, shocked, and exclaimed “Ag’Awal?!” The man grinned and wrapped the happily surprised Priest in a massive hug. “Priest of Ronan, by the blood of all things! You’ve not changed a bit!”

A collective, rather disappointed, sigh. Knives slid back in sheaths. Swords returned to scabbards. Arrows dropped in quivers. Clubs reattached to belts.

Happily, the Priest returned the hug and said “By the Goddess, Captain, I would never have thought to see you here. Truth be told, I was not aware you were still alive. Even Batok hadn’t heard from you.”

His face darkening, the man replied “Ah, Batok. A fine man. Heard about the Ak’Wyn. A nasty business that was.”

Bareth agreed, and added “Indeed, and the less said about it the better. What brings you here today?”

Resuming his grin, Ag’Awal said “word came around that a winged priest was looking for a ship, and in a hurry about it.”

Astonished, Bareth said “YOU are Qadheon’s friend?”

“Nah, not so much as that. But friend of a friend, if ye will. Soon as I heard ‘wings’ and ‘priest’ I thought, that can only be our old Bareth, and I’ll not leave it to a lesser man ta help ‘im. So tell me, what is it ye need, and what can I do?”

As quickly as he could, in whispered tones, Bareth explained the situation, and his need for quick assistance.

When he was finished, Ag’Awal leaned back and took a long swig from the mug that had appeared, without asking, at his elbow.

“Well, me lad, ye picked tha right town at tha right time. I’ve got me a pretty little thing rigged and ready ta go. Was restin’ a fortnight, fer the moons are a bit bright fer me likin’, but fer me old Priest, I’ll get her goin’ today.”

He paused for a moment, seeming to sniff the air, and the said “We’ve got a high tide rollin’ in now, can have her out by supper, if ye be ready.”

Bareth nodded, silently thanking the Goddess for sending him not just any sailor, but the former Captain of the Pat’Aksan, his first and most beloved ship.

“I will contact Lady Tanai, and let her know. We will be ready.”

Squinting a bit, the old sailor said “yer sure on bringin’ the lass with ye? Tis dirty work and no place fer a lady, ye know.”

“I would sooner swim there myself, then attempt to journey without her. And I think you will find she can hold her own, in a fight or a tavern”

Smacking the Priest heavily on the back, Ag’Awal let out a burst of laughter and said “then I can’t wait ta meet her!“

Finishing his ale in one swallow, he stood and clasped Bareth’s hand, shaking it vigorously. “Tis mighty good ta see ye, me ol’ friend. I’ll be getting’ on, with lots to be done. Don’t be late, ye know what they say about time ‘n tide”

“I know it, Captain, because you taught me. We will not be late.”

The old Captain was as good as his word, and before the sun set that evening, Bareth found himself standing next to Tanai, leaning on the railing in the forecastle of Ag’Awal’s newest ship, the Pat’Akrant.

Every few moments he cast magic to locate Jaynon. The effect was muted out here, but he was able to sense the direction, enough to guide the helmsman.

Alternating between wringing her hands, gnawing at her nails or squeezing the rail with a death grip, Tanai asked anxiously, as she did every time he cast ‘Anything? Are we getting closer? Can you tell if he is alive?”

Patiently, the Priest responded, “We are getting closer, the feeling is stronger. Alas, I cannot say more than that.”

The Captain was as good as his word, and the sleek vessel fairly leaped over the waves, making speed such as Bareth had never felt, not even during that last frantic chase of the Ak’Wyn.

He cast once more, and was startled with a clear vision of a bound, and sleeping, Jaynon in what he took to be a ship’s hold. He yelled up the ship’s master ‘Two points on the starboard bow!” and the master repeated the order to the helmsman. Peering into the darkness, the master yelled back “Got some nasty fog up there, Sir!”

He was correct. The moonlit sky revealed a large cloud of fog, directly in front of them.

Both watchers on the rail heard the helmsman say in a low voice, to the master, ‘that don’t seem right, do it?”

“No” came the reply it does not.”

Tanai shouted up “What do you mean? Not right?”

Softly touching her arm, Bareth pointed to the fog “It’s moving, Tanai. Almost as fast as we are, in the same direction.

“Yes, well, wind and all, right?” “The wind is off the larboard bow. The fog should be drifting across us, not racing from us.”

The helmsman gripped the wheel tighter, and swallowed his fears as he pointed the small vessel, built for speed, not battle, into the ghostly fog. All eyes strained forward, and then out of the mists, could be seen a shape. A ship. Tanai knew, Jaynon was on board.

And Bareth knew, so was Whick.

Bonds of Blood, Part 8: Into the Mist

Jaynon’s eyes drifted open lazily. His cheek was pressed against rough wood. The wood was rocking beneath him; the whole floor was. Jaynon was aboard a ship at sea. It was a rough sea at that. He was on his side, his hands tied tightly behind his back. His feet were also bound. Digging deep he tried to strain against the rope. Perhaps a few of the threads may have stretched but he was bound tighter than he would ever be able break free by brute force only.

This wasn’t the first time he’d awoken since the… confrontation with his Mother. He thought he had almost escaped one time, but Whick had ended that all too easily. Memory flooded back to him now. It had been weeks since he'd last seen Tanai. The realisation hit him all over again, like it had done so many times already. She was almost certainly dead by now or worse; risen as an undead abomination. Jaynon’s mind was flooded with a confusing mess of sorrow and rage. He felt the pressing need to hit back somehow. If only there was a way to hurt Whick and his Mother.

Looking around his surroundings he saw that he had been lumped in a corner amongst the cargo. There were running footsteps on the deck above his head. Shouts of alarm. Perhaps it meant trouble. Trouble meant distraction; distraction meant opportunity.

A thick grey mist began to snake its way into the ship's hold. Misty tentacles twisted and writhed around the barrels and crates like they were searching for something. Jaynon could no longer see the deck above his head for the mist. Kicking out at a barrel, an unlit lantern stood upon it smashed onto the floor. The sound of the glass breaking seemed muffed by the increasingly dense fog. Wasting no time he shuffled his way over to the remains of the lantern, and cupped a piece of the glass. Laying there in the eerie silence Jaynon sawed away at the rope, cutting his hands repeatedly. That didn’t matter now though. He was only focused on escaping as the mist enveloped him; completely shrouding him from view.

Bonds of Blood, Part 9: Battle at Sea

Whick steeled himself as the ladders of the smuggling ship hit the side of his vessel with an audible THUNK. The sound which carried over even the roar of the wind and waves in this infernal storm set into motion a flurry of activity, the sailors and soldiers using poles to try and shove the ladders back down. A futile effort. Within moments, dark clad figures were scaling the hooked in ladders and the sound of steel on steel rang out across the deck of the Sidewinder.

The runup to this boarding action had taken hours. Whick watched as the Captain did his level best to elude their pursuer, but the smuggling ship had obviously been built for speed. The storm did not help matters whatsoever, but the mist that had enveloped and was guiding their vessel did seem to provide some hope that they would escape. That hope had been dashed as the crow's nest reported seeing a winged, robed figure on the prow of the enemy vessel. The shepherd Bareth.

How he had tracked them, or even found out what was going on, was a question Whick very much would like an answer to. However, now was not the time to pursue such thoughts. They had a battle to win. Drawing his tetsubo, Whick made a few subtle gestures and the world slowed to a crawl around him. Stepping forward quickly, he began laying into the boarders without honor or humanity. His weapon work was expert, and his magically enhanced speed allowed him to slip past even the most practiced of guards.

The first sailors weapon came at him slowly, as if through some sort of thick liquid. Whick scoffed and parried it away, as if swatting back a child's hand. He countered with a swift stroke to the temple and the man began to crumple to the deck. Before he could even hit the floor, Whick was on to the next, dashing under a cut at his head to slam his tetsubo into his assailants leg, sending him crashing down. Behind him, the soldiers and sailors of the sidewinder finished off those he had disabled.

For a time, it looked like they would dispatch the invaders easily and drive them back to their ship or into the sea. Screaming and cursing carried over the waters as both sides struggled intensely at the rails of the Sidewinder, and Whick cut through the enemy lines quickly and efficiently. But then something changed. Behind him, a great cry amongst the defenders went up and sailors began to break and run. Lightning flashed, and Whick saw a hideous creature slicing through the men follwing him, tooth and talon ripping through armor as if through paper. Tanai. She had abanoned scimitar and sword for her more bestial weaponry, and her inhuman eyes were filled with rage as she tore into her enemies. Scowling, Whick dropped the man he was currently engaged with in a single blow to the head, breaking the skull open like a ripe melon, and turned to address the threat. The moment the siren spotted him, it let out a keening, angry cry and rushed him. Had Whick not been magically hasted, he wouldn't have had a chance to do anything but scream as her claws tore into him. But whick WAS moving faster than any human possibly could, and so as Tanai came forward he spoke a single syllable and watched as a gust of wind launched her into the air and over the rails.

One down, one to go.

The tide had turned, Whick's allies were being beaten back, and he didnt know how much longer they could hold these ruffians back.

The Priest sighed. He was never comfortable in battles such as these, men fighting men, killing each other because no one was willing to parlay. He knew Ag’Awal had offered him not only his boat, but a seasoned and loyal crew. And now they were paying the ultimate price for their loyalty.

At least Ag’Awal had stayed on his own ship, with a handful of trusted men. Only a sailor that skilled could hold a smaller vessel steady enough for boarding, in this weather. And the weather. There was something very unnatural about it. The mist was thick, when his hand moved through it, it seemed to subtly push back, as if it were some kind of living thing.

As he contemplated these things, his hands and wings moved of their own accord, and his lips whispered the phrases of web, and bind, when enemies drew to close. He had a small circle of men around him, bolstered by his own magic, who fought well and allowed him freedom to search for that which he sought.

No sign of Jaynon. But there was Whick. A madness was about him, far more than Bareth had ever seen. He slew men left and right, far faster even than Bareth could preserve their souls and hope to restore once things calmed down.

Apart from the chaos around Whick, things were calming down. The Pa’Akrants were holding their own in spite of the powerful wizard, and the defenders where soon outnumbered. They huddled together at the peak of the forecastle, swords out, looking fierce but there was resignation in their eyes. The battle was lost.

As he moved forward on the ship, Bareth glanced over the port side to see a massive whale breach the waters. There was something wrong. Was...was its skin...crawling? Lightning flashed and revealed something far more horrifying…the massive beast was covered in eels. They tore into the whale’s flesh, devouring it while it thrashed and keened. Extending his senses, Bareth could feel more dark shapes fighting for dominance under the sea. Dolphins, leviathans of the deep, clashing with sinuous and unnatural forms. And all about them…the mist.

The Priest steadied himself, snapping his wings sharply to his back as he continued on to the forecastle, where Whick and several well-armed sailors were still fighting a clear losing battle.

The Priest pondered as he came closer. “Why was Whick so adamant in his futility? Was he that stubborn? Or…something worse?” Bareth muttered a silent prayer to the Goddess, that it was merely the former. Perhaps he could still be reached.

“May I help him, and those he surrounds himself with, find peace,” he whispered aloud. Then, raising his crook high, wings fully spread, Bareth took a breath, closed his eyes, and shouted "STOP!"

Both sides, exhausted, reluctantly parted and the fighting ceased. Gasping and panting, Whick lowered his weapon and stepped forward, as if ready to parlay. Bareth stepped in front of his cadre of sailors and nodded. “Lord Whick. Look around you. You cannot win. Let us not shed more blood for nothing. I will guarantee your safety, and that of your men. Lay down your arms, and lead us to your prisoner.”

Whick stared in silence, a frown upon his genteel features. Blood flecks covered his salt stained clothes, and whilst most of the blood was not his, it was clear from the gash on his cheek and the crossbow bolt in his shoulder, he had not gone unscathed.

The Priest continued. "We have medicine, and food. Those wounds look bad. Let us bandage them, and care for you. We will find a healer, and I will restore all who have fallen, your men and ours. Just please," he said in a near pleading tone that seemed wrong, but necessary "stop this and give us the prisoner. We know he is here."

In answer, Whick rushed forward quickly to try and assault him. The weapon bounced off harmlessly as the ephemeral shield surrounding the Priest flared to life. Bareth signed, and quickly invoked his magic. Whick stopped abruptly, frozen in place.

Angry, and confused, Bareth cried "Why do you continue this madness? What possible offering could they have made you? Power? Silver? What?!" Whick did not respond, focused only on breaking the force which held him.

With another sigh, Bareth turned to address the remaining enemy. “You heard my words. Drop your weapons and –“

Before he could finish the sentence, one of the lieutenants of the Sidewinder made a strange battle cry and raised his weapon. Bareth raised his crook to parry the blow... ...but it never came. Instead, the man crumpled to the deck with a cry of pain, blood running from a gut wound...his own weapon lodged deep within his abdomen. Blinking in confusion, one of the smugglers asked "What in Charls-" And then another scream from the second lieutenant "In obedience, MEANING!" and he, too crumpled to the deck...blood gushing from a self-inflicted wound.

The Priest stared in shock. "What madness is this?!" he cried out, staring at Whick.

He felt it a moment before he saw it. The mist...tendrils of it were FEEDING on these men...rushing into their wounds and mouths as they painfully bled out and died. He sensed great power...dark and ominous...building below them. He called upon his magic again, spiritual power flowing from his hands to the men, in a futile attempt to save them. But his magic was as nothing, compared to what came from below.

For the first time that day, he felt fear.

And then that a third sailor, followed soon by the others, cried out and struck himself down, all crying out 'Meaning!', 'Obedience!', 'Light in Shadow!' 'In Law, LIFE!' ....insanity, unreal. Yet, the Priest knew, all too real.

The smugglers huddled together, brave men now consumed with fear, murmuring prayers to Charl, and Niima. Bareth stared at the bound and incapacitated Whick, who had managed to crack a smile despite his immobility.

And then it truly began. Huge, warped THINGS breached the surface of the water, rising up and towering over the ship, their eel like heads swaying in a hypnotic trance as mist leaked from their eyeless sockets.

"L'Naere have mercy" he whispered, as the monsters attacked, laying waste to friend and foe. The battle had begun in earnest.

Jaynon moaned. The mist choked him. He had managed to cut himself free and for a time the fire had grown. He watched as his senses reeled. Beneath him he could sense it...the fury of his god and the animosity of his enemy as they struggled mightly both on deck and under the sea. He felt the huge creatures of the deep, servants of Charl, wrestle against the warped minions of some dark, malevolant THING.

He had no idea who would come out the victor, but he knew that whatever this...spirit was? It had chosen to side with those who had killed his love. And for that, he would send them all to hell.

He had tried to set the cargo on fire. VOLATILE had been marked on several of the casks, and he had hoped. The lamp had burned for a time, but the mist...smothered the flames. And with it, his hope.

At every step, he had failed. At every turn, he had fallen short. And now, in the power of his enemy, the mist and darkness seemed to drain and overwhelm him.

Crying out into the darkness, the sound of battle raging above and the echoes of war fought below, Jaynon called "Charl, Oh Charl...give me the strength!" They had killed her. Laughing, they had boxed her up and shipped her out to her death.

They. had. KILLED. her.

His rage built, filling him, and the mist redoubled its assualt...trying to drain him, to fill him with doubt. He couldnt possibly win. Give up...give in.

But...they had killed her.

And by all the gods above and below, they would PAY!

A bestial yell, power flowing through him in a flash, Jaynon pointed at the nearest cask and lightning struck from his hand.

Whick watched as the serpents slaughtered his enemies. He could not move, nor could he speak...but if he could? He would've laughed. BEHOLD! he would've cried...the power of the Council and its allies. Was there nothing more glorious than to see a sacrifice rewarded? What sense of purpose filled him! Most died for nothing...but his men, they had died for a PURPOSE! He could think of no more honorable end. All men died, but few died with glory.

He wished them well, on their journey to judgment. Surely they would be rewarded for their loyalty and faith.

Whick, however, asked just one thing before he too would be swallowed up in death. He wanted to kill Bareth himself.

He struggled against his bonds, fruitlessly at first...but as Bareth strove mightly to protect the smugglers, his hold over Whick waned.

The Priest called out, not to his Goddess, but to his Patron, Ronan, and those who could take notice, were stunned to see the eels suddenly flung back, by some invisible attacker. For a moment, Whick could swear a unicorn was on the deck, kicking and stabbing the things, but later he would convince himself it was merely an illusion. Nevertheless, the Priest and his magic was the only thing holding the sea beasts back, and it was taking all of his power and concentration to hold them off...and still they were picking off the smugglers, one by one...jaws snapping and carrying some screaming down into the watery depths.

Whick shuddered, contemplating their fate.

Wait. He could shudder. He could move. The spell was broken.

Silently, Whick raised his weapon. He thought about going invisible He wanted Bareth to SEE who it was that ended him. The Shepherd was but a dozen steps away.

At 3 steps, Whick had fished out the blue crystal and its guiding magics effused him.

At 7, Bareth had just finished off the giant eel he had been engaging with, smiting it and sending it broken into the sea.

At 10, Whick laughed, a cold cruel chuckle that drew Bareths attention.

At 11, Bareth had just begun to turn, a look of surprise on his stupid Aelotoi face. Whick began his swing, looking to take that bastards head off in a single blow.

At 12, the world exploded.

Bonds of Blood, Part 10: Tanai I Can Fly

Pain. Jaynon’s body was wracked with it. He felt a strange sensation across his face, like rushing air. Yes, that was definitely it. The world around him was a thick roiling mist. As his body twisted and spun awkwardly, careening upwards upon the crest of some invisible wave of force, he realised the world was totally silent. His dim awareness was brought more sharply into focus by that momentary panic. Jaynon’s feet drifted over his head in a lazy roll. Then it was as if he hung momentarily in the air, the wave of force seeming to dissipate behind him. Several shards of splintered wood passed him by and he managed to smile to himself, remembering the explosion.

<That’s for Tanai you rotten rolton kisser.

He was free falling then, ungainly directly downwards; the mist parting as he fell. There was a pop in one of his ears, and Jaynon felt an odd sense of relief as the sounds of the world resumed. There suddenly appeared a wall of grey beneath him. SMACK.

He blinked conscious again. The world around him was dark and pressed in upon him. With a gasp he realised he was under water. The gasp drew choking sea water into his mouth. Occasional black dots were flitting across his vision. He tried to swim up, but there was no strength left in him. The sea had him and was drawing him deeper and deeper by the moment.

Jaynon focused his mind inward remembering Tanai, that beaming smile as he handed her another chocolate chip cookie covered in a ridiculous amount of icing. He forced the scant remaining air out of his lungs and drew in the sea water instead. If this was to be his fate, he would accept Charl’s embrace gladly. He kept his mind on Tanai, drifting through memories, determined for her to be his last thought as he met his final death.

Then he heard it again. It had felt like an age since he had last heard that oh so sweet song in the back of his mind. Tanailiestra, and her siren song. He felt a rising exaltation within him at hearing her song one last time. It was as if the bond to her that had dulled to near non-existence suddenly surged back to life, filling him with deep adoration. Different to his love for Tanai, he craved Tanailiestra. Felt a desperate need to be wanted by her. Felt an uncontrollable desire to please. Felt a sickening jealousy that someone else would likely serve her now. Combined it was all part of the song; that was as terrifying as it was glorious.

He silently praised Charl for the gift as black dots filled his vision and consciousness fled once more.

Bonds of Blood, Part 10b: Bareth

The world exploded.

For a moment, blinded by the blast, the Priest wondered that Which had been able to strike the blow, for he seemed still a half pace away. When his airborne body hit the water though, his eyes jerked opened and he found himself staring back at the enemy warship, suddenly engulfed in flames.

There was little enough time to ponder that fact, as he felt himself falling below the waves, his nerves screaming in pain even as the fires that covered him were extinguished. He struggled to regain the surface, but his limbs were weak, and his wings seemed to lack the force that used to aid his swimming.

He went limp, and some underwater current bobbed him above the waves, and he took a gasping breath, even as he knew his wounds were too much to survive. He was aware of the feeling, one he had felt far too often, as his breathing, and the beating of his heart came to an end.

‘My Goddess, save me’ he beseeched, and with a gasp his air was restored, and his heart beat once more in his chest.

He frantically moved his arms in the water, attempting to keep afloat as he surveyed his surroundings. Whick’s ship was almost fully submerged, only the tips of the mast still above the sea, and the water swarmed with whatever evil beasts it was the he’d summoned.

Of the Pat’Akrant there was no sign, and Bareth was pleased, confident that his old Captain had fled to fight another day.

No other survivors were to be seen, and the Priest muttered a quick prayer that Jaynon and Tanai had somehow found each other, and survived.

He continued to work to keep himself afloat, even as his wounds reopened, and he weakened again. Puzzled by the odd feeling of his wings, he reached a hand back and felt nothing. Reaching further, submersing himself briefly with the effort, he was shocked to feel only stubs and fibers attached to his back…his wings…his beloved wings…were gone. Consumed by flame.

Choking back a sob he fought again to stay afloat, but the loss of blood, and the weakness of his limbs were too much to overcome.

He gasped ‘My Goddess…save me!’ a second time, even as his head once more slipped below the seas, his body too weak to resist. He stared through the murky water at the wreckage below him, at the strange serpent like eels swarming toward him. There was no divine presence, no comfort or salvation. The Priest closed his eyes a final time. His last thought was one of curiosity, tinged with a sense of disappointment. 'This is how it ends?”

And so the life of one Bareth Cordellon, Aelotoi refugee, Priest of Ronan, Warrior of Voln, Prophet of the Goddess, and Shepherd to all who would allow, came quietly to an end, as he breathed his last, and all the world faded to black.

Bonds of Blood, The Finale: The Sword

Smoke filled the air, mingling with the mist as the screams of the dying echoed over the eerily still waters. The storm had ended almost as suddenly as the fight...and Whick watched as he clung to the piece of ribbing he had been able to grab on shortly after being thrown forcibly from the Sidewinder.

He was no sailor, and whilst he knew that Caligos lay not far off to the east...he had no idea what distance he had to go...or how he was going to get there. He couldn't focus. This damnable mist clouded his mind, and his ears were still ringing from the violent detonation. In the waters below him, something dark and sinuous moved beneath. Whick shuddered, remembering the horrors that had climbed on the deck during the last bit of the conflict. He hoped that the beast would be distracted feasting on the corpses that littered the ocean.

Unable to think straight, ribs broken, cuts and bruises covering his body, Whick got as comfortable as possible and drifted as the crackle of the inferno and the swell of the waves lulled him to sleep.

The roaring wind howled between two massive pillars, each supporting a gargantuan door which lay wide open, affixed to the stone by a metal black as obsidian. The gates themselves were carved with...words? Spells? Whick could not tell. It HURT to look at; the pull on him was strong and before he realized it, he had begun taking steps towards it.

The Black Gate.

Was he dead? Had he slipped into the depths while he slept? Were those...things...eating his lifeless body even now? had been dead before. This didn't FEEL the same. But then, what WAS this? It felt like...

...the dreams.

Whick blinked, breaking his gaze from the ominous, monolithic structure and found his eye straying to his surroundings. Like tributaries feeding into a vast river, small lines of people were making their way to the gate from all across a barren, rocky landscape. Each seemed to be marching steadily, slowly forward into that terrible, horrible, AWFUL gate. One by one they entered, and one by one they would vanish into a piercing light that obscured the fate of those beyond. What lay beyond these massive doors?

Whick could not see.

Suddenly, the ground shook, and the air thrummed with energy. A large BOOM echoed and overpowered the constant howling that ruled this otherwise silent landscape. The endless river of souls halted, expressionless faces never changing, as a dark shape stood still before the open gates. The light was blinding, and Whick could not make out anything more than the outline of the figure. Proportion was impossible to tell, and the only thing he could ascertain was the length of steel held aloft by the humanoid shape. A sword. "Behold! Salvation!"

The ground trembled, and the Gate itself shook and began to close. A low wail, whether of horror or hope Whick could not say, sounded from the vast multitudes. Falling to his knees, he squeezed his eyes shut to drown out the blinding, piercing light that seemed to grow brighter and brighter as the doors, those massive doors, swung slowly together. He couldn't shut it out...or the wail...or-

The swell of the ocean startled Whick to wakefulness. How much time had passed? Days? Hours? The mist was pervasive, covering everything. It was impossible to tell where he was, or even what time of day it was. All he could see, in every direction, was the dark blue of the open sea. His throat, dry and parched. His body, broken still. One thought on his mind: Survive.

He refused to die here. He refused to let that animal Jaynon win. He had a purpose and, by the gods above and below, he would fulfill it. How? He did not know.

"Sacrifice..." the word sounded in his ears, whispered from across a vast distance. Was this a dream? The water, salty and full of brine, splashed into his face as the small waves batted against his piece of driftwood. No, not a dream.

Whick waited. Whick listened.

And again, whispered...from the mists? "Sacrifice..." a sibilant sound. "...accepted." In the waters below him, he thought he heard the screams of that priest, that Aelotoi, and despite himself, Whick shivered as a pang of horror at Bareth's fate rippled through him. He had come bearing a paladin of Charl to feed to this spirit, Ghezresh. Instead...he had led a priest of L'Naere to his watery death. Apparently, this was sufficient.

The mist soothed his cuts, it cooled his sun burnt skin...baking, despite the cover of clouds. And soon, rocked by the water, Whick once again slumbered.

Whick found himself once again in that terrible place. No gate in sight, but his spirit instinctively knew it was just beyond the horizon. He could still feel its pull. Shadows all of light surrounded him, their dark forms glowing with cold, pale radiance. Whispers...soft and silent...and directly before him stood three forms he recognized. "Is it enough?" the woman asked. "It is never enough..." came the reply from the multitudes of shades. "Is he ready?" The man in the center asked in a voice imposingly deep and full. The echoed reply: "Not yet, not yet." Whick cowered, shame filling him at their judgment. To his left, a voice gravelly and hoarse spoke "Is he still Chosen?"

A laugh echoed across the lifeless plains as suddenly the shadows and figures fled, vanished, and all that stood before him was a single man, mouth nor eyes...lacking both nose and lips. Clad in a simple white robe he stood, stoic and tall... somehow.. regal. In his hands, he held a sword. Whick was certain this sword was the same held by the figure in the previous vision. He did not know how he knew, he just KNEW. He had seen it before, as his eyes lay upon the dark steel; memories flooded him. Whick felt he had seen it for years, that this sword had been with him all his the back of his the dark of his dreams. Waiting for him. Waiting for now.

Whick reached out, and the figure before him gave a single command.

Seal the Gate.

"What?" Whick asked? " Why?"

Seal the Gate.

Whick trembled. It was an impossible task. But he felt that it was right. In his bones, he knew it was right. To seal the gate, to prevent the flood of souls from meeting that terrible, terrible, final end.

The gift that he had been chosen to give the world.

Eternal Life.


Reverently, Whick took the sword from the figure, who bowed and vanished with the wind.

In the distance, the shadows laughed.

Coughing, spluttering, Whick woke; for the first time in a long while he felt solid earth beneath him. The call of the gulls pierced a sky lit with beautiful sunlight. Waves crashed on the beach that had welcomed him ashore. Laughing, Whick began to stand...he had done it! He had lived! Despite his still aching body, he felt good. Brushing himself off, he began to walk towards the group of islanders that had been whispering and pointing at him from afar.

As he moved, he hit his toe against something solid. Looking down, he saw it.

The sword.

Whick trembled and reached down, but it burned him when he touched it. Ripping what remained of the coat he wore, he gently wrapped the weapon and tucked it under his arm. It was his now. He knew this.

Or perhaps more accurately... He belonged to the Sword.


Part 1:  Jaynon and Tanai
Part 2:  Jaynon, Tanai, and Whick
Part 3:  Bareth and Ingrid
Part 4:  Bareth
Part 5:  Whick
Part 6:  Tanai
Part 7:  Bareth
Part 8:  Jaynon
Part 9:  Whick, Bareth, Tanai, and Jaynon
Part 10: Whick, Bareth, Tanai, and Jaynon
Finale:  Whick