The World of DaNar

Served Cold
Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel)

“Rache serviert man am besten kalt” — old saying among Vilholman nobility.

Consequences

As I stood watch atop the roof of the run-down stone building, I could hear the Dwarf exchanging heated words with the others inside. When I had thrice heard my name muttered in bitter rage, I decided I should look in to see what I had done this time. As my people say, “speak of someone, and their shadow appears”.

Olt did not look happy to see my face. I looked about the room at the bodies of the dwarves as I entered. He was speaking with Exelar about the repercussions of our (my) actions, and how the death of the dwarven prince could very well lead to a war between his Wyrkadrin and whatever this foul clan of Dwarves is called. Our stout ally looked genuinely flustered, as he spoke of his honor-bound duty to bring the bodies of the dead back to their homeland. Being the only other Dwarf present, Olt would need to retell to this prince’s clan his account of the events which had brought about the “noble” Dwarf’s untimely end. If he were to shirk this duty, it might spark a clan war of sorts.

I felt ashamed to see my Dwarven companion in such turmoil. Up to this point, we had spent some time together recruiting members for the new Huntsmen, up at Lochaid. I had taken part in a few training drills with Olt, as he taught those we had selected how to track both game and enemy, and how to blend in with the environment around them. I held a certain amount of respect for Olt, so it weighed on me to have been the closest of his allies to take part in this murder which had put him in such a position. In the future, I will make sure to consult with him before rendering such final judgement on any belonging to his race.

In an attempt to remedy the situation, I offered to travel with Olt to the mountain stronghold of this opposing Dwarf clan. Being that the death of the prince was partially my responsibility, I felt that I owed it to my companion to join him in making this journey. Olt looked surprised, and possibly a bit relieved, as he asked “So you apologize for this offense against my people’s code of honor?” I responded with a curt nod, “Though I did not know of this code, I accept with full responsibility the duty of aiding you in carrying out the resolution of its violation; whatever that may be—”

At that moment, I overheard Kroenen speaking with Exelar “— Hansen commands the other force assaulting the White Tower.” I excused myself from the conversation with Olt by way of a curt bow, and hurried over to speak with Kroenen and Exelar. “What?! Hansen is here?”, I said as I crossed the room, “Where?” Shepherd spoke to Exelar in similar excited, though somewhat muted, tones, asking that he get a chance at delivering justice to the vile betrayer. After a short pause of consideration from Exelar, and some concessions on the part of Kroenen for our aid in a second battle, it was decided that we would assist the Vilholman and his men in taking the White Tower. As I moved toward the door, I turned back to Olt, who was busy investigating the bodies of the dead in an attempt to come to grips with the situation. “My offer still stands,” I said, and then departed.

Into the Air
We decided to take the Ironclad airship up above the cover of the clouds, on our approach to the White Tower, reasoning that it would hide us from the sight of those below, who may otherwise use siege engines at their disposal to blow us out of the sky. It would also mean that we would need to descend from above, which might be a problem for those of us who could not fly. Ser Seifer had a ring which would allow him to drop from the ship and land unharmed on the ground below. I had my cloak, which would allow me to fly. But Sorscha had no such ability. If we were to fight effectively, we would need her entering the fray as quickly as possible. To this end, I offered to trade her my cloak for hers. Though I would lose the ability to fly, I could still channel my ki and transport my body through an arrow down to the ground.

Sorscha and I did our best to get an overview of the state of affairs on the battlefield, and choose where we might be needed most. Through information we had been given by Trask, we were able to determine that there were two primary groups of Kroenen loyalists currently under attack. One, under the command of a man called Malak, was on the roof of the tower; the other, commanded by Ikar Wuller, was in the courtyard below, holding the opposing forces off from accessing the tower’s only entry point. From above, I was barely just able to discern the features of Aldric Hanssen leading the Bowmen against Kroenen’s forces in the courtyard at the foot of the Tower. This is where I would go.

As I drew my bow and nocked an arrow, Shepherd, who had apparently also seen Hansen in the courtyard, grabbed my shoulder. “Leave him for me. Please. I must have my vengeance.” I sighed, and slumped my shoulders a bit. Then I drew out one of the enchanted arrows I had taken off of the dead Bowman, Toby, and took from my pack a vial of what Xar’eth had told me was drow sleep poison. “I will coat my arrow with this. It should knock him unconscious. I will fire one shot at Hansen, and no more. Should he not succumb to the poison, I make no guarantees.” I quickly coated the arrow, and placed it in an easy to reach spot in a secondary quiver. “Be quick about it!” I said, as I turned invisible, nocked an arrow, drew back my bow, and fired at the courtyard below, aiming for just behind Hansen and his men.

It is still a feeling that I have not quite gotten used to. I begin to feel a oneness with the arrow as it passes through the arch of my bow, as if my spirit is condensed along the wood of the shaft. I can feel the slight scrape against the arrow rest as a tickling sensation down my right side, and the wind which guides the fletching as a pulling sensation along my legs. Before my arrow reaches its target, my consciousness fades, and I arrive momentarily in a subtle eruption of air, standing over the broken shaft.

Hansen’s men sensed the disruption in the air, and for a moment looked about, confused, for its source. Seeing nothing, they continued their press toward the group of Kroenen’s men at the foot of the tower, encircling them. At that moment, a hail of heavy crossbow fire began to rain down from the sky above us, and I had to dodge, crouch, and roll to keep from being impaled. Hansen’s men were not so deft, and many fell to that volley. As I came up from my the last of my ducking and weaving out of harm’s way, I felt myself become visible momentarily. Quickly, I focused my energy again, and faded out of view.

Tracking Hansen’s position, I repositioned myself such that I could get a clear shot on the traitor. As he commanded his men forward, I noticed the coward backing away from the group; probably meaning to fall back to a safer position. Looking through the crowd for a secondary target, I spied a Bowman commander, Galen, pressing forward with the group attacking Wuller and his men. I backed up a few paces, drew, and fired the poison-tipped arrow at Hanssen, sending two more arrows toward Galen in one fluid motion with the aid of my magical bow.

I didn’t intend to kill him; I swear it on my life. In one interminable instant I could see the arrow sinking into Hanssen’s ribcage, piercing his lungs. He gasped and a puff of fog escaped his mouth as the right side of his body froze solid in a flash. One heartbeat later the arrow exploded with a thunderous roar. Frozen bits of Aldric Hanssen sailed into the air, only to fall down a breath later in a grim hailstorm upon his unwitting men. It remined me of an old adage among Vilholman nobility: “Rache serviert man am besten kalt”; “Revenge is a dish best served cold”. I couldn’t help myself; I began to chuckle lightly under my breath.

My amusement was cut short a moment later, when two spots of burning pain erupted on my back, narrowly missing my vital organs. As the daggers slid out, I turned around, my legs wobbling slightly underneath me, to see another Bowman commander, the one known as Bobby Three-sticks. He smiled as

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Ab Initio (From The Beginning)
Journal entry of Exelar Vitarri

Since the death of Xar’eth Teken’und my mind has been plagued by doubt and uncertainty. Though I have spent countless hours in silent prayer there has been silence in return. Am I being punished for my mistake, am I being tested, or is my mind to clouded to hear the answer? It wasn’t until we were skulking through The Cascades that I finally heard a reply, not from Heironious but from my father. Ab Initio.

Shortly after my mother had passed I went to see my father and was surprised by what I found, he went from his position as a leader in the church to working in the streets of the city healing the poor. I knew her death had been particularly difficult for him but it seemed like he lost his mind. They had met decades before when they had adventured together, and even though he was basically retired to work within the church they still were very much in love.

My mom had never retired, not even after having me, which ultimately caused her death. Physically I look more like my dad but acted more like my mom, which I was reminded of when I left for Qataban. He didn’t seem surprised to see me when I finally found him in the slums healing some poor beggar of a disease that looked quite nasty. He asked me if the Arch-Paladin had sent me to talk him out of his decision or if I was just checking up on him? Questioning what he was doing here without questioning his sanity was difficult, even more so when he replied “Ab Initio.”

It wasn’t until he explained that it all made sense. He was lost without my mother, caught in a downward spiral that he saw no escape from. His attempts at even praying were a failure with his mind so clouded by what he deemed a failure on his part to protect his wife. It wasn’t until his finding an old journal of their first travels together that inspiration struck, go back to the beginning. Back before he fell in love, back before he rose through the ranks of the church and everything became so complicated. Ab Initio.

That kept playing over in my head as we got closer to the assault on Trask. Who was I before I became Prime Marshall Exelar Vitarri. It seems years since Sorscha and I woke upon that beach after the shipwreck. Can I just be a cleric of Heironious and lead the Watchmen, or do I need to just be a cleric? The need to speak with my father was almost overwhelming, I had left before finding out if his new way of life had helped him find peace.

When plans were being made for the attack I simply asked myself what I would have done before my ship went down during that storm. So I assisted in battle instead of trying to lead, which resulted in Trask lying unconscious on the ground. When Olt stated that he was required to take the body of the dwarven prince that was killed back to his less than reputable clan, instead of calling him crazy and questioning his decision I simply stated I would go with him. And when Vladimir Kroenen asked for our continued assistance, instead of speaking for the group I spoke for myself and asked for volunteers to join me.

Of course when word got out that Aldric Hansen was at the White Spire volunteers were not hard to find. So back on the airship we went, Sorscha and Ser Seifer Garrow stepped off on the tower while most of us went to the base of the tower. Sticking to my new mantra ‘Ab Initio’ I simply focused on simply being a cleric of Heironious and nothing else. The killing of the Bowmen was therapeutic in a way. Not even what appeared to be an exploding, frozen body (courtesy of Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel)) could distract me. Our blades made short work of them and we made our way back to the top of the tower to check on our companions.

My arrival was greeted by the sight of Sorscha bleeding and surrounded by werewolves, while Ser Seifer Garrow was not faring much better. The sight of her bleeding was almost enough to stop me in my tracks. Had my failure to take charge caused the injury? Ab Initio. Charging forward I instinctively called upon Heironious and felt his power surge through me. Was this a sign that I was on the right track or that I had never left it. Our appearance changed the tide of battle as we cut through the remaining creatures. As I checked on my companions, my mind clearer than it had been in a long time I wondered how I move forward from here. How much longer can I get by not actively leading before those following notice?

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The White Tower. Wolves at the Gates.
Sorscha

The courtyard fell silent with the ambush ended and the sounds of battles in the city began to filter in from the outside.

Some of Kroenen’s men were moving around the grounds, checking for signs of life in the fallen enemy and ending it when it was found. Seifer was field stripping the downed and confused Trask and then binding his hands and feet. Cotton and Meiko had walked up to Exelar along with the still-living Kroenen. Glancing about to double check the status of the others, I walked up to the paladin’s side.

As with our previous encounter with him, Kroenen was straight to business, though with a decidedly different context from before. He wanted to save his men in the city from the remaining forces loyal to Trask. That was the battle currently playing out. We had carried out what we said we would do, so we were under no obligation to help further. Especially considering the role that even this faction of Bowmen has played in our lives here. However, we had already gone this far, risked all of our lives, to preserve theirs. It would seem a waste of effort, and the potential for an alliance, if we stopped here. But, this had to be Exelar’s decision to make, so I stayed silent and looked to him.

He seemed to mull it over and when he didn’t respond immediately, Kroenen made an offer. If we helped them, he would direct us to the group that was under the lead of Aldric Hansen. By memory, he was one of the original group of Watchmen. Specifically, he was the one that turned coat and assisted the Bowmen in entering the Cascades and slaughtering his fellows. My recall was confirmed as Shepard came up to Exelar, having overheard the name and the fact that he was currently in the city. He pressed that we needed to take the offer, that Hansen needed to be dealt with, and that they may never have a chance like this again. Exelar listened to Shepard, but his eyes never left Kroenen’s. After another tense moment, he nodded his agreement.

Hansen was in control of group of loyalist Bowmen that were in control of what Kroenen referred to as the White Tower. On the far of where we initially landed, it was the path that that Meiko and the others originally took in their route to keep in which we now stood. Normally, we’d need to fight our way through the streets and up the path just to get to the base of the tower. However, consulting with the Ironclad, another plan was quickly formed. To keep out of sight, we’d take the airship into the mist and wispy cloud cover over the city and circle to the far side of the tower, approaching from the rift. Then, once we were close enough, we’d drop down and deploy out.

Olt was going to stay here both to keep on eye on the dazed Trask, as well as to work out a plan regarding the dwarves that had been here for negotiations with the Bowmen. Apparently one of them was a prince and there were matters of dwaven protocol with these surfacer clans that needed to be followed involving royalty. I gladly leave such matters to him. One of the Ironclad also would stay here, both to keep guard on Trask, under we determined what to do with him, and to make room on the airship for the combatants that would need to go. With that worked out, Kroenen and company moved out along the ground and the rest of boarded the skiff again.

From the Sky
As we neared the tower, discussions commenced on the strategy. Apparently there were two main points of contest: the courtyard at the tower base, the primary roof, which also held two siege weapons. Hansen was in command of the ground force and most of the initial assault would be concentrated there. However, if the Bowmen took over the weaponry on the roof, it would become very dangerous for the airship. Seifer and I decided that we would begin our assault there, while the others entered the courtyard. After this was decided, Hershel offered to loan me his cloak to make it easier to reach the roof from the ship, and I accepted.

The skiff drew near to the tower and began it’s descent. Once we broke through the cloud layer, we could see a group surrounded behind a shield wall on the rooftop. Once we were close enough, Seifer repeated his maneuver from the precipice battle, and stepped of the ship, his slow fall ring in hand. Waiting for him to draw attention by landing, I then grabbed the edges of my borrowed cloak flew quickly down to the opposite side of the roof, behind what appeared to be the command group. Once we were off, the ship moved forward to continue down to take the fight to the courtyard.

Seifer landed next to a ballista and promptly severed the draw cord so that it couldn’t be used against the skiff. He then bellowed a challenge and laid into the flank of the stream of Bowman that were assaulting a group of Kroenen’s men near the stairwell down into the tower. With the rank and file moving away, I could see the commander and his bodyguards. It was Krosi, the Bowmen that had commanded a squad of lycanthropes in an assault on Three Cedars not long before it was burnt. If these guards were also were-creatures, this was a more dire situation than I initially thought.

The commander had five bodyguards remaining around him and I had to assume that all of them were werewolves and thus, would be a genuine threat. Drawing on the shadow around me, I sent them around the neck of the closest guard and while he was struggling with it, advanced and finished him off with a series of strikes. Still undetected, I wasted no time and advanced on the next guard. A lucky strike lead to a snapped neck and then on to next man. And that’s when my luck ran out.

Krosi and his remaining guards finally noticed my actions. They didn’t immediately attack, but that wasn’t good news, as each one of them began to twist and contort into bestial hybrid forms. Trying to take advantage of the moment, I managed to strike down the third guard before the rest rushed me. In this form, they were immensely strong, so I shifted my fighting style to avoid blows and redirect blows. The first guard swung his clawed hand wide and I stepped forward and to the side of the strike, then shoved his shoulder in the same direction to throw him off balance. As he came back around to bite, I rolled over his back and kicked hard into his ribcage, knocking him back and thrusting myself forward.

The other guard came at me next, charging wildly. With less room to maneuver, now, I dodged his swings, swaying at the waist and dropping low beneath them. Frustrated, he lunged in to bite and I took a chance, grabbed the scruff around his neck, and slung myself along the ground, past his legs, while my momentum crashed his jaw to the ground. Unfortunately, coming up behind him set me at a poor angle to defend against Krosi.

I had to throw myself to one side to avoid his first strike, but this gave him the right angle and his other paw tore into my leg, which burned like no wound I’d taken before. Staggered, I was left vulnerable and his enormous jaws closed on my upper arm and shoulder. Though I managed to stay out of his grip, I was now bleeding freely from several gouges and punctures. A quick glance to the side showed that Seifer was still on his feet, but in danger of being overrun in the crush of men around him. Worse, the row of soldiers at the back of the rush toward him were also shifting into bestial forms. We’d have to hold on as long as we can and take as many of them with us as possible.

Regaining my footing, I prepared to counterattack Krosi. I hoped to shift him close enough to the edge that I could throw him from it, or at worst take him over it with me. At that moment, fire exploded in the loyalist Bowmen ranks. It was magefire, and a dozen bodies were thrown into the air or burnt into so much meat where they stood. Nathaniel’s magic heralded the arrival of the airship. As it drew even with the parapets, Exelar leaped onto the roof and charged in toward the remaining lycanthropes that surrounded me. Using his arrival as a distraction, I focused my connection to the shadow and struck directly into Krosi’s sternum. I felt bone crack and my ki pulled at his own, drawing strength out of his massive frame.

His attention now refocused on me, and his claws drawn back to disembowel me, when Exelar’s attack landed. Calling on Heironeous’ might, the bright flame of his blade crashed down. He torn Krosi’s back asunder as it’s flame purified the wound at the same time. Krosi fell to the ground, insensate as Exelar turned the momentum of his strike into a wide swing on one the body guards. Taking the cue, I advanced on the other guard, shattered the thing’s reversed knee, and it collapsed to the flagstones. With my sightline cleared of the slavering creature, I could see that the airship was raining crossbow bolts in the press of Bowmen around Seifer and Kroenen’s men, mowing them down in swathes. Seifer rallied, scything down the remaining soldiers around him as the others pushed out of their shield defense and overran the rest of the men on them.

That rally spelled the end for Trask’s men at the White Tower. With the werewolves down, the rest of the footmen were dispatched or surrendered in short order. Taking the moment while it lasted, I knelt on the floor and concentrated on my wounds. Many lycanthropes could infect other creatures with a diseased version of their condition. This normally happened via bites, which I had received. Though the wounds still burned, I couldn’t detect any trace of the infection. Still something to keep an eye on. Satisfied, I rose to take in our situation.

To prevent the Krosi’s corrupted fortitude from restoring him, Exelar had separated his head from his body, the burning blade cauterizing the neck. He was again in the appearance of a mortal man. Seifer had taken several hits, but as usual, was still on his feet possibly out of sheer defiance. The airship hovered just above the wall, it’s swiveling crossbows surveying the rooftop as well as the courtyard below. As I walked toward it, one of the bodyguards began to splay a hand out to steady itself on. Swiftly reaching down, I imagined the strings of life force and mirrored my own to reflect them. A quick strike ended his movement and his energy drew to the mirror of my own. I smoothed the wounds on my leg and arm and the torn skin sealed at my touch.

Rising up, I went to the ledge and looked down into the courtyard. Though we were too high up to make out details, it looked similar to the rooftop. Bodies littered the grounds, some Bowmen were gathered on the ground to the side, most likely having surrendered. The ironclad automaton stood in the center of what appeared to be a layer of frost that covered a large section of ground. It looks like we’d won. Not entirely, to be sure, but here, now, the Bowmen were defeated. Trask was…well, we’d see what he was. But for now, he had been crippled. Assuming that Kroenen, Cotton, and Meiko survived, this was a shift in power. Hopefully Kroenen proved to be worthy of Cotton’s admiration.

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Into the Cascades. A Resolution of Sorts.
Sorscha

The break in rain allowed the light create a heavy, humid air, even at this altitude. As we waited for the signal from Meiko, there was little to do but sweat. I sat on a rock face overlooking the valley and meditated to clear my mind before the battle to come.

Several hours later, we heard footsteps approaching from the direction of the city. As we all crouched down or clutched weapons, a Bowmen appeared over the side of the hill with his hands spread wide and away from his body. He turned out the be the signal. One of Meiko’s men, he was here to guide us into the city through a path guarded by their forces. Though there was still a chance of encountering other Bowmen, they assured us that they would be able to address the situation. Having conversed with Seifer earlier in the day, he would be staying behind with the Ironclad and would use the ship to infiltrate the city. It made sense, given their conspicuousness. Those us heading in gathered what few things we would be taking with us. This was the kre’jil. There would be no turning back.

As Exelar and I headed to the path down the cliff, Seifer wished us luck. It was an unusual enough gesture from the headstrong knight that it brought me up short. “To us all”, I returned, and down we went.

The Cascades
Out path took us into the city behind the first wall. As we entered the city proper, I noted how much of it was in disrepair. Not entirely dissimilar to Lochaid when we first arrived there. With the stories I’d heard of the place, and with it being the Bowmen center of operations in the area, I assumed a more formidable structure awaited us. Make no mistake, the curtain walls were old, but solid, and blocked most avenues of approach. But the city buildings themselves were in various states of neglect. The city itself had been flooded more than once, in fact a river still flowed down the central road and pushed higher up into the side streets. Additionally, the majority of the buildings stood empty. Apparently the Bowmen didn’t keep enough of a stationary force here to warrant keeping things up. If the Bowmen weren’t here, this would be an excellent second footing for us.

As we approached the inner wall, we were handed off to another of Meiko’s men who escorted us into a set of rooms built into the wall itself. The meeting wasn’t until the next evening, so we’d be spending the night and much of tomorrow here. Talking with some of them, I learned that the meeting itself was to take place at the remains of a keep on the very end of the remaining spit of land that thrust out over the crevasse at the far end of the city. I also found out that the river had always run through the center of the city, but the spread of it further outward came with the collapse that saw much of the far end of the city fall into the abyss that was purported to connect to the har’oloth.

The night passed with us in close quarters, staying away from windows and overlooks. The other faction of Bowmen never came by or, if they did, Meiko’s men handled them without issue. The meeting was to take place later this evening, so we still had several hours to wait. The Bowmen had some games of chance laying about and Cotton and the others took advantage of them. All of them but Exelar. I could see that his doubt continued to gnaw at him. It had only gotten worse since we entered city and sitting around waiting wasn’t helping things.

Eventually, a knock on the door heralded our next step. Transportation had been arranged for us to the pinnacle keep ruins. The sun was going down, so it was time to move. Taking a stair down the wall on the far side, we made our way through side streets and down to the central avenue river. Sitting in the river was a boat just large enough to hold all of us and two Bowmen pilots holding sounding polls. I felt more than a little exposed, but they confirmed that this would be the quickest and most inconspicuous way to go. Pulling the cowl of my piwafi around my ahead, I settled into the bow of the boat as we set off.

The Conference
As we approached the pinnacle, one of the Bowmen lost control of the boat on his side, and it began to drift toward an offshoot that spilled over the cliffs edge and down into the chasm. Rather then try to save it, our guides told everyone to jump off onto the island we were passing, upon which the ruined keep sat. Moving quickly, we all leaped for the shore, some with more grace than the others. As one of the first ones to hit ground, I helped others that didn’t quite make the full jump. The two Bowmen rowers, their conveyance now lost, joined us. Glancing back at the tangle of people recovering from their boat ride, Hershel said that he would scout the keep in advance. Using the magic in his cloak, a small bat that had been Hershel fluttered up toward the stone building peeking over the hill.

Following a path around the island, we came on a Bowmen guard group near a primary dock. The sunlight was gone, so they gathered around a campfire. Exelar held the group back as I snuck around to the other side of the guards fire. When the one furthest our patrolled out of site of the others, I struck and took him down silently. Seeing the fourth guard not returning, Exelar and the others charged out of the darkness, surprising and taking down the remaining three. There was a bit of noise, but it was quick, so there was a good chance that no one noticed. Especially given the distance separating this island from the other buildings.

We rounded the final corner and the primary entrance to the building came into view. Our guides took us around the side to an entrance that was part old door and part a collapsed wall. Filtering in, we immediately turned and up to the second level. Hershel appeared shortly after and shedding his bat form, we quietly planned our assault. The meeting was taking place in a central courtyard that was open to the sky. On the second level, there was a balcony that surrounded three sides of the courtyard. The far side was lost to a collapsed wall, whose rubble still littered the ground. Hershel’s scouting identified three groups of Bowmen archers in rooms just off the balcony ledges. They were set to rain arrows down on those below.

Hershel went up to the third level for a clear sniper position. Exelar, Caleb, and Wulfgar each took positions out side the rooms where the archers were laying in wait and would deal with them first before descending to the courtyard. I went to the far side from where we entered. Hershel had identified the mage that traveled with Trask, Volkana, I believe, as well as the unidentified pale spellcaster that had been seen in the scrying. They were my responsibility. The others would enter through the ground floor once they saw us act. The Ironclad were supposed to provide ranged cover from the skiff, but I don’t know how Seifer was planning to act. He’ll have to worry about himself. I moved up to the third floor and took my position.

The Conflict
Trask rose and began a speech. At the same time, I could see across the way the light of Exelar’s flaming sword rise and fall in the darkness of the archer’s waiting room. Taking my cue, I targeted the tattooed mage and pulled strands of his own shadow around his throat. As they formed, I pulled my hands in a wrenching motion. The shadow strands tightened, bit in, and Volkana’s head dropped to the ground. Trask shouted, “They’re here!” and chaos broke loose.

I saw the others rush the archers, with more than one going over the balcony. No time for distractions, I had a job to focus on. Through the scrambling bodies in the courtyard, I spotted the pale man. He was still seated and was beginning the gestures of casting. Now was the only time that he’d remain vulnerable. I leapt from roof, broke my fall and redirected off of the balcony ledge, and dove toward the pale man. Landing next to him, I targeted where his neck met his shoulder, and used the momentum of my fall to drive a blow from my elbow. Rolling to absorb the shock , I came up in a crouch and saw that my strike had succeeded. The man would remain stunned for only a moment, so I prepared to take advantage.

As I prepared to end the threat of the unknown mystic, I felt a presence behind me. Before I could turn, a blade spun a finger width above my head and into the neck of my helpless foe. Seeing his head tumble to the ground, I kicked a leg out to my side and used the momentum to rise and face whomever had come up behind me. I found my self face-to-face with Meiko. With glances at bloodied blades and hands, we nodded to one another and turned back to back to face the soldiers flooding the courtyard.

Whatever else Meiko may be, she is skilled and soon there were none standing within reach of us. It allowed me a moment to assess the battle. The archers on the balcony had been dealt with. In fact, more than one lay on the flagstones at unnatural angles. Kroenen had taken a hit or two, but was alive and fighting. The same was true for Cotton, fighting at his side. A group of dwarven envoys, previously sitting at the tables, were now huddled back against the far wall with a nonplussed human who was mentioned in the same breath as somewhere called Unfall. I could see the flame off of Exelar’s sword as he and the others entered from the side, having dealt the archers their due. All of this was taken in but a glance, because the former hall was now dominated by Seifer’s duel with Trask.

The fight had already been going for several minutes. Seifer was wielding his frostbrand in one hand and the Thyatian steel blade in other, weaving them through looping strikes and parries that I’d not seen him perform before. Trask wielded a single, gently curved blade, but was proving more than able to keep up with both of the knight’s weapons. Able enough, in fact, that at that moment he brought his blade through a gap in Seifer’s two, around his breastplate, and drove it into his chest. Somehow, he stayed on his feet, though even he seemed surprised by that fact.

Their fight continued and another duo of Trask’s men advanced on Meiko and myself. They were swiftly dispatched and I turned my attention back to the duel. Their blades rang against one another and then Seifer swung the rimed blade into Trask’s side. He didn’t fall, but went to swing his own blade down. As if swinging an axe, he dug the Thayatian blade into Trask’s other side, but he only broke a rictus grin. He pulled back, dragging the blades through his flesh, and brought his sword down on Seifer. The long blade drove almost straight down through the mail at his neck as if he had sheathed the blade, and Seifer fell to the ground.

Several of us rushed at the man, then. Exelar, having entered the battle in the passing minutes, charged forward and smote him with his fiery blade. Two arrows from Hershel’s bow buried into his shoulder and pierced through an arm. Blow after blow came, even I made a running strike at the wound on one of his sides, sliding under his sword stroke and letting my momentum carry me past. All to no avail. He staggered for a moment, but then it was gone; and that’s when I saw it. There was a glow at the center of his chest, a gem of some kind. Was it affixed to his armor? No, there was a cutout around it, the thing was buried in his flesh. An echo in my memories told me that I’d seen something like this before. It was the source of his abilities, whatever it was. That needed to be our target.

All of prepared for another strike at Trask, knowing that any of us could join the knight in the next world, when a familiar challenge was bellowed. Looking past the monster in front of us, there was Seifer, upright, in one piece, and full of fury. Taking the ancient blade in both hands, advanced on Trask, deflected one blow and took another to the armor. Finally, with an exacting swing, he swung the sword around and contacted the glowing gem at the apex of his swing. The gem shattered with an audible crack, chips of it flying in the air. Trask convulsed, fell to his knees, and then to the ground.

Before we could take a breath, a reddish mist swirled up from the shattered gem in Trask’s chest. Curls of the mist took the shape of a demonic face that turned toward us. It hissed out something and then rose higher into the air and then away toward basin, disappearing as it went. All I made out was something about us having set it free. A shuffle and groan grabbed our attention. Trask was stirring. As the group of us fanned out around him, he opened his eyes as if he’d never seen anything that was around him before.

“Where am I? What happened?”

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Into the darkness and out with the light
Journal entry by Ser Seifer

It was damp. The air was wet and heavy. We sat waiting for our signal from Meiko Sama. Six of my companions would be sneaking into The Cascades (Labentem Civitatem) to meet up with meiko’s men and set an ambush from within. Some of us were not so adept in the art of steath and silence. We were heavy warriors of steel and we would be noticeable. Seven of us stayed behind, using the Iron Clad’s airship as a means to infiltrate the compound. I had another plan. Having borrowed a ring form Nathaniel Bronnson, i planned to fall from the airship and insert myself directly into the battle. Falling from so high was a big risk. Death was inevitable if i my timing was not correct. But the advantage it would give me was worth the risk. The waiting was killing me, until it finally came.

The signal was given and Exelar Vitarri and Sorscha lead the men into the cascades. My prayers to Altua finished, i wished them luck in the events that were to come and watched as my companions walked into the darkness hoping this would not be the last i saw them. Hours passed and still no alert or signal from within. This was good. They had breached the walls and were inside, waiting, watching. We needed to wait until the next night before we were to fly into position and ready ourselves for the ambush. This was going to be a long night and morning. I believe this was the first time i was worried about the others. We had separated before but not under such circumstances. This was a battle far bigger and more dangerous than anything we had faced before. Perhaps it was blind rage that allowed me to ignore the stress. Maybe it was faith in those around me. Maybe it was something more, only the gods know.

The night came and we flew into position. Hovering above the keep at the tip of the cascades we surveyed the keep and watched the people in the courtyard. Nothing caught my eye, until one man stood up and spoke to the crowd. It was him. The murdering savage. The one i was going to kill. It was Ivar Trask. I was focused solely on him. My moment was coming. Maybe my companions were ready, maybe not, i did not care at this point. That would ultimately be my death. I heard a pause in the rumble below, and i took the chance and flew. The weightlessness and freedom from the earth was exhilarating. Closer the ground came. Faster, faster, closer, closer. I chose my time and slipped the ring on my finger. The jolt of the magic and poor distance threw me off, but my aim was true.

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With a crash of wood and bodies, i landed next to my target, Trask. The chair where i landed was occupied by a headless body that was falling out of it. No doubt my companions were here and ready to fight. My focus went immediately to Trask. With shock and a startled expression on his face, our eyes met. " Ivar Trask! Let us dance." I said as i drew both Black Ice and my Thyasian blade. He was obviously caught off guard because he failed to get to his blade and strike me before i could intercept it with my own sword. Our duel had begun, and we would see who is the better swordsman.

This blade was Thyasian steel, and his armor thick and sturdy. Something was not right. His breastplate had a small hole in it. There was a glimmer of sickly dark light. A stone. A soul stone! It was placed in his chest and glowing. Was he not human anymore? What does this mean? His strength was unmatched. He was faster than me and his sword style was foreign to me. It was all i could do to meet his sword with mine and deflect his blows rather than take them head on. He struck me not once but twice before i landed a blow.

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The ring of steel was deafening. Neither sword shattered and we continued to trade blow after blow. I miscalculated and it cost me.

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Pain surged through my body as his blade cut deep into my chest. My Thyasian blade got warm in my hand. Then the warmth spread to my chest and the pain stopped. My wounds healed and i felt invigorated. Trask struck hard and now it was his turn to feel my wrath.for-honor-warden-vs-orochi-qhd.jpg

Black Ice hit home and sunk deep into his side. Normally a blow like this would have crippled a man, yet Trasks armor seemed to take most of the damage. My Thyasian blade sunk into the other side of Trask and again, the armor took the hit. Ripping the blades from his body i went for a third strike only to be met with Trasks sword deflecting my own. This man was a monster. Each hit i inflicted, the stone in his chest lit up and glowed for a short duration. Blinded by rage and frustration, i lost control and lost my focus. I needed to be on the defensive, waiting for an opening. I needed to outsmart him and not out class him. My head was clouded. My thoughts ran wild. I needed to stop and think. I needed…….images-1.jpg

Everything went dark. My eyes tunneled. The pain excruciating. He smiled. I was finished. My vision faded to darkness.

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A Question of Trust
Sorscha

After a conference of the companions and Captain Alderrin, we split the party.

Having conferred with the others about the plot against Kroenen that I’d overheard, we now had two goals to attend to. The first was the one that we had ventured out with: attack the Bowmen camps, obtain intelligence, drain their supply line, and possibly draw them out from behind their walls. The new goal is to prevent the eradication of the one group within our enemies that may be worth saving. This time, we have the resources to do both.

The men that were wounded in the camp raid were loaded onto the supply wagon that Seifer had loaded up and would return to the Rise. The less hurt among them would serve as guards and Nathaniel agreed to go with them to discourage anyone that might be interested in the sight of a laden wagon and wounded men. After they arrived at their destination, he’d be able to magically regroup with the rest of us.

Alderrin agreed that harrying the Bowmen camps still held value, so he would take the remaining troops and continue that task. Because we’d be splitting up, the strike team would be weaker. Striking and retreating would be much safer for them and more effective with their new makeup. I emphasized that they shouldn’t over commit and put themselves in danger of being wiped out. Meanwhile, the rest of us were heading out to Angler’s Cove. Word from the Covemen was that Meiko or her men should be there and she needed to know about the threat to Kroenen. Hopefully, this meeting will go better than the last.

Drawing Attention
Returning to the Cove for the first time, we were again intercepted by the guards on the road. Having previously established ourselves, at least to some degree, it was a quicker process than before. We got confirmation that Meiko and her troupe were in town at the moment. They were at the same tavern where I previously had met with a Bowmen who had just struck down one of his own, or so I thought. Thanking the guards, we headed there directly.

The Bowmen weren’t being subtle, a half dozen of them were easily spotted from the tavern entrance. They didn’t subtlety where they were. Stopping several paces from going in, I had a quick chat with Hershel. Given his previous experience with Meiko, and her tension at our recent meeting, I thought it might be wise for him to wander about the town while we spoke with her. He nodded his agreement and quickly blended into the people milling about the main road. Hoping he managed to avoid getting in a fight with our potential allies, the rest of us headed inside.

If they weren’t being covert outside, then the common room was practically swimming in them. Bringing my instincts under control and assuming that everyone in here was a Bowmen or aligned with them, I indicated the party should follow me as I headed to the semi-circular booth that we occupied on our first visit here. Meiko would be notified of our presence, if she hadn’t been already, so we sat and waited. Servers brought drinks for everyone without an order. Figuring that they would have better ways of taking us out than poisoned drinks, I took a sip of the wine when I saw a familiar face come out of a back hallway.

Boris Cotton, alive and not in a swampy hellhole, walked out of the back of the tavern. He was surprisingly pleased to see us. Having successfully evaded Bowmen, he managed to escape Carrion Hill with his daughter and wound up here at Angler’s Cove, among some former comrades. It gave me a bit more security in the presence of these Bowmen. Given Cotton’s feelings about them, if they were anyone other than Kroenen’s men, he – and more importantly, his daughter – wouldn’t be here. It was a guess, but one I was comfortable in making. After getting his daughter back, he wouldn’t have left her with anyone else. Anyone except maybe her mother. Meiko’s slip at our previous meeting also felt secure.

We ran through the information that we’d obtained at the Bowmen encampment. Cotton’s demeanor darkened as we laid out the details, particularly when the portion involving Meiko and her group came up. Once we’d finished up, Cotton said that Meiko needed to hear the specifics herself. He asked us to wait where we were and went upstairs to get her. She came down less armored, though not less armed, than our previous meeting. Though there was a perceptible difference in her demeanor. Being reunited with one’s family can do that. However, she was no less dangerous despite her new attitude. Possibly more so, since Alexandria was no doubt nearby.

Meiko was much less ready to believe us than Cotton was. It took more convincing, more details, and ultimately some reinforcement from Cotton himself before she started brooch the idea that we weren’t trying to set her up. Once she started listening, we were able to discuss the situation and she started to actually answer some of our questions. After a bunch of back and forth, we cobbled together a basic plan to move on. Both Meiko and Cotton were going to take roles in the action, but they did have one deal-breaking condition. Luckily, it was easily granted. Alexandria would be staying at Temple Rise.

Into the Spider’s Web
Meiko and her men readied to start out toward the Cascades on foot while Boris and Alexandria prepared their things to join us on the airskiff ride back to the Rise. Before we left, we introduced to yet another surviving Watchmen that would be joining Meiko’s group, name Lazarus. Properly, he said that he had been part of a company referred to as the Huntsmen, which appeared to be a kind of elite force group within the original Watchmen. I’d check with Gruendok or Shepard back at the Rise to verify the existence of this group, but the fact he survived around Cotton and Meiko was good enough for now.

I must be getting accustomed to having the airship for travel, because before I expected it, were descending to the new dock at Lochaid. Alexandria seemed to have been thrilled at the ride, though Cotton appeared slightly less enthused than his daughter. It turns out that we arrived the same day as Nathaniel and the wagon. Luckily, he hadn’t left yet and was still tottering around his new tower, most likely. I took father and daughter up the hill to meet with Exelar, explain our arrangement, and ensure that she got set up. While her quarters were being arranged, I made sure to introduce her to Balk, so she could be comfortable with her father around for the introduction. I must say, she did better than I anticipated from a surface child. I wouldn’t be surprised if Balk took a shine to her.

After seeing that the girl was settled in, I returned to the others and helped finish preparations to leave. With everything gathered, Exelar and Nathaniel joined us and we got back on the skiff and lifted off. We synced up on the plan, slim as it was. Lazarus was going through the gate with Meiko and Nathaniel had decided that he was going to go with them, as well, so we’d need to drop him off on the way. With his magical power growing, he seemed to think himself invulnerable. My father was a wizard and I grew up around enough of them to know that it wasn’t true. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get himself, or others, killed.

The rest of us would land with the skiff some distance from the outer walls of the Cascades and wait for Meiko and her men to arrange a path for us to enter. Using a set of signaling stones that Hershel had taken from the assassins that found us in Carrion Hill, we arranged indicators of what paths we should take into the city, when the time came. From there, we’d be trusting in Meiko’s lead. It was a risk, but at this point, if we were going to really make a difference here, we needed to take that risk, to grant that trust. There would likely not be a better opportunity than now. That being said, I was still looking to plan was out if things went bad. Trust is one thing, willing blindness is another.

After coordinating the plan, we still had some time before we would land. I walked the deck to stretch my legs and once again appreciate the perspective that we were afforded. Taking up my customary position in the bow, I surveyed my companions. Exelar still didn’t like being aboard the skiff. But it was more than that. Others might not notice it, but we have traveled together for some time now. I’ve seen him in many situations. Now, he was different, unsure. He had always acted with such surety, with complete faith that Heironeous was placing his steps where they needed to be. That’s what had changed. He was unsure. He didn’t trust the Bowmen, but he had placed trust Xar’eth and look what happened. I was coming to realize the differences that time had wrought on us. Though I viewed him as a mentor, the fact is that I had more than a century of life, of experience, and the perspective that comes with it. With barely two decades on his head, this may be the first challenge he’s experienced to his judgment. If so, we needed him with his faith intact. If I’ve placed my own trust correctly, he’ll have the chance that he needs to test it.

We reached the rendezvous point and Nathaniel stepped off the deck of the skiff, slowly floating down to meet with Meiko and don his disguise. The ship swung out wide around the road and to the side of the Cascades, to avoid being seen. A ways and uphill from the city, we made landing behind a rocky outcrop. Cotton went over the layout of the city with us again, so we might know it from memory. Meiko should be arriving at the gate soon. Now, there was nothing to do but wait for the signal that would have us follow one of their own into the heart of the Bowmen stronghold.

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Questions Answered
Journal entry of Exelar Vitarri

Caleb Meckle is alive.

The scroll Hershel found with the Resurrection spell on it worked. While using it I could feel the power of Heironious flow through me, it was unlike anything I had felt before. When I was done there was no doubt if not for scroll the spell would have been well beyond my power, now I am bothered by what will happen when the next of my companions fall.

While the others left to strike out at the Bowmen I was left to ready for a possible attack. My conscience keeps nagging me, was Xar’eth Teken’und a willing partner of the dragon or an unwitting or unwilling one. Nathaniel Bronnson was in the process of gaining control of the Spire before he left but I decided to see if Xar’eth had left anything behind that would answer my questions. Was my attempt to prove a drow could be good the foolish ideas of a child, even though Sorscha, a half-drow, had proven a beacon of order.

If he was deserving of the beheading after his death and the immolation that followed than what should be my punishment for allowing him to join our ranks. Perhaps it best I was left behind, maybe I can get answers to my questions. Making contact with the dragon in the soul gem has gotten easier the longer it has been installed. Finding various papers and items left behind was not hard, so the discovery of a journal was welcome. The answers it contained was not.

The drow was hoping the dragon would help him craft a soul gem to use to unlock the full power of the Spire. Apparently the one thing I did right was keep the dragon gem hidden away. The next few days was a blur as my mind kept going back to every chance I had to stop the drow and now I was questioning my other companions as well. Outside of Sorscha I am in the dark about most of them. Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel) went right along with Xar’eth when he tortured that Bowmen, should I be keeping a closer eye on him? What about Seifer, his appearance coincided with the departure of the Bowmen from Lochaid, should I be questioning his motives about why he is in the Wildlands?

The only thing that shook me from my reverie was the unexpected appearance of a dragon in the skies over the Wildlands. Everybody was on edge but none more so than the dwarves. Word quickly reached us that the dragon was the same that had taken up residence in their former home. Not believing this to be mere coincidence I questioned if placing the dragon gem back into the Spire had been noticed. The dwarves quickly recalled some of the warriors they had stationed in the Rise. Ult seemed torn between stating here where his grandfather sent him and wanting to return in case of an attack.

Nathaniel returned atop a wagon of supplies with injured fighters. Quickly explaining their victorious fight against the Bowmen we than departed to meet with rest of the group. He was joined by Boris Cotton and his daughter Alexandria we had rescued. He had agreed to aid us with the caveat that she would stay at the Rise and be protected. Having to get back aboard the flying skiff was not my first choice but I boarded nonetheless. We rejoined them quickly and the situation was explained, Meiko Sama was going to sneak Nathaniel into the Cascades along with a new a former member of the Watchmen by the name of Lazarus Cain. Apparently he had a skill for killing Bowmen and had agreed to join us for the assault.

Now we sit waiting outside the Cascades waiting for a signal from inside about which gate will let us gain entry. I follow along automatically, my confidence shaken by my earlier discoveries about Xar’eth. We are counting on the word of the Bowmen, which no-one other than me seems to question. Even though I believe this is going to lead to the deaths of many, i can only think that maybe my death will be my punishment for my failure as a leader.

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Attack on the Bowmen. A Conspiracy Uncovered.
Sorscha

Xar’eth is dead.

As the others moved and made space, I could see that his body lay on the ground between them. “His wounds are closing”, one of them said. Hershel went into action again, his blade rising up and falling quickly. A white-haired head was sent into the air and rolled unevenly down the Rise road. A wet, peeling sound drew my gaze back to the group as they pulled something off of Xar’eth. I was dark and flapped softly in the breeze. For a moment, it seemed that that they had flayed him until they gathered to examine the item and his body remained in place, headless, but otherwise intact. This seemed to satisfy those gathered and they began to break apart.

Nathaniel conjured magical doorway and stepped through it. Seifer gave Hershel a last, disapproving look and began down the path to Lochaid. Exelar stood in thought for a moment and turned toward Temple Rise. Deciding that the threat to the tower was now laid to rest, I walked out toward Hershel, Wulfgar, and the body. Glancing down, there were what appeared to be dark tentacles extended from the stump of Xar’eth’s neck, now motionless. Hershel noticed my interest and informed me that while the dark skin was still on the drow, those tentacles had emerged after the beheading, searching for the lost body part. Standing back up, I told him that we needed to burn the body, the entire body, and I glanced meaningfully down the path. He seemed reluctant, but Wulfgar shrugged and went after the head. Once he returned, he helped me fashion a pyre and we set light to the corrupted form of the drow.

Once the fire had burned own sufficiently, and the remaining flames were tended by another, I set toward Lochaid, looking for Gruendok. As the new spymaster, there were things I would need and the quartermaster of the Watchmen was the one to help me get them.

Arriving in the town proper, I found that the dwarf’s time was in high demand. He was speaking to some of Ault’s craftsmen, at least one town elder, from Hemlock Field I think, and a family of villagers inquiring about housing. I stood back and waited my turn. As I did, I noticed Seifer moving among those from Angler’s Cove and the Ironclad. They were heading out in the morning. Because we were unable to locate Trask in transit, he was taking the suggestion of the new arrivals and would be assaulting remaining Bowmen camps at this edge of the basin. It was a better plan than assaulting the Cascades, to be sure.

Seeing my chance, I walked up to Gruendok with my inquiries. As always there was the slightest bit of shock that crossed his face as I came up from the side. I can’t blame him, my people and his have had storied conflicts over the centuries and I can only imagine his personal experience. They were a warrior’s instincts, and not to be blamed. Everyone has scars. Besides, he recovered almost instantly and was always unfailingly polite in the gruff way of dwarves.

We talked for a bit and I made known my needs. Hershel had paid for messenger birds while we were in Carrion Hill and we needed to have some here at the rise, as well. They proved to be a quick and cheap way to send a message and this was something we were desperately in need of. We also needed housing built and caretakers found for them. He nodded his agreement and mentioned that he would check among the refugees, as we already may have people that had taken care of such animals before. I also told him that we needed to have scouts start mapping and gathering information about the land around us and writing it down. Spite the dark, we didn’t even have a reliable map of our surroundings. And finally, I needed his own knowledge of the Cascades. Anything that he could remember about the area would be helpful and if he could start documenting it, I’d be grateful. He took down my requests, nodded, and said that he’d get started on them.

In the Air
Before daybreak, Seifer had rallied the troops. The Ironclad were going to take the merchants to Angler’s Cove directly so that they could avoid the long trip and begin gathering information and materials as soon as possible. Hershel was also going with them to scout the Bowmen camps in advance of Seifer and his men. Speaking of whom, Seifer would be leading them out on ground, heading first to Hemlock Field and then on to the camp location that the Covemen and merchants had provided. The idea behind the attacks were to winnow Bowmen troops and supplies, but also to possibly draw out some of their forces from the Cascades. Even if they did not sortie out, we would taking resources from them. As the village still slept, the air skiff was loaded up with merchants and Hershel. Seifer had gathered his men and they beginning to move down the road toward the remains of Three Cedars and Hemlock Field. As the skiff powered up and the militia headed out, Seifer turned back and yelled to ask if I was coming or not? I realized that I hadn’t actually said that I was going before now. I nodded and darted toward the air skiff, grabbed onto the trailing rope ladder and vaulted aboard.

The rain caught us before we reached out destination. Only having been on the surface a short time, and half of that spent in the wastes of A’rahas, I still wasn’t accustomed to rain. Being up in the air, the rain was heavy and in large drops whose every impact you could feel. The winds moved faster here, unrestricted by trees and the like, and the skiff was tossed around a bit more than was comfortable. Needless to say, as the deck of the skiff had little protection, we were instantly soaked to the bone. Fortunately, the drop off point for Hershel and I was near. The skiff drew close to the ground and we leapt off to head to the Bowmen camp.

After an hour or so of moving through the trees, we found it. In a stroke of good fortune, it was an ideal setup for our intentions. The camp was in a circular clearing and had only a single entrance that was free of growth. In the center were two long tables set under under awnings where meals were consumed. Around the edges of the clearing sat large tents that could hold several people each. One of them was set next to the lone tree that stood just inside the circle of the clearing. I made a note of that one, it would be my entry point when we returned.

While we surveyed the area, I also stopped to listen in on the Bowmen conversations. Most were fairly mundane, until I overheard the murder plot. Taking a risk, I pulled the grey shadows and rain of the day around me and moved forward into the camp. As I found a nook to settle into, I listened more intently. There was a plan to eliminate Kroenen and his entire faction. Apparently he’d done enough arguing and counterwork that his fellows had decided it was time for him to go. For a moment, I wondered if any of it had to do with us.

The work would be done while they were in the Cascades. They would attempt to keep Meiko occupied, either out of the Cascades or by getting her company assigned to a specific watch, away from Kroenen, and with the other Bowmen between them. Then, Kroenen and his men would be coming off watch, gathered in a specific location to take a meal and it would be then that the others would fall upon them as a group. As the one faction that wasn’t directly our for our blood, it would be in our interest to foil this plot. Maybe this information would help to smooth over the rough first contact with Meiko’s troupe. Making a mental note on of the number of men here, I snuck back out to meet Hershel and we withdrew to meet up with Seifer.

Striking Camp
Seifer made better time than I expected and our journey to meet him was brief. When we encountered them, they had a wagon, for some reason, and were loitering around it. We made our presence known to the perimeter guards and they took us in. The wagon had been taken from Bowmen that were sacking the abandoned village of Hemlock Field. They were dealt with swiftly. In turn, Hershel and I informed him as to the makeup and arrangement of the Bowmen encampment we’d scouted. I could see him grip his blade in anticipation of the fight to come. To be honest, I felt a bit of that, as well. After Three Cedars and after so many encounters where we had to hold back, this would be a different fight.

We told him how far he should advance his group and that he should them wait for the signal. When he asked what it would be, I simply told him that he couldn’t miss it. He still looked curious, but nodded and rose to ready the troops from the Cove. Hershel and I likewise rose and set out to return to the camp. As we did, Seifer signaled us to wait. He explained that a group of his men were archers, not melee fighters and that he was sending them with Hershel and I took take positions around the camp and pick off Bowmen from the trees. I could only hope that they had some ability to move with stealth. Now that were were minor a’ni, we were on our way.

What I hadn’t told anyone was that I brought something with me from the Watchmen stocks: two purple gems. Nathaniel had identified them some weeks ago as weapons that would detonate like wizard’s fire when properly commanded. I decided that they would be the perfect signal. Handing one to Hershel, I quietly passed on the command word and impressed upon him that he need to get out of the way quickly once he triggered it. I think we both enjoyed the anticipation of what was to come.

Once we arrived, Hershel and his men set up on the near side of the camp, hidden in the treeline, while I took my detachment around the other side. As we separated, Hershel and I began a silent count, timing each other for when to set the gems to explode. Making for the tent near the tree that I had targeted earlier, I snuck up to the back of it and placed the gem in the folds of canvas on the ground. As I reached the agreed upon count, I whispered the command word. The gem began to pulse with a soft lavender light as I retreated back to my archers. I signaled them to put their heads down and tried to spot Hershel across the camp. At first, I could see nothing, but then at the last second, I spotted a familiar soft glow under the meal tables in the camp center. Then they went up.

Tents and men were in flames, though the ever-present rains were quickly damping them down. The archers loosed their arrows at nearly the same time that I heard Seifer and his footmen charging up the path into the camp. Bowmen were falling to our arrows and none of them had yet made it to our lines. In fact, many were stumbling out of tents and being cut down. I kept an eye out for my own opportunity when suddenly it stumbled out. Throwing off the smoking remains of the tent when I set my gem, a Bowman stumbled out, sword in hand, coughing trying to gather his bearings. As he swung around, I struck. Duplicating my attack against the dragon in the spire, I hurled spun shadows at him that passed around his blade and constricted when they contacted his throat. As he grasped at his neck, I burst forward, preparing to put my fist through him. As he caught sight of me, he shook his head and went to drop his sword. Catching sight of the marks of rank at his shoulder, I altered my angle of attack from a killing blow to a disabling one and knocked him unconscious.

Looking back to the line of my archers, I saw one of the Bowmen attempting to flank them. Drawing the gray light of the day around myself, I vanished from sight and charged toward him. Invisible as I was, he stood no chance and I struck him down before he could threaten our lines. My job done, I returned to the unconscious officer, bound his wrists, and leaned against the tree to watch the battle end.

At this point, Seifer had arrived in the center of the camp and bellowed a challenge to every Bowman there. He had cut down two men already and put two more to the sword after his challenge. Remembering the rank markings that he wore, I’m sure that his intent was to battle the man that was currently bound at my feet in the mud. I found a wry amusement in it, though not as his expense. Though this wasn’t the first time that this had happened, it also wasn’t intentional on my part. He stamped over and gestured at the officer, asking if that was him. I nodded a confirmation and kicked him over so that Seifer could see the insignia on his arm. He sighed, a frown creasing his brow, then sheathed his sword and dragged the man, whose name was apparently Maz, over to a few other Bowmen that had survived the attack.

As Seifer interrogated them, I helped recover the supplies that would be useful to us and moved them to the wagon that was now being pulled into the clearing. Anything that wasn’t of use was destroyed or put to the torch. Hearing a clatter, I looked over in time to see the Bowmen officer cave in his own head on a rock. Not a behavior I would have expected. It made me think of the abomination and the corrupted goblins of the caves. Did they have some influence on the Bowmen or their leadership? Was this why they were scouring the swamp for relics? And does this hint at the hidden overlords they now had? All questions for another time. Now, it was time for decision: head to the Cove to warn Meiko about the conspiracy at the Cascades, or march on to assault the next Bowmen camp?

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The Fires of War
Journal entry by Ser Seifer

The air was silent and we all stood still. Hershal was standing beside the body of Xar’eth Teken’und. This sat heavy with me for some reason. Although he was sneaky and deceptive, he always had an air of plans within plans. Somehow i was convinced that this slimey piece of drow filth was still helping us. That is until the spire and his remains were searched.

Hershel was still not satisfied with his kill as the body was regenerating, so he cut off the head and kicked it down the hillside. I asked him if he “thought that was a bit excessive?” To which he replied with a sharp and to the point “NO!” And simply walked away. As i knelt beside the corpse, i said a prayer to my lady Altua to guide and watch this honorless warrior, i began to search the body. The drow had all manner of magical items on his person. All of which i wanted nothing to do with. As i pulled back his robes, i saw a black skin tight substance that was attached to his body. I had a notion that this was something of dark and sinister origin so i began to peel it off his body for fear of what it could do left on him.

Having asked the young brash paladin “if all this was enough proof?” I walked down to Lochaid to prepare my men for the mission ahead of us. The forty soldiers from Anglers Cove and myself were preparing to strike at a Bowmen encampment near Hemlock Field. Hershel and Sorscha had plans of their own scouting ahead of the force and giving us a better idea of what was ahead of us.

The next morning we set out. The army, Nathaniel and myself on foot to Hemlock Field, and Sorscha and Hershel in the Iron Clads’ skiff with a few passengers bound for Polga. It would take us two days on foot to reach Hemlock Field and the Bowmen encampment. The first night we arrived at Three Cedars and the men were obviously disturbed and outraged at what the Bowmen, Trask’s Bowmen more to the point, had done to this land. I felt it necessary to address the men in hopes of building moral and lifting their spirits. It worked. I was never much of a public speaker nor a leader but they seemed to appreciate me and look up to me even though i was a foreigner to this land. That night however, we heard a more disturbing and frightening presence.

Above the mountains, a dark firgure with great wings and a bone chilling shriek flew through the air. It was no doubt the dragon of the mountain. This being my first time seeing or hearing it i was surprised and taken aback. I hoped that we would never cross paths with such a terrifying beast. We needed to rest and be ready for the battle the next day but none of the men could rest easy after such an event.

The morning broke and we set out to find out foe and meet up with the scouting party. As Hemlock Field came into view, Nathaniel and I noticed a group of Bowmen, around seven strong, gathering and scavenging supplies from the houses of Hemlock Field. They could not be allowed to return to the camp and alert the rest of the Bowmen. We needed to stop them now and quickly. As i strode forth on my horse, a fire blast skimmed over my shoulder and impacted in the very center of the group. Limbs and bodies and splinters of wood and dirt exploded into the air. The mage was clumsy with his magic but he is getting more focus and more control. He is still impressive to watch at times, even though i have a few scars from his lack of focus. As i charged into the dust and debris, one lone Bowmen tried to rise to his feet to confront the thing that had destroyed his friends only to catch a glimpse of metal as my blade cut into his chest and dropped him.

Having already gathered the supplies and put them on a wagon, i decided to bring the cart along and gather what we could from the bowmen camp as well. The people of Lochaid could use all we could gather. It would be nightfall before we got to the camp and we needed to meet up with Sorsha and Hershel.

The report from Sorsha was thay of a simply camp of tents and a central gathering table for meals. She estimated around thirty or so men and no watch towers. This was going to be easier then expected. Most of the Anglers Cove soldiers were more skilled in archery than with sword, so i split them up and made a tactical plan to use Sorsha on one flank and Hershel on the other, each supported by archers, while Captain Aldarren, myself, and the foot soldiers charged up the footpath as a distraction. Hershel said to wait for a signal. If i know anything about that crafty scout, he is anything but subtle.

The signal, no the explosion, went off followed by another and seconds later another. The camp was already partially on fire and tents destroyed as we ran down the path. They were not expecting any attack and as such it was won too easily. I had cut down two men on my way to the center of the encampment hoping to entice the commander of this force, Maz, into combat. Little did i know, Sorsha had already captured the man and stood staring at me while i voiced my challenge to the Bowmen. She does love watching me make a fool of myself.

The battle was won. No casualties on own part and 4 prisoners including Maz. I sat down with Maz to talk man to man. The discussion did not go as i had hoped as he was not scared of what we were doing and only said that they “found it” whatever it was that the head Bowmen were looking for. This set me back a bit as i was not ready to hear that information. We are just now in a position to defend the people and here the Bowmen increase their power yet again. Further questioning was halted as he smashed his own head against a rock and took his live. Such devotion to a cause. It is noble and admirable, but the cause they follow is one i must stop none the less. The other prisoners needed to be dealt with as we are not equipped for prisoner transfer. One demanded trial by combat which Wulfgar dispatched with simplicity and ferocity. The other two, boys really, asked for servant duty. Seeing as their know little of a life outside the Bowmen, i took them as squires, hoping to influence the boys to a better future.

Now, we gather the supplies, send the wounded back with the cart to Lochaid, and march on to Anglers Cove. Sorsha and Hershel overheard news from the bowmen in the camp of a plot to kill Kroenen and Mieko. Meiko Sama was apparently in Anglers Cove. Time for another visit. Let us hope it goes as well as the last.

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A Silent Man
Hiroshima Sakai (Hershel)

Grandfather taught me everything that I know of seiji; the subtle dance whose goal is the maintenance or exchange of power between the elite, the wake of which sweeps up the common folk to rise to glory or death in bloody war. Sadly he died when I was quite young, but I do remember one thing he used to say: “A silent man is the best one to listen to”.

The first time I heard this I laughed, and Grandfather half-heartedly laughed along with me. Then his face became stern. “Why is this funny?”
“It is best when a man does not speak; it is best to hear a man who does not run his mouth,” I answered.
Chigau yo! It means that the silent man should not be ignored! Always pay attention to those who are quiet; they are often the puppet masters of the court.”

Sowing the seeds

Standing in the Temple, I reflected on this. The Drow had gained a stronghold of great power and I barely batted an eye. He spoke little, though when he did it was with care to deflect what was asked of him. He gathered power. He was close to us, but we did not know him. I should have paid attention to these signs sooner.

I decided to discuss my fears with Exilar, Sorscha, Nathaniel, and Ser Seifer, before they departed to meet Meiko Sama in Polga. I told Exilar of Nathaniel’s discovery that the robed Bowman in Trask’s group wore robes identical to the ones Xar’eth had procured from the Spire, and that Trask himself bears a demon-head tattoo similar to the Drow’s. I also made sure to mention that when we met Trask for the first time in Hemlock Field, we lost track of Xar’eth, and did not get a clear look at the robed figure with Trask. The Drow was wearing the robes from the Spire at that time.

Exilar was not convinced that there was any clear connection between the Drow and the Bowmen. He seemed to think that, despite the evidence I had given, there was no reason to think that Xar’eth was being dishonest about anything. I made a note to discuss whether Exilar might be under some sort of magical influence by the Drow with a more select group of my companions after this meeting adjourned. Nathaniel also voiced doubts as to whether the robed figure with Trask indicated any involvement by Xar’eth. The robes, he said, were from the Spire, but a thousand years ago the Spire had been an academy, and it was likely that sets of robes from there had made their way around to different ruins in the Ruin during the intervening millennium. That combined with the Bowmen actively searching ruins of late made it likely that this was coincidence.

Good points, all, but I countered that the coincidences mounting around Xar’eth needed to be addressed, and soon. If he was allied with Trask, whom we were to go and kill, we needed to know immediately the Drow’s level of involvement, if any. To further my point, I asked Sorscha if her people could generally be considered as trustworthy, to which she burst out in a mad cackle. “They can be trusted to do what is best for themselves. If an alliance serves their interest, so be it. If things change and betraying that alliance would gain them power or position, so be it. Exceptions to this among my people are rare in the extreme.”

I also divulged all the details I had gathered from my foray into the Spire. Xar’eth’s “cousin” had demon tattoos similar to him. He identified me without looking at me, which indicated to Ser Seifer that there may be some sort of scrying active in the tower. He was brewing a concoction whose ingredients included mushroom, which Nathaniel said may indicate poisons. There was also a strong smell of sulfur. This put the knight on-edge, and he and the wizard said “Demons” in unison, voices grim.

In the end, Sorscha and Seifer seemed to show support for me investigating the Spire further. Seifer added that if I were to come up against demons I would need a weapon of cold iron. Nathaniel advised he thought it best not to disturb the Drow’s privacy, to which I replied with an incredulous look. Exilar still seemed to feel that there were not enough indications to warrant a second search of the Spire, or even to warrant distrust of Xar’eth. To Hell with the paladin’s sanctimony; I am going to investigate.

Inside the Scarlet Spire

After my companions boarded the Ironclad airship, my first step was to inspect the Temple Archives. Xar’eth had often been seen poring over books down there, but no one had ever seen him come or go. I searched the room from top to bottom looking for any false walls, hidden doors, or secret passages. There were none, though I did find a small vault door secreted away behind a stack of Thyatian tablets. After finding that the vault door was a facade, removing it, and checking a separate inner door for traps, noting a ring of divine script around it, I used my skills to unlock the inner door. Inside there were 6 books which appeared to be written in ancient Thyatian, and 10 scrolls which, at a cursory glance, looked divine in nature. I found a satchel in which to store them, and headed to speak with Gruendoc about a cold iron weapon.

Finding Gruendoc just outside the smithy, taking inventory of our supply, I greeted him and delivered the satchel. “Keep this in a safe place for Exilar when he returns,” I said. Then I told him of what I had found at the Spire, and that I meant to return to see what else I could discover. I asked him if we might have any cold iron weapons, after mentioning the possibility of demons. He showed me what we had, and I selected a cold iron longsword, which I strapped to my back. I made to leave and Gruendoc stopped me, “If ye need a hand with tha’ dark elf devil ye need only ask and ol’ Gruendoc will help ye’. I lost more’n a few of my kin to his kind o’er the years.” I bowed silently, turned, and made my way out of the Rise.

Before trying to enter the Spire proper, I felt it prudent to inspect the area around it to see if any changes had been made. None had, so I moved on to scouting out the tower exterior. I saw Xar’eth’s cousin in a window near the top of the tower, so I fired an arrow into a second-floor window, to see if the sound would make him stir. He moved, but the pace of it was unhurried and I felt he was merely going to a different room rather than responding to the arrow. I listened for alarms, but heard none.

I fired another arrow, this one on the 4th floor, and focused my ki, sending body and spirit sailing to where the arrow had just landed. As my disembodied self crossed the threshold of the Spire window, I felt a twisting sensation, and landed staggered on the floor of a room of living quarters, which I knew from my first incursion into the Spire. This was the 6th floor, not the 4th. And I now faced the dark elf who Xar’eth claimed was his cousin.

“Well hello again,” the dark elf said. He looked similar to Xar’eth, though his features were not as hard in the eyes. There was something familiar in his slightly lisping accent which I could not place…

I responded in my native tongue, “Well, as you said when last we met, if you mean to do me harm I would be harmed. I know introductions are unnecessary, but my name is Hiroshima Sakai, and I have been tasked with discovering more about Xar’eth’s cousin and his intentions here in Exilar’s realm.”

He responded in kind, in flawless Honshugo, “Well. I have informed Xar’eth of your arrival. He wishes me to tell you that if you want to visit the Spire, you should use the front door like a normal visitor. If you trespass again, you shall be dealt with… harshly.
That being said, I am Phazeuroth.”

“Well met, despite the threats. When did you arrive here?”

“I arrived here about a week ago. Maybe a little longer. Can I aid you somehow?”

I thought back on what happened a week or so ago, and realized that Phazeuroth probably arrived here when the tower was rebuilt. Switching to Vilholman, I asked “What have you and Xar’eth been working on here?”

Again he responded fluently, this time in Vilholman, “Research. Why are you not with your allies?”

“I was needed to stay behind and help defend against any potential Bowman incursion. It was thought that they may not be genuinely headed to the Cascades by a number of us.” My eyes went to the tattoos on his arms, of similar design to those on Xar’eth’s face, “What is the significance of your demon tattoos?”

“Personal. If there is nothing else, it is time for you to depart.”

“Hm. I smelled sulphur the last time I was here. I have spoken to some who indicated this smell might be associated with demonic events. Would you happen to know anything of summoning demons?”

“I know a few things, but there are no devils here.”

“I didn’t ask of devils. I asked of demons. And I didn’t inquire as to if they were here, I asked if you know how to summon them.”

“No demons are present either. I know some things of summoning.”

Straining against my urge to swing my cold iron blade into his stone-walling face I took a breath and looked at a series of frescoes and other art pieces on the walls. They depicted various vistas of mages helping in great battles, presumably from the time of the Thyatian Empire. I started walking toward the stairwell that led to the rest of the tower, “Thank you for your cooperation. I’ll see myself out." As I bit off the last word I turned and took one step toward the stairway leading down. With a stomach-wrenching motion I was teleported out of the tower and found myself walking on the road. I resolved that moment to find the secrets those two had hidden in that Spire. Even if it killed them.

Preparing for Betrayal

I followed the advice Sorscha had given me before departing, and made sure that our fighting forces were prepared for the possibility of a Bowman attack. I informed Shepherd of the suspicion that Sorscha and I both held: the meeting with Meiko Sama and the information that Ser Seifer had been given about Trask heading to The Cascades were both part of a ruse by the Bowmen to catch us off-guard and without some of our most capable fighters. He frowned, “Hrmph. Can’t say I hadn’t thought of that possibility myself. Thought I was just being paranoid.”

Over the next days I alternated between scouting the forests along Lochaid, setting traps and marking them with subtle signs that I taught to the scouts so they would not fall prey to them, and watching over the Spire. In the nights Phazeuroth could usually be seen in the windows. During the day, no light shone through the window reveal anyone and if he moved about, he did so so quietly that I could not hear him.

I was out digging pit traps with Balk and a crew of four men when we heard the hum of the Ironclad airship overhead. I mopped the sweat from my brow, washed my hands and face in a nearby creek, and directed the workers to finish up the pit and go back to the barracks for a break, tossing them a few steel for rounds if they so desired. Heading back to Lochaid, I heard the loud clunk of the airship as it docked on the makeshift pylon that had been erected on the North side of town.

Exilar was exchanging urgent words with Xar’eth as they came down the ramp. I waited at the bottom until their conversation was finished, then approached the paladin and asked him to walk with me to a more private location where I could share information with him. As we turned to go, I saw the Drow look over his shoulder at us before hurrying off toward the Spire. Once in a private location, I told Exilar the information I gathered from the Spire, and news about the books and scrolls I found in the Archives. I made sure to highlight the fact that the Drow had been able to speak fluently in languages which should be esoteric to someone from the Underdark.

“Is that it? There’s nothing substantial to back up your claims there. Look, take Nathaniel and have him start translating the books you found. Make sure he studies them in a secure place; he is NOT to remove them. I have more important things to take care of.” He gave me a look like I had wasted his time, then walked off toward the Spire. Staring after the paladin and begrudging my role as errand-boy, I saw Nathaniel hurrying after him. I caught up with them, and told Nathaniel of the books and scrolls that I had found, and that Exilar wished for him to translate them. “Later,” he said, intent on catching up with the paladin.

The three of us arrived at the door of the Spire, Nathaniel huffing from the exertion it took to keep up with Exilar. “I h—gasp have something to tah— talk to you about, Exilar.”
“Later, I have business with the master of the Spire. Did Hershel tell you to take a look at those books?” the paladin said, irritably, as he knocked on the large red door.
“Yes b-but I —”
“Then go take care of that. I will speak with you later.”
The door opened a crack and Xar’eth peeked out. “You said nothing of bringing guests.”
“I’m not,” Exilar said, and pushed his way through the door, slamming it in our faces behind him.
Nathaniel looked at me, face flush with frustration and impotent rage, and stormed off toward Temple Rise.
“You don’t even know where the books are!” I called after him as I walked to catch up.

A New Plan

After speaking with Greundoc about Exilar’s order and getting Nathaniel set up in a secure location, I walked to the smithy, Ulrich. I inquired as to the progress on the signal arrows, which I had asked him to make shortly before we had been attacked by Immand Khan. To my great surprise, the loss of his arm in the battle had not made him forget about this obligation, and he gave me a quiver of forty. These have the potential to aid us tremendously during any attack on the Bowmen. Using signal arrows of their design to misdirect their forces during an infiltration could be crucial to success, if planned well.

Sorscha entered town trailing forty fighting men. The half-drow woman came over to me and informed me that Exiar was calling a meeting for all members of the Watchmen. Though I hadn’t officially taken on that title yet, she was sure that my input would be welcome. We all went into the great hall of the Temple, and Exilar began a discussion about how to best utilize the fighting men, whom he said were from Angler’s Cove.

The Covemen revealed that there were several camps composed of 40 to 60 Bowmen apiece, all under Trask’s control. These camps were spread out across an area of the Wildlands between the Rise and Angler’s Cove. Initially, the fighting men had been brought in on word that we may need help to take the Cascades, but after Sorscha reported to them that the mission had been a failure, they proposed that we instead harry these Bowman camps. Thus we made a plan that Ser Seifer would lead a strike force along with the Covemen to raid a Bowman encampment. Whether or not he was able to kill all the Bowmen therein, we were to put all their supplies that we could not use to the torch.

Exilar adjourned the meeting, asked the Watchmen inner council to stay a short while as he prayed on his next course of action, and retreated to his offices. Nathaniel followed him shortly thereafter, but was turned out of the room, again frustrated, only moments later. A few minutes after that, Exilar emerged from his office holding the soul gem that Nathaniel had found in the ruins of a building in Lochaid. He stated that the gem may have the capability to allow us to scry on the Cascades using the Spire, and that he intended to go there to use it. He stated that any of us who wished to follow may do so.

Ser Seifer immediately raised his objections to the paladin, stating that we did not know what evil power that gem could contain, and using it inside a font such as the Scarlet Spire could lead to destruction far greater than we should risk for a possible glance into enemy territory. Nathaniel cursed audibly, and stormed out of the hall. Ignoring them both, Exelar walked through the large front doors of the Temple and South toward the Scarlet Spire.

The Depths of Darkness

Xar’eth was hard-pressed to keep his composure as all of us showed up at the doorstep to the Spire; his eyebrows quirked upward momentarily before his face resumed its usual stony calm.

“To what do I owe this… pleasure?” the dark elf said, voice quiet and harsh.

“I come bearing an item which will help us unlock the power of the Spire. I need to use it to divine more information about the Cascades before we strike.”

Again Xar’eth’s eyebrows raised slightly, but he had a little, queasy, smile on his face as he opened the door and motioned us inside.

The drow followed us down the stairs as Exelar led. We entered the large open chamber of the Spire’s bottom level, and gathered around the giant crystalline globe in the center. Exelar moved around the globe and put the soul gem in place. A small field of charged energy shot out of it, holding his hand there, the paladin’s back went straight as a rod, and his eyes rolled back in his head slightly as he gasped.

A mass of darkness began roiling through the hall to one side of the large globe, and… something… emerged from within. Exilar spoke, “There is a dragon here. From the depths and disguised as a drow.” As I looked toward the hall I could discern the form of Phazeuroth… changing. Shifting his skin into the form of a pitch black dragon. And suddenly I knew where I had heard his accent before… and what I had to do.

I turned invisible and drew my bow, knocking one of my remaining magical arrows and drawing it back to rest by my ear. As I did so, i noted that the dragon still tracked my position with his eyes. Sorscha’s voice echoed in my head, “They can be trusted to do what is best for themselves. If an alliance serves their interest, so be it. If things change and betraying that alliance would gain them power or position, so be it." The question of where Xar’eth’s loyalties would lie was one that I was not willing to have to ask while going into battle with one such as this dragon. Should he ally against us, the consequences of my not acting would prove far too costly. I moved back twenty feet, to get behind the dark elf while keeping him close enough to pick out a vulnerable spot to fire my arrow. The shaft sunk deep into his upper back, and he let out a hiss and began to move, reaching for something under his robe. Because I had caught him by surprise, I was able to move more quickly, and another arrow in the side put him on the ground, motionless.

Turning my attention toward the battle at hand, I saw that all hell had broken loose. The dragon, its neck wrapped in a wisp of shadow, roared, shaking the walls of the chamber. I heard a scream of rage and looked to my right to see Ser Seifer charge toward the black beast, Thyatian steel in hand. The elf-knight sunk his sword deep into the dragon’s chest, and pulled it out, readying it for another attack. The dragon let out another bellowing roar and spewed forth a gout of sickly green sludge, which flew out of the hallway and almost clear to the opposite wall of the chamber, hissing and bubbling and eating away at everything it touched… save for Dark Sister, which emanated a translucent glowing field as it split the stream in two, preventing the corrosive acid from consuming Ser Seifer’s flesh.

Another roar, this one human, and half way between anguish and rage, came from my right, and I looked over to see Nathaniel standing over the half-melted body of his cousin. The wizard fired a bolt of lighting, which struck out into the shadow dragon, and richocheted of the hall behind him, hitting the beast once more. Unfortunately, it also struck Ser Seifer, and I once again got to see that lovely elven hair puffed out in all directions, little forks of electricity arcing through it. At the same moment the lighting arced outward, Wulfgar bellowed “THORRRR!” and charged the shadow beast, his gleaming axe digging into its forearm to the bone. Exelar was finally able to pull himself free of the gem, and he too drew his sword and charged, sinking his blade deep into the thing’s neck as it went motionless, black blood spilling out over the stones of the chamber.

The air in the chamber went still, and my vision began to blur and shake slightly as I heard a loud SNAP. Exelar began marching toward the soul gem in the crystalline globe, saying “The dark elf has teleported outside!” I looked over to see a puff of steam dissipating into the air above the spot in the chamber still stained with Xar’eth’s blood, and looked back to Exelar. One moment he had his hand on the soul gem, and the next, SNAP, he, too disappeared into a puff of steam.

Wanting to be there to aid the apaladin if it came to a fight, I ran over and grabbed the soul gem. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”, voice shouted in my head. I startled momentarily, and then stuttered out, “I m-mean to help the p-paladin deal with the Drow.” A sickening turn of my stomach and a loud popping in my ears, and I was standing out front of the Spire, listening to Exilar talk with Xar’eth.

“I need you to surrender.” The paladin spoke, voice heavy with something… remorse?

“Heh. I’ve seen what you do to your prisoners.” Xar’eth said, his voice weak from his injuries.

“I… I can’t let another enemy survive to come back and attack us.” Exelar sounded more uncertain than I had ever heard him sound.

Xar’eth began to turn to leave. Exilar’s shoulders slumped as his hand went to the hilt of his sword, and he began to slowly, uncertainly, move forward. He was in pain, I could tell. Xar’eth still needed to be proven guilty, in his eyes, to warrant a death at the paladin’s hands. I really hadn’t intended to kill the drow; I had only meant to disable him for the fight. But seeing him walk away, and hearing the exchange between Exelar and Xar’eth just then, I knew that he wouldn’t come back and ally with us… if he had ever really been an ally in the first place.

I took a step in front of the paladin, my back to him. As I drew the cold iron longsword from its sheath on my back, I used the power of my ki to turn invisible, and moved up to a position directly in front of the drow. Then I came down with the sword, in a hard, sure stroke, opening the side of his neck, which sprayed out his lifeblood with such force that it coated my face, revealing my position. Exelar stopped in his tracks, stunned.

As I looked down at Xar’eth’s lifeless body, the long gash I had just carved across his neck began to knit together, and he stirred slightly. I let out a heavy sigh, and said, voice full of irritation, “What now?”

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