Daern

Road to Rivers' Crossing
The heroes head south from Lakeside, towards Rivers' Crossing, and encounter some surprises along the way.

Rognvald

“So… fine weather we’re having, eh?” Rognvald made a feeble attempt to get a conversation started. Things had been different since Lakeside. Gale was even quieter than before, riding with head down for most of the day. Barry and Ku rode near each other, occasionally speaking softly. They would often look in Gale’s direction, with expressions of wariness. Barry and Ku also seemed to be shunning Blind Seer, who had started wandering out further and further to hunt. They had told Rognvald about the events at Lakeside with the abominations, but he was pretty sure that something else had happened between them as well.

Rognvald had been surprised to hear that Jeremy Tanner had been convicted of necromancy. Rognvald was further surprised to hear that he had been allowed to live and join the Deepguard. The enieto were usually strict on such matters. The Deepguard party had travelled alongside Rognvald’s a few hours when they left Lakeside, but the Deepguard had soon outpaced Rognvald’s rumbling wagon. “Enjoy the next few weeks of sunlight,” the Deepguard Keeper, Garsk, had said, “for it may be your last.” The other enieto with Garsk, who Rognvald hadn’t caught the name of, was obviously a Deepguard Captain. From what Rognvald understood, Keepers and Captains served similar roles in the Deepguard, both leading squads into the Deep. The Keepers focus on psionic abilities and the mental health of their squads, while the Captains focus on martial prowess and the physical health of their squads.

Rognvald let out a long sigh and thought, ‘We could sure use a Keeper right about now. I wonder what is bothering those four.’

Gale

He heard Rognvald say, “So… fine weather we’re having, eh,” then let out a sigh several moments later. Gale glanced back at Ku and Barry, who were riding a ways behind the cart. They were still watching him closely, as they had been ever since leaving Lakeside. It was almost like being a slave again. Gale was sorry for deceiving them and understood their suspicion, but he was also starting to get angry with them. ‘They have no idea what I’ve been through! The enlightened elves,’ Gale thought, ‘have kept me in chains for most of my life. I can still remember mom’s face, but dad’s has begun to fade after so many years. The enlightened elves have taken everything from me and now the people I was beginning to see as friends have equated me with them just because I have pointed ears. I am nothing like the enlightened elves, a fact that they loved to remind me of every day. My people are weak imitations in their eyes.’

Gale let out a long sigh a few moments after Rognvald’s and then reluctantly replied, “Yes. Clear skies and a warm breeze. We should enjoy it while we can, for autumn will soon be upon us.”

Rognvald replied in overly cordial tones, making it obvious that he was avoiding talking about the silence that had reigned over the group since Lakeside, “Indeed. At least we will-” Rognvald stopped mid-sentence and looked behind him. Gale could hear it too now… hoof beats, several of them, riding fast.

Gale loosened his sword and began to move behind the cart to where Ku and Barry were as five riders came around the last bend in the road. They slowed down, approaching Ku and Barry cautiously, then called out, “Hail travelers. We seek no trouble. We bear a message for Lord Eric Indaren. Will you let us past?”

Ku and Barry glanced back towards Rognvald, who nodded. They moved aside. The riders began to move around the cart on the opposite side of the road. Rognvald said, “Unless I’m mistaken, you’re scouts from Lord Eric Indaren’s army. Makes me nervous seeing you ride so quickly. Anything for us to worry about that might be following you up the road?”

One of the riders spoke, slowing his horse down but still moving by, “No traveler, nothing to worry about. There have been a few elf raids along the border of the Cold Forest, but that is many days away from here. You are not in danger. Safe travels.” The riders made it around the cart and resumed their previous pace, galloping down the road, heading south.

Blind Seer

He had been scouting further and further away from the road, or if he was honest with himself, the group. Tense silence had reigned since that night in Lakeside when Ku and Barry had found out that Gale was an elf of some sort. Ku and Barry had also been cold towards Blind Seer, as he had kept Gale’s secret since Edgeville. He and Ku had stopped working together on training their mental powers. Blind Seer had gone to talk to Gale, but Gale had said, “You’d better stay away or they’ll distrust you more.”

So, Blind Seer had stayed away… far away… from everyone. He had taken to scouting far out to the side of the road, only returning to the group in the evening. Blind Seer was uncomfortable with the whole situation, but had no idea what to do about it.

Blind Seer was walking along, pondering all this and ranging far from the group, when he came across a patch of blood in the grass. He sniffed at it and was alarmed to find that it was wolfos blood. It was fairly fresh, but he could not tell which direction the injured wolfos had gone. He called out, but received no answer. He worried that the injured wolfos might be unconscious nearby, bleeding out.

Blind Seer steadied his nerves and began to access the still part of his mind. He let his senses expand over the nearby area. Ku had mentioned that one of the other enieto at his Void Temple had been able to detect the psychic impressions that creatures left in areas when they experienced an emotional situation. Blind Seer focused his mind and tried pick up on these psychic impressions. He sat quietly for several minutes. A sudden spike of fear hit him. He had to run, the monster that had injured him was still following him. He stumbled, fell, and spit out some blood in the grass. He had to hide and soon. He got to his feet and struggled his way over to some bushes that were growing at the bottom of a hill. He heard the monster arrive behind him, heard it sniffing at the blood. It crept closer to the bushes and his heart pounded. An animal rustled in the grass further down the way. The monster darted off in that direction. He breathed a sigh of relief, then felt his consciousness fading. Blind Seer shook his head, reeling from the strange experience of feeling the emotions of another person. He hurried to the bushes that the psychic reading had showed him and soon found the injured wolfos. He was still breathing, but only just. Blind Seer hurried off to find the group, not wanting to risk moving the injured wolfos.

Ku

He finished his examination of the injured wolfos and knew that it was beyond his skill to treat. Blind Seer had burst onto the road and told Gale, Ku, and Barry to come help him. As they road through the grasses and brush, Blind Seer had explained that he had found an injured wolfos. Ku turned to the group now and shook his head, signaling that he couldn’t treat the wolfos. Gale stepped forward and said, “Let me take a look.”

Barry and Ku kept a close eye on Gale as he checked over the injury. After looking at it, Gale sat silently for several moments with his eyes closed, then laid a hand on the injury. There was a brief glow and then the wolfos began to stir. The wolfos’ eyes suddenly flew open, wide awake. He began to struggle, obviously in terror. “Stay still,” Gale said to him sternly, “or you will reopen the wound! You are no longer in danger!” The wolfos took in his surroundings and began to calm down. “Who are you,” the wolfos asked. The group members introduced themselves and explained how they had found him. The wolfos bowed deeply and thanked them for healing him. Ku asked what the wolfos’ name was.

“I have no name and may never gain one, for I am not sure I can defeat that foul creature. I am on my First Hunt, you see,” the wolfos replied.

Gale, Ku, and Barry stared blankly at the nameless wolfos. Blind Seer chimed in, “In wolfos culture, the First Hunt is a right of passage into adulthood. The tasks involved in a First Hunt vary from tribe to tribe. Some tribes do not name their young until they have completed their First Hunt. Which tribe are you from?”

“The Broken Claw tribe,” the nameless wolfos replied.

Blind Seer nodded and said, “I am from the Sagesnouts. We have heard of the Broken Claws. If I recall correctly, you have been here since before this was the Fadafir Kingdom.”

“Yes. We follow the old ways, hence the names only being granted after the First Hunt.”

“So the task of your First Hunt is to defeat some foul creature,” Blind Seer asked, tilting his head slightly to one side.

“I have been tasked with reclaiming the bones of one of our tribe’s ancestors. Our burial site was disturbed and the bones were taken. I tracked the scent from there, thinking perhaps some wild animal had taken them, but when I reached the end of the trail, what I found was much worse than an animal.”

Barry

He kept a close eye on Gale as the nameless wolfos was being healed. Barry still had his suspicions about this elf that was supposedly not an enlightened elf. He had grown up hearing all sorts of terrible stories about the elves, about how they were treacherous and dangerous. It was obvious that Gale had some sort of strange magic. Barry half suspected that Gale’s whole story was some elaborate elf scheme. Still, though, Barry wondered if Gale might truly be a Forgotten Elf. He had heard many stories about Forgotten Elves and Gale matched the description of the stories… Sharp and slim as a sword, and hair like living flame. Barry had thought the stories were just fiction to entertain children, but he had thought the same of dragons, and folk tales often have a grain of truth in them. Yet the enlightened elves may have heard these stories too, and sent their spy, Gale, cloaked in such uncertainty to infiltrate the Fadafir Kingdom.

Barry shook himself out of the thoughts that were chasing circles in his head. The nameless wolfos was talking to Blind Seer, saying, “I tracked the scent from there, thinking perhaps some wild animal had taken them, but when I reached the end of the trail, what I found was much worse than an animal.”

The nameless wolfos continued his tale, “The trail led me to a cave and when I went inside, I found a hideous creature with long arms and gnashing teeth. I have never seen or heard of anything like it. The thing noticed me and attacked, biting my side and beating against my head with its arms. Before I fled, I saw a pile of bones in there… Many more than just my ancestor’s bones. The creature must have been collecting them for quite some time.”
Blind Seer paced back and forth as the nameless wolfos spoke. When the tale was done, Blind Seer said, “It pains me to think that this creature has likely disturbed many graves in this region. The dead should be left to rest. Maybe we could help you with your First Hunt.”
“I am not sure if that is allowed,” the nameless wolfos said.

Blind Seer stopped pacing and said, “The purpose of the First Hunt is to prove yourself and earn a place in the tribe. To be part of a tribe, you must learn to work with others. If I have learned anything while traveling with these three, it is that we are all weak on our own. Only by acting together and trusting each other can we hope to achieve anything, supporting the weaknesses of other pack members with our strength and relying on the strengths of the other pack members to support our weaknesses. You were given a First Hunt that you cannot complete on your own. Surely it is not coincidence that we have crossed paths. The Guarding Hunter guides our fates this day. Friends, will you help this wolfos complete his First Hunt?”

Gale nodded solemnly. Ku unsheathed his greatsword and replied in the affirmative. ‘I am willing to act together, but I still do not trust Gale,’ Barry thought, then said, “Yes, I will aid in this task.”

The nameless wolfos stood a little taller and said, “Thank you. I may yet earn my name.”

Gale

The cave stood before them, black and ominous. Even Gale’s eyes could not penetrate the dark. The entrance was wedged between two hills, which crowded in on either side. Grass and brush clogged the opening which led down into the earth. The grass nearby was folded over and trampled down. Something large had frequented this place. “Let’s do this,” said Gale, looking around at Blind Seer, Barry, Ku, and the nameless wolfos. Barry lit a torch. Gale hopped down into the cave. The others followed.

As they made their way deeper into the cave, with Barry’s torchlight flickering off the earth and rock walls that glistened with moisture, Gale thought about what Blind Seer had said. ‘Only by acting together and trusting each other can we hope to achieve anything. How will Ku and Barry ever trust me again? How can I ever trust them? It might be safer to just slip off into the night… but then they would hunt me just as the Molroito do. My traveling companions are good people, it’s just that the enlightened elves have turned their minds to fear.’ Gale sighed as he thought, noting that the passageway of the cave was getting wider now, then went on thinking, ‘The Guarding Hunter guides our fates this day. Seems the Lord of the Winds, or Freedom’s Blade as the humans call him, also guides our fate. I am sure now that it is he who has granted me my magic. To what end, though? Surely there are other slaves that deserve freedom more than me. What does the Lord of the Winds have in store for me?’

Gale came around a turn in the cave and halted. Before him was a pit about ten feet deep. The floor sloped into the pit and looked like it could be walked with care. In the pit, though, was a swirling fog. It was thin enough to see the floor of the pit through it as tendrils of it drifted about. The pit was about twenty feet long. The light shone to the other side and Gale could see that the cave turned over there. “What do you make of this,” Gale asked the others, crouching down and waving his hand through the fog.

Blind Seer

He asked the nameless wolfos about the fog. The wolfos told Blind Seer that the fog had not been here before. Blind Seer tentatively sniffed at it. He smelled the damp earth of the cave and the smell of his companions, but nothing else. “Perhaps it merely came from the moisture in this cave,” he said.

“Let us cross it then,” said Ku, striding down the slope into the pit and the fog, greatsword drawn and gleaming in the light from Barry’s torch. He strode along the floor of the pit for a ways, reaching the middle of the pit, then stumbled. “I am… I… can’t keep… eyes… sleep,” Ku called back to the group, dropping to the ground, letting go of his greatsword, which scraped against a rock then fell to the dirt. Blind Seer started to move forward to help, but Gale put a hand on his back and said, “Wait. It seems the fog has put him to sleep.”

“What will we do,” asked Blind Seer, “I think we could cross the pit with our breath held if we hurried, but it would take too long if we tried to pull Ku out of there.”

Gale strode into the fog. Blind Seer exclaimed, “What are you doing?!” Gale calmly walked to the middle of the pit, retrieving Ku’s greatsword and beginning to drag him to the other side. Barry, Blind Seer, and the nameless wolfos exchanged a look, then held their breath and hurried through the fog. Gale managed to drag Ku up and out of the fog on the far side of the pit as Barry and Blind Seer made it through. The nameless wolfos was still hurrying along a little ways back. Blind Seer let out his breath, then turned to ask Gale, “How?”

Gale smirked and said, “We don’t sleep.” He pointed to where his ears were concealed under his hat. As the nameless wolfos rejoined them, Gale crouched down and tried to wake Ku up.

Ku

The fog smelled sweet at first, but then began to choke his breath. He reflexively gasped for air, but that only served to draw in more of the fog. His vision swam and his eyelids began to droop. He tried to call out a warning to his companions as he slipped into unconsciousness.

Next he knew, Ku was on the floor and Gale was crouching over him. “Oh good, you’re awake again. You dropped this,” Gale said, pressing the greatsword back into Ku’s hands. Ku shook his head to clear the drowsiness when suddenly it slammed into Gale. It was big. Barry, Blind Seer, and the nameless wolfos exclaimed in shock and fear. Ku rolled to his feet, gripping his greatsword, and surveyed the scene. A mass of writhing, boneless limbs had Gale backed against a wall. Gale raised his arms to shield his face as the creature beat against him with its limbs.

Barry and Blind Seer jumped into action. Blind Seer summoned a beam of energy and slung it at the creature. Barry lashed out with his rapier. The creature turned and Ku saw two misshapen, mismatched eyes, white and bulbous, framing a mouth with sharp teeth. The creature seemed to lack a neck and its body was a mass of misshapen skin, smooth and glistening with moisture. It propelled itself with its squirming limbs, which were haphazardly placed all over its body. The creature was vaguely shaped like a salamander. A puff of fog escaped from the creature’s skin. An image from a book read long ago rose to the surface of Ku’s mind. Hebeni, “unborn”, the result of an enieto larva being left in the spawning pool for too long. The larva would begin to eat each other, eventually building up enough chemicals to trigger their growth. With no human to act as framework, though, the larva would not develop correctly, growing limbs in wrong places and a misshapen body. The mind would not develop properly, either, as the larva would lack the necessary nutrients normally gathered while developing within a human’s body. With no framework, hebeni could continue growing throughout their life. This one had grown to a massive size. Ku had never heard of one that produced sleep-inducing gas, but he knew that hebeni developed all sorts of strange defenses in their unchecked growth.

Blind Seer and Barry gave ground as the hebeni surged forward. It spied the nameless wolfos and charged, moving with surprising speed despite its grotesquely deformed body. The hebeni slammed the nameless wolfos against a wall and loomed over him, preparing for a killing blow. The wolfos struggled feebly, trying to get to his feet but stumbling on his battered legs. The hebeni’s vicious mouth opened wide and it moved to bite at the wolfos. Ku slammed his greatsword into the creature’s body just below its mouth. The hebeni squirmed. Ku stared into its eyes, which were filled only with hunger and madness. The hebeni wrapped some of its limbs around Ku, beating at his head with the other limbs. Ku struggled to free himself and his greatsword, but the hebeni held him tight, drawing him closer to its mouth of gnashing, pointed teeth. Ku tried to calm himself, focusing his thoughts and beginning to draw power from his mind, but the hebeni squeezed him tight and he lost his focus.

Barry

He saw Ku get dragged beneath the mass of writhing limbs. Barry darted forward and stabbed with his rapier, aiming for the creature’s eyes. The creature blocked his blow and grabbed Barry’s arm, causing him to drop his blade. Blind Seer ran up and bit the limb which held Barry. The creature recoiled. Ku let out a cry of pain as the creature squeezed him. A fork of golden lightning hit the creature near its eyes. Barry glanced over and saw Gale leaning against the cave wall, breathing hard. Barry stooped to retrieve his rapier, spinning around and stabbing with it as he stood up. The blow hit home and the creature squealed. Ku broke free, somehow still clutching his greatsword. Gale pushed off the wall and drew his short sword. The creature backed away a foot or so, realizing too late that this group was not easy prey. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, Barry, and the nameless wolfos fell upon the creature with renewed vigor, slashing, stabbing, and biting until its many limbs squirmed no more. When it was done, they fell to their knees or laid on the floor, breathing heavily for several minutes.

After he caught his breath, Barry exclaimed, “What in the Elders’ names was that thing?”

“A hebeni,” said Ku, leaning on his greatsword, “An enieto larva left in the pool too long. Happens most often when a Void Temple is abandoned.”

Barry frowned, “I’ve never heard of that happening. Where do you think it came from?”

“I’m not sure,” replied Ku, “I’ve heard no news of any Void Temples being abandoned in this region in recent times. That hebeni was quite large. Could be that it was abandoned long ago.”

They sat for a few moments more, catching their breath. The nameless wolfos got to his feet and limped forward. Gale saw that he was injured and came over to help. “You’re lucky it isn’t broken. It is just sprained and bruised. I think I can fix this.” The nameless wolfos looked on in amazement as Gale placed his hand over the leg, which glowed briefly, then looked better. The wolfos bowed and said, “I hadn’t realized… Thank you… shaman.”

The nameless wolfos then walked over to Ku. “Thank you as well,” the wolfos said, “You threw yourself between me and that creature. You saved my life. I would be honored to share the name of such a brave warrior. When I complete my First Hunt, I shall be known as Ku of the Broken Claw.” Ku the enieto stood up and nodded solemnly.

Around the corner, they found a large pile of bones, amongst which was the bones of the nameless wolfos’ ancestor. The wolfos retrieved the bones, tying them carefully and reverently to his back. The group made their way out of the cave, holding their breath as they passed through the sleeping fog, and bid farewell to the wolfos.

Gale

“You lot sure do find all sorts of trouble,” Rognvald said when they returned and told him what had happened. Nostiarna had risen high in the sky and was beginning to cover the sun, so the caravan made their way off the road and made camp not far from the river.
As they were getting dinner ready, Gale found a rock to sit on and took a look at his arms. Back at the cave, he had wiped off as much as he could in the grass, but there was still hebeni blood and bile on them, dry now and clinging to his skin. Gale got up and slipped out of camp while everyone was busy with the cook fire. He headed down towards the river. He was no stranger to being dirty. Back at the farms, there were many days where he had been covered in dirt after a day of work, or smeared with blood after a brutal beating, but he had always had access to water at the end of the day, so Gale had taken to keeping himself clean, even when the other slaves had long since resigned themselves to being dirty. It also comforted him to have some small measure of control over his life, even though the enlightened elves had taken nearly everything else.

Gale found his way to the river, took off his clothes, and eased into the icy waters.

Blind Seer

He felt good that they had been able to help out a fellow wolfos. Blind Seer thought back to his own First Hunt. He and all the other younglings of his clan born in the same year as him had been tasked with hunting a boar. They had tracked it through the hills and were closing in on it. Blind Seer had felt a strange feeling of dread as they approached a bush. As they neared it, he had suddenly felt compelled to shove his friend. As Blind Seer had pushed his friend, the boar charged out of the bush, narrowly missing them both. The hunting pack had taken it down together after that. Looking back, Blind Seer now knew that the dread he had felt had been the first manifestations of his psionic powers.

“Here you go,” Rognvald said, handing Blind Seer a stick with some meat on it. Blind Seer ate happily and joined the conversation around the campfire.

Ku

He reflected on the fight with the hebeni as he ate. He had been unable to manifest any psionic powers as it had pulled him close with its mass of limbs, too distracted by the pain and the prospect of being eaten. Ku decided that he would have to redouble his efforts to incorporate psionics into his fighting style. He was glad that he had been able to save the wolfos, though, and was further pleased that the wolfos had decided to take Ku’s name for his own. Well, his spoken name anyways. Ku hadn’t told anyone in the group his mind name yet. Only he and the other enieto back at his home Void Temple knew that.

Ku finished his food and excused himself, walking to the edge of the camp and finding a log to sit on. The shores of the river that the road followed had stands of trees clustered near it, sending their roots down into the earth to drink the water. Ku closed his eyes and began his mental exercises, flexing his frills and focusing his mind. ‘Good food’, Ku heard a mental voice think. After a moment, Ku recognized it as the thoughts of Barry. Ku hadn’t meant to eavesdrop on anyone’s thoughts, as doing such was considered extremely rude. He was about to sever the connection when he heard Barry think, ‘Where did that damn elf go? I’d better go find him.’ Barry stood up from the camp fire and told everyone that he was going to patrol the camp perimeter. Ku thought about offering to help him find Gale, but realized he couldn’t without revealing that he had accidentally eavesdropped on Barry’s thoughts, so Ku decided to stay put and continue practicing his psionics.

Barry

He pushed aside the brush and looked out across the river, which was wide and calm in this area. Barry could hear the churning rapids further down where it narrowed and crashed against rocks. He saw clothes and armor strewn about the river shore. Out in the water, Gale stood half submerged, using a rock to obsessively scrape and scrub at his skin, focused on his task with a vacant, haunted stare. Moonlight from Iarthrod shone down on the water and Barry saw Gale’s back. A network of wicked scars covered it and almost no unharmed skin remained. Barry had seen men lashed before, but Gale’s back could only be the product of savage brutality. Barry had always figured that the stories about enlightened elves were somewhat exaggerated, but now he knew the cruelties of reality were just as bad. Barry felt his stomach twist in revulsion at the ruined skin, followed by a feeling of shame as he thought, ‘Seems his story might be true. Gale may really have been a slave to the enlightened elves.’ Barry turned away and crept back to camp.

Gale

Things had been better the past few days as they continued to travel south. Barry and Ku were once again talking to Gale, though it was still awkward between them, and Blind Seer had stayed closer to the group. The hills were getting shorter each day as they traveled south, and the stands of trees grew more frequent. Gale spotted a few deciduous trees, but the small forests were still dominated by coniferous trees.
As Gale crested a low hill, he saw a large open area stretching out before him. The road ahead continued near to the river, with trees only on the far bank, and atop a hill that Gale estimated to be two hours away at current pace, stood a sturdy fortress of smooth grey stone. The road passed between the fortress and the river, and by the fortress, a stone bridge spanned the flowing waters. On the horizon, Gale saw that the river split, one branch heading southeast and the other heading west. A city sprawled over the river and its branches, and between the branches of the river Gale could just make out a castle, rising above the buildings that surrounded it and the two bridges that led to it across the river branches. Rognvald’s cart rumbled to the top of the hill and Rognvald said, “Ah, Fort Duristan. We should reach it in a couple of hours. There in the distance is our journey’s destination. Rivers’ Crossing. It’ll be a few days beyond Fort Duristan that we reach it. Come, I doubt they will let us inside, but if we hurry we can eat our lunch in the shadow of Fort Duristan.”

Blind Seer

As they approached Fort Duristan, the sound of a warhorn split the air. Blind Seer looked towards the fort. The road split near it and a short stretch of road led up the hill to the gates of the fort. The gates opened and a rider came galloping down the hill towards the group. “Hail, travelers. You must move off the road. Several soldiers will be needing it momentarily.”

“How long will our delay be,” asked Rognvald.

“An hour, perhaps,” the rider from the fort replied.

“As good a time as any to eat lunch I suppose. Where are the soldiers bound? Is there trouble up north?”

“Aye, there is. Trouble down south, too. Seems the elves need more slaves. They are raiding several towns. Not many of them up north, though. Our force should be enough to clear them out. If you’re heading south beyond Rivers’ Crossing, though, I’d be careful. There have been several elf raids in the Silent Hills and the lands around Brightharbor. Take care.”

Rognvald nodded and moved his cart off the road. The rest of the group tied their horses’ reins to some trees and got out the dried food for lunch. Soon, a column of soldiers began snaking out from Fort Duristan. A few were mounted, but most were on foot. They streamed by as Blind Seer watched. Since they had time, Blind Seer decided to practice his psionic powers. He focused his mind and tried to sense any psychic impressions that may have been left in this area, much as he had done in order to find the wolfos before.
For a long while, Blind Seer got nothing from his reading. He listened to the marching of the troops as he sat and waited. Suddenly, his vision blurred and the sound of the marching troops changed. Blind Seer looked and saw blurred figures moving quickly up the road, towards the gates of Fort Duristan, which loomed as a blurry mass of stone atop the hill. Some of the figures stopped nearby and fired bows towards the fort. Up close, Blind Seer could see that the figures had pointed ears. Looking back towards the fort, he could see figures on the battlements now, firing back at the elves with bows and javelins. A banner above the gatehouse came into focus and Blind Seer could see a longboat on a field of dark blue.

Ku

The column of soldiers had finished marching by and the group had continued on. Ku had estimated that there had been at least one hundred soldiers plus a few supply wagons. The group had continued on and made camp as night fell. Blind Seer told the group about how he had read the psychic impressions around Fort Duristan and seen elves attacking it. Rognvald nodded slowly and said, “Aye, that’d probably be the Second Great Human-Elf War that you saw. One of the battles of it, anyways.”

Ku remembered that he had had a few history lessons from the Void Temple about the Second War, but he couldn’t remember the contents of the lessons, as his history teacher had been a ponderous old enieto and had a knack for putting his students to sleep.

“We have no history books in my tribe,” said Blind Seer, “What can you tell me about this Second Great Human-Elf War?”

“Well let’s see. At the end of the First War, that would have been… hmm, year 1292 when it was over, the Longman family had carved the eastern shore of the Shattered Ocean into the Fadafir Kingdom. Many years later, they pressed eastward and established Rivers’ Crossing. The elves retaliated and thus began the Second War. That was year 1375. Lasted until 1431. Always long wars when you are going up against an enemy that can easily reach 300 years of age.”

Blind Seer tilted his head to one side and asked, “So there used to be elves in the Riverlands?”

“Oh yes. They used to rule over all the lands between the Singing Forest and the Cold Forest. They took slaves in those days just as they do now and eventually a prominent human captain of the Shattered Ocean, Langmann, banded together several other humans and attacked the elves. They landed in year 1247 at what became Longport, started the First Great Human-Elf War, and established the Fadafir Kingdom. Like I said, at the end of that war, the Fadafir Kingdom stretched across much of the eastern shore of the Shattered Ocean.”

Ku stretched as he listened to Rognvald, then jumped to his feet. “Look,” he said to the group, pointing to where he had spotted a thin trail of smoke in the sky.

“Looks like a campfire,” said Barry.

Ku nodded and said, “We’d best check it out. If it’s bandits, we should move our camp further away. If it’s other travelers, perhaps we can combine camps for greater safety.”

The others nodded agreement. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry headed off to check it out.

Barry

They approached the area where they had spotted the campfire. Barry motioned to the others to wait while he crept forward a few more feet. He could hear the crackling and popping of burning wood. Light danced up ahead, casting shadows from the shrubs and few trees that populated the hills that huddled close together, creating a sheltered low area between them. Barry heard the soft murmuring of a voice, but couldn’t make out any of the words at this distance. He eased his way through the grass and brush, then saw down into the campsite.

Their gear was piled near the fire. Barry saw backpacks, bows, arrows, and wooden masks, painted with strange symbols. He looked to the two campers, who sat by the fire, speaking a strange tongue. Barry saw that the had black hair and pointed ears. He slowly crept away back to the group and whispered, “Molroito. I’d recognize their masks anywhere. I’ll sneak up on them, perhaps we can capture one and see what they are doing here.” The others nodded agreement to his plan.

Barry moved around the campsite such that he would be behind the elves, then moved quietly through the brush. He saw the Molroito again, who were still sitting and talking. ‘Thought these pointy-eared bastards were supposed to have good hearing,’ Barry thought as he stepped into the camp, rapier at the ready. One of the elves turned at that moment and cried out a warning. Barry pierced that one’s neck with his rapier and the elf fell to the ground. As Barry pulled out his rapier, he saw that the other elf had already found his bow and had an arrow ready. Barry rolled forward, trying to dodge the arrow, but it struck him in the leg. Barry fell to his knees. The elf readied another arrow, aiming for Barry’s throat. Barry tried to lash out with his rapier, but the elf was standing just outside of range. The elf shot the arrow, but it went wildly wide, as the elf was scrambling to stay standing on the ice that had just appeared below his feet. The elf failed to keep his feet and fell forward, right onto Barry’s blade. Gale, Blind Seer, and Ku rushed out of the brush. “Damn. Wanted to take that one alive. Thanks for saving my life, though,” Barry said, nodding to Blind Seer.

“Don’t thank me. Thank him,” Blind Seer said, pointing his nose towards Gale.

Barry raised his eyebrows and asked, “Since when do you make ice slicks?”

“Since I just thought it up three seconds ago,” Gale replied, “I seem to be gaining greater control over my magic. You’re welcome, by the way.”

“I… thank you,” Barry said sheepishly.

“Well I couldn’t have you dying on me. You’re part of my grand plan to rule over you dirty humans,” Gale said with a smirk, “Now let’s see about that leg.”

Gale

He healed Barry’s leg while Blind Seer and Ku checked the elves and their gear. “Both are dead,” Ku reported.

Blind Seer sniffed at their campfire and said, “What do you think they were doing here?”
Gale looked around and spotted a small hammer by some brush that clustered around the side of the hill, which rose steeply at this spot. Gale went over and picked up the hammer, then pushed some of the plants aside. “Perhaps they were here for this,” he said, gesturing at the now uncovered stone door. Gale gave it a push, but it wouldn’t budge. He stepped back to examine the door. It was on the edge of the campfire’s light, but Gale’s eyes could see it just fine. There was a carving in the stone door that depicted a forest of tall pine trees on one side, a crowd of people on the other side, and a person standing in the middle with hands upraised.

Barry came over and looked at the door. Even after several minutes of searching around the door, he couldn’t find a way to open it. Ku tried to move it, but couldn’t, even after augmenting his strength with psionic power. Barry studied the door again, murmuring some words and passing his hands over the carving. “There is magic at work here,” he said.
Gale continued to study the carving. He narrowed his eyes at it and said, “Strange… The scene depicted here reminds me of a story that my mother told me. The story was about my people, though. I’m not sure my people have been in the Riverlands much.”

“What happened in the story,” Blind Seer asked.

“Well, one of our heroes led my people to a new home. The new home was safe from the enlightened elves, but held dangers of its own, so when the hero beheld it he said, ‘Oh blessed haven, oh damned prison.’ That’s the best translation I can come up with, anyways. I originally heard the story in the tongue of my people.”

Blind Seer sat for a moment, then asked, “What does the phrase sound like in the tongue of your people?” Gale repeated the phrase in a language that sounded somehow earthy but also flowed easily off the tongue. Gale heard a grinding noise and turned to see that the door was opening.

Blind Seer

He sniffed the air as the stone door slowly opened. He saw Gale lean forward, trying to peer into the darkness. Blind Seer smelled stale air, earth, and something he couldn’t place. A sudden dread stabbed into his heart and he cried out to Gale, “Watch out!” Gale frantically drew his short sword and brought it up to defend himself. A gleaming longsword came swinging out of the darkness beyond the stone door. The blades came together with a mighty clang. The ringing continued for several moments, then there was a noise of scraping metal followed by silence. Blind Seer saw that Gale’s short sword had split apart. The blade had fallen to the ground, while Gale still clung to the hilt. The wielder of the longsword stepped out of the darkness beyond the stone door and into the light of the dead Molroito’s campfire.

The stranger exclaimed, “What in the Lord of the Wind’s sacred ale horn is another highland elf doing here?” Blind Seer turned his head sideways and examined the stranger. He was tall, nearly as tall as Ku, towering over the short height of Gale. He had white-grey hair which may once have been blond… and short pointed ears! Blind Seer narrowed his eyes suspiciously and took another sniff. Now that some of the stale air had cleared out, Blind Seer noticed some similarities between the scents of Gale and the stranger.

Gale dropped the hilt of his broken short sword and said in an awed voice, “Who…? How…? Who are you?”

The stranger replied, “I am Tarim, Scout of the Highland Elves. I thought you were those Molroito, but I see you’ve taken care of them. They’ve been here for days trying to starve me out. Sorry for breaking your sword and nearly slicing off your head.”

Gale regained some of his composure and said, “Seeing as I still have my head, I’ll accept your apology. I am Gale. Are there more highland elves around? What is this place? Why is there a carving of one of our people’s stories on this stone door?”

Tarim put the point of the longsword into the ground and leaned on it. Blind Seer now saw that he looked tired, thin, and old. Tarim replied to Gale’s barrage of questions, “There are no other highland elves nearby. I have been out here on my own for a long time. This is a barrow of our people from the First Great Human-Elf War. I discovered it a while back and have used it as a base of operations for scouting in this area. I ran into those Molroito and their friends a few days ago and took shelter in here. Heheh, the other Molroito didn’t make it, I made sure of that, couldn’t shake these two, though. The barrow has wards, as I’m sure you noticed, that keep it sealed unless you know the pass phrase. Please, come in. Let us talk while I pack my things. It has been too long since I have spoken to another, ah… highland elf.”

After exchanging looks, they all followed Tarim into the barrow cautiously.

Ku

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Tarim as the group headed into the darkness beyond the stone door. Ku had been rather surprised to find an elf behind the stone door… a forgotten elf, or highland elf as Tarim had called himself. Ku kept his guard up as they traversed a short, twisting tunnel that opened up into a cramped chamber. There was a small pile of gear against the back wall that appeared to be the only items in the room without a layer of dust. In the earthen walls were about a dozen stone sarcophagi, stacked three high in earth and stone shelves. Some were tilted at odd angles, as the dirt in the shelves had eroded away. All were covered in a thick layer of dust. Ku swept the dust off the nearest sarcophagus and saw that runes of an unknown tongue were carved into the side of it.

Tarim walked over to the pile of gear, placed a hand on the wall, and began to lower himself to sit. Ku noticed that Tarim’s face was a grimace of pain and that his arms were shaking. Tarim finished sitting down, set his longsword aside, began to sort through the pile of gear, then said, “So… A human, a wolfos, an enieto, and a highland elf. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, heheh – ahem. Let’s see… the human, obviously a bandit, not a thug, though… knows how to move, probably a pickpocket before, maybe from Rivers’ Crossing, something different about him now, is it magic? The wolfos, fur coloring indicates northern birth, not too north, probably the hills near the Cold Forest, doesn’t wear armor, but walks with confidence, power or naivety, both perhaps, shaman? The enieto, huge, greatsword strapped to his back, no question there, a warrior, sword bears the mark of the Void Temple near Edgeville, doesn’t trust me, but then who would trust a stranger that sprung out of a barrow? The highland elf, short, very short, abnormal maybe, or just underfed for all of his life, he is an escaped slave after all, probably taken young, the ‘education’ farms, right?” Tarim turned his head around and looked expectantly at Gale over his shoulder.

The four of them stood in a stunned silence. Blind Seer said, “How… how did you know all that about us?”

Tarim continued to look at Gale, “I’m a scout. It’s my job to be observant. Am I right about the ‘education’ farms?” After a moment, Gale nodded. Tarim gave a satisfied nod to himself, turned back to the pile of gear, and continued, “So what brings such an odd collection of people together? And what brings you to this place?”

Gale cleared his throat and stepped forward, “We are all guards for a merchant. We were traveling nearby when we saw the smoke from the Molroito’s camp. That brought us here, then we found the stone door. I had no idea that our people had scouts out this far from the… from home.”

“I imagine there is much you do not know after having been enslaved for so long,” Tarim said. He dropped one of the bags that he was sorting through and Ku saw that his hand was clenched tight into a fist and his arm was shaking. After a few moments, Tarim picked the bag back up and continued, “I doubt the enlightened elves taught you much about the history and culture of our people, but perhaps you heard it from other slaves?”

Gale glanced at the ground, “The only other highland elves there were women. The men and women had separate quarters and we weren’t allowed to interact much, so I’m afraid I only have quickly whispered stories and the blurry memories of my childhood.”

Tarim sighed, stood up, and turned to face Gale, “I am sure that you have many questions for me. I’m afraid I don’t have many answers for you. I have been out here, away from our… homeland… since the Second War. I send in my reports and occasionally receive orders, but I know little about the current culture of our people. Even if I did know more, there is not enough time left for me to answer you.” Tarim clutched his stomach and his whole body shook for a moment.

Gale stepped forward and attempted to assist, but Tarim waved him off. Gale’s face grew solemn, “Out here since the Second War? You… you must be nearly four hundred years of age. Are you alright?”

“My time is nearing its end,” Tarim said as he bent to rummage in a bag, “A sickness has taken root in my stomach and my body is failing me.” He pulled a handful of small leaves out of the bag and put them in his mouth to chew, “I aim to travel to the nearest Void Temple, heheh, what a shock it will be for them when an elf wanders in for the End of Life Journey.”

“Perhaps I can heal you,” said Gale, “I… I have magic.”

“There is no magic that can cure old age.”

“Mine can heal wounds… maybe even cure diseases.”

Tarim raised an eyebrow, “The old magic? What an odd group indeed… No, though, even if you could cure this sickness, it has already done too much damage to my body. Do not mourn for me. I was on my way to the Void Temple already, then those Molroito found me. I am thankful that you have come along and given me this chance to have all my years of knowledge recorded in the enieto’s memory tablets. It is time for me to put down my sword. My sword…” Tarim looked down at his sword on the ground where he had left it, a strange expression on his face. “Do you hear that?”

They all held their breath and listened in the silence of the barrow. A faint ringing noise seemed to be emanating from the sword.

Tarim continued to stare at the sword, “It has only done that once before… when I found it. It was in a place much like this one, another highland elf barrow, though much older, to the south, in the Silent Hills.” He reached down to pick up the sword, but when his hand neared the hilt, the sword spun, scraping against a rock that protruded from the dirt, and came to a halt with its hilt pointed towards Gale. Tarim slowly stood back up, regarding Gale closely, “Seems Olctire has chosen you to be its new bearer. Take it. I owe you a sword anyways. I no longer have need of it.”

Gale stooped down and grasped the hilt of the blade. He stood and gave a solemn nod, “Olctire… ‘destroyer of evil’… This is a noble gift. Thank you.” Tarim handed over a scabbard that fit the sword and picked up his pack of gear. They headed outside and Tarim bid farewell to the group. Ku saw that Tarim stopped to talk briefly with Barry before heading out, but couldn’t hear what was said.

Barry

Tarim approached him as they exited the barrow. The stone door groaned and scraped shut behind them. Tarim gave Barry a long look and said, “You remind me of a man I once knew. Ferdinand Werner Longman. A great man. Fought alongside him in the Second War. You ever heard of him? Seems like this group may be destined for something. Will you be a great man? Heheh, guess only time will tell. Farewell.”

The name sounded familiar to Barry. He thought that Ferdinand Longman might have had a hand in establishing Rivers’ Crossing. Barry was not the best student of history, though, so he couldn’t be sure.

They began to make their way back to Rognvald. They agreed to stay silent about the stone door and Tarim. Gale held up his new sword, ‘Olctire’ Tarim had called it, and asked how they were going to explain it. It was a fine blade, polished steel, a small gemstone in the hilt, and the hilt was shaped like feathered wings that spread straight out. It was clearly not of enlightened elf origin, so they couldn’t claim that it was the Molroito’s weapon. After some thought, Barry replied, “We investigated the source of the smoke and found two Molroito camping there. We tried to capture them, but they noticed us and took up their weapons. We managed to slay them, but unfortunately in the process Gale’s short sword was broken. We found this sword amongst their belongings. Not sure where it came from. They must have taken it off someone in one of their raids.”

When they returned to the camp and told this story to Rognvald, he examined the blade and said, “Hmm. I’ve seen priests of Freedom’s Blade use swords that looked similar to this one. Perhaps the Molroito captured a priest. Well, it is yours now I suppose. Can’t have a sword-less guardsman.”

They all headed to bed and slept well, glad that they were only a few days from their destination, Rivers’ Crossing.

View
Evil in Lakeside
The heroes arrive in the town of Lakeside and have a late night.

Gale

Soaked ground lay in front of him where moments ago a massive creature made of ice had been. Gale stared in shock and tried to comprehend what he had just seen. “What was that thing,” he asked.

Barry responded with a similar tone of shock in his voice, “A winged lizard… a creature of legend… a dragon. I always thought such things were just stories that moms told their kids. Never before have I heard of one being made of ice. If I hadn’t just seen it with my own eyes, I would never believe it.”

“We should not linger here,” said Blind Seer, pacing back and forth and clearly agitated, “I feel a sense of dread building slowly in my stomach when I look upon the spot where the creature melted.”

“Yes. We should return to Rognvald,” said Ku, staring at the soaked ground and waving his frills slightly.

They headed back towards the road. Gale glanced back to look at the wet dirt. He couldn’t shake the feeling that this incident marked the beginning of something.

Blind Seer

The group was making their way back to Rognvald in silence. Gale, Ku, and Barry had remounted their horses. Everyone seemed unsettled. “So,” Blind Seer tentatively broke the silence, “The… dragon… it looked heavily wounded. The question arises… what could harm such a massive creature?” Everyone was silent for several moments while they considered the question.

“Perhaps… Perhaps there are more of them,” Gale said,“and they fought with this one?”

“Where did it even come from,” Barry asked.

“It flew in from the north,” said Ku, “Perhaps it flew out of the Bittercold.”

The group fell into silence again. Blind Seer could not shake the tingling of dread in his stomach.

Ku

They made it back to Rognvald, who asked the group, “What happened?”

Ku described what they had seen, ending with, “I do not know what that creature was. It was grievously wounded, though, and we do not know by what. I suggest that we find a covered place to camp tonight.”

“Have you ever heard of such a beast, Rognvald,” Barry asked.

“No. In all my years of travel, I have not heard of such a thing. We’ve all heard the hearth-side stories of dragons, I’m sure… but one made of ice? I agree with Ku. We should find a campsite with overhead shelter tonight. The sooner the better.”

The group fell into their places around the merchant’s cart. Ku kept glancing backwards, towards the north, watching the sky.

Barry

They moved along at what Barry now felt was too slow of a pace. He tried to recall all the stories about dragons that he had heard. In all of them, they were massive winged lizards that reigned fire down upon villages. ‘Many legends have kernels of truth hidden in them,’ Barry thought, ‘I do hope we find cover soon.’ He checked the sky and saw that Nostiarna was just starting to cover the sun, creating the approximately hour-long twilight of Daern.

“There,” Ku called out, “Ahead. I see trees.”

Gale

He was laying down for bed. They had made camp under the trees and ate a few birds for dinner. Everyone still felt nervous, but the cover of the trees took some of uneasiness away. Gale was just beginning to enter his state of meditation, wishing for a hot bath to scrub himself clean with when a sudden blackness overtook him. Then, he felt that he had perfect clarity. He looked up and found himself standing under a large tree, a deciduous tree, which he had seen only a few of. From the tales of other slaves, he knew that the Forest of Screams had many such trees. Sunlight streamed through the branches of the tree and as Gale watched, a leaf broke off from one of the branches and began falling towards the ground. When it had almost hit it, a light breeze stirred the air. The leaf was lifted up and began floating away. Gale looked down and saw that there were many leaves strewn across the ground beneath the tree. Darkness overtook him again and he awoke.

Blind Seer

He lapped water from the river which was near the campsite. Rognvald had said that it flowed all the way down from the Cold Forest to Rivers’ Crossing, where it split into two branches, one going to the Shattered Ocean and the other to the Frostmelt Sea. About halfway between here and Rivers’ Crossing was Lakeside. Blind Seer headed back to the campsite and settled down in a spot near the fire. He was watching it dance when darkness came upon him swiftly and suddenly. He opened his eyes and saw the home of his tribe, heard the playful yips of pups not yet ready for bed, smelled the blood of a fresh kill roasting over a smokey fire pit. Then, he heard another sound. The twang of a bow. Blind Seer saw an arrow arc into the sky, blazing across it, for it was lit with fire. It crashed down on the hut of the elders, the leaders of the tribe. Blackness swallowed his sight and he awoke.

Ku

He finished cleaning and sharpening his blade and began doing his mental exercises. Closing his eyes, Ku could still see a red glow from the fire. He let his other senses expand, including the one that let him hear the whispers of thoughts of unguarded minds. The glow of the fire suddenly died and all went dark. He opened his eyes and found himself in a cave. He heard a roaring sound from up ahead, perhaps from a waterfall. Ku went around a corner in the passageway and found himself on a ledge overlooking a huge cavern. He looked down and saw a huge crowd of people filling the floor from wall to wall. From what he could tell, all the races of Daern were present in the crowd. They were all well armed and armored and were bashing spears on the floor and weapons on shields. This was the source of the waterfall noise. There was an eerie lack of voices which were usually raised in such a warrior’s rally. The scene went dark and the glow of the campfire returned.

Barry

He stretched and finished tending to the horses, then headed straight for bed. He hoped that it was safe under the trees from any more dragons that might come flying over. Barry stared up at the pine trees, which clustered by the river. He listened to the gentle flow of it near the campsite and the distant rushing further downstream. Darkness swept upon him suddenly. Opening his eyes, he was greeted by thick mists, crowding his view. All color here was muted tones of blue and gray. Up ahead, Barry saw some sort of light. He pushed his way through the mists and came upon a flowing stream of bright white energy. The words of the old man that they had met on the road came back to him now… “I’ve never seen the River swirl around anyone such as it does with you.” Barry approached the River and it seemed to sense him, for tendrils of energy branched off and began to reach towards him. He saw that there were actually many colors in the River, perhaps all the colors in the world. Darkness covered him again and he awoke.

Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry

They were all wide awake and looking around at each other. It was the middle of the night and everyone else was asleep, except for one of the bandits-turned-guard, who was standing watch a ways off from the camp. They saw in each others’ eyes that all had had a strange dream of some sort. “What did you see,” Blind Seer asked. “A leaf blowing on a breeze,” said Gale. “A mass of silent people preparing for battle in a cave,” said Ku. “The River… the Other Side,” said Barry. “I saw a burning arrow fall upon the hut of the elders of my tribe,” said Blind Seer, “What do you think it all means?” They all sat silently for a while. None of them could come up with a good explanation and eventually they all decided to get back to sleep, thinking that perhaps their dreams had just been dreams.

Rognvald

He sighed in relief, glad that the rest of the journey had gone smoothly. Lakeside was in sight. They would reach it by late afternoon. “We’ll have soft beds to sleep on tonight,” he said to the group.

“What can you tell us about Lakeside,” asked Blind Seer.

“Well, many decades ago, this town was just a speck on the map, a decent fishing village but certainly not the trade hub that it is now. A young businessman by the name of Gerald Walton, recently married to Laura Tanner, traveled up here from Rivers’ Crossing to assess the fishing operation, which his father was considering funding. Turned out that the fishing operation didn’t look to be a good investment, but Gerald did see a potential business. The shores of the lake had high quantities of high quality clay. Gerald Walton soon moved his family out here and set up a brick making workshop. It was very successful and soon Walton’s bricks were floating down the rivers on barges to Rivers’ Crossing and beyond. Walton made good money and Lakeside prospered, growing quickly to support the new industry. A few years ago, the Waltons had a big party on the lake, floating their barges out to the middle and serving drinks. A lot of the Waltons’ extended family was there, along with the Waltons’ servants. Gerald’s wife, Laura was unable to attend though, as she was feeling a bit ill that day. A terrible storm rose up. The party ended in disaster. The barges were sunk and nearly everyone out there that day drowned in the murky waters of the lake. Laura was stricken with a grief from which she never recovered. She lost her family and her mind that day. She went through the motions of carrying on the brick making business, but it suffered, as she lacked any real motivation to continue it. The Walton Manor began to fall into disrepair. Many came to her, offering their service, sometimes for no cost, as they felt sorry for the grieving widow. Laura turned them all away, though, saying that she had plenty of help around the house and that their services were not required. Laura’s brother, Jeremy Tanner, came up from Rivers’ Crossing and tried to help her get out of her grief. Unfortunately, she was unable to. She passed away about a year ago.”

Gale

He pulled his hat lower as he walked into town. ‘Best not let anyone see my pointed ears here,’ he thought. Gale studied the town as they approached. The buildings were short, made of brick and timber, and sprawled out across the low hills of the eastern shore of the lake. The lake was sizable. Gale could just see the far shore. On the lake, he could see barges being loaded at crude docks. Near the docks, close to the shore, men were working to pull mud and clay out of the ground and pack it into wooden brick forms further up the shore.

“The brick making industry carries on,” Rognvald was saying to the group, “but it is not as prosperous as it was under Gerald Walton’s management. They probably made three times as many bricks in those days. Let’s take these prisoners to the courthouse then find a place to stay for the night.”

Blind Seer

He gazed around at the buildings as they entered the town. This was the largest human settlement that Blind Seer had ever been in. He sniffed the air. ‘So many smells,’ he thought, ‘and most of them unpleasant! How do humans live like this?’

As they made their way through the streets, Blind Seer saw several enieto scattered among the humans. “I thought most enieto lived in Void Temples,” he remarked.

“That is where we are born and raised,” said Ku, “but most of us leave the temples and live our lives elsewhere. Many settle down in human towns. Some travel to Laushurno and join the enieto community there.”

“Ah, here we are,” said Rognvald, “the courthouse.”

Ku

He looked around as they entered the courthouse, hauling the still tied prisoners in. The building was simply built, though it used the highest quality bricks that Ku had seen so far. Inside, three humans sat on a raised platform. Next to the platform stood an enieto. The enieto and the three humans were looking at two men that stood in the middle of the room. One had his hands bound behind his back. The other looked to be some sort of guard. Near the back wall, to the right of the entryway, stood another enieto with arms crossed. Just to the left of the entryway was another human, who produced a book and quill, then approached Rognvald.

Rognvald quietly whispered to the human with the book and quill, who then scribbled in his book and sat back down. The human in the middle of the raised platform spoke, “After reviewing the evidence presented yesterday, this court finds you guilty of thievery. For this crime, the criminal is sentenced to lose the first joint of his fifth left-hand finger.” The bound criminal accepted his fate stoically and the guard led him out of the courthouse.

The man with the book stood up and said, “To the court, I present Garsk of the Deepguard.” The enieto near the back of the room unfolded his arms and stepped forward.

“Ah, Garsk. Good to see you again,” one of the human judges said. “How were your travels?”

The enieto replied, “Full of fair weather and safe roads, thank you. How have things been here?”

“Well enough, thank you. Well, we will have our prisoners brought out to the square in a few minutes and deal out the punishments.”

Garsk nodded, turned, and headed out of the courthouse.

“To the court, I present Rognvald, the merchant,” said the scribe.

Rognvald stepped forward and told the judges about the skirmish at Edgeville and how they had captured three of the bandits and an elf. Rognvald left out the part about some of the bandits becoming his guards. The judges listened patiently, looking at the prisoners. Their gaze lingered on the elf, then they turned to the enieto that stood near the raised platform and nodded to him.

The enieto stepped forward and said, “Hello. I am called Vosok. As part of standard procedure, I must attempt to verify your story. Is anyone in the accusing party or the accused party opposed to me reading their mind?” One of the bandits, Thorkell, replied that he was opposed to having “one of you things poking around in my head”. Vosok nodded and said that he would exclude him from the mind reading.

Ku felt a foreign presence enter his mind, creeping around the edges and gazing in. Ku relaxed his mental barriers and allowed the presence to look freely. Ku glanced at the rest of the group and saw that some were clearly discomforted by the experience. It was soon over.

Vosok turned to face the judges and said, “Let the records state that the enieto inquisitor Vosok finds no evidence to contradict the accusing side.”

The judges nodded and turned to Rognvald, saying “Vosok’s investigation and the fact that one of your prisoners is obviously an elf is enough to verify your story. This court finds the accused guilty. For the crime of banditry, this court sentences the humans accused to death by beheading. For the crime of illegally entering the Fadafir Kingdom, this court sentences the elf accused to death by beheading.”

As the group began to head out of the courthouse, Ku saw Vosok pull Gale aside and give him a long look. Ku had the feeling that they were having a telepathic conversation. Vosok turned away and headed back towards the front of the courtroom. Gale hurried outside with a worried look on his face. Ku wondered what all that was about, but shrugged, figuring it was none of his business.

Barry

He followed Rognvald outside the courthouse, feeling a bit shaky. ‘I am also guilty of banditry… Surely Vosok found that out.’ Luckily for Barry, enieto inquisitors were sworn to report only on the crimes stated before the court by the accusing party.

Outside, Barry saw that guards had brought out bound criminals and lined them up in the square by the courthouse. A crowd of people had gathered and were watching. Across the square stood two guards and a man with a black hood covering his face. Near them also stood Garsk, arms crossed and robe stirring in the breeze, and another enieto, dressed in chainmail with a hand resting on the hilt of a sheathed sword.

The scribe from the courthouse came outside and made his way to the middle of the square. “You have all been sentenced by the court of Lakeside,” he called out, addressing the bound criminals, “Today, the court shall deal out your punishments. Let it be known to you that if you will it, instead of receiving the punishment sentenced to you by the court, you may elect to hand your life over to the Deepguard and serve them in defense against the abominations of the Deep.”

The scribe paused, then opened his book and flipped through it. Stopping at a page, he raised his head and said, “Bring forth Thorkell, found guilty of banditry, sentenced to death by beheading.” Guards brought Thorkell forth and stood him in front of the scribe. “What is your choice,” the scribe asked Thorkell.

Thorkell spat in the direction of Garsk and the other enieto and said, “I ain’t going with those things. Their kind loves to poke around in people’s brains. Ain’t going to let them mess around in there and make me lose my head…” Thorkell continued on in this manner, spitting curses and accusations at the enieto as the guards hauled him over to a bloodstained block, forcing him to kneel over it. The enieto looked on impassively as the executioner did his work and Thorkell lost his head. It rolled over near the other criminals, who hastily backed away.

‘They always start with the most stubborn prisoner with the harshest punishment,’ Barry thought amusedly, ‘Shows the other prisoners that they mean business. After seeing it up close, serving out the rest of your life in the Deepguard starts to sound rather nice. Gets more recruits for the Deepguard and gets more criminals out of the human community. Win-win.’

The punishments continued. Most of those with harsh punishments chose to join the Deepguard instead. Even some with lesser punishments chose it. The executioner took many fingers and toes. Somewhat surprisingly, the elf chose to join the Deepguard, silently walking over to them when the scribe asked him what his choice was. Garsk began applying the Mark of Submission to the new Deepguard recruits, a brand across the face, imbued with psionic energy that made the recruits susceptible to mental control should they ever try to escape or harm a fellow recruit.

Gale

‘Damn,’ he thought when he heard that the inn didn’t have any bathing facilities. Rognvald paid for food and rooms for the whole group. Gale headed straight for the innkeeper and got his food. He sat down at a table in the common room and attacked his plate, astonished that they had given him such a large portion, at least three times as much as a meal back at the farms.

The common room started to fill up as the evening went on. A fiddler started up a jig and the townsfolk hopped up to dance. Gale, who had had quite a few drinks by this point, joined them. He soon found himself dancing with a rather pretty woman.

“Hi,” said the woman, “My name is Mary. What’s yours?”

“Gale. You’re a good dancer.”

“Aren’t you hot in that hat,” asked Mary, reaching for the Gale’s hat, which had stayed firmly on his head ever since entering town. He sobered a bit and gently blocked her reaching arms. She ducked under his arms and hugged him tight, giggling and saying, “Oh come on. I bet you’re even cuter under that hat.” She began making another attempt to remove Gale’s hat.

A stern voice rang out across the room, “Mary!” Gale looked in the direction of the voice and saw a burly man stomping towards them. The man stopped nearby and said, “Come on, it’s time to go home… And you, stay away from my daughter!”

As soon as Mary loosened her grip on Gale, he mumbled an apology to her father and hurried outside, seeking fresh air. ‘Fool,’ he thought to himself, ’You’ve got to be more careful. That was too close.’

Blind Seer

It was all a bit overwhelming. The smells, the music, the dancing. This was the largest human inn that Blind Seer had ever been in. He enjoyed the music that they were playing. It reminded him of home, for it sounded similar in some ways to the music of his tribe. The smells, though, were becoming hard to handle. Blind Seer was used to the smell of sweating wolfos and even, to some degree, the smell of his new companions, but the assault of odor from the horde of people was beginning to make him ill. He saw Gale leave and was grateful for the excuse to head outside, telling his friends that he was going to check on Gale.

Blind Seer found Gale leaning against the fence that divided the inn’s small front yard from the brick street. The glow from the inn dimly lit the street as the short twilight of Daern began to fade. The other nearby buildings were dark, as they were shops and closed for the evening. Blind Seer approached Gale and saw that he had a somber expression on his face. “Are you alright? What happened back there,” he asked Gale.

After a long pause, Gale replied, “She tried to take off my hat.”

“What?”

“The girl I was dancing with. She tried to take off my hat. She almost found out what I am. And Vosok, the enieto from the courthouse, he knows. He found out while reading our minds to verify our story. I think he also saw some of my days as a slave, which is probably the only reason he didn’t reveal me to the guards. He certainly doesn’t trust me, though. Before we left, he told me to stay out of trouble.”

Blind Seer pondered for a moment, upset by his friend’s distress, then said, “It must be hard having to conceal your true nature all the time. I wish there was something I could do to help.”

Gale sighed and said, “I’m sorry to vent all this to you. You’ve already done a lot by keeping my secret. I just… I don’t know… I just thought freedom would be different. I have escaped the chains of the ‘enlightened’ elves, but now it seems I am bound by chains of a different sort.”

As Blind Seer was considering Gale’s words, a man hobbled up from down the street, favoring one of his legs. The man approached Gale and Blind Seer.

Ku

He sat with Barry, Blind Seer, and Rognvald at a table near the door. Ku thought the food tasted good, though the ale was a bit bitter. He had a nice plate of fish, fresh caught from the lake. “So Rognvald,” Ku said as he crunched through the fish’s scales, “What is the plan for tomorrow? What can you tell us of the road ahead?”

Rognvald set down his drink and replied, “Well, I’ll probably drop by the temple tomorrow morning to thank Arian for our safe travels so far and to ask for our continued safety on the road south.”

“Oh, there is a temple here,” Ku asked. The four of them saw Gale hurry out the door. Blind Seer politely excused himself, saying that he was going to go check on Gale.

“Yes, quite an elaborate one in fact,” Rognvald replied to Ku’s question, “Used to just be a small shrine, but Gerald Walton paid for it to be expanded. The finest bricks were used in making the temple building, which encloses a courtyard that holds finely carved statues of the Six Elders and the Human Primals. Supposedly, it has been blessed by the clergy of the Six Elders, protection, peace, and all that.”

“Sounds like an interesting place. I’ll join you tomorrow if you don’t mind.”

Rognvald nodded in agreement and said, “As for the road south, there isn’t much between here and Rivers’ Crossing. About the only thing of significance is Fort Duristan. It was built near the end of the Second Great Human-Elf War to protect Rivers’ Crossing.”

At this time, Blind Seer reappeared in the doorway and gestured for them to come outside. Rognvald finished his drink and said, "Well I’m heading to bed. Just be sure you younglings don’t get into any trouble. Ku and Barry nodded, then followed Blind Seer outside.

Barry

He followed Blind Seer and Ku outside and saw Gale standing near a man that leaned heavily on one leg. Gale nodded to Ku and Barry and said, “This gentleman is asking for help.”

The man spoke up, “Aye. It’s a bit embarrassing, but… well, I told my boy some stories about my grandfather, who studied the arcane arts… and you see, I had my grandfather’s ring, passed down to my father then to me. Showed it to my boy, telling him someday it’d be passed down to him. Set it on the mantle so we could admire it for a few days before stowing it back safely away. My boy gets it in his head to play with the ring, pretending to be a wizard and such nonsense that kids get into their heads. It don’t have special properties, mind you, just an old family heirloom that happened to have been owned by a mage. Anyways, my boy takes the ring, goes to play in the old Walton manor, and loses it in there! I’d very much like to get it back, as it has much sentimental value to me. Tried to send my boy back in to get it, but he wouldn’t, squirming and screaming about how the house had come alive and tried to kill him. It’s amazing what nonsense gets into their heads, eh? I’d go get it myself, but my leg here isn’t in the best of shape and, truth be told, the old manor can be dangerous, as it is in disrepair. Shouldn’t be any danger to spry young gentlemen such as yourselves, though. There’s coin in it if you can get my heirloom back. How about it?”

Barry looked around at Gale, Blind Seer, and Ku. They all nodded, so he said to the man, “Yes sir, I believe we can help you.”

Gale

They stood before the old Walton manor. They had set out immediately, since they were heading on to Rivers’ Crossing in the morning and didn’t want this opportunity to earn coin to pass them by. Twilight had faded to night. Only one of the moons, Ruthaen, was in the sky today, casting a dim red light down upon Daern. It was a rusty red half circle, tucked in the sky between the horizon and Nostiarna, which loomed overhead.

They had brought their gear and weapons as Barry had suggested, for they were traversing an unknown town at night and he said there was a chance that they might run into criminals. Ku had lit a torch, lighting their way as they travelled amongst the brick and timber buildings, which were beginning to crack and fade in some areas.

The Walton manor was enclosed by a wrought iron fence. The light from the torch cast long shadows across the yard beyond, which was overgrown with patches of tall grass. The manor itself was still beyond the reach of the light, a black silhouette to the human eye. Gale could see it, though, his eyes dilating beyond the range of a human’s to let in more light. As Rognvald had told them, the manor had stood vacant ever since Laura Walton died, about a year ago, though it had fallen into disrepair long before that, for in her grief she had refused to hire more servants to replace those that had died alongside her family in the terrible storm on the lake. The manor was two stories, modestly sized compared to the enlightened elf mansions that Gale had seen. It was made of what was once high quality brick, timber supports, and wooden shingles. Now, the brick was cracked and faded, the timber was sagging and splintered, and the shingles were worn and missing in places. Gale saw that many of the shutters were hanging crooked, clinging to the house with the few good hinges left to them. Some had fallen off, smashing against the roof of the porch and sliding off to the ground, bringing several shingles with them. The glass of many of the windows was still intact, surprising since it was worth a good amount of coin for anyone willing to take it. A few were broken, though, smashed by kids or in the case of one on the top floor, a tree branch that had crunched the roof and window frame.

The wrought iron fence was beginning to show rust in places, though it still held sturdy, and was topped with spikes. The bars were spaced wide enough for a skinny child to wriggle through, if he were determined enough, but too narrow by far for adults. There was a wrought iron gate as well, though it had a chain wrapped tight around it with a sturdy lock. Barry stepped toward the lock, pulling something out of his coat and mumbling about picking up a few tricks over the years. He fiddled with the lock for a minute and got it to pop open. He unwound the chain and placed it and the lock on the ground, then opened the gate. It screeched but the sound was quickly swallowed up by the night. They all headed through and headed for the front door.

As he was stepping through the gate, Gale thought he heard whispering in the streets behind them. He turned around and scanned the streets, peering into the alleyways and checking the rooftops. He saw nothing and began to doubt if he had actually heard anything. After a moment, he turned back towards the manor and hurried to catch up with the group.

Blind Seer

They entered the manor and found themselves in a large room. Opposite the entrance was a fireplace, black with old soot on the inside and long gone cold. A low table sat before it with a couch and two plush chairs gathered around it. Blind Seer recognized the fabric of the couch and chairs as wolfos made. His tribe didn’t spin, preferring to live in the more traditional way, but they occasionally traded with another tribe of the north Riverlands that herded sheep and spun their wool into high quality fabrics. It was a way of life that was becoming popular among wolfos tribes, especially those that lived in the human nations, for the trade it brought garnered valuable products from human communities. To the right of the entrance was a sizeable alcove with another low table, this one square, with four plush chairs around it. A cabinet with a glass front door stood in the alcove as well, mostly empty except for a few bottles that still held dregs of hard liquor. To the left of the entrance was a fine dining table with eight high-back wooden chairs around it. Beyond the dining table was a door, as well as one near the fireplace. The air smelled stale and dusty to Blind Seer and the once fine furnishings were mouse-chewed and cracking after having been abandoned.

They searched through the room, looking for the ring. As Blind Seer was looking under the table by the fireplace, he suddenly felt cold, shivering and bumping against the table, which scraped against the floor. The cold left him as quickly as it had set upon him. “Did you hear that,” asked Gale, who was searching over near the liquor cabinet.

“Sorry,” replied Blind Seer, “I bumped the table.”

“No, not that,” said Gale, looking towards the door by the dining table, “I thought I heard someone whispering over there.”

Ku, who was searching near the dining table, moved over to the door and waved everyone over. He opened it and they stepped through into a kitchen. A brick oven sat against the left wall, a stone counter against the opposite, and on the right wall was a door. In the middle of the kitchen was a wooden table with cooking implements hanging above it. There was no one besides them in the room. “I think you’re hearing things, Gale,” said Barry. Ku put a hand on the central table, crouching down to peer underneath it. The cooking implements rattled suddenly as the straps on the handle of a knife broke, letting it fall through the hanging implements, bouncing against them and landing tip down in the table right next to Ku’s hand. He pulled it back quickly and eyed the other implements warily.

They searched the kitchen but didn’t find the ring. They went through the door to the right of the kitchen entrance and found a long hallway that stretched to the right. There was one door on the left and one on the right. At the end of the hall were both stairs up and stairs down. “That should lead back to the front room,” Blind Seer said, pointing his nose towards the door on the right. They opened it to check and indeed found that this was the door near the fireplace in the front room. They opened the other door in the hallway next. Blind Seer headed in first and saw several bunk beds to the left and an open area with a rug and items strewn about to the right. “Probably servants’ sleeping quarters,” Barry said, gesturing to the bunk beds. Blind Seer went to investigate the area with the rug. As he got close, he saw that the items strewn about were children’s toys. He had had similar toys when he was a pup. One of the toys was a rag doll, crumpled sadly in the middle of the rug, its button eyes seeming to stare up at the ceiling.

“Huh, look at this,” Barry said, who had started searching amongst the bunk beds. He held up a small, flat, circular stone that had a strange design of swirls and lines painted on it. “That’s a symbol of the Gate Warden,” he said. Barry flipped the stone over. It had another design on the other side, this time scratched crudely into the stone. “And that’s a folk’s rune that means protection. Found it under one of these mattresses. What do you think the servants wanted protection from?”

They all pondered the stone for a few moments more, then shrugged and decided to continue the search for the ring in the rest of the house. As they headed back into the hallway, Blind Seer glanced back at the rag doll. Its button eyes seemed to stare straight at him. Another chill ran through Blind Seer’s body. He shivered but shook it off and followed the group into the hallway.

Ku

They headed downstairs. The bottom of the stairs opened out into a sizeable cellar that was filled with shelves, both pushed against the walls and freestanding in the middle of the room. The shelves were filled with a variety of items, ranging from books to woodworking tools. The air was colder down here, though still stale. They began to search amongst the shelves.

“What,” asked Gale, “What did you say?” The others replied that they hadn’t said anything. “I thought I heard something,” Gale said. Barry mumbled that he thought Gale had had too much to drink back at the inn. They continued searching.

At the back of the cellar, Ku found several items on the ground. Something glinted amongst them in the torchlight. Ku moved closer and saw that it was a ring. He called the others over and picked it up.

“That’s how he described it,” said Barry, “must be what we’re looking for.”

Blind Seer sniffed at the items on the ground and said, “The man said his son claimed that the house came alive and attacked him. I guess this stuff fell on him while he was exploring. Must have scared him.”

They all nodded and headed back towards the stairs. Ku eyed the fallen items. The shelves around them were empty, so presumably the items came from them. None of the shelves were broken, though, and they were much too heavy to tilt. How then did the items get off the shelves to fall on the boy? Ku pondered this for a moment then shrugged. They had the ring back now, so it was time to get out of this old manor and get to bed. Ku followed the group up the stairs.

As he neared the top of the stairs, Ku felt one of the steps crack under his foot. He fell up the stairs, leg plunging through the broken, splintered step. He felt his leg go cold as he scrambled awkwardly to free it. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Blind Seer shiver and fall against the wall of the hallway. Barry swayed at the top of the steps, threatening to topple back down them. Barry looked around and Ku saw that his eyes had a dazed look in them.

Barry

He heard the step crack behind him and Ku struggling to free himself. Blind Seer began shivering and fell against the wall. Without warning, Barry’s vision blurred and he saw the Other Side. The mists swirled around him and the River streamed by a ways ahead of him. He peered through the mists and saw that there were distortions nearby. His vision began to blur back and forth between the normal world and the Other Side, disorienting him and causing him to sway as he tried to regain his balance. Barry saw that one of the distortions in the mists was near Blind Seer. Turning slowly, he saw that another was underneath the basement stairs. Focusing on the distortion, he thought he caught a glimpse of a human figure in it. Barry’s vision snapped completely back to the normal world and he grabbed the stair railing to steady himself. Blind Seer stopped shivering and Ku got his leg free from the broken step. Barry was about to say something about what he saw when Gale said, “I know I hear something this time!” Indeed, they all heard it now. The front door slamming open and the sound of running footsteps entering the manor. The group had a moment to glance at each other, wondering who else could be in the manor, then a man ran into the hallway from the door to the front room. He stopped short, looking surprised to find other people here. “Who are you,” the man asked, trying to catch his breath after running.

The man was plain looking. Brown hair, brown eyes, probably about thirty years of age. He looked rather distressed. The group hesitated, then Gale asked, “Who are you?”

“Jeremy Tanner. Excuse me.” The man dashed around the group and up the stairs.

“Jeremy Tanner,” Gale said, “Didn’t Rognvald say that he was the brother of Laura Walton?”

The group looked around at each other, shocked by the sudden appearance of the man. They cautiously followed him upstairs. They found Jeremy in a room just to the right of the top of the stairs. He was searching frantically through the room. Barry noted that this room looked less run down than the others and that many of the things in the room were not covered in dust. He supposed that Jeremy may have been living or at least working here for some time. “Jeremy Tanner,” Barry said, “brother of Laura Walton?”

“Yes,” replied Jeremy as he shuffled through a desk full of papers, “My poor, poor sister. She never deserved what I did to her.”

Barry glanced at the others, starting to feel uneasy about the situation. “What… what did you do to her,” he asked Jeremy.
Jeremy was frantically tossing papers to the floor, babbling distractedly and uncontrollably to the total strangers. “When I heard about the tragedy on the lake, her husband and family dying in a storm, I traveled up here to comfort her. Well, I’ve dabbled in the arcane arts you see, and I thought perhaps that I could let her talk to Gerald’s spirit. Find some peace.” Jeremy pulled a paper out of the desk and glanced over it, then ran to a shelf that held several ceramic jars and began looking through them. “The ritual I attempted… I was surprised that it worked. I was mostly just desperate to try anything to help my sister. It… it didn’t work quite right, though. It bound the spirits of the dead to this house.” Jeremy grabbed a few of the jars and dashed over to a bag that lay against a wall. He put the jars in it and started to read the paper again. “I think she started to lose grip on reality then, not knowing who was alive and who was dead. The servants lived in fear and eventually all moved out. A year ago, she passed away. My ritual, though… it still lingers I suppose. Her spirit was also bound here. I searched and studied and finally I thought I had found a way to end this. A spell to raise the bodies from the lake and a blessing to say over them and lay their spirits to rest. Something went wrong with the spell, though, and now… well, now there are abominations crawling out of the lake. Maybe I can try the blessing anyways,” he said, running his finger down the paper, “Yes, that’s it, I’ve got everything.” Jeremy picked up the bag, stuffed the paper inside it, and ran past the group out the door.

They all stood dumbfounded at what they had just heard. Abominations were something they had all heard stories of. Monsters in the Deep that the Deepguard fought. The thought that some were here, threatening Lakeside was disturbing to say the least. They looked at each other for a moment, then ran out the door, rushing to catch up with Jeremy.

Gale

They caught up to Jeremy out on the street in front of the Walton manor. “Abominations,” Gale exclaimed questioningly. Jeremy nodded and kept running. They reached the shore of the lake near the brick making workshop. Gale scanned the shore, not really sure what to expect. Then he saw them. The waters and the fish had made them nearly unrecognizable, rotted forms of what were once humans. They were struggling through the thick mud and clay, grasping towards the last few lights that were still lit in the town settling down for the night. “Whatever you’re going to do, do it quick,” Gale said to Jeremy. There were several of the abominations. More were starting to rise from the deeper waters and some had managed to make it to dry ground, where they began to make steadier progress towards the buildings. Jeremy set down his bag and pulled out the paper and the jars, then began drawing symbols in the dirt. Gale drew his short sword and moved to intercept the abominations, hoping to keep them out of the town. The abominations spotted him and shambled towards him. He shoved one back, feeling uneasy about attacking it with a sword, for it had once been a person. While Gale was regaining his footing after the push, another one shambled up and grabbed his arm. The first one stumbled forward again and slammed its rotting arms against Gale’s chest, putting a dent in his armor. They smelled terrible. As he struggled to free his arm, he saw that two more had made their way to dry ground and were heading his way.

Blind Seer

He hung back near Jeremy, struggling to comprehend the situation. Dead things were clawing their way through the water and mud. Abominations… sure, he had heard the scary stories occasionally told around the fire by Anyar, the Elder Teacher of his tribe… but he had always thought that they were just stories. Now the small horde of them rising from the lake was proving him wrong. They were beginning to overwhelm Gale! Blind Seer gathered his wits and calmed his mind, drawing upon the deep, still part of his mind. He stabbed out with his mind at the one holding Gale’s arm. It was as if is mental blade had jabbed at nothing. Blind Seer reeled, off-balance just as a swordsman would be if he had stabbed at nothing but air. ‘They are utterly mindless,’ he thought, starting to feel panic rising, ‘There is nothing to attack!’ He drew again on the still part of his mind, which was now slightly drained from his first sally, this time targeting his mental energy towards the ground near the abominations. He and Ku had been doing mental exercises together and Ku had explained the theory he had learned in the Void Temple that mind could effect matter. Blind Seer didn’t fully understand it, but he was desperate. He willed the ground near Gale to become muddy and slippery, focusing all of his mind on it. He felt a rush of energy leave his still pool and suddenly the abominations that had nearly reached Gale slipped and flailed about on the ground. Gale was still struggling with two of them, though.

Ku

He had drawn his greatsword as they ran through town. Now, he surveyed the scene, seeing Gale get slammed by one of the abominations. He charged that one, aware that a few that had been heading Gale’s way were now down and flailing in a patch of mud. He smashed his blade through the head of one of the abominations. Ku had no qualms about the fact that they had once been living people. They had taught him much about abominations at the Void Temple and he knew that they were a very real threat faced by the Deepguard every day. They were dead and his friends were alive. To keep his friends alive, he must have no hesitation. Gale got himself free from the abomination and aimed a wild swing at it with his sword, apparently having gotten over the fact that they had once been people. Ku stepped forward and chopped one of the ones flailing in the mud in half. Suddenly, though, there were several near him that came in from the sides, bypassing the slippery mud. They grasped and clawed at him and he was unable to wield his sword effectively. Several started to beat on his armor, knocking the wind out of him. He struggled to free himself. Ku took a deep breath and focused his mind, willing his muscles to stretch and grow. He felt strength flowing into his limbs. Ku twisted and jerked, breaking the grip of the abominations, then swung his sword in a wide arc, knocking several of them back. As he paused in the momentary respite, he noted that it had begun to rain.

Barry

He saw Gale and Ku dispatch a few of the abominations. Gale was being pushed back towards Jeremy, cut off from where Ku now struggled with several of the things. Barry had never doubted the existence of abominations, but there was a big difference between hearing about the Deepguard fighting them and suddenly having twenty to thirty rushing at you. One shambled up close to Jeremy. Barry ran it through with his rapier, but it kept flailing, smacking Barry in the arm with a cold, wet, dead arm. His heart pounded and his dinner threatened to come up at the stench. Barry kicked the thing off his sword then slashed desperately at it, smashing in its head. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ku throw back several of them. He felt raindrops splashing on his skin. “No, no, no,” Jeremy said with a wild look in his eye, staring at his scratchings in the dirt which were now being washed away, “We must go to the temple,” he said, now sounding drained and hopeless, “Our only hope to live is if the old stories about it being warded are true.” Gale and Ku had both made it back to Jeremy, Blind Seer, and Barry. The group dashed off, Jeremy leading the way to the temple. The horde of abominations followed behind them, grasping, dripping, and splashing through the puddles being formed on the brick streets by the rain. They saw what must be the temple ahead. As they neared it, Jeremy slipped in a puddle. The abominations closed in near him. Blind Seer and Barry grabbed him and dragged him through the archway that led into the temple courtyard while Gale and Ku held back the closest abominations. Soon, the whole group was in the temple courtyard. The abominations hesitated beyond the archway, seemingly unwilling to pass through it.

Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry

They breathed a sigh of relief, glad for the respite from the onslaught and scanned the courtyard, trying to determine their next move. In the middle of the courtyard, four statues stood close together. They depicted the Human Primals: Otac, a sturdy middle-aged man holding a stalk of wheat, tender of the land; Talam, his wife, a gracefully aged woman holding an apple, tender of the home; Arian, their older son, a clean shaven handsome young man holding coins, promoter of honest business and philanthropy; Twyllo, their younger son, a ruggedly handsome young man with tousled hair holding a smiling theater mask, promoter of fun and laughter. More statues, larger than the ones in the middle, stood in the corners of the courtyard and in the middle of the walls to the left and right. These depicted the Six Elders: The Radiant One, clad from head to toe in armor, holding a sword in one hand and a hammer in the other, defender of justice and patron of craftsmen; The Guarding Hunter, a stern looking figure whose face seemed almost as a beast’s, holding a tree branch as a staff, defender of the wilds; Freedom’s Blade, a handsome man whose hair seemed to blow in the wind, holding a winged sword pointed downwards, champion of liberty and of the wrongfully imprisoned; The Voidwatcher, an enieto with unblinking eyes, hands clasped in front of him, seer of the truth; The Mystic Lord, a middle aged man with a sly smirk, leaning on a slender staff, master of magic; The Gate Warden, a beautiful but cold looking woman, a hand stretched out in front of her, the mistress of death and life. Counterpart to the Six Elders were the Three Elders. They were not depicted here, for they were considered by humans to be cruel and evil deities, though all knew their appearances from the stories. The Enlightened Master, a perfectly sculpted elf, holding a chain, lord of the enlightened elves and enforcer of order; The Nightstalker, a darkly handsome man, wreathed in a black cloak, master of material gain and self indulgence; The Ravenous One, a hideous enieto with skin that had black energy bursting from it, lord of hunger and madness.

As they took in their surroundings, Jeremy got to his feet slowly with his back turned to the group, looking towards the abominations that shuffled beyond the archway. He began to laugh in a much deeper voice than before, which somehow seemed full of menace. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry exchanged worried looks. Jeremy turned and grinned at the group. He looked the same, but they had the uncomfortable feeling that something else was looking out of Jeremy’s eyes… something Evil. It spoke with Jeremy’s voice, deeper and calmer than his previous babbling, “What an unexpected fortune that has fallen my way. Drawn here by the screams of mass death on the lake. Latched onto this one when he came to town, clutching his spells and hoping to speak to the dead. Corrupted his rituals, trapped the souls and gave the bodies hunger. The banquet poised to die, so that I may feast on the memories of their terror. Now these come along and grant me entrance to the town’s only bastion, pulling me through the barrier which I could not cross willingly. Now I can destroy the bastion from within. Now these will be added to the banquet of screams.”

Jeremy raised a hand and pointed at Barry. A burst of dark purple energy lashed out and struck Barry in the chest, who dropped his rapier and fell to his knees, clutching at his heart. Ku jumped into action and dashed forward, slicing his greatsword horizontally through the air. He opened a deep cut on Jeremy’s arm and chest. Jeremy laughed as the gash closed up, scarring over quickly. He shoved Ku, arms flashing with more dark purple energy. Ku was sent tumbling backwards several feet, caught off guard by Jeremy’s unnatural strength. Jeremy pointed a finger towards Blind Seer. Gale felt the power welling up inside of him, raising a hand and facing an open palm towards a point between Jeremy and Blind Seer. Energy flashed out through the air from both Jeremy and Gale. A boiling beam of dark purple and a golden arc in the shape of lightning. The beams collided and deflected off each other, crashing into the wall near the statue of the Voidwatcher, which sat unmoved and continued to stare impassively over the fight. The rain hissed and steamed around the impact site as a few of the bricks cracked and crumbled to the ground. Blind Seer’s stomach had twisted as Jeremy pointed at him. Now he was shocked and relieved that Gale had blocked the beam. Blind Seer began to draw upon the last reserves of the still part of his mind. A wind began to blow about the courtyard, lashing the rain sideways and whipping all their clothes around. Barry had regained his feet and his rapier, dashing around to get behind Jeremy. He slid his blade between Jeremy’s ribs, straight into his heart. Jeremy coughed up some blood. Blind Seer stabbed out with his mind. He met with a swirl of disconnected memories of pain and screaming. With a struggle, Blind Seer punched through these. As he was withdrawing his mental blade, a thought entered his mind. Blind Seer somehow knew that it was Jeremy… the real Jeremy. The thought was, ‘Help me!’ The Evil laughed with Jeremy’s voice and managed to speak through a mouthful of blood, “If I go, this poor fool goes with me.” Blind Seer called out to the others, “Jeremy is still in there, struggling to free himself!” The rain poured down harder and the wind kicked up into a frenzy. The distant rumblings of thunder could be heard. Gale raised his voice above the storm, “Hold him down!” Barry pulled his rapier out of Jeremy and kicked out the back of his knees. Jeremy dropped to a kneel, coughing up blood even as the sword wound closed up and scarred over. Having regained his feet, Ku went over and locked his grip around Jeremy’s arm. Gale stepped towards Jeremy and spoke to the Evil, “Leave him.” The Evil laughed with Jeremy’s voice and raised his head to look Gale in the eye, grinning with a mouthful of blood covered teeth and malice. Gale grabbed Jeremy and shook him, yelling at the Evil, “Leave him!” At that moment, a bolt of lightning crashed down from the storm, striking Jeremy straight in the head. Gale, Barry, and Ku leapt backwards, dropping Jeremy, who fell to the ground unmoving. Gale stared wide-eyed and shocked. Blind Seer looked on, dumbfounded. Gale reached up, absentmindedly running a hand through his hair, and suddenly realized that the blast from the lightning strike had blown off his hat.

The storm calmed down quickly to a steady rain. Barry and Ku were still for a moment, taking in Gale’s uncovered features. The dark red hair, the ever so slightly slanted eyes, the pointed ears. Gale brought his hand back down to his side, taking on a resolved look and half-heartedly bringing his short sword up to a guard position. “Elf,” Ku spat, leveling his greatsword at Gale’s chest, “Explain.” Barry charged at him, swinging his rapier in a wild overcut. Blind Seer rushed forward and clamped his teeth onto Barry’s sleeve, disrupting his blow. “It’s not what you think,” Blind Seer growled through his teeth. Barry eyed him wildly and exclaimed, “You knew?!” Gale sighed and lowered his sword, then said, “I know you have all heard the stories about the ‘enlightened’ elves, but I know the truth of their cruelty better than most. I have been a slave to them ever since I was very young, ripped from my mother’s arms. I share certain features with them, but by no means am I akin to them. I am what many call a Forgotten Elf.” Ku kept his greatsword pointed at Gale’s chest. Barry narrowed his eyes at Gale as a distant memory rose to the surface of his mind. Long ago, his mother had told him stories of the Forgotten Elves, how they had helped the humans in the First Great Human-Elf War hundreds of years ago. Everyone just thought that Forgotten Elves were hearth-tales… but then again, everyone thought the same of dragons. Gale continued, “It was never my intention to deceive anyone. The only thing on my mind was to get as far away from the Cold Forest as possible. The elves back at Edgeville were there for me, seeking to drag me back into slavery.” Blind Seer let go of Barry, as he seemed to now at least be listening to Gale. Blind Seer said, “I discovered Gale’s nature in the fight with the Molroito back in Edgeville. Gale does not smell the same as the other elves.” Gale nodded thanks to Blind Seer and said, “I’ve only wanted to get away from the Molroito and Rognvald offered the perfect opportunity. I feared such a reaction just as this if you found me out, so I stayed silent and kept concealed.” Ku reluctantly lowered his greatsword and said, “You have watched my back throughout this journey and for that I thank you. I know not if you are truly a Forgotten Elf, but as far as I can tell, you have not yet tried to enslave us,” pausing to smirk ever so slightly, then continuing again with a stern look, “I will be watching you carefully, though, as we continue our travels together.” Barry said, “Your story could be true… but it could also be false. I’ll also keep my eye on you as we continue our journey. And yes, you will definitely stay with us even though we know what you are. If you try to slink off, I will know for sure that you are a dirty elf spy and I will come hunt you down.” Blind Seer looked nervously between the other three. Jeremy stirred and groaned on the ground. Everyone looked to him, astonished to see that he seemed relatively unscathed from the lightning strike. Then they brought their weapons up to guard positions, wondering if the Evil had regenerated his body from the bolt. Jeremy slowly sat up, rubbing his head and eyes. “What happened,” he asked, holding his forehead and staring at one of his hands, speaking in a normal voice, “Did I… did I hurt anyone?” Convinced that the Evil had left Jeremy, Gale hurried off to find his hat.

Gale found his hat over by one of the statues of the Elders. He picked it up, wrung out the water in it, and put it firmly back on his head. Gale looked up at the statue and saw that it was Freedom’s Blade, the Chainbreaker, as he had heard some human slaves call him back at the farm. Gale’s people had a different name for the Elder, though… The Lord of the Winds, for he was said to revel in storms and the freedom that they symbolized. Gale thought back on the lightning shaped energy ray that he had used to deflect the Evil’s beam, and on the real lightning bolt that had struck Jeremy and seemed to have cleansed him of the Evil. Gale whispered a quick prayer of thanks to Freedom’s Blade. Gale felt the warm glow of the power, rising in his heart. He had occasionally suspected, but Gale knew then for sure from whom the power originated.

The rain stopped shortly after and the group carefully inched outside the temple, relieved to see that the abominations had all fallen to the ground, unmoving. At Jeremy’s request for help, they began to collect the bodies, laying them out as respectfully as possible, for Jeremy still wished to perform final rites for the dead. They were finishing up just as Edromyn was beginning to be uncovered. Jeremy said a blessing over the bodies, then the group sat silent, exhausted and unsure of what to do next. A scream pierced the air. Guards soon arrived, finding nearly thirty corpses with five blood covered people sitting nearby. The group was arrested and taken to the courthouse. The judges and Vosok, the enieto inquisitor, were roused from their beds for an immediate trial. Jeremy stammered out an explanation of all that had occurred. Their minds were examined. Thankfully, Vosok continued to stay silent on the fact that Gale was an elf, and also left out much of the details of the fight, only saying that they had overpowered Jeremy. The man who had asked them to retrieve the ring was summoned to court as a witness. By the time they found him, several townsfolk had also come to watch, as well as the enieto Deepguard recruiters. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry were found to be innocent in the events of the previous night. Jeremy was found guilty of necromancy and sentenced to immediate death. Blind Seer spoke up, “Honorable sirs, it was not Jeremy, but the Evil within him that performed the necromancy.” The judges replied, “The spirit trapping and the raising of the abominations, yes, but Jeremy’s initial attempt to speak with the dead is necromancy as well. The law makes no exceptions for that dark magic. Not even the Deepguard accept those that have performed necromancy.” Gale chimed in, “The Evil may have influenced Jeremy to attempt that spell in the first place.” Vosok said, “In your memories, before it attacked you, the Evil said that it latched onto Jeremy only after he came to Lakeside. Jeremy was considering casting the spell to speak with the dead long before that.” Ku stepped up and said, “Before last night, I thought the stories about Evils that could possess people were just hearth-tales, but our encounter last night was exactly as the stories describe. Looking into someone’s eyes and feeling something otherworldly looking back at you… The stories also say that Evils are expert liars. It is entirely possible that the Evil was lying to us last night and it has actually been working within Jeremy for much longer.” The judges frowned and replied to all the debate, “This is all irrelevant. Whether it was the Evil influencing him or not, Jeremy still studied necromancy and still knows how to perform that dark magic. It is safer for the world to extinguish that abhorrent knowledge. This court stands by its verdict.” Gale said, “We are not arguing that he be let completely off the hook, merely asking that you lessen his punishment, for it seems he has already been punished much the past few years.” Garsk, the Deepguard Keeper, stepped forward and said, “In light of the exceptional circumstances of this case, I would be willing to offer Jeremy a place the Deepguard in lieu of his sentence.” All were shocked, for usually the enieto were unyielding in their views on necromancy. Jeremy accepted Garsk’s offer and the court slowly began to disperse. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry returned the heirloom ring to the man, who handed over a decent sized pouch of coins. They returned to the inn and found Rognvald finishing the packing of his wagon. “Ah, there you are,” he said, “Ready to get on the road towards Rivers’ Crossing? I tried to go by the temple this morning, but the guards had it blocked off, talking about some sort of incident last night. Heard anything about it?” The four glanced at each other, unsure of how to begin.

View
Road to Lakeside
The heroes travel south with Rognvald, encountering some fey creatures and a beast of legend.

Gale

Gale looked around at his traveling companions. They were a strange site, riding alongside the merchant’s cart on what were once the bandits’ horses. Their prisoners were tied up in the cart. The three humans were grumbling amongst themselves. The elf was staring off into the distance and ignored any attempts at interaction. Ku rode ahead of the cart, keeping a vigilant eye on the horizon. Barry hung back with the other bandits-turned-guards and seemed to have fallen into a position of leadership with them. Blind Seer ranged to the sides of the group, fast on his four paws, and would often bring back small game for dinner.

Gale took a long sigh and glanced back to the northern horizon for what felt like the hundredth time today. He kept expecting to see Molroito galloping over the low rolling hills behind them. Ku called out to the group, “Someone ahead!” Gale loosened his short sword in case there was trouble.

Blind Seer

He loped along through the short grasses that were prevalent in this region. He had taken to the group readily enough. It felt kind of like a hunting pack, but Blind Seer could tell that the others were cautious around the others, still not fully trusting. Blind Seer had to admit to himself that he was still a bit wary of Gale. He hadn’t decided yet if he should tell the group that Gale was an elf. Blind Seer had kept an eye on Gale as they traveled and it seemed that Gale was telling the truth about once being a slave. In any case, Gale hadn’t shown any hostility towards the group.

Blind Seer caught a whiff of a stranger’s smell on the air about when Ku called out, “Someone ahead!” Blind Seer moved to rejoin the group.

Ku

He rode along at the head of the column, keeping watch on the road ahead. It was strange to him, being free to follow his own path. For all his life, he had lived a structured life, following the teachings of the older enieto in the Void Temple where he had been born. He reflected on those days. There had been a variety of subjects available for him to learn… history, psionics, medicine, even arcane arts, but Ku had always gravitated towards the martial teachings. He had learned about how the body operates, how muscles grew and a bit about how to treat wounds. Ku felt the cloth strip covering his knife wound. It seemed to be holding up well. They had given him his first blade at a young age. They had taught him how to wield it well and how to integrate the psionic talent innate in all enieto into his fighting style. Ku reflected that this may have saved his life in the fight with the bandit leader and decided that he would add mental exercises to his daily routine.

Ku looked ahead on the road and saw a figure sitting on a rock, hunched over and wrapped in a thick traveling cloak. “Someone ahead,” Ku called back to the group.

Barry

He was still wary of the others in the group. Barry half expected to wake up bound and gagged one morning and stuffed in the cart with the other prisoners. So far, though, it appeared that Rognvald meant to keep to his offer of honest work and steady food. As they were riding along, Ku called out, “Someone ahead!”

Barry rode to the front of the group to have a look. Ku nodded towards up ahead, where a hunched figure was getting up from a rock. Blind Seer ran over to join them and said, “What is it.” Gale brought his horse up on the other side of Ku and said, “Looks like an old man.”

The four of them moved forward. They stopped a ways from the figure and Barry called out, “Hail, traveler!” The figure moved a shaky hand to his head and pulled back the traveling cloak’s hood. It was indeed an old man with a weathered face, bald head, and bright white beard. “Oh. Hail, travelers,” the old man said.

“Where are you headed,” asked Barry.

“I am bound for the Void Temple near Erthorpe. I am on my End of Life Journey.”

“I see,” Barry said solemnly. He chose his next words carefully, for he knew that many preferred to make the End of Life Journey alone, but felt compelled to offer aid to the old man, for Erthorpe was still many miles away. “Sir, if you wish it, you may travel with us. We are headed in that direction and will be passing through Erthorpe. We have a few spare horses, or a spot in our cart if you’d prefer that.”

“Thank you, lad. Seems the enieto will have one more kind memory to add to my tablet. I am well enough to ride.” They brought up one of the spare horses and helped the old man mount it, then continued south.

Gale

He rode near Rognvald. Barry and the old man rode behind, chatting about the man’s travels. Blind Seer and Ku were ahead, speaking quietly. Rognvald leaned over towards Gale and said, “So… whereabouts are you from? I’ve been running this route many a year and haven’t seen you in Edgeville before. What brought you around that day?”

The question caught Gale off his guard. He fumbled around in his brain, struggling to recall what the human slaves back at the farm had told him about this region. “I’m from Terinvod, a small hamlet.”

“Never heard of it,” Rognvald said, shrugging. “Ever been down to Lakeside?”

“No,” replied Gale.

“It’s a nice place. It’ll be nice to sleep in a bed after all this traveling.”

Blind Seer

He had heard the conversation with the old man, but had not understood much of its meaning. The others had grown almost reverent when the old man had mentioned the End of Life Journey. Perhaps it was something similar to his own Spirit Quest. Blind Seer had also heard the old man mention a Void Temple. He knew that enieto lived in such places, as there was one near his tribe’s land. The Sagesnouts typically did not approach the place, though, preferring to keep to themselves. Blind Seer decided to ask Ku some questions about the things the old man had said.

“Ku,” Blind Seer began, “What is a Void Temple? What is the End of Life Journey that the old man spoke of?”

Ku sat silent for several moments, watching the road ahead and flexing one of his frills. “When humans grow old and have decided that the end of their life is fast approaching, many choose to travel to the nearest Void Temple. There, enieto record the human’s memories onto a tablet. A copy of the tablet is sent to the Scriveners in Laushurno, where they store it away for use in their analysis of history. The original tablet is given to the human’s relatives. After having their memories recorded, the human is brought to the innermost chamber of the Void Temple, in which is a pool that houses our young, which closely resemble a frog’s young. The human allows one of our young to enter their skull through their spine, thereby relinquishing their life. As best I understand it, growth is triggered in the enieto young when it consumes the human’s brain and the human’s body is used as a sort of framework as the young grows. We enieto are grateful towards the humans. In exchange for their gifts of life, we do what we can to aid them in matters of medicine and illnesses of the mind, as well as using our psionics alongside them in investigation of crime.”

Blind Seer walked along quietly, absorbing all that Ku had said.

Ku

He finished his explanations to Blind Seer, then they both traveled along in silence. Ku wondered what the wolfos thought of enieto. He had not had much interaction with wolfos in the past. This one seemed to like him well enough.

After a time, Ku broke the silence and asked, “What is the meaning of your name, Blind Seer?”

Blind Seer replied, “It was given to me by the elders of my tribe. They sensed in me a power not found in many wolfos. At times, I am able to glimpse the future, hence Seer. As for the Blind in my name, my mother told me that the elders bestowed it on me in the hopes that I would become blind to the ways of strangers. I am still trying to puzzle that part out.”

Ku pondered the wolfos’ words and said, “Your ability to glimpse the future sounds similar to some of the psionic abilities that other enieto in my Void Temple practiced. I plan to improve my own abilities in order to fight better. Perhaps you would like to train with me?”

Blind Seer wagged his tail and replied in the affirmative.

Barry

The old man spoke at length about his travels throughout his life. The man had been all across the Sun Blessed Lands, from the Brimmahg Confederacy to the Tirim Desert. He had returned here, to the Fadafir Kingdom, to live out the final years of his life in his homeland. From his stories, Barry deduced that the old man was some sort of practitioner of the arcane arts. The old man finished one of his tales and the conversation grew silent for a few minutes.

“Lad,” the old man said in a suddenly serious voice. Barry looked over at him and saw that the old man was regarding him with a strange expression on his face. “In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen the River swirl around anyone such as it does with you.”

Barry, confused, replied, “River? What river? What are you talking about, sir?”

“I’m sure you’ll see it one day. Soon perhaps,” the old man said, still regarding Barry with a strange expression, “Yes, I am sure of it. I think it may be best if you had this.” The old man reached into his cloak and produced a book from within. It was bound in old, weathered leather and had a simple clasp to keep it shut. The old man handed it over and Barry took it, still not sure what this was all about. If it helped bring the old man peace, though… Barry thanked him and stowed the book in his pack. The old man smiled and started in on another story.

They soon reached Erthorpe, a ragged collection of very few houses, smaller than Edgeville. They restocked on some supplies with the people there. The old man bid a bittersweet farewell to the group and headed off towards the Void Temple. Barry reached into his pack and felt the book, wondering what the old man had been talking about and why he had given the book to Barry. The group finished up stowing the supplies. They gave the prisoners a few bites of food and a swig of water, then headed on their way.

Rognvald

He glanced up and checked the position of Nostiarna. It was nearly beginning to cover the sun. They had made good time today. Erthorpe was several hours behind them now. Rognvald told the group that camp should be made soon. Blind Seer scouted ahead and reported back that there was a good place up ahead.

“What is that,” Ku inquired to no one in particular as they crested a hill. Rognvald looked ahead and saw the old stone bricks stacked to form a now crumbling tower that even in its younger days would have been squat. “Ah,” Rognvald said, “That was one of the Ervnot family’s watchtowers back when the Fadafir Kingdom still had a king. Ever since the king was ousted by his angry subjects, the lords of the Fadafir Kingdom have been squabbling amongst themselves. Used to be that the lords raided each other, thank the Elders that that has stopped nowadays. The wealth and power of the Ervnot family has long since diminished and they have allowed much of their holdings to fall into disrepair. It should serve to shelter our camp from the wind, but I would rather not go inside, looks like it might collapse on us if we talked too loud.”

They set up camp near the ruins of the tower, behind low, crumbling walls that once guarded the tower door. They got some food cooking and sat around the fire, chatting amiably. “Hush,” said Blind Seer suddenly, “Did you hear that?” Everyone stopped to listen. Rognvald could only hear the crackling of the fire. Gale spoke up, “Just then, it sounded like soft, quick footsteps in the tower.” They sat in silence for a few moments more. “Let us investigate,” said Ku, moving towards the tower door. Gale and Blind Seer moved to follow him. “Keep an eye on things out here,” Barry said to the former bandits, then moved to follow as well.

Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry

They opened the tower door and found it to be very dark inside. Barry put together a torch from his pack and lit it on the cooking fire. The group entered the tower and found themselves in a large room. There were a few doors to the sides and a metal portcullis across the room. Ku crouched down, looking for tracks in the dust on the floor, but could not find any. Blind Seer sniffed the air and commented that it smelled very stale. Gale and Barry checked the side rooms and found only long rusted weapons in what was the armory and long gone foodstuffs in what appeared to have been a storage room.

Ku approached the portcullis, sizing it up. It appeared that the opening mechanism was rusted on this side. “I can lift this, though it may make a bit of noise,” he said. Ku bent down and took hold of the bars, then strained and began to lift it. It made a horrible grating noise as he got it about a foot off the ground. Blind Seer felt a sudden spike of precognitive dread and called out a warning to Ku, but it was too late. Ku’s efforts sprung a trap that the guardians of the tower must have placed long ago. A bolt flew out from beyond the portcullis, stabbing into Ku’s arm. “Voidwatcher’s eyes,” Ku swore as he dropped the portcullis with a clang. He looked down at the bolt in his arm. The wound was beyond his skill to treat. He clutched it and said glumly, “That will take weeks to heal. I am not sure I will be able to swing my sword with this wound.”

Gale approached and said, “Let me take a look at that.” He looked at the wound and felt the power stirring within him. Gale knew that he could heal this wound. “This may hurt,” he said to Ku, then grabbed the bolt and pulled it out. The power bubbled to the surface as he put his hand over the bleeding arm. A soft glow briefly lit the wound, then the skin rewove itself until it was good as new. Ku flexed his arm, then stared at Gale. Barry and Blind Seer were also staring at him with shocked expressions. “You… you… you healed him,” Barry stammered, “How?”

“I’m honestly not sure,” said Gale, “I can just… do things sometimes.”

“Only in the oldest tales have I heard of such magic,” said Blind Seer.

Gale looked around, unsure of how to respond. Ku said, “Thanks. I’m glad that you can do things sometimes. Shall we move on?” Ku moved towards the portcullis again. Barry moved up and grabbed Ku’s shoulder. “Hang on a second,” Barry said, “Let me take a look at this thing and make sure there aren’t any more bolts waiting to fly out at you.” He took a close look at the portcullis, running his fingers along the walls at the edges of it. “Aha,” he said, “Look here, this string has been broken. It must have triggered the trap. Shouldn’t be causing any more trouble, though, go ahead and open it.” Ku lifted the portcullis, holding it a few feet off the ground while the others moved pieces of wood from the store room to prop the gate open. The group ducked under the portcullis and moved into the room beyond.

They entered a hallway that turned right from where the portcullis was. They found the trap, an old crossbow that had been rigged to trigger when the gate was opened. It was in surprisingly good shape. Barry unhooked it from its mountings and strapped it to his belt. The group made their way carefully down the hallway. At the other end was a stairway that looked like it might go up to the tower proper, but the stairs had collapsed halfway up and the way looked impassable. To the left of the stairs was another door. Barry checked around the edges of this door. Finding nothing, he eased it open.

The group piled into the room and looked around. There were no other doors in the room. In the middle stood a fountain that may have once brought water to the soldiers that manned the tower, but had long since gone dry. Around the fountain, spaced equally apart so as to form a rough circle, were six stacks of rocks reaching about knee-height. “What do you make of these things,” Barry asked softly. The air in here was still and it felt wrong to disturb it overmuch. Ku crouched down to examine on the rock stacks, touching it slightly with a finger. The rocks toppled over, clattering into the dry fountain. An obviously enraged noise split the air, sounding like a mix between a hiss, a growl, and a yell.

Barry held his torch higher and looked around for the source of the noise. He saw it. Above them, on a ledge that they had previously not noticed, stood a short humanoid creature with wrinkled grey skin, bulbous eyes, a long nose, and a dagger in one of its three-fingered hands. “Up there,” Barry cried. The creature jumped down and sprinted across the room, moving astonishingly fast. It stabbed its dagger into Gale. Barry drew his rapier and slashed at the thing, but it dodged his blow and turned its bloodshot eyes towards him. A beam of energy slammed into it. Barry glanced over to where the beam came from and saw Blind Seer standing on the raised part of the dry fountain. Ku got the greatsword off his back and took a swing at the creature, but it danced around him, cutting a gash into his leg with its knife. Barry looked up and saw that more of the creatures were appearing on the ledge. “Fall back to the door,” he called to the group. The group fell back as more of the things dropped to the floor and rushed around. “Damn, these things are fast,” Gale said, fending one off with a jab from his short sword. The creatures darted in with their knives, grinning with mouthfuls of razor sharp teeth. The group made it to the door and started backing out into the hallway. Barry yelled in pain as a spear appeared in his side. Back near the fountain, more of the creatures had spears, preparing to throw them. Ku chopped one of the spears in half as the volley came in. A few of the creatures laid dead on the floor now, but there were still too many. The group managed to get into the hallway. They retreated further and ducked under the portcullis, just barely keeping the things at bay. Gale and Ku kicked out the pieces of wood propping up the portcullis and it dropped to the ground with a loud clang. The creatures glared at the group from the other side of the gate, then slunk back into the darkness.

Rognvald

He was picking the last meat off the bone of dinner, one of the hares that Blind Seer had caught today, when they returned from investigating the tower. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry hurried out of the door, spinning around and shutting it as soon as they were through. Rognvald saw that they were all injured from small cuts and asked what happened. They first had the other guards take watch, then told of their foray into the tower.

Rognvald nodded slowly as they told their tale, then said, “The creatures you are describing sound like feywarped, or perhaps even fey themselves.”

“What are those,” asked Blind Seer.

“I’ve not studied them much,” replied Rognvald, “But as I understand it, fey are creatures that have close ties with the natural world. Some are violent, others are not. Feywarped are creatures that have been twisted in some way by the fey. Whatever these were, likely they seek to reclaim this old ruin to the land. The circle of stacked stones you described… I think I once heard that it is a shrine to their gods.”

“I’ve only heard tale of fey in legends and stories,” said Barry, “and even then, only that they live in the Forest of Giants, far to the west of here.”

“I have heard about encounters with them all across the Sun Blessed Lands, but indeed, it is rare to see them so far from the Forest of Giants, where it is said they originate from.”

“The way you describe the fey sounds much like the Nature Spirits in our legends,” said Blind Seer, “And the feywarped sound a lot like the Dark Tribe, or what others call wargs.”

Rognvald nodded and said, “Yes, it has long been theorized at the University of Sehhrosh, where they study such things, that wargs are a form of feywarped. We should be extra vigilant on watch tonight.”

They all settled down for bed and a long night of uneasy rest.

Gale

He laid down on one of the sleeping mats and closed his eyes. He had grown accustom to resting like this, but never truly went to sleep. He would enter a trance-like state and reflect on past events, but would still be aware of his surroundings to some degree. Tonight, though he had trouble resting. Every rustle in the grass sent him reaching for his sword, thinking those creatures were coming back.

He eventually gave up on trying to sleep and took over watch from one of the other guards. Gale poured out some water from his water skin into a bowl and set to work scrubbing himself clean. The blood from his wounds had dried and clung to him unpleasantly. Luckily, most of the group members’ wounds had been shallow. They had bandaged them up as they spoke with Rognvald. After his companions’ earlier reactions, Gale was wary about using his healing powers in front of Rognvald and the other guards. Gale did not want to draw attention to himself. He scrubbed the blood off with a rag, feeling much better now that he was cleaner. What he wouldn’t give for a bar of soap…

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. Gale stirred up the coals of the fire and put some breakfast on them. The others soon awoke to the smell of roasting hare.

Blind Seer

He woke, seeing and smelling that Gale had started cooking breakfast. ‘An elf and a healer,’ he thought, ‘This pack is rather strange.’ Blind Seer checked the shallow gash in his side that one of the creatures had given him and saw that a bit more blood had dried into his fur in the night. He licked it clean and then went over to the fire to get breakfast.

“Here you go,” Gale said, handing him a bit of hare on a stick. Blind Seer reached out and grasped the stick in his forepaw with the primitive thumb-like digit that all wolfos had. He bit into the hare and thanked Gale for cooking the breakfast. He looked over and saw that Ku was stirring.

Ku

He got up and saw Gale and Blind Seer by the fire with breakfast. He joined them, taking a stick of hare from Gale. When he was done with it, he picked up the hare’s head, cracked it open with a knife, and popped the brain into his mouth. He waved his frills in contentment as he ate the hare’s brain. It tasted good and had the nutrients vital to an enieto’s healthy diet.

Barry

He awoke and saw Gale, Blind Seer, and Ku near the fire. Rognvald was also waking up and walking over towards the fire. Barry got up and joined them. “Looks like we survived the night,” he said to the others.

They soon broke camp, loading up the prisoners in the cart and hooking their gear to the horses. Barry mounted his horse and took up his position behind the cart. ‘One could get used to this,’ he thought, ‘Honest men to watch your back and interesting travel tales, like almost being murdered by creepy little sharp-teethed monsters. Then there’s Gale… the healer. I wonder what his story is.’

The group got back onto the road, such as it was… not much more than a dirt trail through the low hills of the northern Fadafir Kingdom. The morning journey passed in peaceful quiet until a tremendous roar rang out through the air. Barry spun around in his saddle and caught a glimpse of some huge pale blue creature pass overhead, flying low and fast. Whipping his head back around to the front, Barry saw the creature drop behind a hill up ahead. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the creature may have been having trouble flying. He rode up beside Ku, reaching him about the same time as Gale and Blind Seer.

“What in the Elders’ names was that,” Barry asked the others.

“I have no idea,” said Ku.

“It looked like it may have been injured,” said Blind Seer, “Perhaps we should see if we can help?”

“At the very least, we should check to see if it is away from the road. We wouldn’t want that thing attacking Rognvald. It looked dangerous, let us proceed with caution.”

Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry

They rode ahead on the road, sending Blind Seer ahead so that he could peek over the tops of hills with his low profile. As they neared the fourth hill, they heard the labored breathing of something big. They dismounted and carefully edged around the hill with weapons at the ready. Another roar split the air, so loud that they covered their ears, then there was silence. They all glanced at each other, then continued around the hill.

What they saw next shocked them all. A pale-blue creature lay spread out on the ground. It resembled a lizard with wings, but seemed to be made entirely of ice. The group approached it slowly, moving in for a better look. Up close, they could see many gashes and chunks missing from the creature. “Is it… dead,” asked Blind Seer tentatively. Barry moved forward and lightly tapped on of the wings with his rapier. The creature shifted. They all scrabbled backwards, looking for defensible ground. They steeled themselves for the worst, but realized that the creature hadn’t moved at all after the slight shifting. Looking again, they saw that it was beginning to melt into slush in the sun. Barry’s probing with the rapier had merely dislodged some of the melted slush. They watched in shock as the creature crumbled apart over the next minute, melting to slush, then to water, and soaking into the ground.

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The Story Begins: Daern - The North War
Four heroes arrive in Edgeville. Their fates intertwine and their saga begins.

The Slave
He gulped down the chill air as he ran, leaping over roots and batting branches aside. The needles on the ground crunched softly beneath his feet. He couldn’t hear them, but he knew that they were close… the ones who hunted him… who sought to drag him back to the farm and the chains… the “enlightened” elves.

He looked ahead and saw that the trees were clearing. Crude rooftops of thatched wood came into sight. He began to slow his pace, pulling his hat low and his scarf high, then headed into the village.

The Hunter
He crested another of the small, rolling hills that were prevalent in this area. He had left his tribe a few days ago, to set off into the world on a Spirit Quest. He hunted wisdom so that he may one day take the Oath of Faith and honor the Guarding Hunter.

He looked out across the lands from the top of the hill and saw a small cluster of buildings huddled near the edge of a large pinewood forest. He sniffed the air and thought, ‘Humans.’ He started his way down the hill, heading towards the village, loping on four strong paws and feeling the breeze in his fur.

The Warrior
He walked down a dusty road. A day’s journey behind him laid the Void Temple that he was born and raised in. On the horizon was a village. He was heading there to complete the final task in his education. His task was to deliver a Memory Tablet to the deceased human’s daughter. After this was complete, he was free to find his own way in the world.

He glanced up and saw Edromyn, the sun, directly overhead, as it always was. Nostiarna, the largest Celestial in the sky, was just finishing slipping below the horizon. In about six hours, it would rise from the opposite horizon until it covered the sun. He estimated that it would take another hour or so to reach the village. He felt a breeze stir the frills which protruded from the sides of his head and reached up with his hand to check the greatsword strapped to his back. He knew that one should always be vigilant while traveling.

The Outlaw
He was kicked awake by one of the other men in the camp. “Come on,” the man said, “Wake up. Boss says it’s time to move. Today’s the day. Gear up for raiding.”

He sighed and gathered his things, donning his leather armor and checking his rapier. He wondered how he had ever gotten involved with this lot. Life back in Rivers’ Crossing had been easier. Get some people’s attention, say some distracting words, and divide the take with your pickpocket friends afterwards. Out here in the countryside, near the edge of the Bittercold, it was all threats of violence… and violence when the threats failed. A man’s got to eat, though, and there’s no turning back to Rivers’ Crossing after getting seen by the guards.

The Merchant
He had been running this route for many years. ‘I am getting too old for this,’ he thought. It seemed to get colder each time he came up this far north. ‘Either my skin is getting thinner or the cold is biting deeper.’ The wind was quite chilly on this otherwise pleasant late-summer day. It was blowing from the Bittercold, the lands of snow and ice that encircled the Sun Blessed Lands.

’I’ve no right to complain, though,’ he thought, ‘I just travel here on occasion. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live out here. So close to the ice… and to the elves. The edge of civilization… no wonder they call it Edgeville. We humans are always so creative with our names. I imagine they’ll be glad to see me and the wares I bring.’

The Slave
He walked into the village, pulling his cloak tighter to cover the dead elf’s armor. His escape back at the farms had been a bit hectic. He was bundled so thoroughly that only his eyes were showing. Not that there was anyone nearby at the moment. Everyone was either already out in the fields or inside. He glanced back at the forest, hoping his pursuers would give up the chase.

The door to one of the rough wooden houses opened and a man stepped outside. “Hello. Where’d you spring from,” the man asked. “Bet you’re here to see Rognvald, eh? We’ve had word that he’s getting here today. Should have plenty of wares. What’s your name?”

He hesitated then said, “Dan,” figuring it best to go under an alias for now.

“Well met, Dan, I’m Thorfinn Carter. I’d best be getting to my brother. He’s on guard duty today and he been pestering me about his spear haft. Keeps giving ’im splinters, got to smooth it out.”
Thorfinn headed off towards the west side of the village. Dan wondered if one of the villagers could spare some food. It had been several days since he had eaten.

The Hunter
He was nearing the village now. He could see two humans up ahead, standing nearby each other. One had a spear in hand and was carving its haft with a small knife. The other one suddenly grabbed the spear and brandished it, saying, “Oy! You there! Be you warg or wolfos?”

He approached the man with the spear cautiously, lifting a front paw and bowing his head in the traditional formal greeting, then said in accented common, “I am wolfos, sir. I was named Blind Seer by the elders of my tribe, the Sagesnouts.”

The man quickly stopped brandishing the spear, returned the bow, and said, “Forgive me, Blind Seer. Can’t be too cautious out here. I am Hallfred Carter and this here is my brother, Thorfinn,” he said, gesturing to the man who had been carving the spear haft. “Welcome to Edgeville.”

The Warrior
As he neared the village, he saw two humans and a wolfos conversing amongst themselves. They turned as he approached and one of the humans called out a greeting, “Hail, sir! It seems we are to have no end of visitors today. I am Hallfred Carter. My companions here are my brother Thorfinn and my new friend Blind Seer. You here to see Rognvald? He should be arriving soon.”

‘Hallfred Carter human male, Thorfinn Carter human male, Blind Seer wolfos male,’ he thought, filing away the information in his mind. He waved a frill in greeting and replied, “I am called Ku. My purpose here is not to see Rognvald. I am here to deliver a memory tablet to Katrin Silverkin.”

Hallfred’s face grew solemn. “Ah. She will be glad to have it. She lives right up there,” he said, pointing to one of the houses up the road.

“Thank you, Hallfred,” said Ku, then headed towards the house. When he got there, he knocked on the door. A woman called from within, “Come in,” so he entered. Inside was a rough table at which a man sat eating some bread. A woman was searching through a cupboard nearby with her back turned. “We have a visitor here today. This fellow here is Dan,” she said. The man at the table nodded. The woman turned around and realized that Ku was not one of her fellow villagers. “Oh,” she said, her face growing solemn as she deduced what Ku must be here for, “You must be here about my father.”

“Yes,” said Ku, pulling out the memory tablet from his pack, “Your father will always be remembered.” He handed the tablet to her.

“Thank you,” she said.

The Outlaw
He reigned in his horse, drawing up behind the other men. The horses shuffled as the men discussed. “Mohmar is back from scouting ahead. Says the merchant is nearly in town now,” Glum was saying to the boss, Selim.

“Good,” Selim said, grinning with a savage hunger in his eyes, “We’ll be eating good tonight, boys.”

The Merchant
He brought his rumbling cart to a stop in the middle of the village. Villagers were beginning to gather around, coming out of houses and walking in from the fields, all eager for much needed supplies. “Hail, Rognvald! What have you brought us this time old friend,” one of the villagers called out. Rognvald recognized him as Thorfinn Carter. His brother, Hallfred, and a wolfos were with him. Rognvald spied a few more new faces, an enieto and a heavily clothed man stepping out from a house. Rognvald replied to Thorfinn, “Many fine things my friend. Come have a look.”

At that moment, the frightened yell of a child split the air. Rognvald looked around and saw the mother asking what was wrong. The child whimpered and pointed north towards the forest. Three figures stood there, with deep green cloaks, slender longbows, and wooden masks that covered all but their eyes. “Molroito! Elves!” one of the villagers yelled. The crowd of villagers began to frantically look around for tools to defend themselves. One of the elves held up a hand and said, “Calm yourselves. We are not here for you today. We seek a murderer who we believe has entered this village. Give him to us and we will leave your village in peace.”

The villagers paused to look around. Their eyes settled on the newcomers. Just as a few villagers stepped nervously forward, the galloping of many horses hooves was heard. From the west, a company of nine men rode into town with weapons drawn. They reigned in their horses and one of them, an ugly fellow with a mean look in his eyes, called out, “Hand over the goods and everyone walks away alive!”

Rognvald surveyed the scene. The villagers were shuffling nervously. The elves were looking around and nocking arrows on their bows. The bandits looked hungry and some were holding their weapons halfheartedly. Rognvald called out, “I can see that you haven’t eaten well in a while. Some of you look like you were once good men. I’m no stranger to hard times. We’ve got elves here and they won’t be picky about who they take. Should any of you take up your blades to defend me, I’ll keep you on as guards. Honest work and steady food.”

The Slave
As soon as the bandits had rode into town and the villagers had stopped looking at him, he ducked his head and started moving towards a gap between the houses, just past the merchant’s cart. His heart had been pounding since he had seen the elves. ‘Fool,’ he thought to himself, ‘You should not have stopped. The Molroito have caught up to you!’

The merchant was speaking to the bandits as he neared the cart. He was easing his way past it when an arrow slammed into the house behind him, shattering the wood with its blunt tip, the kind the elves used to knock out potential slaves. He ducked behind the cart with his stomach in his throat. The merchant was yelling above him, “Weapons! Take them!” A battered old short sword was thrust into his hands. He glanced over the top of the cart and saw that chaos had erupted. The villagers were running in all directions. Some of the bandits had turned on the rest of their crew. The elves had taken up positions behind houses and were firing arrows from behind cover. Another one slammed into the merchant’s cart, sending splinters flying.

He gripped the short sword tight and took a few quick breaths, then ran for the gap between the houses.

The Hunter
Blind Seer saw the merchant hurriedly handing out weapons. The elves started moving in, firing arrows as they went. Blind Seer growled to himself at the sight of them. The elves of the Cold Forest had caused the Sagesnout tribe trouble for as long as he could remember. Blind Seer closed his eyes and blocked out the chaos around him, focusing on the still part of his mind, the part that held a well of knowledge and innate power. Drawing on this, he opened his eyes and focused his mind on one of the elves, stabbing at him with mental energy. The elf stumbled and fell to the ground.

Blind Seer saw the heavily clothed man that had been with the enieto move from behind the merchant’s cart and into a gap between houses. Blind Seer moved to follow him, figuring he would need aid against the remaining elves.

The Warrior
Before the merchant had finished speaking, Ku had ripped the greatsword from his back and charged towards the bandits. As he got over to them, he saw that they had begun fighting amongst themselves. Their apparent leader, the one that had spoken, still had his greedy eyes on the merchant. As he began moving his horse towards the cart, Ku reached up and dragged him out of the saddle. The man cursed and spat, rolling away and getting to his feet as Ku tried to bring his blade down on him. The man had a cruel looking blade and a dagger that had appeared from somewhere. Ku swung in a wide arc, keeping the man at bay. They began to circle each other, looking for an opening. The man came in with his blade. Ku knocked it aside easily, but in doing so allowed the man to get too close. Ku felt a sharp pain as the man’s knife was slammed into his side. The man backed off quickly as Ku swung again, then began circling again with a gleeful look in his eyes.

Ku slowed his breathing and cleared his mind, becoming still and focusing all his attention on the man. At the edge of his mind, Ku could hear the whisperings of the man’s thoughts, so when the man lunged again with the blade, Ku was ready. In one fluid motion, he sidestepped the attack and brought up his greatsword, the tip slicing upwards from the man’s belly to his head. Blood flew. The man dropped. Ku looked for his next opponent.

The Outlaw
“Honest work and steady food,” the merchant finished his speech. Some of the men looked around at their fellow outlaws. He looked around and saw the decisions in their eyes. The group was split about half and half. ‘Gate Warden take this lot,’ he thought, ’They’d have cut my throat in the night before too long. Selim gives me the creeps anyways. Likes to hurt people, that one. I’ll try to let them live if I can, anyways. They’ll serve the Deepguard well.’

He stabbed at Thorkell, Selim’s right-hand man, aiming for his thigh. The attack hit home and Thorkell swore, turning to swing his club. He slashed at Thorkell’s arm with his rapier, then reached over and shoved him off his horse. He looked around and saw Selim fighting a big enieto. He felt his horse stumble under him and saw that Thorkell had found his feet and had whacked one of the horse’s legs. He kicked at Thorkell and hopped off his horse. Thorkell kept swinging his club clumsily. Easily evading the club, he slashed at Thorkell’s legs until he collapsed. He finished Thorkell off with a sharp kick to the head.

The Slave
He made it into the gap between the houses. He heard full battle erupting behind him. He moved towards the other end of the house, edging towards the corner to peek out and check the position of the elves. As he neared the corner, an elf suddenly moved out from behind it. They eyed each other with a moment of surprise, then fell to with a flurry of fighting. The Molroito were often trained in hand-to-hand combat. This one easily knocked his blade aside as he made a frantic stab. The elf punched and kicked him. He slashed with his short sword and gave the elf a shallow cut on the arm. The elf backed off for a moment. ‘I will not go back,’ he thought, ‘I cannot go back.’

He felt the power welling up in his soul, the same power that had helped him escape back at the farms. He lowered his sword and raised his other hand, pointing towards the elf. “I am your slave no more,” he said as a flash of light burst forth from his hand. The elf fell to the ground, incapacitated and groaning in pain.

The Hunter
Blind Seer moved in between the houses and found the heavily clothed man standing over an incapacitated elf. “Ah good, you got one,” said Blind Seer, “There’s only one left out there.” The man nodded and moved towards the back of the house. Blind Seer felt a sudden spike of dread and knew that if the man stepped out from behind the house that he would be hit by an arrow. Blind Seer grabbed the man’s scarf in his mouth and tugged backwards. The man fell back against the house, dislodging his hat. Blind Seer looked on with shock, seeing pointed ears and dark red hair. “You are elfkind,” Blind Seer growled at the man, “Is it true what the other elves said? Are you a murderer?”

The man pulled the hat down over his ears again and said, “I killed an elf in my escape, but I am no murderer. I was a slave to them. I am not like them. I am not an enlightened elf.”

As Blind Seer was considering the man’s words, the last of the Molroito stepped out from behind the corner with bow drawn. Before Blind Seer could act, the arrow was released, slamming into his side. Blind Seer yelped at the impact of the blunt tip. He tried to focus his mind, but the pain distracted him. The Molroito easily batted aside his mental assault. The heavily clothed man swung at the elf bowman. The elf dodged, but it was his bow that was the target. It clattered out of his hands as the short sword struck it. Blind Seer rallied himself and rushed forward, biting at the elf’s leg. Hot blood filled his mouth as the elf stumbled. The heavily clothed man struck out with his short sword again, stabbing the elf in the throat.

“Thanks,” said Blind Seer, “I believe you. You do not smell the same as the other elves and I have never seen one with red hair. Let’s bring these two out.”

The Merchant
It was over as quickly as it had started. Five of the bandits had turned on their group. Three bandits had been subdued. Their leader had been killed by the enieto. Rognvald saw one of the elves fall to the ground near the beginning of the fight, but the elf had gotten back up and retreated into the forest after the wolfos had run in between the houses. The wolfos reappeared now with the heavily clothed man, dragging two elves out. One was dead, the other just incapacitated.

Rognvald looked around and said, “You all fight well. I’ve got food and coin for any who will guard me on the road back home. What say you? What are your names?”

“Ku,” said the enieto with the greatsword, “I shall begin my world education with you. I will join you.”

“Blind Seer,” said the wolfos, “I hunt wisdom for the honor of the Guarding Hunter. I will defend you.”

“Gale,” said the heavily clothed man, letting his real name slip after the adrenaline of the fight, “If you’ve got food, sure.”

“Barry,” said one of the bandits, stepping forward and flicking blood off his rapier, “I shall join you, sir.”

The other bandits joined as well. Rognvald spent the rest of the day bartering with the villagers, selling off his wares. Then they loaded up their prisoners, the three bandits and the elf. “We’ll get a nice bounty for this lot I imagine… and the Deepguard will get fresh recruits,” said Rognvald, “Rest tonight. In the morning, we make for Lakeside.”

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Current Year

The enlightened elves mobilize in the later part of the year. Fadafir Kingdom is threatened with an invasion from them.

In the Bulanti Nation, The Core activates many of its operatives, working towards some unknown purpose.

The Deepguard continue their struggle against the denizens of the Deep.

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End of the Second Great Human-Elf War

After a bloody 56 year struggle, the Second Great Human-Elf War ends. The Fadafir Kingdom is carved out to its current borders. The enlightened elves are split and pushed back into the Singing Forest and the Cold Forest.

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Start of the Second Great Human-Elf War

The Fadafir Kingdom begins pushing its borders east from the shores of the Shattered Ocean, into elf territory. The elves fight to defend their lands. In some cases, the elves use slaves to fight for them.

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End of the First Great Human-Elf War

After 45 years of fighting, the First Great Human-Elf War subsides into minor skirmishes. The Fadafir Kingdom now occupies much of the eastern shore of the Shattered Ocean.

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Start of the First Great Human-Elf War

A notorious sea raider, Langmann, lands forces at where the Ranara river flows into the Shattered Ocean. He takes the elf town that is there and declares himself king of his newly created Fadafir Kingdom. The elves attempt to retake their land, but they are spread too thin in this region. The Fadafir Kingdom expands its borders and establishes a firm hold on the land.

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The Deepguard-Brimmahg Agreement

An agreement is reached between the enieto-run Deepguard and the Brimmahg Confederacy which allows human criminals into the Deepguard. The hope behind the agreement was to boost the ranks of the Deepguard and to remove dangerous elements from human society.

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