In Search Of Fate

Mark's Journal # 24
All Good Things...

Mark’s 24th Journal – 20-04-11

Losing a limb is a feeling with which I can, too well, relate. Having a limb forcibly ripped apart and grafted as an unwanted gift from a self-proclaimed Queen is another matter altogether. As we stood there, taking note of the situation, Leviss was angrily telling us that he would not live with this undead, flaming, boned arm. He demanded that we hold him down and cut off his arm right now. We argued for a long time. Finally, I grabbed him by the arm, and told him that he needn’t be afraid, that we were here with him and that, while strange looking, his arm could not be made to serve evil, to hurt me. I then issued a challenge to him: instead of losing an arm because of the Queen, he should endeavour to shove it down her throat. Leviss seemed distracted enough by this to agree to leave his arm for now.

Investigating the other rooms, we found a variety of treasure. Leviss constructed some bags of holding, and with it, we took nearly 25 000 pieces of gold and 10 000 residuum. I said it would be a good idea to spread this worth among the people. We certainly didn’t need the money, and she probably stole it from the people anyway. In one room, there was one door we could not open. It had four secure locks and after half an hour of trying, Gabriel was only able to breach one lock. The door wouldn’t budge, and it was too strong to be destroyed, so we decided to leave it so we could try to hurry, find the Queen and warn the people of Ori of an upcoming war.

Avaron felt the dark magic of the Queen moving toward Hampton. We set off, through the swamp, but we had to rest as we had not had proper sleep in almost 2 days.

When we got to Hampton, it seemed quite deserted. We went to the Sheriff to warn him, but it seemed we were too late. The Sheriff, busy packing his bags, told us that most of the people had already left. We climbed on top of the roof of the Sheriff’s building, hoping that the others could get a good view of things. To the north, Leviss pointed out the last group of people leaving Hampton, and to the southeast, Gabriel and Avaron could see darkness moving out of the swamp. The undead, ghouls, and other dark creatures started attacking empty buildings and before they could get to us, we decided to quickly portal to the Roost.

Once there, we rode out, making our way to Aristaal as quickly as possible. Avaron checked our licensed job board and it said, “All hands to Fur-Lonn!” With this in mind, we made our way to the central city, making the journey in half the time.

Upon landing in the city, everything looked normal, except that there was a large concentration of purple tents on the northern side of the city. Gabriel pointed this out, and even had we not known already, it would be easy enough to see that it was the King’s forces. A Disciple of the Shield, upon seeing us, told us that a lot of the city had been evacuated. When the King landed in Portsmouth, a council was called with leaders from each of Ori’s major cities, and it was agreed upon that the people of Ori had enough of the King’s rule, so they politely refused to welcome him and his men.

Making our way across the city to where the Erathis Temple used to be, we found that it has changed quite a bit. No longer a temple, it was more of a community centre. A new building had been built and people were rushing to and fro, conducting business. Inside, Avaron pointed out that there was a small statue of P3TR. A Disciple greeted us and explained that the temple had been a focal point of the community of Fur-Lonn and that the Disciples had upgraded and brought the people together, turning this building into an unofficial town hall. Community events, city business, as well as the organization of the entire Disciple of the Shield order were conducted within this building. Congratulating him and his order for all the good they were doing, we asked if there were any rooms available. I could tell by the excitement in his voice that they would be all too happy to house the Guard. Apologizing for the mess of our gear, as we had no time to rest let alone clean up after our journey, a Disciple offered to clean our gear. Asking to be informed of any change in the state of the city, we all fell sound asleep.

Awakened later in the day, a Disciple escorted us to the civil room. There, a group of elder Disciples awaited us. Described to me later as strong looking, but obviously diplomats, these elders told us that they were worried about the King’s men and what was approaching from the south. We offered our services in helping with the evacuation, and the meeting was over.

Gabriel and Avaron decided to go to the Roost, there to prepare our supplies and research more about this situation. Leviss and I stayed behind to help in any way we could. At the Roost, Gabriel upgraded the party’s jolt flasks, and Avaron researched old magical items. Leviss also had a bit of time to make a scope for his bow. In addition, Leviss and I helped to clear out the northern section of the city. The people, while war-torn, were not devoid of hope, they were working together like never before and while it was a sad situation, it was good to see that, from the aftermath of calamity, came a trust and respect among the people that possibly had not been seen before.

Upon Avaron’s and Gabriel’s return from the Roost, the Council informed us that the last group from Hampton never made it, and that the Queen and her forces had arrived. The King, sending a messenger, requested a table be set up in the centre of town.

In the centre of Fur-Lonn, there is a statue of the King. It has always been there, but now it felt quite strange as the King and Queen met under it. The King was escorted by a dangerous looking drake guard, while the Queen had Nala at her side.

Not wasting any time, the Queen stated that if she got what she wanted, she would leave. The King said her having it would be too dangerous, and that he didn’t have it anyway. At this, the Queen pointed her finger at the King and with a sudden, shrill sound, the statue of the King was blasted to bits! Nala and the drake guard moved to fight, but all eyes were on the King and Queen.

Terrible ripping sounds and cackling laughter came from both of them. The earth shook at our feet, and a thunderous noise pounded at my ears. The King growled and grew to over 20 feet tall, with golden scales, huge claws, a monstrous head, and wings! The Queen, dark as ever, grew into a slightly smaller but similar form, with scales that shimmered like a moonlit pool and hearing this description, I was reminded of the giant drake we saw through the portal at Aristaal. I do not know how, but witnessing this, I knew, somewhere in my mind, that these were dragons. These were the, so thought, mythical beasts that reigned over men and held no quarter for their enemies. Taking flight, they charged, swirled, clawed and attacked each other, flying over the city.

Suddenly, more rumbling was heard, and screams started erupting from outside the city.

“It’s the armies, they’re attacking the city!” I yelled. “Disciples, get your men out, protect the people of the city!”

“We need to get those two out of the city, or they’ll knock what’s left into the ground.” Avaron yelled.

“Well, they want the ring, let’s give it to them, but only when we’ve cleared the walls.” Leviss chipped in.

Moving east, we figured that once we get out, the ring would bring the battle somewhere where the losses will be fewer. Running around city streets, cutting through alleys, we turned a corner to be confronted by the undead! Just behind us, something hit the ground with a horrible crash. “It’s the Queen!” Gabriel shouted, and with that, she took off once again, looking wounded. With our path cut off, we decided to hack our way through the Queen’s horde.

As the undead surrounded us, and tried to grab us, our work was made so much easier when Leviss was almost grabbed. The creatures burned when they touched him, and he used this to clear a path. Firing lightning and fire from his newly grafted arm, he cleared a path through which we ran.

It was only through Leviss’ quick thinking, and my innate balance, that I was able to avoid falling down at every turn, as the streets were unrecognizable, covered in rubble. Nearing the upper-class section of town, Avaron saw a family trapped in a collapsing house.

I don’t even take the time to think, sliding immediately under a beam, preventing the house from collapse. Avaron and Leviss slid past me and started ushering people out. Before Gabriel was able to make it in, I took an arrow to the chest.

“Release the lizard lion, Gabriel!” I ordered. Gabriel loaded his crossbow and began firing bolts from behind the creature. “What’s out there?” I asked.

“King’s guards, coming close," he said.

While I struggled under the weight, Avaron and Leviss made quick work, Leviss comforting and moving people, Avaron simply picking children up by their shirt collars and throwing them out. That’s when I took another arrow to the chest. Coughing up blood, I fell to one knee, the gap barely large enough for someone to get out. I no longer heard anything, except the blood thumping in my ears. I felt tired, why can’t I just go to sleep? I thought, it has been a long day.

Suddenly a voice called out to me. “SURVIVE!” It was Leviss, and with that, I felt renewed! Hefting the weight above me, I stand up tall and proud. “Here to attack children? Wait until I’m done here and we’ll see who’s the better man.” I call out to the royal guards.

A cross between a thundering roar and a hiss was heard, among Gabriel’s laughter. With a quick command, he raised the lizard lion beast onto its hide legs and charged all over the street. Trampling guards, knocking everyone out of his path, he made some quick work.

“Come on, move!” Avaron shouted as she helped another out from under the building. My strength waned, my muscles cramped, and an arrow hit me in the shoulder. Laughing maniacally, I asked how soon until I can put these muscles to real use.

“One moment, I have to deal with something”, Avaron said. She stepped out past me, unsheathing her sword. Fire erupting on her sword, and lightning crackling on her staff, she slammed them together unleashing a terrible storm. “There, let’s go Mark!”

Dropping the corner of the house, dust rose everywhere and I moved into the fray. Rising out of the cloud like a demon, I surprised 3 men, swinging my sword two-handed through them. Leviss moved to my side and tried to intimidate the rest. “You’re done. Get out while you still can.” Whispering to me, he says, “It’s not working, but I’ve picked up your shield.”

Gabriel leapt off the lizard lion and put it away, loosing three arrows in the process. I could feel the wind and heat coming from Avaron’s magic from almost across the street as Leviss and I hacked and slashed at our nearby foes. With a low spinning sweep, forged in practice, Leviss leapt over my back, dropping my shield just as I grabbed it to shield him from an attack. He stabbed a guard in the hand, firing another bolt as he hit the ground.

Gabriel told me afterward that none of the guards attacked him; they seemed to take no notice of him, most likely because of the unspoken promise made to the King.

As the fight ended, we were left with two families unsure of where to go. Leading them on, our path was cut off when a building to the left of us was destroyed by the King’s unexpected crash-landing. Growling and taking flight once again, Avaron changed our direction and we cut through a building, miraculously still standing. Made of stone, it was obviously a noble’s pursuit of living in a castle. Hiding out, Leviss checked the backdoor.

“We’ve got a problem, there’s a hooded figure out there, controlling a whole mess of the undead,” he says. “We can’t go around them, and we obviously cannot go through them with these people.”

“But, no, yes, wait! I can do it!” And with that, he opened the door, and took a knee. Due to my connection with Erathis, I can always just make out, from sound and smell alone, what’s happening just next to me. Leviss was humming under his breath, and with guidance from Gabriel, “Take into account the wind, see the grass swaying, it’s blowing softly to the north.” Leviss looked through his newly made sight and fired a shot.

Whistling through the air, it seemed to take forever for it to hit its mark. With a whoosh and a thud, the controller of the undead was taken out.

“Um…now we have another problem”, Avaron said, “the undead, they’re coming this way.”

Grabbing the families and making for the next street over, Gabriel stopped me at an alleyway. “The royal guards are riding hard from that alleyway, just there. But, the buildings, they’re about to collapse this path, if only they had some help.” Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel placed some alchemicals into position, as I huddled around the families, telling them we’ll be okay. I heard the sound of hooves, and told them to hurry up.

“One got past, but Leviss is almost done!” Avaron yelled just as I heard a battle cry from a guard. I rushed at him, shield high, knocking the horse out from under him.

“Got it!” Leviss shouted as an arrow whirled past my ear and hit the guard. Sidestepping into his reach, his next attack missed, the spear going over my shoulder as he slipped and fell flat due to Leviss’ jinx shot. Grabbing the flag and slamming it down, I pinned his cape to the ground, shielding him and myself from the explosion as the buildings collapsed near us.

Making it out of the city, it seemed the Disciples of the Shield had a phalanx going, trying to move the people who had the misfortune of being stuck between the two armies. Surrounded, the Shield next to me said that we were completely surrounded. I ordered his men to retreat on the western side, so that the armies could advance, but meet each other.

“What do we do now? We can’t release the ring here, but we have to help these people!” Avaron shouted.

“What about the lizard lion? Could we make a defense?” I ask.

“No, he was hurt pretty badly back there.” Gabriel says.

Suddenly inspired, I looked at Avaron and Leviss and said, “Let’s try it your way.” Taking the model of the lizard lion, I threw it as far as I can, into an oncoming hoard of guards. “Shazam!” I yelled over and over causing the lizard lion to grow and shrink repeatedly, throwing guards everywhere.

Avaron, reaching for the ring, uttered a cry of surprise as she realized she didn’t have it. Looking around, Leviss found it on Gabriel’s belt. “What are you playing at Gabriel?”

“I don’t know, I had nothing to do with it!” Gabriel protested.

“Must have been done without my knowledge, by the King’s promise” Avaron suggested.

“Well, whatever it was, here we go!” Leviss pulled the ring out for a single moment and as he did so, a shriek was heard from the city. The Shields called out that the dragons were coming right for us, just as the two armies clashed around us.

Slamming into the ground, the King landed among the undead who ripped and tore at his flesh, while the Queen landed among the royal guards who cut and stabbed at her. Sweeping out an area around them, the Queen rushed at Leviss, lifting him up.

Moving way too fast, Leviss then put one bag of holding into another, creating sounds of thunder and lightning.

In an instant, he was gone.

The crossed bags created a vortex that swallowed him, and all of his stuff, whole. Rising to my feet, I screamed. Before I could say or do anything, the Queen became enraged, and started thrashing around. The King slammed into her. Throwing him off, the Queen stabbed into his chest with her arm. Laughing and saying this will do, she ripped out his heart. Still beating, larger than my head, she started chanting.

Magical energy crackled all around us, and with a heavy thud, something new hit the ground. An evil looking machine, and at its core, she tried to place the King’s heart. Gabriel pushed past, took a knee and with a deafening boom, fired his wand. The energy hit the heart, throbbed with the next heartbeat and then exploded, blowing the Queen’s head right off!

The heart moved into the machine and the King, with his dying breath, said it was too late. Avaron shouted out that all the magic in the area was being drawn into the machine. I rushed to it, and without thinking of anything except Leviss and how quickly life can be extinguished, I tried to rip the machine apart.

Nothing worked. It wouldn’t budge, it wouldn’t yield, and going mad with grief, with pain, anguish, I thrust my hands inside hoping to gum up the works. Pulled inside, I was cut, struck from all sides, and I felt death wash over me.

The machine fired a beam of arcane energy into the sky. The sky, now darkening in the evening appeared to be cut, but other than that, nothing changed. The Guard, or what was left of them, looked on as one friend was gone, and another, the one called Mark, was lifted out of the machine. Suddenly opening his eyes, he said:

“I can’t believe you’d survive. What’s going on here? You were given up for dead, how did you survive?” Explained to us all later, it turns out that the voice of Bahamut, the dragon god, the seeker of justice, was speaking through Mark.

Another voice answered him, and off to the side was a blue, spectral figure whose presence held strength, and wisdom. The Guard toldto us later that Bahamut explained that this world, the land of the capital and of Ori, had been cut off from all other worlds, from all other planes. During the spell plagues, a sickness that threatened and ended the life of many dragons, the King and Queen, simply two dragons, created this shard of a world in order to attempt to create the perfect world, where all would adore and worship dragons. The King, obviously still working within this plan, ran this world for ages, while the Queen, it seems, wanted out, thus the machine.

Bahamut, growing angry, said that justice was needed. Atlas, the blue spectral figure, reassured Bahamut, saying both dragons were dead, pointing to their dead bodies on the field of battle. Bahamut, still speaking with the shifter’s voice, laughed and said that this world would no longer be cut off. It was open, to the rest of existence and all its wonders, and all its dangers.

The above was taken from a cleric of Ioun who, recovering from a leg wound, started recording the events of the day. The rest, continues my story.

Waking up, feeling very battle worn, I looked up, and felt Avaron and Gabriel at my side, and I saw Atlas. I saw him, as clearly as I once did, and I asked him what was going on. He explained all to us, and said that before, Moradan’s words were whispers, muffled by the veiled wall of this world. Now, all was open, and he could hear and see Moradin in a way he never thought possible. In time, continuing my work, perhaps I could hear Erathis, Atlas prompted.

“You are free now. You have grown so much in such a short time, but there’s still more out there. So much to see, so much to learn. The planes are open to you, and I, your guide as always, can take you there.”

Excited by this offer, but worried about leaving things as they were, Atlas said, “Don’t worry lad, the offer is open, take your time here, wrap things up, think it over, I’ll be around.” And with that, he left.

Avaron, Gabriel and I spent the next few weeks wrapping things up. The Disciples of the Shield made quick work of everything, getting all the cities back in living order, and helping to make the connection between Ori and the capital more harmonious and civilized than ever before. We visited the Roost, there Avaron spent much time among her father’s old things. With Gabriel’s help, we tracked down Tori and her druidic flock and family. Telling her of our adventures and Atlas’ offer, she wished us well, whatever we decided. She had had enough of adventuring and she assured us that she would take care of this world, if we chose to leave.

Back at the Roost, Gabriel, Avaron and I spent most of our time alone. Gabriel made alchemicals in the workshop, and made meals to delight royalty from the kitchen. I organized all the books and materials in the main room, spent some time taking care of Quinn, and our other horses. Avaron spent most of her time, in her father’s old room. None of us really knew what to say, or what to do.

One day, merely two weeks after Atlas’ offer. We had a meeting in the main room. No one called a meeting, but all three of us suddenly had things to say. Gabriel said that he had seen many things, but this world did not offer to him the same chances of discovery or wonder as other planes might. He told us that, his whole life, he had been free to go wherever he liked, but now he wanted to stand by our side no matter what. Avaron said that she had been studying her father’s work and that she felt better about everything. She had always pursued truth and knowledge and she felt quite sure that she had outgrown this world. She wanted to go out into the planes and learn what she could, in honour of her father.

The others, knowing I had been moody, waited for me to speak. I told them that I missed Leviss. Not only did I lose a friend, but I lost a brother. “Leviss and you, Avaron, have been a part of my life, more than anything else, I guess that’s why losing my eyes wasn’t so bad; I knew I still had you. But, now he’s gone. Leviss, my right hand man, always cheering me up, always stirring up fun, trouble, and adventure, now he’s gone, and I have a hard time not hardening my heart because of that. Erathis has not spoken to me, as Atlas suggested, and I feel terrible.”

“Erathis has always expected you to speak for yourself. She will speak to you when you’re both ready,” Atlas suddenly said, putting a hand on my shoulder.

“Also, Leviss is not gone. He’s out there. The bags merely opened a tunnel to another plane taking Leviss with them. I can feel him, he’s out there, and if you choose to go, you can find him.”

“As for you, lass, the same thing happened to your father. His portal didn’t kill him, it merely misplaced him. He’s out there, probably scaring bad guys as we speak.”

It was like a cloud had been lifted. Leviss, alive? Alan, Avaron’s dad, out there, a chance to meet and reunite Alan with Avaron? It seemed too good to be true, but here Atlas was, saying it was so.

I leave a copy of this journal to you, my avid reader, to think what you see fit. I cannot claim to have all the answers, but I wanted the world to know what happened, from one who was there. Knowing our past is a good way to learn and grow, so don’t make the same mistakes I have.

I leave you now, my sword sharp, my armour fit, and my shield solid. Gabriel joins us on our epic adventure, Avaron goes in search of her father, Leviss, and answers. I go…for the chance to bring light and order to the universe. I go…to get my friend back.

I go…in search of fate.

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Mark's Journal # 23
Unwanted presence...

Mark’s 23rd Journal – 18-04-11

Lying there in my bed, drifting off to sleep, I heard Leviss tossing and turning. Instantly awake, I felt the hairs rise of my arms as I heard Leviss whispering. It was almost a hiss as he mentioned the King and Queen. I tried talking to him, to calm him down. He murmured about how the Queen will arm us, and that a great battle is coming. Grabbing him by the arm, I repeated that everything was going to be alright until he rolled over and was silent once more.

Suddenly, my body tensed, and I felt the world swirling around me. Waking up in a soft bed, I rolled over and threw up. I had been teleported! Half kneeling next to my bed, I could smell damp, cold air. The floor was stone, but not hewn. Calling out to everyone, Avaron and Gabriel said that we had been taken to a cave somewhere, and that they were drugged during their watch. Leviss groaned and said it would be nice if people asked before taking us somewhere.

Gabriel, moving noiselessly around the room, although I could follow him by scent alone, said we were in a room that did not seem fitting as a bedroom; its walls were wet, the room was cold, but yet there were four beds, one for each of us. Avaron wondered aloud how we could have been teleported as the King shut that down.

It also seemed that all of our gear was with us. Putting most of it on as fast as possible, Avaron moved to open a door at the far end of the room. Giggling outside the door was a voice I all too easily recognized: Nala.

She said, “The King doesn’t hold all the cards, and I’m not the easiest to trap or keep away. Come, the Queen wants to talk with you.”

Moving down one long hallway, which had many paths on either side, we finally made it to one large room. Among the many things I could smell and hear, the Queen stood out. It’s hard to describe, really, it was like her presence overpowered everything else, but in a subtle way. Take your sense of smell, most of you don’t really think about it that often. Say you’re in a room, and suddenly, you take notice of the smells. That’s when you realize that there’s one scent, be it sweet or not, but that one scent, unnoticed by you before, is the strongest smell in the room, and now you can’t ignore it, you can’t help but smell it. That’s what the Queen smelled like. That’s what her presence felt like to me.

Taking all of this in, I asked her why she summoned us here. Moving slowly, purposefully, she told us that she was disappointed. She made one simple request, for us to get the ring, and it seemed that we have failed. Trying to be diplomatic, I explained how difficult it had been. Suddenly, she stiffened, stopped talking, and growled a little bit. Growing upset, she demanded to know who had made a deal with him. Confused, we asked her what she was talking about. She asked us if the King gave us anything, or if we took anything from him. Gabriel pulled out the coin, and told the Queen how he stole it from the King. She made sounds of disapproval, and I could almost see her pursing her lips when she said that in doing so, Gabriel had bound himself to a promise, that this is old magic, and it seems he has chosen a side. Remembering my lectures, as a child, on law and order, I questioned her claim, pointing out that since the terms of the promise were not made, as the King said no such thing, how could one be expected to hold true or even agree to such a thing? She laughed and told me I knew nothing. She shrugged it off and said it did not matter, as her army was ready anyway. Telling us to leave, to join her later for dinner, she promised gifts for us. Remembering Leviss’ dream, I felt apprehensive. Leviss demanded that we be released. He told her that he had had enough of being toyed with. The Queen told him we can leave when we want, but we may not want to just yet.

Nala offered to escort us around or back to our room. Deciding to take the opportunity, Avaron suggested the tour, and began asking Nala questions. Nala explained how the Queen found her in the King’s breeding camp, and saved her from a life of pain and torment. Nala showed us many rooms, a grand dining hall where she said we’ll be eating later, among other decorative rooms. Gabriel seemed intrigued by one of the rooms, but I did not ask why just at the time, better to talk later. Nala told us that she has been watching Leviss, Avaron, and me, for years. Avaron, being the daughter of a very powerful mage, and we, her friends, bear watching, to see what we might do with our lives. I asked her if she was watching us in Aristaal. Nala said yes and no, that her mission there was a little more important than watching me. I can’t but help feel that her voice is more melodic when she speaks to me, not sure how I feel about that. Avaron said the Goblin Invasion was her mission, wasn’t it? Nala said, sure, it created a bit of chaos, and we all can use a bit of that, can’t we? Apparently, Ori has been a bit of a testing ground, trying out things before striking the mainland.

“Testing things out!? That’s what you call needlessly murdering, relocating, and destroying cities? That’s what you call giving goblins power, and possessing innocent clerics? Your tests have killed so many people and have been a blight upon this world!” Trying to be calm, but not being able to stand for this, I asked what could make her do such a thing, if she has given any thought to the consequences?

She stopped, sighed, and said yes. For instance, P3TR’s death, she told us, was “a side effect, a misunderstanding” and that she was sorry for our loss, but the lives she has helped destroy will be nothing compared to those saved by the Queen’s plans. Utterly disgusted, I told her to take us back to our room.

Once there, I couldn’t sit still. Pacing, angry, but having nothing to distract me, and no desire to be at peace just yet, I told everyone that we have to be very, very careful. We have to plan for the unexpected, as it seems that twists and turns are an everyday thing for us now. Everyone agreed, but no one seemed to know what else we could do. I decided to try something unexpected myself. I moved to Avaron, sitting on her bed, and I picked her up. Holding her by the shoulder, I demand to know what she would do, if grabbed in a fight, and unable to teleport? She says she’d be fine, and her hands crackle a little with energy. I said, okay, but what if your magic is worthless, unusable here? I said to Gabriel and Leviss, I have Avaron, she can’t escape, what are you going to do about it? Gabriel asked me where my bag was. Feeling with my other arm, I realize he had stolen it. Okay, but I still have her, losing my bag won’t help that. Leviss whispered behind me that he has an arrow fixed on me and can fire 3 before I fell to the ground. Leviss chuckled and said that Gabriel has his crossbow aimed at me, knife ready in his other hand and that I have no idea where Gabriel is, that he could strike at any time.

Impressed, as always, with my comrades, I let Avaron go. I apologized for my behaviour, but I just didn’t feel right not trying to be prepared, and I needed the reassurance that I wasn’t alone. Assuring me they were ready, we awaited dinner. Gabriel went on to tell us that some of the tapestries in the various rooms we had seen, bore images that seemed to suggest a history. Remembering the visual history on the tapestry in Aristaal in what feels like ages ago, I asked him to go on. He said he didn’t know what it all meant, but it seemed like wars fought with many and varying creatures.

Sitting in the dining hall, the Queen’s dinner was large and smelled great. Reasoning that if she’d wanted us dead, she would have done so already, I dug in. Leviss refused to eat, even with the Queen’s prompting. The Queen doesn’t eat, but goes on to say that some of Ori’s citizens have recently stood up to the King. Landing in Portsmouth, the people there told the King that he and his men were not welcome. This act of defiance forced him to travel by a longer road, around the city. She chuckled and said that it was nice to see him having such a hard time. I made a mention of chess, how I used to play, and that it would be nice to know her big plan instead of watching it step by step. She said we would know enough, in time. As we finished our meal, she told us that our gifts are not ready yet, and to go back to our rooms until they were.

Getting back to our room, Avaron laughed and said there was a chess set there, obviously given by the Queen. I asked Leviss to play. Upon sitting, he touched one piece, said it was a good game, and walked away. I asked him what he saw. Who won? He laughed and says he did, of course. Telling him he didn’t know that for sure, and shaking my head, Avaron says she would play a game with me. It was a good game, Avaron was a good opponent, and sometimes her unpredictability really throws me for a loop. I just barely beat her, and I thanked her for the game.

During the night, we awoke to Leviss’ screams, and I soon realized they are not coming from this same room. Rolling out of bed, I grabbed my sword and shield and asked what was going on? Gabriel said Leviss was gone, but his stuff was still here. Grabbing that, he ushered me out of the room, on the trail of Avaron who had just gone through the door.

There, in the big hall, we found him. Avaron, talking aloud but to no one, shockingly said how the Queen had him on a table and seemed to be ripping his arm off. Appalled, I charged in the Queen’s direction. Smashing right into a wall of dirt, I realized the dirt was moving. It swirled around me, rising, taller than I am, forming some sort of maw, and a bladed arm, sharp as glass, smashed into my sword arm.

Telling the others to get to Leviss, I made to handle this dirt monster, this gollum. Taking a wide stance, and wiping the sweat from my brow, I clenched my teeth a little.

Gabriel rushed past, I blocked an attack from the gollum, and Avaron said we’ve got another problem. More dirt creatures spawned, all over the room, and made their way to Avaron. Leviss screamed again, as I heard a blast of arcane energy from Avaron. “Hmph”, she said, “they double when you kill them.”

Gabriel leapt around two such creatures and fired two quick crossbow bolts at the Queen. They bounced off of nothing, falling at her feet as she ripped the skin off Leviss from hand to shoulder. Groaning, screaming, and just talking incoherently, Leviss sounded like he was barely holding on. Calling to Gabriel, asking him what happened, he growled back that he didn’t miss, she blocked the shots. Avaron, on the other hand, was laughing. Calling out to her, she said the dirt creatures couldn’t touch her. Hearing her voice bounce all over the room, one second to the left, the next, to the right, I realize she was keeping out of harm’s way by teleporting. Digging my feet into the stone, I braced myself against the gollum’s attack. An avalanche swept by me, dirt, rocks, all cutting my face, as I turned my sword flat and smashed through what would be its body.

I take a big hit, cut across the shoulder by the glass-edged arm. Avaron’s saunter through the room was halted, as I heard her call out in pain as she hit the floor. Gabriel said the Queen was gone and he was almost at Leviss.

Calling out to Erathis, asking her for help, I smashed my shield and sword together. For an instant, the world, dark as it normally is for me, shone blue with a flash of light from my armour that spread, lighting up the room, and washed over Avaron. Her eyes snapped open and I “saw” dirt creatures moving toward her as my vision went dark once again. Spinning on the ball of my foot, I swung my arm around, catching most of them with the tip of my sword, finishing in a crouched position behind my shield.

Gabriel let loose a trick arrow, packed with glue, at the dirt gollum which immobilized it, then he avoided two quick slashes from dirt creatures, and vaulted over the table. Calling out in confusion, he said that Leviss’ muscles and skin have been ripped off of one arm, but that he had stabilized the young Kobold, for now.

Slash, withdraw, thrust, spin, shield block, spin, shield smash, I continued my dance, drawing as much attention to myself as possible. I heard Leviss’ voice across the room, filled with the same wonder and curiosity he had for the Keepers, saying, “This is a lot easier now that I can see my bones!” And light arrows rained down on the foes beside me.

But it wasn’t enough, as the dirt creatures attacks sifted through my armour, I dropped. Gabriel moved quickly, helping Leviss with cover fire, and revived me. I heard Avaron’s voice say, “Enough of this!” as she twirled her staff around, slamming it into the ground, hurling a blazing fireball of sand, acid, and fire, right at the dirt gollum. Hearing her step, I knew she was taking great care to inflict as much damage as possible. Moving as her teacher from Aristaal taught her, even I could almost feel the energy rippling out of the air, channelled by her heart, through her arms, and directed at minion and gollum alike.

Smashing my sword and shield together once more, the blue radiance swept out, killing every minion within 25 feet around me, but I could hear them doubling, could hear them getting back up. Gabriel ran, pulled his rifled wand out, slid under the swinging sword arm of the gollum, and just as the gaping maw came down, surrounding Gabriel in a storm of sand, glass, and acid, he pulled the trigger, completely annihilating the gollum!

With that, the battle was over. Moving to Leviss, I could feel the heat coming off of him. Gabriel wasn’t exaggerating before; Leviss’ arm was only bones now, but it seemed to work normally. Surrounding these bones was the source of the heat, a green fire which burned like my blue ethereal armour. Asking him how he felt, Leviss told us that he felt fine, extremely sore all over, but in that way from which one knows they’ll come back. Telling us that the Queen thought she was giving him a gift, he wanted us to remove his arm; and we stood there, quite shocked, alone, in an otherwise quiet cave.

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Mark's Journal # 22
The Return of the Ring

Mark’s 22nd Journal – 11-04-11

Upon waking, we decided to go to the Roost, there to research a little more into some old stories. Avaron mentioned that some of her father’s old books contained fairy tales that mentioned this dark queen and that finding out more about her might be a good idea. Upon attempting to use our door to make the portal, all that happened was a tiny note fell to the floor. It stated that long-distance teleportation had been cancelled by the Imperial Magister.

Frustrated, but more so curious, we decide to go talk to this Magister and find out the reason for the teleportation block. We were directed toward the northern sector of the city, and it was a long walk. It is amazing to think that this whole nation is one large city, everything self-contained.

Along our walk, Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel pointed out how beautiful the area was. The walls were made of a purplish, polished-looking brick, there were gold, red, and purple flags hanging everywhere, and not one thing appeared out of place. Gabriel pointed out that most of the buildings were shorter than in the other parts of the city, except for some spiralling towers. Avaron mentioned that these must be wizarding towers as they reminded her of the ones in Aristaal, only these were much larger, and the architecture was quite extravagant. Some towers looked as if they were built straight up, then bent almost in half, and then extending off on an unnatural angle, and yet, appeared as if this was all part of the plan. Off to one side, the others saw a tower being made and described the sheer wonder of it. Wizards, presumably geomancers, were hefting the largest and smallest stones and brick, bending it all as if it were cloth, and doing what would take 100 men more than a month in a half hour’s time. Everyone was pretty impressed, and even I, the usual naysayer of magic, had to admit that the control and power were formidable and amazing.

Not too far into this area, some guards made their way over to see us. Looking tough, but not unfriendly, they asked for Avaron’s staff. Upon asking why, it seemed that only those with a proper licence for practicing magic could wield a staff in this area. Attempting to convince the guard of Avaron’s training in Aristaal, he chuckled and said that this was the only wizarding area, and that Aristaal did not count. Seeing as there wasn’t any other way to continue on without granting their request, Avaron surrendered her staff.

Directed by the guards to the admissions office, we talked to a Magister. He said that the King shut down teleportation as a precaution against possible invasion. After questioning the Magister concerning the details of any invasion, or any threat, the Magister seemed most ready to agree in any actions taken by the King and that it was better to be safe than sorry.

Walking back, the four of us agreed that the more likely reason was that the King did not want us to leave and that he did not want the Queen or her forces to enter, not that invasion was really likely at this point. Avaron retrieved her staff from the guards and we walked back to the inn. It was a long day, as the walk took about five hours, each way.

The next morning, as we enjoyed a breakfast, we observed the patrons at the Comfy Chair Inn’s tavern. Everyone seemed very concerned with their business, and all seemed to be excited at how much business and progress they could make today for the city. It would be inspiring if we didn’t know of the oppressive hold over the city and its people.

Making our way to the palace, thereby to possibly learn more about the King’s motives, Leviss saw a bunch of wizards hustling out, carrying my ring! After attempting, and failing, to make a distraction to possibly take it from them, the wizards hurried down a busy street. Following as best we could, we rounded a corner just in time to see thugs finishing off the wizards and disappearing into a sewer. These thugs meant business, having beaten the wizards’ faces beyond recognition. Appalled by this, but also curious as to this abnormal display of crime within the city, we followed the thugs into the sewer.

Dirty, dark, exactly what one would expect from a sewer, we made our way until we caught up to the thugs. Attempting to make a trade, some of Gabriel’s alchemical supplies for the ring, the thugs grew highly suspicious of us, and the fact that we seemed to have everything they wanted to trade. By this, they must have meant explosives, as Gabriel had plenty of supplies made for just such a purpose. Their suspicion grew and our situation escalated into a fight. There were more of them than I thought, and they seemed to have a hexer. Upon being hit by him, Gabriel turned into a frog, and I changed into a titmouse! Unbelievable that feeling was, let me tell you. I think, with my shifting ability, I was a bit better prepared than Gabriel for this, but it was still highly unusual. Changing back and forth, I attempted to draw the attention of the thugs nearest me. The hexer retreated, and Gabriel followed. I heard some rubble fall, and Leviss shouted out that some areas of the ceiling looked vulnerable to collapse.

This was one of the more unnecessary fights I have ever been in, fighting over a ring these thugs obviously did not want, in a sewer, when a trade would have been perfectly reasonable. Don’t get me wrong, I have spent years training my body to be ready for a fight, but I have spent more of my time training my mind for the purposes of avoiding and resolving conflict.

Helping Avaron finish off some nearby foes, I was trapped beneath some rubble as I rounded a corner. Frustrated at this situation, and fuelled by the desire to get the ring back, I shifted from within the rubble. Punching my way out, my body cracked and broke in that oh so familiar way, and when I stood up, my eyes blazed with a blue, spectral fire. Avaron told me, later, that it was pretty intimidating. Like my armour from Atlas, or any other part of me, I’m sure it looked worse than it felt. Laughing, thrilled by combat, Avaron and I made our way farther into the sewers. We rejoined Gabriel and Leviss who were loosing arrows at the rest of the hexer’s comrades.

The battle ended, and we got the ring back! It was indeed the same ring that Atlas gave us, but this time, Avaron sensed some magic within it. She tried wearing it for a time, and upon taking it off, noticed that it was warm to the touch. Experimenting with it, we came to the conclusion that the ring was a magic absorber, something we never would have realized had I continued to wear it. Now, that we had it back, how were we going to hide it from the King? That was when Avaron and Leviss realized something quite extraordinary: my bag, the one given as thanks for our raid on a storage warehouse in Aristaal was a Bag of Holding. As Leviss explained to me, the bag was capable of holding almost 200 pounds of material but the bag itself never weighed more than five pounds. It was, let’s see if I can remember correctly, “…an extra-dimensional space in which items were no longer part of this material plane.” Basically, we could hide the ring inside, and the King could not detect its magic or its presence.

As we looked around, we asked many questions. What were these thugs doing? Why did they want explosives? Obviously to destroy something, but what? Was this just the first of an entire system of crime run under the city? Crime is not something we wanted, but honestly, it was a relief to think that some of the city’s citizens were willing to defy the King.

Investigating some more of the sewers, we realized that part of it followed a curved path that must align with the wall above-ground. The walls of the sewers at this point were made of the same magically tough material as above and nothing we did could make a dent in it. We made a plan to return to the inn and investigate these sewers more lately. We hoped to continue the work of the thugs and possibly break the slaves out of the King’s camps.

Coming back to the inn, I am sure we were a confusing and awful sight. Our group is already quite unique looking, but adding the muck and toil of a battle in the sewers, and well, we were an absolute mess. Making our way back to our rooms, we found the King and his guards there to greet us. With a deep, confident voice, his next words, “Clex Adar”, boomed out through the room, cleaning us of the mud and sewer water. Explaining that he knew his wizards had been assaulted, he asked if we knew anything about where the ring had gone. Hesitant about telling him, we sidetracked the questions enough to settle upon telling him that we knew where it was and that it was hidden where no one could find it. However clever we thought we were being, he knew right away that it was in a bag of holding, but thankfully, did not push the matter any further. His main concern was hiding it from the Queen, and he said that as long as we did so, everything would be fine.

After he left, I stayed up most of the night, thinking about our current adventures, and writing this journal. We seem to be, as I said before, mere pawns, in a fight between two large forces. The King’s plan seems obvious: power, absolute, at any cost all for the “good of the people”. The Queen’s motives, however, seem elusive for the time being. She seems to be an agent of chaos, and Avaron seems to favour or at least be willing to favour her side. I know that mostly this stems from the idea that nothing can be worse than a citizen-eating power-crazed King who encamps half-breeds for slavery. I don’t know what is to lie ahead, that’s Leviss’ job, but I hope that we have the strength and conviction to change things for the better.

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Mark's Journal # 21
The Good of the Many...

Mark’s 21st Journal – 03-27-11

The fight was going well. We hacked, slashed, and blasted our way through the guards like they were nothing. While initially shocked at first by their appearance, it was clear that they weren’t much of a threat. This isn’t saying much as we did outnumber them 4 to 2. In the midst of fighting, we heard a loud voice yelling, “Vox Monthrex” (as Avaron told me much later). As these words were heard, we were frozen in place. We were awake, but we could not move. Our limbs were frozen, I could hear Avaron’s magic still crackling in her hands, and my sword and shield were still held high. With a slow shuffle, an old man made his way over to us. He began speaking to us and, if I hadn’t already suspected, it was the King. I hear him chuckling to himself as the drake guard I had just been fighting moved away from me to kneel before the King. He apologized for his lack of precaution; that he knew he has broken the rule by allowing his helmet to come off, and that he was ready to end his life. The King stopped him, telling him that it wasn’t his fault, it was ours.

Shuffling closer to me, I found that I could smell him quite easily. His flesh reminded me of expired meat, heated over. I was angry, a little scared, worried for my friends, and repulsed at this so-called King of the world. What was he doing? What did he want? I tried to move, I struggled, but nothing had ever compared to this iron grip. I have been tied up, held down, pinned under an entire building, or two, and never have I been as unable to move in my entire life as this moment. My pulse beat faster and I could feel my body wanting to get out. I took a few deep breaths, and relaxed myself, just in time to realize the King was patting my armour.

Complimenting us on our abilities, he said we had been well-armed and well-trained to be formidable protectors. He said, contrary to how he looked, he also was just as prepared. He then pried open my fingers, and lowered my sword to the ground. Telling me that I didn’t need it, and that it wasn’t mine to begin with, he took Atlas’ ring from my fingers! Chuckling to himself, the last thing I heard from him was that some woman would whisper all our innermost desires.

Finally, we could move. Calling out to the others, they said it was no use; as the King was gone, surrounded by guards and that if he could freeze us in place like that, what use would we be? Tired, and frustrated, we decided to try to get back to the Roost, there to get away from this King to try to figure out what was going on. I really didn’t want to leave, I wanted my ring back, but realizing the folly of staying, we left.

Sleeping, restlessly, may I add, we awoke the next day clearly tired, and rattled by the previous day’s events. I for one, was incredibly disappointed. I had been taught my whole life that order was the proper way of things. That without a strict discipline and order, civilization would live like goblins, in caves, fighting over nothing. I had also been taught that the King and his Imperial City were the paragon of law and order. Yet, the King failed to make a positive impression on us. His age made him seem feeble, his city was so tightly controlled that the people did not seem free, and there were clearly bigger things going on, what with the camps, drake guards, and his theft of my ring. There was another thing: what significance does this ring hold? Atlas said it was important, and until now I thought it merely a symbol of those most trusted by the King. Perhaps, that is all it is? Maybe he just took it back because I had not been given it by him in the first place? Barely awake, my breakfast sat cold before me as I thought these things.

Just then, Gabriel drew his knife, and demanded to know who was here. Having no idea what was going on, I tried to move closer to my things. Avaron whispered, “The Man in Black” and with that, we heard a chuckle. A soft, feminine chuckle. Drawing back her hood, the “Man in Black” was not a man at all! We had been following her for ages, always one step behind and we had never seen her face before. I do not know why we thought the darkly cloaked figure was a man, but we were surely mistaken. She told us that she wanted to talk, and suddenly, I knew who she was!

Being blind has its disadvantages, but it has made me pay closer attention to my other senses. I never forget a voice, and I can size others up in ways that I have found to be comparable, if not better, than sight. This voice, confident, and with a certain melody to it, belonged to the beautiful girl I met in Aristaal, back before the Goblin Invasion, named Nala. Whispering her name, my hair stood up, and my throat growled.

“You’re the one we’ve been following? You’ve been stealing all those artifacts? Why?” I demanded.

“I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about the Queen”, Nala said.

After apologizing for the shadow games, Nala said that she served the Queen, someone who had been watching us for a long time, someone who was very powerful, someone who wanted the ring.

“What else is new? Everyone wants the ring, and everyone seems way too powerful to simply ask for it. We don’t have it, the King took it, we don’t know why and there was nothing we could do about it.” This was bad. I was losing my temper, getting more agitated by the minute. Who were these people? A King, a Queen, her Bishop, and are we all just pawns?

“Well, that is unfortunate. The Queen desires the ring and, unlike the King, wants freedom for all.” And with that, Nala disappeared.

I picked up my sword and made my way to where the animals were being kept. I stacked some hay in the corner and began to go crazy. Tearing into the bales, smashing them, screaming, I let an anger out that I had not known was building within me for some time.

We were caught in some horrid chess game, and if these “powerful” forces think they are going to run my life, they have another thing coming to them. I am a master at chess, and I plan to figure out their plan, and what they have in store for the people of this world.

After coming out, covered in hay, I heard the others discussing the current state of things. Leviss was saying that he was angered because everyone seems to always know where we are. The King knew where we were, the Queen and Nala seemed to know we were in the Roost. How do they know? And, if they think we are that predictable, shouldn’t we do something different? This was Leviss’ advice, and I happened to agree.
We decide to check out the state of Ori, because we had been gone for too long. We requested a meeting with the Council of Aristaal once we entered the city. We expressed concerns over city safety and asked how city reparation had been going. A Disciple of the Shield was sitting in at the meeting and he said that his order had established inter-city communications since we had been gone. Disciples traveled between Aristaal, Fur-Lonn, Portsmouth, and Hampton, and every two weeks, news of the state of each city was reported to the public. I was impressed. The people of Ori were coming together, once again, and I thanked the Disciple and his order for helping to make Ori a safer place. Remembering our job board, our magical, ethereal messaging system that housed our licenses and hadn’t been used since our early days, Avaron suggested that any news concerning city safety be displayed on the job board so that we could respond promptly.

I felt a lot better about Ori after this meeting. Sure, we still had no idea concerning the plans of the King, or the identity or plans of the Queen, but the people of Ori were working together and it felt better knowing that Ori’s citizens were learning to take care of themselves.

Following the dark magic that Avaron could quite easily feel, we made our way toward Hampton. It was a long, uneventful ride, and when we finally got there, Avaron said that the magic was coming from beyond the town. Gabriel said that all that was beyond the town was a swamp. Not willing to stop now, we made our way in. It was a dark, gloomy place. Even I could feel the weight about the place; the air was stifling, and everything felt hopeless. It reminded Leviss, Avaron, and me of the darkness that settled over Aristaal during the Goblin Invasion. This was made all the worse when the horses refused to go in. Making a door, Leviss and Avaron made a door to the Roost, and we put our horses back there.

Gabriel, once again more comfortable with nature than the rest of us, was a great help of leading us through the swamp, testing each step before taking it. Still, the going was slow, and I was not much help, having to be led very carefully through the knee-high, murky swamp. Much later on, when everyone became very tired, we decided to rope together some fallen trees to make a raft upon which we can stop and get some rest.

Gabriel and Leviss take the first watch, during which Leviss got a nosebleed that was very tough to stop. Shrugging it off to the weirdness of the place, the rest of the night was uneventful. At one point, we made it to a split in the path, and Leviss, using his ability to see the future, suggested taking the left path. Not far down this route, we all heard Nala’s voice teasing us that we were going the wrong way. She appeared before us on the path, eating an apple. Shooting the apple out of her hand, Gabriel demanded that she show us the right way instead of watching us go in circles. With a few quick words, a rift in the swamp opened and we fell, falling quite a long way, landing unharmed, except that I was sick, from the journey.

I know I’ve complained before, but magic is damned annoying. No one asks before using it, no one stops to warn anyone. They just take it for granted, and I have to tell you, when you take something that dangerous for granted, you run the risk of hurting a lot of people. I trained for years to use my sword, and when I use it, I use it with the utmost caution and discipline. Anyway, what next? Oh yes, after falling, we landed near a cave. Before we entered, Nala warned us to do nothing to make the Queen lose her temper.

The cave smelled terrible, like rotting meat. After a long straight path, with several paths shooting off of the main one, we stepped into a large, dark cavern. Gabriel cracked a sun rod, and just then, we heard a woman’s voice. Described to me later, the Queen, for that is who it obviously was, appeared to be a middle-aged, attractive (according to Gabriel) woman, dressed all in black, with long black nails. Her voice was refined, and intelligent, but with a note of condescension. She asked us what we sought in life? We asked her the relevance of that question, she seemed quite insistent on knowing. I answered without hesitation: justice, for all. Avaron said knowledge and truth have always driven her. Leviss absolutely refused to answer. Strangely, the Queen seemed disinterested in Gabriel as she did not ask him, although she did mention that he was a wild card, an unpredictable element in all of this.

The Queen laughed and said that we run from what we seek. She told us that she will give us what we want, in exchange for our services. All the while, we had all tried to be diplomatic, not knowing what her game was, or how powerful she truly was. Suddenly, Leviss shot her with his bow. The arrow did nothing, and after taking his bow, she gave it back with sounds of disappointment.

I told her that I do not serve anyone, not her, not the King, I serve a higher purpose. Leviss then tried something completely unexpected. Drawing his bow, he turned it on me! Asking him what he was doing, Leviss told me to trust him. Nala seemed quite upset and upon uttering a noise, the Queen silenced her, demanding Nala to remember who she was speaking to. With a wave of her hand, I felt that falling feeling again and upon landing, Gabriel announced that we are back in the Imperial City!

I was sick once again, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to teleportation, and after cleaning myself off, I could hear lots of different voices. We seemed to be in the market area, and people were hustling to and fro, going about their business. Avaron mentioned to me that just as we were leaving the Queen’s cave, Nala pulled back her hood showing her face, which hosted one blue eye, one violet eye, and that her face seemed to be two halves wrongly attached together.

Life is just getting more and more confusing. What doesn’t feel like that long ago, goblins were our biggest threat and the most grotesque of creatures. Now, we have a King, a Queen, camps full of half-breeds, teleportation, and sinister plans at work to deal with. I have to admit, I ran the risk of being overwhelmed, not so quick to adapt to this changing world as I usually am. Many a late night, I sat awake, writing these journals, trying to sort out the events that transpired, and ready myself for the next day.

As Leviss, Avaron, and I argued, quite loudly, over what to do, Gabriel pointed out a procession of people that were just beginning to walk down our street. A young boy, surrounded by guards, sauntered by. Leviss observed that this boy seemed very proud, like he was very honoured. Asking a commoner, who seemed concerned at our lack of understanding until he realized we were from Ori, said it’s “The Strengthening”, and that this boy was honourably chosen by the King to fulfill a great task. We followed this group to the palace, where an assemblage of guards stood outside the royal door. Leviss and I walked past, while Gabriel and Avaron stayed outside.

I could immediately hear the King talking to the boy, asking him about his family, and telling him that he was helping the kingdom with his efforts. Leviss described, voice full of shock, what happened next. The King placed his hand on the boy’s head, and suddenly the boy aged. The boy started to drop and the King caught the boy just before he hit the ground. The King, Leviss said, looked much better than before. His hair was no longer long and grey. His muscles appeared strong, and while he stooped before, the King now stood up tall and straight. I shake my head, the King has somehow absorbed the youth and vitality of the boy. He was sacrificing his people, children, in order to maintain his youth! I remember the palms of my hands felt clammy, and I held onto Leviss tightly telling him not to do or say anything. At that moment, Avaron and Gabriel walked in. The King made his way over to us and said that the boy had made a noble sacrifice, that his life helped protect the kingdom and save the lives of many other people. He also warned us that the Queen had reached the minds of some people, and that all he was trying to do was help the world reach its greatest potential. Every few centuries, the Queen rose against him, and each time, 6 now, he has put her back in her place. But, each time, the Queen’s power has spilled over and has brought the destruction of many cities and countless lives.

We all yelled at him at once.

“You think this is right?”
“You cannot justify murdering people!”
“The Queen doesn’t seem as bad as you, at least she doesn’t eat children for strength!”

Through it all, the King has an answer for everything, saying that without him, the people of this world would not be able to take care of themselves, especially with the Queen threatening them. He said that everything he has done was in order to protect this world and sometimes the few must be sacrificed for the good of the many. The King told us that the Queen wanted the ring, that it belonged to someone very special and that she was not going to get it back, she was not going to stop him this time. In two weeks, he was setting sail for Ori, where he will destroy the Queen once and for all.

At this point, Gabriel stole a coin from the King. The King told him to put it back, that it doesn’t belong to him, but Gabriel asked what the King was going to do about it. Later, Gabriel told me that it was a test to see if the King was as indifferent to him as the Queen seemed to be. The King laughed, a deep, lengthy laugh, and said he’ll call it payment, that we should all avoid the Queen, and not do anything she asked as it will bring the ruin of everything.

Wearily making our way out of the palace, we tried to go back to the Angry Owl Bear Inn. We were told that the inn was not suitable yet for anyone and we were directed to The Comfy Chair Inn. Getting two rooms, I fell asleep, quite quickly, the weight of the world, seemingly, on my shoulders.

The world is a lot more dangerous than I could have imagined, far more than what we expected as children, playing with Avaron, Leviss, James, and Tori in Fur-Lonn. Our foes are not just simple monsters that can be destroyed with a quick slash. Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel are as disgusted, confused, and worried as I am concerning all these latest events. Things were moving way too fast, and I was barely able to keep this journal going. Only through the routine of discipline did I keep my mind focused, and kept this record. I wasn’t sure what we were going to do, what part we had, if any, to play in this, but I wanted there to be some record, untouched by either King or Queen, for the people. I finish this entry, here and now, with no further insight, no further action, other than sleep. Tomorrow will, undoubtedly, bring more questions than answers, and it is only with patience and determination that I think we can have any hope of figuring out what is happening and stop these self-styled nobles from having their way with our world.

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Mark's Journal # 20
The Plot Thickens...

Mark’s 20th Journal – 03-20-11

The night passed uneventfully. Gabriel, Leviss, and I kept busy, and eventually slept, although not too well. In the morning, we packed up and made our way back to Aristaal. As we approached, we were greeted by students and professors, all incredulous at what we had done. After all we’ve been through, it should have been a compliment, but at that time, it felt more like a weary burden. The professors told us that the city has been evacuated, mostly to Fur-Lonn. As we were talking to him, I realized we were surrounded, enclosed by a large group of shocked people, all treating us like more than just heroes. I made a little speech about how there was still work to be done, and that the city and the people who used to live here were relying on their hard work.

After this, the crowd dispersed, save for one man in black robes. Avaron mentioned that he had a symbol on his robe, an eye within a shield, which I found to be interesting. He approached us and apologized for the lack of contribution from his order. He explained that his order, known as the Disciples of the Shield, was dedicated to preserving life, and honouring P3TR’s life, and sacrifice. I told him that we appreciated his help and that there was still much to do so he might as well help with that. This seemed to please him, and he went on his way. Disciples of the Shield? An entirely new order that sprung up after P3TR’s death? They warrant watching; Gabriel doesn’t trust them.

We went back to the Roost, and attempted to talk to Avaron about Greg. I explained how we couldn’t heal her and how that, along with everything else, warranted some discussion. She told us that Greg’s body was chained to the spirits of the people he had killed. She explained that all we were doing was defeating one spirit at a time and that while she was unconscious, she cut the chain. Apparently, this monster had been killing for some time as Avaron said she recognized some of the spirits from Portsmouth.

This is all highly unusual. When people die, they usually just die. Atlas’ presence is unusual, to say the least, but to have a monster that feeds on the spirits of those it killed? That is all too much for me to really want to comprehend.

Gabriel shared his distrust of the Disciples of the Shield. I agreed with him that they warranted watching, but I also warned the others about perception. We have grown, a lot, in our travels. We have seen things and developed to a point where the common people not only respect us, they might even fear us. We are a formidable and dangerous lot, but we are here for the people, we are here to make them safe, and in order to do that, we must have their trust, and not lose sight of what they need.

All of us, in a need to feel productive, but also, to avoid the outside world, set to work on things in the Roost. Gabriel made some food, and some alchemical items. I must say, he is handy to have around. At the very least, he knows what to do with a set of ingredients. Although, I would hate to be there when he gets his Basilisk powder mixed up with his pepper. Avaron investigated the possibility of making mounts, in the way that her father must have for the goat and drake and lizard lion. Leviss, moving into the workshop, began working on extra magical items to protect us. Borrowing my amulet, and Gabriel’s brooch, and constructing an amulet of orium for Avaron, Leviss infused them, and while wearing them, we all felt much stronger of mind and will. What was I to do? I decided to work on some blacksmithing. I had a little learning on such things back at the Erathis Temple, and I’ve always been good with my hands. I thought I would keep myself busy working on some weapon designs. I also spent some time making sure everyone’s weapons were sharp, straight, and in solid scabbards.

Gabriel presented us with some interesting alchemical items. He gave us a jolt flask which should be handy for distracting some close enemies, and a wound patch, for some quick healing. Leviss upgraded my armour, making it more like strong drake scales. Avaron presented me with a gift as well, a bookmark. This magical bookmark, when placed in a book, will read out its contents in the language in which it was written. Also, when placed in a blank book, this bookmark will imprint on the page whatever is spoken to it. These were very useful, wonderful gifts that I still have today.

Making our way back to Aristaal, I asked for the members of the council to meet with us. I made some suggestions as to a method of warning between the cities, a way of uniting the people of Ori instead of living so separately. The council informed us that the Disciple of the Shield have been very good for things like that. They formed a messaging service, running news and letters between Fur-Lonn, Aristaal, Portsmouth, and Hampton as often as possible. I found this to be very interesting; the people of Ori were beginning to feel connected in a way they hadn’t before. The Disciple of the Shield seems very driven, and I hope, with guidance, can continue to be a force of good.

As we were about to leave, Leviss slowed our horse and mentioned that some children were trying to talk to us. Apparently, Portsmouth Printing had put out new adventuring trading cards, and they wanted Avaron and Leviss to sign the cards portraying them. With a sense of pride from us, and awe from them, Avaron and Leviss signed the cards, and we were on our way.

Making our way back to Fur-Lonn, we met up with some travellers and made camp with them. Leviss and Gabriel told some stories. It was nice to be welcomed, instead of revered.

Avaron’s old house had become a cleared gravel lot. Before we had decided to settle, we went to the Erathis Temple to see what had become of the place. There, we found a bustle of activity. There were tents and people everywhere. I recognized the smells and sounds of a busy camp, and waved over a cleric. He was a follower of Erathis and he told me that the clerics from all orders, as well as some Disciples of the Shield, some from Hampton, and some from Portsmouth, arrived and were making the best out of a bad situation. I praised him on a job well done, thanked him and the others for rebuilding my old home, and he agreed to take care/make use of our horses while we were in town.

Needing to find out a little more about what happened to Greg, we went to the Temple of the Raven Queen. The followers of the Raven Queen are very concerned about death, and we thought it might be a good place to start, to learn about spirits. Having learned that the Head Cleric was busy, we were asked to come back later.

We decided to grab some dinner at a tavern; none of us ever actually sampled the food around town before. As we were eating, I heard a familiar girl’s voice whisper, “It won’t be long now, your eyes will be open.” After asking the others, who heard nothing, I reached for my steak knife, which I could tell had been changed. It was a dagger, similar to those given by the man in black, engraved on the hilt, it said, “Trust no one.” I told the others what had happened, and we quickly went outside. Avaron could sense a portal, and we followed this to a back alley. Once there, we found where a portal had been, but it was now just a solid wall. With no one around, and no idea what was going on, we made our way back to the Raven Queen’s temple.

The Head Cleric was oddly familiar, and it did not take long to realize he was the nephew of the inn-keeper of the Warmshearth Inn from Aristaal. With the same, wacky, personable manner, he answered our questions as best as he could. We told him about Greg, about the chaining of spirits, and asked him about such matters. The cleric was utterly disgusted. He said that this type of action was awful, that a person’s spirit is their own and once they die, they move on. To keep it around, against its will, and to enslave it, was horrible. He told us that he has never heard of this ever happening except in old fairy tales. Stories telling of a “Dark Queen”, not the Raven Queen, who would torment the living and dead alike and was always overthrown by heroes.

Upon leaving the temple, we were greeted by two Red Cloaks. Avaron quickly told me that they looked like Imperial Guards, heavily armoured and looking far more serious and dangerous than the guards around here. They carried an order from the King to take us to the Imperial City. Their attitude was serious, and they seemed ready for a fight. We requested to be allowed to speak with the local Cloaks, and with that, warned the local guards of the portal and to be on the alert.

I suppose we could have fought these Red Cloaks, refused to go with them, but we had no real reason to do so other than a feeling of unease. The King has been around forever, and he was the highest semblance of order in the world. I do not follow any authority leader without question, but if we were being summoned, there must be a reason. None of us wanted to leave our home, I could tell that, but we also were curious about what was going on.

After getting our horses, we left the city, making our way east toward Portsmouth. I must say, the Cloaks escorting us seemed highly-trained. They had discipline, and they seemed quite capable of their job. As we made camp one night, the Cloaks taking their own fire, one of them went to the forest, presumably to relieve himself. Coming back, he walked straight toward our party and began talking to us. We realized quite quickly that it was Ray, who said that he will watch over everything in Ori, and that big things happen once every so often on adventures and that we should see what fate has in store for us. He told us of a contact in the Old World, named Carl, who will help us once we get there. We should look for him, and listen to his council.

After a few uneventful nights, we made it to Portsmouth. Moving toward the docks, I could hear a crowd of people, urging and arguing. Motioning to Gabriel, he moved forward to see what was going on. After a short time, he came back, and told us that there was a large, three-mast ship, with purple sails, and an Old World crew. The people at the docks stopped us, declaring that they did not want us, the Guard, to go. They asked what right does a King, so far away, have of taking away Ori’s only protection? We do our best to reassure the people that they are always under our protection, that we will not be gone for long, and that the people of Ori were more capable than they realized.

I told my comrades later that I began to wonder from this point whether the people of Ori would learn to stand on their own. The Kingdom, including the Imperial City and Ori was the entire world. No one knew of anything outside of it. Yet, the people of Ori had made a home for themselves without any real interference by the King. With the Disciple of the Shield, and this latest demonstration, I began to wonder if revolution was at hand.

If I only knew…

Boats. Let me tell you a little something about them: they smell, they’re small, they’re vulnerable to attack by both men and nature, they’re unsteady, and I do not like them. Being blind is hard enough on solid, dependable land. On a boat, where a sudden, unexpected surge can send even the most able-bodied crew flying, keeping your balance is incredibly tough. Gabriel seemed to hate boats more than I did, and for the first few nights, he had to fight off seasickness.

Avaron and Leviss seemed to have a good time aboard ship. Avaron spent most of her time learning what she could about the star charts and other things cosmic from the ship’s navigator. Leviss, touring me around the ship like a helpless old man, spent some of his time playing music with an interesting character named Squeeze Box McGoo. All in all, the trip was long, uneventful, and boring for me. I spent a lot of time, in my cabin, wondering what lies ahead. I had only heard stories of the great capital city, a city that was as large as a nation. I was excited, but also concerned. Why were we being summoned? Why now? And, what had happened to James since he had been recalled?

Finally, after too long of a trip, I’m sure, for Gabriel, we made it to the Mainland, to the great Imperial City! Leviss described it as, “Very neat, very tidy.” Avaron described things with a little more detail. Beautiful, pristine, bold, the city made it very obvious that it was the Capital, that it was a city fit for a King and His people. Purples and reds everywhere, and the people rushing in and along the dock gave the place the feeling of progress and business that struck of a successful people. Leviss chipped in here, saying that the walls of the buildings were made of a shiny, well-hewn stone, that he didn’t recognize, but definitely looked impressive. Poor Gabriel was extremely uncomfortable here. He said it was too stifling, too organized, nowhere to move, that the air was even constricting. I reminded him that we wouldn’t be staying long. I remember feeling, at the time, that I wished I could see it; the clerics at the Erathis Temple went on and on about this place and, while I feigned to listen most of the time, I had to admit that this place was supposed to be the peak of civilization, the shining beacon of what we could accomplish.

I’m glad I didn’t see it, and you’ll soon know why.

Helping to pull our ship in was an old man. According to Gabriel, he had grey hair and a massive beard, and his skin was tightly drawn over his shirtless body. But, he was in no means feeble. This man was doing the work of several other men, helping to pull our boat in. After getting off the boat, this old man introduced himself to us. Unsurprisingly, his name was Carl. He told us that he was the innkeeper at the Angry Owl Bear Inn, and that we should come back later when we had the time. As we were escorted throughout the city, everyone remarked at how clean it was. The trees were all cut the exact same way; there wasn’t a single weed on the street, and not a lot of people either. We did hear, at one point, a man playing some drums on the corner, but he was quickly led away by some city guards. Everything was neat, and controlled. That much was obvious, and I could feel our group grow uncomfortable at this. I was raised by the ideals of law and order, but lately have been discovering a whole new side to myself. Still, I wasn’t ready to make judgments based on a clean city and one escorted tour. I said nothing, and continued onward toward the palace.

Arriving there, the most unusual thing that could be said about the place was that it had a lawn. The city, what we had seen of it so far, had no more than the odd tree here and there, perfectly groomed and placed. But, I could feel the grass beneath my feet once more as we approached the palace. There were many people inside running around carrying out what I can only assume was important royal business.

Finally, after 2 long weeks, after seasickness, boredom, and curiosity, we were led to the Treasury Room where we were told the King would see us. A fairly large, circular room, the floor was laden with gold coins. I had to be extra careful walking through there as the path to the King was not very straight or clear. There, in the middle of the room, on a giant throne, sat the King. He was an old man, extremely old, 80 years or more, with milky white eyes, long stringy hair, or so Leviss said, he appeared as if the weight of the world were truly on his shoulders, slouching in his giant chair. He asked us if we were the group referred to as The Guard. We answered that we were. He acted royal, and by that I mean, he was good-natured, but seemed a little condescending. I had never met a king before, but I guess that’s what one should expect from someone so important. He seemed to know a lot about us. He knew we had been adventuring for awhile, and he knew that our licence was illegal. He seemed to be perfectly okay with all of this, thanking us for a job well done and saying the licence was not a concern. I could tell by his tone of voice that he was speaking to us as if we were children, and I guess, with his age, we might as well have been. Only Gabriel, being an elderly man himself, even came close in age. Still, I did not like being treated as a trifle, and could tell he was hiding something. Just then, I felt a couple of taps on my arm from Leviss. We had worked out awhile ago that if silence was required, he would tap my arm to let me know how many people were about, or draw my attention to something. I could tell by the way he tapped me that there were guards all about the room. I had to hand it to them; they were extremely disciplined. I did not hear them at first, did not hear them shuffle their feet, or cough, or anything. Yet, Leviss’ attention indicated that there were two guards around the King, and several by the doors. I could feel the tension rise in the room, and just then Avaron asked the King why we were summoned. The King chuckled and said that he just wanted to thank us for all the good we had been doing. He made mention that there were several people who wanted to undermine him. Confused, we asked why he could not have sent that message along, instead of bringing us here from Ori. I could tell everyone was growing a little impatient, and I did my best to dissolve the situation, but I was upset as well. We had things to do, and not only were we summoned here for no real reason, we were being talked down to by a seemingly feeble old man. Anyway, as I was observing all of this, the King began having a coughing fit, and between spasms, we all heard the King mention something about a Queen. He would not admit it, and thanking us for our time, he sent us away.

We decided that we needed to figure out what was going on, so we went to the Angry Owl Bear Inn to talk to Carl. He told us that 60 years ago, the King commissioned the city; he cleaned it up and took care of everything and everyone. The city was changed into this shining example of civilization and things have been relatively quiet ever since. But, some people did take notice of a fenced wall around the city and that no one who has ever gone to investigate it has ever returned. Avaron asked Carl about a Queen, but Carl seemed confused by this, saying the King had never taken a wife.

Making our way outside, we took a look at this fence. It was a red and white wall, several stories tall, fancy, but seemingly just a fence. We asked what was on the other side, and Carl’s response was unusual. He said that he didn’t know, nor particularly care what was on the other side, yet he seemed oddly determined that we check it out. Avaron and Leviss checked the magic of the area and determine that the wall had some kind of charm illusion or something on it. Basically, the fence made the interest of people in it fade. Anyone who grew concerned with the fence suddenly had a mood change.

We went inside a nearby building, hoping to get a view of what was on the other side. I have seen and witnessed some horrible things in my life, but nothing could have prepared me for what was on the other side of that wall. The smoke we had seen upon entering the city seemed to mostly be coming from what appeared to be a large work camp on the other side of the wall. Looking through his scope, Gabriel was able to see a “hospital” of sorts, from where weird-looking people were coming out. Some were tall and blond, some were short, most had pointed ears, these “people” seemed like they were stitched together from other creatures we had seen. In this camp, there were also many royal guards whipping the creatures and using them for slave labour.

This terribly upset me. Here we were, in what was supposed to be the beacon of order and civilization, the dream city for Erathis clerics, and it was a city built on slavery, where everything was controlled and no one appeared to have any freedom at all. I wanted very much to get out of this place. It had an evil sense about it, and nothing good had happened since we left Ori. Reminding the group as such, we decided to use Avaron’s key to go back to the Roost, and try to get a sense of how things were in Ori. Avaron could immediately sense a dark evil magic growing, seeming to come from near Hampton.

After much deliberation, we decided to try to ready ourselves in the Roost. Unsure of where to go, back to the Mainland, or to Hampton, we decided to work on some things until we figured out what we wanted to do. Avaron researched her dad’s old books, looking for fairy tales, or any mention about a Queen. In her search, she found some obscure references to a Dark Queen who gave power to someone, who then wreaked havoc before being brought down by some hero. The fairy tale book was old, estimated to be over 800 years old by Avaron, and we began to wonder if there was some truth here.

Deciding that it was best if no one discovered our ability to get back to the Roost, we decide to go back to the Mainland, there to find out more and possibly take a boat back to Ori. It wouldn’t be the fastest way, but it might be the wisest course of action. As we stepped out of the door, we heard a familiar voice downstairs. It was James! He was calmly talking to Carl who seemed quite scared. Avaron, Gabriel, and Leviss snuck quietly down the stairs only to see James, dressed as a royal guard, calmly talking to Carl. James had a big scar along the side of his head, which was partially shaved, with some sort of runes tattooed. He calmly tried to take Carl to see the King. Carl was very scared of this, acting as if these men had come to kill them. Carl begged them to leave him alone, telling the guards that we were upstairs and that they should go after us. They escorted him out and we were left alone.

Well, what else could we do? We followed them. Going out a back door, we crept through an alley. What were they doing? What happened to James? This and more ran through my head as Leviss ran into a guard. We were surrounded, and Carl and James were nowhere to be found.

Bracing myself for battle, Gabriel tried a different tactic. Quickly loading his crossbow, he tried to immobilize the guards. We didn’t want nor need to fight them anyway. His first shot hit, but his second went wide and struck the guard right in the head.

Barely hitting him, the arrow took the guard’s helmet right off. I could immediately tell something was wrong. Everyone went quiet, and I could smell something odd. The guard, roughly my height and build, had the face of a giant drake! We had assumed the guards were human; their helmets just a precaution, but now it seemed like we were finding more examples of the King’s breeding program at work. All this flew through my mind as I drew my sword and began to get down to business.

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Mark's Journal # 19
When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Mark’s 19th Journal – 03-13-11

We had to get to Aristaal; that much was certain. Avaron and Leviss felt a terrible presence in that direction and it was obvious that we had been mislead to Hampton. Remembering the geography of Ori, and conferring with Gabriel, we came up with the idea of trying to gain access to the Roost. If the fabled hideout of The Keepers was indeed in the mountains just west of Aristaal, and if the key given to Avaron for her birthday could get us to the Roost almost immediately, we knew we had to try.

Renting a room above the nearest tavern, we decided to give the key a try. Avaron locked and opened our single room door and immediately I could tell something had happened. With a whoosh of cold air, our room seemed to open to a frigid, dark, cave. Now, I may not be able to see, but sometimes it is astounding how blind I can be to my surroundings. I should have known that as soon as that door opened to the Roost that Leviss would take off. With a shake of my head, I went after him, certain that Ray would never give Avaron a dangerous gift, or more certainly, that P3TR would never allow such a danger to fall into Avaron’s hands.

Following Leviss was not an easy task. His legs have improved since Aristaal, he’s still in crutches, but he moves fast, especially when potential Keepers memorabilia lies ahead. I was not worried; the air was fresh, and Avaron told me it was dark, but since I was blind, I actually felt comfortable moving along the solid stone walls. Clanging my shield every other step, I felt the noise ringing off the walls. I was reaching out with my senses, and I felt a little better. Making my way down the path, I eventually found myself in a much larger room. Leviss had smashed into a thing or two, and I reminded him that he may need to see, and that he should use his lighted bow. He lit the bow and told me that we were surrounded by bows, ballistas, and other terrible-looking weapons pointed straight at us. I told Leviss to wait, and that the others would show up soon enough and could help us.

Sure enough, Gabriel and Avaron arrived moments later, leading our horses. Moving past Leviss, Gabriel made his way into the next room, which appeared to be some sort of monitoring room with mirrors and levers, corresponding to the different weapons fixed on us. It seems that the Keepers were ready should they have intruders. Moving past that, we came to another round room, this time seemingly more inviting. Carpets covering wooden floors, tapestries on the walls, the style was very much inspired by the Old World, or so everyone said. In addition, this seemed to be more of a “sitting room”, as there were couches lining the walls, and cases on pedestals showing off some of The Keepers’ adventures. At the end of the room, there were three doors.

The first door opened to a giant pantry. I could smell the food, spices and such. Gabriel said it had enough food to feed us all for a year at least and that everything was so well-preserved that it seemed like it had been placed there only days before. The second door opened to an Observation Room. There was a giant slit on the wall with telescopes, runes carved into the ceiling, maps and notes on one table, and tools and alchemical materials on another bench. The last door hosted a hallway with a curious set of slots on the walls where torches might go. In addition, there was a handle on the wall at the far end. On one table, there were a few carved figures: a goat, a drake, and a creature even Gabriel had never seen before. Gabriel, placing a torch into one of the slots on the walls, was immediately trapped in a cage that sprang from under him. Avaron freed him, moved the horses into position, trapped herself in with them, and then teleported out. The slot on the wall, upon investigation, provided the animals with hay. It hit Avaron right in the face! Swallowing my laughter, I moved back to the main room.

Commanding Leviss to not touch anything, I ran my hands along the wall, trying to get a feel for the place. Apparently, my warning came in good time, as Leviss was about to touch some foreboding sword, literally dripping with evil and hate, it seemed. Moving along the room, I found a brick that, when pressed, opened a secret passage to four more doors. The first was obviously Ray’s bedroom. It boasted a bed, and a curious reflective ball that, when spun, lit the room in sparkling light. The next room was clearly P3TR’s. It was bare, with only a cot, and a single bookshelf with books of philosophy on it. The room after that was Alan’s room. Leviss told me later that no one had been in that room for years, probably left exactly as it was after Alan died. Avaron pushed past us and shut the door.

The fourth door was a vault of some sort, with a modest pile of gold and jewels on the floor. After this investigation, I asked Leviss and Gabriel to go about looking around, see what they could find out about the place. Leviss continued going over all the artifacts, careful not to touch any of them. Gabriel moved to the pantry where he provided us with a nice dinner, and some travel rations for later. I sat in front of Alan’s room. I wanted to make sure that Avaron had this time, alone and uninterrupted, to connect with her father. He was a great man, and while she never said as much, I know she missed him a great deal. Finally, she heard me outside the door and told me that she was fine and that she had learned a ritual or two from some old notes her father had made. Sitting in the hall, going over them, I asked if I could look into something with Jello, her oozing familiar. Recalling the sound of my shield on the bare walls, I wanted to know about the tremor sense that Jello seemed to have. In earlier encounters, Avaron had used Jello’s senses to determine if there were other creatures about. I was not sure what I would accomplish at the time, but going blind opened my mind to new ways of perceiving the world around me.

The next day we made plans to set out. Deciding to leave the horses where they were, we trekked down the mountain, for upon a cold, snow-filled mountain we were. Upon reaching the bottom, we noticed a column of smoke not exactly in the same direction as Aristaal. Needing to find a door at which to use Avaron’s key to retrieve the horses, we made for the smoke. Night was beginning to fall when we came upon a goblin camp. It was clear that Gabriel was agitated, but Avaron and I quickly suggested we leave, as we had no reason to bother or be bothered by goblins. Not long after, we were attacked by goblins, but quickly dispatched of them. It was a needless act, but we had wandered into their territory, and goblins are a cowardly lot.

The next day, we came across a ruined cabin. We actually would have passed right by it if it wasn’t for Gabriel. He noticed that some of the foliage was out of place, and we quickly realized that the cabin had overgrown with vines and formed a leafy wall. Unfortunately, the door too was destroyed. After a couple of minutes of silly, albeit creative attempts to remake the door using surrounding materials, Leviss remembered that he had a ritual which might help. Lighting his ritual candle, he was able to recreate the door. We used it to go to the Roost, retrieve our horses, and Leviss kept the handle of the door for future needs. In addition, Avaron grabbed the figurines because their purpose was still a mystery to us. Accidentally dropping the strange looking one, it immediately grew to a large beast. It was roughly 15 feet long and wide, had a tough leather-like body with a saddle on it, three horns and a giant head shield of some kind. Apparently, these figurines were enchanted mounts that could be called upon! After toying around with it, Avaron was able to figure out how to turn the creature back. Leviss was extremely disappointed by that last part. Even I could tell he really wanted to ride that creature, which we called a lizard lion for convenience. He bothered her about it, he kept trying to steal it; everything he said related to it in one way or another, but Avaron was not comfortable with Leviss having it, not just yet.

Making camp, and hoping to get to Aristaal soon, Gabriel and I took the first watch. We have a rather quiet group and while I like that, I made some effort in talking with Gabriel. I feel I could learn a lot from his travels, and his insight has seemed most useful thus far. It was a quiet, uneventful night, and I finally settled down to sleep after waking Leviss and Avaron. Upon waking in the morning, I overheard Avaron telling Leviss that he wasn’t the only one who had dreams. This worried me a little. Dreams are rarely a good thing, in my opinion. Sure, sometimes, I see things in my sleep, and most of the time I forget about it come morning. Either that or it was not worth remembering: killing a goblin here, painful memories there. But, when someone makes an effort to mention a dream, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

Off and riding. All this traveling has done nothing to calm any of us down. We are still looking for Greg and for answers concerning Fur-Lonn. I fear P3TR’s involvement with this as he did seem to mislead us slightly by suggesting Hampton so enthusiastically. Avaron had been quieter than usual, so I rode my horse up to her so we could talk. Mostly, I needed to say some things; things which I feared might never get said between us. I told her that, with the Erathis Temple gone, and all the clerics dead, that Avaron and Leviss were the only family I had. The Guard, and all of our adventures has brought us together in a way I never thought possible when play-acting as a child, but I wanted Avaron to know, to hear, how I felt about our group and how I would feel quite alone in this world without them.

Finally, we made it to Aristaal. The walls, Leviss reported, were less beige, and the city seemed to have improved upon itself since last we saw it, which really isn’t saying much, but progress is progress. We did notice, however, that many were leaving the city. We asked one old man why and he said the “man in black had made things unsafe.” Even an old student from Avaron’s classes said the same thing. Moving more into the city, we noticed a statue. I could tell the scene was not good even before anyone said anything. Avaron’s horse stopped, with a grunt from Gabriel and a gasp from Leviss, I waited to hear what it was.

Standing before us, was a statue of P3TR. It said, “Here fell Saint P3TR the Keeper, who knew the value of a life. May we never forget his lesson.” We couldn’t believe it; P3TR dead? What? Some nervous sounding kid made his way to us and tried to explain but before he had said 3 words, Avaron galloped ahead. Following as quickly as we could, we made it to the Evocation Tower, there to find Avaron talking to her old professor. He told us the horrible tale.

About a week and a half ago, P3TR showed up, asking questions about a man in black robes. No one had seen this person, so P3TR decided to get a room at the inn, and waited. Finally, a man in black robes, with a face like death, and bleeding bare feet showed up. He was ignored, taken for a beggar. These were trying times for the people of Aristaal; they had seen their fair share of beggars and the homeless. Eventually, P3TR was seen talking to this man, and they appeared to be arguing. Or rather, P3TR seemed to be trying to get a point across, but it wasn’t working. The onlookers couldn’t hear what was being said but before they knew it, P3TR drew out his shield.

P3TR retired the day Alan disappeared. He had not brought out his shield in all that time, and here he was, drawing it on some beggar. The two of them fought a very intense, dangerous battle. The man was pure power, Avaron’s professor said, able to destroy buildings with a thought. P3TR did not back down; he stood his ground and laid into the man with everything he had. When all hope seemed lost, when P3TR looked to be at his end, a bright light appeared, and both the man and P3TR were gone. The townspeople looked all around, but only a small sliver of P3TR could be found. Avaron’s professor gave this sliver, kept in a vial on a rope, to Avaron. The people of Aristaal, the people left that is, made a statue in honour of P3TR and have been laying tributes at it ever since.

I quickly ushered us to the arena. There, I tethered our horses, and got out of Avaron’s way. I could not deal with P3TR’s loss yet myself, but thought it best if the rest of my comrades had a chance to blow off some steam. I didn’t think it would cure anyone, but I’ve seen Avaron’s potential when she’s in a good mood, at least this way, rocks would be the only thing harmed. Gabriel was quiet, and mostly stayed with me and the horses. Leviss was quiet and just sat around, unsure of what to do. Avaron, well, she did exactly what I figured she would do. She hurled her arcane chaos at that quarry with more power and frustration than I had ever witnessed before. Blasts of lightning, fire, acid, wind, sand, all scorched the earth and left the quarry bare of rock, but full of hate. Eventually, the day wore out, and Avaron, while not ready to quit, was powered more by anger that by ability at this point. Convincing everyone to pack up, we booked two rooms at the Warmhearth Inn.

Avaron took one room, and I told Leviss and Gabriel to take the other. I sat at the bar, with one single glass of wine, all night. P3TR was dead. Even now, some time after, I find the words difficult to write, difficult to hear or read. This man, Avaron’s guardian, had been with her since a very early age. He had looked out for her every second of every day since as long as I knew her. Even adventuring, it was obvious that he looked out for her; he had Ray track us in Portsmouth, and he sent Gabriel clearly to guard her. But, now he was gone. None of us had a chance to say goodbye, and again, Avaron was left without a parent, without a father. I lost my friends and brothers from the Erathis Temple, but this was different. Avaron lost someone who had become like a father to her, and she lost him suddenly. I prayed to Erathis that we would get through this. I prayed that I would have the strength to keep this party together, and I vowed that justice would be served. We will find Greg and find out what exactly has been going on.

The dawn awoke, and I heard the Wizarding Council coming to the Inn. Upon finding me there, they asked if I could get the others as they wanted to talk with us. Gabriel was already awake, standing at the top of the stairs, probably overhearing the wizards, and I asked him to wake Leviss while I woke Avaron.

The council was curiously quiet as I rejoined them. All of the familiar wizards were there, Avaron’s professor, members of the different schools of wizardry, and even Ed, the Geomancer. The council seemed to be only partially recovered from their loss of Archmage. It was obvious that they were unsure of how to handle themselves when no clear leader was established. Ed seemed to act as leader for now, albeit uncomfortably. He told us that the council wanted to keep us informed on their plans for the city.

The city had taken quite a beating. The goblin invasion destroyed most of the city; homes, schools, most of the buildings were taken out. But hope remained. With this new attack, even that was demolished. Ed told us that they knew the man in black robes would be returning. They could tell by the levels of arcane energy still in the air that this man would return very soon. The council’s plan was to evacuate the city, get everyone out and safe if they could. It would not be easy as many of the city’s people were stubborn, and refused to give up anything more. We asked how we could help. This is when the council got really quiet. Even Ed, usually as strong as the rocks he bends, seemed unsure of himself. The council wanted us to ride out and meet the man. They had an ability to “see” his whereabouts, using some form of magic known as “scrying”. Our mission was straightforward. We were asked to meet the man in black and stall him, buy the city’s people time to get out of the city. I asked for a couple of minutes alone with my comrades.

When we were alone, I turned to Gabriel and said, “P3TR is dead. It is a harsh truth, but it is so. We three (pointing to Avaron and Leviss) have been through a lot together. What we have, it goes beyond friendship, goes beyond family, and so there is no question what we will do here and now. You, however, are new to us. You have been by our side for a short time, and P3TR was just a friend to you. We know why you were asked to be with us; it was P3TR’s wish for it to be so. But, with him gone, you are released from that; you are free to choose and should you choose to leave us, we will understand. This mission sounds like death, we will not ask you or anyone to join us, but you can, and we will welcome you by our side.”

It was a little winded, but it needed to be said. Gabriel, though new to us, had shown some tenacity. He had shown dedication. But, I wasn’t wrong. P3TR stood face-to-face with this man in black and paid the ultimate price for it. I could not ask anyone to join us on this foolish mission; I could only present them with a choice. Gabriel said that he would not run, not now, he was coming with us.

With our agreement, the council was noticeably and obviously relieved. We told them we needed their help to prepare. We took some General Wizards with us back to the Roost. Looking through old spell books, crafting from reagents, and planning strategy, we took the drake, goat, and lizard lion figurines and were on our way.

We rode north of the city. The way was quiet, the mood was subdued. Gabriel and I rode the lizard lion, Avaron rode the drake, and Leviss rode the goat, which I was told had the most intimidating face any of them had ever seen. In a way to break the mood, Leviss named it Vizier. He also said that there are worse ways to die. At least, this battle will mean something. We will have hopefully bought the people of Aristaal some time and with it, their lives. It wasn’t enough to cheer us up, but I think it strengthened our resolve. We made it to a clearing, which we thought was well-suited, and waited.

And waited.

Finally, the man showed up, dragging his feet. I could hear his every step, shuffling as they were. We told him to stop, and he actually did. He looked at us, and Avaron told me that he was trying to speak. Leviss said it was like he had marbles in his mouth, like he couldn’t figure out how to use words.

Suddenly, a thousand voices, a horrible chorus, shouted, “No.” I kept trying to talk to it. It didn’t answer, but I thought the more I stalled it, the better. I asked it why it had chosen Greg, why it had taken his form. It screamed at us and said it wanted to destroy us all.

It was then that we fought it. We had no choice as it stopped listening to us, wanted to get past us. We hammered it, hit it every which way. It grew spectral wings of black death and struck us with power hidden beneath his robes. We dropped it, it came back. We dropped it again, it came back. We kept at it, but we were getting tired.

Suddenly, it got past me and got to Avaron. It turned me to stone, and pummeled her while Gabriel and Leviss tried everything to hit it and push it back. I broke free, I was bloodied, angry, desperate. Avaron was in her moon phase, and I shifted, bones breaking, blood pumping, wind blowing.

Avaron fell.

Gabriel and Leviss tried healing her. Both cried out words of grace, nothing worked. I could hear Leviss shouting at her, “Get up! You have to get up!” Gabriel slashed at the man in black robes, telling me Avaron wasn’t responding. I tried calling out to Atlas to save her, nothing happened. With a renewed, but exhausted effort, we tore into this “man”. If Avaron was going down, this man would not survive the day, not if I had to bite him in the face and hold on past death itself.

Suddenly, Avaron got up. I could hear Leviss shouting in joy, and confusion. Two arrows hit the man right in the chest; I heard them thud into him like hitting dead wood. A light arrow from Leviss went right between his eyes. I brought my sword down, blazing with fire, right on his head, dropping my sword. Suddenly, I heard a fire that wasn’t mine. A crackling energy hit the air with a familiarity that made all my hair rise on end. Avaron had moved into melee range.

I raised my shield in anticipation and with that, sand, wind, acid, fire, all combined in a horrible whirlwind of hate, and utter destruction. I could feel the heat from where I stood, even behind the shield. The man screamed, but not in pain, more in resignation, saying, “It’s not me.” Grabbing my sword, I got a lucky swing in and heard his head fall with a sound as dead as he was.

We beat him. I lowered my weapons and called out to everyone. Gabriel and Leviss said they were fine, Avaron moved past me, sat down, and did something I have never seen her even come close to doing before, she broke down crying.

I didn’t know what to do; she seemed fine physically. Leviss tried to hug her. To say she did not let him is a gross understatement. In an effort to help, we made camp, Gabriel and Leviss busied ourselves and I wrote this journal, amid the sounds of a crackling fire, and subdued sobs.

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Mark's Journal # 18
The Foreboding

Mark’s 18th Journal – 02/18/11

Gone.

That’s the word that Avaron used. That’s the one word I could not believe. Erathis Temple, the largest temple in the city, the beacon of life, civilization, and order, was gone. I couldn’t believe it. I must have seemed as shocked as James was when they took him away. According to Leviss, the entire temple except for the basement was rubble. Even Gabriel, gruff as he always was, stated that there was significant structural damage and that nothing was left to even call a building.

Looking by chance in at the open window
I saw my own self seated in his chair
With gaze abstracted, furrowed forehead,
Unkempt hair.

“But, surely there are survivors? Clerics ushering the injured? No? Oh, maybe they’re over at the Avandra Temple showing those travellers who’s boss?” I pleaded more to myself than to the others, but their answers rang in my ears. Bodies were strewn here and there, and no one was left, save for looters.

Looters? In this time of crisis, there were still those who preyed on the weak, on the helpless. Instead of helping their fellow man out, these people chose to root around, among the rubble and bodies of my home looking for gold, or riches. I couldn’t believe it, did not want to believe it! I smashed my sword and shield together and screamed at the scum,

“Listen up! The city has been attacked, that much is obvious. Your first job is to get home, to get your loved ones safe; then, to help others in need. We are The Guard, and we are giving you 1 minute to get yourselves out of there, where you do not belong, before we make you leave!”

It didn’t work. According to Avaron, they looked nervous, but unwilling to leave, so I jumped in. Little did I know that there wasn’t even a front door anymore. I rolled and smashed and landed in the basement. Calling on anyone who would dare challenge me, I could feel the rage running through my body. My shoulder pauldron, a gift from Atlas and usually a pale blue, erupted in flames. I could feel its heat all over my body, but I did not get burned. The human looters, for human they were, were armed with lashes and clubs and while they fought back, they were nothing we couldn’t handle. I heard Leviss tumble after me, and Gabriel slid down the hill with more finesse and helped flank the monsters. Avaron provided damage and control from above ushering tornados and acidic blasts all over the place.

I took 4 of them on at once. I was bloodied. I could feel the change come over me. Bones breaking, muscles growing, blood boiling, I became the animal I had been hiding all my life. Erathis was calling to me, there was screaming in my head, or was that from the humans? I was not merciful, did not pull my punches, and in the midst of one final strike on a foe, my rage was so great, that my sword erupted in fire. Erathis was granting me the power to slay these fools. The fire threatened to spread up my arm, but I felt Atlas’ presence, keeping it, and me, at bay.

I thought that I had suddenly come to die,
That to a cold corpse this was my farewell,
Until the pen moved slowly on the paper
And tears fell.

With the fight over, I reverted back to my original form. Things were calming down, I was breathing normally again. Leviss led me around, looking for survivors. Making our way around the temple, Leviss led me to the sole survivor. He was sitting, propped up against the wall, and I could hear him sputtering before I even got to him. It was Ted. Checker champion Ted. All-around good guy, and the nicest person I have ever met. I kneeled beside him, ran my hands over him. He was done, there was nothing I could do, but he was still muttering something. Suddenly, his hand shot out, grabbed the back of my head and pulled me close. I will never forget his final words to me.

“Justice! Not vengeance!”

He had written a name, yours, in printed letters
One word on which bemusedly to pore:
No protest, no desire, your naked name,
Nothing more.

The rest of the walk back to P3TR’s shop passed me by. I shuffled my feet, just keeping one foot in front of the other. My old friends, my family, my home, all gone, and all I could do was get angry about it.

Another thing worth mentioning is the magical resonance within the city. When I came to my senses, I asked Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel to tell me more about the condition of the city. Leviss said that it looked very similar to Aristaal, except on a grander scale. While that catastrophe had been mostly caused by goblins, this one was caused by something bigger. Gabriel told me that he knew a little about building design and that these buildings seemed to have been shaken from the ground up. Avaron told me that there was so much magical static in the air that she could hardly concentrate. It seemed clear that the origin of this disaster was the Erathis Temple as it was the building with the most damage. Some kind of magical blast, followed by an earthquake, seemed to be the cause of the city-wide disaster.

We talked to the other temples, checked their status, and talked to the Red Cloaks. A cleric from the Raven Queen Temple said he saw a man wearing a black cloak walking south-side, exiting the city. We couldn’t believe it, we questioned him a few times, and each time he gave us a description of a man who sounded exactly like Greg. After talking to P3TR, he suggested that Hampton might be the place to go. With the other cities having already been attacked, and Hampton being south, we decided it was the best place to go.

Saddling our horses, and buying an extra one for Gabriel, we set off. After crossing the ferry, Gabriel tracked footprints looking to belong to Greg along the road. I must say, a little leery at first with taking on another person within our group, Gabriel seems to be fitting right in. A quiet man, Gabriel is quite adept at living, thriving even, outside of city limits. Hunting, tracking, setting up camp, nature is his element and following Greg’s path allowed us to get to know Gabriel a little better. One night, after making camp, Leviss asked me for my sword and shield. An unusual request, to be sure, I let him have it. Relaxing, and listening to the sweet melody of Gabriel’s music, I awaited Leviss’ return.

He returned sometime later with a gift, or rather, an upgrade. My shield, an old Erathis Temple hand-me-down, was a worn but solid piece of metal. With a blue Erathis gear and P3TR’s handprint on it, along with some war wounds, that shield is almost as close to me as The Guard. It’s part of me, without it, I feel naked, unprotected. Leviss had simply enhanced what was there. Telling me it was now a Guardian Shield, he told and showed me how he had added some extra metal, taken from the altar of the Erathis Temple, to make it a more formidable, and fancier looking, piece of armour. He also made himself some archer’s bracers that matched my shield, also made from the metal taken from the temple. I was impressed, I was honoured. The trip had been such a confusing path of darkness for me, trying to sort out what Greg was doing, and why it happened, that this symbol, this token of friendship, really helped put things in perspective for me.

I wrote once before about Leviss and his dreams. Leviss has been the gift of Sight, the ability to see things before they happen. Most of the time, this just helps him in combat, by anticipating the enemy’s actions, but sometimes, it is more than that. His dream about our deaths was what saved my life, he saw that I was about to be fatally attacked, and acted just in time. On the road to Hampton, Leviss had another dream, another ominous dream. He had a dream in which he was surrounded by darkness, a sad, lonely darkness, when a voice of light said, “In seven days, in seven turns, I shall awake and take over all.” Or at least, that’s about as much sense as we could make out of Leviss. I make a note of it as I have grown accustomed to these things being important later.

Would it be tomorrow, would it be next year?
But the vision was not false, this much I knew;
And I turned angrily from the open window
Aghast at you.

Speaking of sight, and visions, I have been trying, as of late, to expand upon my senses. I have noticed, since the first change came over me, that my sense of smell, and sense of hearing, has greatly improved, or at least, that I’ve paid them more attention. Sometimes, I almost feel like I can see again, or better put, I feel I don’t need to see as much. In combat, I like to fight with the enemy close enough that I can reach them. With my allies along, I really don’t need to worry as they will warn me, usually, about distant threats. However, I know my place; I know I am a defender of the innocent, and I’ve been trying to not be a handicap in battle or otherwise. It is tough work, I’ve spent a lot of time in self-reflection, learning to listen more. Also, I’ve been talking to Leviss about his prescient abilities, and to Avaron about Jello, her ooze-like companion, and his ability to feel vibrations. I don’t know what will come of it, but, all too often in battle, the smallest bit of detail, the tiniest observation, has saved my life, or helped me to deliver a crucial strike when least expected.

Finally, after a long, winding trail, we made it to Hampton. Of course, the first thing I noticed was the smell. Old, dusty, like the air hadn’t blown through this town in a long time, it reminded me of Portsmouth, like a presence had settled here and refused to budge. Gabriel said he had been here some time ago, and that nothing ever really changes here. Avaron and Leviss made note of the old-fashioned way of things. Buildings made of wood, houses of simple design, Hampton was an old town, and it looked it. Avaron could not sense the magical aura within the town, but there was definitely some old, old magic located somewhere south.

It was also very quiet, and apparently no one was to be seen on the street. As we rode a little closer, a welcoming party of sorts, 4 or 5 men on horses, rode out to meet us. The leader of their group, a fancy looking man, better dressed, with a top hat with a hole in it that amused Leviss quite a bit, rode forward to talk to us. Introducing himself as Jebediah, leader of this town, he was well-spoken and quite insistent that we did not stay too long. We tried to tell him that we were passing through, looking for an elderly man in a black cloak, but Jebediah questioned our motives. We told him to move aside, that we wanted no trouble but we, The Guard, had business to attend to. He seemed well-informed since he not only knew who we were but also of the recent events in Fur-Lonn. We were getting nowhere and it seemed like a fight was about to begin when Leviss spoke up and proposed a deal. We would pay Jebediah some money, allowing us to move through the town at our leisure, in return. I must say, I was impressed by the idea. Too quickly do our actions seem to dissolve in violence, and frankly, it is not only tiring, but tactically, not the best course of action. The idea interested Jebediah, but he hesitated and filled in the gap of conversation with insults toward us. Before we had a chance to decide one way or another, Jebediah and his men attacked us.

Blasted magic! No offense to Avaron, Leviss, or Gabriel, but I will forever doubt the safety and wisdom of magic. It seems too unpredictable, and all too easy to lose control of. These men, seemingly lacking in magical ability, still had access to wands of some kind. Leviss told me, and Gabriel showed me later, that they wielded magical L-shaped wands that fired a bolt of arcane energy that never seemed to miss. An intense, but short-lived fight ensued where I held down most of their men, while Avaron and Leviss shot them from the sides, while Gabriel took the high ground, taking out enemies from the roof of a nearby building. In all honesty, it was an annoying fight. It was not for any purpose other than one man’s own pride and stupidity, it wasted our time, and I dropped twice from needless bloodshed. I am not proud to say I fell so easily, but at least I kept most of the enemies at my side and not after the rest of The Guard.

Finally, we defeated them, and with their defeat, the rest of the town seemed quite relieved. Apparently, these thugs had been running the town and with their defeat, the townspeople were once again free to do as they pleased. It felt good, but that feeling was short-lived.

Avaron suddenly felt a great disturbance in the magical force that she had been feeling. It was as if a million voices of magical energy called out and were silenced. Contrary to where we were and the path we had followed, this disturbance seemed to be coming from the northwest, from Aristaal. It seemed P3TR had deceived us. Never once did he tell us to go to Hampton, but he suggested it an awful lot. Now, it seems that either he has something to do with this magical energy, or he led us astray, perhaps in an attempt to protect Avaron. Either way, we felt betrayed, Avaron most of all, and we then set quick pace to Aristaal.

Even with all we’ve been through, I have a bad feeling about this. I feel the battle for Ori is about to begin.

Why never a warning, either by speech or look,
That the love you cruelly gave me could not last?
Already it was too late: the bait swallowed,
The hook fast.

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Mark's Journal # 17
Homecoming.

Mark’s 17th Journal – 02-13-2011

The journey back to Fur-Lonn was uneventful, which was nice, seeing as though we had dealt with so much already. Two cities visited, one saved from the scourge of crime and corruption, the other saved from itself and a goblin invasion. We have gained and lost so much. Tori stayed behind to join and help some druids. James, our long-lost friend, joined us and helped us rid Aristaal of goblins. Leviss lost the use of his legs, albeit temporarily, and I lost the use of my eyes, less so.

As fate would have it, we were returning to Fur-Lonn, or Central City, in time for the annual celebration of the Keepers. The city was busy, and full of life, with people running around getting ready. The streets were loud, and the smells of freshly baked breads, meats, and treats, escaped no one’s attention.

Making it back to P3TR’s shop, it was as if nothing had changed. I could hear P3TR working away in the shop, cleaning something probably, and he greeted us as if we had been gone merely a week, as opposed to the months it has been. One thing that was different was the smell. Off to one corner of the room, I could smell…well, I hadn’t smelled something like that since Tori was around. It was if the smells of animal and vegetable combined into one focused area. To be fair, we all smelled like that, a little, having spent weeks on the road, sleeping on the ground. But, this person, whoever it was, smelled like they had lived in nature itself.

P3TR made the introductions, and we were to learn that this newcomer’s name was Gabriel. An old friend of P3TR’s, Gabriel was rescued by the Keepers sometime ago. Leviss even had the trading card among his Keepers’ fanfare. Since he was a new arrival, P3TR asked us to take him around town.

First thing first, we went to the Temple of Pelor, where James could be welcomed home after his long departure. James told us little about his life between when he left and when he met with us in Aristaal, simply that he had been adventuring on the mainland, and that his group had been killed by a bugbear. He also told us that he hadn’t been home in all that time, having traveled straight to our aid in Aristaal. When we got to the temple, we were stopped by Red Cloaks, and not just any. According to them, and their uniforms, they were mainland Cloaks, sent especially by the King. They demanded that James be released into their authority, to be taken back to the mainland to be “punished” for his crime. Punished. Not tried, not questioned, simply punished. Avaron, questioning the legality of the matter, demanded to see their identification. Showing the proper seal and a request for James’ arrest by the highest court, we had no choice; we had to let him go. We bargained for one last chance for James to at least see the Head Cleric of Pelor, say goodbye one last time. They agreed to it, but it took a fair amount of convincing for James to part with his weapons. Holding his arm tightly, I could feel his anger swelling in him. Feel it like a fire swelling in his chest. I calmed him down, and we opened the doors. The cleric, upon the door’s opening, asked James what he had done, and shunned him away before anything else could be said.

James was, well, the fire in James’ heart died right then and there. Barely able to stand, the Red Cloaks took him away. I tried to offer words of encouragement, tried to convince him to calm down, and be strong, but nothing worked. He looked at me with what Avaron said was the deadest look she had ever seen in anything living.

They took him away.

Rushing back to P3TR’s shop, we told him the details and he agreed that there was nothing else that could be done. We told him that if he had any contacts with anyone out east, or moving east, it would be nice if someone were to keep an eye on James, ensure he makes it to the waterfront okay. P3TR did his best to act confused by this, but seeing as though Ray was watching our every move in Portsmouth, it was likely that P3TR had other contacts who could help us.

Contacts like Gabriel, who seemed quite adamant about following us around. Avaron and I, and probably Leviss if he wasn’t so wrapped up in the Keepers celebration, suspected that Gabriel was following us around purely for P3TR’s benefit. Deciding he was no harm, we all set off toward the Erathis Temple. The entire way there I was worried about James, and worried that my own reception would be taken negatively.

Weaving through the busy streets, we finally made it. I was back, where it all began, where I grew up. Tripping on that first step brought everything back. Learning from the clerics, playing checkers with Ted, sneaking off to dream of adventures with Leviss, James, and Avaron, I spent most of my life here, and yet most of my living had been done elsewhere. Inside the temple, it was as busy as I remembered. Familiar voices rushing to and fro, offering encouragement, issuing orders, it was another day in the service of Erathis. Talking to Verril, a high cleric, and second in command to Cleric Greg, it seemed that Greg wasn’t doing so well. He hadn’t left his room in days, and has been refusing to eat anything or see anyone. Pushing my way to his room, I had to slam myself into the door frame just to get a good look at him. He looked awful. Not just sick, but old, and with something weighing heavily on his mind, or his heart. After having the door shut in my face after barely saying hello, Avaron told me that there was something magically sinister going on. She said there was a black aura, a darkness, surrounding him and that it didn’t look good.

Telling Verril what happened to me, I sensed an apprehension from him concerning my tale. While he grew proud of my newly strengthened faith in Erathis, he seemed worried about my transformation, about my appreciation of the natural side of things. I did not say it to him, but I have always felt distanced from the clerics here, and how could I not? Clearly not from around here, always seen as different, as a beast, or at best as a problem that needed to be fixed, most of the Erathis community saw me as an outsider. It was Greg who first saw the good within me; he was the first to have faith in my ability to serve the greater good in a way differing in method, but not in purpose. Since my newly found faith in Erathis, I feel like I walk between two worlds: the rigid, protected, and righteous route of Erathis’ civilization, and the wild, unpredictable, curving path of nature. But, it’s like I told Leviss when he asked me how I was able to follow a country road without sight, I keep one foot on the path, and one foot off it, as long as that holds true, I’ll find my way eventually.

I made my rounds of the temple, sharing tales of bravery with the rest of the listeners, while Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel left to tour more of the city. Avaron told me, upon their return, that Tori’s family had moved on. Only a brother and sister remained at the edge of the city, and they welcomed Gabriel most enthusiastically. They seemed to appreciate the nature in him and made him a bracelet. At a collector’s shop, Leviss got into a bit of a fight with the collector concerning an “authentic” sword of the Keepers. Avaron saw a set of new edition Keeper cards and refused Leviss the money to get them. (She showed me later that she bought them, and is planning on surprising him for his birthday)

Back at P3TR’s, we celebrated Avaron’s 18th birthday! P3TR did his best to surprise Avaron, complete with streamers and party hats, but seeing as though he does this every year, the only “surprise” was that it was done a few days early. Avaron, Gabriel, and P3TR played, “Pin the Tale on the Goblin”, leaving Leviss out due to “unfair advantages”. Among her presents, Avaron received what we were told was Ghostphase Armour, and a Staff of Fiery Might. That last one sounds about right, and my beard tickled with fear of what she might do with it, heh.

After a night of merrymaking, we headed back into the city. Leviss picked up a meat-toaster that toasts the meat to look like a picture of Alan, or so I was told. We headed back to the Erathis Temple, to check in on Greg, and met Ray on the way. Looking a little different than the last time we saw him, the changeling was enjoying the celebrations, with women on each arm. We ask him about the black aura and while attempting to get an answer, we followed him back to P3TR’s. Once there, Ray gave Avaron a key to something he called The Roost. Apparently, this key, used on any locked door, can create a passageway to the old hideout of the Keepers. Leviss nearly passed out from the thought of being able to check out the Keepers’ old hideout. Reminding Ray of the black aura, he said that once, a long time ago, a guy who murdered 27 people, went insane and killed himself and that Alan had seen a black aura around him. Not sure what to do with that, I suggested we go outside to let off some steam, and practice our abilities. Leviss casted the battle ritual, a feat which I am sure terrified Gabriel at first, watching the terrain change and having illusive monsters attack. Gabriel showed his prowess in battle, shooting down some spectral tigers with his crossbow, and finishing off some more with his knife. Avaron just blasted them with pure, raw, arcane energy. Magic, effective, but I’ll never quite get it.

The next day was the day of the festival. Leviss dragged himself out of bed; his legs healed enough that he could walk, in casts, and slowly, out toward the festival. Attempting to follow him as best as we could, we made it out to the parade. Every year is more or less the same, with floats to each of the Keepers wheeling by. Avaron and Leviss said that this year, the float of Alan looked way too chiseled, too perfect. It’s like the city is putting on a false bravado, I told Avaron. She reminded me that it’s the same every year. Leviss also had more arguments concerning the presentation of such, and it was only through some quick deferring, and some spirit glue, on Gabriel’s part that we were able to get Leviss out of there without causing too much trouble.

Later that evening, the city had its Keepers dinner. Each year, the city hosts a huge dinner, partially provisioned by the Temples, and each year Avaron, Ray and P3TR sit at the mayor’s table, while Leviss joins his family, and I join those from the Erathis Temple. This year, after asking Gabriel to join me, we were all surprised when Avaron asked us to sit at her table, at P3TR’s request. After making a speech thanking everyone for their tribute, P3TR wished to convey the fact that it has been years since the Keepers retired, and that the city should be celebrating the newly formed Guard as their heroes. Unexpected, it was quite a compliment. To be acknowledged by P3TR as heroes, instead of children with a sense of adventure, was an honour itself, but to be put on display and celebrated among the city, well, that was something more. The loyalty of the city seemed a little scarce, and it was clear that this day was more of a reason to party than a day to pay tribute to their protectors, the party went on, completely uninterrupted.

Going home early, we turned in, letting the city celebrate whatever they wanted, in their own way.

I woke up suddenly, crushed, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move! It felt like the entire house had fallen on me, and it turned out, that wasn’t too far from the truth! Lifting a beam above my head, I called out to Leviss. Assuring me he was alright, he looked around for our stuff, for a way out, as it seemed we were trapped in a tiny pocket of air, and my strength was weakening. Avaron, P3TR, and Gabriel, sleeping on the upper floors of the house, were able to get out more quickly, and it was just as I thought I would collapse when I felt P3TR’s metal hand rip Leviss and I free.

I could smell the city, smell the rubble that used to be homes. Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel confirmed this by saying that it seemed the entire city had been attacked. Again. This time, it was our home, this time, we knew these people personally. Agreeing that we needed to get to the Erathis Temple, that it was probably there where all of this first occurred, we set off. P3TR wished us luck and set us on our way. We asked for his help, but he said that this was a job for The Guard. On our way, Howard the Alchemist, called us over to help with his assistant, Fred, who was in the basement of his building. Digging our way down there, Leviss was able to crawl in and unfortunately, determine that Fred was dead.

We moved on. The streets seemed oddly empty. There wasn’t the hustle that we saw in Aristaal, of people rushing to put their lives back together. Instead, it was almost eerily quiet. Passing a man sitting on the ground, he was doing his best to assure his baby that his mommy would be coming back soon. Uttering a short prayer to Erathis that she would, we moved on. Next, we came to a house where we could hear an entire family crowded in one place. Avaron explained to me that their house had collapsed, completely cutting one of the family members, an old man, in half. I knew what had to be done; I had heard of this kind of injury before. Instructing Leviss and Gabriel to escort the family away, keep them distracted, I asked Avaron to help me. Moving to the old man’s side, we found that not only was he still awake, but he was remarkably clearheaded. Avaron told him he was going to die, that there was nothing we could do. The old man laughed, and said that he built this house, had lived here for so long, and here was where he wanted to go. Drawing a dagger, I granted his final request.

It’s never easy. I draw my sword and shield only when I have to, and only to defend those in need from the scourge of the evil and the corrupt. But, sometimes, in order to help, in order to do what needs to be done, we have to be strong, and act fast. Erathis! Atlas! Please, watch over me, and ensure that I only act when needed.

Finally, we made it to the temple, and I could not have imagined what came next.

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Mark's Journal # 16
In Search of Fate...

Mark’s 16th Journal – 05-14-10

I awoke sometime in the night. I know this because I was not alone. I had been dreaming of being lost and alone. Groping around in the darkness, I could not find anything that felt familiar.

Waking, as I said, to darkness wasn’t all that comforting, and for a moment I wondered if I was really awake, but there are senses other than sight. I could smell the subdued coals of the fire nearby, and hear Leviss snoring peacefully to my right. I was glad that he was getting some rest. Normally, the most energetic and optimistic of our group, Leviss has been quiet as of late. While the healers assured us that his legs would mend in time, Leviss’ introversion has not altered so far. I understand what he was going through. Blinded in battle and having your world suddenly changed does demand a bit of introspection, if not outright hostility.

Sitting up, I felt the cold wind and knew that the sun would not be up for some time. Wondering to myself who was on watch detail, I took a deeper breath, trying to read my surroundings. I could smell Leviss, barely, and yes! There it was, the faint smell of wax, candle wax to be precise, emanating from James, letting me know that he was still nearby. Avaron then, Avaron was on watch.

Thinking as I so often do, my mind dwelled on Avaron for some time. I realized that the two of us had barely spoken lately, barely spoken at all during our time together, but I felt closer to her at times than to anyone else. We shared the burden of responsibility, the need to take charge of situations and protect others. Of course, James and Leviss shared these feelings, but in a different way. Avaron and I were always thinking, always planning. I looked to her for guidance, and for support in my decisions, and she did to me. I had never known her to be outwardly emotional. Without a doubt, the most practical person I have ever met, Avaron would have found the notion of inner-reflection a private one, if not an unnecessary one. We had never talked about her father’s death, and she had never made mention what it was like to be in a city so touched by his presence. But, now we had left it, in ruins, but hopefully for the better, and I wondered what she was thinking.

“Avaron?” I called.
“Here. Don’t worry,” she said.

Having checked that my sword and shield were exactly as I left them, ready should I need them, I left Avaron to her thoughts and fell back asleep, dreaming of sunrises.

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Mark's Journal # 15
Sunset on our day in Aristaal...

Mark’s fifteenth journal 02/10/10

When I had settled down and regained my senses, I heard Tori! She was whispering to someone. I walked over to the sound of her voice, and realized she was comforting Drew. He was dying, and kept asking her if he did all right. She told him that he should not listen to others, but he should listen to his heart. With those final words, Drew died. I demanded where in Ori had she been. I’m sure she shrugged that casual shrug of hers when she said, “Around.”

James returned, and after filling him in on the situation, we buried Drew. After that, James, Avaron, and I made our way to the hospital. Leviss was sleeping. Praying, it was some time later when a doctor told us that with their help, he was on the mend, and should, hopefully, regain most if not all of his mobility.

We needed a place to stay, and the hospital was not a place for the mostly healthy. After an ELPS member directed us to the Warmshearth Inn, miraculously rebuilt exactly as it had been, we got a room and I collapsed. My sleep was a blessing and a curse, and I awoke feeling well-rested, and fully restless. Avaron told me that James went to see Leviss, and that she was going downstairs to talk to some members of the wizarding council. I was not centered, not focused, and not ready to face the day. I prayed to Erathis for the safekeeping of my friends, and for the strength and guidance to keep order to chaos. I cleaned my armour and shield, sharpened my sword, and dressed with more purpose than I had felt in what seemed like weeks, but was only a matter of days.

Clumsily making my way to the hospital, we were told that Leviss was free to go, but that his legs would have to remain bound and that he should not be shaken for several weeks until his legs had a chance to heal. Just then, the Archmage showed up. I have no idea if he appeared out of nowhere, or walked in the front door, being blind it doesn’t matter. He told us that his “kidnapping” was an illusion, meant to draw the council together, and work in a harmony that has not been seen since Avaron’s father was in Aristaal. He told us to keep this a secret and then he left, as suddenly as he had arrived.

With the Council cleaning up what was left of the city, I felt it was time to leave. Our services could no longer be deemed useful, and we had suffered enough due to being here. Gathering supplies, we made our way to the library, where Avaron’s instructor gave us an unexpected gift: Swiftmane Truefoot, and Quinn, our long-lost horses, in good health, and in fine spirit. He told us that we should wait until the closing of the ceremony tomorrow before we leave.

The ceremony was held at midday at the library. The Bard professor made a fine speech about the strength of the citizens of Aristaal, the dedication of the Council, and the power of unity. While not as uplifting as the occasion in Portsmouth, there was a certain sense of finality and restoration here in Aristaal. Ed, the Geomancer professor, made a statue of a Red Cloak to honour those who gave their lives for freedom. Also, we, the Guard, were honoured. Referred to as the “Sightless Swordsman, Emerald Kobold, and the Child of Chaos”, we were credited for our effort.

We have lost so much here in Aristaal. My vision, so many good people, buildings, history, and even our friend Tori, as she told us that she would be remaining to build a colony of druids in Aristaal. But, we have gained as well. James, after years of being away, rejoined our ranks. Wisdom, understanding, and unity. We have paid high prices for each, but we look forward, not backward, in the hope of carrying a little light to the darkness.

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