Jade Regent: Forest of Spirits

Suishen

My family’s sword Masaru muses as he contemplates the katana. I must learn how to better use this, on my honor. My hack and slashes were not good enough. Oberon can help me with this endeavor!

The tengu and the Tian face off. Oberon wielding the newly repaired Whispering Shrike and Masura brandishing Suishen.images.jpg
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Ting! Clang! “You’re not a barbarian like that Ostog or a thug like Jaalek! Use grace. Flow with Suishen, don’t muscle it. A blade like that needs a bit of finesse. Try again.”

The two growing friends close in on each other and trade blows. The whole time, the tengu with his innate ability with blades, giving Masaru pointers and tips. As the hours and days go by as they wait for Sandru’s caravan at Ravenscraeg Masaru’s skills grow with the katana to the point that the blade is like an extension of his own arm.

This feels good. The former Sczarni thug thinks. _A sense of purpose. Skill. Not just brutal beatings but something elegant…

“Hey! I wanna play!” the giant of a man, Bjorn cajoles.

Oberon rolls his eyes, “I guess the caravan has arrived.”

“Should I humor the oaf?” Masaru queries the wise tengu.

“I think it is the only way.”

“Okay big guy,” Masaru taunts. “Loser has eat a dose of Braedo’s Shoanti barbarian chew.”

“Your on little man!” replies the Ulfen. “Wait, you’re not that little…!” Then he lifts his hammer and swings at the smaller Varisian-Tian, who deftly ducks and ripostes with a slice, missing the large belly in front of him.

“You’re quicker than you’d expect for a man of your size.”

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The Search

At first, Kade wouldn’t stop looking. He knew he was upsetting Oberon and Masaru by insisting on searching through their bags for the fifth time. He knew that Helgarvel didn’t want to be turned upside down again and shaken. He knew that Bjorn and Cheng-Lu and Ravik were all eager, for their own reasons, to be journeying on to Ravenscrag.

But he couldn’t stop looking.

She had to be here somewhere.

When the sun set, the ones with darkvision kept looking for Kade. That was very kind of them. Eventually, Kade realized it was too kind. Tessa was gone. Where, and how, he had no idea. Something to do with the Shadowlands, maybe. Something to do with Tian Xia.

“It’s over,” he said. “We have to move on.”

The party slowly packed their belongings. They could almost see Ravenscrag in the distance. Maybe some answers would lie there. Maybe a key to the East. Something, anything to make up for this lack. He felt that half his eyesight was gone, and he kept turning his head to check what was wrong with his shoulder where Tessa should have been riding.

But he still wasn’t giving up. Instead of looking for a cure for Tessa, he’d look for Tessa herself.

He hoped that he’d be more successful at that.

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Punishment

In recent days, Mašaru has not been feeling very lucky. Holed up in a Sandpoint jail eating nothing but but maggoty bread for three stinking days. He knew it had run out. Damned Jubrayl had turned him in for not killing that child who had stolen from one of his “protected” vendors.

And when he did finally manage to overpower the Sczarni guard assigned to the cell and steal his weapons and equipment, his luck still did not come through. Sure, he found his sister outside the gods-forsaken castle called Brinewall (shitty name for a castle). She was unconscious and he found himself fighting for his life against oni and tentacles and blobs of what-have-you.

Then he found himself ineffectively fighting trogs and trolls. It was like Desna had left him for leaving the Sczarni. But that’s not right. Desna is one of the good ones. A goddess worth bowing a head too. She would not side against him for leaving the evil of the Sczarni. No, it was something else.

Punishment.

Punishment for all the evil that he abetted. Punishment for the roughing up of poor, downtrodden people who needed a few coin to get through a tough time. Punishment for murder, even though he never murdered an innocent. Punishment for breaking fingers for gambling debts. For intimidating witnesses and dropping off bribes to the magistrate. Punishment for abandoning his family…

And there it was. Punishment for letting Tsuto hit Ameiko way back when even though he was only twelve at the time. Punishment for pushing Tsuto, and later Ameiko away. Punishment for joining the Szarni in the first place, even though it was supposed to help his father get out of their debts. He should have known. No one gets out of a Sczarni debt except for the hard way.

Well here he was, on the road to Minkai on a trip over the crown of the world. A trip that will probably end in his death. But he still prays to Desna. He feels her favor for the fist time in a long time. Every time Oberon calls on her blessing and she guides his fist or his weapon. Every time he defeats an enemy, it is in her name and for Ameiko. The only real family he has now.

Father has disowned him. Tsuto is on a bad path. It will lead to some kind of destruction for him and possible many innocents around him. I can’t go against my own brother. So I must go with my sister.

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When Rain and Star Fell in the Sea of Green

Summer was rambunctious that day. It was whirling about the sky and the sea of grass as far as the eye could see. The fierce sun heated the land until wind rolled through from the sea, cool and strong. The grasses rolled in waves sending up a soft haze of pollen that rose into a deep blue sky filled with islands of fat white clouds. In the distance a large mass of steel and black rumbled. Thunder started low and soft and joined the wind and grass in their passionate undulation across the world adding a whisper of coming rain and the sharp tang of lightning. Large clusters of immense lilac bushes shivered their leaves shifting back and forth from the slightly silver underleaf color of impending storm to their deep green top surface.

Moving at a leisurely pace lines of Shoanti and their horses cut a path through the grass sea heading north back to the escarpment and the lands of the Lyrune-quah. Scouts galloped along the Yondabakari River extending back along their path to herd stragglers, beast and man, back into the group and forward to scout the land ahead. They were young and had been restrained and anxious for many days while outside their tribal lands so now so close to home they shouted, hooted and called out sending messages to each other or just released their excitement at being free and young and brash. Their noises punctuated the quiet laughs and conversations of the other members of the group and drew the imitating yelps of children running and playing amongst the travelers. It was a good day to travel and the joy of returning home filled the troop with anticipation.

Pallok Dances-With-Rain had turned to ride his horse backward and stared at the storm. Rain had always been his friend. Its totems had played with him, hunted with him, lent him strength in battle and, most importantly, gave him medicine and wisdom to help advise his quah. This small part of his quah, this quahreh, was some of his closest cousins and had accompanied Pallok and his wife Cataree Calls-Down-the-Stars on a vision. He had told his quahreh it had been his vision but it had truthfully been Cataree’s and the subtle lie still did not sit well even as they returned home from the tshamek’s, “outsider’s”, lands.

Pallok looked over at his wife and was not surprised to see her watching him. She knew his heart and mind and though they had been joined for many years and their love was mature and rarely needed the displays of the young with their reckless hearts he shouted as he had when wooing her. As in the past she laughed at him, such displays had never worked on her. She was a warrior of the Lyrune-quah, one of the best in the whole of the quah with a bow. She was also beautiful to Pallok with her soft skin that barely tanned but stayed a faint peach color and green eyes shaped like almond seeds. She had been Cataree Peach-Skin then and her hair had been straight and black to her shoulders and they had been young. Now Cataree had shaved her hair off like most Shoanti warriors and was adorned with tattoos that marked some her most honorable feats and victorious battles and she was even more beautiful.

A sudden ruckus of laughter and shouting drew Pallok’s focus and he watched as a group of children raced along playing at a game of tag with weak bows and blunt arrows. A chaos of tanned skin, long hair and limbs every which way scurried by evoking parental rebukes and amused comments from the adults riding along. From time to time a child would grow tired and rest a while on a horse’s back either by leaping on or being pulled up by a rider if they were still too young to reach. Pallok’s son Dak was only six summers old but already he was keeping up with the older children. He rarely needed to rest and was showing his mother’s aptitude with a bow. Dak had none of his mother’s unusual features, he had inherited Pallok’s looks but then Korrem Hunts-Orc-With-the-Moon, Cataree’s grandfather hadn’t either. The old warrior had taught Pallok to wield his unusual chaks, razor sharp thin metal throwing disks. The Lyrune-quah had always been known for their skill with a bow but the old man and his blood kin had always wielded these weapons, passing down the skill as an honor from father to son. Korrem’s son had died in a raid before he could birth a son and while he had taught Cataree how to wield chaks he had gifted the skill to use them and his chaks to Pallok upon marrying his grand-daughter. Cataree had always preferred the bow anyway and saw the honor in her blood kin bequeathing such a gift upon Pallok.

Pallok’s attention was interrupted by a sharp peal of thunder even as the wind suddenly died. He looked up at the storm beyond and heard the Rain. It shouted and cried a dire warning far in the distance before suddenly silencing and Pallok turned on his mount’s back and gave a call of warning to the quahreh as he gazed towards the thunderhead on the edge of the world. The massive mountain of clouds flashed with lightning and fire before it was cut in two by a great blade of boiling clouds and smoke. The black rolling edge spit lances of fire and sheets of lightning heading in the direction of the Shoanti column.
Pallok shouted for the group to ride and quickly the scouts split to either ride ahead to blaze a trail or pulled back to cover their rear. Children were yanked onto horseback and young boys not quite having reached their name day drove their ponies towards the group’s herd of horses to drive them ahead. Swiftly the Shoanti mobilized and surged across the plains but the line of boiling air and smoke advanced faster until it was obvious they would not outrace it and with a chorus of shouts bundles being dragged and excess belongings fell to the earth to lighten their horses’ load as the group left a rolling wake of dust behind them.

The immense blade of cloud slammed into the earth just behind the group and the tribes folk could see massive forms coalesce within the fog and smoke illuminated by fire and lightning from behind. The figures stood a man and a half tall, about 25 in all. As the first emerged from the fury the scouts could see that they wore strange armor of bright colors and wood that bore huge pauldrons on the shoulders and flags on their backs made from flayed skins. Most of the soldiers carried long pole arms with short and thick curved blades or narrow single edged two-handed swords with a gently curved blade. All wore fearsome masks seeming like demons or monstrosities and the largest, a creature with two of the unusual blades, one long and one short, tucked into his belt had a mask that bore a human man’s melted face stretched over it. The leader stepped to the fore and swept his gaze across the Shoanti band. The mask’s facial skin bore the color and features that reminded Pallok of his wife but the idea was swept away when it pointed at the group towards Cataree and spoke with a thunderous guttural roar in an unknown tongue.

The demon soldiers surged forward and soon racing horses were cut to the ground by arrow fire and some of the monsters extended their arms to point their fists at the fleeing Shoanti drawing the fog and mist in until it exploded outwards in a cone freezing horse and rider instantly in a coating of soot stained rime ice. Others surged forward to sweep their polearms into flesh or disappeared into the foul fog only to reappear moments later swinging their massive swords dismembering horses and people. Blood flowed, horses screamed and cries to flee turned to shouts to fight.

In seconds the Shoanti regrouped and began spreading out on their steeds racing around the soldiers in concentric rings staggered apart to keep from grouping into large groups. Arrows suddenly erupted from the riders peppering the soldiers who quickly became pincushions as they moved to form a circle facing out. Pallok rode slowly on the outermost ring calling upon the rain totem to aid them. Cataree released swarms of arrows into the enemy gaining more impacts than the rest but as raindrops began coalescing into a humanoid form Pallok noticed that the arrows in the monsters were starting to fall out of their targets and that the blood flowing from wounds wasn’t lasting long. Pallok asked the totemic servant to assail the leader as he looked for Dak. His boy was running amongst the fallen gathering arrows for his mother who was firing her bow so fast that it was keeping a beat with the carnage. The monstrous soldiers had stopped fighting on command and as a unit, except for their lord who battled with the summoned rain spirit, stood in a stance as if focusing and around 15 Shoanti shifted their courses to suddenly attack their own quah.

Pallok couldn’t believe the scene before him. Members of his own quah were attacking each other and the soldiers moved in again to kill whomever they could reach but that wasn’t what terrified him. It was his Cataree; her arrows were impaling family even as tears coursed down her cheeks and Dak’s unawareness of his mother’s possession. The boy was running towards his mother with an armful of arrows and Cataree was struggling to stop from firing on him.

Pallok intercepted his son and shoved a chak into his hand.
“Run, Dak! Run and hide until the creatures have gone. A Shoanti knows when to use the land to shelter himself. He knows when to listen to Hawk and Wolf so he can sing a song of death against an enemy and when to listen to Bat and Mouse and use the land to defend and hide. You need to listen to Mouse now and hide. Run, son! Ugh!” Arrows slammed into his back and he knew that his love had lost her control. “Cataree and I love you Dak. Now run! Uuugh!” Two more arrows slammed into Pallok’s chest from behind. “RUN!”

The child gripped the iron ring tight watching his father turn presenting a bloody back full of arrow shafts. Dak’s eyes were full of tears and his face was pale with fear and with a whimper the boy ran. Pallok turned to face Cataree but instead of more arrows streaking towards him she dangled off the end of the commander’s sword thrust through her chest. The monstrous soldier was soaked from the defeat of the rain spirit and examining the Shoanti warrior-woman gasping on his sword he ripped at her pack and pouches easily shredding the contents not finding what he seemed to seek. He turned towards Pallok while shouting orders to his men, with a flick of his blade Cataree’s corpse slid from his sword to tumble across the bloody grass. The remaining soldiers began to slaughter the remaining Shoanti, dominated or not by steel or frozen fog, and then moved into the soot-filled fog disappearing.

Pallok roared at the atrocity and a heavy rain suddenly forced its way through the hellish fog to the ground making the Shoanti hard to see. Pallok heaved a barrage of chaks at the commander. The steel rings fanned water off themselves in a swirl before imbedding themselves into the monster’s chest. His growl of pain erupted into a roar following a blast of frozen rain and fog that nothing but gore and grass. Pallok had snuck around the commander’s flank thanks to the rainstorm surrounding him and exploded out of the rain bringing his klar down upon the commander’s wrist slicing flesh and bone forcing him to lose his sword. The commander dashed towards Pallok his steel boots carrying him over Cataree’s contorted form stepping on her chest and crushing the woman’s body beneath his heel. Pallok cried out for his wife and his quah driving the monster back with ferocious blows from his klar but the battle was short lived. The monstrous soldier had swept his blade up from the ground with his undamaged hand and finally lopped the skull cap from Pallok’s head with a sweep of the blade. The rain immediately ceased to fall and the commander stood over the fallen humans before him and hacked the head from his objective, the native female with the Tian blood. She hadn’t possessed his other objective.

A distance away Dak watched his father die and his mother mutilated from the safety in the depths of a massive lilac bush. The monster tied his mother’s head to its belt and began to stalk towards the lilac. Step by step death moved closer to Dak who gripped the chak so tight it had sunk into his hand cutting to the bone but the boy didn’t make a sound. The monster soldier hovered there seeing nothing, picked one of the strange foreign flowers from the bush and collapsed into sooty fog with the receding storm leaving a field of carnage and silence.

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Tsuto

“Tsuto.”_copy.jpg

“Mašaru.”

The two half-Tians stared at each other, clearly related. One, part elf. The other, part Varisian.

“You still your father’s lapdog?” sneered the elfin blooded brother.

“I never was, you know that,” Mašaru answered.

“I hear you’ve been going by a pseudonym. Moses Karagoš I believe. Very Varisian.”

“Not anymore. I’m joining sis. I’m done with the Sczarni. You should come. She has forgiven you.”

“No. I have a new life in Magnimar.”

“Very well, it will be dangerous however, and I could use a refresher. Brother, mind sparring with me while you are here in Sandpoint? Help me build up the old skills. The ones I neglected after joining the Sczarni.”

“Certainly, little half-brother. It will be fun to beat on you again.”

Tsuto smiled evilly and adopted a fighting stance, a strait up style called The Mountain Pose. Mašaru chose a defensive stance, Snapping Turtle Style. Tsuto led with a punch, then a quick snap kick, which Mašaru dodged and blocked with his left hand before delivering a right hook which Tsuto chopped away. The two brothers did this for five days. Each of them better developing their martial arts.

On the final day, Tsuto and Mašaru bowed after the last sparring session. Mašaru spoke.

“Brother, will you come with us to Minkai?”

“Sorry, Brother. But Nualia and I have some important plans. I cannot.”

“I trust that you do not need my help?” asked the younger brother.

“No, we can manage. Tell Sis hi from me. Good luck on your voyage to our mother’s homeland.”

With that, Mašaru thanked his older brother again for his time and left. Tsuto watched his brother leave, contemplating his plans for Sandpoint.

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Oppression

The smell was like rotting meat dropped onto a barbecue of coals from Avernus. Kade watched the flesh of the… thing, the flying tentacled sorcerous thing, burn and wisp away as the magic of the wand slowly faded. This smell was worse than the troglodytes. Probably because it made him afraid.

Kade exchanged a nod and salute with Moses – Masaru – on the cliffs above. The thing was well and truly dead. Moses could rest. His arrow, Kade now saw, had pierced the thing’s Lethean manifestation oculus duct. No wonder it had been unable to dodge the subsequent scorching ray, more properly an igneous brassic propagation vector, not that anyone here would recognize the academic term.

The skittering caught Kade off-guard.

He whipped the wand around at the source of the noise. Thoughts raced through his head: Oberon, who had fought so vailantly and pulled Kade from the brink of death at least twice, was depleted of energy. Lindill, whose shadow creatures kept them all alive as surely as Desna’s blessings and hounded the sorcerous thing throughout the battle, may or may not have any reserves. Which meant one thing: he had better not miss.

There. The source of the noise.

What? Tessa was there. His wife. The scorpion, scrambling over the corpse of the mad flying thing, rummaging through rubble. It looked like she wanted to tell him something. He could feel it in her, the desire to communicate. The desire for more. But he had so far been unable to master the ability to speak with her in scorpion form.

This, however, required no words.

He stepped forward. Tessa skittered back.

He stepped forward again. Tessa raced with preternatural speed to the far side of the cave near a small waterfall. A glimpse of magenta. Rubies? Had she found components for him? For a simulacra? A simulacrum of her would never do. She had to know that.

No. He came closer. Tessa perched, scorpion-light, on the fronds of the blushing nymph plant. Rufous distaffia, to be precise. They had decorated the altar with its magenta blossoms at their wedding. Of course she would find one here.

He sat down with her and slowly tossed the petals into the waterfall, one for Ostog, one for Jaalek, one for Ostog, one for Jaalek, feeling very guilty that he could not stop thinking, At least it wasn’t Tessa.

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Cleaning Day

“Are you ready, Spivey?” The small creature nodded, flying down to join Oberon in the prayer circle of silver dust in the center of the room.
The two had spent much of the day cleaning the shrine to Desna. He had considered asking Kade or Lindill if they could magically clean the room of the dust and filth left from the foul corbies, but he had ultimately decided that the act of physically cleaning the space would be part of his offering. Calling on the powers of the Starsong, the two of them had reconstructed the statue to the goddess. The rest was just sweat and muscle work.
Throughout the day, he had found himself chatting easily with the fairy. He had told her of his childhood in the woods around Sandpoint, of his mother and father and the quiet sadness that seemed to hang on them. He had talked about the surprise he felt when he discovered that the language he spoke at home with his parents, which he thought was just part of the difference between the tengus and the Varisians around him . . . this same language began appearing all around them: on swords and ships, in secret letters and in this very castle. Finally, Oberon showed her the strange blade at his side, which was called a wakashi, though he didn’t know how he knew such things. He showed her where the words “Whispering Shrike” were written on the blade, again in his familial tongue.
Spivey had no response to any of these revelations. She only listened with interest and shared in his wonder. He found the small creature to be a soothing presence, one much needed after the horrors he had witnessed in Brinewall. Several times during the day, he thanked the Dreaming Lady for introducing him to this new friend.
Finally, when the room was relatively clean, Oberon and Spivey had drawn the prayer circle and prepared for the ceremony of consecration. The two sat facing each other as he lit the sacred candles and filled his prayer bowl with water from Spivey’s shrine. In perfect unison, the two began chanting, and Oberon felt a wonderful moment of peace as the dark cloud that haunted this holy place began to break up, and the beauty of starlight filled the room.

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Scars of the Soul

Ostog pressed in close and their faces came together almost touching. The world had been reduced to mere inches, everything else ceased to exist. Braedo couldn’t breathe Ostog pressed so close but the issue was moot for he was holding his breathe. The tension surrounded them, intensified, and smothered. Braedo opened his mouth ever so slightly to breathe, to gasp, the thick air, to take Ostog’s lips in his when the warmth between them spread, thickened and pulsed against Braedo’s stomach. Ostog’s parted lips didn’t move but Braedo felt horror as he watched the skald’s eyes turn milky and discolor. Looking down the eviscera from Ostog’s gut continued to rip its way out of the half-orc oozing across Braedo in slurry of blood and shit. Fear rose bitter in the young Shoanti’s mouth and he fought to push the corpse away, to get Ostog off him. With a final growl of defiance Braedo rolled the corpse him trailing intestine streaking blood and shit over his armor and face. Standing only a few feet away, absolutely still, watching the scene with an aura of seething rage and death was a man unrecognizable in deep dark shadow. The sudden realization of the figure’s presence shocked Braedo and he scrambled to run.

The orc hunt on the plateau was intense and the air already echoed with Shoanti cries of success as the routed orcs tried to run from the ambush. Hunts-like-Owl flicked the chak from the cover of brush and another running orc tumbled to the rocky scrub with a disk of metal in his chest. Hunts-like-Owl jogged over to collect his weapon. No sooner had it been wrested from the corpse but the straightening Shaonti tribesman was suddenly aware of the shadowy figure standing partially obscured by a tree. It did nothing but the impending violence radiating off the figure chilled the sweat along Hunts-like-Owl’s spine. Hunts ran.

Braedo Hunts-like-Owl tried to shuffle back away from the monstrous spider and the half-spider being beside it but he was too weak to move as they advanced.

The sound of whooping Shoanti cries turned to screams of agony rippling through the dark empty memory.

Jaalek’s corpse turned to look at Braedo with milk-white eyes.

Desperately Braedo pulled Ostog across the carpeted hall stopping to try to stanch the bleeding over and over but the array of guts trailing behind became longer and longer and helplessness threatened to smother him.

The thick plains grass held the drops of blood even as the sickly sweet scented wind made the stalks dance. Back and forth in the heat the green stalks swayed and the coagulating drops were coaxed to caress their way down to the waiting hungry soil. A malign presence suddenly walked by the edge of the lilac shrub. The boy shook with terror clutching the razor sharp disk unaware of the pain from his palms.

Running in the thick grass aware only of a world of green, a sky drenched with shrieks and cries and the cracking of bone.

Jaalek stands with Braedo against a terrible unseen foe when suddenly the Khellid turns and his skeletal fingers wrap around Braedo’s collar bone pulling him towards his rotting face.

The dark menacing form walks by the outside of the lilac again, slower. It knows the boy is there.

Oberon falls to the troglodytes and terribly wounded Braedo shouts a Shoanti cry and leaps into the inky blackness brandishing a chak. He does not have his klar. His childhood friend is dying. He is dying. The blood pool spreading from the black feathers of his blood brother told him what he needed to know. The ache and cold and numb hands from his wounds told him what he needed to know. The evil presence was here in the dark but he could do nothing but hack at it blindly. The lilac smell grew in his nostrils.

The boots of shadow and darkness stopped before the lilac hiding spot and the boy knew it was aware of him. He didn’t move. He didn’t speak. There was just dancing bloody grass, the drip of tears and blood and piss, the stench of death, loosed bowels and lilac. The shadow didn’t move but the menace was there growing, building for the impending violence coming for the crouched boy.

Jaalek took the chopping blade of the chak and hissed a soft laugh as Moses, a shadow hound and Kade joined to defeat him. Oberon moved to join the fray. Braedo looked up and his pale face of desperate battle fury melted away. Oberon stood healed. The chak struck on its own taking a piece of the silent mocking barbarian-wight but it was another who felled the monster. Braedo stumbled and swayed as he took a breath and smiled. Everyone was busy turning to searching and recovering when the cold grasp came from behind and pulled the ranger into its chest and Jaalek’s rotting weapon-ravaged face slid into view over his shoulder opening its mouth and let a hot breath of summer grass, rotting flesh and lilac wash over Braedo’s face. It exploded towards the boy in his hiding spot.

Braedo sat up at the sound of the terrified wail and wildly looked around for a perceived enemy. It was ni-Ama’s wagon. He was stripped of armor and weapons and a compress had fallen from his head. Koya moved to her adopted son’s side. Her gentle touch guided the man back until he was lying down again.

“You are safe Braedo, it is only dreams and shadows now banished by the light of star and moon. You had a nightmare like the ones you used to have.”

Braedo took a breath and centered himself, remembering where he had been, what had occurred. He looked at her suddenly in concern.

“The others? Oberon? How fared they? Where are they now?”

“They returned with you my son and to rest and recover before searching the rest of the keep. They left again hours ago. Oberon is well and travels in Desna’s grace. It is you that concerned them. You fought near to death and when victory was had collapsed despite Desna’s healing. The spiritual wounds you have suffered threatened to take you from us.”

The Varisian woman whispered a prayer and poured a cup of strong herbal tea that Braedo swallowed even though he had always hated that medicine.

“I have to get back to them if they have returned to the keep. Oberon needs watching. I don’t know if I trust the shadow witch or the new man Moses and Kade practically kisses that scorpion. He’s a good man, for a magician, but wizards are unreliable given that they dabble in sorcery.”

Koya watched Braedo slip his chain shirt on and stopped him when he moved to stand.

“The wound to your soul has opened your scars Braedo my son. Be strong against what is buried there as I know you can be and have been. I am always here for you Hunts-like-Owl, Braedo Mvashti.”

Braedo regarded Koya with a mix of emotions and no small amount of shock. In the year since he had returned from the Lyrune-Quah she had never used his Shoanti name. He suddenly leaned in and pulled his mother into an embrace before kissing her cheek. When he pulled back she was smiling at him and whispering a prayer. The harrow deck was in her hand and its cards were shuffling in and out with great practice before Koya laid her hand upon Brado Hunts-like-Owl’s cheek.

“This darkness…,” a card was selected and Koya looked at it and smiled. She turned the card to Braedo revealing The Paladin. “You must use your strength to resist this darkness within you. You will keep it at bay and you must be strong enough to not let this adversity undo you before I have proven myself enough to ask Desna to heal the wound.”

“Of course Ama, you know I will. I love you.” He gave Koya another quick peck and gathered his weapons and adventurer’s sash before dashing out of the wagon.

Koya Mvashti watched her adopted Shoanti son dash off towards the distant keep and caught her other son Sandru’s concerned face watching as well from Amieko’s wagon doorway. The half-elven girl was worse and her eldest was concerned for his friend. She looked at the image of the paladin and gave a prayer that all of those under her care and in her heart would be allowed to continue their journey in this world.

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Words


Lindill matched eyes with the misshapen giant, and tried her will against the creature. It was strong, but as she continued to stare, she could feel the creatures will weakening, and then…there. If she maintained the mystic pressure, it would be unable to move at all.

Perhaps then, her allies could manage to run it through.

As she focused her will on the giant, the immediate environs of the castle slipped from her focus, and her mind began to wander…

There were going to be words. Shalelu’s companions were more courageous than they had any right to be. Yet, somehow, they managed to live through onslaught of enemy after enemy. Perhaps this luck the Tengu spoke of arrived only at the 11th hour…

Yet again, Lindill found herself wishing her sister were here. Despite their past disagreements, Shalelu had always been good with a blade, a bow, or a saddle. We could use your aim now, sister. If not for me, then for these friends…

No. not these. Shalelu was always unfailingly direct. If she was not with this assortment of hired swords,…it was because she was…elsewhere. There was something more important to her.

I’ve misunderstood something. Something vital.

As the ogre died, Lindill’s focus returned to her companions. She remembered the words of Master Argos, long ago. “The servants are already there. They have always been there, waiting, and I will teach you the words, child. But the will, the will to master these creatures? That you must provide yourself.”

She had paralyzed a giant through will alone. It was time to call forth more powerful servants.

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Mašaru Moses

Smash! The oversized glaive took out a piece of wall just to the ogre’s left.

Chink! A chunk of floor was chipped of by Moses’ glaive just in front of the ogre’s foot.

Whiff! The ogre ducked another powerful swing of the glaive.

The Ulfen woman just stood in the cage, staring in disbelief as the warrior missed the ogre again and again. Suddenly the ogre moved and Moses whispers a prayer to Desna. He brought down the glaive, slicing the vile creature from its sternum down through its flabby belly causing a gush of blood to spill onto the floor and the ogre to collapse in a heap…

Later that night.

Moses downed several ales while staying with his sister he was filled with regret over the life he had been living the last several years. The birdman, Overon? Oberan? Something like that. Oberton said that perhaps he is out of Desna’s favor. Moses went down to the shrine to pray to the goddess of luck asking why has he been so unfortunate lately. The falling out with the guild. The framing for a crime he didn’t commit. It didn’t occur to him that there were several crimes he did commit but hadn’t paid for. His sister in a coma. And now he just can’t seem to strike his enemy.

The next day.

Whiff! Chink! Crash! Fweew! Arrows flew into walls. The morningstar smashed into the ground. An occasional blow did land. Moses did manage to land a few telling blows before he was dropped…

“Mašaru. Mašaru.”

“Ameiko?” Moses sees his sister in a cloudy haze. Butterflies are flitting about her head. She looks radiant. Regal.

“Mašaru? What are you doing? Why? Why? Mašaru. Why must you be so stubborn? Give it up you ass! Mašaru, don’t l….

His eyes open and he found himself staring at the hauntingly beautiful eyes of the elven woman who summons the shadow creatures. “Moses!” She was shaking him. “Moses. Get up. We’re dying here!”

“Mašaru,” he whispered weakly.

“What was that?” Lindell asked.

“I’m Mašaru,” he declared as he stood up, drawing his bow. He was weak. He knew he couldn’t take another hit. That last one almost was his last. Mašaru drew the special magical arrow, supposedly good against fiends, and took aim at the beast that was harrassing Oberon and Kade down below. He let loose the shaft and the creature screamed as it fled towards the ceiling. Mašaru spun a side-kick into it as it ascended. Suddenly it was engulfed in flames and it falls the several dozen feet to splat on the cavern floor. Mašaru looked down and saw the wizard holding on to the things dropped wand. They make eye contact and nod.

Mašaru dropped down onto his ass and lay back, staring at the ceiling.

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