The Inn of Double Daggers
The story so far...

I stroll into the Inn of Double Daggers with Pug and a dark elf named Arkas. The stench of spilled mead and fresh sweat, along with the bodies strewn about the floor indicate to me that a battle just occurred. Standing in the middle of the room I see another eledhel elf, a dwarf, a human male and human female. The appearance of three strangers in the doorway draws the attention of the others. Quickly, Pug introduces himself. The group explains to him what has taken place and hands him a letter, which he sits down at the bar to read.

A man named Albert, who has barely survived the battle, is discovered hiding under a table. We question this man and find out that he belongs to a cult devoted to bringing back the dead goddess, Lornu-Ava. Pug explains that Lornu-Ava was a very powerful god who was destroyed by three other gods because they feared she was too powerful. He tells us that due to her nature, she couldn’t be killed, so the three gods devised a plan to separate her essence into six pieces and spread them across Midkemia. The location of those pieces are not known for sure, but he recites a prophecy he knows:

Beneath the caverns of the Grey, Near the thieving stone, In the forest of the Mad, And a forest of blood and bone; Blowing in the heat of sand, At the top of the peaks near the sky, Combine the six and get nothing, And she will return and watch the traitors die.

I find out from Albert that the only remaining temple to Lornu-Ava is located somewhere under the Grey Towers. If my memory about ancient history is correct, Albert is telling us the truth. I suspect that the first line, “Beneath the caverns of the Grey,” hints at the temple location under the mountains known as the Grey Towers. I tell everyone that I believe the prophecy names the six locations on Midkemia where the pieces of Lornu-Ava can be found. If we are going to stop this cult from bring Lornu-Ava back from the dead, we must find these pieces before the cult does.

(Later that evening while playing cards, Arkas learns that “the thieving stone” might be Prank’s Stone, a large stone located far to the east that mysteriously steals items from passerby.)

Since The Grey Towers lie just a couple days ride to the north and east of Carse, I tell the others that we should head there first. Pug hands over a stone and advises us to visit the dwarven city of Caldara. We are to seek out King Dolgan and show him the stone. Dolgan would then provide what information the dwarves know about the temple of Lornu-Ava, which is thought to reside in the caverns beneath the Grey Towers.

We decide to stay the night in Carse to rest and head for Caldara first thing in the morning.

The trip to Caldara gets side-tracked.

The morning after the fight at the Inn of Double Daggers, we get set to leave Carse and begin the trip to Caldara. As everyone is packing up their horses for the trip, I try to convince them they won’t need their horses, but being the newcomer in the party no one listens to me. I seek out the paladin to enlist her help. I explain to her that I can perform a ritual that would provide a faster mode of transporation for all of us. Karlithen believes me and she convinces the others to trust what I say and get rid of their horses.

Hordo, always looking for a way to make money, speaks to the innkeeper. The dwarf entrusts the innkeeper to board our horses and watch over them. In return, the inn can rent out the horses to travelers needing a way around town. The money made from this rental business will help cover any costs for the horses upkeep and any profits will be shared between us and the inn.

Having settled that matter, the others turn to me for their transport. I advise them that performing the ritual in the center of town would scare many people, therefore I suggest we wait until we are well away from the town where we cannot be seen. Once we are away from the city, I perform the ritual and six shadowy horses rise up from the ground. I explain that while these phantom steeds will only last a few hours, they will be able to travel much faster. Satisfied with their new mounts, we turn toward Caldara, folowing the river away from Carse.

Along the way, our ranger finds pieces torn from a page of what appears to be someone’s journal. What we gather from what little we can read is there is a logging town nearby that has been terrorized by bandits. We decide to investigate and end up in the town, which appears to be deserted. We separate and are wandering the town trying to find some clue as to the whereabouts of its inhabitants when suddenly we are surrounded by a number of ghostly apparitions. A short battle ensues and we defeat the ghosts, but not before the leader curses us, thinking we were aligned with the bandits.

We find ourselves at a crossroads, trying to decide if we should continue to travel through the forest or take a path through the mountains. I perform a Hand of Fate ritual to find out which way would be the best path to follow. The hand points into the forest, so everyone decides to go that way. With the help of Elric and Streeaka, I perform the Phantom Steed again and each person is rewarded, this time with winged steeds.

Our journey continues just above the treetops, until a clearing in the forest is spotted. We stop at the edge of the clearing and see an encampment. Suspecting it is the bandit camp, Karlithen and Streeaka swoop in and land in the middle of it. Just as they touch ground, a couple of barking wild dogs attack them. The noise alerts others in the camp and six bandits appear from their tents. Hordo alertly flies overhead, pouring some of his ale over the men. Then I swoop down while casting a fireball spell and set half the camp on fire, the flame intensified by the dwarven brew.

We make quick work of four of the bandits while the paladin, using her beauty, makes the two wounded beastmasters submit to her. A quick interrogation of the remaining two takes place. We are told that the leader of the Green Heart bandits is named One-Eyed Bart and his camp is just up the road. Elrick and Streeaka put the two bandits out of their misery. We douse the remaining fire and decide that, as night falls, this would be a good place to rest.

A Moment of Clarity
Campfire ramblings.

Fate is cruel.

Most mortal beings are unable to see into their future. So we walk the path that is our lives thinking we are in control. The reality is we are blindly being pushed down the path by the cruel hand of fate. Our lives are not totally out of our control, we are allowed to make some small decisions when faced with a fork in the path, but fate makes the big decisions for us and it isn’t until we round the bend in the road before we realize the turn our life has taken. Those are the times in life when we take a step back and ask ourselves “How did I get here?”

I am having one of those life moments right now. In a moment of clarity, I realized that I am involved in a quest to save the world from Lornu-Ava, the Goddess of the Void. Someone wants to bring her back and if my companions and I fail the task laid before us, all we know will cease to exist. If we are successful they may tell tales of our quest and sing songs in our name for many ages to come. Just like the heroes of past, whose adventures were told in the history books I read so eagerly as a child.

The thing is, I am not a hero. There is nothing special about me. I am a young Eledhel, a lifelong student of magic and history. Just a few days ago I made the decision to become a teacher at the Academy of Magic in Stardock. I am not some great, powerful wizard who willingly went off to save all mankind from some terrible evil. Fate has directed me down this path and it’s much too late to turn back.

The fate of countless lives in Midkemia rests on the shoulders of an eledhel, a moredhel, three men and a dwarf.

Fate is cruel.

Bandits! (part 2)
One-Eyed Bart gets his.

The night was uneventful and I got a decent night’s sleep, my first one not in a real bed since I left the outpost many years ago. As the sun rose above the treetops, I was memorizing my spells for the new day when Hordo came back into camp. He mentioned that he was scouting the road ahead and saw someone travelling down from the area where the bandit camp is. Hordo said he saw the man strolling down the road just stop and fiddle with something on the side of the road, just inside the treeline. The dwarf went on to explain that when the man was finished, he turned and headed up the road back the way he came.

After Hordo told us this, we all gathered up our things and got ready to travel. We made our way up the road and stopped just short of the area Hordo pointed out. Streeaka looked around and found the tripwires zig-zagging across the road. He hunkered down to study and disarm the trap. As he reached out to touch one of the wires, a slight breeze blew through the trees and the whole contraption fell apart. “I’ve built better traps in my sleep” he muttered.

Before going any further, we decided it would be best to scout ahead and see what was in store for us. Streeaka went to the left of the road and entered the forest, while Arkas entered the woods on the right side. The rest of us waited just off the road, using the shadows cast by the trees as cover.

We waited for what seemed like an eternity before Streeaka and the dark elf returned. From what the told us, they had seen about eight to ten men in the camp ahead. One of them wore an eye patch and carried a large axe. We guessed this was One-Eyed Bart.

Preparing for the upcoming fight, a plan was in order. It was discussed that Streeaka and Arkas would each enter the woods again and take up positions near the edge of the clearing. The rest of us would slowly make our way up the road, pretending to be wounded travelers and calling out for help. We hoped that this would draw Bart and his men into the narrow road. Once this happened, Arkas and Streeaka would spring out of the forest and prevent the bandits from being able to retreat into the camp. It was a good plan, but nothing ever goes to plan.

What really happened was once Bart got close enough to the group, Karlithen teleported him right into the center of the group. Bart look around. He was surrounded by a woman, a wizard, a ranger and a scared-looking cleric. I think I heard him chuckle as he swung around with his axe and knocked all four of us on our behinds.

The fight was on. It was the most difficult battle I had been involved in, but eventually we took care of Bart and his group. This group of Green Heart Bandits were no more.

As we were looking around the campsite looking for gold and magic items, a ghostly apparition appeared nearby. It looked to be the leader of the group that attacked us in the deserted town a few days ago. He only smiled and said “Thank you, the curse has been lifted” before he disappeared again.

Arrival in Caldara
The dwarven king lends a hand.

The rest of our journey to Caldara went without trouble. Riding on our phantom steeds, it also went pretty quick. We dispelled our magical mounts about half an hour outside the city gates and walked the rest of the way so that we didn’t scare the locals. Unfortunately, having a dark elf among our ranks made the guards very suspicious of us anyway.

At first the gate guards were not going to let any of us in, even when I told them that we were on a great mission to save the world. It was only when Hordo, ever the businessman, started to paint a picture of the mass riches that would flow through the streets of Caldara, riches that would benefit every dwarf, woman and child of the city, if he could only have a few minutes of time with the king. Only then did the guards reconsider and agree to let us in to see King Dolgan, but only Hordo and myself were allowed entrance to the city. The other four were to remain outside until we returned.

One of the guards escorted Hordo and myself to King Dolgan’s residence. Once we entered, again Hordo started his sales pitch – untold wealth for the king and everyone in Caldara, if he could get the king’s stamp of approval. Dolgan sampled the dwarven brew and found it had a very unique taste that isn’t found in other dwarven ales. The king gave Hordo exactly what he came for, approval to speak with the finest taverns and inns the city had to offer and the king’s personal recommendation for Hordolicious. Hordo excused himself, stating he now had other business to attend to and left me alone to speak with the king about our real mission.

Not having an opportunity to speak before now, I greeted the king and from the folds of my robes presented the stone that had been given to us by Pug. Dolgan took the stone and his expression became extremely serious. “You seek out the temple?” he asked.

“My companions and I do” I replied. “It seems a cult has made itself known that wants to bring back Lornu-Ava. If that happens, well, we know what that means for all of Midkemia.”

The king nodded. “What can I do to help?”

“I am hoping that in your city’s archives there may be a map or some reference to the location of the temple. The Grey Towers are large and the caverns that run beneath them many. We need some clue to point us toward the temple’s location.”

Dolgan again nodded. He not only agreed to let me visit Caldara’s archives but said that the scholars themselves would help with the search. I told the king that I appreciated his generosity, but the search could take days and some of my companions were made to wait outside the city gates. At that, Dolgan called over a guard and instructed him to go to the south gate, find the four who were made to wait and bring them back here.

I again thanked King Dolgan for his assistance and left for the archives. There was not a moment to waste if we were going to find the temple quickly. As I made my way through the city streets I hoped that my companions would not lose sight of our task and would not cause Caldara or King Dolgan any trouble, but somehow I knew that was too much to ask.

The Festival of Graff
Solve the riddle and win a prize!

The sun hurt my eyes as I left the archive building. For the last few days I have been immersed in ancient text and maps, looking for one small clue that would lead us to the temple of Lornu-Ava. Just a few minutes ago I did locate an ancient map that showed an area of caverns that had been closed off from the rest of the dwarven mines. The archivists stated that is precisely the area we were looking for. They promised to make a copy of the map and have it ready for us in the morning.

As I stepped out into the afternoon air, I was ready to return to the inn and get some much needed rest. That was when I heard, from a few blocks away, the sounds of merriment and realized today was the festival of Graff. Sleep could wait a little longer, my body deserved some food and a mug or two of ale after two days with very little of either. I turned and headed in the direction of the temple district.

I made my way through the crowded streets, stopping here and there for food and drink. I could see a large crowd gathering outside the temple of Graff, so I headed that direction. Karlithen spotted me as I approached and she waved me over. A look of relief washed over her face. “Thank goodness” she said. “You can help me keep an eye on these three.” She threw a dark glance toward Elric, Arkas and Streeaka. I paused, asking myself if I really wanted to know what trouble they had gotten into and decided it was best to leave it alone.

“Where’s Hordo?” I asked looking around and not seeing the dwarf anywhere. Karlithen informed me that Hordo was responsible for all the ale being served today, so he would either be making another batch or catching up on some sleep.

“It’s too bad, because he will miss out on the riddle” said Elric. “That’s why we are waiting in line. We are waiting for our turn to enter the temple and solve the riddle. I hear that whoever solves the riddle will have a wish granted by Graff. We could wish for just about anything we desire.”

Eventually the line got shorter and soon it was our turn to enter the temple. Inside we were greeted by the temple priest. “Come on in” said the priest. “Welcome. Oh, what a smart looking group we have here. Welcome to the temple of Graff the Weaver of Wishes. I will present you with a riddle and you will be given up to three attempts to solve it. Each guess you make to solve the riddle will cost you a very small donation to the temple of only 150 gold. What do you say, do you wish to play?”

We each chipped in some gold pieces and handed the coins to the priest. “Ok, here is your riddle. Solve it and Graff will grant you anything you wish for, within reason of course.” The priest pulled out a piece of parchment and read from it.

I am related to water, but am not wet. I am related to shadow, but am multi-colored. I am an illusion, but I show what’s real. What am I?

The priest looked at us and asked “What is your answer?”

I don’t know if the lack of sleep or the mugs of ale I had were causing me to see swirling colors before my eyes, but I blurted out with confidence, “A rainbow!”

“Sorry, that is incorrect” the priest said. Someone punched the back of my shoulder. I turned around to see Karlithen glaring at me. She motioned toward the priest. I quietly counted out 150 gold coins from my pouch and made another donation to the temple.

The temple priest repeated the riddle and waited quietly for our answer. This time there was some discussion about what the answer might be. Elric answered for us. “A reflection” he said.

The priest paused for a few seconds. “Very close, but that is still incorrect. You have one more attempt if you want to take it.”

I collected another 150 gold from the group and handed it over to the collection basket. Again the priest repeated the riddle for us. More discussion followed. When we were out of ideas, silence fell over the group.

Suddenly, Streeaka spoke up. “I know what it is” he said. “The answer is a mirror.”

Unsure of the assassin’s answer, we all looked at him with some uncertainty. Karlithen, her eyes fixed on the floor, said with a snarl “You better be right.”

“Is that your final answer?” asked the priest. The five of us could only look at him and nod. “Of all the groups that have come in here today”, he paused as a smile crept across his face, “you are the first to answer the riddle correctly. Graff will grant your wish now.”

Behind the Curtain
As the adventurers make their way through the mine of Mac Mordain Cadal...

The darkness was thick and oppressive. But that was how the Curate liked it. He imagined that if he were able experience the Void, it may feel like this. Although, he was not sure he would feel anything if he were consumed by the Void, rather he would merely cease to exist. And as much as he looked forward to that day, there was work to be done first.

When Curate Redder had been sent to the Grey Towers in search for one of the Six Essences, he knew that he had been given a great honor. The leader had chosen him along with five other Curates to lead the searches for the revered one’s essences. According to the leader, the time was ripe to search, find, and join the essences and bring Lornu-Ava back to the world in her vengeful glory.

The Kingdom of the Isles was in the midst of recovering from their nine year war with the invading Tsurani followed by the nasty business with Murmandamus and his invading army at Sethanon and some believed they had become complacent in their vigilance. Curate Redder could understand if that were so. After all, after a kingdom defeats a great threat to its existence followed by an even greater threat, the last thing expected is a yet another threat immediately following it. The Curate found their leader’s logic to be sound, and was honored to be selected to lead one of the expeditions.

He had arrived weeks ago to the area with some of the lower ranking followers, keeping a low profile while traveling. They had worn the white vestments of Arch-Indar to both mask their true devotion as well as a vicious reminder of Arch-Indar’s betrayal to their beloved Lornu-Ava. He felt dirty when wearing them.

Soon, Great Void, you will be rejoined and you may exact your vengeance on all responsible for your cruel imprisonment.

Once they had arrived, they had snuck into the mines of the Grey Towers dwarves, and spent well over two weeks navigating through the maze of tunnels and caverns. Curate Redder had to give the dwarves credit, for their feats of engineering were quite astounding this deep below the surface. Drawn to the power of Lornu-Ava’s Essence, eventually the group found the ancient temple and had been studying the artifacts and relics found there for a few days.

Redder was surprised when Tain made mental contact with him a few weeks back. In order for that to work, he had to be near, and Tain was supposed to be in the great mountains in northwestern Kesh seeking out another of the Six Essences. Guided by the mental images sent from Redder, Tain and his group had found the temple in much shorter time.

Tain had explained that he had discovered that the Essence itself had been found years ago and collected by another and secreted away in a location in Kesh. Prior to the arrival of the Tain’s expedition, something caused the guardians of the Essence to transport it to another location it was currently being transported via ship to the isle of Stardock, where the magician’s academy resided. Tain had sought out Redder in order to help perform a dangerous ritual to retrieve the Essence on the boat. It was not something a single Curate should attempt; and even if the two of them tried the ritual, it may not work.

Resolved to complete their mission, they undertook the ritual, invoking the power of Lornu-Ava to rip open a hole in the world through which they pulled in the artifact. The residual power of the temple underneath the Grey Towers helped them as did the life essence of twelve of their followers and they succeeded in their task. Redder was sad to see them consumed by the ritual because now he would have to carry some of his on gear himself.

The two Curates now possessed two of the Six Essences of Lornu-Ava and knew that they would be rewarded for their deeds. They expected they had completed their task much quicker than the other four Curates. Even with the guidance of the prophecy, exact locations of the Essences were not known. Time would be needed to find and retrieve the remaining four. Knowing this, Redder had convinced Tain to stay for a short time, investigating the temple, probing its magic and researching through the ancient library.

It was at this point that some of the followers assigned to be guards brought word of dwarven activity in some of the nearby caverns. The two curates were standing at the altar in the main room of the temple, discussing what secrets they had already learned about the structure.

“We cannot risk discovery,” insisted Tain.

“If we do not make our presence known, then we will not be discovered. This place repulses non-believers. The dwarves will be too scared to come near,” said Redder.

“Ahhh… but they’ll be even more unlikely to discover us if they’re dead,” noted Tain.

Redder sighed. “Fine. You are more than welcome to deal with the dwarves as you see fit. I’m going to spend some more time in the temple.”

Tain smirked and turned to leave.

Redder looked up and said, “Wait a minute. I think I may have something that will help.” Tain paused and turned back to Redder. Redder pulled a large book from a stack that was on the altar, and opened it.

“It seems that the original worshipers at this temple in ages past had discovered a unique occurrence in these mines. Occasionally, from deep within some of the mine shafts that the dwarves carved, wraiths would rise and wander the caves and caverns, searching for life to drain and devour.” Redder saw Tain’s eyes widen.

“Don’t worry. We haven’t seen any while we’ve been here, Curate Tain.”

“No, of course not.”

This man did not deserve to be one of the six chosen, thought Redder.

Redder looked back down to the book, and continued, “What some of the priests discovered that these wraiths could be coaxed from their hiding places and when brought forth, infused with the power of the Great Goddess, creating a hybrid of void and wraith.”

Tain looked confused.

Redder waited a few seconds for Tain to catch up. “What I’m suggesting is that we attempt this ritual ourselves and send these Voids against the dwarves.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Are we able to ensure we will have control of these Voids?” asked Tain.

“The ritual indicates that the voids were bound to any true-believer of Lornu-Ava once infused with her power. So, yes. We will control them.”

Tain hesitated.

Redder sighed, “And if that doesn’t work, you are more than welcome to go out and meet the dwarves face to face if you like. Bash them in the face, turn them into beetles – I don’t care. As long as you make sure that none survive.”

After a minute of thinking it through, Tain agreed. He gathered the book and began to leave.

Redder called out, “Take some of the priests with you and go to the room with cages. I believe there was a mine shaft there.”

Without turning around, Tain raised his hand in acknowledgment and went through the double doors out into the antechamber. Redder saw the guards outside and was pleased to see the warding spell was still in effect for the guards out there. He thought that the previous residents of the temple had been quite clever with that setup: guards in a state of suspended animation until activated by a threat. He would like to learn that trick. There were so many wonderful things to learn in this temple.

As Redder turned back to the altar, the draping sleeve of his robe caught the edge of the stack of books, and they tumbled to the floor. Cursing, he bent down to pick them up and stopped short. The first book he had looked at was open to a page with a unique summoning ritual. He picked the book up and placed it on the altar. The ritual was straightforward enough, but the notes are what caught his eye.

Every time we try this we get to the apex of the ritual and we fail. We are using the Essence as our focus and source of power, but I am beginning to expect it isn’t enough. If only we were able to find another of the Six, I believe we could complete this.

Redder smiled.

A Strange Request
In the heart of the kingdom, in the palace in Rillanon...

Curse Banath, my head hurts.

Bradley began to roll over in the bed, but the pounding in his head caused him to re-evaluate that decision. It felt like a black smith was forging a whole set of plate armor against his temples. Coupled with the ball of cotton in his mouth, Bradley was sure he had never felt worse in his life.

Oh no, the Duke!

Bradley sat up quickly and swung his legs out of bed onto the floor. Two things happened simultaneously as he stood up, then. He realized he was completely naked and the entire room spun around and the floor suddenly appeared in front of his face.

Gathering his nerve and willing his body to respond, Bradley slowly got up off of the floor and looked around for his clothes.

Where the hell am I?

Standing in a room he didn’t recognize, Bradley cast his eyes over the room, trying to determine his location as well as the location of his pants. He turned his gaze to the bed and immediately knew where he was.

Uh oh.

Laying in the bed was the daughter of the Baron of Chaen, Emily.

Or was it Ellen? Pretty sure it starts with an ‘E.’

Seeing his pants on a chair in the corner of the room and the rest of his clothes on the floor, he got dressed as quickly as his thudding head would let him. Casting a quick glance at the Baron’s daughter in the bed, he hurried out of the room.

Maybe it was Erin.

Bradley hurried down the corridors to the chambers outside the court area. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but he was betting he was late again. Today was not going to be a good day.

Bradley entered the room off the side of the main chamber where servants would gather prior to the daily occurrence of the king holding court. When he entered, the only other figure there was Housecarl Lucius, who turned to watch Bradley stumble into the room.

“Ah… so good of you to join us, Squire Bradley. Now that you’ve arrived, I’m sure Duke Dmitri will be happy to inform the king that court may begin,” Lucius said evenly.

“Sarcasm noted, Lucius,” replied Bradley. “Please, no lectures from you today. My head is killing me and I expect I will get plenty of an earful from the Duke.”

“True, young Bradley.” Lucius smirked. “I’m most positive the Duke will have something to say to you as well. You better splash some water on your face and get in there. You are the Duke’s Squire and required to be at his side during the King’s Court.”

Bradley walked over to the large stone basin in the corner and splashed some cold water on his face. For the shortest of moments, the pounding in his head subsided. But the relief was short lived.

Turning around and heading for the door to the court entrance, Bradley asked, “How do I look?”

Lucius responded, “Like you rolled out of the bottom of an ale barrel, got dragged around by a horse, and fell down a flight of stairs.”

“Fantastic,” muttered Bradley as he turned the handle of the door.

“And you smell even worse than you look.”

This is not going to be a good day.

King Lyam held court every morning except Sixthday and Seventhday. Most of the time, the matters at hand were mundane and trivial, but King Lyam treated all of the members that came before him with respect.

The throne room where court was held was an impressive chamber filled with costly stained glass. At this time of the morning, the sun shining through the windows cast many different colors across the room. It just so happened that the door to the room that Bradley used had a large swath of bright yellow light from a stained glass window featuring a blazing sun on it.

As Bradley stepped into the throne room he was momentarily blinded by the bright yellow light. Even if he didn’t have a horrific hangover, the light would have hurt his eyes. His current state only magnified the pain by a few hundred times or so, he estimated.

Standing there for a few seconds, blinking like a newborn baby, he heard a discussion going on about two merchants disputing a contract. Finally adjusting to the light, Bradley looked to see where Duke Dmitri was standing.

Great… he’s on the other side of the chamber.

Seeing that he had no option but to cross the chamber, Bradley gathered himself and strode across the room.

“One moment, gentlemen,” said King Lyam.

Oh, gods, no.

“Squire Bradley.”

Bradley stopped where he was, which just happened to be smack dab in the middle of the throne room. He turned towards the throne and made the best bow he could muster without falling over and responded, “Yes, your Highness?”

“Since it is apparent that you had something much more important to do this morning rather than attend court with your lord, Duke Dmitri, I would like you to return to whatever pressing matter that is. It’s obvious that attending your lord is not as important as your other task, so, please, I beg of you to return to whatever that task must be.”

“Your Highness, I merely…”

King Lyam raised his hand. “That was an order, Squire. Go. Now.”

“Yes, your Highness,” said Bradley.

Turning back the direction he had just come from, Bradley walked towards the door in silence. Feeling every eye on his back, he made it to the door and was about to go through when he heard the king call out.

“And Squire? When you have completed your very important task, please come back here later, after court is done – if that’s alright with you. The Duke and I would like to discuss something with you.”

“Yes, your Highness,” said Bradley.

With that, Bradley went through the door as quickly as possible.

“Back so soon, young Squire?” asked Housecarl Lucius.

“Shut up, Lucius,” responded Bradley.

This was going to be a very, very bad day.

A few hours later, court was completed. Bradley had taken the opportunity to clean up and put on fresh clothes. Rarely did he get the opportunity to have such an intimate audience with the King, and considering the circumstances, Bradley felt that he needed to make as good as impression as possible.

Although I feel like a ugly inn keeper’s daughter trying to make myself as pretty as possible for the nobleman in the tavern who’s already made up his mind I’m not remotely his type.

Bradley was sitting in the room off the throne room, alone, waiting for some indication that the king and the duke were ready for him. Finally, after some time, the door opened and Duke Dmitri stuck his head in.

“Squire. Now,” said the Duke. He didn’t wait for Bradley to respond; he just

Bradley jumped up and hurried over to the door. His head was hurting less than it did earlier today, but the sudden movements still caused him to wince.

When Bradley entered the throne room, the Duke was already standing next to the King and both of them looked at him expectantly. He walked to the center of the room and up towards the throne. When he was at the appropriate distance, he bowed and said, “Your Highness, I would like to apologize to you for my tardiness this morning. It was disrespectful of yourself, Duke Dmitri, and your court.”

That was all he said. He hoped being brief and direct would count for something.

Lyam stood up. “You’re damned right it was, Bradley.”

The king walked down the few steps of the dais the throne was on and stood before Bradley, staring at him intently.

“What the hell are we supposed to do with you?” asked Lyam. “Dmitri, have you any thoughts?”

“I do, your Highness. But most of them involve a beating of some kind or another,” answered the duke.

“I’m not sure that would phase young Bradley here. By all accounts he can take a beating like few others can,” said Lyam.

Bradley was unsure of what to say or do. The king was still standing in front of him, staring. Bradley decided the best course of action right now was to say and do nothing.

“Hmmm…” mused the king.

Turning around toward Duke Dmitri, King Lyam said, “Tell me a few things about your young Squire, Dmitri.”

“Well, your Highness, Bradley is the most confounding damn Squire I’ve ever had. He shows great aptitude with the blade – apparently the best student my swordmaster has ever had or so he says. He has a natural gift for battle tactics and is a natural leader. But he’s also the most stubborn, pig-headed young man I’ve known.”

Lyam turned back to look at Bradley. “What do you mean by that?”

“Bradley is the third son of Baron Humphrey. And as a third son, he was not groomed for taking over the barony like his older brother was. In fact, Bradley was given the run of the barony for the most part. He would disappear for days, only to turn up in some town’s inn, telling stories or singing songs or some other foolery.”

Foolery? Obviously the Duke hadn’t spent much time traveling the local taverns and inns or he wouldn’t mind some foolery of his own.

Lyam smiled. “Ah, I see. A free spirit of sorts, eh?”

“Yes, sire. But eventually, Baron Humphrey tired of his son’s activities and as a favor to him; I took him on as a squire.”

“To whip him into shape, yes?”

“That was the idea, your Highness. That’s where the stubbornness I mentioned comes in. Bradley seems inclined to ignore that he must make some changes in his manners.”

Damn that wine last night.

Lyam walked up to the throne and sat down. He sat for a moment, thinking.

“Squire, I have a feeling even an order from myself would have little impact on your actions.”

Bradley started, “Your Highness, that’s not…”

Lyam cut him off, “Quiet. You’ll listen to what I have to say and speak when I tell you.”

Bradley nodded his head but didn’t say anything.

“As I was saying, mere words will not have an impact on your activities, so instead I will give you a task that will keep you busy and even perhaps take advantage of your skills.”

Should I be excited or afraid…?

Lyam continued.

“We received word a few days back via messenger pigeon from Carse telling us of a particular expedition my brother Martin sent out. Yesterday morning, I received a note from a family friend indicating that the purpose of this expedition was quite important. This note also indicated that I should send a member of my court to meet this expedition and assist them if possible.”

This is going somewhere I’m not too sure I want it to…

“Imagine my surprise when this note also specifically asked for you by name.”

At this, both the Duke and Bradley showed open surprise.

“Me, your Highness?” said Bradley.

“Him?” asked Dmitri.

Lyam smiled. “Yes, Squire, you. So, pack you things. You leave as soon as you are able.”

Dmitri stood, shaking his head in disbelief.

Bradley said, “Umm… yes, your Highness. Uh.. sire, where am I going?”

“The dwarven city of Caldera. Please tell Dolgan I said hello. And do not embarrass me, Bradley. Perhaps the threat of royal embarrassment will cause you to keep you wits about you. Now, go.”

Bradley quickly stood up to leave. Once he left, Dmitri said, “Sire, may I ask who sent the note?” The duke could not understand who would have such influence to essentially order the king to do anything without the king questioning it.

Lyam stood, walked down the stairs, and headed out of the throne room.

“You may, Dmitri. It was a cousin of mine. Pug of Stardock.”

_ Banath – Lesser God – The Artful Dodger; The Prankster; The Nightwalker. God of Thieves and sometimes Sailors_

The Morning After
Another difficult day in Pikestown

Morning came and Owen opened his eyes.

The first strands of light began peeking into his bedroom, brightening the darkened room. Throwing back the covers and rolling over gently to the edge of the bed, being careful to not wake his wife, Owen placed his feet on the pine wood floor. He had a long day in front of him.

After getting dressed, he headed to the kitchen and grabbed some cold bread and a hunk of cheese and walked out of front door straight into a steady rain.

“Wonderful,” he muttered.

Turning to his right, he headed down the street to Bennett and Alice’s house. Lost in thought at the difference a single day can make, he found himself standing in front of the house with the broken door the dwarf had busted in last night.

Alice’s body had been removed last night and had been taken to the temple of Killian nearby. Owen knew that Alice and Bennett had been worshipers of one of the other gods, but as Pikestown had only a Temple of Killian and a Shrine of Silban, options were limited. Brother Zacarais of the Order of Killian often served as the town mortician, providing a service typically done by priests of Lims-Kragma.

Owen walked around the house for a few minutes, remembering the evenings him and his wife and spent here having dinner with their friends. For the first time ever, Owen found himself grateful that Alice and Bennet had been unable to have children. They had always wanted at least one, but apparently, the gods saw fit for them to be childless.

“I expected to find you here,” a voice said from behind him.

The mayor turned to see Lewis, the innkeeper of the Smiling Sorcerer standing in the doorway.

“Yea. I’m here,” replied Owen. “I didn’t get more than a few hours of sleep, and when I woke up, I just found my way back here.”

“Have you told Martha, yet?”

Owen sighed deeply. “No, I have not.”

Owen’s wife Martha and Alice were childhood friends. Owen did not relish having to tell his wife what had happened.

Owen walked over to a chair at a table in the room and sat down. Lewis came and sat opposite of him.

“I don’t suppose they left, have they?” asked Owen.

“Oh, they most certainly did,” replied Lewis. “They left last night, right after the dwarf and the elf came back from here, I suppose. They didn’t say why, only that they needed to leave immediately.”

“Probably a good move on their part.”

“Probably a good move for everyone. They looked like they could handle themselves. And if there is a dwarf, an elf, a Squire from the Eastern Realm, a ranger from Natal, and a woman paladin together, there must be a damn good reason.”

“Aye,” said Owen.

A few minutes passed in silence as the rain outside continued to fall before Lewis spoke up. “Owen, Meg stopped by the inn again last night. She must have heard about adventurers being in town. I think she was going to ask them for help.”

“Damn it. As much as it pains me, we can not send men into that forest!” Owen nearly shouted.

“I understand that, my friend. But Meg only wants her husband and son back.”

“I know, I know,” said Owen in a quiet voice. “I swear, Lewis, living on the damn frontier up here is hell. First Meg’s family goes missing in the cursed forest, then not a week later, Bennett is murdered by dark elves, and then Alice hangs herself. Morale in this town is going to go to hell.”

Lewis stood up. “Yes, Owen, it will. I’m glad I don’t have your job.” He walked to the doorway, stepping over the broken door on the ground. “But life will move on. It always does.”

Just as Lewis was walking out of house, Owen called out to him. Sticking his head back in, he asked, “Something else?”

“I don’t suppose anyone got around to warning them, did they?”

Lewis couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Heh. Nope – I don’t think they were around long enough to talk to anyone to get a warning.”

Owen smiled a grim smile; one caught between amusement and some slight pleasure at the thought of the paladin walking into the Edder Forest.

“Ah, well. I suppose they’ll find out on their own, then.”

Journey of Hiram
A lonely soul with a sad destiny...

Hiram did not particularly like his mission. Missions like this were meant for the truly devoted, and Hiram would not consider himself that.

Most definitely not. How did I get here?

Thinking over the past few years of his life, and Hiram was at once appalled and amazed at the changes that had taken place. Hiram Beddingsford was a son of a noble in the East, who had too much time and too much money on his hands. Growing up undisciplined and with few friends, Hiram led a solitary life and had a disdainful approach to everything. His parents tolerated him, but never showed him the warmth his two brothers and sister received. Hiram felt an outcast. When he reached manhood, he asked for his inheritance early, revoked his claim to his familial titles and land, and struck out on his own, in effect self-imposing an exile.

Hiram Beddingsford wandered the Kingdom, careful to keep a low profile as he went due to the large fortune he had with him. He visited town after town, not really sure where he was going or what he was going to do whenever he got to wherever.

After a few months of such an aimless existence, Hiram found himself sitting alone in a small tavern in the town of Romney. Brooding over a glass of Darkmoor wine, he barely noticed when a man sat down at his table.

“Hail, friend. You look positively downcast.”

Hiram stirred from his daydream and looked up. Sitting across from him was a man in his thirties or forties; it was difficult to tell. He had black curly hair with some slight graying at the temples.

Forties, most likely Hiram thought.

He had a hard face, and surprisingly intense blue eyes that seemed to bore into Hiram. Dressed in black robes, the man was a study in opposites. If one did not look too carefully at him, he would most certainly go unnoticed in most situations. But once attention was turned to him, it was difficult to ignore his presence. Hiram got the distinct impression that both of those qualities were intentional effects the man utilized when it suited him.

“Friend?” Hiram responded. “I have no friends.”

“Well, now that can not be true. Everyone has some friends.”

Hiram frowned. “You would think so. But then again, you just met me – there’s a first for everything.”

The man studied him for a moment. “No friends, you say? That’s a most distressing situation. Family then?”

“Bah – my family cares not for me. When I left my home, my parents had my belongings ready to go days before I had planned to be gone. They were glad to see me off.”

“My man, you spin a sad tale,” the man replied. “How long have you been on your own, then? You don’t seem to be a member of any particular trade yet you seem to be more than comfortably attired. How are you able to afford such luxuries as a nice clothes and a top notch goblet of Darkmoor red?”

Oh oh, thought Hiram. I suppose I am advertising a bit more than I should be.

“I… uh… was lucky at a game of pokir in the last town I was in and decided to live a little,” Hiram stumbled out.

“Ah, well, good for you, then.” The man did not believe him for a second, but accepted the transparent excuse anyway.

“As you seem to be finding out quite a bit about me, ‘friend,’ I think you should at least tell me your name,” Hiram said.

“Darius of Wolfram, at your service,” said the man in black.

“Well, Darius of Wolfram,” started Hiram mockingly, “is there something I can help you with?”

“Perhaps there is something I can help you with, young Hiram,” said Darius.

Alarmed, Hiram sat up straight and said, “Wait, how’d you know my name?”

Darius’ voice seemed to take on a unearthly quality and the light in the room dimmed slightly, “There are many things I know, Hiram. The Goddess gives me power to do amazing things. And she has sent me to find you.”

Hiram felt a little lightheaded and asked, “Goddess?”

“Yes, Hiram. The Goddess of the Void wants your help.” What Darius did not say at the time, was that the order of the Goddess’ wanted his money to fund activities.

Darius purred, “She can offer you great power. And we of her Order can offer friendship and be the family you wish you had.”

Hiram felt strange; as though he had way more wine than he had drunk. Unable to turn Darius down, Hiram said in a monotone, “Yes, Darius. That sounds like a wonderful idea. I would be happy to help.”

“Excellent, Hiram. You will need to forsake all of your earthly possessions to the order, but in exchange, I believe we can offer you a place of prominence in the order, perhaps a Curate, yes? Once we’ve tutored you in the ways of her power and will, of course.”

“Yes, Darius. Please take my money. I would happily give it to help.”

Standing up, Darius said, “Come, Hiram, there is much to do.”

Leading Hiram out of the tavern, Darius could barely contain the smile he had on his face.

That bastard tricked me. Four years ago, that bastard tricked me out of all my money.

Hiram had spent time in order, learning the ways of Lornu-Ava, but never particularly feeling like he belonged with them. Perhaps he was destined to never find any place he belonged. He had been granted the rank of Curate a few months ago, at least Darius had kept his word on that. And now, he was on his way to the Edder Forest, sent to find something that Darius felt was important to the Order.

Darius had indicated that the head of their order required this object be found. The only warning that Darius had given to Hiram was that there was a chance that the object was under the protection of a guardian of sorts. They were unsure what type of guardian, so Hiram was being sent to investigate. If by chance, he was able to bypass the guardian and acquire the object, so much the better. But something Darius had said to Hiram when they departed stuck in Hiram’s mind: “Good luck, Hiram. I know you will serve you purpose to the best of your ability.”

What the hell did that mean, anyway?

For a couple of weeks, Hiram and his group had made their way across the Kingdom, targeting the Edder Forest in the north. A few times, Hiram had considered riding off on his own at night, leaving everything behind, but either fear or a spell over him prevented him. He was being pushed to the forest.

Curate Hiram and his expedition had arrived at the edge of the forest a few days ago. They had spent time since then studying the edge of the forest, trying to figure out what type of protection existed. Finding little yet tracking all of the details in his journal, Hiram had decided it was time to enter the forest.

A few hours ago, the group had ridden in and to this point had encountered only squirrels and birds. His companions consisted of warriors, cultists, and some of the common mob. While not the brightest members of the order, they followed orders and trailed Hiram obediently. Hiram’s horse began to act up, nostril’s flaring. Trusting the animal’s instincts, Hiram ordered the group to close ranks and stay close. Ahead of them, the path they were on opened up into a large clearing. Something is up there, thought Hiram. _ Most likely another animal of sorts – my horse can smell it._

Entering the clearing, Hiram was quite surprised at what confronted him. A beautiful woman in green robes stood in the center of the clearing, leaning on a tall wooden staff. She stood there, looking at the group, but said nothing.

Hiram rode forward, dismounted and gave the order for the others of his party to do the same. He handed his reins to a warrior monk of the order, and walked forward cautiously to the woman in green robes.

As he approached, he took a closer look at the woman. There was something decidedly alien about the woman’s features. Her features were perfectly symmetrical and without flaw. It was disconcerting.

“Hello, madam,” said Hiram. “My name is Hiram.”

“I know who you are Curate.”

Oh, good. Someone else knows me before I fully introduce myself. The last time that happened, things did not go well for me.

“Ahh… well, madam. It seems you have me at a disadvantage. You know me, but I know not your name.”

“You may call me Raina.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Raina,” said Hiram. He stole a glance around the glade, and saw that the woman was most definitely alone. “May I inquire as to what you are doing all alone in the forest here? The stories told of this forest tell of a place that is not hospitable to lone travelers.”

With a small smile, Raina responded, “I have little to fear from the forest, Curate. And as to what I am doing here – well, I’m here to encourage you to turn around and not continue on your quest.”

Interesting. She knows about my mission as well as about me personally.

Feigning ignorance, Hiram asked, “Quest, madam? We are merely pilgrims looking to travel through the forest.”

“Hiram, you know that is a lie. You are a Curate of the Order of Lornu-Ava and you are here to collect something that can not be taken. And I am here to ensure that you do not do that.”

Chuckling at her response, Hiram looked dubious as he said, “You, Lady Raina? Pardon my disbelief, but you alone will stop us? There are sixteen of us and only one of you. If you will step aside, and let us continue, we will bid you good day.”

Hiram started to turn away, but Raina reached out and grasped his arm. The moment her hand touched him, an awesome sense of power and magic surged through Hiram. An ancient, alien magic – nothing like the dark power the Curate had come to know while studying with the Order. It scared Hiram.

“Curate, I ask you once more to turn away and you will be spared.”

Hiram could only stare at the woman in green. Ripping his arm free, he took step or two backwards, keeping his eyes on her. Deep in his soul, he wished to comply. He wanted to run away from her and not stop until he collapsed. But a dark force forced him to stay where he was.

Shakily, he said, “I can not, madam. I am compelled to go forward.”

“I am sorry, then, poor Hiram. None of you deserve your fate.”

Hiram turned towards his horse and reached to take the reins from the warrior holding them.

At that moment, there was a bright flash from behind him, and the warrior’s eyes widened in terror. Before Hiram could turn, he heard a large roar, and a felt a great force rake across his back. As he was flying across the glade, Hiram knew his life was nearly at its end. Crashing to the ground, he felt what he assumed was his own blood oozing from great wounds on his back. He tried to move, but found his legs and arms did not respond.

I believe my back is broken. At least it doesn’t hurt.

He heard screaming as the other members of his order ran for their lives. He could not turn his head to watch what was going on; rather he was forced to stare at the pine needles he was laying on. He saw a few members of his expedition race out of the clearing.

I’m not sure where they think they’re going. Whatever Raina is I’m sure is capable of hunting them down should she choose.

He heard horses whinnying and the thunder of their hooves as they scattered. His thoughts became muddled and the edges of his vision began to go dark.

A voice intruded into his thoughts, “You simpleton. You couldn’t even get this right.”


“Yes, Hiram. We had hoped you would at least be able to figure out what we’re dealing with in the forest, but you can’t even be good at being bait.”

What? You sent me here knowing I’d be killed?

“Of course. We needed to determine the nature of the guardian, but all you were able to show us through your eyes was a single woman.”

You were channeling through me? I was just a tool?

With disdain, the voice said, “A bad tool at that.”

Struggling to keep aware of his surroundings, Hiram tried to formulate a response, but could not. “Die, young Hiram, knowing your life was a waste.”

The world went black.


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