Esper

The Worlds End.
In the ever after.
His hands softly touching the grasses as the bright ethereal sun shined its rejuvenating light upon his face, Magni felt at peace. He was in a field of tall grasses and flowers, ever rolling light hills and in the distance upon a mountain top, lay the towers of his goddess. These lands promised adventure everlasting, peace, love, and whatever his heart desired. Still, within, was a slight doubt, having left the friends behind that he had sworn to protect, but his fate had been sealed, his life stolen by the evil Evelina, and his faith and guidance had been rewarded by a place at Selova’s table. He was with the fair maiden of light, in the loving embrace of the mother of adventure, and he was promised an eternity of happiness and bliss.

As Magni walked among the flowers, he recognized the tall slender but muscular frame of his goddess, her blonde tresses of hair braided to her waist, framing a heart shaped face. She strode toward him, so graceful that her walk seamed like gliding, barely causing the grasses or flowers to bend. A light shown around her, bright, almost a second sun, but not blinding to his eyes, which locked on the face of his goddess. As she came upon him, without a word, she gave him a motherly embrace, enfolding him in her serenity, washing away the little doubts that had still remained, and without a word, he understood that he had made her proud.

Slowly, the world started to fade, the edges growing fuzzy and indistinct, the fields of flowers and grasses starting to roll away from him, leaving him in gray mist. But, Selova still embraced him, trying to hold on to one of her children. Her melodic voice whispered in his ear, a language he did not know, but could understand, ancient powerful.

“We do not have much time, my child. You have served me with honor and faith unparalleled from any. You have been the highest of my children, and your words have brought my light into the hearts of many, through your example. Even your companions, who may serve other gods, hold me in their heart because of your example. But, I can not keep you hear, though I wish only to give to you what you deserve. My sister’s powers are vast, having escaped her realm and fully entered the mortal plane, she now controls the direct untapped power of the well of magic. No longer does the veil of the afterlife block her powers. No longer does she have to follow the rules that are placed upon us deities. She does not have to work through proxies, giving our godly powers to those who serve us. She can act directly, her vast powers are now fully unleashed.”

She pulls back from the embrace, a vast sadness falling across her beautiful face as she looks deeply into Magni’s eyes. “She hates you most of all. For, not only are you my most faithful servant and she could not sway you, even by the pain she inflicted upon you. So she would deny you your only desire. She would keep you away from me. Even now she calls your soul back to your body. She would deny you your very reward of afterlife. But, before you depart, I will give you one last gift. Although you have served me with your voice and are being taken from me. I will send you with on last gift. You will no longer serve me with the voice, but know you will be my sword and shield. The warrior of my faith. Your duty will not be to spread my kindness, but to protect others and seek out those who would threaten it.”

She reached up, her fingers touching his forehead. Memories flooding into his mind. Memories of several warriors. Paladins. In his mind he was still Magni, but he was also Thoruk, Hendri Reckthorson., and many others. Magni’s mind was still his, but he was combined, enhanced with the many memories of many warriors from years past. A melding on memories. But, Magni realized that, these were not separate people, but people he had been before. His soul having been from one body to the next. He he realized. His faith is about this. Adventure is always moving forward, and thus, even though he would revel in his goddesses grace after death, life was a new adventure and eventually he had chosen to return to the living throughout the years. The final revelation went all the way back to the beginning. To his first life, and the forging of his soul. Before Selova had ascended into being a goddess. She was a beautiful shield-maiden, and she had a son. And Magni had been that boy. Magni had been Ignis Selovason.

The mist thickened and he felt himself being pulled away from his true mother.

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Freedom's Price

The night air near the docks was chill, scents of fish and stale beer assaulting Wailan’s senses. A smell, usually revolting, was the sweet harmony of freedom to this shadowy figure. Standing in the darkened alley beside this tavern, Salty Pete, Wailan observed the late night adventures of the taverns patrons. He had partook in some of those adventures this night, bad food and worse drinks, and amorous quests partaken with plenty of willing wenches. And, though the food was far from good, and his other activities far from the best experiences, tonight they felt like heaven sent, as he was experiencing them as a free man.

Shadows slowly seemed to shift, moving like liquid darkness to form a faceless entity to stand next to him. Wailan did not react, having seen this happen far too often, nor did he recoil in fear, as this being no longer had hold over him. A voice, if it could be called such a thing, more an unnatural whisper, the sound of a whetstone slowly being drawn across a blade, emitted from the featureless shadow being. “Wailan, I see you finally freed yourself from my grasp, and have chosen to, once again, place yourself in the affairs of mortals.”

Sighing, though with a slight smirk, Wailan responded, his eyes never shifting to the dark presence. “For as long as I can remember, I have been bound to your services, fulfilling your whims, directing Essence to stab at the heart of Gods and Mortals alike. But once, long ago, I was a hero. And I am not even referring to my time amongst the War Wolves, and our battles against the evils of Loreun. But, from my childhood, when my love for Espana, drove me to murder her parents, and free her from the clutches of her lecherous father. For years, the subjected, tortured, and drove me into the dirt, but I never lifted a finger against them. But, when I found out about what they were doing to their own child, lovely Espana, I acted. I thought that I was corrupted, because I took pleasure in their deaths. I sent Espana away from me, because, I believed my acts to be monstrous. I filled my life with more death, killing those who prayed upon humanity and there was true pleasure and thrill with every slice of my blade. And, it was then that I tricked myself into believing that I was evil, foul, an unnatural abomination. But, then I saw true evil,and fought true evil. And I saw true honor and glory. And, I discovered, I was not evil. Chaotic, yes! A harbinger of deaths whisper, most definitely. But not evil. For, the one act I had committed, when I was truly young, had been because I loved Espana, and only wished to free her from her pain. The pleasure I felt for her parants death was not the pleasure of death itself, but because I was granting freedom to the one I loved, and ridding the world of two demon humans. So, I had been a hero from a young age. Even as your blade in the dark, I took satisfaction, for the beings I killed were always the vile sort, who thought by using the essence of your shadows, they could elevate themselves into greatness. People fear the darkness, always blaming the shadows as the true evil. But, I know your truth, Light and Shadow. Night and Day. Order and Chaos. Two sides of the same coin. Not adverse properties, or struggling entities, but complements of each other. Without the light, one could not cast a shadow, and with out the empty void of dark, light could not shine. I, am the blade of chaos, I bring the truth of that forth. Others are the word of order, and bring forward those laws. Alone, both are testaments are lies, fallacies of lesser understanding. But together, our words become truth, because it forms the fabric of reality. A millennia and once over of servitude to you, has taught me the truth of that.”

Wailan pauses, his face finally moving to stare at the figure of shadows. “But now, reality itself is again threatened, not by chaos, which is my trumpet, but by corruption. And I must stave off that corruption and do what chaos is meant to do, reflect and instill order.” another chuckle escapes his lips.

The wispy shadows shift, the raspy unnatural voice emitting once more. “So Wailan, Blade Dancer. Slicer of Kalenport, Slayer of Gods, Shadow Hand, Trickster, Dark Sword, and thousands of other names, do you finally see the truth?”

Wailan’s smile, gleaming brightly widens, a vision of mirth, but also and unsettling visage of chaotic expression. “Yes, and I have known so all along, hidden in my very mind.” the shadowy image slowly fades, as Wailan continues, the realizations finally coming full into his mind. “You did not exist. I am chaos unbridled. The chains on me were always my own making. I am Lord of Shadows.”

The night fading away, as the dawn’s sun peaks over the horizon, Wailan steps onto the road, walking into the light for the first time for almost eternity.

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Lost in a jar!

Afloat at the edge of consciousness and reason, the wispy soul of Magni, seeing with out eyes, witnessed his very still body placed upon the stone table. The raven haired woman, so easily carrying his massive form, as if he weighed but that of a feather. Magni was confined to this glass jar, which she placed high on a shelf, so he could look down upon his soulless husk. Behind the lady, stood the shadow skinned man, leaning confidently against the wall. With as wry grin on his face, he turn to the woman, his voice full of mirth. “My dear Evelina, why do you torture this man so, is not the book what you truly wanted?”

Spiteful eyes stabbed forth from Evelina’s beautiful face, as this man dared to speak to her in such a disrespectful nature. She looked at the rogue, this Wailan, and her voice, icy cold like tendrals of deadly glacier, spoke. “Not that it is any of your concern, human. But, this man will forever be my trophy. He was a champion of my sister. And now, Selova will see her champion become my tool, and destroy all she holds dear. Other than that, I care not a lick about this vessel of flesh, or the ones he traveled with.”

Walian’s eyebrow raised slightly, his grin widening in amusement, realizing that his lack of respect was indeed disturbing the so-called goddess. “So petty you have become, having been banished into the Shadowfell for how long? No matter, I guess time is not important to one such as you. But please remember my dear goddess, that you came to me for help and not the other way around. And though, I did gain my freedom from the world of shadows in aiding you, I owe you no allegiance. Your spiteful words and arrogant tone do not frighten me in the least, and in fact, as you can see, only serve as entertainment. As does the way you belittle yourself in acting on an impulsive since of revenge.” his voice, mirthful and slightly condescending as he spoke.

Rage exploded across Evelina’s face, an ire from the smoky tentacles of hell fire dancing in her eye. “HOW DARE YOU SPEAK TO ME IN SUCH A TONE.” her voice shrill and echoing, rising to the pitch of a harpy. "I will utterly destroy you. I will cast you int. . . .

Laughter cut her off, Wailan’s expression never changing. "Stop your bantering and nonsensical foolishness. If you could destroy me, you would have done so along time ago. But you know you can’t. I may not have the power of a “goddess or god”, but you know my curse. Should you strike me down now, I would awaken tomorrow, fully healed. I cannot not die. You could, as you said, utterly destroy me to nothingness, and yet, tomorrow I would still be here, to mock you and laugh in your face. So pretend not to me, as you know I care not." Wailan’s grin finally straightened, a look of seriousness on his face, as he looked down on Magni’s body. "Go from this place and take your book. But, I will keep this priest. He is not yours and was never yours to begin with. And before you protest, remember who is my true “master”. But before you go, I will once again implore you. Put aside your petty grievances. Go, and find your sister and work with her. I know in your full headed way, you wish to turn the devastation that will soon visit this land into personal gain. You believe that with that book and your godly might, you can defeat this spreading darkness, and in doing so, will rule across the land as the highest of all deities. But, I warn you, it will not be enough, and if you choose to go at it alone, you will be wiped from existence."

A long silence lingered in the room, before the raven haired mistress, without warning, became a cloud of swarming crows, and flew out of the hovel, into the night sky. Wailan sighed, his expression suddenly crest fallen. He had tried, he knew, but he knew that that one would always be on her own chosen path of self destruction. After a moment of internal reflection, he stood from the wall, and strolled to a chair beside the stone table where Magni lay. Sitting, he stared not at the body, but past it, to the jar on the shelf.

“You know Magni, I am not a goodly person. In fact, I am probably irredeemable. But, for one moment in my life, millennia ago, I was, kind of a hero. I mean, even back then, I was a rotten scoundrel. I murdered and did unspeakable things. And for those crimes, I was captured, and sent to the darkest, most vile prison one could imagine. But, in route to that prison, I was intercepted by a group of adventurers. Off to fight a great evil that had fallen upon that prison. I planned to fall in to the group long enough to trick them, maybe slit their throats and escape in the night. But before I knew it, I had fought the wicked evil in the prison, and set off on other adventures. Always in my mind I would say, I will kill this lot and be away in the morning. But, always I would find myself waking the next morning, strapping on my gear, and onward to glory. Eventually, I no longer wanted to leave. And as more time went by, I started to care for what happened to them. And so, there I found myself, one dark day, trying to stop the catastrophe that would throw my world into chaos. I stood beside. . . .my friends. Faladren, the bravest and deadliest elven ranger. Hawk, a fighter with noble intent, but dark past. Zombie, my true friend, a man so tough he had been struck with so many weapons, that his gnarled form did resemble his namesake. And countless others. We fought, and many of us died. We failed. I was among the dead. But, so dark was the powers, that I was driven not to the afterlife, but to the Shadowfell, where I found that should I die again, I would be awaken again. I was trapped there for eternity. I found service, because of my unique abilities, as an assassin of sorts, but one under the employ for the grandest of beings. I would be summoned from the shadows to do a “service” and when my contract was up, banished back into the world of shadows. Evelina, came to me, and offered me my freedom. If I would help her do one simple task, and retrieve the book. So, I agreed, and since the task is complete, and I am still here, I believe that I have finally escaped the realm."

Wailan sighed, leaning back, before he continued. “Listen to me, I look young, but must be truly old to fall into such rambling. The reason I tell you this is, so you know. What is coming will be huge, and you must be strong of heart and character to survive. But you must also rely on your friends, because unlike Evelina, you and I both know that we are strongest when those around us raise us up and we do the same for them. Anyway, I wish I could help you now. Unfortunately, I do not have the godly powers to return your soul to your body. But, I do have a gift, something I took quietly and you will have to return to your tiefling friend. Goodluck.”

Wailan winked, setting down a leather travel pouch on Magni’s body, before turning and striding out the door. A little meow sounded, and a tiny kittens head poked from the pouch.

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Lessons

It is mid-morning and the sun is shining brightly through the long windows of the Grand Library. Ta’lin reserved one of the library’s many reading rooms in order to tutor the young king Jacob and his brother Tom. A large table sits in the middle of the room with 3 chairs and a chalkboard sits against the far wall. She has stocked the room with parchment and writing utensils and has a cart stocked with various books. The thick, crimson and gold curtains are pulled away from the windows so the room is flooded with natural light. Ta’lin’s hair has finally started to grow out over the course of the last few weeks. It is now about the length of a pixie cut and she only uses her wig if she is meeting with the Empress’s envoys or other formal occasions. She stands by the chalkboard with her eyes closed taking in the scents and muted sounds of a full and active library. It almost feels like she’s back home at the college in Il’Valiran studying with her fellow bards.

She is pulled from her reverie by the sound of the door opening. Jacob walks in and goes to take his seat. “Good morning Tali, I trust you’re well? What will we be doing today?” She smiles at the boy and grabs a couple books from the cart.

“Well Jacob, I thought we’d start with your favorite, history. Today though We’re going to look into the histories of your betrothed’s lands. I was surprised that there were actually a few books on the subject of the lands to the far west. This library is truly amazing.” At the mention of the God Empress, Jacob look turns from eager to slightly sullen. Ta’lin picks up on this immediately and comes to sit beside him. “What is on your mind my dear?”

Jacob avoids eye contact and fiddles with the seam of his coat. “Do you think I am making the right choice? What if these people do not abide by their contracts and try to take over the whole country again later? What if This is just part of their game?” He looks up at Ta’lin, genuine concern on his face. Ta’lin takes his hands in hers and gives them a reassuring squeeze. “I think you are choosing the best option to help you and your people and this country get back to their rightful positions. The God Empress has a very sizable army and they will help you reclaim your throne. The people that I have met with have all been cunning but also fair and willing to compromise. I believe that in the end, we all have the same base interests at heart which is to eliminate our common foes and set the world back to rights. The empress is a woman of her word and seems to have a very intelligent head on her shoulders. To say that they have no interest in our lands would be foolhardy, but kingdoms merge and split like the flows of the tides. It is just another space in our history for a merger. From what information we have gained, these people have the capacity for ruthlessness, but are also very amiable and willing to find peaceful conclusions to conflict. I think you are proving yourself quite capable of making wise decisions and I believe that this is a good choice.”

“But what if…what if me and this God Empress Chinwe don’t get along? I know we won’t actually live together until we’re older, but well…” Jacob pulls his hands out of Ta’lin’s grasp and flushes a little. “I don’t really know how to talk to girls, er-women.” Ta’lin watches Jacob as he fidgets with embarrassment. “You don’t know how to talk to women? But you’re talking to me right now.” She grins at the boy as he rolls his eyes at her teasing. “You know what I meant damnit!” Ta’lin fakes a stern look “Language young man!” She ruffles his hair and laughs as he swats her hand away. “Well, If you want to learn how to woo your young bride, I can assist you, but for now, we must focus on your regular studies.” With that, she opens up a large dusty tome for Jacob and goes over to the chalkboard to begin their lesson. After some time has passed, she looks at the clock on the wall and notes the hour. “Where on earth is your brother?”

As if he was summoned by her question, Tom strolls through the door and sits in a chair across from Jacob. He already looks annoyed to be there. Ta’lin crosses her arms and gives him an annoyed look. “Tom, you are 45 minutes late! I know for a fact that your morning sparring lessons ended over an hour ago. You really must take care to be more prompt. It is unprofessional to not honor your appointments.” Tom leans back in his chair and grumbles to himself. “I should still be sparring with Tyna, I have no need for all this gods awful reading. I’m supposed to be my brother’s protector am I not? I can’t very well protect him with my mind. I’m not a magician.” Ta’lin give him an exasperated look then plops a heavy book down in front of the boy. “Tom, you can’t win all contests with strength and speed alone. In order to fulfill your role, you must be swift of foot and of wit. All the greatest tactical military minds of our age were extremely studious, intelligent and cunning people. You must be tutored so you will grow to become a well rounded adult. Always remember that a well read man is a well respected man, no matter his station. Besides, I will not have a giant bumbling fool for our king’s champion. If my lecturing isn’t enough to convince you that you need to come to your lessons on time, I will insist that Ardutyna personally escorts you here every day.”

Tom just rolls his eyes and lazily opens the book. “Fine, fine. You win Tali.” He raises his voice in a poor mockery of Ta’lin “I will try to me more prompt. We must not be improper and untimely and unintelligent.” Jacob can’t help but chuckle at his brother’s imitation. Ta’lin walks over and lightly smacks the side of Tom’s head, but her smile betrays her facade of annoyance. “If you are quite done sir, let us move on.” She turns back to the board and begins a rather tedious grammar lesson. In all her days, Ta’lin had never thought she would have to take on the role of a teacher in any capacity, let alone to two of the most important people to her nation. She sat and watched the boys work on their lesson in silence, heads bent studiously over their parchments and wondered what the outcome of these events will be for them. They were so young and have already gone through so much. She hoped that whatever came to be, she would be able to be there for them and aid them on their journeys.

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Diplomatic Relations

Empress.png

The God-Empress, sat in her high-backed chair, slightly shifting from time to time, the hard seat uncomfortable. The room she was in was drab, some grand hall of some kind, but devoid of the fine silks and tapestries she was akin to. Long wooden benches spread out before her, and she imagined them being full of people, laughing and enjoying a grand feast or banquet, a simple time of enjoyment.

She hated where she was at. Not the people or even the city, but the position she held over everyone’s lives. She knew the whispers in the street of the young Empress, the one who was trying to conquer their nation with violence and blood. She just wish she had had a choice. It was the Sight, her gift from Odyre, when she had been chosen as Odyre’s vessel. The Sight had shown her of the destructive forces working against her and the world and she had tried to reach out, to try and come together with these strange people to work together to prevent the releasing of such a terrible omen. But her representatives had been slaughtered, their bodies returned to her lands in barrels on a returning ship, a note attached that her help was not needed, implied to be delivered from the king of this land himself.

So she had chosen a course of war, to invade this country in hopes of saving their lives. She had acted rashly, not knowing the full betrayal that lay before her. Now, the information was coming to light, the king had never received her diplomats, and they were murdered to force this very invasion. She had played right into the hands of this shadowy enemy. An enemy, according to the papers received from that odd adventuring band, that was far more complex and reaching that she could never imagine. The papers showed a conspiracy that even involved people in her Dynasty, before this invasion ever took place. It was far reaching and impossible.

The center door creaked slightly as the her closest adviser Ophelia entered the room and started walking down the narrow corridor between the long benches. She approached the makeshift throne and feel to her knees, bending low till her head touched the stone floor. The God-Empress smiled with a touch of annoyance before her lilting voice came forth. “I have told you constantly, when we are alone, you do not have to bow in my presence, now rise.”

Ophelia quickly came to her feet, moving quickly to pull a small seat close to her liege, before seating. With a friendly smile, she looked at the young leader, before saying “It is the one thing I can do to disobey you, but still show the respect that I have.” She said with a wink.

The twelve year old Empress rolled her eyes, a sly grin crossing her face. “True, I guess, but it irks me that we spend so much time together but. . .never mind, what have you got for me today.”

Ophelia, not quite hiding her caring look for the child, starts going into the paper work, before pulling one up. “We should talk about the proposed peace treaty, I guess. I will be drafting a proposal to send to his regent in the morning, bright young woman. But, our agreement will state that, through a mutual bonding of matrimony to their young king, we shall release all nobles, retainers, and military prisoners into his jurisdiction. As well, we will ally with him for the purpose of seizing the capital city of Il’valiran, from the rebel Cabal that has seized it. For this purpose, we will utilize our current military resources deployed in this region, as well as the reserves that are still on our blockade ships in the harbor.” Ophelia takes a quick breath, before proceeding “In return, the Esperian Kingdom agrees to allow the undeterred and unmolested spread of your Immanence’s divine grace. also, in these terms, we will have an unhindered right to free trade with this nation, with the allowance of creating outposts for soldiers and clerics, to protect the rights of trade and the delivery of the holy word of Odyre. And for the fun stuff”

Ophelia takes a pause, and then continues “At the appropriate age, it shall be arranged to the consummate the marriage between their king and you. All attempt at the creation of an offspring shall be made. The child, from this union, will be thus, combined by both royal, holy, and lawful blood, be in rights to be complete heir to the Esperian Kingdom, and in the order of choosing for Odyre’s blessing.”

The God-Empress took in this information for a long time. Her face displaying an array of emotions. Eventually she turned to her adviser. “Is this. . . Jacob nice?” was the only thing she could ask.

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The Revelation!

Odistly sat quietly across the ancient desk from his sister, feeling like a boy again, about to be lectured or worse. His sister was an intimidating woman, her lithe form trained to the edge of perfection, a panther ready to strike. In many ways, she was a drow out of time, recalling back to the ancient matriarchal society his people had once followed, her regal stance seeming superior than those around her. This was offset by her actions, as the bookworm of the family, Odistlo had always relied on his intellect to solve many problems but his brother had always picked on him ruthlessly, his sister often coming to his aid.

Now he felt small again, about to be talked down to, telling him to stop getting him into situations he could not handle, her warning that she would not always be around to pull him out of trouble. She sat for a long time, shuffling through papers on the desk, seeming agitated, and maybe concerned about something. It seemed odd to him, he had never seen her so frazzled, and he noticed that she would occasionally steal glimpses of him through her paperwork. After a bit, she finally stopped the constant shuffling and drawing forth a piece of paper and putting it in front of him.

“I need you to sign this, Oddie?” She said, her voice nervous, a slight edge to it.

Odistlo, not looking at the paperwork, cracked a nervous smile, his suave nature still holding despite his consternation. “What now, are you making me sign my own arrest warrant.” his voice smooth.

She looked at him sharply, looking about to get angry before she caught herself, something guilty crossing her face. “No, this is an order taking full responsibility for Ardutyna, after she is released of the Geas that binds her. Because of the Dusk Blades, unique skill set and training, The Empress has decreed that while they are being given their freedom, such an introduction into normal society might be shocking and dangerous for them and the rest of society, so they are now being required to serve 6 years in the Grand Dynasty Regiment, to serve but also be reestablished into society. As your representative, I have convinced her grace, to forgo this in Tyna’s case and have her directly placed in service to you, under you watch and protection, until time that you deem that she can be entered into society.” Ophelia, lifts an eyebrow, looking directly at him. “I pulled a lot of strings to get this drafted.”

Odistlo, slowly looked down at the paperwork, a look of confusion crossing his face. “I. . . I appreciate this, I do, but, I do not really feel qualified to reel in someone like her. She is very strong willed and doesn’t really like authority.”

Ophelia takes a deep breath, and mumbles to herself. When she looks at him, her face is rough and cracking. “Oddy, I don’t know how to tell you this, but we reviewed Tyna’s records, and her mother was already with child when Ranarran took her. Tyna is your daughter.”

The sly smile slipped from Odistlo’s mouth, shock replacing the cocky look. He stare at his sister in disbelief, feelings of loss of his old love, and deepening feelings of his brother’s betrayal fully forming in his mind. His voice cracked. “Not only did Ranarran destroy my life and take from me the only person I ever truly love. Not only did my inability to stand up to him and his twisted vile cult prevent me from living a life of happiness. But, he had to take away something from both Julia and me, and enslave it, and parade it in front of my face for years, knowing that he held that over me. I. I. . . I” his hands came to his face, tears leaking between them.

When his hands finally came free, rage was a fire across his features, a burning hatred, Ophelia had never seen this before on the studious and cocky Odistlo. “I was going to kill him. But, know, I will destroy him. I will turn his world and plans to dust in front of his eyes, and when he looks upon his ruined life, only then will I plunge my dagger into his heart.”

Ophelia came around the table, wrapping her arms around her youngest brother. “We will do this together. He has wronged you immeasurable, and he is a traitor to all we stand for, and together, he will answer for his crimes.”

Coming free from his siblings embrace, he bent low and signed the paperwork and straightened, and without so much as another word, walked from the room.

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Of Candles and Doorways, Part II
each chasing a dream, none to be had, and yet...

Hours passed. candles burned low, and were replaced; flagons were emptied, and refilled. By and by, the strangers exchanged their tales across the table which beheld a great map. As the recounted their journey, the older gnome marked their trails and travails with tokens, and took a fearsome many notes of the account given.

“And so, tis as wae feared.” Paulan’s expression was grave, a solemnity settling over his candle-lit features. “The King and capital, fallen. And not from without. Our voyagers and traders had heard tales, movements in the dark from every corner of the lands, but they didne seem tae have any cohesion. Petty chaos; cultists here, orc raiders there. Not until we’d gotten word about that, err, monster—”

“No mere monster, yeh must understand,” Ozukar intoned. “I know the clan doesn’t care too much fer the study o’ magicks, or relevant somesuch, but if the research we’ve gathered to this point stands tae reason… this type o’ occurrence has happened only a few rare times in millennia past. The old folk woulda called em somethin’ different.” He turned his head, glancing sidelong at Magni. The beared priest lowered his head, a hand moving to brush the ever-smouldering mark on his arm.

“My ancestors would have called it a God,” he said quietly, with bitterness in his breath. His gaze shifted, passing from one corner of the map to the other. His eyes traced a silent route, the long, cold road he’d taken over wilderness and civilization: far from this eastern coastal villa, to the vast northern steppes of his ancient home. “This world is changing, changing as the seasons do. Changing, as it has always done when a new deity is birthed upon it. But this being, this… abomination. It will not bring winter to the world,” his words were soft as a prayer, and his eyes beheld the depth of grief that only comes when a man’s faith is broken. “It will bring oblivion.”

Paulan seemed incredulous. “What can you mean? This thing, aye its bad news, but so are dragons, and other such plights. An army could kill it, and armies are in no short supply these days…”

The bard interjected, thumbing the grip of her lute. “I’m not so sure. I didn’t see the beast, but I saw its effects, felt its influence. That Desden we met, he was a halfling consumed by the creature; its like his noble soul had been poisoned. He was not the hero i’d heard songs about.” She fidgeted slightly in her seat. Remembering the swamp, and her brief demise on its outskirts, was uncomfortable for her. “A-and, we all saw. That whole fort, swallowed into the earth. the grass and everything that vile pendant touched, it sickened and died. And Jerrick,” she said, putting a slender hand on his shoulder," he only touched it, and he—

“Thats Enough. I’m FINE.” He recoiled a bit from her touch, but then gently placed a mailed fist over her hand. “Anyway, we’re here now. Get the damn book already,” he growled, staring daggers at Oz.

“I told yeh already,” Oz gritted back, rising to his feet in a huff. “the DAMN book izzn’ here; accordin’ tae Magni’s vision, yoo-know-hoo has it already. We’re a day late and a silverpence short.” Turning, he shrugged at his uncle. “The whole bloody time, we’d meant to see yoo about a book, yeh see…”

Paulan had a fierce look about his face. "No doubt. I imagine, the same ponderous volume that imperial representative confiscated a day or so ago. “his emerald eyes glared vibrantly at Odistlo. Hmph, same book this chap tried to acquire twice before that.” The elder gnome had been leaning over the map before, but now he stalked over toward the dark-skinned elf, arms folded with as much gruffness as he could muster. “Come to think o’ it, the arsehole looked a great deal like this one. Kin o’ yourn, I presume?”

Odistlo simply smiled, a grin that seemed much like a cat toying with a feather. “Yes, my brother, unfortunately. We’re on our way to kill him, if you don’t mind. See that you don’t get in my way. I’d much rather we maintain such… cordial… relations,” he finished, dryly.

Paulan looked the odd group over, from his nephew, to the dark elf, and back again. “Well,” he started simply, “whatever your business, keep us out of it, if ya can. we’ve been getting by well enough, but only because we’ve managed to maintain our neutrality. I’ll not have you muckin’ it up with any ill-planned heroics.” He moved back to the far side of the table, and resumed his strained study of its current affairs. “At any rate, for the nonce ye’ve got the run o’ the place. just try not tae cause too much trouble, eh Oz? Oh, and on second thought, Stay Out o’ the bloody LIBRARY.” His punctuated words stabbed the air, and his eyes didn’t bother to look up, brooking no contest.

Ozzie’s teeth flared a bit at the restriction, but after a breath, he regained his composure. A thought struck him, and he let the question fly. “Then, I am no longer exiled? Aside from the library, o course—”

“DON’T BE DAFT, boyo!” his uncle roared back. “A’course, yeh’r still exiled, BOOKBURNER.” He shook his head, as if to clear the booze from his ears. “But thar’s no sense in worryin’ about that, now. After all, none o’ the elders are around to enforce it.” His shoulders drooped, and waves of pent up frustration seemed to roll off of his brow. “As a means to ensure our cooperation, the entire triumvirate was… eh.. shall we say, indefinitely invited, to stay at the manse their Empress is usin’ as a makeshift palace. Desden’s Strand.” He folded his arms behind him, awaiting Oz’s reaction.

“…invited?” The mage asked quietly.

“Oh, aye. They aren’t treated like prisoners; probably kept like royalty, really.” His eyebrows twitched slightly, betraying deeper significance. “But they haven’t been allowed to leave, and we’ve had virtually no contact with ‘em atoll. On top o’ that, they’ve blockaded the docks, so our ships haven’t been able to sail, either. We’re allies of convenience, fer now, but really they’ve got us by the roots o’ our beards, lad.” He turned askew, facing the closet from whence all the new arrivals had come.

“Them imperials, they humble themselves momentarily when they need a peek into our library, or to purloin some of our luxury cargo in courtesy fees; and every once in awhile, hooded chaps would come through that mirror, requestin’ specific materials from hard to reach places.” He rubbed his chin, contemplation deeply etched in the lines on his cheeks. “That empress o’ theirs, she dinnae seem so bad, actually. Every inch the worthy ruler you might expect. But her dynasy, well, every dealing they have with us has been like a sharp dagger, disguised under an embroidered napkin. They want us to know that we can’t refuse.”

An uncomfortable silence settled on the room. It persisted a few long moments, until Odistlo broke the quiet. “Well, all this gloom has made me quite bored, I’m afraid. And the hour has likely grown quite late, not that there are windows in this sky-forsaken hole.” He smiled, toothy and insincere. “I hate to be another dark-skinned demander of unnecessities, but I desire a soft place to sleep and many, many pillows upon which to rest.” He eyed the grizzled gnome, who rolled his eyes in response, and rang a bell a moment later.

Immediately, a strange pair of evesdroppers burst downward through the trapdoor above. Paulan glowered at them, unsurprised yet still clearly annoyed. “Really. Your posts are much further away from the door, I believe. just how much of that did you hear?”

“Too Much—” The short haired young guardswoman grumbled…

“Not Enough!” The bandanna’d sailor excitedly chimed. I told yoo, I knew it was him. Soon as I heard the first clatter, didn’ oiy tell yer it was him??"

“Yea, yea, sure; nao get outta my way,” she huffed, shoving him aside. They both rushed in, nearly bowling the minty-eyed mage from whence he stood.

Ozukar recovered surprisingly quickly, delight filling his voice to child-like levels of giddiness. “Stars Above! Todrick! Toddy old fellow, izzat yoo? And Edinith…” he ducked a well-timed punch from the half-plate wearing warrior, and wrapped his arm around her instead. “Awl, liddle Edi, yeh done got yerself so big an’ tough, haha!”

The trio roughhoused a moment before inadvertently bumbling into the hapless bard, who giggled and shoved all three of the little warmongers to the floor. “Watch where yer goin, twinkle fingers!” Talin laughed. “And who are these mystery assailants, anyways? C’mon Oz, Clearly some introductions are in order!” She stood over them, lute over her shoulder, and hands expectantly placed on her hips.

“These two ruffians, Ozzie wheezed, “were me best two mates growin’ up. The smiley one is Todrick Frayedknot, and the grumbly-wumbler over here, ooof!” he gasped, catching a sudden eldow to the ribs.

“Edinith Cobblestomp. Both of clan Delaque,” she intoned.

“Both at yer service!” Todrick beamed.

Enough of your foolishness, all of yeh," Paulan sighed. You two, show this lot to their chambers eh? And ‘ave some fresh candles brought down here, once ye’ve got that one," his pointed finger clearly indicating the exiled wizard, “safely locked away.”

………………………………….

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Loss

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53M6EVfZTNA

“Loss … Loss is something that you will unfortunately come to know well my dear one. Since you carry my blood in your veins you will outlive many of those who are special to you. It may be of natural causes from being a shorter-lived race or it may be sudden and, Ranayla forbid, violent depending on the company you keep. Just remember that whomever enters and leaves your life cannot ever be forgotten unless you allow it.”

Ta’lin sat in the cushioned window seat of her small but richly furnished room in Ozzie’s family home. She stared outside not seeing the sunshine or the rich colors of the trees just outside or hearing the muted commotion of city life. She sat motionless for uncounted hours, recalling the conversation she had with her father many years ago before she left to study at the bard’s college. She had always thought it was an oddly morbid send off speech for a young woman just starting her life on her own. Granted, her mother was very sick at the time but the physician had said she would recover within a fortnight or so. She was too young and too naive to truly take to heart what he was saying at the time. Ta’lin had never truly experienced true loss until recently. Sure, she was saddened when Gnawl was killed but they had only been acquaintances. Jerrick, in all his damned gruffness and ill-tempered manners was a dear friend…

She tried to recall the events of the past few days. She remembered seeing Tyna come in late at night with a tear streaked face and blood soaked clothes. She remembered the words, “Jerrick has been murdered… I avenged him by returning the favor to those responsible.” After that everything became muted. Ta’lin closed her eyes and pressed the heels of her hands onto her lids until spots began to form. Gods, she couldn’t even remember how she got to her room. She looked despondently at the gilded tray of cold tea and uneaten food. She had neither eaten or slept since she heard the awful news two..or was it three?… days ago. Everything was blending together now.

The tears she thought would…should be shed never came. It was as though even now she didn’t want to be weak, thinking he would somehow judge her for it. They may have fought almost constantly but there was a bond between them that she couldn’t describe. She hated that these last few weeks had been especially trying with him becoming more belligerent every day and she most likely helped fan the flames by shouting right back…Gods why?

Rousing slightly from her reverie, she noticed that night had fallen. Someone had come in and lit the fire as well as a few candles around her room. A fresh tray of food had been laid out…she wished they would stop wasting their food on her, she had no interest in it. She looked over at a chair by the hearth that served as a temporary stand for her lute. A present from Jerrick…It seems like ages ago that an “anonymous admirer” passed it on to Millie. She stared at it for a while, then stood up and walked over to the instrument. She picked it up with the gentle touch one would use to lift an infant. She ran her fingers along the dark wood, tracing the delicate and simple flourishing carved along the edges. She took it over to a small table and sat down. Grabbing the small knife she uses to sharpen her pencils, she flipped the lute over and began to carve. Hours passed and the candles shortened as she worked. Once her work was complete, she brushed the shavings away to examine what she had done. She was no artist to be sure, but in a way it worked with the subject matter. Etched into the back of her lute was a rough carving of Jerrick’s likeness as well as the large tree in Il’Valiran, her haven, where she brought him on the night that they truly became friends. Satisfied with her work, she laid the lute on the table so she could easily see the carving. She smiled and the tears began to fall.

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Huntress!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vc1PKfGjneo
huntress.jpg
Tyna could not go back without answers. A rage burned deep inside, searing her soul, clouding her vision with scarlet spots. She lay perched atop a rooftop, her cold eyes staring into the dark recesses of the alley, shadows playing on the walls, cast by dynasty investigators who were scanning the scene. She had climbed here nearly an hour ago, her lithe form dark against the night sky, a silent predator, eyes stalking for prey. She could hear the language of her people, the guardsmen and investigators muttering to themselves. It was not every day that they found four Dusk Blades dead in an attempt to assassinate their target.

Dusk Blades were not supposed to be caught. They were a knife in the dark and their targets were always dead, but no evidence was supposed to be left behind. For four to have attacked Jerrick and have been slaughter in the attempt, would cause no amount of scandal to her people. Of course, none of that mattered to her. Her friend lay in that alley, his bloodied lifeless form still propped against an alley wall, eyes staring into the void. And she intended with her entire soul to find out why.

It was in another spark of rage within her, that she noticed the cloaked man. He was standing on the cobbled street, across from the sanctioned off alley, his eyes glaring with intent. A soldier approached him, crossing the street curtly, his officer’s sword swaying on his hip. The two men exchanged words, the distance between her and them too far for her to hear, but she noticed a slight smile cross the cloaked man’s face. She would make that smile larger for him, she thought, reaching for her wicked dagger, but she stopped, taking a breath, before turning her attention back on the cloaked figure. He was moving now, up the street, his long stride purposeful; as he pushed pass the meandering onlookers. She stalked with a cats grace, rooftop to rooftop, the cloaked man always in her sight.

She followed the man through the city, passing from the fish smelling docks, into a more industrial area, late night workers passing the cloaked man and going about their nightly duties. It was here where the man entered into a large 2 story building, a storage building of some kind, she thought. Luckily for her, there was wide set windows in the slanted roof, and she was able to deftly enter and balance easily og the wooden beams of the ceiling. The building was a large open space, varias sizes of boxes and supplies lining the floor and against the walls. In the middle of the space, was an open space, where a table had been place, three large men already seated, watching the cloaked figure approach. She hung silently in the shadows, her will determined, her body slightly quivering with rage.

The cloaked figure took a seat at the table, turning to the other men, he began to speak, his voice carrying easily through the open space. “Stone Lord Bravas, it is verified that the man killed is Jerrick Northedge. The Tsar should be pleased.” He said, pausing for a moment, before pushing on. “Although our gracious host may be upset when he finds out the cost of this endeavor. The man killed all four of the assassins before falling. Let it not be said that he did not have the strength of our homeland.”

Across from the cloaked figure, a large yet elderly man shifted, his stark grey hair tied and knotted in the back, falling across his broad shoulders. “That leaves the only threat to the north being the missing princess, Sapphire. The Tsar is currently using our Legion contacts to track her down. With her out of the picture, there cannot be any doubts of our Tsar’s legitimacy, and with Il’Valiran firmly in our hands, we will rule from Stuldar’s Hold to the south.” His head turning to man with bright red hair, slight horns emerging from close cropped black hair. “Frintil, How goes the negotiations with Osmandias?”

Frintil, the slight tiefling, shuffling through various papers on the table, finds one of interest, passing it to Bravas. “The deal is struck, and with the gold provided by Ranarran, we will have secured the mercenaries needed to drive this God-Empress and her people from these lands.”

Bravas looked pleased, giving a curt nod to the tiefling, before shifting around to the even larger forth man, who sat uncomfortably in a chair too small for him, various furs wrapped around him, his bushy beard falling in a braid past his chest. “Sven, is the Gruntyl secure?”
The large barbarian, azure eyes staring icily at the stone lord. “We are not so easy to corral. Our tribes are scattered, but we have men in place, and we are using the false threat of an Orc pushback to seek allies, so within weeks, the warlords and chieftains will be clamoring for your aid.”

Bravas, was pleased, and quickly brought the meeting to an end. The men stood, joking and exchanging drinks around the table.

They never expected the small form to land on the table before them. In mere seconds, Sven lay face down on the table, his neck split wide open, blood pooling and spilling in rivulets onto the floor. Frintil, a stunned look on his face, sat in his chair, a crossbow bolt, buried in his right eye. The cloaked man had tried to run, and now his body was swinging from a ceiling beam, Tyna’s whip wrapped around his throat. Bravas, shocked and in pain, lay crawling on the ground, his dark blood smearing behind him from the slice tendons behind his heels.

Tyna was sitting on the table, watching with cold calm, as the stone lord tried in vain to crawl away from her. Looking lazily over the table and the documents on them, she made a mental note to collect all of it, so someone like Oz could interpret their meanings. She was not good at such things, but she was good at others, and now was the time for that. She reached for her nasty serrated dagger and deftly hopped of the table walking towards the crawling man. As she reached the struggling form, she thrust the dagger into the bunch of nerves between his shoulder blade and upper back. The man screamed in pain, his breath ragged, jerking convulsively.
“I.. ..I… I’ll tell you anything you want?” He screamed.

Tyna looked at him, her dark purplish eyes staring into him. “I don’t want you to talk.” She said, her voice like a crypt. “I just want you to scream,” and her hand twisted the knife.

“Be prepared, it is going to be a long night!” She said with a smile, as revenge flooded into her, and the warehouse filled with screams.

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Of Candles and Doorways, Part I
reunion and confusion

Ozukar, the Apprentice

All was dark. Raw energy traced the outline of his body, heat and cold shuddering off of him in waves. His stomach lurched with the sudden velocity of standing still. Ozukar had never traveled via portal before; such magic had only been used by colleagues well above his skill level. Teleporting a few short feet was one thing, but this… many miles had rapidly coursed through his astral self, and when he’d finally reached the other side, reality smashed into him like a wall of sand.

He was standing on his own two feet, at least; he could surely feel the floor, although his other senses scarcely perceived it. Gradually, colors and shapes formed enough truth for his eyes to follow… he was standing on familiar stones, in a dimly lit room which appeared to be… ah. A closet. Loosely stacked crates of various materials were scattered about, and the far wall harbored an assortment of dusty scrolls heaped on a shelf. The only light available appeared to emanating from the mirror he himself had just stepped through. After a moment, the pins and needles sensation dulled away from his extremities, and he cautiously lifted a foot forward.

Nothing caught his fall, unfortunately; the mirror had been placed on a sort of low pedestal, and he tumbled forward in surprise. Clattering could be well heard throughout the basement; he’d rolled right into the nearest crate, which tipped into a stack of boxes, which teetered against the shelf, causing every scroll to tumble and roll onto the stone floor below. The last scroll, a particularly hefty volume, rolled right against the bottom of the door, which as luck would have it, had been left slightly ajar…

Light spilled in as the dust rolled out. The door, for its part, creaked surprisingly loudly, as if to incriminate the sudden intruder. “Desdan’s Teeth!,” a voice called from the lit room beyond. “Hoo the feck is knockin’ about round there? Yeh scared the shite outta me. Izzat yoo, Todrick?” Hurried steps began to make their way toward the closet. A heartbeat later, a balding head with sparce, violet colored hair peered around the edge of the doorway. Oz recognized the older gnome immediately, and chanced a weak, dust-caked grin. “Nah, not ole’ Todrick at all, I’m afraid,” Oz wheezed. “Just me. Oy reckon I’m alot more glad to see yoo, than yeh are ta see me.” He propped himself slightly against the crate he’d slammed into.

“..Ozzie? Little Oz? Why, stars above; ets been decades!” The wizened figure stooped to pull the young wizard to his feet. Ye’ve done a load o’ growin, I’ll grant yah that!" His glittering eyes halted a moment, remembrance dawning fast. “But, oh. Yer nae supposta be here.” After taking a moment to dust the lad off, he led him into the lit room, over to a table spread wide with a large map. “Siddown, and shush yerself. I’ll pour yeh some ale. Ye’ve got a heap o’ explainin’ tae do.”

Ozukar did as he was bid, pulling a stool adjacent to the table. The older gnome rounded a corner, but returned a brief second later with a jug of cool, frothy refreshment. “now then,” he said, as he placed the jug in front of the bedraggled mage, “tell yer old uncle Paulan… Wot The FECK are Yeh DOIN’ back here??”

The sudden outburst nearly knocked the small wizard right off of his stool; he gulped loudly, then passed the ale back to his uncle. “Erm, aha… well, tis quite a story, but I assure yeh it was absolutely necessary that I bring meself back. Speaking o’ things Oiy’ve brought… yeh might want to grab a few more jugs.” He glanced around nervously, wondering just how severe this breach of his exile was likely to get. Ah well, he thought. in fer a penny, in fer a gold piece. “Asides, yoo’ve got some explainin’ tae do yerself. Like about that mirror yeh got stashed away in there! He pointed a gloved finger accusingly at the older man. What sort of folk have yoo lot been kanoodlin’ with, anyway?”

Paulan didn’t budge an inch. “Yoo know it isn’t as simple as all that,” he stated flatly. And whats that got tae do with extra buckets o’ ale? Ye gone and become an ole alcheholic, izzat it? And now ye—" Both jerked their heads as his words were suddenly interrupted; another rattling bang emerged from the closet. several disoriented groans could be heard from the mouth of the door. Paulan’s mouth drooped, and he looked wryly at Oz. “Yeh didne say ye had company….”

“Well, yah. But ah didne say oy didn’t, either.” Oz said, chuckling in spite of himself. “As ah’ve said, tis quite a story… so. We’d better get tae tellin it, hmm?”

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