Recovering the Ruins part 4

Leaving the command center, the party next traveled to the locked rooms just east of the sickroom. It didn’t take Chayren long to devine that these three rooms had been used more recently than the fall of Karat. The locks that sealed these doors were crude but effective, the make of ogres. It was Nadal who realized the significance, “These rooms must have been used by the armies of the Ogre King when they invaded from the islands about a hundred years ago.”

Oblivious to Nadal’s insights, Chayren was already hard at work on the first of the three locks. “Must everything in this hole be trapped?” No sooner had the words left his mouth and his fingers began their intricate work on the trap when a grating click was heard and Chayren slumed to the floor unconcious.

Titus was the first to react. Stepping forward he imidiatly placed his healing powers over Chayren, reviving him. Several moments passed before Chayren’s head was once again clear enough to stare his avarsary in the keyhole once more. “It was a bloddy needle! I can see it tucked just within the keyhole.” Sounding discouraged Chayren shook his head. “I don’t think that I can even reach it to disarm it. The trap seems to trigger if I so much as bump the lock.”

“I think I have an idea” Titus moved forward to take Chayren’s place. Mass confusion overtook the face of nearly every member o the party. If the trap was beyond Chayren’s nimble fingers, and of Ogre make, and therefore too sturdy to bash off, what was Titus to do? “Everyone stay back.” With no more warning, Titus forcibly bashed his shield into the lock. The same audible, grating click was heard, but this time it was followed by an imidiate and sharp ‘ping’. “Take a look at it now would you Chayren?” Titus stepped back to let his companion have a closer look.

Chayren peered into the keyhole and chucled, “Well, that needle won’t be poking anyone else anytime soon now will it?” It took little effort to pick the lock and despite another grating click, no needle protuded again from the keyhole. His work done, Chayren stepped back fromt he the picked lock and looked down the wall to the other two locks, then to Titus, “After you sir.” Chayren motioned with a grin.

Titus and Chayren made quick work of the remaining traps and lock and soon all three doors stood open. Glimmering from within the darkness were the tell-tale signs of a rich orc horde. As a quick visual inventory calculated several hundred peices of gold worth of treasure for each room, Titus spoke up. "This bounty, though unepected, has already been claimed by the Wizards. We can leave them to sort and collect the contents of each room.

((To be continued…))

Recovering the Ruins part 3

The drying puddle on the floor and the strange ending to the northwestern hallway were becoming all too familiar to the party as they once again pondered the best path forward. Moving in for a closer look, Chayren made a small discovery, “There is a very small latch here, but it’s trapped.” Taking out his tools, Chayren began to explore the trap more closely and what he found seemed to both excite and sober him all at once. “It’s some sort of dust-cloud trap.”

“Those are never good news, you think you can get it?” As she spoke, Nadal slowly started motioning for everyone else to back away from the door, herself included.

“Well, I can see what I need to do, but this trap is very old.” Chayren looked behind him to be sure that his companions were out of harms way before he began attempting to disarm the lock. A quiet click responded to his touch and a cloud of bluish dust burst forth from the lock, right into Chayren’s face. As his world began to while, an audible thunk from within the latch signaled the resetting of the trap. Chayren could not hear this signal however, his vision had blurred and his body seemed to be acting completely on its own. As his mind screamed for control of his muscles, Chayren spun about and drew his sword. Before him stood Nadal who had been moving the rest of the group back. Without the ability to resist the damned dust and its effects, Chayren’s body charged her full out.

Titus was the first to react to the sudden change in their friend. Without fear of serious injury, knowing his companion’s skills to lay primarily outside of the realm of combat, Titus quickly moved himself in-front of Nadal and the rest of the party. Chayren continued his charge, uncaring about his new opponent. Even as he struggled to reclaim his boddy, Chayren stabbed swiftly at Titus. With practiced ease, Titus deflected the first attack, and then the following one. To any onlooker it would have seemed like a strange dance. The dire truth of the matter was that the true battle was not in the dance, but inside the mind of Chayren. He writhed against the corruption that tainted his thoughts and tangled his will. It took many agonizing moment before he could finally wrest control of his own body.

As the strange assault came to a sudden, abrupt end an exhausted Chayren looked up at hsi comrades in bewilderment. He was comforted by Titus’s strong hand on his shoulder, “Lets not do that again, shall we?” Chayren nodded emphatically. “But just in-case, I think I’ll stay standing in front.” With a weak chuckle, Chayren started moving, once again, toward the lock that had thus far resisted him. His face drained entirely as soon as he noticed what he had not heard earlier; the trap had indeed reset.

It took two additional attempts, and another round of Chayren wildly flailing at Titus before the trap finally gave way to Chayren’s rarely so clumsy fingers. As the latch gave way and the door began to open, Chayren took the opportunity to retrieve several of the small dusk vials from the trap. The first one fell harmlessly to the floor and broke without creating a cloud, but he was able to secret away two others. Given their devastating effect, at least he would come away with something from this embarrassment.

As the large door swung slowly open, the muffled sounds of weeping could be heard coming from the back corner of what was clearly once a great storage vault. Piles of old crates and cracked pottery lay strewn about a room that had clearly been undisturbed for many years. Only a lone high-backed chair seemed out of place within the room. The chair was ancient in make with almost a perfect symmetry. Only a small section from the upper right-hand side seemed to have fallen off. It was from behind this chair that the profile of a young girl could barely be seen. As Nadal moved slowly ahead of the rest of the party, the girl quickly raised a gleaming scimitar outstretched before her. The blade seemed massively over-sized and clumsy in her hand, yet she held it out with a fierce determination. The resolve in her eyes was enough to give each member of the party a moment’s hesitation. Nadal broke the silence, “What is your name young one?”

The girl seemed to stiffen, “I wont tell you anything, not until I see my father!”

Realization dawned over the party as it became clear that such a reunion could never take place. Chayren was the next one to speak up. “We aren’t here to hurt you, it’s safe.”

Lowering the tip of the sword only slightly, the girl seemed to find some truth in the rogue’s words. “Who are you? What do you want?” The sword tip continued to lower.

Sensing an opportunity, Nadal slowly knelt down closer to the frightened girl. Specifically avoiding the topic of the girl’s belated father, it seemed easiest just to answer the girl’s questions directly. We have come looking for you, to make sure you were safe. We are with the Wizard’s Council." Her words seemed to have an even greater effect on the girl as she visibly relaxed. “Can we talk?”

“Where is my daddy?” Some small spark of understanding began to take root in the young girls eyes, sensing comfort within this stranger now kneeling beside her the girl reached out for anything to stop the dizzying realization that was beginning to grip her already frightened mind. Fighting to remain strong, the young girl’s front began to give way to sobs. “He…told me I couldn’t…tell anyone. Sob It was…our secret.”

Nadal, normally unaccustomed to such an uncontrolled display, withstood the urge to correct the child. Such behavior was never tolerated among Der’Xarian youth. Resolute in her task, Nadal saw the opportunity before her, “I’m sorry that your father has gone child, but he gave himself to protect you. You should honor him for that.” Nadal let her words settle for effect. “As for your secret, I will share your secret with you, if you will let me be your friend. It can be our secret.”

The last of the young girl’s defiance left her in a rush as the girl collapsed sobbing into Nadal’s arms. The scimitar feel to the floor just beside the two. Between sobs and labored breaths the young girl whispered her secret to into Nadal’s ear. A story of the Divination Master unfolded. From the first time that he glimpsed the great gleaming orb in his scrying pool, through to his realization that it held the promise of new life, and ending with his promise to give it to his daughter if she kept his secret. The story itself was hard to follow given the girls condition, but the picture that it painted was vivid and awesome in it’s implications; somewhere deep below these ruins, a great, glowing, gem-like orb rested on an island, surrounded by a sea of flame.

When the story had been told, and the girl had reclaimed some manner of control over her grief, she once again looked directly at Nadal, “My name is Telira.” Looking around, she saw Titus standing over the pair. Inspired by her new-found connection, she once again lifted the scimitar that she had let fall, and proudly exclaimed, “I’m going to be a great warrior.” The declaration had been clumsy but indicative of a girl who had lost everything, and was now looking for something new to hold onto.

Titus recognized the declarations for what they were. Looking around, he found a length of wood more appropriate for the girl’s size. “You should become a great wizard, like your father was. I think he would be proud of you.”

Telira considered the proffered staff a moment before she firmly handed the over-sized sword to Nadal who quietly hid it away. The girl then took up the child-sized staff from Titus and once again took on the pose of a grand adventurer. The other members of the party could only hide their mild amusement at the sight.

As Telira stood up beside Nadal, a small pile of gold was revealed from beneath her. Nadal quietly secreted this away as well before standing herself. In the brief time it had taken to rally the girl, the rest of the party had decided that leaving her with the other wizards was the best decision for the time being.

Little time passed as the adventurers and their new friend walked back to the expedition command center. As usual, the wizards were busy running about their own business and to took many moments for them to realize that the girl had been found. As soon as Telira was given over into their care, she was surrounded by several of the most powerful wizards who immediately started grilling her about what her father had shared with her. Under the onslaught, she told the wizards only that her father had given her some gold and left her in the room. She did not tell them anything about what she had told Nadal. One of the wizards turned to the party and declared that the money that the Divination Master had given to the girl was property of the Guild. Nadal reluctantly gave up the 200gp. Better then gold than the knowledge of what lay hidden beneath.

Recovering the Ruins part 2

Shroud awoke to the worst hangover he had ever had. The trouble was, he couldn’t remember drinking anything. As the torrid nightmares of the past few days slowly coalesced into one bad memory, giving way to blurry new surroundings, Shroud made a feeble attempt to sit up. In a split second of incredible pain the world began to spin violently and it was all he could do not the fall off of the cot as he lost what little nourishment he had left over the side into the chamberpot that waited there. Rolling slowly back onto his side, moving fully onto the cot, he heard padded footsteps moving quickly toward him. Unable to look around, Shroud also thought he heard a soft, muffled giggle from behind him.

Sara’s tomboyish features moved into his field of view. Despite her warm nature, she was scowling fiercely at Shroud. “Please don’t try that again.” Her tone was pleading, her expression, however, made it clear that he didn’t have a choice in the matter. A young paladin stepped up to remove and replace the chamber-pot as something hard and scaly nudged at Shroud’s back. Ozyk’s mind seemed frantic with worry. Each image that he sent was more ghastly than the last. In those images, an emaciated, gaunt, ghostly pale figure lay writhing on a cot in a deep dark hole. The images seemed far to reminiscent of the recent nightmares for Shrouds taste. It wasn’t until after he had successfully blocked the images out that he realized the truth of them. The ghostly figure had not been some creature sent to taunt him through the night, his nightmares had been Ozyk’s very worried view of his sick rider. Was this really how bad he looked? Summoning up the courage and strength to move his harm, Shroud weakly reached out his arm to sooth the worried nuzzle that was trying to bury itself in his back. “I had nearly forgotten how difficult a young bonded dragon could be.” Sara’s words were aimed at Shroud but it was Efni, standing quietly behind her kneeling rider, who’s face turned a brilliant crimson. Ozyk flashed indignant emotions toward Shroud in defiance of the chastisement. Once again, Shroud could hear a soft, muted giggle from behind him.

“I’d like to know what is so funny about all this.” Shrouds words lacked any real strength and even he thought that they sounded rather pitiful as he spoke them, not that he was ready to admit it. Sara’s eyes traveled up and over Shroud’s shoulder to what he could only assume was the cot behind him. Just as Shroud was attempting to get a hand underneath himself for leverage, Efni sensed what he was about to do and Sara’s eyes flashed back onto Shroud. The look she gave him left no room for argument though there was a slight air of ‘I dare you’ to her stare. Shroud quickly gave up his plans to roll over. Unable to physically see the source of the mocking giggle, Shroud decided to try another inspired idea. Reaching out in his mind he asked Ozyk who was behind him.

Ozyk seemed puzzled by the request and immediately tried to look behind himself. His response seemed to indicate that ‘no one was behind Ozyk’. This time it was Efni’s turn to giggle. “Try asking him ‘who is behind Shroud’”. The idea of referring to himself in the third person seemed a bit strange, but when talking about dragons, who was he to argue with one? “Who is behind Shroud, Ozyk?” This time, Ozyk seemed to jump to life as he swiveled his young head to stare directly at the halfling paladin that lay propped on her elbow in the cot beside him. The image that Ozyk sent back to shroud was unclear, but seemed to show a young adult halfling in a light shirt with blurry features. It wasn’t the image that seemed strange to Shroud, nor the fact that it was blurry, but rather the emotions that seemed to come with it. This was perhaps the most difficult aspect of the bond to adjust to. While humanoids saw clear pictures of the world around them, Dragons seemed to see the emotions that surrounded a person. The humanoid brain, being unequipped to interpret these visual emotions scrambled to understand them. The task alone nearly made him dizzy again but his curiosity prevailed. The interpretation his brain finally gave him was of an honorable, short, female humanoid with a swirl of curiosity and bravery, mixed with a warm caring, bathed in a teal glow that seemed to emanate from a tabard that was draped across her bed. When he pressed Ozyk about the ‘glowing’ tabard, rather than giving any indication of what symbol was on it, instead Ozyk misunderstood the question and iterated the image of the tabard itself, expressing that there was great pride in the tabard. Behind the images, Shroud could tell that Ozyk had gained a sort of kind affection for this mocking young woman.

“Ah, yes, Serend has been of particular help today.” Sara was speaking as she was once again standing up. “She has become friends with Ozyk and kept him company while you slept. For that alone you owe her.” Sara seemed to imply that Ozyk had needed company, as though it had been him going through the ordeal of the last several days. Shroud thought a moment about shifting in his cot again. Efni shot another look at Sara. “Don’t you dare even think of it or I will tie you to this cot young rider!” There was no room for argument and the use of the title brought with it all the implications the Shroud would be treated as a schoolboy at lessons should he disobey. He could only nod agreement. Sara was standing and looked as though she was working with some sort of herb. “The poison that you took from one of those bolt seems to have run its course and you should be come hungry again soon. I don’t want you getting any ideas about trying to fake recovery just so you can eat. This will help with the nausea and you are to make NO sudden movements, is that understood?” She reached out a hand holding a small bowl of liquid for him to drink. He once again nodded his grudging acceptance before swallowing the vile tasting tonic. Committed to his word, Shroud settled back to his cot as he prepared to ever so slowly rotate so that he could see Ozyk and his giggly new friend. It took some time to finally make it onto his back, but just as he was about to continue the roll onto his other side, familiar voices could be heard entering the room from the door that he had just been facing. He didn’t dare try to rotate just his head, and so he was forced to only listen to the conversation between his companions and the young male paladin who had collected his wastepot.

Arietta was the first of the party to follow Chayren into the sickroom. Having passed through the now-empty healer’s room, they had managed to find an waylay a very busy Eston who seemed to still be carrying a freshly cleaned wastepot. While Eston did not seem too keen about his current task, his continued glances over at Sara gave indication as to his motivation towards such menial work. His discomfort seemed to increase as the young dragons came into view in the next room. He clearly hadn’t quite gotten used to childhood fire-stories walking about him. Taking the opportunity to distract him, Arietta spoke up, “Eston, we have a few questions for you.”

Unsure whether he should continue in his task for Sara, or assist her allies, Eston seemed to stop in his tracks, unable to make a decision. Titus continued on the oppertunity presented b Arietta, “What, if anything, do you know about some Paladin boot tracks that we found in the north-western hallway, near the Divination Master’s room?”

The question seemed to puzzle Eston for a moment as he tried to remember. Something seemed to stick as his face visibly brightened. When he again spoke, he seemed eager to be of some use other than running errands. “I had been chasing one of the Gnome Schoktroopers who had split off from the first group to penetrate the barricade at the entrance. He rounded the corner before me. I heard a defiant cry, the sound of what I assumed to be a stabbing, and then I myself came around the corner. I had just enough time to react as the Gnome came running back at me, a crazy look on his face.” Eston seemed to pale a little as his honest nature got the better of him. “In truth, the Gnome ran into my sword more by chance than by any skill of my own.”

“Did you or the gnome go anywhere near the body at the end of the hall?” Nadal continued the questioning.

Eston was shaking his head, “No, I saw the wizard dieing, but his wounds seemed too sever for my skills and I decided to rejoin the battle that was closing in behind me.” Admission of he failure to aid the Wizard seemed to crush Eston’s momentary confidence.

Efni, having momentarily joined the group spoke quietly, looking to Eston, “You were not wrong to return to the fight. The faster you could end the fight, the sooner that Wizard could have received the deeper healing that he would have needed.” She looked next toward the party. “Sara confirmed that the Divination Master’s wounds were of an incredibly serious nature, and had been inflicted on himself. He had even gone to great lengths to set up arcane wards over his wounds so that we could not possibly heal them in time.” She shook her head. “What ever secret he had, he was adamant that it never make it into the hands of anyone else. Whatever he was guarding, was more important to him than his own life.”

At her last statement a thought occurred to Arietta, Nadal, and Chayren almost at the same time; the wizard had not been guarding his room, but the very end of the hallway. Perhaps there was more to be found there than originally thought.

As the party began to leave, Serend looked on from her cot. The spirit of adventure seemed to give her strength and she was becoming impatient with her current invalid state. Perhaps she could catch up to this party and be of some use while her companions and commander recovered from their dire injuries.

Recovering the Ruins part 1

Chayren was the first of the party to wake. The dry, musty air was still think with dust that had been stirred from its ancient resting place. Even the otherwise barren wall that greeted his first glance bore the bloody sign of what had happened the night before. He must have been asleep for at least several hours, but it had felt as though only moments.

As the rest of the group began to stir, Sara and Takeo entered the long narrow room. For so early a time, they were already dressed and walked with an air of haste. Sara was the first to speak, “I hope that you are well rested, I fear that there is no more time for sleeping.” As she spoke, she made her way toward Shroud, who was moaning gently and despite the noise, very much acting as his name implied; large, imposing, and lifeless.

“We must get back to The Cove, there are heavy matters to attend to there, and supplies are needed for The Scorpion.” Takeo’s mood over the losses suffered were thinly veiled at best. “The Wizards have agreed to help us conceal her for now, but that is not a long term solution.”

Sara began tending to Shroud’s bandages, found them to be antiquate, and moved on to check Titus’s. “I’m afraid that we must leave you with the task of assisting the wizards without us…” (further noises from Shroud) “… and without him either. His wounds are not yet healed enough.” She nodded approval of Titus’s nearly healed wounds and smiled towards Shroud. “I’m impressed he was still standing.”

Titus helped Sara re-asses his dressings then was the first to speak. “What is it that we are supposed to do for the wizards? What do they need?”

“Laborers, in truth, but I suppose we can give them help in only the ways we have to offer.” Takeo adjusted his armor and motioned to Ezri that they were following. “Give them aid, help them in what they seek, but be careful not to trust any of them too far.” That Takeo was including the Tianic patrol in his ‘them’ was strongly implied. With only those words, he was out the door, followed shortly by Sara, Efni in tow.

Areitta looked around and assessed the group before speaking, “Where shall we start?”

It was a few moments before Nadal turned from Vizzy and joined the conversation, “I suppose we should start with the Wizards themselves.”

“Well, they aren’t here right now, are they.” Chayren was already gathering his things. “Shall we go find them?”

A general acceptance and agreement spread through those conscious enough to reply. The exception, Shroud, merely grumbled something and rolled over in his cot. Ozyk favored the rest of the party with a stare full of daggers , making it clear that the disturbance of his rider was not appreciated.

As they left the room, Uvetiseviks gave Charyen a mental image of offhandedly flipping Shroud’s cot. It took all of Chayren’s will just to make it out of earshot of the room before giving in to the humor of his bondmate.

Walking down the hallway towards the Expedition command center, or what was left of it, Chayren and Nadal were fortunate enough to see a wizard, his arms laden with crudely fashioned bandages, moving swiftly around the corner. With a hand each, they were just able to snag the wizard before he would push past them entirely. Chayren, in haste, was the first to inquire, “What is going on?”

The wizard, looking quite confused, gave short retort. “You are in my way, that is what is going on.”

Before anyone else could ask any other questions, the wizard slipped from their grasp and hurried off down the hall. With nothing else to go on, the party continued into the command center.

Two of the more senior wizards were deep into a discussion standing in the center of the room. A kind of hurried buzz surrounded them as they calmly discussed the current disposition of supplies and healing needs. The cloud that hung about the room was almost smothering. “We clearly have enough bandages now, we should turn our attention to discovering what supplies we still have.” The speaking wizard notice the group enter but continued’ “Surely we must try to recover what was lost.” The vagueness of the second statement indicated a change in the conversation.

“Our supplies, and our situation has changed little since last night. Until she is found there is little we can do…” The second wizard’s words trailed off as he too noticed the newcomers.

Sensing an opening, Titus stepped forward. “How can we help?”

The more senior of the wizards, clearly the one in charge, regarded the group quizzically for a moment. “How are you at doing hard labor? I hope you are each as strong as ten men; you would have to be to make up for those we lost in the battle.” The wizard’s tone was mocking and judgmental with a strong undercurrent of sharp loss. He had not seen the other half of the party waiting patiently in the hall for their riders.

“That may be so, but we are here to help anyway.” Titus diplomatically sidestepped the confrontation. “Where should we start?”

Convinced by the dark cleric’s patience, the wizard began to explain how two of the wizard’s order had been lost during the conflict. Of dire importance was the Divination Master who, it would seem, had taken his own life. This was most disturbing, but the loss alone was devastating to the expedition. The Divination Master had been the eyes of the dig and had, just the other day, explained that something very important lay deep beneath the ruins, something more than knowledge. “An item of such power should not fall into the wrong hands.” It was unclear as to whose hands were implied.

“What is the item?” Chayren joined the conversation.

“All the Divination Master would say was that it had the power of life. He told us no more than this.” It was clear from the wizard’s tone that mistrust was common among even the closest wizards. “But he may have told his daughter, though why he even brought a child on an expedition has always been beyond my grasp.”

“Where can we find this girl?” There was hope in Nadal’s voice.

The wizard let out a long, troubled sigh. “That I will leave to you, oh so capable individuals. I must know what she knows or all may be lost.” His care for the girl’s welfare, or lack there-of, was palpable.

Thinking of the unsteady nature of the building, Nadal had one final question for the wizard, “Have there been any recent collapses since the fighting?”

The wizard thought for a moment, having been unprepared for the question. “Yes, I do believe that the hallway near the northern collapse area has had some ‘remodeling’, but the two most northern rooms seem to remain closed to us. We estimate that they were once servant quarters much like the one that has become the sickroom, but there still may be valuable information inside.”

Half-hearted pleasantries were exchanged as the riders turned to leave. As they walked into the hall Arietta was the first to suggest a direction, “Perhaps we should locate the Divination Master’s quarters.” There was a round of general agreement. “I believe that his quarters were in the northwest hallway.”

Rejoined by their dragons, the party rounded to corner to find a short length of hall that was completely void of people. Given the bustle that had overtaken the rest of the area, the lack of activity in this hall was startling. Seeing the door they wanted, laying still ajar, the party went into the room.

An explosion of belongings greeted the riders as they stepped into the room. Most prominent, was the scrying pedestal in the corner. The requisite waters seemed to have been taken or spilled during the previous night, leaving the pedestal stark and of little use. Beyond the ransacked nature of the room, it was clear that even before someone had tossed the room, the previous occupants had left in an awful hurry. Personal possessions had been left behind including a small, purple felted dragon that had clearly belonged to a child. Upon closer inspection, Nadal discovered the only thing that had been purposefully taken; food and water. Little more could be uncovered from the room and the riders stepped back into the hall in search of answers.

Leaning against the door frame to collect his thoughts, Titus looked down towards the end of the hallway. Something on the floor gleamed dully in the torchlight. A large pool of blood was still drying at the end of an otherwise barely disturbed hallway. Only three sets of tracks could be seen in the dirt, and only one of those went anywhere near the puddle. Recalling conversation from the previous night, Arietta offered an explanation, “I recall hearing someone say that this is where the Divination Master had been found.”

Titus thought for a moment, “But did he really kill himself?”

“Someone must know.” Nadal pointed at the tracks leading up to the body. These tracks had been made from cloth boots and had stepped in the blood. Very likely these had been made by the wizard who had retrieved the body. “There are two other sets of tracks though.” The first set of tracks were small and had been made by a treaded boot, something almost unheard of in Elaythia. “Why would someone need a treaded boot?”

The question hung in the air for a few moments with no answer. Perhaps the other set of prints would offer more information. It was very clear that whoever had made the tracks had been wearing plate armor greaves, and that meant either the Battle Cleric, who could barely stand, or one of the Paladins. Neither of the last two sets of tracks had gone anywhere near the body, but they seemed to be the only leads that the party had to go on. “I suppose we should go find a paladin to ask.” Chayren turned as he spoke, moving the short distance to the open door of the Healer’s room.

A Strange Room

Consciousness came slowly to Serend. First were the sounds. Low moaning and dry coughing… She knew these sounds… Their piteous noises were a bittersweet symphony; she had survived the battle. The nightmares of the past several days lingered in her mind like the tendrils of some ancient shadow beast, taunting her will, but she had won. Next to return were her tactile senses as a searing pain shot through her entire left side, the pain was so abrupt that she nearly fell form the cot as her body began to quake. Strange hands that she could not see were quick to restrain her as she thrashed. The hands were warm and sure. A numbing coolness spread through her and the pain subsided. These were the hands of healer, there was no doubt. The voice that accompanied them seemed familiar, with a hint of an exotic undertone. “Calm yourself, the battle is over but your body does not know it.”

Serend found her voice. “Whe.. Where am I?” The words sounded foreign and weak in her mouth.

“You are safe, you fell during the fight and were carried here, you are inside the ruins.” The voice was soothing and Serend settled. “Your healing is not yet complete and you must rest yourself.”

As the healers hands began to touch upon Serend’s left side, a strange notion came over her. She had been hurt many times before, recovery was nothing new to her, but something about this one seemed wrong. “What happened to me?” A new realization took her swiftly into a panic. “Why can’t I see!?”

“Shh, for all the stories I hear of the paladins, you sure are a fussy lot to care for.”

The veiled taunt was lightly humored and the jab seemed to have a desired effect of momentary confusion. In that statement the healer had given Serend’s mind just enough clues to finally piece together the puzzle. Only a Cleric of Tiane would tease a paladin why they lay on a sick bed, and one Cleric above all others was known for doing so. The realization was brought with it a great sense of ease. “Sara….” The name was said as a whisper, but the great reverence that all who followed Tiane had for this particular Cleric would warrant no less.

“You are as bright as you are courageous it seems.” Sara had finished her ministrations and sensing her charges compliance, she sat back in the makeshift stool that she had been using. “Given both, I shall explain your wounds. As we pulled back into the ruins, you were hit by a flask of acid. The splash took in most of your face and left shoulder. Unlike a normal person, you decided that your wounds meant that you should fight harder. The wizards, who have gained a whole new respect for paladin fury and stupidity alike, tell me that instead of pulling back, you decided that your wounds meant that you should charge forward into the Goblin ranks. This, of course, gave everyone else the break that they needed to get within the ruins. You fell in the entrance to the ruins giving the wizards and your Cleric the time they needed to resolve the final defenses.” Sara paused to let the implications sink in. “Yes, you fulfilled your duty to honor, Tiane, and insanity alike, a Paladin would be proud.”

To Serend, the age-old rivalry was a boon of comfort. One thing yet worried her, “Will my eyesight return?”

Sara stood to leave as she spoke, “It better, or I’ve lost my touch.”

With the final quip, Serend was once again alone with her bed and her thoughts. Her fears had been allayed and sleep quickly found her again. As she slipped into and out of consciousness, the dreams that came to her were much calmer; a gift from Tiane to honor her valor perhaps.

Evening Aftermath

The battle had been short. While the capture of the Desert Wasp had been swift, with little damage to the ship itself, and most of that cosmetic at worst, calamity had befallen the Scorpion. Drifting low in the sky, caustic scars tore across her hull like the rake-marks of some great beast. Huge gashes radiated out and down from ballista bolts buried deep into the magical wood. It had taken every ounce of Krip’s considerable ingenuity to keep her treasured ship in the air. In the end, she herself had needed to draw on the miniscule sorcery that she had learned to cast a meager levitate spell on several of the non-elementium railings. Thank Cerrys that the gnomes who had built her fine ship had thought to attach the railings so firmly! The spells would not last long and the hull was already starting to groan heavily under the strain of having lost so many vital elementium boards.

“We’ve been able to stop the spread of whatever foul enchantment was placed on that acid.” Dargon shuddered visibly at the awesome power of the attack that had so nearly taken him clear out of the sky. As he finished climbing the ladder from amidships he paused to look back over the whole of the vessel. “too damned costly, even for the possible value of what lay beneath these old stones, just too costly.” The loss was felt keenly by each man and woman standing watch on the limping ship.

In silence, Krip guided the Scorpion toward the softest patch of ground that she could see. It pained her to have to set down on dry land, but the gaping holes in the hull left no option for water. She envisioned how her ship was going to look listing and land-bound as though some ancient wreck. The revulsion at such an idea nearly bent her double and she put the thought from her mind. Where was she ever going to find enough elementium to return her ship to the skies? As heart-wrenching peal of splintering wood announced a not too soft contact with the unforgiving ground, Krip clung to the aft railing, deep in worry. This battle had been entirely too costly.

Meanwhile, deep in the ruins….

Ezri paced the impromptu sickroom. The battle to save the Wizard’s expedition had been won, but at great cost. Many of the wizards themselves had taken serious injury, two had paid the greatest price to save their treasures. Forced to haphazardly defend themselves, almost every man and woman of the laboring crew had fallen within moments of the onset of battle. With little time for morning, the entire expedition had taken to caring for those that remained with the fervor of life itself, and possessed of little more than hope and the will to go on, a group of book-loving, history-immersed hermetic wizards put their ink-stained fingers to the tasks of bandage making and wound tending. Despite their complete lack of skill in the area, Ezri was nonetheless amazed at their success thus far. Thinking back, Ezri began to replay the actions of the past several hours…

The dragons and their riders had charged out of the skies to find that the battle around the ruins seemed ended and lost. Only great blasts of magic and the muffled shouts from deep within the ruins themselves gave any hope. Hindered by their size, each dragon had been forced to take humanoid form and move warily into the dark tunnels. Only Efni had had the foresight and ability to shift into a terrestrial form. Recalling some ancient heretical memory, she had taken the form of some great hooked, armored creature thus earning her the point position. Ezri thought that he would have to put more time and effort into learning more practical forms than just his preferred Elven one. As the party moved further in, they began to encounter a maze of rooms and hallways bathed in the blood of heated battle. Following only the shouts of defiance, they quickly came upon room after room packed with Gnomes. Anxiously pressing their advantage, the Gnomes had not expected unfriendly support from their flank. Ezri recalled that the ‘rescue’ had been quite swift. Efni’s chosen form seemed to place the very fear of the hells into the Gnomes. The surprise and fear proved overwhelming and the Gnomes fell away leaving only a single doorway between the Gnomish onslaught and the remnants of the expedition. It was there, barricaded into what must have once been an ancient chapel, that the rescuing party had had its greatest shock; for at the very center of the wizard cohort stood, with only an ounce of life within him, a solitary Battle Cleric of Tiane.

Ezri shook his head as his thoughts returned to the present. He could not puzzle together the presence of a Tianic patrol in such an unlikely place as a Wizard’s camp. Bereft of any healing knowledge, Ezri had been forced to stand aside while ‘Mazu had heroically leaped to the aid of the stricken. Now he could only pace, ponder, and wait for someone to grant him some insight. After all, the whole reason that the Wizard’s council had been so careful about this expedition was that they feared involvement from the nosy Tianic Church.

After what had seemed an eternity, Takeo finally emerged from the inner turmoil of the ’healer’s room’. “There you are Ezri, how fairs the less wounded? Has there been word from the Scorpion?” Takeo’s questions were met with mixed expressions.

“As for the other wounded, how in ‘Tel’ should I know, you know I know nothing of the healing arts.” The frustration on Ezri’s face was plain. It turned to concern as he looked over his shoulder toward the hole in the foundation through which they had first entered the ruins. “As for the Scorpion, there has been no word… Ilix and Nipthit have gone out to try to find them.”

Shimazu nodded, using a cloth to wipe the last bits of dried blood from his arms and face. “I am sure they faired well.” Looking over his shoulder back at the healer’s room, he grimaced, “The Cleric will live, barely. He wasn’t even conscious by the time Sara was able to reach him. It seems that he had given every ounce of his considerable will just to remain standing in defense of the Wizards. An act that I am sure will not soon pass from their memories.”

Ezri could sense his riders deep pleasure at the thought of such a honorable act and what it would do to strengthen the tenuous peace between the Wizard’s Council and the Tianic Church. “What were they doing here anyway?”

“I wasn’t able to gain much, the Cleric certainly had not the stretch to tell me, but it seems that they had appeared only moments before the attack started. When confronted by a rain of Gnomish Schoktroops, the Cleric called out to his patrol in defense of the Wizards.” Takeo smiled. “To their honor, and the utter amazement of the wizards, there wasn’t even a moment of hesitation before the first paladin stepped into battle.” His smile turned sour as he realized the result of such heroic action. “That very paladin now rests beside her commanding Cleric, in worse shape than he. It had been the Cleric’s battle savvy that saved the expedition, of that much I am sure.”

A few silent moments passed before Sara emerged from the healer’s room, followed quickly by an exhausted young paladin. “I have done what I can for those that suffered most, only time and rest will continue their stories this night.” The paladin looked at Sara with a face of great respect as she spoke. “Eston here has provided me with some more insight while helping me admirably.” The paladin seemed to pale at such a heady compliment.

“My skills in healing are only small compared to one so wise in the arts Commander.” The honorific title carried great weight as Eston spoke.

Unaccustomed to Sara’s rank within the Tianic Church, it was a few moments before Takeo responded. “Pardon, how was it that you came to be here at such a fortuitous time?”

The young paladin looked to Sara as if asking her permission to speak. Upon her nod he began to recall the orders that had brought him and his patrol into such a dangerous day. “We had been told only a day ago that we were to be sent to some Wizard’s hole in the ground. Our charge was to enforce the protection of any Tianic artifacts located.”

Sara nodded covertly at Takeo as though there was more to the story that she would impart at a later time. Meanwhile, Eston continued, “We arrived only moments before the Gnomes started floating from the sky. Word of the Gnomish Sultan’s devious ways has become quite well known within the Church.”

Eston had left much unsaid in his closing statement, but Ezri could understand the implications. The Tianic Church was often slow to act in political matters. Enemy nations could not be manipulated, but once a nation was believed to be truly corrupt, the full fury of the Tianic Church was sure to follow. Though their motives were not always clear, their commitment to good was without flaw.

“You are a credit to the honor of your church young Eston.” The statement was meant to bolster the young paladin, but it only seemed to pale him further. Concerned, Takeo pressed further, “Do you not wish honor for your Church?”

Eston stumbled for only a moment, “No sir, it is not that.” He paused as though choosing his words carefully. “It is our place in this world to defend others, it is good that we could be here to do so.” Behind Eston, Sara noticeably rolled her eyes."

Sensing that the young paladin was not likely to volunteer further information to him, Takeo decided that the topic had been exhausted. “Ezri, could you find a bed for this young man?”

Ezri was not comfortable with such a direct request, but he could tell that Takeo was attempting to distract the paladin from Sara’s true loyalties. Eston would never quite understand the truth of their bond, and so it was the pretense that had to be maintained. As Eston looked to approval from Sara to depart, Ezri took on a mock subservient role to his rider, and bowed his way into the hall, Eston in tow.

As the pair left, Sara turned to Takeo. “He will be srue to get you back for that, and you know it.”

Takeo was chuckling softly to himself as he nodded. His eyes were not on Sara but rather looking tiredly down into his still reddened hands. “Oh, he already has, you should see the images he is sending me.”

“I believe it.” Sara moved over to a small pile of discarded crates and up-ended one. “It has been a long day, shall we sit?” Takeo was quick to accept the invitation. “My rank in the Church still affords me some considerable benefits it would seem. I was told considerably more than you.” Sara paused to muse over the implications of her dual loyalty. “The day that others truly understand the bond is the day that they will all fear our true commitment Takeo, will we ever be trusted then?”

Takeo nodded, sensing the deeper worry in his friend. “For that, we have honor. We must show them that no matter how strong our bond to our dragons, we can still keep our promises and the honor that we uphold.”

“How comforting…”

Takeo took heart in her sarcasm. “So, what was it that you learned that I could not?”

Sara leaned back, attempting for a modicum of comfort. “The Church had an informant within the laborers here at the dig.”

“That doesn’t seem so out of the ordinary does it?”

“No, alone it does not, but its the timing that concerns me. young Eston was able to tell me that a specific item had been found deep within the ruins. One of the two Wizards who has now passed beyond had devined it’s presence deep within the ground. It was the day after that event that both the Church and what I assume was the nearest Gnomish airship, arrived here.” She let the implications sink in a little before continuing. “If the Gnomish attack had been planned, why would the reinforcements have been a full day and a half behind the initial attack?”

Takeo looked as though he was about to speak before Sara held a hand to stay him. “There is more.” Sara sat up again, looking straight into his eyes for emphasis. “It was I who first reached the corpse of the wizard who had devined the object, whatever it was. Takeo, no Gnomish blade or spell took that wizard. As best I can tell, he took his own life.” The puzzle had consumed her for some time and now as she shared her thoughts an idea sparked in her mind. “Is it possible that he feared to allow what he saw to become knowledge for either the Church or the Gnomes?”

“That, sadly, we can never know.” The events of the evening were beginning to overtake the pair as dark circles seemed to deepen in Takeo’s eyes. “Anything so powerful as to induce such an act by so committed a wizard cannot be taken lightly. The Wizard’s Council has granted us access to what they find here, but we may have to walk a fine line between our honor and the saftey of Elaythia. Something powerful enough to inspire the Sultan to divert an airship for an ill-planned assault and draw an immediate patrol from the Church might not belong in anyone’s hands.”

Sara gave her friend one last strong look before audibly standing. “I had wished to see our friends safely return, but I fear that I could not remain awake a moment longer.” Her look to Takeo was firm. “You should find rest as well, healer’s orders.”

Takeo warmly regarded the cleric as she moved to leave. For all her good intentions, they both knew such an order could not hope to stick. Loath to even stand in his exhaustion, Takeo pulled over another crate and reclined both of them against a wall. It was in this semi-awake state of existence that Dargon found him. With only a single nod of victory from Dargon, the heir to the Eastern Empire, and Rider of Ezrinithakiz fell deep into sleep.

The Skies Over Karat

As the Scorpion drifted swiftly out of the highest clouds, udder devastation lay wrought upon the Wizard’s Council camp that enveloped the ancient bones of the once great keep. The pungent smell of death already lay heavy in the air and not a soul on the ground moved. In all direction, it looked as if reinforcements had come too late. Krip’s face was ashen as she gave the order to begin the decent. She could only favor Takeo with a look of sadness and regret.

“All is not yet lost, good Captain. The battle yet rages deep within the substructure of the keep.” Ezri’s calm resolve gave a much needed salve to everyone’s stalwart determination. “It is possible that the Wizard’s Council has been successful in bottle-necking their foes deep in the narrow passages.”

“If we are fast, we can flank them and end it quickly.” Takeo turned to look once more at the newest members of the group. “We will be depending on you to keep us from being flanked in turn.” There was a sense of resolute faith on Shimazu’s face such that none dared defy it with even an ounce of timidity.

“’Mazu’s right, if you cannot defeat the incoming ships, you must at the very least ground or turn them back.” A stout ripple of grim faces and stern nods came in response from each of the young riders. Emboldened by an overwhelming pride in his children and their young riders, Ezri leapt from the aftcastle of the Scorpion, falling several hundred feat through the clouds before returning once more to his natural form. As the great golden father looped back up and over The Scorpion a-midships, Efni, Ilix, and Ofren each jumped the railings falling suit. Winking as he once again passed by the deck and back under the ship, Ezri let loose a great trumpeted bellow as the zest for battle rose within him. With only a smile for his bondmate’s zeal, Takeo himself simply stepped back and over the side-rail, somersaulting directly onto Ezri’s back.

As Sara, Kevris, and Nipthit scrambles over the side of the ship, falling onto their own waiting dragons below, Dargon could be heard rumbling a chuckle under his breath. Only those fluent in Draconic would have appreciated the worried undertones of the single spoke word; “Showoff..”

Moments later, the Scorpion was once again lifting high into the clouds, moving northward under heavy winds. The young riders and their bondmates stood motionless on either rail, looking intently down into the swirl of clouds below. A sense of calm had overtaken the ship. All plans had been made, every tactic discussed, only the waiting remained. A resolve had slipped, like a familiar glove, over each man and woman at their post. The Scorpion had not come heavily crewed, with a large amount of room given over to the Dragons and Riders. The lower holds had been packed with goods brought up from Home and not yet unloaded. The ferocious Scorpion, once the beguiling terror of the Gnomish Empire, had turned it’s use over to the more mundane needs of The Cove, and the people who lived there. As mundane as she was, and yet loaded with cargo, she could still fight. The steel glances exchanged between Dargon and Krip betrayed the worry and resolute will to push this loyal ship to her limits if necessary. Each of these concerns, however, were lost on the five newest riders. In their minds, only the realization of imminent combat held sway. Each of them had seen combat before, but there was something altogether new and vital about not only the thrill of fighting along side their new companions, but also the underlying fear that had been hammered into them since the bonding. If they fell this day, so would their bondmate. Even to the experienced mercenary, life had become infinitely more precious.

Aveny was the first to see the shadowed masses moving quickly in from beneath the clouds to the north. One seemed to be the same size and class as the scorpion, the other much smaller and lithe. Anticipation mounted as the Scorpion began to descend, drifting port towards the smaller of the two. As the clouds parted and the smaller vessel came into view it was immediately clear to the whole group that the smaller did not mean less deadly. Ballistae covered the smaller craft like quills upon a porcupine. Gnomish archers and ballista crew filled every vantage point of the decks with only minimal access to lower hatches. It seemed that the Sultan had finally found an answer to the piracy tactics of the stolen Scorpion.

Remaining over-top of the incoming Gnomish vessels, Krip deftly lowered the Scorpion, matching speed with the smaller destroyer. No-one dared to utter a sound as the distance closed. Final glances were exchanged between each member of the boarding party and Dargon before each rider and dragon leaped over the side, and into chaos.

As the fury of battle consumed the smaller Desert Wasp, the Scorpion turned toward its own charge, the other Scorpion class vessel which bore the unfortunate name of “Fire Toad” written in Gnomish across it’s stern. Dargon and Krip had only a moment to exchange looks of puzzled amusement over so benign a name before the Ballista crews of either vessel put two and two together and realize to their folly that the cloud above them was dropping troops. The first shot from the Desert Wasp sailed high as the archers on the Fire Toad began spraying the hull of the Scorpion. For all the unseasoned skill of the Wasp’s crew, they didn’t make a mistake twice; the second, third, and fourth ballista shots thudded firmly into the Scoprion’s belly with amazing accuracy.

Krip looked in bewilderment at his friend, “What on earth do they think Ballista shot and crossbow bolts are going to do agianst a magical, flying hull?”

“I really don’t know but….” Dargon’s words trailed off as scream of anguish and pain erupted from below decks. The sickly smell of caustic burns quickly followed. “Oh, that’s how.” As Dargon jumped a full 20 feet over the aft-castle railing and to the entrance to the hold, Krip pulled the Scorpion in a sail tearing turn as the Scorpion desperately tried to move away from the Desert Wasp. This was surly going to be the most deadly skirmish the Scorpion had ever seen, Krip cursed into the wind as she vowed vengeance on whatever devilish creature had the audacity to invent an acid that could devour Elementium enchanted wood.

A Council Interrupted

Many great decisions over the past ten years had been made from this council hall, great assemblages had filled its walls, and echoed through the cavernous stone. But on this day, what was to become, perhaps the most important meeting to grace these stone, was attended by only a select few. Each rider, newly chosen and previously bonded, stood with room to spare, aside their dragon. The stoic mood set by the chosen leader seemed to blanket the room. “The tine has come, what was once an order, dedicated to the preservation of ancient knowledge and the secrets of dragons and their riders, has now become something new. Exactly what we have become, is to be undermanned and chronicled by each of us as we accept the new role that fate has given us. The structures, hierarchy, and traditions of The Chosen shall cease to apply to us as we must now begin anew traditions and duties that were once lost to time. In truth, most of these traditions still are.” Shimazu pauses, carefully to catch each riders gaze as he spoke the next words. “Each of us carries the weight and standard for what we shall become. We must strive to honor ourselves, and our dragons, as we create a new life for ourselves.”

Ezri’s approval for his rider echoed through the cavern with a power and depth that belayed his current elven form. Though he spoke no words, it was clear that behavior of anything less than exemplary would not be tolerated in his eyes. As the acceptance of those those assembled quieted, Shimazu spoke again, “As we are brothers and sisters in bond to our dragons, so too are we brothers and sisters in bond to one-another. It shall be set here, that no single person or dragon shall have leadership over what we are to become. We shall decide our fate as a whole body. In that spirit, I would ask you each, here and now, to decide our future.”

Taking her que, Endella stepped forward, “Currently the various nations and factions of Elaythia work only for their own gains, un-concerned with one-another. Some powers are in decline, yet preserve the great honor of their past.” She gives a respectful nod to Shimazu at this comment. “In the north, however, the Sultan of Kazar’s power grows. We have engaged with him before, defeated his forces, and triumphed at Home, only to have been duped. The obliteration of Marat still hangs heavy over all of us.” There was a forced pause as each wyrmling flashed visions and emotions of great loss to their new riders. Nothing burned longer in the hereditary memory of a dragon, than the wanton destruction of their kin, as witnessed by their sire and dame. Endella continued, “Whatever we chose today, let us not forget that wither we want it or not, war will come to us from Kazar.”

“We should not declare ourselves to quickly, we would lose are greatest advantages of speed and stealth.” Uvetiseviks the White’s Rider was the first to speak up. Agreement quickly followed from the other new riders.

This declaration was soon followed by another from the rider of Elezerethinia the Black, “Perhaps we can use are strengths to capture more of the Sultan’s fleet, the Scorpion seems like a decent start.” More murmurs of agreement followed.

Shimazu, who had been quiet for some time, spoke up, “We could capture the ships, yes, but we have few resources and people with which to crew them. The idea is good, but we will need to consider this as well.”

Dargon, the last of his kind, choose this moment to stand. As he looked about the room, he could see the determination and resolute will on each face. "We have begun a good….

Dargon’s words were unfinished as the door to the chamber flew open and a messenger rushed quickly into the room. A few short words were whispered to Shimazu and Endella. As the messenger turned to leave, without warning Endella and Asir vanished as Shimazu turned to address the rest of the riders, “The Wizards Council, during their excavation of the Ruins at Karat Keep, have come under attack by Gnomes. They have offered us access to any knowledge they discover beneath the ruins in return for aid. Out of honor alone we should go to their aid.” A few instructions were passed quietly between rider and dragon as Ezri and Dargon turned quickly from the room.

A few moments passed as each rider and dragon hurried to prepare themselves. A-back Ezri, each was flown up to the waiting Scorpion hovering in station over The Cove. As each assembled upon the deck, Endella and Asir reappeared just off the port rail. “There are already troops upon the ground and the site’s minimal defenses are quite compromised. Two more airships are inbound from the northwest.”

Dargon considered the tactical implications, “Endella and Shimazu shall see to the disposition of the site camp while I go with the others upon the scorpion to intercept the incoming ships.” He turned his attention to the newest riders and their wyrmlings, “Each of you will drop off of the Scoprion onto the smaller of the two incoming ships, The Captian and I will take the Scoprion to delay the second ship.” Nods of agreement were exchanged the anticipation of battle set in. “Protect your Dragons!”

This unequivocal order was followed immediately by another order form Ezri to the wyrmlings; “Protect your Riders!”

As the Scorpion came underway, it was hard to tell which group felt stronger about their final orders, the Riders, or their newest bondmates.

On the Hot Sands

There was a hum of anticipation as each candidate moved into position around the hot sands, some still quite unsure of themselves or their predicament. For most, the past 48 hours had been no more than a wash of experience. Whether convinced or coerced, each had been brought here, for a purpose or reason that they didn’t fully understand. Only moments ago, they had been informed that the mythical dragons of stories and legend were, in fact, no myth at all. And now, as if to bludgeon their already distressed psyches, they were each standing, barefoot, upon nearly scalding sands, looking at several eggs. The first Dragon Clutch in all of history.

As they stood, mesmerized by the awesome spectacle,a gentile thrumming began as the first egg began to move. Each of their lives were about to change, irrevocably, forever…

In the Misty Dawn

In the eastern seas…

The turbulent waves of the southern moving eastern current whipped and lashed at her weather-beaten skin as she clung with every last will of her soul to the small piece of raft that was once her chance at freedom. As the long, sleepless night began to give way to the biting chill of the morning mist, the memories of the last few days began to turn from the clarity of one mistake after another, into the horrid visions of one beginning to lose consciousness. Small elven rivercraft grew to the size of massive warships, alive with animate rigging and jeering teeth. The storm that had blessedly pulled her away from the cursed rocks, had instead tossed her raft to shards within the furry of its own talon-like waves. The thunder had mocked her for her willfulness and the disobedience to her father. As the last salt-filled glimpses of consciousness faded away, should could still see her father face and flashing eyes in the clouds and lightening that had consumed the night. She welcomed the morning mist as it bit into her, the shroud hid her from the disapproving world. A deep rumbling sound roused her for one last look around as her life-saving piece of wood bumped into something solid. The swirling facet of the largest and strangest jewelstone she had ever seen filled her vision and then was gone, along with everything else. The gnawing pain, the hunger, the cold, and the terror seems to vanish into a very deep sleep.

In the skies over Karth…

Whinni harumphed as he collapsed back into the campchair that had been bolted to the floor of the captain’s suit. The chair creaked under the stress but held. “Och, but couldn’t ya find a real seat for me bum hon this accursed flying bucket?” The all-to-familiar complaint fell on the unlistening ears of the captain and her honored passengers. “Hey, Krip, I be talkin te ya!”

“Oi, Whinni, its the best we have and ya know it too. Pipe down now will ya, or the whole city beneath will know were here, without the enchantments failing!” Krip hadn’t even turned her head but she knew the grumpy dwarf would only be satisfied for a short time. “Now, Shimazu and Ezri, I can’t know how long the silence enchantments are goin’ta hold. We’ve never tried them for this long on the Scorpion and we can’t just go flyin about over cities all day, like ya do, and expect the whole damn thing to stay a secret.” Her scowl was aimed at Shimazu Takeo, but Whinni was aware enough of the true target and returned to one of his many books, hiding from the rest of the conversation.

“I could always fly around on my own ’Mazu,” Ezri’s golden eyes twinkled with boyish mischief, “We could see what we want and not have to worry about enchantments, or even the secrets at all then.”

This drew a much needed chuckle from the highest ranking member of those assembled about the table. “I’d love to Ezri, we both know that, but this trip was meant to be heading south, to Tak, and not to Karth. Time for joyflights just doesn’t exsist.”

Krip looked over to Takeo as he finished talking and tapped her spyglass in her hand. “Yes, Takeo, and why was it that we find ourselves over Karth, losing time on the enchantments, and arguing over a street-map, rather than getting you to an appointment with your dieing father, who is all well and the Emperor, if you will, which you are more than a lot late for?”

Shimazu didn’t look up. “Ezri felt something.”

Whinni harumphed again from behind his book. “I’m feelin somethin too, and I dun need to be flyin over Karth for a day ta know what it is either.”

The other companions tuned out the impending belch or fart they knew was soon to be following the dwarf’s statement and continued looking intently at the map. “I wish I could give you each more, I’m not even sure what it was I felt.” Ezri’s brow furrowed as he bent closer to one of the districts on the map. “I know that my memories tell me that it is very important, and MUST be done before the clutch hatches.” A paternal glow seemed to steal Ezri away as the others pondered the implications of Ezri’s ‘Memories.’ “I really do think that we are looking for somebodys rather than somethings, and that they are currently in this district.” Ezri’s finger set down firmly upon the mining district of Karth, such was the commitment to his endeavor that for a brief moment the facade faded and what touched the map as a finger, began to tear though it as a golden talon. Realizing his lapse, Ezri quickly retracted his hand, cupping it to his chest. “I am so terribly sorry Krip, I didn’t mean to tear your good maps.” Ezri’s sorrowful expression was met with a exasperated sigh from Krip, a muffled chuckle from Whinni, and a reassuring mental image from ’Mazu. “I guess I should focus on keep my own enchantments under control.”

“I have a better idea my friend.” Takeo turned his grin on the unsuspecting Whinni who was still chuckling, and still hiding his face behind a book. “Seeing as you are unable to pinpoint an exact image of who we seek, but you can ‘feel’ that one of them is working with metal and the other is walking the streets, lets have Whinni take one of the other riders down for a look around.”

“I really don’t think you or I have time for that Sir…” Krip began.

“Krip, you can return the Scorpion to it’s origional course, and we can leave Ofren and Kevris to search in our place here, after all, Ezri did say that any bonded pair should be able to feel the same, ‘sign’ I think you called it Ezri?”

Ezri nodded to Shimazu as Whinni, suddenly realizing he was being volunteered without knowing what for, began to try and sneak out the cabin door. Just as he reached the cabin doors and began to open them, a Knock rattled the latch right out of his very stealthy hands, and surprised him enough to cause several of his prized volumes to spill out of the overstuffed satchel at his waist. His planes ruined, Whinni gruffly flung open the captian’s door to see Krevis, clad in full Riding armor, step in out of the thick mist. “Ofren said I was needed sir?” Whinni mused over the old man that was Krevis willfully and cheerfully taking orders from the young pup that was Shimazu. Humans just didn’t have the respect for their elders that an honest and rightful Dwarf would. In halls of the Dwarven Kings, age came before strength of relationship when it came to dynasties. Breaking from his ponderings, Whinni realized that again, he was being talked about.

“Krev, would you and Ofren take Whinni down to Karth, quietly, and see if you can locate the single person that Ezri claims that he and Ofren can ‘feel’?” Shimazu paused. “And do be mindful of our old friend here, he is having one of his moods again.”

The indignation on Whinni’s face had frozen his whole being. For a rare moment, the speechless dwarf could only stare as Krev gave a curt salute and turned to leave. Whinni was not more than two steps out the door when he heard a roll of laughter spill out of the closing cabin doorway. In all his years… Nobody had any respect for their elders, the whole damn world was falling apart, and he had to go digging around some dingy mining street while History was about to happen without him in Tak. No respect at all.

In the forests east of Karth…

The two companions had left the safety of Tel’Elaythia behind several days ago. Keeping to the shadows and traveling at night, the pair had made strong progress with fair weather thus far. The pair were just settling down on the edge of the forests as an cold mist came in from the east. The forest had had its share of risks, but going through it rather than around it had saved several days of travel, as well as preventing a higher chance of running into a surface dweller. Too many questions would have brought too many troubles to the pair.

A short distance away, another pair of unlikely companions were on another mission all-together. Asir had ‘felt’ something moving out in the night and had brought his companion, Endella, to discover the truth of the strange ‘feeling’. They had just been on patrol over the Genji’s Pass when Asir had suddenly taken them quickly to ground near the southern entrance. Asir seemed to be shaking with excitement, but he sure wasn’t explaining anything to Endella.

Look, you brought us both down here, now what is it?” The mental communication was met with a swirl of excitement from Asir’s mind. The only response was cryptic at best; “Shh, I’m searching” There was an odd connotation to the last word, and Endella decided that she was going to get nowhere with her over-excited friend.

As they moved silently, gliding mere feet over the ground, Endella began to see through Asir’s infra-vision enhanced sight, to figures huddled just inside the forest undergrowth. “Is it one of them?” Endella’s question received only one excited word from Asir in response, “Both!


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