The Adventures Continue...

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Episode One: The Way of Life and Death

In this episode, our heroes meet in Fairhaven with little more than hints to guide them to a meeting with the Wayfinder Foundation. Through various means subtle and otherwise, their resourcefulness pays off, and they meet one Arnis ir'Dayne in the Whisper Tavern, located beneath a curio shop in the Comfort Ward of Fairhaven.

Meeting with Arnis, who is in fact a cousin of the famours Boromar ir'Dayne, founder of the Wayfinder Foundation, our heroes learn that they are to be tested before they are accepted as members of the Foundation. In a break from their usual methods, the Wayfinders will be putting our heroes to the test as a group.

From this point on, they are told, assume that everything is a test.

Their first mission is to travel to northern Karrnath and locate a hermit living on a remote section of the rocky coastline. Years ago, during the Last War, he stole a scroll called the Way of Life and Death, purportedly a sacred relic of the Aerenal Elves, from the special collections of Morgrave University. Our heroes are to retrive this artifact, and any copies they might find, and return it to the Wayfinders as soon as possible.

When our heroes finally board their airship, they have in tow one corpse with falsified documents and one unconscious chair of languages at the University of Wynarn. They chair of languages makes his daring escape, and our heroes, undaunted (well, semi-daunted and nauseous in one case) make their way north.

As they close on their quarry, they find that they are not alone - a ship flying the colors of Morgrave University is nearby, tacking along the same coastline our heroes were scanning themselves.

They design a warm welcome for their Morgrave rivals and land the airship. Making their way over a rocky bluff and toward a copse of trees from which they have seen flashes of light coming, they are ambushed by forest warriors! The warriors are quickly dispatched by knife, wand, and thrown arrow. Following their trail deeper into the copse of trees, our heroes come upon a mysterious, dark figure who is only then secreting the scroll they seek on his person. They learn only that his name is Rune before he takes to the sky in the form of a large carrion-bird! Their nets and knifes are no avail, and he seemingly escapes with the very artifact our heroes were seeking.

A we cough brings their attention back to what is clearly the hermit's dwelling. He is lying in the ruin of his own furniture, surrounded by smoldering papers and, inexplicably, dead animals, as well as blackened corpses of the same fighters our heroes faced. He reaches out, and with his last breath, coughs out a final message.

Based on his hint, our heroes find another scroll, the original, secreted away in a hollow compartment of the hermit's bedside table. And just in time, because the angry Morgrave contingent is coming over the rocky bluff, hot on their trail and full of bad intentions!

They collapse the hermit's stone home behind them, serving as a pyre and final tomb for the strange old man, and carrying handfuls of papers salvaged from the ruins of his home, they return quickly to their airship and depart, making their way back to Fairhaven, and hopefully, answers...

The Prince

"I've been watching you for a while now, you know."

Princess Anezka sits bolt upright in bed, clutching her blanket to her chest. Perched in her room, at the foot of her bed, is a man. Her first thought is He's going to kill me. Her second thought is I can't look away.

He raises a hand, says gently "There's no reason to be frightened. I don't mean you any harm. I didn't know of a better way to introduce myself. I'm not really...part of your household, so to speak. They don't know I'm here."

"Who - who are you?"

He smiles, and she can see his teeth glimmer in the moonlight. He is tall, she can see, even hunched over, and graceful, even elegant. "You can call me Rune. Because for now, I am your secret."

He's dressed like an aristocrat beneath the dark cloak that obscures his silhouette. She whispers a spell to let her see more clearly in the dark, and he comes into stark relief.

She sees he is unarmed, but is undeniably dangerous.

He shifts, then steps backward off the bed and stands up. He tosses part of his cloak over his right shoulder and bows slightly, his eyes never leaving her face, her body never even considering moving from where it is. His eyes are like a starless night sky.

"I hope we can speak again soon. We will, if you wish it. If not, then you will not see me again. I believe there is a lot we can offer each other. You are a woman of beauty, intelligence and guile. You've shown yourself to be very strong, already mistress of this great keep, already...learning a great deal. I am quite accomplished in my own right. I am of means, of skills you will find useful, of knowledge you need."

"You aren't meant for this place. Not at all. This great keep will someday become a prison to one such as you. No, I know you. I have watched you. You have grander designs than this."

"As it turns out, so do I."

They talk. The guards, slumped in deep sleep outside her door, do not hear. But in another part of the keep, an old woman who is more than merely a woman gazes into a dim image in a mirror and smiles a slow, cold smile.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Crone

Skaina is old, but she is most certainly not a woman. Do not let your eyes fool you.

You cannot trust your senses.

Long, long ago, when the winds over the stones of Lhazaar were wild, there was a storm-tossed island, on which lived dour, fierce people with cold blue eyes. At the heart of this island was a cave deep in the side of a hill, and in this deep cave lived the Crone.

(It was said that at the back of that cave, hidden behind an ancient stone, was a door, and that the door led all the way down to Khyber. If such things are to be believed.)

The people and the Crone lived together, shared that small storm-tossed isle, and yet they only met once a year. That was the time of Sacrifice, when the winter storms brewed on dark horizons. In exchange for the Sacrifice, the Crone would sing down the winds. She would protect them, even from the ravages of time. She granted them an unnaturally long life, and was their secret which they jealously guarded.

The price was merely a single child. And so the weakest was chosen by the elders, and brought to the Crone, left for her, and never spoken of again.

Before the first cold-eyed people came in their long boats, the Crone was there, and it was believed that she would be there long after. But it was not meant to be.

Many years ago, following a great war between Dragons and Elves, there came a lone woman to that isle. She was fleeing great powers, and yet she hid within herself the greatest power; that which all life must answer to; none other than Death. She came to the isle weakened, grieving, broken, her body stitched together by dread energies drawn from a thousand graves.

She and the Crone met. They spoke. And it is said that, slowly, with creaking limbs, the Crone did what she had never done.

She bowed.

A sacrifice, of sorts, to be sure.

And when that dread woman called upon the Crone once more, after long years had passed, she came, and answered, and traveled to a certain keep in Lhazaar which was once her home, to inquire of a certain family whether they were in need of a nurse for their newborn daughter...

The livid purple birth-mark bothered her not at all. She only smiled, and cooed, and waited for the girl to grow up at last.

Anezka's Journal 2

It has been a year, and I have learned that blood washes out of almost anything.

I did not want to take my husband's place so soon, but it seems that fate has intervened. Skaina says that it is fate, anyway, that it is me becoming who I am meant to be.

I've gone too far now. Too far to turn back.

And the birthmark is growing. I know that Skaina notices it when I bathe, and I have to try to hide as best as I can, even in summer. It is more than just unsightly...but Skaina won't tell me. "Not until you're ready" she tells me.

But I am ready now.

I've taken to running Kronan's household - its more than I'd expected. Endless decisions that no one else will make. I thought I would feel more...powerful. More in control. But instead I just answer to more people. My training has slowed, and Kronan is...much less useful in his new state. And I don't yet have the knowledge to modify him. Skaina says that too will come, in time.

I grow tired of waiting. Of being waited upon.


I am going to have to take matters into my own hands. Skaina is holding things back from me. She is not teaching me all she knows. But she is all I have here in this accursed place.

Well, almost. There's always Kronan, much more amenable as he is now than he was.

Its interesting to see how no one asks questions here. No one asks why the Lord has taken ill so swiftly, why he seems so unlike how he was only days before. Now, I think they are used to it. He is part of this keep, but he is more like decoration or furniture than its Lord.

Such a lack of loyalty.

Yesterday I found what I am calling the Vault. I need to go to this place's small library tomorrow morning and see if I can find more about it. It is locked with some sort of puzzle-lock, but I cannot solve it, and dare not show it to Skaina - not yet! - and of course damned Kronan is hardly in a state to tell me the solution.

I know enough to recognize the markings, though. They are symbols used by the Blood of Vol - not the feeble local cults but the true Blood.

I must know what's in that Vault.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Lord

Two years ago.

Princess Anezka, now Lady Anezka, carefully slips out of her bedroom, past the guard who gives her a knowing look. She does not sleep in the same room as her husband unless he...comes to her at night. She does her duty and nothing more. This distance from him most nights is good for a variety of reasons - tonight, it gives her freedom to do what she needs to do.

The final step.

She meets up with Skaina, still here despite no longer having a determined roll. They incline their heads together briefly in the darkness, lit only by a shuttered lantern held between them and casting ghost-story shadows on their faces. What they say cannot be heard, but they continue down a hall, through a door, deeper into the keep, and finally, to a dark stair leading down.

They descend.

In a dank stone room beneath the keep a man is huddled, shivering. He is chained to the floor, and his fingernails are bloody shreds from trying to claw his way free somehow. He has pulled on the chains until his wrists are red and purple and raw. He has prayed, but has heard nothing but his own harsh breathing for hours, perhaps days.

Then there is light. He cringes and tries to become smaller, to sink into cold corner, to somehow slip away unseen, but he is the only living thing in the room.

She enters, the Lady Anezka, with her witch-hag from the Lhazaar Principalities, and two other young women the man recognizes from the keep - Danneke and Joli. Danneke is plump and pretty and dark, and is a foster from another noble family - essentially a hostage, kept and taught and protected, but not allowed to go so that there is always a reason to keep the two houses from clashing. Joli has the harsh pale face of the Lord, her uncle once removed or somesuch. She is tall and does not miss opportunities for petty cruelty.

As they enter, they stop speaking.

There is no one else alive down here.

He is gagged to stop his shouting, but he forgets to shout until the gag is already in. He is lifted up on to a table that is brought in, and his arms and legs are tied together under the table so that he cannot move. The strain on his shoulders is painful, but he almost forgets it, watching them work. Then they stand aroud him, with the Lady Anezka at the head of the table - at his head. He can strain and see the witch-hag at his feet. She looks to Anezka.

"Are you prepared?"

Anezka nods, and pulls a glimmering black blade from under the cloak thrown around her shoulders. She shrugs the hood back and looks down at the man bound before her. She is about to speak -

When the Lord Kronan strides through the door, a man-at-arms at his side.


Everyone freezes - the Lord does not shout, but his face is livid and his breathing heavy.

Everyone, that is, but Skaina, who shouts a harsh syllable and reaches out, touching Kronan on the chest, just above the crest of his house embroidered onto his doublet.

He gasps, and then his breath hitches in his throat. The stench of death fills the room and the color floods from his face, leaving it bone-white, even his straining lips.

The man-at-arms shouts and his sword rings free, but Anezka raises a hand silently and something dark and cold passes between them. He shudders and slumps, suddenly exhausted and feeble. She draws a quick breath through her teeth and flinches before she regains control of herself.

And then Joli is there, ramming a kitchen-knife into his chest. It catches on his chainmail, and he struggles to push her away, but enfeebled as he is she writhes free and strikes again, this time slashing his throat. A spray of blood paints the wall and he slumps to the floor, gurgling up at her.

The Lord Kronan is still struggling in vain to move, to speak, even to exhale. Skaina laughs.

Anezka looks to her teacher, the witch-hag, trembling slightly, gripping her left forearm as if it suddenly pained her. "What are we going to do now? He wasn't supposed to know - "

"This changes nothing," Skaina growls. "Have you lost your resolve? No? Good. Then we continue. You are ready."

"But - but what about Kronan?"

Skaina turns to the Lord, straining, his pale eyes rolling in their sockets. Joli watches. She's wiped the knife off on the man-at-arms' tabard, and hasn't noticed the spattering of blood on her face and chest and right hand. Danneke looks slightly ill, but makes no move to leave.

"Kronan...we will deal with together, and quickly, before he is missed. I doubt anyone heard him down here or will interfere. Doubtless they assume he is...disciplining you. But once you have made the final sacrifice to the Vol, once you have given yourself over to her, I will show you what comes next. You have enough power, enough knowledge...Kronan will serve you, my lady."