Himmelveil's Mightiest Heroes

Same people,
Other names.

“Anton, what crimes does he stand accused of?” Clay growled under breath while taking a bended knee.

The emperor who brought the longest peace for the empire he had known glanced a moment to make sure none heard him speak, and then said a simple phrase for such a diplomatic man. ““Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law…does it matter?”

“No.” Clay lied, because it always did but never stopped him and with that Clay stood and walked out of the throne room. The Emperess entered the room followed by the young heiress to the empire as he left. Clay smiled at the young Isobelle, his face horribly disfigured by the scars of his most recent youth. She recoiled in fear for a moment and then smiled back as he pulled his long hair back into a braid and held it across his lips in a mocking gesture of her fathers facial hair.

Reinvigorated by her youth he began to place on the ceremonial armor he had worn for milennia, some pieces older than others, but all old and mostly of dwarven and elven make, odd for a series of men who served the human emperors for as long as any who ever thought of it, especially Clay who had never took a bended knee any but the emperor even when the rules of court demanded it. As he tied each belt he smiled at the sound of adamantine against adamantine, like the sound of clay against tin he thought to himself for a brief movement. “pewter, that will be my “sons” name, should it ever come to pass, but maybe, this time when I close my eyes, it will be for good.”

He doubted anyone would worry about his presence amongst the empress and her coterie. After all, he protected the empire and that has always meant the crown as well, well, except that one time. He cleaned himself up as best he could, hair behind the ears white and gray, as was the custom, to solidly show your humanity. It was a tradition he hated, but it had been lifetimes since he mentioned his own wife and loyalty to the emperors. They expected their wolf to be a dog, and while he swore to himself every day he would never be a dog, he knew he was to the outisde. His arms he knew would betray him, so he tried hard to keep them close to his chest. Only an idiot would ever suspect a slouch for an invalid, but nobles were accustomed to the latter far more than the former. He entered with confidence into the dining area. Three blades strapped to his thighs, another hidden in his boot, and another smaller blade keep his face in a unwanted grim hidden in his mouth.

As Clay approached his target he saw a small woman across the room. He evaluated quickly and decided she was not a threat to Anton or his and as such he did not worry. His eyes continued to scan the crowd looking for the elf who while not a bastard by title, if what Anton said was true, was a larger bastard than he had ever pretended to be. The woman was barely an adult and evaluated as familiar to his own mission but ultimately as a non-threat, and quickly his eyes darted to the right. High cheekbones, silver haired from under his hood, his prey was close. He was delayed by her majestys coterie, he had to walk around her maidens. 2000 years, and the difference between a handmaiden and a queen still got in his way.

There he was, smoking a halfling weed from an undersized pipe as he approached. Clays eyes watched each servant as they entered and exited. His eyes narrow as he decided his next move. He took off his suit jacket, barely hiding the armor underneath as is, punched a servant in the face and slid a gold piece into his pocket and held a finger for the briefest moment above his lips as the servant slid to the floor and out of continuity with the waking world . He apologized as grabbed the servants tray and stood near the kitchen. He turned around and made his way towards his target. The small woman form earlier was suddenly in front of him. No time to lie, he was bad at that. He grabbed her arm “Le’s go some’ere private’like to catch up, darlin” Clay was supposedly from the furthest reaches of the empire he made a mental note to use contractions and the stereotypical western language words whenever possible.

He walked towards the garden, should this be an assassin aimed against the crown, he knew the hedges well and was sure he could track them. A quick summary of his surrounding and he lead her into the maze.

As he passed a bush in full bloom he spoke he finally had a chance to giver her a once over. Two blades he could see, he assumed at least six others. Deep breath. “I know your kind.”

She batted her eyes perfectly as she said “I don’t know what your talking about, sir.” That was her slip. The nobles would never respect the bastards of Holleth as sir. She was young, she still assumed nobles liked and respected one another.

He laughed. “Cut the bullshit. You’re good, I’ll give you that. But you cased the place three days ago. I saw you on the roof then, and I saw you on the roof tonight.” These spooks might scour the empires shadow, but it was his job to see past the shadows, to sniff, hear and see the threats.

The young woman didn’t say a word.

Clay breathed deep and smiled. “I don’ know who gave you the contract, darlin’, but dis one is marked for the Empire.”

She met his eyes “What does the Empire want with an elf like Jarend?” he barely held back the shudder as he echoed Anton’s words. “Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law. What does the Guild want with him?”

She mimed his tone back to him “Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law.”

He dropped his voice down a range. “You’re cute. That’ll bite you in the ass one day.”

“I was here first.” she said, both accurately and with confidence.

He inhaled sticking out his chest “Doesn’t matter if I get to him first.” He squeezed her arm just a little bit harder. “Why don’t you walk away?”

The girl moved her head ever so slightly, then stopped. This woman became a blank slate. He began to walk away.

He exhaled deeply. “That’s a real shame.” He stopped walking and turned to face her, examining her from boot to hair. The woman met his eyes, her face blank. He shook his head. “You’re young.”

The woman looked directly at him, not to him, simply at him. “I’m older than I look.”

He mentioned to himself that such a young person being on the prowl was his fault. He should have caught this sabateur sooner.

He nodded to an elderly couple that passed too close to them, waited for them to walk by when theyd didnt stop approached he audibly grolwed, that made them shift directions. “Our man isn’t going to show tonight,” he said. “Something spooked him. It’s a fox hunt.” He looked at her. “And a race.” Slowly, he let go of her arm.

She looked him directly in the eyes, no fear showing. “So it is.”

I was on his trail. The idiot left not only a paper trail of bills of sale but he was usually a creature of habit. He was an idiot. A brave idiot, but an idiot. He actually chekecked his safe house regularly. Clay sketched a map and wrote the times the elf walked past each location daily. He jotted his name on it as well, but that mattered little. If you attempted to slay the crown, your sentence in court was always death. Galon was always hesitant until they actively started trying. He was happy to hunt out a man with murder in his heart, but hesistant to hunt down a man with murder in his mind. But the poisons were bought, his route well established and with the holiday coming up, it was obvious how it would collide. Death was the sentence whether or not it happened from the gallows or in his hands, this man was dead.

They day was at hand, and everything happened exactly as he expected. The elf walked his route and Clay watched him. Turn the first corner, retirve the blade hidden weeks ago. Turn the next, bend down to tighten his boots, and retirve the poison. Turn again and drag the poison bladder across the blade. Close enough, Anton would be coming down the street. He dropped onto the street below. Making sure to cause a sound not that the sound of admantine on stone was ever quiet.

His left hand grabbed the executioner’s blade from its sheath, his right hand free except for the spiked gaunlet, ready to choke the truth out of any it encoutnered. The crowd parted for him as they saw his armor. The time for stealth was at an end. He used the illusion of being slow to his advantage. Smash into the can as you turn the corner. “trip” over a the chicken box that wont even slow you down. Clay knew where the city guards routes were. All he had to do was lead the idiot to a point where hed have to turn around to outrun the “slower” man.

Damn it, someone else was running as well. He had made note os possible accomplices, and none were likely. What kind of idiot chases an armed assassin down an alley. A moment after he spotted her she was up and out of pursuit. A different target for a different day. He let his right pauldron drag across the concrete as he ran. He thought to himself “Turn left, turn left, turn left. See the guards, see me fumbling to make the turn and turn back, then your mine.” And then the idiot made the right. Not just off the parade route, but not even the smarter choice, he stumbled through day old trash cans, kicking up rotten cabbages into the air.

He looked back and saw Clay, and a look of recognitionw ashed over him. Damn, time to make a move. Clay started running after the Elf. A blur of movement ahead, and he ignored it. The elf came to a stop and lurched onto his knees. Clay was on him in under a second. The elf reached toward his own face and fell forward as he rounded him from the corner of his eyes he could see a sharpened ice pick sticking out of his head. Clay walked around him to the font looking at the the blur and ignoring the soon to be deadman. He saw the small woman from before, her right breast had a small loop meant to hold a thin blade. Without breaking sight, he reached down with his left hand dropping the executioiners blade and retrieved the blade.

Clay began to whistle a song from the last century, at the time the song was upbeat, but he slowed it down to the beat of modern dirge. “Nice work, darlin’” He turned his head slightly making sure to keep her in view. “Din’t even see you until you ran.”

She looked at him. Still no fear, her eyes narrowed on him. As if she was actively contemplating his death. She breathed the words more then saying them “So what happens now.”

Clay shrugged and smiled at her, as he pulled back his coat to reveal all the blades he carried. As well as all of his teeth “What is it you think I’d do?”
She didnt even look away as she insulted him/ “You’re the Empire’s attack dog. I think you’d do whatever you wanted. Like take credit for my kill.”

Clay laughed, a type of laugh he hadnt laughed in centuries. “You’re brave, girl. No one has talked to me like that in years. ”

Her hands drifted to her blades. “I’ve met worse.”

Clay without thinking said “I’m sure you have.” He looked back down at the body. The heart had stopped beating and the blood had pooled into a biazzera pattern across the stones. He stood tall as tall as he could for his age and said. “Well, go ahead and finish it.”

He took a step back from her. Watching as she reached into her bag and pulled out a piece of parchment tied with a black velvet ribbon. An uknown ritual to him. His eyes memorized every move she made as she went. She left the parchment on the elf’s still chest. Her eyes never left his, his never left her.

Clay nodded when she stood back up. “Congratulations, assassin. You’ve got your man. You’ve earned it.” He handed her stiletto back to her. “Witnessed by a servant of the Emperor, if anyone should question it. I’ll send someone to take care of the mess.”

She looked at him, with a different look, maybe, befuddled? “That’s it?”

Clay spoke as he gestured for the guard who followed his purposely noisy pursiot. “The elf is dead. Seems like there’s nothing for me to do.” With that he turned and left. He nodded once more at her and the guards before walking around the corner, the armor clinking with every step. When she was out of sight but she was all but out of mind.

Spoke to no-one at all. “Maybe my dear, our own adopted children could be as brave as to look a hungry wolf in the mouth and deny it its kill.” He stopped and looked around the corner “Hey kid, what your…” seeing nothing but shadows he plucked a dandelion from the the crack in the cobblestones and tossed it on the ground. “I miss when you would do that, don’t ever forget that.”

The Girl and the Wolf
A long time ago

Water dripped from the gutter, tap tap tapping on the leather of her pauldron. With each breaking droplet, wetness splashed across her cheek. Cold seeped into her skin like a kiss cut short.
The adjacent building loomed over her position on the roof, keeping her out of the moonlight. Movement could draw unwanted attention.
Another droplet splashed. She gritted her teeth.
On the cobblestones below, people flitted about from building to building. In this part of the city, the homes were spread farther apart with gardens usually tended by a staff of gnomes. The cobblestones were pristine here, despite the amount of horse shit that came with so many people traveling. Someone was working very hard to maintain the impression of perfection. Gas lanterns burned bright, casting a hazy glow across the street, lengthening the shadows. More staff managed the horses and the wagons, leading them off to the stables and away from the front of the estate. The people on the street paid no attention to anything out of the light from the lamps.
Rose waited, watched. The sun had long since set, and her assignment had yet to make an appearance. By now, the ball was in full swing. Nobles found any excuse to rub shoulders and show off their wealth, and they came out in droves. Perhaps her assignment had already slipped inside, concealed by a crowd or entering through a side door. Maybe she’d missed her chance to do this clean.
She couldn’t allow that to happen.
Rose needed this to go smoothly, rebuild her reputation and the Guild’s trust in her abilities. Assassins weren’t supposed to have attachments, friends, families, lovers. It was easier to kill that way. Rose had made a mistake. She’d shown herself as weak. She had to prove she was still useful to the Guild.
The party guests continued to mill about. Carriages and horses continued to trundle up to the house. A few guests were beginning to leave. Occasionally she caught the notes of a string ensemble as doors were opened and shut.
That’s when she saw him, walking quietly with a group of finely dressed noble women towards the front door and the crowd that mingled around it.
The Wolf of the Empire.
No matter how unassuming the man tried to be, he didn’t belong there. His grizzled hair was graying, unkempt, and his broad shoulders stood out in a sea of nobles and dandies that had never worked a day in their lives. She couldn’t see a visible weapon on him, but people like him went nowhere without a blade. Not that he needed it. The man himself was a living a weapon.
Rose didn’t believe in coincidences and the Wolf didn’t make social calls.
If she lost her assignment to him, she’d be killed. Or worse.
She needed to act now. No time for second guessing. Rose had a bag stashed in her hiding spot with some emergency supplies. She quickly slipped out of her light leather armor, the night air cold on her exposed skin. The scrap of a dress she pulled on did little to help, but the blades strapped to her thighs made her feel warmer. As did the stilettos she used to twist up her hair.
When she finished, she looked just like any other noble parading down on the street. They were easy to blend in with. People saw what they expected to see.
She slipped down from her hiding place, scaling the brick and stone without making a sound. She stashed her armor under a sewer grate.
She pinched her cheeks and bit her lips, adding some color to them, then stepped out into the light of the street lamps.
The noise of the party was louder now, surrounding her. She smiled at everyone who turned to look at her. The dress was dark and blue, flowing silk swirling around her legs. But the slit was high in the front, allowing her ease of movement and causing a few scandalized whispers. Which was fine. People would remember her legs and not her face. Each step she took clacked loudly on the polished wood floor, emphasizing her approach.
If her assignment had managed to get into the party without her noticing, it was another screw up that could be marked against her. If the Wolf got to him first, she was useless.
Though there was a nominal guest list, no one questioned Rose as she walked inside, head held high. She gazed out at the party goers, looking for a face she had memorized, and also looking for the Wolf.
A man in a floral tunic and surcoat stepped forward, blocking her from continuing her hunt. The man was tall, and he used that height to lean over her small frame. She smiled.
“I haven’t seen you around before.” His breath reeked of alcohol, his face red.
“Oh, it’s my first night back in the city. Uncle Orien thought I should make an appearance after spending so long in the country.” Every good lie had a touch of truth. She caught sight of the Wolf across the room, still casually scanning the crowd. As if he wasn’t a killer.
Her new companion droned on. Rose could use this conversation to surreptitiously look for her target and watch the Wolf. She took a step to the left, where she had a better view.
“Is that Orien Salov, my dear? He’s your uncle?”
The Salovs were a large family, with more children than one could easily count. Even better, the factions had a reputation for not speaking to one another. And Orien was particularly senile. He’d never be able to name all of his own children, let alone the rest of his family members. With her pale complexion and red hair, Rose could pass as one of the family.
“Oh yes, the sweet man.” She furrowed her brow. Across the room, the Wolf watched two drunks stumble across the dance floor. “Though I’m afraid he’s having a rough time as of late. He barely remembers me.”
“Yes, I’d heard Orien wasn’t doing well. I’m sad to see that he wasn’t able to attend himself.” He leaned forward, crowding into her personal space. “But I am glad that we have you as a replacement.”
Rose held her ground. She giggled, hunched her shoulders, made herself seem smaller. “You flatter me.”
The Wolf was on the move. She needed to end this conversation.
But the gentleman was still talking. “What were you doing in the country, my dear? That seems like a dreadful place for a delicate flower like you.”
“Oh, Uncle Orien thought the fresh air would be good for me.” She waved, looking across the room as if someone had called for her. “Oh, there’s Alveria. If you’ll excuse me, sir. It was lovely meeting you.”
She stepped away before he could question her further. He’d already cost her enough time. Maybe too much time.
She drifted through the crowd, scanning faces, looking for her assignment and the Wolf. There was no sign of either. How had she lost sight of him that quickly? He wasn’t a subtle man. And her assignment was supposed to be a skittish elf. That was one of the reasons he’d been given to Rose. People always underestimated her. If he saw the Wolf, he’d bolt.
There were too many people to watch, too much movement and noise and color. She was almost clear on the other side of the ballroom when she caught sight of the Wolf again. He stood by the kitchen doors, watching the staff carry trays of meats and fruits, sizing each of them up. His dark eyes narrowed as each new staff member trotted passed.
That was interesting. If her assignment had caught wind of the Wolf, maybe he was trying to find another way out.
Rose walked the periphery of the crowd, making her way towards the kitchen. She stopped when a new line of staff carried empty trays back to the kitchens. When the last waiter passed, she came face to face with the Wolf.
Rose froze. Then took a step back. A noble woman was likely to be afraid of him.
He grabbed her arm. “Let’s go somewhere private to catch up, darling.”
He steered the two of them towards a back entrance that lead to an expansive garden. Only the wealthiest people in the city could afford a place like this. It was large enough that she could almost imagine the buildings to either side didn’t exist, lost to shadows. A few other party-goers wandered through the garden, admiring the flowers, the fountains, the sculptures. The Wolf kept hold of her arm and lead her down a neatly manicured path, keeping them well out of earshot of anyone else.
They’d passed a lilac in full bloom before he started speaking. “I know your kind,” he said at last.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir.”
He laughed. “Cut the bullshit. You’re good, I’ll give you that. But you cased the place three days ago. I saw you on the roof then, and I saw you on the roof tonight.”
Rose said nothing. Bit the inside of her cheek.
The bastard smirked. “I don’t know who gave you the contract, darling, but this one is marked for the Empire.”
“What does the Empire want with an elf like Jarend?”
“Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law. What does the Guild want with him?”
“Crossed the wrong people, didn’t pay his debts, ran afoul of the law.”
“You’re cute. That’ll bite you in the ass one day.”
“I was here first.”
“Doesn’t matter if I get to him first.” He squeezed her arm just a little bit harder. “Why don’t you walk away?”
Rose started to shake her head, then stopped. She’d already given him too much information.
“That’s a real shame.” He stopped walking and turned to face her, examining her. Rose met his eyes, her face blank. He shook his head. “You’re young.”
“I’m older than I look.”
He nodded to an elderly couple that passed too close to them, waited for them to walk by. “Our man isn’t going to show tonight,” he said. “Something spooked him. It’s a fox hunt.” He looked at her. “And a race.” Slowly, he let go of her arm.
Her bicep throbbed where his fingers had dug into her skin. She ignored it. “Yes, I suppose it is.”
The Wolf had been right. Jarend was a tricky, secretive elf. The party had been the best lead to locate him.
If the Wolf was right about him getting wind of a contract, he’d go to ground. She’d have to either flush him out, or track him down. Worse still, if Jarend had drawn the attention of the Empire, he was better connected than she’d been lead to believe. The Guild hadn’t included that information.
She had to hope she was quicker than the Wolf.
Rose revisited Jarend’s safe houses, hoping to find something new. She strolled through the streets of the High Market, walking past vendors with fine silks, expensive jewelry, and exotic fruits. The first safe house was nestled between a seamstress and an apothecary. It had no other way out than the front door. She picked the lock and quietly slipped inside, blade drawn. It was a bust. Food rotted on the table, and the layer of dust that coated the surfaces was thick and undisturbed. Rose sighed and crossed it off her list.
The second safe house was in the outer part of the city in a place called the Narrows, closer to the wall, away from the noble neighborhoods and the high end merchant districts. Not many people ventured out this way if they didn’t have to.
Rose grabbed a dark red cloth from an unwatched vendor stand, left her cloak behind and draped the sheet over her shoulders, pulling the fabric up into a hood. Her features were masked in shadows. The tattered piece of fabric hung heavily off her shoulders. It would do. Then she snatched a small wooden bowl from another cart, dropped a few coins in it, and wandered slowly down the street. No one would look twice at a young beggar woman.
Fetid water pooled in the creases and cracks of the road, soaking the edges of her new cloak. Heaps of trash and debris narrowed the road, squeezed the pedestrians in closer. The place lived up to its name.
Jarend’s safe house was in the middle of a row of run down buildings, the lower windows boarded up. She had a clear line of sight to the stoop from most of the alley.
Rose circled the block several times, noting exits and entrances, possible escape routes or vectors of attack. The pedestrians changed with every pass.
Except one.
Rose noticed him on her second time around, a tall thin man with a hood drawn up over his face, just like she had done with hers. His eyes were in shadow, but she could make out an angular chin and white blond hair sticking out of the folds of fabric. He was there again on her third pass, watching the building as she slowed to watch him. His eyes never once moved towards her, completely passing over the slight woman in the grubby clothing.
People saw what they expected to see.
The street was crowded, and it was easy to sink into the flow of bodies, to drift up and down the street without drawing attention. She kept the elf in her periphery, waiting. Rose was good at waiting. It wouldn’t do to spook him and scare him off before she had her moment. Eventually, he’d make a move. Go into the safe house or leave. It’d be easier to get this done in private.
A commotion from the other end of the street drew her attention, a quiet murmuring broke up the usual noises of the narrows. Rose’s hand drifted toward the stiletto tucked into her belt. She hopped up onto a wooden apple crate, looking out over the heads of people starting to drift closer towards her.
He came from the opposite end of the street, the crowds parting around him as much as they could in the narrow space. While he’d tried to blend in at the party, he made no such efforts now. His official armor gleamed in the sunlight, almost blinding. The engraved wolves seemed to run, a trick of the light across the metal. His executioner’s sword was already unsheathed.
Jarend saw the Wolf a moment after she did. He took off running, squeezing down a side alley.
So much for easy and clean and private.
She jumped off the box and ran after the elf.
The Wolf took off after the two of them. The people on the street started to panic, trying to get out of the way of the knight in armor and the man he was chasing. Most pedestrians didn’t even notice Rose, stepping into her way and blocking her path. She darted around them.
While all that gleaming armor looked flashy and made an entrance, it slowed the Wolf down. Rose had no such issues. She lept over abandoned carts, dove around people, pirouetted through the crowds. She just had to catch up to the elf. His cloak billowed behind him, hood thrown back, his hair tangling. He glanced back over his shoulder, eyes scanning for the Wolf, then took another alley.
Rose scaled the wall of a brothel, hanging off the loose brick and swinging around to a shaky balcony. Someone down on the street screamed.
But she was around the corner and leaping to the next balcony, dropping back into the alley before anyone else called out. She hoped this gamble paid off.
The elf came pivoting around the corner, stumbling over a pile of rotten garbage. He hadn’t yet seen Rose pressed up against the cool brick wall, concealed in shadows. Farther away, she could hear the clinking of the Wolf’s armor.
Jarend looked back over his shoulder, still jogging away from his pursuer. Rose pulled the stilleto from its sheath.
She stepped into the alley, blade in hand. Jarend skidded to a halt at the sight of her. He frowned. Took a step back. The Wolf entered the other end of the alley.
Jarend looked around the alley, eyes wide. Rose gripped her knife tighter. Widened her stance.
He ran right towards her.
Behind him, the Wolf started to charge. He was faster than he’d looked, despite the armor. She breathed in through her nose, out through her mouth. She twisted her fingers on the leather grip of her blade. Watched Jarend run. Threw the stiletto.

The blade sunk deep into his eye socket. Jarend stumbled. Reached towards the knife with shaking hands. Blood began to trickle down his cheek and he slipped to the ground. He twitched once. Twice.
Rose walked slowly to the corpse. The Wolf made it there first. He pulled the stilleto from the dead man’s skull.
He whistled, low and slow. “Nice work, darling. I didn’t even see you until the idiot ran.”
She nodded, her eyes narrowed. She let her hand fall towards her other blade, almost touching. If he decided to claim the contract for himself, there’d be nothing she could do about it. “What happens now?”
He shrugged. Smiled a little. “What is it you think I’d do?”
“You’re the Empire’s attack dog. I think you’d do whatever you wanted. Like take credit for my kill.”
He laughed, a full bellied sound that shook his shoulders. “You’re brave, girl. No one has talked to me like that in years. ”
“I’ve met worse.”
“I’m sure you have.” He looked back down at the body. Blood had started to seep into the cobblestones. He squared his shoulders and turned back to her. “Well, go ahead and finish it.”
She took a step back from him. Reached into her bag and pulled out a piece of parchment tied with a black velvet ribbon. The receipt of assassination. She’d signed the paper days ago, when she’d first been given the contract, in case she needed to leave in a hurry. That seemed an odd thought now the Wolf scrutinized her every move. She left the parchment on the elf’s still chest. Her eyes never left the Wolf.
He nodded when she stood back up. “Congratulations, assassin. You’ve got your man. You’ve earned it.” He handed her stiletto back to her. “Witnessed by a servant of the Empress, if anyone should question it. I’ll send someone to take care of the mess.”
“That’s it?”
“The elf is dead. Seems like there’s nothing for me to do.” He nodded one more time and stalked around the corner, the armor clinking with every step.
Rose didn’t know what to think. But it didn’t matter in the end. She completed the contract. This was the first step to winning back the Guild’s approval. She’d worry about the Wolf of the Empire another day, if she had to.
At least she’d live to see it.

Ygritte's letters part 2

I am sure that the news is beginning to spread. If you don’t already know, you will know soon.
I write you with great trepidation. I have never hesitated to confide in you in the past, but it is unclear of who we can trust these days. Know that it is not your person that has made me question, but that events that have unfolded over the last several days.
There was chaos in the streets of Himmelviel. The Empress was dead, cut down by one of the most trusted and revered in the empire. Who was, in fact, a dragon. There were no magical signs of this switch. It was completely unknown to us. I fear who else may have been switched without our knowing. I attempted to find any enemy agents in my own ranks in the guild. None were detected, though I don’t know if the dragons are able to hide from that sort of magic as well.
The wizard was able to scry and locate the real Captain. It seemed the best course of action was to rescue him, and clear up at least some of the fear and confusion surrounding the empress’s death.
We were soon introduced to the archer’s long lost companion, only to discover he has been working with Rossinar. His strength is useful, but I do not trust him. Anyone who is in league with Rossinar is willing to overlook the atrocities he has already committed. I question Baldir’s judgement and his motives. Though he was enthusiastic at the prospect of fighting dragons. He will need to be watched.
With the help of the trickster, we set off on our mission, deep into Draconis. Stealth and speed were our greatest allies here. We fared well until we reached the hoard. It was guarded by two invisible, fiery demons. My training allowed me to detect them. Not all of my companions were so lucky. We dispatched them soon enough. But then the constructs flanking the vault doors came to life, and a rather large dragon exited one of the vaults. Surely our missing companion was behind that door.
The wolf was able to free A, who struck the killing blow to the dragon. We clothed and disguised him before returning to the capital. He was determined to face whatever punishment lay before him, though I did not want to see him killed in the streets on his way.
It had been a long day, and I returned to the towers to rest before an even longer one dawned. I had no idea just how long it would be.
I checked in with my agents in the city. Rumors were still flying. The truth seemed to be the most outlandish of them all. B said nothing unusual had happened while we were away.
I proceeded to the trial for A, only to learn that C had turned Q in to the palace guards as well. I am sure that he did not go willing. We were called to testify on our friends’ behalf. Though I had no reason to lie, the cone of truth was unnerving. The Archer disclosed secrets that were unknown to the empire as a whole, and caused a great uproar.
But then the wolf caught my eye and pointed to the roof. A figure had been watching the proceedings. I feared for our friends lives, or the lives of any of the high value targets in the room. I am sure the person did not see me exit, but he was gone in the short time it took me to reach the roof. I scanned the surrounding rooftops for a sniper, and saw Rossinar’s retinue entering the city.
The day just kept getting better.
A was cleared of all charges. Q was found guilty, but was given trial by ordeal. It was more than he could have asked for, really. The city had no reason to spare him.
The council of kings was called to hear the reading of Issobelle’s will. My station allowed me to be there, but I was more concerned with a threat to the people attending than the reading of the will. I was foolish.
I am sure you know what happened next.
I left the council before anyone could stop me. No one noticed me leave. I started home, but realized that would be the first place my friends would look for me. So I zig-zagged through the city, occasionally climbing to rooftops and coming back down, until I wound up in the slums. The burned out husk of a house you pulled me from still stands. And it is relatively quiet. I have not been there since I gave up the name of Rose. I don’t think anybody had.
I wasn’t thinking clearly, or I would have realized the wolf would find me. What I was not expecting was the man who grabbed me as I jumped out the window. I failed to knock him loose and brought both of us back to the towers. He would not let go of me until the wolf arrived. Then the kid seemed to realize who was in the room with him and became awestruck.
By naming me twice, Issobelle had cornered me. I could not go back to my old name, nor remain who I am and be unnoticed. But my accepting would also mean men like Duke Fredderich, Rossinar, or Victonous could not claim the throne for themselves.
I gave the Scarlet Sorceress my somewhat reluctant blessing, and stayed in the tower with B to wait it out. Alcohol may have been involved. Either way the vote goes, I am now a target.
V returned sometime later with the news. I still don’t know whether it is a good thing or not. But she also had more information. A had officially stepped down as captain of the knight wardens, and given up his sword.
What a way to start my reign.


Asa's Resignation
Fallout from the Death of the Empress

Puca 13, 2013

Chamber of Kings,

It is with tremendous regret I, Asa Murica, Imperial Grand Knight Marshal, Chief Guardian of Imperial Law, former Captain of the Protectorate, and so-called Hero of Himmelveil, hereby resign my commission as the Imperial Grand Knight Marshal of Himmelveil. I do not decide this rashly or in haste, but rather with great deliberation. In addition, to help keep the peace, I hereby submit myself for revue and trial and whatever punishment the Chamber of Kings sees fit for my role in the tragic murder of the Empress.

It has been brought to my attention that in my absence, an enemy of the Empire, using my visage, has acted with evil and malice aforethought in killing our dearest Issobelle. This deceit cannot be atoned for except by capturing this enemy and holding it accountable for its evil deeds.

I submit, however, the perpetrator was not me, as I have been held captive by the Dragon Lord Onai for the last two months. (Lord Onai’s brother, and Chief Tormentor, Ivereth was slain in my companions’ mad attempt to rescue me.)

This is no excuse. For many saw the man, Asa Murica, coldly slay the Empress. No denial will remove those scars and I will not attempt to do so.

Issobelle’s loss saddens me beyond any expression. I prostrate myself nightly before my god, seeking wisdom and praying forgiveness for enabling this to occur in my name. Such a young life, full of wisdom beyond her years, with beauty fitting a queen, a fine heir to the kingdom, was snatched away too soon. I weep for the Empire’s loss. It’s immeasurable.

In the face of this, I resign my commission. I lay down my sword. My god has granted me my petition to remain a priest in his service, and to this end, I return to that from which I emerged, prepared to war in defense of Himmelveil and the Nameless One. In accordance with this, I have also resigned my commission as the Temple’s Captain of the Protectorate. I have already conversed with the Elders. They understand my decision and concur. I pray now that you do so, too.

By so doing, I dedicate myself wholly to the healing and protection of my friends, allies, and all the citizens of Himmelveil. You will no longer see me wear my armor or wield my sword. If you’ll allow for my remaining free within the city, I will instead dress per my vocation and wear only a shield, symbolizing my change.

I humbly beseech your forgiveness. I ask for your grace. I seek your mercy.

Your humble servant,

Asa Murica

Asa's Torment
Or Days Spent as a Trophy Paladin


Darkness and pain.



A rumble like a growl of thunder.

A burst of light and then blistering heat.



His own.


Not his own.



Burning and pain.

Asa muttered a prayer. The pain and discomfort relented slightly, sliding towards the back of his mind.

Laughter. Pure menace. It hovered in the air, smothering him, wrapping its tendrils around his pained mind.

He lay naked and prone across an uneven and alternately smooth and poking surface of what seemed to be metal and glass shards. Cold iron gripped his right ankle. Nearby, a chain slowly rattled. Suddenly, with incredible force, the chain jerked. His ankle snapped. He was flung to and fro across the darkness, first loose and floating, then snapping to the pivot of the ankle cuff. Each pulse drove needles of pain through his leg, stealing the breath from his lungs. He had just enough air to bellow as his hip was dislocated from the strain of the whipsawing. Back and forth he was thrown again.

“Yes.” As with the laughter, the gravelly voice slithered across Asa’s battered body. “Keep fixing yourself. That means more chances to play.”

Asa was dropped to the floor with disdain.




“How manages his substitute?”

“Ably, Lord Ivereth. His friends realize not.”

“Yes. The power of the stone hides Kraserith from even the stoutest of defenses.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“And the others?”

“As with Kraserith, they remain in the—“

“Silence! My prize is awake. He thinks I can’t tell. Go now. Tell Lord Onai the prize awaits him. Say no more.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

There was a brief scrabbling of claws on stone moving away into the darkness. But not utter darkness. There was light peeking in from somewhere above and somewhere beyond. It was brighter and from it Asa felt no heat or threat.

“I see you,” the voice grated. Asa shivered. He wondered about his friends.

Is this what they felt in the presence of these beasts?

Dragons. Asa knew what they were. He understood their language. But fear? He hardly remembered what it felt like to be afraid.

Is this fear? Is this the closest I can come?

“Are you ready for more … play?” it hissed.

Claws clacked across stone, getting closer. Leathery hide whispering and whooshing. Tinkling of metal and glass like water in a fountain.

Asa tried to make a fist as he braced for contact but he could not. His hand had been broken and he couldn’t close his fingers to his palm. The bones ground against one another unnaturally. He closed his eyes but it didn’t stop them from rolling back into his head at the sharp pain of the attempt. Something leathery touched his leg near the chain. The tip of a claw and a light scratch, like for an itch. The weight behind the paw was incredibly present, on the edge of delivery, but withheld, teasing. The pain tantalized in its absence but devastated at its possibility. Hot breath exhaled across Asa’s body stimulating the burned skin. Despite the heat his singed hairs stood on end. Even this most delicate a touch delivered on the threat. Then a stabbing pain as a single claw pierced his calf stealing his breath at its intensity, probing deep into the muscle. He groaned.


Asa sighed, gritting his teeth. “How long—“

“You get nothing!” Ivereth hissed, just above him. A burst of sulfuric breath blew across his frame boiling his sores and burns. Leathery wings began to flap, ever more rapidly, sending the hot air swirling around him, hotter and faster and more forceful. The tinkling of the metal, glass, and stone grew louder from the heightened gusts. “Call out to your god, Paladin!” it spat. “There is no rest for you here!”

It roared deafeningly. Asa didn’t know how long it lasted.


Silence. The evil was absent. Again there was an ambient light in the room, though Asa couldn’t really see much. Perhaps his eyes could adjust to the darkness. He knew he was alone so with more forthrightness he asked for the favor of the Nameless One to heal his broken body. His prayer was answered.

Breathing grew easier and the pain in his right leg retreated. His hip was still dislocated.
Asa closed his eyes and tried to center himself with his prayers. The last thing he remembered was defeating the dragon Garinch and pocketing the green stone.

Natasha and Quarion are dead!

He trembled.

No. Vondarra… she used a stone to bring them back to us. How was I captured?

He couldn’t recall.

Wait. Substitute. That younger beast mentioned my substitute. Does the team even know I am here? What are the dragons capable of if I have been replaced without anyone knowing? At least everything we are, it seems.

He shivered. Asa opened his eyes and could see but a little. As he suspected, he sprawled across a mountain of valuables: coins of all kinds, gemstones, and wealth beyond reckoning. Gold trophies.

Trophy. I am its trophy.

He spat, but nothing came of it. It was difficult to move his jaw. His lips cracked and clung together. Asa realized with urgency how hungry and thirsty he was. Simultaneously, he spotted a plate of meat and flagon close at hand. Fresh.

It is feeding me. Should I let it?

He reached out and pulled the flagon close. He titled it towards his mouth and poured. Cool. It chilled him as he drank it down. It wasn’t quite water, but it refreshed. He grabbed the plate and voraciously devoured the smoky meat which lay upon it. Not recognizable, but it brought satisfaction to his belly.

I must keep my mind. And that requires strength. And that requires food and drink. No question the beast could keep me alive with its magic, but I can’t let it. I will suffer the indignities of it providing for me, but I won’t let it do for me that which I can still do for myself. I will feed myself and heal myself and live. I won’t break. I won’t let it see me broken. It is not my master.

Minutes passed and Asa must have dozed. He awoke with a start as metal clanged nearby. In his sleep he had knocked over the flagon. It bounced down the dragon’s hoard spilling its contents along the way. He groaned, suddenly, convulsing as the food within him churned. He turned to the side and vomited. It wasn’t poison, he didn’t think. Just an unsettled stomach stirred by the absence of food.

Had it been days? How long have I been here?

Asa prayed again seeking solace in his Lord. His body strengthened. The pain ebbed. He slept.

Asa jerked awake at a beast’s coarse leathery paw stroking his shoulder and then held perfectly still.

Evil. But different. Stronger. Older.

“Your strength has returned, dear one,” it purred. “My pet!”


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Asa remained silent.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


“Is my brother taking good care of you? Do you like your food and drink?” Its voice was dark and muscled, raspy and powerful, but it kept its tone level, almost friendly, throughout the threat.


“Your god lies when it tells you to not fear me.”


“We have time.”

It shifted its immense mass and casually moved away.

Asa breathed deeply and prayed for calm. He trembled.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Crushed and snapped bones.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


“Tell me about Himmelveil.”

Spat upon and taunted.

“Tell me about Himmelveil.”


The days passed without count while Asa strained to maintain his Self.

The physical brutality hurt him but ultimately ebbed with time and prayers and healing. It reminded him of the strength of the Nameless One. There was solace in that. There was power in that. He suspected the beast knew this, but it couldn’t help itself from its evil nature.

At the limit of his willpower, of his ability to withstand the onslaught, the beast ignored him. Asa knew when the beast was nearby. So when it rested or watched or purred with contentment having ceased pouring malice upon Asa, Asa trembled at its absence.

Am I no longer important? Am I no longer your prize? Your pet? Speak to me! Please. I’m still here.

But the beast gave Asa nothing but silence. There was nothing to withstand, no pain from which to steal confidence, no perceived frustrations from which to purchase joy, however fleeting.

Asa yearned to hear its voice. He longed to call out and break the silence. Multiple times he swallowed an emerging cry into groans.

Speak to me or I will. No! I’m still me. For now.

But the cracks were showing. No doubt the beast was aware and as it had taunted Asa, it had time. All the time that it wanted.


He stirred.

Find me, Darkness. Keep me safe.

The last beating, following the silence, was relentless and Asa retreated into his darkness. More often than not he preferred it there. There was no peace for him anywhere else.

“Asa! Where are you?”

Asa groaned.

Stop taunting me, Beast. Just lie still and it will leave me be.

“Asa!” a familiar voice pleaded.

Asa stirred again.

Was that Quarion’s voice? No. The beast always has something new to try.


Asa heard the beast move, but cared not to watch it.

Find me, Darkness.

He kept his eyes closed.

“I see you,” it hissed.

More laughter.

“Oh, Asa, my pet, what have you done?” it said, twisting the word you with amusement and a hint of concern.

“So now they know. Will they come for you, dear one?” it mused. “Let them try.”

Excerpts from Asa's Diary, Part 14
The War is Ended. Be at Peace.

We ended the fight with The Skull exhausted. We needed true rest. Spiritual or magical healing is certainly worthwhile, but true rest and recovery was required. We had been on the move for I don’t even know how many hours tracing a path across the Empire. Since we escaped with Galon from Rossinar’s experiment chamber, we’d been to Avalon, Ostern, Hydran’s planar castle, Gloommoore, back to Ostern to the Hydran prison camp, The Watcher’s mountain lab, and back to Gloommoore to finish The Skull. Had I even slept since those days waiting for Galon to emerge from the chamber? It feels so long ago.

And yet, we surely could not stay here in Gloommoore. At the end of our strength we needed to travel once more. But where? Separated from the others, could we find the rest we desperately needed? Where could we go and be secure? Where could we be best positioned to reunite with the companions we left behind at The Watcher’s?

Vondarra and Piero wanted to go see their father. It would certainly be safe but I didn’t care for that idea. I wasn’t yet ready to face Magnus. The carnage in Ostern was still too fresh. But they were insistent. I didn’t envy Vondarra that confrontation – and confront him, she surely would. Piero seemed to care not. He just wanted to go home and see dad. I guess Magnus deserved an update on all that his children have accomplished. Whatever she could report back to us would be a bonus.

I was sorry to see them go. They had been instrumental in the defeat of both Stryker and The Skull. Those efforts should not go unrecognized. Not just by the Empire, but more especially by our small team. They were great, strong efforts to do right in the face of the doubts and mistrust which still lingered among us because of their betrayals under the influence of Kodok. Hopefully the positive report of Natasha would help convince the others of their faithfulness to the Empire.

Thankfully, before departing for Ashteron Magus, Vondarra agreed to use the power of the indigo stone to take us wherever we might like to go. Depleted and tired, we decided to regroup at Winterbridge. Presumably it was safe and out of the flow of any lingering battles. At the least we would hopefully find General Talabad and any of his remaining forces and through him perhaps secure a means of communicating with our missing friends. The decision made, we were gone.

We landed in an empty field a short distance outside the battle-scarred remains of Winterbridge. It was quiet. The only signs of the Empire were the trampled grass and scattered remnants of a hastily packed up camp. Natasha, Caroline, Ferrus, and the ever present Visionaire joined me at our impromptu camp. Vondarra and Piero departed immediately for Ashteron Magus.

As we were setting up camp, Ferrus questioned Visionaire about his construction. He didn’t have too much in the way of specific details, except to say he “came from the Life Forge.” Ferrus perked up at that. What is that? I’d never heard tell of it. All Visionaire could tell us was that it was some sort of eldritch engine located in the deep. Another of his kind, “the ultimate construct,” created him through this engine. That “ultimate” construct was created by a man named Hagerick. And that is all he knew of his creation. He had no memories prior to three weeks ago, the day of his creation. He said no more.

It was perplexing, but as exhausted as I was I hadn’t the care to think much about it. Nor to wonder about the wisdom of leaving Visionaire to keep watch. So exhausted and greatly in need of rest I entered my tent and dropped immediately into a deep sleep.

During the night, I was awakened in my tent by Quarion. I was surprised and not happy about the interruption. I tried to shake the sleep and understand his excitement, but I was groggy and couldn’t really follow him. He said something about The Watcher in the mountain. I think. Ygritte, Buccarin, and Tam were with him. He eventually agreed it could wait until morning and he left the tent. I was grateful to return to sleep with no further disturbance.

Early the next morning, I rose and readied myself for the day, grateful for the rest however short it seemed. I stepped out of the tent wondering if I truly spoke with Quarion during the night. Did our friends truly find us? They did. There were definitely more tents than had been there when I fell into my slumber. So that was a great help. But thoughts of my groggy conversation snapped out of my mind immediately and I never did get back to asking him about it. Kyn Wrath was seated at the center of the camp, injured.

I responded quickly to tend to Wrath’s wounds while Visionaire began to rouse the others. How long had he been there? Why hadn’t Visionaire roused me to help? Wrath waved my inquiry away. He knew his injuries could wait until morning and that our rest was most important. I was frustrated, but what’s done was done. Wrath was with us now and he had a tale to tell.

Black Watch had fallen. In a bold move as part of the House Hydran assault, agents of the Black Watch had turned on the Empire and declared their loyalties for Raishghoulin, the mastermind orchestrating the coup. Ygritte bristled at the mention – she knew the name. Wrath continued. The tower was in chaos. Agents had killed – were killing – other agents. He didn’t know if it was finished or who was left alive. He got out when he saw an opportunity. Wrath believed that his top agents – Jaspen, Samwell, and Mora – were still loyal and he hoped to find them soon. He hoped they would secure others and re-marshal the organization. But Ygritte had more bad news for Wrath: Jaspen was in league with Raishghoulin.

Wrath informed us that his most recent intelligence revealed that Raishghoulin had taken his forces to Nandapar. We knew it was a potential site for a Hydran base of operations, but Ygritte responded to the news with great urgency. She had heard tell of some fount of magical energy which resided there and we had to do everything possible to keep Raishghoulin from it. Natasha agreed immediately. I didn’t know exactly why they reacted so, but I didn’t mind. Rested and refreshed, I was happy to be on the move again. More Hydran enemies were out there and that meant there was more to do.

Wrath said he was able to get a message to General Talabad to rally the Empire’s forces and meet us there. We quickly packed up and with Quarion’s aid we were off to Nandapar at the speed of his thought.

We landed within a cavernous room. With my sword out, the area was filled with light revealing a hallway leading out directly ahead and a smaller alcove off to the left. At the end of the alcove was a staircase leading down. It was quiet and it didn’t appear that anyone had yet made it this far.

Relieved, Ygritte ran down the hall into an anteroom as the rest of us prepared for whatever Hydran forces awaited us. A secret door on the far side of that room opened from without. Whoever approached must’ve heard us. With a sound of shattering glass, a gas cloud was released into the hallway where we were preparing to rush. Ygritte hollered out orders to avoid the cloud. Ferrus stepped up, created a wind, and blew the fog back into the far room. Quarion threw a fireball into the cloud, igniting it, and causing it to dissipate.

With the cloud gone, we caught our first glimpse of Raishghoulin. He charged past us all and attacked Natasha, positioned as she typically was at the back, our last line of defense. He struck out at her so quickly she stumbled badly taking a devastating hit. She struck back at him, but only dealt a glancing blow.

Responding to our injured friend, Wrath pulled out a dark piece of metal and pointed it at Raishghoulin. There was a loud bang, fire came out of the end of it and Raishghoulin jerked as if hit by something. I had never seen anything like this. I wondered momentarily what it was but the fight was on and I had no time to find out. Visionaire struck at Raishghoulin, then Caroline and Buccarin, hurting him, but not crippling him. Seeing Natasha’s distress, I reached out and restored some of what Raishghoulin had stolen away. It wouldn’t be enough.

Visionaire hit Raishghoulin again. Caroline too. Our onslaught was heavy in defense of Natasha and he dropped. But before Caroline’s blow felled him, he struck out again at Natasha and she fell. Dead? God forbid. I couldn’t tell from my distance. I had tried to help her but was too far away to do much. Or to put myself under Raishghoulin’s blade. I wished I had prepared differently for the day. Perhaps there was something else I could have done. But she was gone and my heart broke. One of my closest and dependable companions, dropped by this evil.

I ran over and knelt at her side. Calling down the power and blessing of the Nameless One I asked that He restore her. In His overwhelming grace He responded and Natasha began breathing again, though she was obviously still in distress. I wept at the blessing.

But fire raged within me. I stood and turned and prepared to take another head.

In the meantime, Quarion had created a stone wall spanning the alcove leading to the stairs. It would take much effort to get past it. This was yet another smart move by Quarion. He was devilishly great in a fight. His personality was volatile, of course, and always bore watching, but where I all too often engaged the enemy without a strategic care, Quarion with his tricks and spells never fails to think in other, creative ways. I’m thankful he’s with us. And I’m thankful he was thinking ahead. For, no doubt, whatever we faced in Nandapar was only just beginning.

As we tended to Natasha, Ferrus responded to his outrage more quickly than I did. He moved to confirm Raishghoulin’s death. But in that moment, Raishghoulin struck out at Ferrus, stabbing him in the leg. We all raged at the ruse, but again prepared, Quarion quickly mumbled a response and I watched as Raishghoulin’s flesh, blood, and bone crumbled into dust leaving only his clothing and gear behind to know he had ever been there. There was no pretending now. Raishghoulin was dead.

Hearing the sounds of fighting down the hallway, I rushed to help. I wasn’t the first to do so. Buccarin and Tam had already moved to assist Ygritte. She was heavily engaged with a small group of assassins while a blond-haired woman wearing black leather armor stood in the corner directing the others. Ygritte told me later this was Yelena, Raishghoulin’s daughter, and though I didn’t know the details, I understood from brief hints of conversation that Yelena was a chief rival of Ygritte’s in the Assassin’s Guild.

Ygritte did her best to get to Yelena but the other assassins were equal at preventing her. Buccarin had drawn the attention of one and was standing on a raised altar in the center of the room fighting him. Tam was engaged directly with Yelena and appeared battered and shaken. As I watched, she struck him again and moved into the hallway. The other assassins retreated to surround and protect her. Tam retreated as well, back along the wall of the anteroom and tossed a smoke bomb into the hallway. Ygritte and Buccarin both yelled as they saw the bomb floating, but it was too late to stop it. The smoke erupted. It enveloped Yelena and her team.

Ygritte charged into to the smoke. Buccarin jumped off the altar and followed suit. I ran to follow but as was typical, I moved too slowly and when I arrived found the smoke empty. The assassins were gone. They had escaped to the surface with Ygritte and Buccarin in pursuit.

When all this is over I must remember to speak with Tam about these smoke tactics. We accepted his presence at the request of Oberon, but we will not suffer it long if he cannot work better with us. I don’t know if it’s because he’s used to working alone or because he’s better working in darkness or some other reason. This isn’t all on him, of course. There’s no doubt we’re not the easiest group to step into. We’re all pretty set in our ways and there’s no denying we have made our own share of strategic errors. But if he is to continue in this partnership he must find a better way.

Wrath and Visionaire quickly pursued the fleeing enemies. Tam had incurred serious injury so I tended to him and the others before heading to the surface. I looked around, though, and Natasha was gone. But where? Caroline assured me she was safe. Quarion had teleported her away behind the wall and they were investigating the “pool” or whatever it was Raishghoulin was chasing.

Outside the temple I found an incredible battle raging across the mountain. The Empire had brought the full weight of their remaining armies and had engaged with Hydran in a brutal last stand. Even the elves were there. Thunor and Oberon hovered in the sky wreaking their own special forms of havoc.

Suddenly, a rumble spread throughout the mountain, growing louder and louder, shaking the ground. Simultaneously, an incredibly bright light burst from the temple behind me and arced across the sky. It stunned everyone on the surface into stillness, friend and foe alike. A beam of the light streamed away, shooting towards Thunor and it enveloped him. It was odd, though. It didn’t appear to harm him, but rather fill him. I don’t know how else to explain it. It was joyful, almost. And then I understood. His expression was one like my own when I am exulting in the power of the Nameless One. This was divine power, flowing into Thunor and through him.

Other beams of the light arced out across the sky and disappeared from sight. One or two others found receptacles among the fight. One found Oberon where he flew. Was that Syen? Even she was filled and overcome with this divine power. Truly, I was happy to see her and Thunor. We had lost track of them in Ostern. I prayed they were well and it appeared that it was so.

As the light faded into the distance there was a general sense among us on the battlefield that it was over. Whatever fight was left in Hydran drained away and they succumbed to the overwhelming Empire forces around them. The battle was drawing to a close.

Glancing around, I noticed Ygritte and Buccarin. They had caught up with Yelena and were striking her with determination. The bodies of the fellow assassins lay dead beside them. I watched as Ygritte lashed out again with her kama and struck Yelena down. There was murderous intent in her expression and a hot passion in her eyes. I don’t recall ever seeing her like this before. During a fight she was generally much more steady and emotionless. I would not judge her if there was a little something of that in her in that moment for I knew how killing the Hydran leadership had affected me. That glee frightened me. It made me feel like I was losing my center. Losing that peace with which the Nameless One graced me. I wondered if Ygritte had ever before been affected by killing like she was this day. But then, as I watched her confirm the death of the woman, Ygritte pulled herself back from the edge. That passion can be dangerous. I should remember to ask her about it later. Perhaps it would help her to talk about it.

The Empire’s final push had brought down these last remaining dregs of the Hydran army. Raishghoulin was the last of the “heads” and he was now dust. There was no one left to give the orders. No one left to stir the fear or the fire within the soldiers.

Ah, there was General Talabad! Galon was beside him! As if called, we all made our way there so we could end the fight together. Thunor and Syen with Ayame. Ygritte. Buccarin. Ferrus and Visionaire. Caroline and Tam. Quarion appeared with Natasha and she was restored! In fact, she seemed better, somehow. Better than I had ever seen her. I presumed it was simply joy at seeing her well. I only learned later the truth, but that is not for this record. Only Vondarra and Piero weren’t there to celebrate the end of the war. (And the missing Irec, of course.) But as much as I wished they were there to share the joy with us, part of me was grateful that Magnus and the Brotherhood were not here. I know what I feared. I need not say it. I was relieved.

But where was Wrath? In the scramble on the surface, no one knew.

The war was over. We had accomplished much over the last month in duty to and for the saving of the Empire. I was grateful it was finished. We had survived desperate moments and enjoyed incredible triumphs. Highs and lows. We encountered much evil and destroyed it. We were truly blessed to have been successful in ridding the Empire of such enemies of peace.

Even so, if I have learned anything through the course of the fight, things are never as black and white as I wanted them to be. So Lord, I pray. Desperately, I pray for a constant supply of your wisdom. Allow me to see those parts of me which need correction. Keep me attuned to your will. Keep me on my knees in supplication to your overwhelming power. Allow me to be your representative in whatever capacity I am seen among the people. You have graced me with the use of your power to rid the earth of these evils. Now use me to bring peace and healing. These may not go hand-in-hand, but nevertheless help me be your faithful servant. In all things let this be your will.

For now, we had time for rest and recovery. I spent much of it at the Temple in prayer and in meetings, helping the Elders assess the state of the Templars and how best to recover our own numbers and help in the reconstruction efforts in Himmelveil and across the Empire. Elsewhere, much devastation had taken place. Nowhere had suffered as badly as Ostern. But Winterbridge, Nandapar, Gloommoore, and other smaller towns and villages needed help too. General Talabad and his soldiers were coordinating reconstruction efforts with his engineers and were stretched thin. But what of the citizens? It was here where the Temple was able to be of great aid. Refugees, where they remained, needed help and protection. So the Temple was taking in and housing those in need. I was grateful we were able to maintain some semblance of our mission during these most desperate of times. Let the healing begin.

Himmelveil survived the Hydran assault, though the wall was badly damaged and in need of repair. Even so, it remained structurally sound. Institutionally, however, Himmelveil was in shambles. The Assassin’s Guild was wiped out. The Wizard’s Tower was emptied (though a good number of them were out with the Empire’s forces beginning the rebuild in Winterbridge, Ostern, and elsewhere). The Black Watch was destroyed. Wrath was missing. Only the forces of the Empress’ Royal Guard remained intact in the city. General Talabad and his soldiers were coordinating relief efforts with his engineers. General Rossinar and his loyalists were up to their own work on behalf of the Empress. I knew not what or where.

Besides this business I also spent some time in relaxation with my companions. In the common areas of the manor I ran into the others to say hello or have a drink or enjoy a meal. I knew there were things we should discuss, but everyone seemed reluctant to begin. There would be time enough for sobriety and seriousness. It need not be now.

But primarily, I spent much time in meditation and reflection. I took a difficult look at myself, my motivations, and my intentions as we dealt with the enemy. The Hydran enemies were usually obvious but there were certainly times we found them hidden in our midst. Did I become too trusting? It is my way, I know. And I believe it the way the Lord would have me be. But it doesn’t mean I should shut both eyes. Be trusting but cautious. We’ve so many new companions it is imperative.

Speaking of which, we were able to share our tactical concerns with Tam. I do not suppose he took it well; he didn’t say much. I tried to be gracious, but… well, it needed to be said. He left shortly thereafter and we haven’t seen him since. I wonder if he’ll be back. Perhaps it is for the best. We are a large and diverse team. We ought to be able to find a useful place for him. I will try to do better if he ever returns. I pray I didn’t push him beyond the reach of your grace, Lord. Help me be more tactful. Give me the right words at the right times. Help me always be your faithful representative.

Galon has been busy on business for the Empress and we haven’t seen much of him. Ferrus has basically hidden himself away in the basement of the manor. I know not what he does down there; I probably wouldn’t understand it if I did know. But there he stays, tinkering, building, something. Visionaire has also joined us in the manor. He seems attached to Vondarra in a small way. But he is slowly attempting to acclimate himself into our group and the city as a whole. Every day holds new experiences for him. It is easy to forget he is barely a month old. I must be patient with him. Caroline has made herself at home at the manor as well. She presents quite a diversion as she is easily excitable and ready for any sort of adventure. She’ll bring an interesting dynamic to the group if she sticks around. Buccarin, on the other hand, has withdrawn into the Assassin’s Guild towers with Ygritte. They spend much time there together. He is purportedly researching the Guild, perhaps looking for references to his past and anything which may spark his memories as they have not yet returned. He is a quiet man and very distrustful. Ygritte is rebuilding some of that with him, but there is far to go before he will be comfortable among us.

Of Irec there has been no word.

One odd occurrence during that week following the war was my interaction with our butler, Jacques Snow. For whatever reason, I could not recall our having hired him. I asked about, but no one seemed to know for certain. I thought we had hired servants who were not so impertinent. I began to question things because he seemed ever present and very, very quiet. There were a number of times I thought I was alone only to find him planted behind me. There was even a time while writing this record when he seemed to be reading along as I wrote. It was unsettling. But for now, he’ll do, I guess. He seems quite able and the manor seems to be functioning well in all ways. With so many spies about, it bears watching, but I hope we do not need to replace him.

During the week following the end of the fighting at Nandapar, we received a summons from the Empress. She requested our presence before her. It was not for us to decline.

Unexpectedly, it was filled with moments of celebration and moments of concern. But overall, it was a time for new beginnings.

Oberon was there with his usual entourage, but also present was his wife and Umim and Thumin. Shockingly, they were in elven form, not ravens. They were very bird-like in their mannerisms, however, and their voices were unmistakable. During the course of the event, the Empress spoke with Oberon for quite some time. It appeared heated at times and though it ended pleasantly enough, it ended with sadness. Oberon is removing Avalon to the Astral Sea. Thunor, however, would remain behind as Viceroy of the Greenwood and Defender of the Realm.

Masked Viktonus was present as well, presumably as Ostern’s last remaining royal representative. He was very guarded in his manner and his words. I believe he was fighting back some anger in every moment of his interactions. In the end, he remained restrained, and he received gold from the Empress and her leave to return to Ostern to rebuild his castle, his people, and his lands. If he needs assistance, he need only ask and the Empire will assist.

General Rossinar was also present with his entourage, including a changed Okiru. I couldn’t place what was different about her since we saw her last at the experiment chamber, but she was definitely changed. During the course of the event, Caroline and I had a chance to pull Rossinar aside and speak with him. We asked him about the experiments and if they were ongoing. He nodded and appeared hesitant to speak much of it. He confirmed that Okiru had successfully emerged from the chamber. But he revealed that not all were successful. A couple of the test “subjects” had not survived the process. Subjects. It disgusts me to even use that word. The men, the women, the citizens. Whoever they were, they deserved more mercy than that word gives them. Rossinar confirmed for us that Creed had not yet gone through the process, but interestingly enough, we learned that Creed was imprisoned. He would not reveal why, but left it at that. That certainly bears watching. And we must tell Galon about it. It was only later we discovered, when speaking with Vondarra, that Magnus has sent Creed to spy on Rossinar and sabotage the chamber. Something had gone wrong there, but it certainly cast Creed in a different, more complex light.

Magnus too was present, accompanied by Piero, Duke Frederick, and a mage in orange robes. The Empress, evincing grace and power beyond her seventeen years, both recognized Magnus and also rebuked him for his actions at Ostern. The floating island of Ashteron Magus was recognized as a kingdom of the Empire and given all rights, allegiances, and oaths which rightfully belong with it.

Perhaps the Empress shows greater wisdom than some of us might own. There is a proverb to keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Perhaps this is what she does with Magnus and Rossinar. This relationship, too, bears watching. We must be vigilant in it and protect her at all costs.

The Empress also saw fit to dispense new rewards and official Empire titles to most of my companions. I was pleased at the recognition and honor which they received. It is so greatly deserved.

Ygritte was named the Left Hand of the Empress. In this she joins Galon, the Right Hand of the Empress and Wolf of the Empire, to remain diligent in the guarding of the Empress. She will do well here. Though always on call, she has proved her loyalty to the Empire in the midst of the betrayal and decimation of the Assassin’s Guild. She is proven in battle and fearless. The Empress is in good hands.

Our new companion Caroline was named the Imperial Grand Knight Warden, Chief Defender of the Empire’s Borders. I do not know her enough to know the wisdom of this choice. But she clearly has mettle and has fit in quite easily amongst us. The trust of Wrath must count for something here, too. It is an enormous task to defend the borders of the Empire, especially in light of the departure of Avalon and the breach in the wall with Drakonis. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say we stand ready to assist.

Quarion was named the Imperial Grand Magister, Arcane Council to the Throne. Quarion must be one of the most powerful wizards remaining in the realm so there is wisdom in this choice. I pray he has the wisdom to be a good advisor. He is truly sharp and quick in battle, but his quick tongue too often puts him in difficult circumstances. Or at least more difficult than they ought to be. Lord, whether he knows it or not (and he would never admit it if it were so), please give him your wisdom when advising the Empress. Or at least give her the wisdom to respond to it safely.

Vondarra was given the position of the Imperial Grand Diplomat, Chief Officer of Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Relations. This is well-deserved. I wrote earlier of the importance of Vondarra’s and Piero’s roles in the defeat of Hydran and here she is, an officer of the royal court. She is so very sensitive to the value of words and the importance of appearances; I believe she is an inspired choice for this role. She is so tactful and thoughtful prior to speaking, I have no doubt she will represent the Empire well before the nations.

Natasha has been tasked with the rebuilding of the Black Watch. This is an incredible task before her and I pray that with the disappearance of Kyn Wrath, she can find the means to do so. It was an important organization, but hopefully with Caroline’s influence and friendship she’ll have the advice she needs to get it back up and running. Also, hopefully she can connect with Mora Hills and any other loyal agents and reestablish some foundation of trust. In the meantime, whatever I can do to help, I’m at her disposal.

Tam was asked to be the Imperial Grand Councilor, the Voice of the People before the throne. I suppose this is Oberon’s doing. Even as he leaves the Empire behind, he can’t help himself but to meddle. This isn’t fair, perhaps. Tam may be a fine choice. I know not. I can only wait and see.

I’m so proud to know these warriors. At their core, that’s what they are. We all approach the fight in different ways. We all have different roles to fill. But they are all warriors. Earlier in this record I questioned my working with them. Or at least some of them. There are times when I feel led astray from the path of the Nameless One in their company, but that is on me, not them. They are all strong of heart and have faith in the righteousness of the Empire and its goals. It is my honor to pray, stand, and fight beside them.

The Empress also saw fit to grant me the title of Imperial Grand Knight Marshall, Chief Guardian of Imperial Law. I knew not how to respond. This is an honor beyond my anticipation. It was enough for me to lead the Templars, but to now be an official leader of the Empire… I was humbled to accept this honor. There is much to learn. There is a great responsibility to take this position seriously. It is not ceremonial. The Empress requires my steadfastness in the post-war chaos when many types will look to step into the gaps and will themselves to power. I pray I am up to the task.

You know me Lord. You know me better than even myself. In this new duty as in all things, I depend upon you. I can never say often enough how much I require your guidance, your strength, your mercy, your wisdom, your grace, and your peace. That is a lot to ask, I know. But there is no one I would rather be like, than you.

Please grant me the ability to be at peace with myself, my role, my decisions and my actions.

Please let me have a measure of your grace to forgive the contrite. As the Guardian of the Law, I will surely encounter those who make mistakes. Help me recognize true contrition.

Please supply to me your wisdom and the ability to sense it and use it to slow down, be strategic, learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others, and confidently move forward into any circumstance.

Please grant me mercy, too, Lord. Mercy for those times I grow distant or disobedient – even of heart. Mercy towards others when mistakes are made and punishment must be delivered. Help my blade be guided by your mercy.

Strengthen me to surpass the obstacles which lay before me, the compromise I will surely face, and the temptation to trust myself ahead of you. It is only through your strength I will overcome.

Guide me, Lord. You have taken me this far. You have provided me with new homes and new friends. You changed me physically, Lord. Surely these gifts are far beyond anything I deserve! Or have earned! So guide me. Let me walk in your truth. Teach me your ways. I am yours. My hope is in you.

The war is ended. Be at peace.

Excerpts from Asa's Diary, Part 13
Liberating Ostern and Ending The Skull

The magic in these stones bears watching. Not only do they instill in their wearers great power and strength, but knowledge. What’s not as obvious is do they instill wisdom? Can they guide or instruct the wearer? Or would it move one to act outside of one’s conscience? At some point we ought to begin testing these stones, measuring however we can their influence upon us. I trust my companions, but I do not trust these stones. I do not trust the magic contained within them. And I trust myself to do what must be done, should it be required. I pray it does not come to that.

With the unsettling knowledge of the approaching evil in tow, we moved on, climbing the stairs and exiting the canyon. It mattered. It was important. But the urgency of completing our tasks and reuniting with our friends in Ostern was critical.

The first door up the stairs revealed a room with weapons along the walls and an altar in the center. There were tendrils of enchantment in the air. It appeared to be a room for enchanting, a workshop of sorts with all sorts of spell components and scrolls. We found a few usable items and stowed them away.

When we opened the next door up we were blasted with an overwhelming odor of rancid, rotting meat. It was slightly metallic, as if tinged with blood. There were tables throughout the room covered with dead bodies, cut open with pieces missing. In the gaps rested animal eggs. The horror of House Hydran knew no bounds. Vondarra and Natasha informed me with distaste that we should destroy them. These were Gug eggs. Flesh eaters. Enemies they encountered walking freely in Ostern. Natasha burnt the corpses and eggs so they could spread no more. There was a door at the far side of the road. Perhaps unwisely, we opened the door and were met with the sounds of gurgling and clanging chains. There were six Gugs chained to the wall which began to strain against them attempting to break free and attack us. Disgusted, we slew them all before they could.

This was the last unexplored room of the planar castle. All else had been revealed. We returned to the room with the four archways to go to Ostern, but to our dismay we discovered the portals had all been dismissed. Perhaps this was a result of securing the conjuration stone? It seemed logical that they were held in place by the engine from which we pilfered the indigo gem.

What now? How will we get there? As we thought about it, the stone chose that moment to reveal to Vondarra that the other portal destinations were Nandapar (the mountain temple) and Gloommoore (swamp). There were also portals in Amstern and Wallpointe.

With the death of Stryker, my thoughts returned to The Skull. We needed to find and destroy his phylactery, too. That had to be a priority. While discussing it, Vondarra mentioned that the stone also flashed the sight for her a red vial in a well-fortified basement residence near Gloommoore. The stone also permitted her the use of the knowledge and power to take us there. However unsettled it made me, I was willing to use it to that end. We went without debate.

We arrived in a cavern of jagged rocks, crystals, and bio-luminescence. Overall, the stone of the cavern appeared shaped. This cavern was not natural. And there was something off about the space. My hackles rose. This was unholy ground. As we moved into the cavern, we discovered an underground pool rippling in the space. In the center of the pool was a stone. On the stone lay a red vial: the phylactery. The presence of evil was overwhelming. Necromantic magic and energy was dripping from the vial. Evocation magic covered the water.

Unwisely, we tossed a rock into the water producing a wave of necromantic energy which washed over the cavern. It was protected. We had to find a way to dismiss it. And more likely our presence would sure be detected soon if it had not been already. We may have only moments before we had company. We had to work fast.

Looking around we discovered a riddle or puzzle of sorts. We had to rearrange numbered stones into a particular order. The only clue we had was the word “PRIME.” It ended up being a riddle of mathematics. I freely admit I’m not skilled in that area. I’ve never had a head for numbers. But by pooling the knowledge between the four of us, we figured a solution. We arranged the stones to represent the answer and the aura over the water dissipated.

While we were solving the math problem, we lost track of Piero. He wandered to another area of the cavern and came upon a human-sized skull set into the rock of a wall. Scattered over the floor before it were hundreds of jewels and precious stones of different colors. Piero called out to us and we began walking over to him. Too impatient to wait, he picked up rubies and placed them in the eye holes. Nothing happened. He tried again with aquamarines and they also had no effect. What color were The Skull’s eyes? I tried to remember. I wondered if Vondarra had any glimpses from the stone. The only thing which came was that the eyes were bright and clear. Diamonds! We placed diamonds in the eyes, they glowed briefly and the jaw opened, speaking “Who Dares?” No one spoke in reply. After a brief pause, the skull continued: “The alert is being sent as we speak.”

We ran back to the vial and the necromantic energy was gone. Vondarra reached out her hand and magically called the vial into my grasp. I immediately dropped it to the ground at my feet and crushed it with my sword. It exploded in a wave of necromantic energy as the scarlet force or entity which inhabited it splashed like water droplets around the sword. It briefly formed into an image of what we supposed was The Skull in his former, human form before it completely dissipated into smoke and drifted through the cave roof.

With the alarm raised, there was no time to dawdle. With the phylactery destroyed and The Skull’s ability to regenerate eliminated, we decided return to Ostern to reunite with the others. We were too small to press our advantage here. Vondarra consulted the stone about the prison in Ostern and in a blink we were gone. But before we blinked away I saw The Skull, appearing in the cavern in response to the alarm.

Seeing The Skull appear in the cavern just before vanishing left me sour. I wanted to go back and face him. When we “landed” in the prison my hand was already on my sword. I didn’t see what kind of support he had with him, but I regretted missing that chance. I wanted him ended. I knew our chances were better to circle back and face him later among the others, but it didn’t make it easier to think we were retreating. I had to content myself with having dealt him a significant defeat. There was satisfaction in that, but I knew we’d have to face him again.

Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to dwell upon it. The indigo stone dropped us in a rectangular room. It was dark and murky, though not pitch black. Immediately a door burst open and I was charged by someone wielding a kama. It partially struck me parried only by my armor. I heard Vondarra say “Stop, Asa!” so I restrained my hand and only then realized it was Ygritte. With her were Quarion, Buccarin, Carroline, Ferrus, and Tam.

We were inside the prison and Ygritte and the others had just arrived. They marveled at our presence there before them, so we revealed that Stryker was dead but said no more. We shared a quick reunion but with the battle raging outside it was imperative we continue. At one side of the room there was a spiral downward staircase. At the stairs, Quarion read some markings and triggered a magical explosion, which destroyed and blocked the stairs. Right then a large, hulking man burst through the walls of the prison followed by a mage of sorts. Ready to fight, I was only restrained by Piero informing us that this was Cyttorak and others of Magnus’ Brotherhood. To reinforce the point, Thunor was with him. One of them, some sort of geomancer, worked the stone at the stairs and cleared the way for us to descend. Once again, we took the help where we could find it with no questions asked.

The stairs first let out at a landing into the middle of a circular room with five doors, each embossed with some sort of sigil or glyph. The first was a skull with empty eyes continuously opening and closing its mouth, emitting an aura of evocation. The second was a slithering mechanism of a snake devouring its tail, an alchemical symbol. There were trigger plates in the floor directly in front of the door. The third was a skeletal creature with tight skin. The creature had a mantis head, a human body, and a scorpion tail with venom dripping from the stinger. It showed an aura of conjuration. The fourth door showed the grim reaper. The fifth door had a hammer with lightning bolts. It had an aura of evocation and there was a dull thudding sound coming from behind the door.

Buccarin confirmed that this was the heart of the prison and that the individual cells were behind the doors. In short order, with only slight damage and delay, we were able to dismiss the magic from the cell doors and trigger or disable the traps. We promptly began releasing the prisoners.

Our trouble came from deciding what to do with the potentially evil or untrustworthy. Some wished to leave them captive or to kill them outright. Others wished them set free. Despite the occasional evil auras, I fell in the latter camp. Hydran held them captive for their own awful purposes. This did not make them enemies of the Empire. We had not the time, nor was this the place to judge them.

How does one balance these decisions? I chose to err on the side of life. My choice did not always win the day, unfortunately. I must pray more deeply upon these issues. It seems easy when deciding upon purely good versus evil lines. But perhaps more is demanded of us. Where does one go when walking in the grey spaces? Which way is right? Despite our successes, on a day fraught with mistakes I chose freedom. Show grace and mercy and perhaps these potential enemies could be friends at the end. And at the least, perhaps they could help in the fight against Hydran. Enemies of our friends and all that.

We first freed those prisoners kept behind the skeletal door. There was a yellow robed man caught only in a glimpse who sped out of the prison immediately upon his release. He moved like Piero. We all seemed stunned that there was another. The second prisoner was a young man with ruffled, unkempt hair who also took to his freedom with a sprint to the open air. Oddly, he looked a little like Galon. I wished he was with us just to see the likeness. He would be startled, I suspect. The third captive was a strange creature. He moved like a man and breathed like a man, but was definitely a construct of some sort. His face and head was red and he had a yellow diamond on his forehead. He graciously thanked us for his freedom and introduced himself as Visionaire. He accompanied us while freeing the remaining prisoners.

Behind the slithering door were five more prisoners. The first was a naked man with long black hair and webbed feet and gills. He was incredibly fit and looked brutally strong. As we freed him he stalked with anger, seeking revenge upon Hydran. His name was Romarrus. We offered him clothing and gear as he lingered. He expressed a desire only for a magical trident. Recalling that we found one in the enchantment room of the planar castle, I presented it to him. He took it gladly, acknowledging its return with joy. The second and third prisoners were an average looking man with brown hair and eyes and a non-descript woman, both engulfed in flames (and kept in separate cells). In the fourth cell was a woman dressed in black and wearing a golden mask. These all departed without a word. They were the captives we saw upon entering the cell block, but before we walked off a woman’s voice called out from one of the cells we though was empty. She introduced herself as Sulerin and expressed gratitude at her release. She asked if we had freed a man named Ricar with dark hair with white around his temples. As we had not, she remained to watch as we had more prisoners to free.

The door with the hammer was next. In this room were three more prisoners. The first was a large, aberrant creature. Humanoid, like Irec, but his skin was covered with green scales. There was a dark-skinned man, muscular, wearing the clothing of the lower classes. And there was a third prisoner. A red-haired, green-skinned half-goblin half-human male. It seemed that he was recognized and it was argued that he should be killed. As we argued about it, Romarrus took matters into his own hand, sprinting after him and killing him before he had a chance to escape.

We continued with the grim reaper’s chamber. Four more prisoners here. There was a young man with brown hair wearing a suit of black, pacing back and forth across his cell like a trapped tiger, muscular. There was a young girl with brown hair, maybe 13-14 years old, fit and lean. Next, we released a man-shaped creature, covered in some kind of black fluid like tar, twisting and writhing. It skittered across the ceiling and out of the cell before anyone could react. The last was a white-haired drow female with fibers like spider webs on her clothing. All these prisoners departed for the surface and their freedom.

In the final room we freed the last three captives. The first was a man who seemed very flexible, contorting himself in a number of ways testing the cell and seeking a means of escape. Upon seeing him, Sulerin called out the name Ricar and ran to him (presumably). He opened his arms and hugged her, I suppose. The next one was a man with a purple cloth over his head. My companions (especially Ygritte) noticeably reacted upon seeing him and said he must be killed. This was the man they had implicated during their previous mission into Ostern and without much consideration the deed was done. Romarrus stepped up again during the brief indecision and completed the task. I was uncomfortable. He was Hydran they said, and I guess that was enough for us. These executions without opportunity to defend oneself were troubling. Lastly, we saw a somewhat familiar face. It was Viktonus, the masked man Quarion sent us in Avalon, only unscarred. But how could that be? Was this the true Viktonus? There was some uncertainty about how to proceed. Quarion asserted he was an imposter and not the real Viktonus, but thankfully his life was spared and we allowed his escape into the city. What happened to him then is anyone’s guess.

With the Hydran prisoners freed we continued down the stairs to the basement to see if anything else remained inside. In the center of the room there was a raised platform, a hill-shaped pile of bones. At the far side of the room were three skeletal sentries. Speaking was a man dressed as an executioner and he was speaking to a giant construct with a blank face, but a face in the middle of its torso. Arnzol’s face. How could this be? Had we not killed Arnzol in the castle? Carroline had his head! Whatever devilry this was – perhaps Quarion could explain – we were set to face him again, this time in a new, larger and stronger form.

Tam raced to the executioner and blinded him. Ferrus fired energy beams at both the executioner and the construct. Blinded, the executioner had no defense to Ygritte, who attacked him and put him down quickly. Quarion warded us from the attacks of the skeletons as we ringed the Arnzol construct and destroyed it with haste. Our numbers overwhelmed the small group of enemies and the prison was cleared.

We regrouped quickly and exited the prison the join the battle for Ostern, but the fighting had ceased. The walls of the prison camp had been obliterated as well as seemingly all but a small bit of Ostern. Ashteron Magus hovered above us. Bodies of Hydran soldiers, citizens, women, and children littered the streets. The only people still upright were the mages of Magnus’ Brotherhood. It was a slaughter.

A wave of shame overcame me. Were all here equally guilty? Guilty enough to deserve this cruel fate? I knew not. Surely the soldiers or those who actively fought the Empire deserved death. But was every citizen of Ostern equally culpable? Equally to blame? They were still citizens of the Empire and yet this summary judgement was handed down by Magnus. I wondered if he hesitated at all. Was there any justification for this? I suffered to see this devastation despite the successful outcome. The Battle of Two Cities was over. Hydran was defeated. Ostern – or whatever remained of it – was free.

But not all of the fighting was finished. Elsewhere in Himmelveil, the invasion of Hydran continued. Stretched to our limits, we pushed ourselves to press on. Vondarra again consulted the stone, asking for aid. She saw a vision of the tallest mountain, with a peak above the clouds, looking over the entire world. She took us there.

We appeared in an alchemical laboratory, high in the mountains. I recognized some of the equipment, but my own alchemical studies were so long ago and have been so neglected there was much I didn’t. The air was thin and cold. But it was oddly comfortable. There was a certain warmth in the peace contained within this room. I breathed easy understanding that here we were under no threat.

Alone in the room was a solitary figure dressed in white with his back to us standing at the window, looking out over the realm. Surprising us all, he spoke directly to Natasha in a protean celestial language. I understood nothing of what was said, but Natasha told us he spoke of The Devourer. He was one year away. More urgently he revealed The Skull was at Gloommoore and Rhasgoulin in the Nyador mountains at the shrine of the Aethereals. This “Watcher” was an Old One who wore a white stone, like everything else he wore. It sparkled around his neck.

With Natasha’s information passed along, there was no need to wait. Knowing where The Skull was – where we left him in Gloommoore – we asked Vondarra to take us there and left immediately. We appeared in a swamp on the outskirts of the castle. There was a path illuminated by willow wisps. In stark contrast to the mountain laboratory we just departed, the air here was heavy with a stench of decay and rot. In a clearing across the way was The Skull with some Hell Knights. Immediately upon our arrival, some vampires charged at us to protect their lord.

Startlingly, our group was not whole. Present from The Watcher’s lab was Vondarra, Natasha, Carroline, Ferrus, Piero, and Visionaire. The rest of the group did not make the journey. I prayed that they were safe. I prayed we could succeed without them.

The fight raged across the swamp. Natasha flew to gain an angle on the enemies beyond the trees. Piero dashed to The Skull where he was preparing some evil rite so as to take the fight directly to him and disrupt the spell. Carroline and I engaged the Hell Knights somewhere in between where we landed and The Skull’s position. Visionaire and Ferrus fought from distance attempting to slow the incoming horde. In the end, Piero took the brunt, but we killed all the enemy. Natasha, as is regular for this diary, slew The Skull with a barrage of her fiery arrows.

I’m glad he was dead. But I wished it was me. I wished I had dealt the finishing blow. I’m ashamed to say it. And I haven’t said it to anyone else. I overflowed with hate towards him. I had no sympathy for the man he once was. I wished him only death. I wanted to deliver it. I should have been happy enough for the outcome. He was dead. With his phylactery destroyed, he had no means to come back. He was eternally defeated. This evil, this abomination which tread upon the goodness of your earth was destroyed. Lord, let me be satisfied with that. Temper these destructive emotions within me. I want to defeat this evil before us, but it need not be me. Let my attitude and my method do right by you and point others towards you. Remove my ego and grant me the grace to accept my role, whatever it may be.

Excerpts from Asa's Diary, Part 12
The Search for Stryker

There was no Irec. General Talabad had no word about his whereabouts. And with more pressing matters had no time to investigate. He didn’t have much time for advice either. We told him our plan to infiltrate Ostern and take the fight directly to the heads of House Hydran. He heard what we had to say. He gave us his tacit approval. Approval might even imply too much. He had his own business to attend to. His forces needed steering. I didn’t blame him for moving us along. With so much fighting ahead and men to direct even he knew our minds were set. What could his “yes” or “no” mean to us? I suppose he was grateful for the knowledge. I’ll have to be content with that.

All that was left were the details: ready our equipment, prepare ourselves, and determine our infiltration point. I worried that my habit and my style, besides my aura would place the team at risk. I would be detected immediately. I could not hide amongst them and would be found out. I wanted to teleport as close to the beating heart of the Ostern operations as possible and run my sword right through it.

During the team’s previous incursion, Ygritte and the others were in Stryker’s offices. I wanted to go right there and avoid the streets. So with Umim working his magic, he took us there before objections could be raised. In hindsight there was probably a better choice but there was nothing to be done about it now.

Baron Stryker von Hydran was meeting with three associates when we showed up. Mistake number one.

The encounter filled me with a certain dread. I anticipated it. In fact, demanded it. But this was the first encounter with a leader of House Hydran since our encounter with The Skull back at the Shrine of Stefin. It was what all our work was leading to. And it must be finished here. It wouldn’t be.

Stryker was dressed in shining plate mail armor, head to toe, wielding a flaming long sword. He was large, obviously strong, and very powerful. The armor had glints of red and emitted a palpable sense of evil. As the team moved into the room, I only had eyes for him. It was the second of our mistakes in this encounter.

I believe the surprise of their presence in the office rattled us more than our appearance rattled them. We no doubt had them at some disadvantage, but our tactics seemed to become so scattered that we did not protect one another. Too often we do not strategically marshal our forces. We don’t often face failure or retreat, but we take for granted our ability to recover and repair. We should know better.

Stryker’s three associates included a woman and two men. The woman I learned later was called Madame Ophelia. She whirled her arms throwing magical attacks around the room. Vondarra attempted to subdue her with her own magic. Natasha and Ferrus moved to bar and guard the office door and keep additional enemies from entering, while contributing to the fight as they could. Ygritte and Syen ended up on the far side of the room, engaging a man with long dark hair, wearing black, and wielding a metal arm. His eyes seemed distant, as if he wasn’t making his own decisions, but he fought with fury. Surprisingly, Ygritte called out to keep that one alive. I didn’t understand, but as I was otherwise engaged, paid it no mind in the moment.

The fourth was another burly man, this one wearing a black cloak and a mask styled with white bones. He stayed close to Stryker as I moved to engage them with Galon by my side. Thunor, too.

Our newest companion, Tam, then made our third mistake. He lobbed a smoke bomb into their midst, engulfing us in a thick smoke along with Stryker and the bone-masked man. The fight turned. Stryker used the smoke to his advantage to remain hidden and more difficult to strike. Natasha couldn’t deal damage to the targets she couldn’t see.

Galon ran into the smoke to locate Stryker and in so doing suffered a tremendous blow, staggering him. He regained some of his footing before ultimately succumbing under the weight of the next strike. Yet somehow, the fight turned to our favor. Because of Galon’s coordination, he was able to identify Stryker’s general position. I listened to his voice and attempted to do likewise, and by the grace of the Nameless One, smited him a time or two with my sword. Elsewhere, Madame Ophelia fell. As did the bone man. The doors burst open, allowing Natasha and Ferrus to put their best into play, taking care of the charging guards.

In the desperate encounter, however, Thunor fell. Teleporting right into their midst; not coordinating with each other; fighting within the smoke; blindly charging enemies; striking to subdue an enemy with murderous intent. Our mistakes were numerous. And our team paid the price.

Oberon’s grace stood tall for us during those precious seconds. The moment Thunor fell, Umim landed on his prone body and they both disappeared to Oberon’s presence where Thunor was restored to life or health or both. What else would one expect a father do for his son?

The fight continued. As his associates fell, Stryker must have felt the battle turning against him. When he sensed an opportunity, he moved out of the smoke and jumped through a portal in the floor, screaming “Arnzol! Now!”

Seconds later the wood table standing above the magical portal burst into splinters and an unnatural creature of foulness and disgust landed in the room. It writhed and moaned and screamed and squished. A conscious beast created from several rotten elven corpses. It is hard now to even think of the beast. Its image and scent remain fresh and difficult to shake as I linger upon my memory of it. But in that moment, there was one thought: destroy it; immediately.

Those of us still able engaged the creature and we dispatched it without further loss. But we had already lost another. In taking down the metal-armed man, Syen was dealt a punishing blow and fell. Yet before I could attend to her in any way Oberon’s prescience or power was revealed again. Umim returned with a revived Thunor, saw Syen prone, and escaped with her just as quickly.

The room was cleared. Our wounds were severe. Stryker had escaped.

We quickly regrouped before following him through the portal. I healed the group to regain a little strength. Umim returned with Syen, no worse for wear, thank the Nameless One. Ygritte, oddly, tended to the metal-armed man. We tried to ascertain the meaning of it, but all she shared was that his name was Buccarin and she knew him from years ago. He was an old friend and he was not himself. Deferring to her wishes, I included him in my healing and the rest of us readied for another attack from him, but it did not come. The glaze which had previously clouded his eyes was gone.

He was calm upon reawakening and in the calmness he seemed familiar to me. Had I seen him before? I would have to think on this. Under Ygitte’s tender touch he seemed secure enough and though he had difficulty remembering how he knew her, he was clear that Hydran was his enemy. I’ve heard said the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Perhaps he could help.

Time was ticking. Stryker was surely escaping further with each second spent. As I was readying an exclamation for haste, I looked up. Through the window I saw it and whatever voice I had left my lips. I stood open-mouthed in wonder as I saw Quarion, perched on the tip of a flying island, speeding toward a collision with Ostern.

Just before the impact which shook the city like an earthquake, Quarion appeared in our midst, accompanied by Piero and an unknown woman. She was striking and attractive, and carried herself with confidence and the manner of a soldier. She wore armor edged with red and gold, complementing her golden hair. She reacted with joy upon seeing Ygritte, Natasha, and Vondarra and I surmised she was the Carroline of the Black Watch they spoke of who accompanied them on their mission in Ostern at the behest of Wrath. I was not wrong.

It was good to see them all and see them well. Piero enjoyed a speedy reunion with his sister, explaining to the rest of us that this was his father, Magnus, and Asherton Magus. Quarion took credit, of course. Brief introductions followed, but impatience got the better of me and Galon and finally we dropped through the portal to follow whatever trail of Stryker’s still remained.

We fell into a room filled with alchemical equipment. In the center of the room lay a strange creature. He rose when we entered and in the heat of the battle above, some of us began to strike out at him.

He was a large man, gruff in voice and manner with a skin made of stones, like boulders. Remembering the fiery man we found in a similar room in Winterbridge, I tried to speak but didn’t find my voice fast enough. Thankfully Galon did before we did any damage of significance.

He shouted over the din, “We’re not your enemy! We are the enemies of the people who did this to you!” Hearing those words, the man relented. He told us he could be called Bengrim, and he agreed to accompany us as we continued the hunt for Stryker.

The laboratory had a window which looked out onto blue sky interspersed with white fluffy clouds. A quick look around revealed nothing of the land around us. Because there wasn’t any. We only saw that we were in some sort of flying castle, extra-planar or dimensional.

It is interesting to me now as I think about this short period of time how in a matter of a few days, short hours, quick minutes, our party had grown. First Tam at the request of Oberon. Then Buccarin, a Hydran fighter we “rescued.” Then Carroline. Now Bengrim. Were they threats? We all so readily agreed to their company and participation. Was the burden of this mission, the dread of the impending fights, so heavy we simply wanted to trust them? Even Ferrus. And Vondarra and Piero before him. All new. Vondarra and her brother proved threats, though it was Hydran’s influence which directed them. They, too, were not themselves. Vondarra, of course, is no such thing. She has proved herself. At least to me. Hopefully as each day passes, it becomes easier for the others. But it is a fine line. It bears watching in the days to come. And demands caution. But we had none this day, only urgency.

There was only one exit from Bengrim’s experimentation chamber, a short hallway connecting it to the next room. The room was large with rounded walls covered with mirrors. As we moved into the room expecting and awaiting the Hydran trap, our reflections emerged from the mirrors, dark and twisted. These evil shadows assaulted us with our own weapons and our own techniques. We began to defend ourselves, but Quarion, thinking quickly, spun a chained whip of fire around the room, destroying nearly all of our shadowy selves. Ferrus’ remained, but Ygritte, invisibly destroyed his mirror and with it the last of our ghosts. Galon, with blades extended from his bare knuckles, ran a quick circle around the room destroying the remaining mirrors so no others could be so trapped. The fight did not harm us, but once again, proved dangerous for the delay. The seconds ticked by. Stryker lengthened his lead. He must be stopped.

There was a staircase descending from the middle of the mirrored hall and a closed door at the end. There were the sounds of machinery clanking from down the stairs. We chose to move forward.

We entered another round room, almost like a sanctuary, but the evil and darkness here was palpable, filling us all with unease. Dark rites were performed here. Stryker was nowhere to be seen. In the center of the room there was a small man in a white coat and as we watched he activated a sigil carved into the floor. He looked at us and smirked, saying gleefully, “The invasion has already begun. It’s too late.”

Arnzol. As he spoke, he pressed his hands together and collapsed. An energy ring was activated protecting his body. A secret door on the far side of the room clattered open, and some Hydran guards entered, followed by Kodok instructing them to “Protect the master.” They couldn’t. With our added numbers, like the hall of mirrors, this fight didn’t last long and ended with Carroline removing Arnzol’s head from his prone body. Our enhanced numbers had proven valuable and we were able to dispatch the enemy before I had the need – or the chance – to participate.

I’ve written before about those moments when our battles stir something within me which craves the destruction of these evils. This was another of these times. I was overflowing with glee and righteousness at their destruction. I don’t know enough to know if it was simply wishing revenge on Kodok for nearly killing me in Winterbridge, joy at the payback for his mind-controlling Vondarra and Piero, or simply believing that Arnzol, the architect of all the unnatural changes and experiments, was finished. But the fire burned to the point that I almost forgot about finding Stryker. Almost.

In truth, I must be mindful. The Nameless One has blessed me with this power, but it requires my spirit to be right to mete out their punishments. It is the business of God, ridding the Empire of unspeakable evils. I should fight to restrain the joy I feel. It is not me, after all, but Him working through me. It is His strength and His power. Let Him receive all the glory.

We proceeded through the secret door, entering another chamber, square with rounded corners. In each corner were archways covered with black curtains, rippling as if from a non-existent wind. Each archway was a portal to another part of Himmelveil. We tied a rope to Galon and secured a hold while he peeked through each arch so we could pull him back, if necessary.

Through the first arch he saw a swampy land. The smell of rotten flesh hung low over the stagnant waters. Flames marked a path through the bog. It felt colorless. Most unnerving, however, was that he neither saw nor heard any birds or insects. In the second arch, he saw a field of bamboo stalks. It was raining. In the distance, a temple loomed above the land. There were no people and as he watched, the rain began changing to snow. In the third arch Galon spied a city raging in battle and Ashteron Magus hovering overhead. Ostern. The fourth arch revealed the scarred and empty city of Winterbridge.

Upon learning that the third arch led to the heart of Ostern, Ygritte grabbed Buccarin and jumped through, saying quickly she was going to liberate the prison. When Quarion heard, he jumped through intending to see “his friend” Magnus. It seems he has an unhealthy attachment to him. Even Magnus’ daughter is wary with him, yet Quarion nearly follows him blindly. I hope he is smarter than this behavior seems. Thunor followed Quarion to “keep an eye on him,” accompanied by Syen and Ayame.

Stryker was still on my mind. I wondered aloud about that descending staircase in the mirrored room. It hadn’t been checked and was the last place Stryker could be if he remained in this planar castle. Emotions were high, others were leaving, and the team was divided. With his tactician’s mind, Galon instructed Piero to investigate. Piero dashed away before Vondarra could stop him. In the next moment, Galon followed Ygritte through the portal into Ostern, accompanied by Bengrim, Tam, and Ferrus. I remained in the room with Vondarra and Natasha.

Seconds passed and Vondarra became worried. Despite my familiarity with Piero’s speed, I could not believe there was a need for worry so quickly, but she would not wait. And we wouldn’t leave her. She hastened us to move more quickly and moved to follow Piero. Natasha picked me up and flew, following Vondarra. We were on our own.

In moments we reached the staircase. It was a slow downward spiral staircase with no landings, though there were two doors allowing for exits along the way down. The doors were all closed so we continued straight down. The walls of the stairs began as carved stones before revealing a water-washed natural cavern. There were echoed sounds of fighting below. Vondarra’s instincts were correct.

As we flew toward the fight, we heard a frustrated voice, grunting and yelling. The voice was deep and sharp with an Ostern accent. Stryker! A second familiar voice yelled out followed by the sound of sundered metal. Piero!

As we turned a corner, the fight lay before us. There was a wide well in the floor of the cavern with a ramp spiraling down along the walls. Piero was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with Stryker, alone at the bottom of the ramp. Stryker’s metal shield lay splintered beside them. In the center of the floor of the well was an eldritch engine covered in runes, with a glowing monument at its pinnacle holding a small, indigo-colored stone. It emitted an aura of conjuration as blinding as one I’ve seen once before. As Piero fought and punched and dodged it seemed he kept himself positioned to keep Stryker from reaching the stone.

Vondarra stopped at the edge of the well and cast a spell. I asked Natasha to drop me into the fight and she did so before landing on the ramp and firing a bolt at Stryker. I attacked Styker immediately landing a trio of smiting slashes with my sword. Then the battle truly turned. Piero knocked Stryker’s sword from his grasp and dealt him a pair of critical blows, staggering him. Vondarra magically transported the sword to where she stood so Stryker couldn’t regain it. (It turned out this was magical fakery, which deceived even me in the heat of the fight.) Natasha continued to pour her deadly arrows into Stryker and he fell. With the hatred of his evil at its height, I raised my sword and cut off his head. He was no more.

Piero looked ragged after the fight, but declined to take much healing. He was content with a little burst of health and strength (as were we all) but I should have pressed him. We nearly lost him later due to his obstinance (and my lack of persistence). We are lucky we did not. Receiving this blessing of the Nameless One took but a moment and then we moved on. Which we needed to do. There was still much work to be done. Our friends were in who-knows-what peril. But before we did so, we addressed the indigo stone. Piero grabbed it but at Vondarra’s request, he delivered it to her rather than keeping it for Magnus. It was another of the infinity stones. Praises that we were able to remove it from the clutches of the enemy.

Holding the stone, Vondarra seemed to lose herself for a moment as the power it held washed over her. My hand moved towards my hilt, but she returned to herself in short order, though I must say there was something different about her. Was she taller? I couldn’t quite put my mind to it. Perhaps the stone instills its wearer with the confidence which comes from its power. This bears watching too. But with this effect revealed, I offered Natasha the evocation stone which I kept safe in my bag. I feared we could use someone else with extra power during the fights sure to come.

Watching her accept it, I saw the same wave pass over her, flickering her eyes and twitching her expression. Her demeanor changed too, though only slightly. She was already filled with so much confidence because of the power she wields in her bow, perhaps she didn’t have as far to go. But she revealed much.

The stone revealed to her much about the history of the old days, the days before the world as we know it, before the dragons, before demons, the age of the gods as created by the Nameless One. During my time in the temple, I hadn’t researched much history like this, but I don’t recall much of this being more than supposition or superstition. Accuracy was not presumed. She shared this knowledge with Vondarra and me. I hesitate to write much of it here due to the failings of my own memories, but I must remember to ask her – and maybe even the others who hold the stones – to visit the elders at the Temple and perhaps add some insight into the beginnings of our world. It should, of course, be respected as potentially a lie of the magic contained within these stones, but they are a new resource and should be used towards this good. Especially if any knowledge can be gained to help defend and defeat The Devourer and Thanatotic who both approach. It is troubling hearing these names and the old powers they represent. We must do all we can to learn and prepare for their coming, which seems unavoidable. Be with us Lord.

Garinch the Green
The Himmelveil Christmas Special

There once, long ago, was a land called Drakonis,
It’s elves were all slaves, kept chained in their lowness.
The dwarves, the gnomes, and the round halflings too,
Were all kept with the humans in the Dragon’s great zoo.
They toiled and they labored, all the year long,
They never raised their voices, not even in song.

In the North there were heroes, this land Himmelveil,
Whose swords were all sharp, and who never did fail.
They all sat ‘round drinking in good holiday cheer,
For the feast of Nandorin was then drawing near.
Feasting and drinking they passed away time,
When dear Leralonde appeared in this rhyme.

Far and long she had traveled, and weary was she,
When onto their doorstep this elf did they see.
She bore no markings nor gift for their house,
But meekly she sought them, more timid than a mouse.
She spoke up but once, then she fell to the floor,
Exhaustion oe’r took her after she made through the door.

Her speech she had written, now long beforehand,
And clutched it quite dearly as she fell toward their stand,
But what did it say, and why had she come?
This woman they scarce knew from beyond elfendom?
Now we shall see as we hear plainly speaking,
For this bard’s talent with rhyme is now surely peaking.


So the heroes set out, on this noble venture,
To free her people of their age-old indenture,
To the caves of her friends she took them all in hand,
Inmates, thieves, and killers all formed this merry band.
The Guardians of Freedom called they their own selves,
Man and Halfling and others awaited, not elves.


So well armed with their weapons, new friends, and a plan,
Our heroes set out to slay this Garinch and his clan.
To Garinch of Zyonz’ hoard they sailed with intent,
Though the prospect was daunting their will was unbent.
They arrived at the lakeside by stealth and by night,
Plying surprise to o’ercome the Green Dragon’s might.


And so our story ends, and with joy all around,
The people were freed and for Guardian’s wealth was found.
Our heroes they feasted with roast goose and roast ham,
With boar and with berries, with bread stuffing and yam.
With laughter and ale the people they made merry,
With wines and with whiskey, and honey-dropped sherry.

Now feast of Nandorin, or of Meryale,
It made no difference as the music did play.
A new reason to celebrate the people all had,
For the heroes of Himmelveil had made them all glad.
They toasted and boasted as dawn did draw near,
And now they celebrate the Hero’s feast each year.

A Merry Nandorin, Meryale, Hero’s Feast, or Christmas to you all.

Battle of Oshtur's Font

The following is an account written by an unknown agent of Blackwatch. Unfortunately this letter was intercepted, and reproduced by an unknown interloper. It has been widely circulated in the capital on plain parchment and has caused quite an uproar in the city’s discourse. Here is the accounting of the Battle of Oshtur according to an unknown observer:

The event occurred just before the dinner hour last night. The second day of Haruni. I have endeavored to construct the sequence of events through eyewitness reports as best as I am able.

There was a blast of flame that issued forth from the fountain of Oshtur in the residential district. Testimony from the townsfolk claims that a man in dark robes with his hood up, raised a rod with a demonic head carved into it, and pressed it against the sigil of Stefin on the fountain. There was a great shaking of earth, and the fountain tore and crumbled in upon itself. Soon there was no water there. Only flame.

Great beasts like winged boar men clawed through the opening and knelt before the one who bore the rod raised high. Then a great beast of darkness and shadow rose through the portal, but he did not take a knee. Then a voice issued forth from beyond the portal, growing louder with each passing moment.

[It spoke in abyssal but from the reproduction of sounds heard I have cobbled together a statement that may be accurate]. “Well done my servant (or slave, child, pupil, underling, etc. The demonic word is the same for all). [a noun which I did not recognize] is close. Soon Dormandu will bring this world [here the words are difficult but possibly: “Beneath my”] heel once again.”

Once it had spoken there was a flash of light, and the demons were no longer alone in the square. It was about this time that people began fleeing, but the tale is still known:
Quarion the Magnificent led his comrades into battle against the demon hoard. Beside him was Lady Ygritte, left hand of the Empress, a man I did not know with a metal arm stood beside her, a mage perhaps, though he did not fight like one. With him also was Ser Caroline, Grand Imperial Marshal, and Captain of her Majesty’s armies. Natasha, the Aethiriel goddess, bore her bow in the battle. With them also was Vondarra, Grand Diplomat of the Imperial Throne, Princess of Ashteron-Magus and daughter of King Magnus.

The mages of the tower, or what few remained were with them also. Lilyana Raishghoulin bore her sword with grace, Darum Jerik commanded what spirits he could summon to aid them, Amergin the elder stood with them, and Baron Samel DeMond of the Order of the Black Talon. All of whom joined the fight against their traitor: Morden Kai, the man with the demon-rod who had summoned for the Nalfeshnee, the Balor, and had opened the door for the demon-lord Dormandu.

The battle was swift, but devastating. Quarion, the mages, and his companions fought the demons with furious battle. Quarion held forth his hands and donned a golden helmet I did not recognize. After he donned it his voice spoke strangely, as though two voices were speaking at the same time.

The mage that summoned them was struck with poison from a blade, but I did not see who administered it. If I had to guess, I would say it was the left hand of the Empress at work. The battle was hard on both sides, with the demons falling one by one, but so too were those who fought against them. As the final arrow pierced the mighty chest of the Balor it broke open into a furious explosion of flame and unholy energy.

For one-hundred feet in all directions it consumed everything in its path, burning and slaying all who stood before it, save for the wizard Quarion, and those strong enough to withstand it. His golden helmet now glowed with golden flame of its own, and that flame protected him from the blast, for the most part. When the dust had settled, and the remainder of the demons had been slain, the Lady Caroline offered to him a jewel I had not seen before. With it, he cast spells of powerful resurrection, raising his hands to each of his companions one by one he brought back to life those that had it taken from them, as many as his powers could allow.

It was difficult to hear over the chaos of my ears in the wake of the explosion, but the voice was not that of Quarion. It was a strange voice, and I heard the Lady Natasha say the name “Uban.”

Quarion removed the helmet from his head, and was once more himself, but the city. Well, that portion of the city, might never be the same.

The locals have begun referring to it and its immediately surrounding area as Hell’s Kitchen.


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