Short Stories

Helena was not affected by the cold any more. It was an odd thing to know that your crew was toiling away in frigid conditions but because it did not affect you, why should you care?

She was not always this unfeeling, in fact it was only a few months ago that she was very different. The past doesn’t matter anymore, or at least it doesn’t matter as much. Had people listened to her call, she might not have had to resort to such drastic measures.

At least half her crew were “undead,” such an odd term, but what else would you call it? They toiled away without complaint. They could not be counted on to do anything except the most menial tasks. Except for when it came to violent acts, for some reason they excelled at being violent.

Helena had sent out on a quest, and she was not to be deterred. Many others felt that it was too hard, or unnecessary. That was not the case, the Titans had been the bane of the whole world. How could something like that stand? Helena was not going to let it stand. She had tried the normal means…

Several years ago

“It is a simple thing that I ask of you!” whispered Helena. Careful to not draw too much attention from the guards only a few feet away from her. Talking to a gladiator is generally forbidden, but when you are a visiting Dignitary you can get special privileges. Now, Admiral is not a high ranking dignitary by any means, but it was enough for Helena to get close to Kaira.

Kaira, stood easily eight feet tall, she was loosely armored but had an amazing ax. Kaira had proven herself for many years as the most effective close combat specialist, but she also had an eye for unconventional tactics. That was why Helena had sought her out in the first place.

Helena had taken this task on herself, most were content to beat the Titans back into slumber, and wait until another foolhardy treasure hunter awoken them. According to the Ancient races this did not happen except every few hundred years, and when you can live several hundred years, what is a major catastrophe or two?

It was irreprehensible how the people accepted the fate that the cowardly leaders of the twelve nations forced on them. Even the King of Aare, the most ruthless of  the leaders, was less interested in ending the menace and more interested in using the fear to try to take over other Providences and force alliances. Even the Agatha, Queen of Tyrre had signed some less than favorable treaties despite the advice of her military leaders. When the Tyrre Royale Ship Dragoon, the vessel that Helena was commanding, fought Obe, the Titan of Lightning and Storms, went down it seemed that Agatha just quit fighting for Tyre.

A few months ago, before the final voyage of TRS Dragoon

Grant had been Helena’s Master-at-Arms for several years. It was sad to lose him, but even worse that Grant had fallen in love with some commoner. Didn’t he realize he was going to waste away, and after so much time and energy training to be the best fighting sailor? Why anyone would throw away a career in the Tyrrean Navy was beyond Helena.

It didn’t matter much, he obviously was not who Helena thought he was. She had even brought him to see far off Quaternion, when she had unsuccessfully tried to free that slave gladiator. So many wasted favors and wasted time on such a promising young officer. She honestly did not understand why people did what they did, any reasonable person would have left the birthing to the less talented, or the less driven of the population.

Helena had recently heard that two of her least favorite people, the now free Gladiator and the Cowardly Master-at-Arms were now in a smaller coastal town not far from where she was. Helena was not a vindictive person, but if she could gather supplies and pay her respects to some friends that had wronged her? Well that was just being efficient.

Helena had been gathering the seafaring folk for some months, since she no longer had the backing of Royal Coffers, she had to make due with some volunteers. The fact that some of them were less than enthusiastic did not bother Helena, she had become quite proficient at turning them into thralls when it suited her, and full-fledged zombies when she required more versatile troops. It was time to see what the newly acquired Massacre was capable of, and what better target than Heroes Cove?

By Josh Wooten

“Please, tell me why?”

To a passerby the confrontation seemed innocuous enough. Both of them were just standing at the edge of the Well Square. Gabrielle’s luminous presence and stark white wings normally drew comment—If she wanted them to.  The eyes regarding her were ancient, witnessing the comings and goings of generations of men and yet, still SO young.

Flora stared at her unblinking.

“We should be engaging the Well Rite.”

It wasn’t a dismissal, not entirely.

“I engage the Rite daily Gabrielle, I see the wisdom and the humility of it. I learn from the steps of children and the follies of the old,” Only a creeping tension in her voice, but it was as close to upset as Gabrielle had ever seen her.

The angel was not accustomed to deception, and when she broke her gaze flickered not to the Well but to the South. Toward her. Of course Flora caught it.

“What is it that diverts you?” The elf drew her dark waves of hair back to clear her vision. Rawlis had chosen this one well. She would soon come to understand, as Gabrielle did, the weight of this place. And when she did, Gabrielle’s charge would become more complex. Far too many people held Flora in high esteem.

Fiona, the Green Witch. The fae apothecary Syrenall, her would be lover. And of course, Kaira.

The angel shifted her wings slightly. Flora jumped with the magnitude of the gesture. Gabrielle had watched stones grind to sand from the kiss of the wind and tears of the rain. She had beheld the rise of giant redbark trees in the Southern reaches.  She had searched the sparkling emptiness of the places between worlds. Restlessness from her should send the town to panic.

She fixed Flora with her storm-blue eyes.

“The Canticle of the Wise speaks of Repetition. Repetition is the music of the World and the Song of its Patterns. We hold in three Rites of Observance. Among them is the Well Rite…”

“Don’t quote scripture to me Servitor, as if I was an acolyte. I brought the Wise Lady’s words to the ears and languages of Man. I penned the words that you so calmly recite! Why angel, why are you here?”

That actually turned a woman’s head up from the task of filling a water pail. Flora was again serene within moments and the villager looked as if she doubted she had heard anything. Gabrielle’s eyes turned sad, she watched a raven plucking bits of corn spilled from last week’s celebrations.

It was not her intention to upset the priestess. Flora had served Rawlis so very well. The stakes were simply too great. And so she went on.

“The Well Rite is an Observance of community, to watch the comings and goings of a place where all must come to get drink, to cleanse, and clear the soul. It is this Repetition that shows the Song of the People.”

Gabrielle turned her eyes back on the comings and goings. Flora tightened her jaw but turned back to the Observance.  A few children came and splashed about for several minutes. The soft light of the rising sun grew more constant, and then she saw Aagron bringing in his barrel cart. Before she could even point it out Flora was speaking.

“Aagron brings the cart to the Well Square. His rain barrels should have been full after the recent storm, so he has heavy custom today. Likely, travelers or new refugees from the North. Nelle isn’t helping so they probably had a fight. Perhaps over Aagron’s recent challenge and the issues it nearly caused.”

Gabrielle nodded a single time and let the Rite continue. Flora was as in tune as Gabrielle hoped she would be, but her ignorance made the angel feel a wave of relief. If Flora couldn’t puzzle out Gabrielle’s purpose then their enemies might fare worse.

Mollie, a young woman from the edge of town sullenly carried two jugs of beaten tin into the Well Square and began hauling water up to fill each. The angel continued to will her wings, and aura to be near unseen. A casual thing at the edge of Mollie’s vision. The woman had no doubt seen Flora conducting the Rite and seemed to ignore her. Again and again she upturned the jugs. Small flecks of yellow-white rushed out with the water. Cleaning the milk-jugs then.

Another man called to her, “Moll, you still have any of the cream from that batch?”

“Oh hello Gus, no. The whole batch curdled sick overnight.”

Gabrielle frowned and Flora looked at her. Both half listened to the conversation play out while they watched one another’s timeless eyes. It was a single omen. But worth noting. Fragile things and that which spoiled quickly sometime fell prey to certain influences faster.

Gus set up his glass bottles as Mollie finished up and left the Well. He had lowered the bucket when the crackling sound began. Each of the bottles grew a spidery web of cracks and fissures. A low whirring coming from them as they snapped and shattered.

Flora took a step forward and then hesitated.

A sparrow darted in barely at the edge of Gabrielle’s vision. Hardly worth comment save that she had seen the raven just take flight. It veered along its path and gained the air on the opposite side of the Well. A screech above sounded a third bird, the cry of a hunting hawk.

The angel felt a… tilting… in the world around her. Hawk. Raven. Sparrow. Wings. Talons. Beaks. The collision was monstrous, a swift crack that improbably killed each bird in a single instant. Time moving slowly, Gabrielle watched the dying trio plummet downward in a tangle. Right into the Well.

Flora gasped.

“A black conjunction.”

“Yes,” Gabrielle’s vigilant gaze began to sweep the streets leading into the square. Flora surged forward, trying to find the source. Gabrielle however, knew.

A demon had come to Heroes Cove.

By Christen N. Sowards

With less than a hundred persons living in Heroes Cove, you would think that it would be a quiet town. Grant had rarely had a quiet evening, there always seemed to be a brawl at Motto’s Pub or Syrenall causing mischief.

It did not help that Heroes Cove was situated on probably the most beautiful inlet in all of Quaternion. It attracted all manner of people. The worst were the pirates, but these days the only difference between merchants and pirates was opportunity. This was what he wanted though. To be near to Kaira, the great Gladiator, to hear the crash of the waves and to breath the warm air.

When Grant had gotten out of theTyrre Royal Navy, he had thought that being deputy of a small town with his young wife and newborn would be ideal, even paradise.

It was pretty shocking when he found out the vessel he sailed on, the TRS Dragoon sank. It had been the envy of every nation, with the most respected Captain and crew. It was even more shocking when the Admiral Helena herself was the only survivor.

Grant had noticed that he would often reflect back on these times when it was quiet. Tonight he did not even have Gabrielle, his deputy, on watch. It had been almost twenty four hours since the last brawl, and it was settling down to be a very nice night.

No sooner than Grant had that thought that that Xerses showed up with his Pan Flute. Xerses was always at the epicenter of trouble. He was entertaining, and was one of the main sources of information about the surrounding areas, but he was always at least indirectly the cause of more than one person being put in the stockades. Grant could never prove anything against him, and truth be told Grant had not tried very hard to investigate any allegations against Xerses. Satyrs were and odd bunch, and Grant was only there to make sure that no major laws were broken. Heroes got hurt, and his little one was just now learning to sit up.

It did not take long for Kaira to finish whatever story she was telling, and she quickly left. Things were looking up after all, most patrons would go home once Kaira had finished her tale. Maybe Grant could sneak out and “inspect the empty jail cells” for a few hours.

It seemed that there was no way that Gabrielle didn’t know that he slept most of the night watch away when he couldn’t convince her to take his turn, she was a full-fledged Angel after all. True she was well over three thousand years old, she was not in her prime any more, but still and Angel!

She could fly faster than a drake, the eye sight of an eagle, go weeks without eating anything, and she only slept after battle. Or at least that was how she once was. She definitely slept at least a little bit every day, not that she would admit it of course. It was probably good that her eye sight was poor as well.

Of course, Gabrielle was constantly trying to venture outside the jurisdiction. Maybe it was a good thing that Veronic had taken up a semi-permanent residence here. As a Devil that was over 8 feet tall she would easily have been a match for Gabrielle when she was in her prime, but now that she was at least a few hundred years past that Veronic could probably destroy her. Why Veronic had constantly refused the Challenges Gabrielle had made was beyond Grant. Not that he wanted them to fight, having an Angel as a deputy had a lot of perks.

By Josh Wooten

Staring at the bottom of a mug, Kaira could not help but reflect. Kaira was not known for being the most pensive of people, in fact more than once she had been treated like an animal. She had always been strong, one of the perks to being born a monster, but she had decided to never be under anyone’s control again. Enough of this melancholy mood, she had moved to Heroes Cove to get away from her past, why did she keep dwelling on it?

As Kaira moved away from the bar, Aagron, theDwarvish barkeep, moved closer. “Kaira, you don’t think you can leave already do you? There are several new faces that would want to hear about your time as a Gladiator!” It was one of the main attractions at Motto’s Pub. Heroes Cove had really blossomed in the past 5 years.Kaira thought a moment, she always enjoyed talking about herself. Maybe she would tell the tale of the once great Admiral Helena?

“Helena was not always called the ‘Traitor of Tyrre’. In fact, for many years I called her a friend” she started. Once she noticed the crowd hushed, Kaira continued. “Helena was a gifted tactician. She could find a weakness in any armor.”

“Not in MY armor,” pipped in Bragerlon, to a polite chuckle. Dwarves are such prideful people.

Kaira continued, “I met her when I was only a few fights away from my freedom.” It was amazing that it was already five years ago today that Kairawon her final fight. “If you remember that was also the same year that the Titans were finally beaten back into their slumber.”

An attractive human leaned a little too close to Kaira for her comfort. It seems that more than one guy had bought her ale tonight. “How did you meet Helena?” Helena had become quite the hot topic as of late.

“Helena, the once Great Admiral, was looking for a permanent solution for the menace the Titans had become. The world suffered greatly because some foolhardy treasure seeker had awoken the Titans twice in the past two hundred years. It seems that humans can always be counted on to act first.”

The too-close girl chimed in, “How did you meet Helena?”

“Helena, the Traitor came into the pits one day. At that time, I had made a name for myself and so the Queen of Vakhara, Kaia, sold me to the late king of Quaternion, Alistair.”

Kaira remembered that Kaia had been trying to end the blood sports, but with her own sister plotting her demise she had not worked too hard on civil reforms. It was just too bad that Alistair had died when he did.

“I was scheduled to fight against a small army of ten men. I had hurt my knee the previous day, so they took it easy on me.” That was always good for a laugh. Too bad the left knee still did hurt. Kaira did a lot to drink for free at the Motto’s Pub.

“Right before the fight Helena, curse her name, came to me. She offered to hide me in some that she was about to be delivered to her ship. I would have my freedom, but I would be a marked person. She didn’t care about that, she only thought that I could help put down the Titans. Her rationale was that once I had done that people would forget that I was a runaway slave.”

It was at that exact moment that Xerses decided to barge into the pub. As far as bards went he was really good. As far as Satyrs go, he was dangerous. Satyrs were often thieves, but fairly harmless, but Xerses, bad things always happened when people crossed him. Kaira had never seen him raise a hand against anyone, but she just could not shake the feeling that he might have a special connection to Kadir, the God of Fate. Not that Kaira believed in that stuff.

Xerses had his pan flute, and was playing a lively tune. One newcomer tried to get him to stop as he was enthralled in the story Kaira had begun. Not surprising to Kaira that newcomer tripped on his beard. Dwarves should really trim those, but pride mixed with a fair amount of Dragon’s Mead and even the stoutest drinkers were doomed to fall. When did this town fill up with dwarves?

Xerses was always interested in hearing about treachery and poor decisions leading to terrible consequences. This meant that Helena was his favorite person. When someone mentioned Helena, he would be even closer than this human that was teetering closer and closer to slumber. How is it that Kaira spend many nights drinking away her past, but looked down on other drunks?

When Xerses took a quick breath, Kaira started again. “Helena, the Cursed…” she knew that would get him to pay attention. Why Helena sought out to become turned was beyond Kaira. “…was there pleading for me to run, to turn tail and join her.”

With the full attention of every patron, except the now sleeping girl, Kaira was in full swing. “She left that day to face the final Titan, the one they call Obe.” It was that very voyage that cost Helena, curse her name, the finest fighting vessel and over 100 crewmembers.”

“Many thought Helena died too!” Chimed in Veronic. You could always count on Veronic to make the situation awkward. Being almost seven feet tall, Kaira still had to look up to Veronic. One day Kaira thought, one day she would teach Veronic manners, but today her knee hurt.

“Yes, but someone like Helena does not just go away. Helena came back, and the first thing she did was to find a vampire, get turned and that is the end of that story.” Kaira was tired, she knew that Aagron would be less than happy with how she ended the story, but she was tired. She would deal with that in the morning.

By Josh Wooten

Staring at the bottom of a mug, Kaira could not help but reflect. Kaira was not known for being the most pensive of people, in fact more than once she had been treated like an animal. She had always been strong, one of the perks to being born a monster, but she had decided to never be under anyone’s control again. Enough of this melancholy mood, she had moved to Heroes Cove to get away from her past, why did she keep dwelling on it?

As Kaira moved away from the bar, Aagron, theDwarvish barkeep, moved closer. “Kaira, you don’t think you can leave already do you? There are several new faces that would want to hear about your time as a Gladiator!” It was one of the main attractions at Motto’s Pub. Heroes Cove had really blossomed in the past 5 years.Kaira thought a moment, she always enjoyed talking about herself. Maybe she would tell the tale of the once great Admiral Helena?

“Helena was not always called the ‘Traitor of Tyrre’. In fact, for many years I called her a friend” she started. Once she noticed the crowd hushed, Kaira continued. “Helena was a gifted tactician. She could find a weakness in any armor.”

“Not in MY armor,” pipped in Bragerlon, to a polite chuckle. Dwarves are such prideful people.

Kaira continued, “I met her when I was only a few fights away from my freedom.” It was amazing that it was already five years ago today that Kairawon her final fight. “If you remember that was also the same year that the Titans were finally beaten back into their slumber.”

An attractive human leaned a little too close to Kaira for her comfort. It seems that more than one guy had bought her ale tonight. “How did you meet Helena?” Helena had become quite the hot topic as of late.

“Helena, the once Great Admiral, was looking for a permanent solution for the menace the Titans had become. The world suffered greatly because some foolhardy treasure seeker had awoken the Titans twice in the past two hundred years. It seems that humans can always be counted on to act first.”

The too-close girl chimed in, “How did you meet Helena?”

“Helena, the Traitor came into the pits one day. At that time, I had made a name for myself and so the Queen of Vakhara, Kaia, sold me to the late king of Quaternion, Alistair.”

Kaira remembered that Kaia had been trying to end the blood sports, but with her own sister plotting her demise she had not worked too hard on civil reforms. It was just too bad that Alistair had died when he did.

“I was scheduled to fight against a small army of ten men. I had hurt my knee the previous day, so they took it easy on me.” That was always good for a laugh. Too bad the left knee still did hurt. Kaira did a lot to drink for free at the Motto’s Pub.

“Right before the fight Helena, curse her name, came to me. She offered to hide me in some that she was about to be delivered to her ship. I would have my freedom, but I would be a marked person. She didn’t care about that, she only thought that I could help put down the Titans. Her rationale was that once I had done that people would forget that I was a runaway slave.”

It was at that exact moment that Xerses decided to barge into the pub. As far as bards went he was really good. As far as Satyrs go, he was dangerous. Satyrs were often thieves, but fairly harmless, but Xerses, bad things always happened when people crossed him. Kaira had never seen him raise a hand against anyone, but she just could not shake the feeling that he might have a special connection to Kadir, the God of Fate. Not that Kaira believed in that stuff.

Xerses had his pan flute, and was playing a lively tune. One newcomer tried to get him to stop as he was enthralled in the story Kaira had begun. Not surprising to Kaira that newcomer tripped on his beard. Dwarves should really trim those, but pride mixed with a fair amount of Dragon’s Mead and even the stoutest drinkers were doomed to fall. When did this town fill up with dwarves?

Xerses was always interested in hearing about treachery and poor decisions leading to terrible consequences. This meant that Helena was his favorite person. When someone mentioned Helena, he would be even closer than this human that was teetering closer and closer to slumber. How is it that Kaira spend many nights drinking away her past, but looked down on other drunks?

When Xerses took a quick breath, Kaira started again. “Helena, the Cursed…” she knew that would get him to pay attention. Why Helena sought out to become turned was beyond Kaira. “…was there pleading for me to run, to turn tail and join her.”

With the full attention of every patron, except the now sleeping girl, Kaira was in full swing. “She left that day to face the final Titan, the one they call Obe.” It was that very voyage that cost Helena, curse her name, the finest fighting vessel and over 100 crewmembers.”

“Many thought Helena died too!” Chimed in Veronic. You could always count on Veronic to make the situation awkward. Being almost seven feet tall, Kaira still had to look up to Veronic. One day Kaira thought, one day she would teach Veronic manners, but today her knee hurt.

“Yes, but someone like Helena does not just go away. Helena came back, and the first thing she did was to find a vampire, get turned and that is the end of that story.” Kaira was tired, she knew that Aagron would be less than happy with how she ended the story, but she was tired. She would deal with that in the morning.

By Josh Wooten

Demmr’th kicked his feet fruitlessly far above the ground.

The hand holding him aloft tightened. The “supplier” in front of him grew far grimmer. Demmr’th thanked Hersk for goblin anatomy. He knew his neck was fine. He didn’t weigh that much. The yellow-toothed smuggler holding him snarled.

“Where is it!”

Demmr’th wondered when the smuggler would realize the goblin couldn’t actually talk with a hand around his neck. Then again, the goblin did always pick his associates for their brains. Just not in a particularly flattering way.

Speaking of which, Kaira’s students don’t strike me as less than punctual.

Sure enough, a flash of white proceeded the expected heroics. The mage, in her resplendent robes of alabaster swirled around the corner, savior-perfect. Demmr’th smiled into the smuggler’s grip. Kaira’s protégées were practically inseparable at this point in her training, which meant…

Ah, yes.

Rounding the corner after the snow-robed human was a tower of brown-furred muscle and armor. Aerax was strength from his metal-shod horns to his cloven hooves. The Minotaur bellowed words that might have been “DROP HIM!” but even Demmr’th wasn’t sure.

The bloodshot eyes of the smuggler went wide. His palm slicked with sweat against the goblin’s neck. And Demmr’th fell down to freedom… and the ground. He made certain to fold his knee as he hit the cobbles and offered up a well-honed squeal of pain.

“Ruffian, explain your ‘business’ with this merchant or flee back to whatever shade you find comfort in.”

In a way, Elra’s presence hit as hard the Minotaur’s roar, but it was a stranger thing. Like a stillness where none should be. The swirl of her auburn hair and the folds of her too-white robe sang purpose. But quietly. The smuggler sensed her power and with one glance up at Aerax’s horns bolted back toward the other alley. Demmr’th listened to his footsteps fade.

Looks like Grmmmth will have some fun today after all.

He smiled again but only at the ground. Couldn’t seem happy to Elra and her friend. He was the victim her after all. Running a hand through to slightly straighten his blond stringy hair he kept a bit of fear on his face as he looked up at them.

Aerax paused still halfway down the alley.

“Are you sure we need to deal with this…. goblin?”

The low grumble of that voice nearly didn’t need Demmr’th’s “modifications” to the alley. Each echo-tunnel carried words and other sounds right to his doors. His neighbors had been ever so grateful for Grmmmth’s help with their storm-gutters.

“Aerax. Kaira means for all races to be welcome here. The Mayor agrees. And how many times do I need to explain my magic to you? This isn’t some place I sensed we could find the lock picks we’ll need. This is WHERE we get them. I have seen it. It is fact.”

The Minotaur scratched absently at his neck.

“Tomorrow hasn’t happened.”

“It has for me.”

And with that Elra was done discussing. She moved into Demmr’th side in a manner that seemed to shortchange distance. The goblin saw no skipped space yet her steps didn’t do her movements credit.

“Are you hurt?”

“Nothing some blackbark tea won’t ease. You must be my Noon meeting?” And right on time.

“Yes, we got your note. You say you have what we need.”

“Brightsilver lockpicks capable of foiling Lostare Montanigion’s best locks? I do indeed.”

Demmr’th smiled up her letting them see his grin at last.

“I can’t say you look like the thieving types though?”

Aerax stiffened and drew breath to respond, but not before Elra cut him off.

“No. No we are not thieves. But Kaira’s deemed Captain Magnor’s crew has crossed the line far too often.”

The Minotaur huffed a wordless agreement.

“And Magnor held Lostare prisoner for years. I see. You expect the locksmith’s work to be a problem at the Captain’s citadel?”

“I am certain of it.”

Demmr’th saw that she was.

If I could only get the leverage. Her magic could triple my takes.

“Let’s go inside.”

The Goblin was deliberate as he pulled out a key of his own design. The steam-works of the door weren’t all that complex taken one-by-one but when all sixty-seven of the pistons, gears and chainlifts whirred to motion the sense of wonder was undeniable. He bit his lip to avoid laughing at the childlike awe on the gigantic Minotaur’s face.

The portal at last unfolded into a grand door which Aerax only barely had to stoop under. The wares of Demmr’th store were as diverse and dizzying as he was small. Rawli coin-veils hung beside glasswork from Tajganda. A miniature Coruish cathedral graced a glass ball filled with flake-of-gold to rain prosperity with but a shake—right by the menacing head of an axe of Ogrish make.

Aerax reached for that on instinct.

“Sorry friend, the axe is spoken for.”

It was Grmmmth’s of course but Demmr’th wanted the smuggler alive so the Ogre didn’t take it with him when he left earlier.

“We are just here for the picks Master Demmr’th.”

“Of course, of course.”

The goblin rummaged around and put on a bit of a display. Lifting astral conduits and setting aside a box of writhing serpent-wicks. After he felt Elra’s gaze tightening on his back he retrieved the case from the low shelf he’d put it on this morning.

“Here we are. My last set of lock picks, the best of course. 15 gold as agreed.”

The brightsilver case was a marvel itself, slender with gripping snaps so it could be affixed to the inside of a cloak, vest or dress. An oddity of a lock topped the case itself. Sliding him the coins she fished from a small pouch, Elra picked it up and pursed her lips at the lock.

“An old Ilveth style case, it has a lock built into the case for practice.”

Demmr’th lifted his hands innocently.

“It’s locked.”

“Kept it closed. I would hate for them to get lost among all the clutter. It is said to have been a personal set of Lostare’s.” He gestured to his sign that read in four languages “All Sales are Final.”

Elra paled to match her dress as realization settled in.

“I do have a clockwork skeleton key that should be able to open it. Are you interested?”

By – Christen N. Sowards

As an Armorsmith, Bragerlon was always preparing for war. “One should never face danger without some trusty plate armor!” Bragerlon often declared; though Garlani, his wife, would be rolling her eyes in disagreement behind him.  Bragerlon and Garlani were getting close to 150 years of marriage, they had married when they were barely Dwarven pups.  Marriage at such a young age was seen as quite improper by the Iron Dwarves and that was one of the reasons they had left the warm hearths of Tyrre and traveled to the coast of Quaternion. It was here, in Heroes Cove, that they had finally decided to make a home. Since then they had interacted more with the Glacier Clan than any other type of Dwarf.

Today the nation of Quaternion were celebrating the first anniversary of the Independence of the Glacier Clan from Maldor.  Bragerlon took pride in the fact that he was an Iron Dwarf and not of the Glacier Clan- his heritage did not include being enslaved to Maldor.  Though, this holiday did deserve celebrating as it proved that Maldor had been put in his place, again. The fact that it took awakening the Titans was something to say for his growing power.

It had taken over two hundred years, and adopting the Bezerkers, to even keep some semblance of the Glacier Clan together. This was just shameful. Bragerlon did not think of himself as racist, but adopting others as Dwarves did not sit well with him.  If one Clan adopted you, you were a Dwarf to all Clans. Still, it didn’t mean he had to like the Bezerkers. It helped that they often were reckless and not interested in Plate armor. Half the time they ran headfirst into the danger with little more than a robe.

One Berzerker though, Aerax, had arrived a few weeks ago, and it was amazing how quickly he had been chosen by Kaira to start training. Probably that he had been the first Minotaur to volunteer to be a Berzerker… That might have had something to do with it. It might also have been how he had handled those pirates just north of Hallstate, a town neighboring Heroes Cove which exists purely because of the salt mine located there.  If the story is to be believed, he threw a wagon right into their camp. That it was loaded with black powder and he had hit the camp fire, practically guaranteed victory.

Had Elra not been there, Aerax would probably have been destroyed along with the pirates. Elra was a human time wizard who had also proved worthy of Kaira’s attention and training. Why Aerax and Elra had run off to face the pirates alone was beyond Bragerlon- he would never act so hastily. They were not the only groups of adventurers who rushed off to complete dangerous acts in Heroes Cove, though and it was always disturbing to the ever-prepared Bragerlon.

Quaternion had once been quieter, even with Maldor to the north as leader of Aare, and the threat of some idiot awakening the Titans for the 9th time in so many years. It always seemed to be the humans to awaken them, I guess if you are only going to live 40 or 50 years what does it matter? Since Tyrre’s ship, the TRS Dragoon, had sank trying to defeat Obe, the Titan of Lightning and Storms and Admiral Helena was the only survivor, many people had been fleeing to the lands near Heroes Cove.

Maldor had survived over 300 years, beyond even most dwarves, let alone a human- it just was not natural. Maldor had never been described as kind, and as a Mind Mage you just could not trust him. The rumors that he had started cloning himself were down right bone chilling. Whenever his emissaries arrived in town there was always an awkward silence around them. Why they had to take the long road to the capital was beyond Bragerlon. Many felt they did it to spy on the other nations. But since Parish had ascended to a God, that had made Maldor even more ruthless and xenophobic.

Bragerlon worshiped Bazral, like all good Dwarves, but Parish did have some amazing inventions and his followers always found ways to create the most spectacular items. Bragerlon had thought of adding different items to the armor that he made, secret compartments for knives, or sword breakers to the greaves. It was one thing that he always wanted to do, unfortunately most of his patrons wanted the armor right away, and most of them were not willing to pay for anything extra.

This piece of armor was almost ready. How long before, Grathmm… or Gorehorn… whatever that Orc’s name was… was gone from Heroes Cove was anybody’s guess but at least he would be prepared for the dangers he would almost certainly encounter. It was nice having a steady influx of new people that came to Heroes Cove, seemingly every week, which had piece-meal armor or no armor at all. After doing a few tasks for the townsfolk they were always looking for new armor. They had found Ceridwen, Bragerlon’s, grandma more than once. She was prone to wander now that she had aged.

Those Emissaries of Maldor had some odd ideas like Euthanasia, or ending life when they feel that the person isn’t worthy. More than once they had tried to “end Ceridwen’s suffering” forcefully. The fact that she was always smiling, always had a kind word to say to anyone didn’t matter. Maldor was forceful with his ideas of “Culling the weak”.

It was fitting to celebrate the freedom of the Glacier Clan, and the fact that it meant Maldor lost made it even more sweet. The Four Judges of Quaternion had made great strides to help those people that had been oppressed, and there were rumors that they were making moves against Maldor. The most common rumor was that they wanted to turn Heroes Cove to a “Hero” training camp. It made Bragerlon proud that he might be part of this… if it were true of course.

By Josh Wooten

As an Armorsmith, Bragerlon was always preparing for war. “One should never face danger without some trusty plate armor!” Bragerlon often declared; though Garlani, his wife, would be rolling her eyes in disagreement behind him.  Bragerlon and Garlani were getting close to 150 years of marriage, they had married when they were barely Dwarven pups.  Marriage at such a young age was seen as quite improper by the Iron Dwarves and that was one of the reasons they had left the warm hearths of Tyrre and traveled to the coast of Quaternion. It was here, in Heroes Cove, that they had finally decided to make a home. Since then they had interacted more with the Glacier Clan than any other type of Dwarf.

Today the nation of Quaternion were celebrating the first anniversary of the Independence of the Glacier Clan from Maldor.  Bragerlon took pride in the fact that he was an Iron Dwarf and not of the Glacier Clan- his heritage did not include being enslaved to Maldor.  Though, this holiday did deserve celebrating as it proved that Maldor had been put in his place, again. The fact that it took awakening the Titans was something to say for his growing power.

It had taken over two hundred years, and adopting the Bezerkers, to even keep some semblance of the Glacier Clan together. This was just shameful. Bragerlon did not think of himself as racist, but adopting others as Dwarves did not sit well with him.  If one Clan adopted you, you were a Dwarf to all Clans. Still, it didn’t mean he had to like the Bezerkers. It helped that they often were reckless and not interested in Plate armor. Half the time they ran headfirst into the danger with little more than a robe.

One Berzerker though, Aerax, had arrived a few weeks ago, and it was amazing how quickly he had been chosen by Kaira to start training. Probably that he had been the first Minotaur to volunteer to be a Berzerker… That might have had something to do with it. It might also have been how he had handled those pirates just north of Hallstate, a town neighboring Heroes Cove which exists purely because of the salt mine located there.  If the story is to be believed, he threw a wagon right into their camp. That it was loaded with black powder and he had hit the camp fire, practically guaranteed victory.

Had Elra not been there, Aerax would probably have been destroyed along with the pirates. Elra was a human time wizard who had also proved worthy of Kaira’s attention and training. Why Aerax and Elra had run off to face the pirates alone was beyond Bragerlon- he would never act so hastily. They were not the only groups of adventurers who rushed off to complete dangerous acts in Heroes Cove, though and it was always disturbing to the ever-prepared Bragerlon.

Quaternion had once been quieter, even with Maldor to the north as leader of Aare, and the threat of some idiot awakening the Titans for the 9th time in so many years. It always seemed to be the humans to awaken them, I guess if you are only going to live 40 or 50 years what does it matter? Since Tyrre’s ship, the TRS Dragoon, had sank trying to defeat Obe, the Titan of Lightning and Storms and Admiral Helena was the only survivor, many people had been fleeing to the lands near Heroes Cove.

Maldor had survived over 300 years, beyond even most dwarves, let alone a human- it just was not natural. Maldor had never been described as kind, and as a Mind Mage you just could not trust him. The rumors that he had started cloning himself were down right bone chilling. Whenever his emissaries arrived in town there was always an awkward silence around them. Why they had to take the long road to the capital was beyond Bragerlon. Many felt they did it to spy on the other nations. But since Parish had ascended to a God, that had made Maldor even more ruthless and xenophobic.

Bragerlon worshiped Bazral, like all good Dwarves, but Parish did have some amazing inventions and his followers always found ways to create the most spectacular items. Bragerlon had thought of adding different items to the armor that he made, secret compartments for knives, or sword breakers to the greaves. It was one thing that he always wanted to do, unfortunately most of his patrons wanted the armor right away, and most of them were not willing to pay for anything extra.

This piece of armor was almost ready. How long before, Grathmm… or Gorehorn… whatever that Orc’s name was… was gone from Heroes Cove was anybody’s guess but at least he would be prepared for the dangers he would almost certainly encounter. It was nice having a steady influx of new people that came to Heroes Cove, seemingly every week, which had piece-meal armor or no armor at all. After doing a few tasks for the townsfolk they were always looking for new armor. They had found Ceridwen, Bragerlon’s, grandma more than once. She was prone to wander now that she had aged.

Those Emissaries of Maldor had some odd ideas like Euthanasia, or ending life when they feel that the person isn’t worthy. More than once they had tried to “end Ceridwen’s suffering” forcefully. The fact that she was always smiling, always had a kind word to say to anyone didn’t matter. Maldor was forceful with his ideas of “Culling the weak”.

It was fitting to celebrate the freedom of the Glacier Clan, and the fact that it meant Maldor lost made it even more sweet. The Four Judges of Quaternion had made great strides to help those people that had been oppressed, and there were rumors that they were making moves against Maldor. The most common rumor was that they wanted to turn Heroes Cove to a “Hero” training camp. It made Bragerlon proud that he might be part of this… if it were true of course.

By Josh Wooten

The creature had definitely been this way. Other tribe members weren’t so sure if it was the creation of some rogue wizard or curse given life. Fiona suspected something worse. Something far more dangerous. Obe or perhaps Tongra had watched Reparation’s birth. They had seen an act of creation and like a child had emulated the actions of the parent.

Titanspawn.

The Titans were very young in the span of the cosmos, far too young to know the wages of their efforts and the dangers of blind making. And judging from the wreckage of the shattered tree boughs and snapped trunks the making had been blind indeed.

Fiona closed her eyes and called to the energy from the world around her. Pricks of tingling power answered her as she felt the life swimming in the trees. She felt those that had broken too much and would not recover. There was still life in them. The creature was near.  Blood dotted the ground by a broken trunk. She whispered an apology and reached into the life of the dying trees. She drew upon it then, hard and fast.

The power rushed into her.

Red locks of hair danced in unseen winds as she held the intoxicating vitality. A small fraction she called up into her mind, eyes and ears. Emerald irises blazed with vision sensing the smallest motion. The power flowed to her tongue and danced on her lips. She could smell it then, the faint disjoint. It was natural but in its own way—as unique as the world itself—a separate act of creation. The blood was so different, so its own that to Fiona’s enhanced senses it seemed entirely alien.

From the rest of the power, a seething majority, she willed to her hand. Bubbling up like thick sap the life energy began to ooze from between her fingers. Coalescing as it fell, and becoming a long thin shape. With a snap her will solidified the greenish form like amber. A blade of life-force. A thing of spirit. Thanking the now ashen tree she prayed it would be strong enough.

With the scent of its blood flooding her nostrils, tracking became easier. Soon she started to hear it. The cracking pop of thick boles snapping under the weight of something… monstrous. Each tree broken beyond repair she took from, adding the life there to her own. Her muscles strengthened. Her reflexes quickened. Her heart beat with the rage of a wounded forest. She twisted from tree to tree, hurtling through the air at a speed Flora would have yelled at her over. As she broke the canopy at the height of the tree line she saw it, or at least tried to.

It was difficult to look at, a mass of contours and talons that seemed an answer to a child-like god’s request. Have more arms than me. Have more claws than me. Be harder to see than I am. The titanspawn was certainly all of these things. Light seemed to drool away from it making it nearly impossible to view all of it at any one time. When the abomination was clear, appendages too numerous to count ended in horrid mouth-talons Fiona was nearly glad to lose sight of.

Then she saw it. A small cabin, deep in the woods so far away from anywhere. And before it, a human man. Her senses slowed in their enhanced potency. In just a second, Fiona took him in. Muscles honed by years of woodcutting. Eyes dark and rich, a brown so deep as to look like tiny pools of night. His flesh was brown and rich, hair dark and close to the scalp. And utterly clueless as to how to face a threat like the titanspawn.

With one more single coil, Fiona leapt toward the abomination.  In her descent she brought the ambersword around plunging blade-first into the back of it. It howled and reared backward, but not before one of its clawed extremities tore into the woodsman. His cry was short and clipped. As he fell beneath it, Fiona swore his was the last life the titanspawn would take.

She heaved against the plated blur of its back vaulting herself over the massive thing. Ripping her blade free with her reverse she heard a second scream from it. The noise rumbled the surroundings. Landing deep and low she sent her mind outward, riding her flared senses to understand the unfocused horror before her.

Thump, thump. Thump, thump.

Twin hearts higher in its chest than she expected, but clear to her now. They pounded beneath a mountainous amount of armor. She needed more strength. Force of arm enough to penetrate its massive bulk. If she could drive the amberblade into the heart, she could end this.

A whipping snap sounded a second behind the dull pain.

Spines from a blurred tendril had taken her in the gut. A killing blow for most. Not her. Not yet. The thing hefted her upward, closing the barbed tentacle around her. Driving the wicked spines deeper in. She cried out in pain, for the first time actually accepting this might be her end.

Then something else grabbed her.

A hand.

The woodsman’s grip was strong. And with his grasp came the will and force of his life. A flood of memories came with life given so freely. A Tyrrean noble who fell in love with a foreign servant girl. His family casting him out. Defiant pride and the awkward mastery of woodcraft later in life. The cabin he built with his own hands. The swell in his wife’s belly with the coming of their unborn child. The dark night where both child and mother had been lost. His love so pure. His loss so deep. His soul was hers.

He would not die.

Power from the woodsman joined with her own and his strength pulsed in her own muscles. With a desperate lunge she forced her conjured amberblade into the titanspawn. A cracking snap sounded the armor parting and the blade sunk into its hearts.

There was no forgiveness, no permission then. She drew violently on the creature’s life. It resolved rapidly into stark visibility. Its contours at first a sickening green and rapidly fading to an ashen grey. A torrent of life flooded back to her and the woodsman. Healing them. Bonding them.

When it was over, the Tyrrean looked up with deep brown eyes, “Thank you. I am Dayne.”

She laughed then, because his manners forced this even now.

“I know you Dayne, I know all of you,” She dropped down and pressed her lips to his.

By Christen N. Sowards

“Well now, not exactly who I expected to see warming Rawlis’ pews.”

Flora slowed in the aisle and regarded him. Her hair hung long and straight, brown like rich earth but more lustrous. Aagron wrung his hands a bit as he looked up at her. Several humans had been born and died of age since he first met that gaze. Green eyes that still seemed no less alien regarded him. Oceans could not fill them.

“Well, wisdom and all… right?” He barely managed the words under that view.

His own eyes dropped and he stared at Flora’s simple white robe. Aagron wondered how she had come to be so humble. In her time she had probably wore a dozen titles, known the burden of rule and more and yet here she was standing with a simple grace.

“I made a mistake,” the dwarf began.

He told her about Vergar. He told her about the argument. He told her about the challenge.

“Dear Aagron,” she smiled patiently, “My god is wise, but I fear you may have come to the wrong house.”

*****

He hated this place.

It was his after all. It was supposed to be anyway. But there it was… the dark slick of crimson cap nearly the size of the roof of his tavern. Aagron stopped. His tavern. That was why he was here. He swallowed hard and looked around. The hour was late and no one seemed to be out in the street. He took a breath and…

“Hello!”

His heart nearly froze with shock. She was right there in front of him. Syrenall.

Wild wings lost somewhere in the contours between dragonfly and moth fluttered as swiftly as they were silent. Her white-blond hair was like drifting corn-silk and caught the moonlight in a way Aagron swore glowed softly.

“Have you come for a potion of tongue regrowth?”

It was the jibe that finally brought him back to himself. He took in the pale white of the mushroom-house’s stalk behind her and tried not to focus on her softly sparkling wings. He wrung his hands again and silently cursed Flora for suggesting this. He presented the soft lock of the elf’s hair to Syrenall.

“You don’t seem yourself. Flora sent you then?” She quickly coiled and tucked the hair away.

“I… I need your help apothecary.”

“Most who come here do, but you… this must be something. I swear I recall hearing that the next time you came hear it would “be with an ax to chop it down” …my home?”

Her tiny eyes stared at him from slightly above. They were nearly all color like tiny emeralds, or was it sapphires? He looked away.

“Uhm, yes. But it was a jest…”

“A jest it was? Is that why Bragerlon was sharpening your ax for a day and a night? Flora leans heavily on my heart tonight to ask that I hear you.”

“I… Fine, I was angry. I was… I am sorry.”

“Ah there, that wasn’t so hard. Well, my newest client… Please follow me inside and we can discuss your problem.”

*****

It was both smaller and larger than he expected. But then he wasn’t entirely sure what he had expected at all. The walls of the “house” were dotted with nooks. Shelves carved into the living walls of the chamber. Each was full with glossy bottles. They danced in hundreds of shines and flickers under the soft light of half a dozen lamps. Like an inside-out festival tree he supposed. Near the top there was a statuette of an elf, but of a height with Syrenall. The chamber stretched upward nearly fifteen strides high.

Not so far if one can fly I’ll wager. Wager.

He looked back up at the fairy.

“So. A duel?” The tiny being questioned.

“Not a duel per say, but a… challenge. Honor stuff. A dwarf thing.”

“Honor? You,” a peal of tinkling laughter.

“So says the thief who stole my land,” He muttered lowly.

“Do you want help or not?”

“Yes. Yes. Sorry.” He went on, “We call it ‘Facing the Threes’ a system of challenging ones honor.”

“Oh, I do know that, ‘By Stone, Steel or Stein!’ right?” Her attempt at sounding dwarven would have made him laugh a different day.

“Yes…”

“A drinking contest! You’re in straights over a drinking contest! I am right aren’t I?”

And Aagron hadn’t thought he could like her any less.

“I was in my cups and insulted his mother.”

“Oh my.”

“Yes, a serious thing among dwarves. I didn’t expect him to call an Honor Challenge over it though. Worse, I have no Clan Blade. No cup of gold.”

“Your bar. You lose the tavern if you lose to him!”

Aagron groaned to hear it said out loud. And he just nodded as he fought down tears in his eyes.

Syrenall shot upward and through a potion shelf that was empty. Not empty he realized. A door. A small door into the walls of her mushroom. How had he not seen it before? There were rooms in the walls of the mushroom and given Syrenall’s size-Her shop was nearly a miniature palace!

She returned with large swathes of white gauzy material. Aagron started to ask what it was when he saw a small black eight-legged creature. He pointed and managed a strangled cry.

“Spider!”

“Oh the poor dear, I didn’t mean for him to come with us.” She fluttered her wings to drift nearer the wall and let the creature scurry back on the potion nook. It scuttled upward with a speed that made Aagron shiver.

“I see why Steel wasn’t an option,” She noted witnessing his fear.

She handed him the white silky mass or most of it anyway. He took it hesitantly looking it over for more dark spiders. Syrenall draped a second small sheet of the silky webbing over her nose and mouth. Smoothing it against her cheeks it clung close to her face.

“With your beard, you will probably have to push it down very hard,” She observed slightly muffled.

He briefly considered giving it all up then. The tavern, everything. But then he took the gauzy mass and smoothed it into place. It occurred to him as he felt his face snuggly secured in the webby mass that he hadn’t asked her why they were doing this.

*****

They were outside again. His dwarven eyes weren’t impacted much by the dark of night. He only imagined her vision was at least as good. The deep brown gills of the mushroom loomed above them. Syrenall had handed him a third piece of spider-silk instructing him to stretch it between his arms. She fluttered above him with a strange polished stick.

She ran the small stick gently along the fins of the mushroom’s under-ridges and Aagron saw a swirls of brownish powder drift down toward him. Spores. She harvested the dark powder wedged inside the gills. She tapped the back of the harvesting stick lightly and thick powder clumps dropped onto the silk between his arms.

“I thought we’d be using magic?” Aagron regarded the brown marring the webbing doubtfully.

“My friend,” she drew out the word as she gave her rod a final tap, “The magic is in the mixing.”

And with that they went inside.

*****

Syrenall had him drag a small table into the center of her home’s large potion chamber. She had fluttered away to gather things in darting motions. A mortar. A pestle. Some vials she set in a ring around the small grinding bowl. The mass of webbing and spore were slightly visible inside it. And lastly she poured a powdery ring around it all. It was the finest white sand Aagron had ever seen.

Inspecting the collection, the winged-fey nodded once to herself.

“Now,” she began conspiratorially, “Is the time for magic.”

Aagron was pretty sure he heard the church bell begin toning the midnight hour softly in the distance.

Syrenall’s voice was strange then. It was a rare dwarf who took to magic and Aagron wasn’t such a one. He swooned as she spoke to the purest of waters. Vision blurring he swore she named a baby’s breath and mother’s tears. And as she said these things, the vials softly spun into the air. Lit, pale and glowing, they each in-turn unstoppered and gave up their liquids and vapors.

Name after name it went, a soft swirling light gathered orb-like above the pestle and bowl, which too had begun to spin. One to the left and the other to the right. Grinding the powder and webs until the gathered orb of waters and vapors dropped into the bowl with a brilliant flurry, the pestle hopping and grinding like a trapped animal. Until… All at once it seemed to end.

And then she spoke fire.

The white ring of sand swirled in a desert wind, and closed up in a twister above the mortar’s small bowl. She reminded the sands earth and the wind’s fire of water… so clear and flowing… and somehow Aagron could feel it. The jealousy. It burned and sand grew white and molten hot around the mixing bowl.

Glass.

The fairy was burning glass from thin air and… sand? Working his jaw in wordless wonder he saw the potion fresh-brewed bubbling upward into the finest forming vial he’d seen. It was small and delicate like her but he knew now better than to doubt it for size.

Syrenall gestured and the glass cooled as it drifted to his hand.

He looked at the fairy nervously as the warm glass of the tiny object settled against his palm.

“Is it… poison?” The midnight hour, the strange reagents.

“Oh heavens no silly dwarf,” her chiming laughter nearly swallowed the words, “It is a strengthening tincture. It will make his first cup of ale hit as hard as twenty. Even a kitten could drink him under the table with that.”

He regarded the tiny vial with awe.

“Ten years. I won’t ask for rent for my land for ten years.”

“You mean my land?” The tiny creature chimed with mock-menace.

“Fine, fine, yours… for now.” He kept staring at his salvation.

“Tell Flora of my aid and next time she sends you to me I demand more of her than a single lock! Go home and rest, ‘noble’ dwarf,” she mocked a bow, “You have a tavern to save tomorrow.”

By Christen N. Sowards

“We are not all here yet!” Proclaimed Rawlis, and when Rawlis proclaimed anything even the most villainous listened… well everybody except… Kenk.

“There is not time to waste!” Retorted Kenk. The God of the Dead was an impatient one.

Rath let his wife, Rawlis and his uncle Kenk go on for a while back and forth. It wouldn’t take long until his mother Sapere would intervene. Sapere was the oldest of the Three Elder Gods, Flit and Kenk being the others. She was also the only God to have off spring, and so many would seek her wisdom and comfort.

Not surprisingly Coru stepped in, there was an opportunity whenever there was conflict he would say. “Now Kenk, remember the last time we had one of these councils? It was just after Parish ascended” stated Coru. With that proclamation Rath knew that something big was afoot. It always made Parish cringe a little when that was brought up, how anyone could be so introverted and yet a Deity was beyond Rath.

“Flit will never come, and as far as the others, well we have seven, that should be enough for whatever Coru has planned to discuss” concluded Kenk. It was as if he had something more important going on? Maybe Kenk was meddling with mortal affairs again?

It had long been decided that the Gods would not meddle in mortal affairs, it had taken the creation of the Titans to make all of the Gods agree to this. The fact that Gods still did… adjust… things was never openly discussed. Rawlis and Sapere tried to explain how there should be a balance of things, how if one God or Goddess was caught meddling then that would be cause for another God or Goddess to adjust things. Rath felt that was a dangerous place to try to balance, the whole escalation of forces that caused the Titans were a testament to how delicate a balance truly was.

The creation of the Titans had caused the loss of thousands of Mortals, even Hersk had regretted that things had gone that far… Kenk however seemed to have enjoyed that Dark Age more than any other time. It had been he that had created the Titan Dearth first. The famine and plagues that followed had surely justified Rath in creating Reparation. Of course Reparation, had not really be aptly named, that Titan had probably killed as many mortals as Obe, the Titan of Lightning and Dearth together.

Rath had also been… passively adjusting things…

All he had really done was send some of the mortals with the greatest potential to Heroes Cove, that wasn’t really meddling, right? Just making sure that the right words were spoken to entice the soon-to-be warriors to drop the plow and take up the sword. It was only prudent to make sure that warriors received the training needed. Kaira, the not-so-retired Gladiator had proven very useful in teaching not only close combat skills but also a love of justice and a moral compass.

Bazral was off in a corner sharpening his Ax, that dwarf was constantly at the forge. What he did with all of the amazing weapons and armor Rath did not know… but one day… Rath did have a suspicion that the Warhammer that Sariah wielded might have been forged by Bazral himself. Sariah had always been a powerful figure. She was definitely Rath’s favorite dwarf since… well… since before Bazral ascended anyways.

When Rath discovered that Sariah had that fire to change things, he had even whispered in her ear “Diversity is Strength” more than once. The fact that she said it as her battle cry and the Bezerkers had taken it as their motto was a great source of pride for Rath. Not that he could ever truly claim credit, otherwise who knew what Kenk or Hersk would try to do.

Rath was quickly becoming bored of this as well. “Coru, we have come as a favor to you, and at short notice… surely we could at least start discussion, the others will just be reminded that had they arrived they would have been able to shape the decision as well,” stated Rath. As soon as it was said, he could feel Rawlis’ glare… well so much for being the son of the Goddess of Wisdom.

“Finally, we agree on something,” said Kenk quickly. “With that we should start, and use this fortuitous momentum to conclude this meeting.”

Coru was never one to miss an opportunity to advance his agenda, “Since most of us here are in agreement, let us begin.”

“Maldor has been a troublesome mortal for some time,” began Coru. “He has…”

“Let us not descend into theatrics, Maldor has done much that was…” intoned Kenk.

“Maldor was responsible for…” boomed Bazral.

“Let’s not bring that up again!” rasped Hersk.

The God of Vengeance and Traitors, trying to have a vendetta forgotten?

This caused Rath to worry more than anything since before the Titans were created. Maldor had enslaved the Glacial Clan for over two hundred years, and Bazral was not one to forget that. How anyone could enslave and force another human being to work under those conditions was beyond Rath. It had caused such a stir that it had taken everything Sapere could do to prevent most of the Gods to decent on Aare, the nation that Maldor currently ruled.

“Maldor has been in power too long” proclaimed Coru. And with a simple sentence all chaos broke loose.

By Josh Wooten

Slowly, I pull myself out of the lagoon, how I hate the itch. For over eight thousand years I have had the worst itch whenever my skin dried out. Curses on Kenk! He had done this to me. It is not the proper place for an Elf to hide in the water, even if I ascended to Godhood eons before.

Why had I chosen to fight so quickly? Challenging one of the Elder Gods, even when you were a God yourself would have been foolish. I had tried it even before I ascended.

Had that giant sea creature not been close enough to absorb, I would have died. Many days I spent cursing that sea creature and the long grey tentacles that now adorned my face. It was fitting that people were terrified of my deformities, I one who had survived the wrath of Kenk, and to have been the first to ascend since the Elder Gods had done so thousands of years before? There was no equal.

How I long for vengeance on Kenk, I had created Goblins to menace the Minotaurs that Kenk created. I had even gone as far as creating diseases that only affected Minotaurs. It was great fun to see the stupid bovine run around slaughtering other cattle. Ever since the Titan Wars, I have had to not been so open in my attacks.

The Titans had changed a lot of things, all of the sudden Rawlis was acting like the Queen, rather than Sapere. Rawlis, the Goddess of Kindness and Grace, more like the Goddess of endless rites and mindless rules. If anyone was my opposite, it was Rawlis.

I had come up out of the murky deep for a special treat tonight. Aerax, the Cow Bezerker, adopted by the Dwarves because of his help in liberating the Glacier Clan from Maldor, this was a Bovine worth corrupting. I had come to Heroes Cove many times, there was another Cow that if he could cause to turn would hurt more than any other, Kaira. She had proven too hard to fully turn, but she was quick to lose her temper which could often be used against her, at least outside of the arena.

Aerax, this one however, was an interesting Bull.

Aerax was quick to leap into the fray, if only he could be confused or temporarily blinded. It would be very sweet if he could get him to kill that human he hung around, what was her name? Elra, she was clever that one, and she had a knack for seeing through trickery, most of the time.

While most Gods meddled in the affairs of Mortals, few would attempt what Hersk did.

I had given Maldor a lot of power, even to the point of imbuing him with a way to shift his conscious into the frozen clones that he had been trying to perfect for a decade. That one little thing had kept Maldor alive and tormenting the other Gods for several hundred years past his normal lifespan. It was too bad I could not let the other Gods know that Coru had helped, that would be sure to cause a rift when the time was right.

Now, where would that dumb Bull be…?

Hersk reached out with the weakened powers of telepathy. When he had first ascended he had been able to read the mind of any Mortal from anywhere, but he had deliberately turned away from that after several thousand years of hearing how grateful they were to Rawlis, how wonderful Sapere was, how just Rath was… it was pathetic.

Mortals could only see the present, and only lived a few decades, they forgave and they worked together, pathetic!

The Itch had already started…

Of course he is in the Tavern, maybe he could get Aerax to kill Gabrielle? That Angel had foiled many a plan. Really any one of the do-gooders in this miserable town would be sufficient.

Why did the mind wander? A yes, the cursed Aerax… there he is…

Right before Hersk stepped into the light he cloaked his appearance, it appears that this Bull liked the company of human females, so that was the image Hersk would display.

“Please tell the tale of the Siege of the Temple Knights” asked a random Satyr.

It was interesting to see Demmr’th squirm. Hersk had tempted Demmr’th to work with those Demons, and it had been surprising how little it had taken for him to turn on the Knights. That night had been glorious, Rawlis had lost over a hundred Knights right before Maldor had ascended to the throne of Aare. Had that massacre not happened, and the subsequent siege, had almost made it too easy for Maldor to secure his reign. Demmr’th had been much younger then, he had not learned how to weigh the costs properly.

It had been a pleasure to cause Demmr’th to sleep for three hundred years as punishment. When Rath had pronounced sentence, Hersk had almost laughed at how perfect it was to save Demmr’th for more fun later. However, since his release it seemed that he had been less inclined to participate in Hersk’s plans… It was just another case of Mortals forgiving.

Demmr’th had inadvertently caused the deaths of so many, but if the Mortals and even the Gods were willing to show such weakness, why not use it against them. How sweet it will be to have their “reformed” Goblin betray them again. Just a little more time for him to win the good graces of some Noble or other.

…again the itch…

Hersk needed to convince Aerax to go for a swim, that way he could get relief from the itch and have more time without anyone around to distract the brute.

There with Elra, of course that one would be nearby.

Hersk approached cautiously, but with just a little bit of a stumble right before He reached the table next to Aerax. Almost as if he were warned, Aerax quickly assisted Hersk to a seat with something akin to a greeting.

“Hello stranger, what a lovely night,” greeted Elra. There would be no avoiding this little time wizard, thought Hersk.

 

By Josh Wooten

Cold steel manacles
Sickly sweet smell of human blood
Absolute quiet…
I slowly opened my eyes, expecting to be in a dungeon… close enough, why am I in a jail cell?
A pair of feet approached, but without a whisper of a noise… how is that possible? I always had amazing hearing.
Gabrielle, the Deputy of Heroes Cove is mouthing words, why would…
No noise at all?
What happened, and what human bled on him? Where is Elra, she would know what to do.
It seems like Gabrielle is yelling something, but why is there no noise?
I try to think back, but all I can remember from the night before is that strange human wanted to go swimming late last night. She seemed to be unhappy when Elra joined us…
Where is Elra?
It seems like Gabrielle keeps saying her name over and over… Something must have happened to Elra!
That poor girl, is it her blood that is on my arms, it is a lot of blood, she must have been hurt.
I have only been in a jail cell once before, back when I was a young Bull.
I had left the tribe before I had come of age. I wandered around for a while, eventually I stumbled on a Dwarf of the Glacial Clan. I asked for food and some help, but the dwarf made fun of me, taunted me as I still had not grown proper horns.
I attacked a fully armored Dwarf, but I had not meant to hurt him. Not really. When the Dwarf fell and hit his head on the rocks below, he died. I did not even put up any type of fight when the constable had come to take me to jail. I just sat there with the Dwarf at my hooves.
A few days later, when Sariah approached me with an offer to join the Bezerkers. The Bezerkers are a mixed race military unit. They are proud of their hodgepodge crew and bare the motto “Diversity is strength.” while specializing in unconventional tactics.
When Sariah asked, I did not need to be told that joining was my only alternative to serving 10+ years of hard labor. I felt joining this cause would allow me a chance to make amends for my foolish actions which led to the death of the dwarf and I was grateful to Sariah for trusting me with this opportunity. Because of my gratitude for this second chance I was always the first to volunteer for any mission and the first to charge into battle.
Why was I in a jail cell now?
The realization hit me worse than anything… they thought that I had hurt Elra?
Elra had arrived in Heroes Cove the same day as I, even though we came by different roads and had very different skills, I had quickly grown attached to the little human. She had always been right on where to go and what to expect. When I took on too much risk, she had always found a way to make it better.
I could never have hurt Elra…
Maybe the other human girl could help, where was she?
What had her name been…

Grant, the Sheriff, approached. After wordless conversations, Gabrielle scribbled something on paper.
Why had I never learned to read?
He started yelling more things…
Hersk… why would he say the God of Vengeance and Traitors name?
If Hersk was around Elra was in big trouble.
Finally, I couldn’t take it any more… “Where is Elra?” I bellow.
The way they paused, it seemed that maybe Gabrielle felt I was innocent, but Grant was not ready to make any decisions.
“I cannot hear…” I say probably too loud, as Grant cringes.
When I threw a wagon full of gun powder at some pirates a few weeks ago, I had been unable to hear for a few minutes… but not for this long.
Even right after the blast, I could make out some noise… but not now….
If Elra had not been there to stop some of the debris from hurting me, I might not have made it, throwing a wagon of black powder was not the smarted thing I had done.
What is happening?
Where is Elra? She would know how to fix this.
Was that other human female Hersk…?
Kenk had created Minotaurs, or at least that is what the Elders said, and ever since Hersk had ascended he had taunted Minotaurs. At least that is what the Elders said, but they also said that the Gods did not directly meddle in the affairs of Mortals. If any God or Goddess were to break that, I think it would be Hersk.
Why can I not remember anything?
That human female had asked if I wanted to swim…
Why did she start to smell like brine? She had not smelled that way when she first arrived, stumbling into the table next to me…
Maybe she was Hersk?

Meanwhile out in the choppy seas
Helena approached Thamden, the navigator, “How close are we to the Cove?” Helena had asked this question at the exact same time of day for three weeks straight.
“Eighteen days out, Ma’am” replied Thamden quickly. He had only recently been promoted. The previous occupant had dared to ask why Helena wanted to waste time on the little seaside village of Heroes Cove. His punishment was to be turned to a mindless thrull and he was kept swabbing decks on the bridge as a reminder to all.
“We have to get there faster, there is something big happening there and we need to make it before the 20th. My source tells me that we have to get there soon or it will be worse for all of us!” Helena had said this several times before, Thamden would check the currents, and hem and haw, but he knew that even getting there by the 21st would require more skill than he possessed. And probably more luck than any mortal was allowed. It was times like this that Thamden wished he had become a cobbler or a smith, rather than wanting to see the world. Most Gnomes were very skilled with their hands, surely he could have found some trade where he would not have ended up aboard the vessel that Helena captured nearly a month ago.

By Josh Wooten

“Tell me again how you got knocked off a horse!”

“Tell me how you even rode a horse!”

Lance was used to those kinds of taunts, when you are the 8th child of the most powerful Fae King, you were expected to be the best Knight to ever… or at least to make it through Knight training. It wasn’t long after the 5th unhorsing in a ranked tournament that his mother had approached him with a suggestion that he go to Heroes Cove.

Even though he was never to be a knight, Lance still recited the Honor Code three times a day.

Believe that the Gods and Goddesses witness, record and aid you daily

Defend the belief or lack of belief of all, for all have value

Defend the weak against all that abuse

Love everyone and respect the Kings and rulers wherever you may be

Confront your enemies directly, do not show fear

Fight any that are evil without mercy

Aid all those that struggle with poverty, especially widows and orphans

Never lie even if it means your death, you word is bond to both friend and foe

Give of your possessions, for all was given to you

Seek out evil and stand with those that oppose evil

Lance had travelled first to see the Glacier Clan, when he had heard about Sariah and her “Diversity is Strength” motto, it resonated with Lance. This was a Dwarf he could follow! When he arrived, the dwarves told him that she was out on a campaign, and that they would be unable to help him. He set out as fast as his wings would carry him to the Kingdom of Aare. When he arrived, Sariah had just defeated the forces of Maldor at the Battle for the Clone Caves.

It was said that Sariah defeated more than a thousand zombies before scaling the cliff more than 400 feet to destroy the clones. It had been disheartening to arrive just in time to not fight. Lance helped how he could, he had a knack for tending the wounds. He also had some very minor Fae magic, where he could take the wounds of others healing them, but hurting himself.

After weeks of doing this, Sariah asked him to stop. Lance had saved some of the most grievous wounds, people that would not have survived, he helped. It did take a heavy toll on Lance, and for several weeks after he had not been able to fly.

Lance had taken his time, but the very day he arrived another traveler arrived.

Kasumi.

Kasumi and Lance quickly became friends. She didn’t care about his race, she didn’t care at all about his past. She also sang the most amazing ballads, and she could play more than seven different instruments! In the kingdom of his father, there had not been a Yutu in ages. Lance had been drawn to Kasumi, how could someone be so happy?

Did she not have guilt and regret weighing her down?

If not how, and could she teach Lance?

One day Lance asked her those very questions, naturally she laughed.

“You cannot change the past, you cannot predict the future, but you have the present…” she would quote.

How could she be so happy?

The townsfolk of Heroes Cove were very accommodating, and when Lance wanted to redeem himself, they were always willing to give him some chore. He found that when Kasumi came it was always lighter work. Once Kasumi did not want to go fight pirates, and so Lance joined forces with the Minotaur, Aerax and his companion Elra the Human Time Wizard, he had met Aerax shortly after the Battle of the Clone Caves. Aerax was a noble one, he was not afraid of anything. Elra, was a mystery, but she seemed to have a good heart.

There always seemed to be new people coming to the Cove, and they all seemed like they wanted to make things better. Not everybody had the same idea of how to do that, and there were some heated debates on nearly every topic, but it felt good to have some type of mission.

Get better, learn how to work together, protect the innocent.

This was something that would make Lance’s parents proud.

He hoped.

By Josh Wooten

Kasumi was always looking for the most exciting thing to do.
Kasumi decided to learn instruments. She was not particularly fond of any one but the Pan Flute was very easy to put in a pocket or whatever satchel she had, there was so much to see!
Travelling from town to town, sharing stories told of her Father, the noble Samurai, or the long-bodied noble dragons of her homeland. The Lotus that grew there were fabled here for their abilities to store magical energy. What excited Kasumi more than anything else was to learn a new song, or to see a master play a new instrument.
When she had first stepped foot in Quaternion, she had heard of the Satyr, Xerses. He was one of the finest Pan Flute bards to ever travel. Unfortunately, this Satyr did not stay in any one place for long. For several months, she traveled from village to village, without any luck. When one day she was passing through Heroes Cove, and stumbled upon the exact Satyr, she was thrilled!
There was a style that she had heard of, where two musicians would take turns playing songs requested by the audience and whomever could not fill the request first would bow out, ever since she had heard about this style from Tyrre, she had challenged every Bard that she found.
When one of them offered a simple pendant to her as a token of her win, she was hooked. She immediately had a silversmith fashion a simple Lotus made of the finest silver. Then she went to a sorceress and asked her to cast a spell that this pendant would hold a spell. The spell would aid the bard that wore it, and it would heal the bard and whomever the bard chose. When Kasumi found out that a similar pendant was given to the Imperial Bards of Quaternion, she was thrilled that her idea had merit.
When she was beaten the very next day by a bard named Quatar, a dark-skinned human. And then again by a Dwarf that played the weirdest wind instrument, a bag with pipes! She was thrilled! She found that she was learning the most interesting stories and the most obscure tales! It was not long before she beat both Quatar and the Dwarf, but not before she learned some more stories!
Her own reputation must have preceeded her, for whatever reason Xerses kept dodging her!
He came and went as he pleased but it seemed that he often came back to Heroes Cove, so while she was waiting for Xerses to accept her challenge, she would accompany Lance on some adventure. Lance was a serious person, but he had a good heart and was always looking for ways to help others. He also often got himself into a little more trouble than he was able to handle by himself.

Xerses
The clear sky bred overconfidence. The citizens of Heroes Cove toiled. The heroes patrolled without vigilance. They believed the light cast out all shadows. But in their midst, a shadow strolled.

Xerses walked through the alley. He held his head high, knowing no one knew of his plans. Helena counted on him to learn the schedule of the dock guards and soon, after meeting his informant, he would have all the information he needed. He allowed himself a smile and gently touched the satchel containing his pan flute.

“The old are wise, but the young are spry.” Xerses stopped fast. His smile disappeared. He touched his satchel.

“And if the young seek a chance, the old should give them a try.” Xerses spun to see a confident bunny standing before him. She twirled her own pan flute and smiled innocently at him.

“So. I’m challenging you.” Xerses stared. “Come on old man. They say you’re good, so why not accept my challenge?”

Xerses did not have time for this distraction. His informant was skittish and would not tarry long.

“I admire your confidence child, but perhaps some other time. Perhaps after you dry your ears a little.” Xerses turned and continued down the alley.

“Wet ears may lead to wet eyes old man.” Xerses continued walking. The challenger hopped to catch up. “Because you’ll be crying. When I win. See?” Xerses continued, realizing his window of opportunity was closing fast. He stopped as the challenger leapt over his head and landed in front of him, spinning her pan flute again.

“Come on. I’ve dreamed of this!” She began hopping from foot to foot. “A duel with the great Xerses! Come on, just once.” The challenger screwed up her face. “Wait, you’re not scared are you? Is that why you’re trying to walk away so quickly? Because, if you’re afraid, you can just tell me.”

Xerses growled and touched his satchel. He would have to get rid of this distraction quickly or else.

“Listen child,” he began, a plot forming.

“Kasumi.”

“What?”

“Kasumi. Not ‘child.’ My name is Kasumi.”

Xerses frowned as the Yutu bunny continued.

“You really should remember it old man.” She beamed. “After all, I’m the one who’s going to beat you!”

By: Joseph Patrick Richards and Josh Wooten

The wind whipped through the trees, bringing bitter chill and change. Throughout Heroes Cove, denizens dove into homes or the pub seeking warmth. In spite of the wind, or perhaps because of it, the two figures stood in the shadows of the swaying trees. As soon as they spoke, the wind took their words and flung them into oblivion. The larger figure wore no cloak. The other figure was stooped and oozed obsequiousness. The balance of power was clear. The cloak-less figure gestured and the stooped one flinched. After several minutes, the stooped figure loped off out of the forest. The one without a cloak stood in silence, smiled and ventured deeper into the woods.

Xerses listened to the sounds coming from Motto’s Pub. He grimaced as he thought about going inside. He grumbled to himself for several minutes before screwing on a smile and bursting through the door.
The grating sounds nearly pummeled the smile from his face. The self-righteous musings of Grant, the town’s mayor who pretended to be above reproach. Xerses knew Grant relied upon him for information, but only felt deep suspicions about where Xerses obtained his knowledge. But Grant never asked questions, because he relied on the information to keep the town in some semblance of working order.
“He pretty hands may be clean, but only because expects me to do his dirty work. Fine. Let him pretend that makes him less culpable,” Xerses thought. He kept the smile on his lips as he glanced at Aagron, the dwarf barkeep. “What a fool,” Xerses mused, “for always paying for my drinks when he has no idea these visits are much more beneficial to my plans. Loathe as I am to be in this swilling mess of mutants.”
As a bard, Xerses had the training of generations of his ancestors. His parents had taught him just as their parents had taught them and so on. No one remembered the name of the progenitorial bard who bundled several sticks and fashioned them into the first pan flute. But everyone knew a bard was necessary in any town of sizeable population. The masses needed their entertainment, lest they get restless and revolt. “Keep them mollified so they can only see what is in front of them and not the grand design,” Xerses mumbled into his pan flute as he raised it to his lips. He began to play a lively melody that had all ears turn toward him. He saw the frown on Aagron’s face because Aagron knew that as soon as Xerses began playing, the barkeep would need to ply him with alcohol through the night. Xerses could practically see the dwarf balancing his account in his head. The thought of causing displeasure to Aagron led Xerses to a wonderful flourish on the flute that pleased the crowd.
Xerses continued to play as patrons raised their glasses and allowed the bard to distract them from their dreary lives of mucking and plowing and fighting and keeping the peace. It was not long before Xerses noticed Kaira, the gladiator of Heroes Cove, lean forward to speak. He took a breath to continue his tune when he heard her say, “Helena, the Cursed.” He did not continue his song. He cast a sideways glance at Aagron who was twisting his towel, obviously trying to decide if he had to pay Xerses when he wasn’t playing. Xerses fully ignored the dwarf and sunk into a corner to listen to the gladiator tell her story of Helena, The Traitor of Tyrre. All other patrons turned to Kaira as well, for the stories of Helena were as legendary as they were horrifying.
Unlike everyone else, Xerses was not enraptured with Kaira’s story. Instead, he was reconnoitering, listening for any intelligence Kaira may have about Helena and casting surreptitious glances to see if any patron expressed too much interest in the story. Xerses, like usual, was not listening so much as plotting.
As the gladiator finished her story, Xerses realized that she remained ignorant. And for now, that was just what he wanted.

Syrenall’s apothecary shop would have been nondescript if not for the mystery surrounding its proprietor and provenance. It appeared overnight on land Aagron claimed as his own. Xerses thought the dwarf, though an idiot, had backed down too easily from the fight. And that piqued Xerses’s curiosity. Something was amiss and he aimed to find out. He spent many a coin and months of sleepless nights to gain any information on the deeds of Syrenall. And last night, in the woods, his efforts had finally paid off.
“Lovely day for a sneaky sulk.” Veronic’s silver-tongued lilt showed the gruffness of age, but remained seductive. Fortunately, a lifetime of bard wisdom, mixed of course with satyr sneakiness, had taught Xerses how to avoid the dangerous traps Veronic wove with her words.
“How much lovelier, I would imagine, if a hulking past-her-prime demon wasn’t casting a shadow in my sunlight.” Xerses saw the demon’s eyes narrow slightly at his mention of her age; an implicit questioning of her skills. He knew how to push, but not too far.
“And why should my stature cause you such discomfort my skipping friend, when the shadows of your own past cling to you?” Veronic did not smile at the words she knew had hit the truth. Perhaps she didn’t know. Xerses always kept a close eye on her, but perhaps he had missed something. No. He could not afford to second guess himself and let the demon twist him in her mind games.
“Don’t you have an angel to taunt?” Not his best work to be sure, but he just needed Veronic out of his hair.
“I’m sure Gabrielle can get along without me. But I do have places to be of course. Other shadows to cast. And since you seem to have your own demons close behind you, I’ll part before things become too crowded. May your day be what you deserve.” With that, Veronic turned and departed.
“Oh demon. If you only understood what I know about you and your supposed pacifism toward our angelic deputy.” Xerses pushed his thoughts aside. He breathed deeply to clear his thoughts, unconsciously touching the pan flute in the satchel slung over his shoulders. He closed his eyes briefly and stepped across the street to Syrenall’s shop. He opened the door and took in the scene immediately. Vials on wall shelves. Lamps casting soft light of varied colors. An elf statuette. The place attempted to overwhelm and disorient without seeming to do so. Xerses stepped inside and closed the door. He stood silently until he heard the soft flutter of wings.
“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of you visiting my shop before goat.” The slur was obvious, but Xerses had heard it too often in his travels to have it affect him. Especially now, when he was in control.
“Why hello fly. Allow me to introduce myself.” He bowed sarcastically. “I’m the spider and you,” Syrenall’s fake smile disappeared into menace, “are just about to be in my web.”

By: Joseph Patrick Richards

The swells of the sea were smooth, a silence of rolling black.
The prow of the Fury’s Fang cut through the night dark ocean like a hungry knife. Like a promise fulfilled. Like vengeance. Helena’s hair drifted in the breeze. With a small compulsion her crew made ready for the dock. Only a few torches dotted the edge of the piers. A good sign.
The Massacre and several other ships eased into the berths, also ready to unleash her captured and turned crew. It was not as if her crews needed light to see after all. After the first handful had balked at her command, she began to turn them. Not a true gift but enough to render them unliving and in her power. Black sails fluttered and dead eyes hungrily devoured the town as it drew in close. The wills of even more thralls below deck strained against her charms. So hungry for the flesh of the living. Soon.
Soon she would free them to feed.
All of them.
* * * * *
Elra woke.
A stiffness in her neck and throbbing at the base of her skull caused her to wonder if she’d been adrink. No. Not since the night of her acceptance into Master Iregan’s tutelage had she even sipped an ale. But the ache, the pain.
Fingers like icy steel clenched around her throat.
She realized it then. Her magic. Her most powerful magic. She felt time sitting upon her like a fallen mountain. That only happened when she changed something very important or terribly certain. As certain as dying.
A sickening pop as her neck began to snap.
A death-loop. Elra had sent a warning back to herself. She was going to die unless something changed. Looking outside she realized it was the dead of night. She had minutes, an hour at best. Habit caused her to call for Aerax when she realized he was unable to hear her. Unable to hear anything.
That was habit. She had to start changing things.
If she only knew what.
* * * * *
Helena dropped silently on to the wood of the dock. She savored the air so heavy with the scents of a dozen different races. Desperate and fear-tinged but with a faint bloom of hope. Refugees from the Northern war with the Mind Mage’s legions. Young hopefuls begging for Kaira’s attention to train them.
Kaira.
The vampire considered letting the would-be heroes survive this. So they would know. Know what Kaira really was made of. Hollow words. Broken vows. Treachery.
No.
None of them would survive.
Helena would drain them all before Kaira’s eyes. Make the gladiator “hero” watch as she failed her home over and over. Yes. Helena drew in breath, tasting the air. She’d gather victims across the town. It would give Kaira time, but she was no match for Helena’s speed. Yes, let the gladiator come to her, to find their arena built in the bodies of her failure.
As she breathed in the scent of her soon-to-be-victims she caught a second smell. Much closer and tinged with moss and something alchemical. Ah yes, the satyr. She blurred up the docks to find the watchmen and night portmaster slumped in a circle of spilt cider.
“A sleeping draught volunteered by the faerie potion-peddler. You will find the Watchers and Sheriff similarly disposed,” Xerxes stepped from behind the shadows.
The satyr’s ears sloped with trepidation. He was afraid of her. Fear was not something the bard was used to. Helena let him suffer it a few long moments before she spoke. Grant was asleep though, thanks to the satyr’s mischief and Helena could turn the former Arms-Master at her leisure.
“You may have first run of the stores. My… men… will be otherwise occupied.”
She let Xerxes listen to the dead pirates falling upon the poisoned dockmen. The wet gnawing and tearing sounds made the satyr tremble. It was best to keep such agents well aware of their position. She clawed toward the town and the hordes of dead sailors she had brought bubbled forth from the ships hold like a wave of darkness crashing upon the docks.
The city, and vengeance, would be hers.
* * * * *
Elra didn’t look back to see if Aerax was following her. She took to the night streets. Walking past the door of Motto’s Pub she tried to figure out her next move. Glancing over at the tavern door she let her eyes see forward, the inn shifting to a nightmare of orange flame, then blackened timbers. Burned away.
The pain hit her like a hammer.
A quick glance in to the future would normally be effortless for her. Flickers of possibilities unresolved and fleeting. Portents to guide her. But her death-loop, it had taken so much of her power. Time didn’t like changing. Each movement or nudge made things “heavier” in it. Harder to change. Elra’s chance to try and avoid her fate would make her nearly powerless to affect herself until she was at the moment she began her alterations.
At the moment she died.
So, she would need to focus on other things. Objects, places and other people. Things she had not changed. Normally, if she was in serious trouble, she would turn to Kaira for assistance. No. She wouldn’t. She would try to handle it, THEN she would seek her mentor.
Time to change things.
Straight to Kaira then.
Elra spun to her left and ran behind the Pub, past Syrenall’s mushroom-palace and toward Kaira’s home. She flexed her will outward trying to compress time to grant her speed only to again face the enormity of her already mountainous resistance. Right. She lifted her robes and broke into a trot for once wishing she’d took to training a little harder with Aerax.
* * * * *
She sensed her crew’s excitement as somewhere, someone broke into a run. Helena smiled. Perhaps someone had seen the squares of black sail that had eaten the stars from the night sky. Or some mage had a trinket that warned them over danger. Regardless, it was too late. Whoever it was, they were already running.
She released her hold on the dead.
Her crew burst forward like a wave of grey flesh and cutlasses. A surprising number of them clung to the use of their blades. It made them parody the charge of a living crew. No matter, the time was at hand when they would carve down the people of Heroes Cove and devour Kaira’s precious home one screaming refugee at a time.
Helena burst into motion leaving the docks behind in seconds.
* * * * *
Her knuckles were raw now and full of splinters. But she tried again. Elra couldn’t imagine the mentor of the Cove could sleep through this but she was still at a loss of what else to do. Finally, she decided it would be easier to apologize.
She touched the door and willed it backward.
There.
Earlier today, perhaps when Kaira was getting water from the rain barrel or leaving for the Practice Ring. It didn’t matter, because then the door was open and then, thanks to Elra, was now. She opened the door and crossed the threshold. Grunting with the effort. She needed to avoid interacting with the changes. That almost hadn’t worked. She snapped back to the door’s present.
Kaira was gone.
Maybe she was training late at the Ring. Or somewhere else. Elra looked around in desperation. She didn’t see a cloak on the pegs by the door. She turned back to the door. It shuddered and she remembered. Locked now. She threw back the bolt and ran out once more into the night. Instinctively pushing the moments around herself she found she couldn’t even shift a second faster. That trick with the door had been it for personal magic.
A fact made significantly worse when she ran around the corner and nearly onto the blade of a cutlass.
She couldn’t stop herself before she screamed.
* * * * *
A scream filled the night air and Helena smiled. Her crew was likely beginning to take their first victims. Helena expected great resistance, but so far this town was easy pickings. Her mind told the archers she’d left back at the docks to lose their burning arrows, the time for surprise was over.
Streamers of bright red arced through the sky in a cascade of fiery vengeance.
As Heroes Cove began to burn, she blurred from back alley to rooftop. Looking for the perfect victim. Someone to dangle before Kaira. Looking up from the empty windows of a rooftop she saw it then. The cook fires and tents of the refugee camp on the far edge of town.
The soft cries of babes and children.
How could she resist?
* * * * *
The orc was ashen-fleshed, dead eyes hungering for Elra. It snarled with a bloody maw and lunged forward with the cutlass. Beside it another dead-fleshed sailor surged toward her, this one human. It lunged with a blade that had mostly snapped off.
Elra generally stuck to seeing the past or future, the death-loop was a last resort. However, any one thing might be the thing that killed her. She let caution fly. The cutlass lashed forward again and she dodged hard to the left of it. But not without extending her arm backward and brushing the cutlass with her fingertips.
Her other hand shot upward under the human’s broken blade. She bent his arm up at an awkward angle against his chest. Moments later her will shot toward both blades at once.
Forward and back.
Temporal energies were far more easy to use when kept in balance. She was distinctly OUT of balance from her death-loop and couldn’t do personal effects any more. The swords however… Pitted and snapped the corrosion of the broken blade was a tell. Decades old at least. The orc pirate’s blade was newer. The exchange then was quite dramatic.
Rust and patina spread over the newer blade in moments and then riddled it with pockmarks. These instead grew like yawning maws bleeding oxidized reddish powder. The blade sagged and crumbled away into nothingness so fast the dead-orc thrust its hand outward in a few fitful air-jabs.
The broken blade was stranger. Its corroded edge regaining a jagged roughness slowly before snapping together with its suddenly reattached missing length returned from wherever it had been lost. A single shining blade bursting forth once more.
And piercing right through the dead human’s head.
Elra smiled in triumph, until the undead orc reminded her it still had teeth.
* * * * *
Elra cursed herself for being unable to regress the bite wound but kept pressure on it as she moved through the streets. She’d given up looking for Kaira as it became obvious the Cove was under attack and instead made for the refugee camp. With warning, most of them might be able to make it out of the town and to the safety of the Ice Glacier Clan’s watchtowers.
She burst around the corner to see the camp in commotion, most of the refugees gathering near the old Well Square. Elra panicked a little realizing how many of them their were. Some might be able to help her. The Fairy outcast with his tiny sword, Lance if she remembered right. The peevish Yutu minstrel. A Goblin windowcrack. The few of them might have a chance to resist but her eyes swept over the children, orphans mostly from the Mind Mage’s wars and Tyrre’s own troubles. A trampled banner from the recent Unity Celebration seemed to mock her from the mud.
So many.
An icy grip closed around the flesh of her neck. Matching the same ache she woke with. Elra felt herself lift from the ground, twisting as she did so that the vampire, Helena, Traitor of Tyrre could look up into her prey’s face. In a blur, she exploded with pain as Helena drove the mage into the stone of the Well.
“If Kaira is cowardly enough to leave you all to die, then I will settle for the blood of her favorite pet!”
A wordless roar from inside the town sounded the fury of Aerax as the minotaur stomped into the street from the path to the Practice Ring. Behind him a vision in gold armor, stepped Kaira, the Shaper of Heroes.
“Stop!” Kaira’s voice commanded.
For a moment Elra felt hope… Until the vampire exploded with throaty laughter.
“Yes! Yes, come and try to save them!” Roared Helena.
Even as Helena extended her challenge, the streets around the minotaur and Kaira exploded into darkened forms. The too-large crew of Helena’s ship boiled from the alleys, eyes alight with the vampire’s will. Most of them more dead than alive. Surely, a hopeless battle for even Kaira and her berserker friend. Elra’s eyes drifted past the edge of the ancient Well into the crowd of refugees.
So many.
Elra slammed her will into the Well, its ancient stones said to be older than the city. Older, it was said than Flora herself. She saw the stones begin to sharpen. Edges rapidly taking on the shapes of new cut stone. Helena didn’t break from her howling victorious laughter until she heard the stones snap. Tumbling into unhewn boulders and rocks. Snapping together into larger spans of great stone with ragged breaklines from a distant quarry.
When she saw the stone sag and burst into fine white river sand, she finally looked down at Elra.
Backward and forth.
But that was when the first conjured lightning hit the vampire.
Elra blew loose from the vampire’s grip. A young man standing curiously near where a crying child had been moments ago brandished a glowing staff. Behind him the Well Square exploded with them. Elven warriors. Goblin Nightblades. Monks of the Eastern Sun. Dwarven Paladins. Necromancers. Ice Wizards. Changelings. A dozen times a dozen times a dozen. The Heroes of the Cove. The Heroes of the Future.
So many.
“Diversity is Our Strength,” Elra whispered through her raspy throat, “Here’s a preview of the next hundred or so Unity Celebrations, you blood-sucking leech!”
Helena’s triumph shattered from her face. A battle cry burst from the assembled Heroes. Her crimson eyes filled with defiant rage. As the dead fell upon Aerax and Kaira they were met by arrows and flame. As spells that turned them one on the other or burned them to ash shattered the ranks of the dead, the Heroes surged forward dispatching her crew with blades gleaming in the firelight.
Helena wailed, fleeing into the dark, her vengeance crumbling.
Her hatred eternal.

 

By Christen N. Sowards

The forest was restless. Diurnal birds took flight though the sun had long descended. Deer ran as if being pursued. Even predators shifted uneasily in their dens. Growls sounded. Hackles raised. Teeth bared. A sharp, lupine howl profaned the night.

The first cannon fired. Heroes Cove was under attack.

“Wake everyone up now! Ships are firing on the Cove! Blast it, where is Kaira?” Thurmon, the mayor of Heroes Cove, ran through his home yelling at servants, his sleeping gown hanging haphazardly on his shoulders.

“Sir, the messengers have been sent and the heroes are assembling, but we are taking heavy damage. Most of the ships are lost already.” The small servant shrank under Thurmon’s furious gaze.

“Then get everyone who can sail onto any ships still available and take the fight to whoever is daring to attack us.” The panic of recognition flickered across Thurmon’s face. He yelled to the already departing servant. “And find out who is attacking us.”

Kaira, the gladiator of Heroes Cove, was already adorned in her worn battle armor. The armor shone dully in the moonlight as Kaira reached the top of Maker’s Hill. She scouted the waters and saw the armada. The lead ship bore the standard Kaira had expected. Two snakes intertwined, eating each other’s tails on a black background. Blood dripped from the fangs of the snakes as they devoured each other. A chill ran up Kaira’s spine. Helena, the Traitor of Tyrre had returned.

“Helena? Are you sure it’s Helena?” Thurmon was paralyzed. The look in the servant’s eyes as she delivered the news was enough to confirm the story for Thurmon. By this time, he was in his armor, light mail mostly for official ceremonies. He was never meant to be in battle. “Where the devil is Kaira?”

“I know not, but if it is a devil you need.” The grating voice behind Thurmon caused him to jump.

“Veronic, what do you know about this attack?”

Veronic loomed over Thurmon and exuded calm dispassion. “I know that Helena,
The Traitor of Tyrre is exacting her revenge. I know that the heroes are assembling. The dwarves have taken up axes and Kaira joined the others after scouting the scene. I also know that your angelic deputy is already leading a crew onto one of the few remaining ships in the harbor.”

“Curse it Veronic, why aren’t you doing the same? Why are you standing here like a courier? We need everyone we can.”

Veronic’s eyes narrowed. She spoke slowly. “I am here because I have not yet decided where my allegiances lie.”

Thurmon had feared this when he let the demon into the town. He had been opposed, but Xerses had made an unusually convincing and impassioned case. Unusual because the satyr bard never seemed to do anything altruistically. Thurmon regained his composure. “I suggest you determine your allegiance without haste demon. We have a battle to win and if you are not with us then know we will destroy you quickly.” With that, Thurmon ran out of his home and made for Maker’s Hill. If he was going to be any good to the battle at all, he should also survey the scene. The distance may also prolong his life as well.

From her vantage, Helena could see the panicked denizens of Heroes Cove, swarming like ants after their hill had been disturbed. She knew no one was prepared for the attack and she felt assured of her victory. She saw the fires of the ships in the harbor, ships soon scuttled under the dark waters. She allowed herself a smile with no warmth.

“Kaira, where have you been?” Gabrielle was already leading a crew onto the choppy waters.

“I was doing a bit of reconnaissance so we knew exactly what we were up against. Can you use a retired gladiator?”

Gabrielle smiled quickly. “Welcome aboard.” With that, the crew took the fight to Helena’s forces.

Thurmon finally summited Maker’s Hill. Sweat poured down his face. He was not a wartime mayor. He was a soft mayor who presided over a relatively peaceful town. His biggest concerns were minor squabbles and making sure shady characters did not overthrow the government. Easy enough when you had a strong sheriff and an angel as his deputy. Thurmon surveyed the ocean battle. It was not going well for Heroes Cove. They had three ships remaining, only one of which was prepared for battle against Helena’s barbaric fleet. Thurmon felt the fear take him as he saw his death flash before his eyes. “Wait.” That was not his death, but something else flashing in the copse below. Thurmon snuck down to see what was signaling to Helena’s fleet. It was a pan flute in the hands of one of Heroes Cove’s own. Thurmon was just about to reveal himself to the traitor when the air grew warm and his gaze turned back to the sea. An explosion sounded and Thurmon watched ship timbers fly into the air. Screams quickly died in the icy water. Veronic had joined the battle and had chosen the side of Heroes Cove. The fight was over quickly as Helena’s forces were blown to pieces by the fierce demon. Thurmon turned and the traitor was gone. Thurmon knew he finally had what he needed to end the pesky Xerses. Safe in that knowledge, he strode down the hill.

Though the battle with Helena was brief, the rebuilding was slow. Helena’s forces were prepared and attacked swiftly. However, the citizens of Heroes Cove, often at odds with petty squabbles or personality clashes, put everything aside to rebuild their home. After several months, the town resembled what it had been before the assault.

While the town was distracted with rebuilding, Xerses put his own plan in motion. He could waste no time now that Thurmon knew his hand in Helena’s attack. In fact, Xerses wondered when Thurmon was going to reveal that information. He could not risk it. So, after threatening Syrenall, the apothecary, with some information Xerses had discovered, he was ready to deal with Thurmon.

The perpetual smell of smoke finally dissipated in the breeze. It was a fine time to celebrate the renewed Heroes Cove. Thurmon had gathered the entire town for a feast in the square.

“Citizens of Heroes Cove. Welcome. We have been tried by the Traitor of Tyrre. She and her allies,” Thurmon ventured a surreptitious glance at Xerses who was making a show of cleaning his pan flute, “Ahem. She and her allies sought to destroy what we have built. But they could not. Thanks to the heroism of all of you who fought bravely, we are still here. And we will always be here. Now raise your glasses. Here’s to Heroes Cove.”

A festive shout went up from the table.

The townspeople dined and put old enmities aside. The jovial air belied the danger lurking beneath. No one at the feast could have known that in a few short hours after the square was cleared, Thurmon would be dead.

By: Joseph Patrick Richards

The Caldera’s Claim
He felt the wind shift as Ashwing glided down the thermal to land beside him. As the younger dragonkin crunched into the basalt, he drew in his wings tight to allow easy access to his blades. Redscale noticed the motion and slowly shook his head. He looked away from Ashwing and began scanning the caldera once more. Redscale prayed they weren’t too late.
“It’s laid here for thousands of years, why the tension all of the sudden?” Ashwing accented the question with a scrape of his tail along the stones of the ridge.
He drew in breath and, Redscale hoped, some patience, “The Orbs are never truly stable Young One, each may Become at any instant or in response to any number of things. Do not forget…”
“…Where they come from? How could I when my teacher never stops lecturing me,” Ashwing took a mock-scholarly tone, “’Never forget that the Orbs are the Dreams of the Gods. Left behind in moments of sleep when they exhausted themselves in the Birth of the Titans’ or something like that. Right? That is what you were going to say.”
“Then you aren’t as thick as your scales it seems. Yes. The Dreams of the Gods, Ashwing. Less powerful than the Titans to be sure but full of the same unleashed potentials. Unshaped. The Orbs can react or worse, be influenced by…”
“…’the Will of those who find them.’ Yes, yes, truly terrible,” Ashwing batted a small stone down the caldera edge.
Redscale began to lose his temper, “Again you demonstrate your…”
A roar drowned out even the thought of what he was going to say next.
It was horror given form.
Spines as long as greatswords jutted from its sides, night-black and thick as a forest. Between them rivulets of the caldera’s magma slid off of it like water from oiled-cloth. Its fanged maw surged red. As it rose in a pillar of massive, deadly power Redscale knew a tangle of terror and relief. The beast gave him time to think of neither. He screamed to Ashwing.
“Fly!”
The pair of dragonkin unfurled their wings and grasping great clawfuls of wind, vaulted upward into the sky, just in time to see the beast crash into the ledge that had been their perch.
“What is that?”
“Garleth, a magma worm.”
They winged over and up, each thrusting down a few more wingfuls of air. High enough now that the garleth could only roar up at them in anger.
“Magma worm. So… Not the Orb?”
Redscale favored his student with a toothy grin, “Not the Orb.”
The older dragonkin hissed in a hush of arcane symbols, the magic of his people rising inside him. He released a cloud of seeking motes spiraling down to the caldera. Once more the golden motes rushed toward the heart of the volcanic crater. Invisibly swarming near and then past the garleth, the motes raced to circle the naked eye of magma left from the magma worm’s eruption. He heard Ashwing mirror the seeking spell.
“Redscale, the Orb!”
“Yes,” Redscale saw it too, shining ever so slightly brighter than the magma it floated in.
The garleth rounded the edge of the crater and struggled to find a way up to the fliers to no effect. It raged in a series of roars that Redscale could feel in the membrane of his wings even this high above it. He banked to get closer to Ashwing.
“One of us needs to distract it so the other can retrieve the Orb,” He called as he pulled along side the young dragonkin.
“Magma diving or worm-bait,” Ashwing laughed, “The choices my mentor offers me.”
“Do you know the mindgrasp spell?”
Shaking his head Ashwing replied, “Bait it is then.” And he plummeted down.
Redscale’s student had bravery to be certain. He collapsed his wings as well following Ashwing’s decent. Both of them dropped into the thermals of the caldera, how easy it would be to give up on the Orb and ride them away from here. But Ashwing called out to the beast while summoning a burst of antagonizing frost at the massive garleth. It roared as circled on the low flying distraction.
Redscale plummeted careful of the magma. While resistant to fire’s touch the dragonkin were far from immune to it. He murmured the incantation of the mindgrasp. Below him the soft-rose glow of the Orb shifted in response to his magic. At first lurching, then slowly slipping free of its molten prison.
A roar from the garleth let him know it was still struggling to pursue Ashwing at the edge of the caldera. The consistent effort his Will drew the Orb upward to him, he was careful not to touch it. No doubt it was still nearly as hot as the magma. Even still his presence began to interact with the Orb.
The soft rose shifted a deeper red and the older dragonkin saw the hazy features of a hand curled into a gentle fist form near the sightless beginnings of an eye. The speed of the formation startled him into losing his concentration. Momentum had carried him and the Orb over the thicker basalt at the caldera edge but he felt the Orb fall from him. And exterior still somewhere between crystal and stone, the chiming it made as it hit the volcanic rock below was surprisingly loud.
The garleth’s roar cut off abruptly, and Redscale turned to see the creature forget Ashwing and round on him. It slashed forward in a violent series of “S” shaped surges. A ring of inward turned spines and molten light from within them promised Redscale a searing doom.
With no time to try to rework the mindgrasp spell, he picked the Orb up and took to flight. The howls of the raging garleth were soon joined by his own screams of pain as he thrust himself high into the clouds while his hand burned.
“Why? Your arm…” Ashwing drifted up beside him.
“For her.” He held out the Orb now clearly showing the curling outline of an infant dragonkin.
“For her.”

By Christen N. Sowards

Syrenall never went into the chapel, unless she had done something she was feeling guilty about, Flora knew that she would need some space. She was such a lovely creature, one of the Fae. It was not that common for the Fairies to visit any but the Holy Groves of Syren, Goddess of Music and Myrth. But Syrenall was an atheist if you were to ask, not that many would even think to ask, when the blessings of Rawlis are so apparent and the other gods and goddesses were quick to show their displeasure or kindness as well.

 

Syrenall was also pretty quick to lose her temper. Hopefully she had not hurt Aagron again.

 

After a few minutes Flora made her way into the chapel, careful to not interrupt any prayers of the parishioners. It didn’t take long for Syrenall to flitter over to her, to request a quick word.

 

“I don’t want you to think ill of me… “ Syrenall started. She quickly stopped. Of course whatever she had done would not tarnish the warm soul that was buried in there, somewhere.

 

Syrenall took several breaths, trying to steady herself. Poor thing was almost to tears.

 

“Please do not tell Fiona…” Syrenall begged.

 

“Child, what did you do?” asked Flora calmy. “You know that Fiona and myself think the world of you. We all make mistakes, but Rawlis is quick to forgive and Syren will gladly take away your sorrows. You will be able to find a path back, let me help.”

 

After several more breaths, Syrenall started again, “Due to a previous lapse in judgement I found myself with a debt, a Blood Oath.”

 

Blood Oaths were nasty business, only the most cruel persons would cause a soul to swear a Blood Oath, most Demons were not that cruel, for once it is sworn the person could collect not only from you but from anyone that you truly loved. Too often, that was the point, the vile person would find a person that was desperate get them to swear the Oath and then exact vengeance on one that they loved. If the person that was asked to fulfill did not, they were cursed to roam as a spirit, to observe but to never again be able to touch or taste or speak with anyone. It was a dreadful fate.

 

Syrenall was too smart to fall for that, poor thing must have had no other choice.

 

“What did you do?” Flora pressed. This was far more than some disagreement over trespassing, Syrenall was an Apothecary by trade, and she was known to add a little something extra into her potions. More than a few times she smelt of spellcraft, and not always the helpful types.

 

“Someone, that I am not able to disclose the identity, requested that I make a potion…” Syrenall mumbled. “One that would go undetected. I am not sure when it was used, but I know that it was intended to… to remove Thurmon from our lives.”

“Child, what do you mean, remove?”

 

“…permanently…”

 

“To kill?” Flora asked, even though she knew the answer.

 

Now Flora was taking a deep breath.

 

“How do we counteract the poison?”

 

Syrenall looked around, “Only by sacrificing a Dream Orb.”

 

Flora’s jaw dropped, when she responded it was far too loud “A DRAGON ORB?!”

 

Redscale was always looking for one, but he would never give it up, even if he had one. And most Dragonkin thought they were myths as no one had actually seen one for over a hundred years. Or at least they had not openly displayed it.

 

“Child, why do you have to be so thorough? You could not have made a poison that could have been cured with something else?” Flora questioned. “How much time do we have?”

 

Syrenall was almost to tears the poor thing, “Less than four hours after it was given to the… target, but it may not have already been…”
Flora didn’t wait for her to finish that thought, she would need every second.

By Josh Wooten

Just over a hundred years ago

Flora was wandering through the forest near Valfauna, as she was want to do when she smelt a faint hint of Brimstone. That would only mean one thing, a Red Dragonkin was nearby… Redscale was the most likely culprit. Why he kept his coming and going a secret was not something that concerned her.

He had come to visit quite a lot recently, most likely due to the presence of another Dragonkin that had arrived. Most elves, or any other mortal race, rarely saw a Dragonkin even once in their lives. Flora had now met three.

“Come out Redscale, I know you are nearby…” Flora was typically known for patience, but so was Redscale. No reason for them to pretend they did not notice each other.

Redscale quickly dropped his spell, he had been right next to her, he must have used some type of teleportation spell. Wizards and their tricks.

“Any news?” He asked quickly, with far too much optimism. The other Dragonkin had arrived only yesterday. With her condition, it was unlikely that she would ever get better but still he remained hopeful. He had been quick to put her into a state of hibernation, which had likely saved her life.

“No nothing yet, but I met with the Dwarves and they have some clues. Mara is just in the chapel if you would like a word.” Flora offered. It was so rare to even have a clue where a Dream Orb could be located, Redscale was off as quickly as his wings could carry him. Flora hoped that he was not on a fool’s errand. Surely Rawlis, the Kind Goddess, would see his sacrifice and help.

“Mara, I hear you may know the location of a Dragon Orb,” Redscale asked immediately after nearly taking the door off it’s hinges. It wasn’t that long ago that Redscale was polite and always very cautious around those smaller, but these last few days had been pretty hard on everyone, especially Redscale.

Present day

Flora went to Motto’s Pub, not a place that she frequented often, looking for the Time Wizard Elra. She had done some good work before, and if you ever needed to get something done quickly, having some extra time couldn’t hurt. Hopefully she wasn’t running some errand for another, she was always trying hard to prove something.

A quick scan and no auburn hair with white robes. She oft was with the Minotaur Aerax, but no luck finding him either.

Flora did find someone in the crowd that might be able to help, Xerses always seemed to know where everybody is and how to find all sorts of items difficult to procure.

Grant

It started off a good day, Olivia was walking and making some of the cutest noises. It was always a blessing when Grant could wake up and hear the soft cooing of his little one. There were many things that Grant regretted about giving up his life as a Master-at-Arms in the Tyrrean Navy, but being there to see Olivia grow up made it all worth it. When Sarah had wanted to move back to her native land of Quaternion, he had quickly agreed. The temperatures were not as hot, the people enjoyed more freedom, and less likely to be attacked by pirates.

Grant and Sarah had arrived at Heroes Cove mostly by accident. The small village that Sarah had grown up in had been attacked by Maldor only a few months before, and so rather than going further north, Grant had decided to go west towards the coast. Maybe find a smaller boat and start fishing. Travelling with a pregnant wife meant that they had to make frequent stops, and one such stop had been here at Heroes Cove. The former sheriff had decided to go fight some pirates that attacked the salt mines just to the North.

Today started off like many others, Grant thanked the Gods that he was here with his family in safety. It meant a lot more recently in light of Helena’s attack. She had lost many of her undead minions, but she had not been found among the dead. Someone like her, she would have known that she was not going to win, and would have left. Helena also would not have forgotten, and she would be back.

Elra and Aerax had come to him yesterday, looking for more work. Those two had become pretty dependable as of late. Grant had sent them along with another new-comer, a Black Dragonkin named Black Skull. They had gone off to check up the coast to see if Helena had landed to regroup. The Dragonkin was a Paladin of Rath, he had taken an Oath to destroy all evil. Between the Human Time Mage, the Minotaur Bezerker and the Dragonkin Paladin they could handle a lot. Hopefully even a brief encounter with Helena, the Traitor of Tyrre.

Black Skull

This new town of Heroes Cove was so full of hope and adventure, when he had been asked by his adopted father and Commander of the Order of Vengeance to go and assist the townsfolk he had at first balked at the demeaning quest, why would a Paladin of the Fifth Level just wander to a town to help plow or shear sheep? It hadn’t taken more than a few hours before Black Skull had caught the optimism and the eagerness to complete any and all tasks.

It had been fortuitous that he had arrived when he did, as less than a day later the Traitor, Helena had sent her undead minions into the town. What a glorious battle that had been, Black Skull had raced Aerax, the Minotaur he now accompanied, headlong into the lines of the cursed. It had been that charge that had turned the tide and forced Helena to sulk away to lick her wounds. Unfortunately, Black Skull had been unable to wade through the bodies fast enough to catch her, and even after circling around once he was able to lift off, he had lost sight of that cursed ship.

When the Human Sherriff, Grant, had asked him and Aerax to accompany the fragile Time Wizard, Black Skull had been more than happy to join them in the pursuit of the foul creature. Helena had once been a noble, but short-sighted Admiral of the Tyrrean Navy. Black Skull had ran into her on more than one occasion. She had always been ready to fight and Black Skull had deep admiration for those that could hold their own in a physical confrontation.

Grant had asked that they head north to the Salt Mines, and make sure that the pirates had at least gone that far, if they ran into any pirates then to damage the boats but to make sure that the town of Hallstate was still intact and warned of the attack yesterday. Elra, the Time Wizard knew the way, so Aerax and Black Skull were following her.

“It is just around this crag” Elra pronounced though heavy breaths. She was still winded from doing some type of Deep Magic. She had tried to explain how a “Death Loop” worked, and on the surface it sounded interesting, but the ability to rewrite the present until you didn’t actually die sounded wrong, when Kenk finally bested you and you were sent to the Land of the Dead, you were supposed to go with your head held high.

Flora

Thurmon was the mayor of Heroes Cove, and for some reason or another he had made a powerful enemy. Thurmon was known to do small illusions, and he was not always the most trustworthy person, he was a politician after all, but he was a good person. How he angered someone enough to have him poisoned was unclear. Syrenall had come to Flora, a Priestess of Rawlis, to fix this.

The first thought was to get more time, luckily there was a Time Wizard in town. Unfortunately, Flora had not been able to find her quickly. Rawlis helped those that first tried everything in thier power to fix the situation, and so when Flora could not find Elra, the Time Wizard, she went to the next best thing. Xerses, the Satyr Bard, often knew the comings and goings of everyone.

“Xerses,” Flora started slightly winded from running to Motto’s Pub. “I need your help, no time to explain, but do you know where Elra is or do you know of anyone that might have a Dragon Orb?”

By Josh Wooten