Fallen — Chapters 5 & 6

So I just got back from a convention and am posting the next two chapters a little early this week because Glenn has something else to say later, once I actually get the time to sit down and write it, and I didn’t want the posts to overlap too much.

You’ll see right away that Glenn is both perceptive and sneaky, and he is still exceptionally so in our current campaign. Osanna can vouch for this because he has startled her on more than one occasion by walking up behind her without her noticing, intentionally or not. Hm, I’m seeing a pattern here. Continue reading

Fallen — Chapters 1 & 2

Wow! It’s been nearly a year since I wrote Ko’s backstory, so I figured I should finally post it for everyone to read. My writing style has changed a lot in the last year. I would like to say it has improved; I try to keep to a pretty tight single character third person POV these days, whereas Fallen was written with more of an omniscient third person perspective, which can be effective if done well, but is difficult to do correctly. Reading it again, I think it’s kind of sloppy now. I think it would be an interesting and fun project to go back and re-write the entire piece from a single character perspective someday, if I ever had time (which I don’t.) Continue reading

Dead Reckoning (Xander’s Journal Pt.16)

Xander sits alone in his room, his gear and clothing scattered about, stripped to the waist save for a medalion bearing a seven-pointed star.  His spellbook and a selection of inks and needles are arrayed alongside his Black Blade on the table before him.  Glowing runes flash intermittently across his chest and arms, as he slowly scribes the magic symbols of another spell into his skin for later use.

The silence is broken only as he mutters snippets of words or half a sentence at times, usually through gritted teeth or in a burst of emotion.  Oblivious to everything else, he uses the minor pain to focus his mind to the task at hand.

What you did is unacceptable, father.

I would be healthy again if you hadn’t puppeted me in my sleep.

It was necessary, as you would have realized had we had the time to reason it out without everyone watching.  There was no way they would have allowed it had they known, and the demon-child has been watching everything like a hawk since our foray into the last complex.  She had to believe you were asleep before she would let down her guard.-

But it’s my life not yours, that rests in the balance here.  I can feel it even now, small gestures to accompany or enhance spells that I have never even studied before.  That tome is ancient, powerful, and evil.  Not just for what is in it, but for WHO is in it.  I want Nothing to do with this branch of magic.

You were born to wield this magic, haven’t you realized that?  The circumstances of your birth have made you ideally suited to study the Necromantic arts and curses.  I know you disliked Hathus, but he embraced his birthright, and his enemies were the weaker for it.  How often, without his curses, yes, CURSES, would someone have been dealt a solid blow rather than a near miss?  How often would your companions weapons have hit empty air by scant inches instead of biting deep?  He used what he had, and all of you were the better for it. Furthermore, there is nothing he could do that you cannot duplicate.  You deny yourself.  It will cost you if you do not come to peace with it.  Just because your mother and I have suffered the effects of a curse with evil intent, does not mean you should not use your abilities to their fullest.-

But nothing good comes of it, it is the purview of dead things, things that should be dead, and those who would wish harm or ill-will on others.  There is no place for that in my life.  I only want to learn how to break these curses, so that you two may be free of them, and hopefully Ko as well.  I don’t want that part of my life, I just want you two free.

And we will be, the curse that binds us was created by this Karzoug creature that you all seek to deny.  The ruins we entered were to the northeast, in his ancient domain.  Every step you take to finding his servants and stopping his return is a step towards breaking our curse.  This Runeforge place seems like it holds some promise, as does the complex in Alaznist’s domain.  Somewhere there will be a cure, we have but to find it.  However, holding yourself back serves nothing and noone.  Embrace your life in total, and you will be the stronger for it.-

Xander sits back, finished with the last symbol.  He stares off out the window, lost in thought.  The silence is broken again, this time by the rumble of his stomach.  He glances down in disgust, noting the runes glowing even more fiercely against his now ashen skin, and moves to get dressed.

“Of course, it’s only been two hours since breakfast.  Zutha must have been a halfling.  I just  hope I don’t start looking like Bill soon.”

Halfway down the hall, he glances down to his empty scabbard.  With a thought, the Blade appears in his hand, causing an involuntary shudder as he slides it home.

Funny, I have never let it out of my sight in months.  Too many things on my mind I guess.

-Of course, I never doubted You.-

Legacy. Osanna’s Journal Part 17.

Osanna lays her prayer mat on the rocky ground of a mountainous peak nearby dark Jorgenfist at the break of dawn on the morning of the 4th day following Mokmurian’s death and the revelation of Karzoug’s awakening.  She places her golden angelic ankh directly in front of her and her scimitar across her thighs and quiets her mind for a few moments before communing with the Dawnflower.

Mother.  Thank you for your benevolence and eternal generosity in granting me continued life and a beautiful sunrise this morning.  She smiles for a moment as the sun’s first rays hit her face before she opens her eyes and surveys the world in front of and beneath her.  I am troubled.  As you know, I have spent these last few days with Naru gathering the baffling amount of giant corpses that litter the landscape here and have been administering their last rights.  The end of another chapter in my life’s book that, thankfully, does not have an ending.

I, no we, have been doing your work and each sunrise I am heartened by what good we’ve done.  The world under your blazing sun truly is full of miracles.  When I was a girl would I have ever guessed that I would have been honoring fallen enemies alongside a tiefling-turned-earth elemental of immense size?  I think that you and I both know the answer to that question.  Perhaps that wonder of no small size is a gift to me from you, or at least I choose to believe that it is.  And thank you for that.  Truly.

Though, in my quiet thoughts, I reflect back upon what we’ve done and all I see are bodies.  Piles upon piles of bodies are all that is left after we arrive to do your work, to safeguard the Varisians, and to stymie Karzoug.  You know my heart of hearts, Mother, and that means that you know that I am unfulfilled by this.  You know that it is my deepest desire to deny my more base emotions, to repress what I fear to be the killing machine that is in my blood, and to heal and help those truly in need.

That aside, I am and always will be your willing servant, and if the sword is the purpose that you have selected for me until I am slain or die an old crone, then so be it.  I have willingly given you almost all that I have to include the hope of ever bearing children unless you free me from my oath.  But Mother, please know that it is my want to leave behind a legacy that reflects who I am and that others might follow us both with upturned smiling faces.  Please, Evenlight, do not let the world remember me as a butcher or warmonger when I’m gone.  It’s not who I am.

Lastly, thank you for sparing Glen and for healing Bill.  The world is certainly a better place with them in it and I value their company.  I do not know what is to become of Xander, Mother, but please heal him.  I fear what I must do should we not find a cure.

Upon the Horizon of Light and Shadow

I believed I had come close to death several times since the initial goblin raid on Sandpoint that brought my companions and I together all those months ago. There has been more than one occasion that I thought the next ogre hook in my side or enchanter’s jinx directed at me would be my last.

But in the depths of Jorgenfist, I truly faced death for the first time.

Did I actually die? I don’t know. Bill claims that the spell which the stone giant warlock directed upon me would have reduced me to nothing but ash had I actually perished from it, and yet here I still stand. But I cannot dismiss what I saw in that instant, either.

We had come before Mokmurian’s inner sanctum. We knew he was a powerful wizard, and yet in our haste to end our assault on the giant’s stronghold and rid Varisia of this impending war, I was foolish. In our previous struggle with Mokmurian’s guardian beasts, I had been injured, and I did not take the time to ask Lady Osanna for aid before we pressed onward. A mistake I made on occasion when we first met, but that I have since learned from; I should have known better, especially facing a foe such as we were. It could easily have cost me my life.

Mokmurian’s throne room was filled with a powerful type of magic that would impede both our sight and our movement – knowledge gleaned by Bill and Xander before we had entered. Bill was confident he could remove the effect if he could see it, so I agreed to open the door while he prepared his own spell.

The warlock himself was, of course, ready for us. I caught a glimpse of a room filled with a dense white cloud, so thick it looked almost impassable, before my vision was obscured by a blinding, golden light. I vaguely registered the effects as a spell Hathus used to use on occasion before I was distracted by something else.

Pain, unlike any I had ever experienced, or could imagine.

I did not see it coming, but Bill described it later as a “sickly green ray” that struck me squarely in the chest. I would not have been able to tell you where it struck me, for the pain was instant and shook my entire being to the core. It felt as though my innard, my very bones, had suddenly combusted; not only did it feel like my very insides were being devoured by flames, but I felt as though my frame were about to collapse from the inside out. I would have screamed, but I couldn’t find breath to do so – perhaps my lungs, like the rest, were simply ceasing to function properly.

And then…the pain was gone. I took a breath, expecting to feel a sharpness in my chest, but it never came. In fact, it struck me that whatever air I was breathing, it was nothing like the air under Jorgenfist, which had been old, stale, and full of the taste of blood and death. This air had no scent, no taste at all.

I opened my eyes. The blinding dust was gone, but for a moment I still wasn’t sure that I could see properly. The place I was standing was unlike any I had ever visited, or even heard of before. It was a vast plain of grey nothingness, the occasional swirl of dark mist or pinprick of light lending it the appearance of some great starscape. It seemed to go on forever, and for a moment I thought I was falling through the night sky. Or rather, dreaming I was falling through the sky
Then it occurred to me that I must be dead. Was this not the domain of Pharasma, the goddess of death, whom judged those who had passed on? I had heard the stories before. Supposedly there were great lines of souls waiting for the goddess to decree their fate, so that they may move on to their final resting place in the after life.

But there were no other souls here, and no great throne of bone, upon which Pharasma supposedly sat. The grey nothingness just went on and on. I took a step in a random direction, then another, and then stopped. In one of the swirling pools of mist before me, I could vaguely see the outline of my reflection – and it wasn’t a grippli that stared back at me.

I looked down at my hands. Human.

I looked back up at the swirling mist before me, acting almost as a vague mirror, and stared at the figure reflected within. How long had it been since that night outside Magnimar with Sir Warren and Helena? The night when our lives were torn apart. Nearly a year, now, since I had seen either of them. I barely recognized myself, the human who stared back at me in the darkness.

“Welcome,” came a voice behind me. I spun on my heel, reaching toward my belt for my sword, only to realize it wasn’t there. “There is no need,” the voice continued. “You are in no danger here.”

“Who…” I started cautiously, peering through the fog for the source of the voice. “Who’s there? And…where are we?”

“That is inconsequential,” the voice replied. “What matters is that you have little time.”

I could vaguely make out a tall, humanoid form through the mist standing some distance before me, but even as I took a step closer, the shadow stayed the same span away. The only distinction I could make was that, based on its voice, the entity was probably female. “Little time until what?” I asked slowly.

“Your life rests on the blade of a knife, Glenn Midori,” the voice replied. “You have to decide what you want to do.”

I paused for a moment to consider the implication of that statement. “You mean, I have to decide…whether I want to live or die.” It wasn’t really a question, but still…

“Correct,” the voice confirmed. In the distance, behind the entity, I could see a faint light, like the sun about to rise over the horizon. “If you stay here, you will be judged, but your fate is already sealed in part. You will move on to one of the upper planes of the outer sphere.”

I could feel my head spinning slightly from the thought of having to decide whether to die or not. “Upper planes…of the outer spheres…” This was Bill’s, or perhaps Sir Thrune’s area of expertise. Certainly not mine. “You mean, like Heaven.”

“Perhaps,” the entity replied. “Or Elysium or Nirvana. Regardless, you have fought well and deserve a chance to rest, should you so chose. You will feel no more pain. You will not have to fight. You have already been restored to your true self.”

A chance to rest, I thought. Restored to my true self. It made me pause to consider. I looked down at my hands again, balling them slowly into fists before opening them again.

I never wanted any of this. A hero of Sandpoint? Me? I never wanted to be a hero or an adventurer or anything of that nature. Turned into a grippli, mixed up with curses and runelords and magic and history I didn’t understand. I would have been perfectly happy being a member of the Balthazars’ guards, doing simple escort missions for their caravans, for as long as I could hold a sword…

“You have friends and loved ones waiting for you,” the entity continued. “Some who have been watching over you for a long time.”

“Friends?” I asked, looking back up toward the shadow. “Who? Sir Warren? Hathus?” A sick sort of feeling knotted itself in the pit of my stomach. “Not…not Helena?”

“I cannot answer,” the entity replied. “Just know that you would not be alone should you chose to rest.”

“Please,” I pressed on, taking another step toward the entity. The light behind it was growing brighter, casting it deeper into shadows. “I need to know – is Helena alright –”

“I cannot answer,” the voice said again. “You must make your decision. Time grows short. If you wish to return to the Material Plane, you may still do so.” It made a gesture and I looked over my shoulder. In contrast to the rising light on the distant horizon in front of me, the far horizon behind me looked bleak and dark. “Varisia is covered by a growing shadow that threatens to engulf it in darkness. Will you aid her and her people further?”

Through the mists swirling in the darkness behind me, I could see my companions standing in the bowels of Jorgenfist, preparing their assault on Mokmurian. I sighed. A peaceful, quiet life – or afterlife – would have been a welcome thing. As a human, no less, I thought, looking down at my hands one last time. But I could not abandon them, or Varisia, with the threat of wicked cults and omnipotent runelords looming. If Helena was still alive, I would have to make Varisia safe for her to return to. And if she wasn’t…

“Yes,” I said, looking up and turning to face the shadowy mists that enveloped the images of my companions behind me. “I will return.”

“Very well,” the voice said. “Steel yourself.”

As quickly as it had disappeared, the reverberating pain returned. This time, I’m quite sure I did scream, but my cries of agony were drowned out by the stone giant’s pledge of our obliteration before the day was over. I realized I was blinded again by the brilliant golden light in my eyes, and I could barely stand; as I thought I might collapse, I felt gentle hands on my shoulders and a soothing sensation washed through me. “Ko, are you alright?” came Lady Osanna’s voice quietly from beside – and above – me. Grippli again, I thought vaguely. Too much to hope that I should be changed back, I suppose.

“I…I think so,” I replied shakily. I recognized the divine healing she had touched me with, as she had used it on me many times before, and I began to gain some feeling back in my limbs. “Thank you.”

“Be strong, my friend,” she continued as I felt her pull away. “Our foe is powerful, but the Dawnflower watches over us. We will prevail.”

And so we did. The victory was narrowly won, but it was ours all the same, and by dusk of that evening we had defeated the warlock Mokmurian and conquered the giant stronghold of Jorgenfist.

The End of Part 4, “Fortress of the Stone Giants”

The heroes of Sandpoint traveled to the tiny fishing village of Turtleback Ferry to investigate the sudden silence of the nearby Fort Rannick. After a few horrifying encounters with ogrekin and hill giants, they discovered that the giants who captured the fort were just the the first prong of their assault; stone giants were planning to raid Sandpoint.

The heroes hurried home, and while Sandpoint fortified its defenses, they discovered an ancient Thassilonian complex was underneath the old temple of Sarenrae in Magnimar. Apparently part of Runelord Zutha’s territory, it served as a prison for a variety of terrible creatures, including a black book bound in human flesh and penned in blood; Xander and Bill both partook of its knowledge, gaining a deep understanding of necromancy in more ways than one. The most surprising discovery, however, was that Osanna has a sister who had been trapped inside the facility by her mother. Driven mad by her isolation, the tortures of her mother, and the spirits she was trapped with, she intends to kill Osanna and prove herself worthy to her mother. For the moment she’s disappeared, but she promised to return when Osanna was alone…

After returning to Sandpoint, the heroes successfully repelled a raid consisting of dozens of stone giants and an underworld dragon. Then, from a stone giant prisoner, they learned that the goal of the raid was to steal a particular stone from the ancient ruin known as the Old Light; the ruin was not originally constructed as a lighthouse, as many people believed, but as a magical weapon for the Thassilonian empire called a Hellstorm Flume. The stone giants’ leader, Mokmurian, was particularly interested in the resting place of the commander. More disturbing than that, though, was that an army of ogres, hill giants, stone giants, and more had formed under Mokmurian with the intent of conquering the human settlements of Varisia.

The heroes also learned the location of Mokmurian’s fortress, Jorgenfist, on top of the Storval Plateau, and decided to take the fight to him. They bargained their way past a disgruntled dragon, planted the seeds of a rebellion among the stone giants, and fought through horrific guardians underneath Jorgenfist. They learned that Mokmurian had gained great magic and followers in the form of lamia after journeying far to the north; all along, he was behind the waves of greed, murder, and sacrifice that had swept through Varisia, all in the name of unleashing the Runelord of Greed, Karzoug, who is still alive after ten thousand years and intends to make Varisia his empire once again.

After a narrowly-won battle, the heroes defeated Mokmurian. From his dead body, Karzoug’s voice issued a proclamation that soon, the armies of the lost city of Xin-Shalast would scour the countryside, and he is unimpressed that these few heroes are all Varisia could muster after ten thousand years.

Fortunately for the heroes, Jorgenfist sits on top of an ancient library, filled with tens of thousands of books from the Thassilonian Empire. After a week of study, they learned a number of useful things; most importantly, the Runelords had all worked together to create a place named Runeforge, and some researchers theorized that in Runeforge it would be possible to create magical weapons capable of slaying Runelords. Interestingly, apparently the Xaliasa that Mokmurian was searching for knew the location of and had a key to Runeforge…

Unfortunately, the library contained a second volume of the black book that is slowly corrupting Bill and Xander. They smartly decided to resist the urge to read it, but Xander was unable to resist his father’s spirit, who forced him to read the tome. Its purpose became obvious; Runelord Zutha had split his soul into three tomes and is patiently waiting for them to be reunited once more with a suitable host body. The corruption has left Bill but is now concentrated solely in Xander, and his father is becoming recklessly obsessed with finding the last part of the book, believing that he’ll be able to control Zutha and use his power to uncurse Xander’s mother.

The party found a small amount of hope; the Runelord of Wrath, Alaznist, who shared a border with Zutha’s region, apparently had constructed a facility dedicated to understanding and breaking curses. One of the tomes on the subject matter indicated that she was trying to create some sort of “curse-breaking flower” that would have dominion over any curse. Coincidentally, there were enough clues left behind to discern the location of this facility, and it seems to be the same place where Ko obtained his curse. Perhaps the party’s salvation lies within…