The Verdant Passage

Making Contact

The ritual began as the fire died down. Ashes were spread in two concentric circles, with a string of chalk-drawn arcane runes written on the exposed stone between them. After lighting the candles, the intoning commenced. Tlaloc spoke in a clear voice, halting at places, a few phrases in Elven, then Draconic, and also another language better left unknown. At times the wind seemed to echo his words, reluctantly whispering acceptance of the coming breach of worlds.

After ten minutes, Tlaloc ceased intoning. At once all the candles died out. The resulting darkness spread like blood on the battlefield, blocking even the twilight from a nearby window.

Everyone held their breath.

Light returned as a tiny spot in the center of the ritual circles. It emerged from the nothingness, shining with eerie grey light. The spot slowly grew to become a floating sphere, about the size of a halfling’s head. Grey smoke and black shadows played across the face of the sphere, sometimes taking the form of ghostly faces.

Then the sphere spoke. Its voice sounded as if a faint and distant chorus were speaking with strange precision, and in that unknown language. Tlaloc answered in the sphere’s tongue, his voice altered to take on a demonic color. He sounded the way burning cities would sound, if they could learn language. They conversed for a long time. When they finished, the grey sphere began to dissipate, like smoke blown in the wind. It wafted into Tlaloc’s nostrils and mouth, and his jaw seemed to distend somewhat to consume the entirety.

When the sphere was entirely gone, the darkness abated. The starlight from the window returned, and Tlaloc turned toward the observers.

“I have made contact with the spirit advisers that served Aramis. Their wisdom is now available.” As he spoke, Masters of the Way observed his breath fog in the air, as if he were standing in an impossibly cold room.

The party traveled to Elvenshae, a journey taking several days. Each night Tlaloc would draw the sphere out. Supernatural grey smoke would flow from his mouth and nostrils, coalescing to become as it had appeared on that first night. They would talk, in that unknowable language. When they were finished, the sphere would flow back into Tlaloc, and the half-elf would stay silent for a long while, considering all that he had heard.

As the party traveled, Tlaloc would sometimes mutter to himself, saying something like “The spirits are concerned.” And one of his living companions would ask “You mean the Spirits of Athas.”

“No, not of Athas,” was his answer.

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Old Friends

Psssst.

Zaidah furrowed her brow and cocked her head to the side. Yes? Who is this?

Bones on the wind. Old and cracked and crackling… came the reply.

Oh no… What…? No! I don’t need you anymore! Zaidah thought.

<laughter> She’s cracking at the edges, just like us, the voices said.

That will happen when stones are falling from the sky- No! That’s not what I mean! the psion shouted in her own mind.

Shhhhh. There there. We know. It hurts when they pull this way and that. Pull you apart they will, if you let them.

You mean Ablach-Re and Desoura…

<more>

What else could I have done? Zaidah pleaded. I don’t intend to let her hurt Desoura.

Use your hands to rip out the mentor’s throat, she could. What to do, what to do? the voices said in a sing-song manner

I don’t know. I’ll think of something. Hopefully whatever is inside that chest will help. And she had no doubt that the former Sorcerer Queen could rip it open with little difficulty. What would be left of Desoura afterwards was… quite another question. I’m afraid of what she’ll do if we don’t help her. I’m afraid she’ll take over my body again and decide not to let go…

A great loss for Huar the voices said in tones of impish conspiracy.

What? Oh… Zaidah blushed. Arkin reminded me that in the vision Huar ordered Desoura to kill Ablach-Re. I had forgotten that, when I asked him what he knew of her death. He said… he said it was a great mystery and I didn’t even think to disbelieve him. I- I don’t know. When we came across the cultists I began to doubt but as soon as I saw him again all of that was swept away. I didn’t think I would be that happy to see him again, but I was.

Tricks? Smoke and mirrors?

Zaidah shook her head, I don’t think so. I did try to think of some arcane means of control. I wracked my brain for any way to achieve such an effect and I couldn’t think of anything. No, I’m quite certain that it’s real.

Then why, Lie? Hmmmmm?

I didn’t! … not really… I just… she put her hands to either side of head and shook it violently. “I will not!”

“Uh… Zaidah?”

She went very still and then slowly looked up, and then up some more at the half giant who towered over her.

“You ok?” asked Fezzik in his own gruff but oddly comforting way.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes. Thank you, Fezzik. I’m- I’ll be alright.”

“Ok.” He shrugged and lumbered away.

The voices did not return, not in full force anyway. Instead they skittered like rats in the darkened corners of her mind, dropping little whispers here and there when she wasn’t paying attention but disappearing as soon as she would try to confront them. She did her best to hide this from her companions, refusing to succumb fully to the madness which had once held her so tightly in its grip.

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Fever dreams

“Where am I? What’s going on?!? Where is that damned lantern anyways?” the half-giant was covered in sweat, his heart pounding in his chest. The confusion of suddenly awakening from a deep sleep was apparent in his eyes. The room was dimly lit from the fireplace, the embers of the last few coals reflected off of Fezzick’s eyes.

“Safe. Just another dream.” He said to no one in particular. A good thing because he was alone in the room. “Must have been all that broy and talking with that kid that brought that dream about. It’s kind of cold in here tonight” The graying hero stood up, hearing the wind howling and the rain slapping upon the windows, he walked over to the hearth and threw another bundle sticks on the coals. “How things have changed; wood for the fire and rain for Tyrs’ sake. It now!" Shaking his head he walked over to the window and threw open the curtains. that confirmed his senses, the raindrops were coming down sideways and the road outside flowed like a stream.

The only light outside came from the lantern across the street at the guards tower. Even with the overhangs the guards were soaked completely through. Surely they were grumbling about the rain and the cold. After rubbing his hands together, getting the circulation flowing again, Fezzick returned to his bed, pulled his covers tight and drank down the last gulp of intoxicating nectar from the cup on his bedside table. He curled up and closed his eyes…

…”Time to go,” said Thlolck “We should be getting to Jade tower, I found us a guide that will have to suffice to replace Sil”. “To the wastes with him! I hope he drowns in the sea of silt! Abandoning us, I couldn’t expect more from that piece of kank spore!”, exclaimed Fezzick. “Calm down, he isn’t all that bad. I wasn’t there but you must be mistake him for someone else, with that tripping episode.” Explained Ziaidah. Fezzick simply grumbled and walked away, pack on his back, ready to move. The party started to move out, through the doors, into the darkness…

Fezzick awoke to loud banging coming from somewhere in his room. The fire was burning brightly and he could see the shutters slamming against the window, the storm had gotten worse. “This damned broy, why do I drink it? Always gives me such vivid dreams.” He climbed out of bed, walked to the window and threw the latch. The window opened with such great force that it startled the behemoth, he stumbled backward, tripped on the bedpost and fell, full force, face first into the hearth stone. As he slid down the stone, consciousness waning, the fire seemed to move towards him, or was it him towards the fire? Blood trickled into the corner of his mouth, he completed his descent to the floor, barely missing the blaze…the fire dancing less than an arm’s length from his face. In a dazed confusion he stared at the fire…flames dancing, mocking him, licking his beard, throwing themselves at him…at barrels of broy…at drunken soldiers…

“Fire Elementals”, yelled Tzadkiel, “No, Fezzick, you won’t be able to put them out, you have to fight them! Get those barrels in one place…What are you doing? That sand won’t help! Just kill the damned things!”

The demons were leaping from rafter to rafter, others were moving from drunken soldier to drunken soldier, burning all in their path. In retrospect it was obvious this was no ordinary fire. It burned only where it wanted. Fires are carefully kept in their place, in lanterns, hearths, candles and there they stay unless they are mishandled, then they burn whatever they can and cause wanton destruction until their fuel is exhausted, be it building, plants, broy or whatever else happens to be located in their vicinity. These were not that kind of fires, they didn’t want destruction, they wanted to kill and pursued this goal with a malevolent intelligence that betrayed their form. The heroes fought these elementals valiantly, getting singed for their deeds but defeating their demonic foes.

er dream.” He said to no one in particular, a good thing because he was alone in the room. “Must have been all that broy and talking with that kid that brought that dream about. It’s kind of cold in here tonight” The graying hero stood up, hearing the wind howling and the rain slapping upon the windows, he walked over to the hearth and threw another bundle sticks on the coals. “How things have changed; wood for the fire and rain for Tyrs’ sake, it rains now…” shaking his head and throwing open the curtains. He confirmed his senses, the raindrops were coming down sideways and the road outside of his window flowed like a stream.

The only light outside came from the lantern across the street at the guards tower. Even with the overhangs the guards were soaked completely through. Surely they were grumbling about the rain and the cold. After rubbing his hands together, getting the circulation flowing again, Fezzick returned to his bed, pulled his covers tight and

…”Time to go,” said Thlolck “We should be getting to Jade tower, I found us a guide that will have to suffice to replace Sil”. “To the wastes with him! I hope he drowns in the sea of silt! Abandoning us, I couldn’t expect more from that piece of kank spore!”, exclaimed Fezzick. “Calm down, he isn’t all that bad. I wasn’t there but I bet you really do mistake him for someone else, with that tripping episode.” Explained Ziaidah. Fezzick simply grumbled and walked away, pack on his back, ready to move. The party started to move out, through the doors, into the darkness…

Fezzick awoke to loud banging coming from somewhere in his room. The fire was burning brightly and he could see the shutters slamming against the window, the storm had gotten worse. “This damned broy, why do I drink it? Always gives me such vivid dreams.” He got himself out of bed, walked to the window and threw the latch. The window opened with such great force that it startled the behemoth, he stumbled backward, tripped on the bedpost and fell, full force, face first into the hearth stone. As he slid down the stone, consciousness waning, the fire seemed to move towards him, or was it him towards the fire? Blood trickled into the corner of his mouth, he completed his descent to the floor, barely missing blaze…the fire dancing less than an arm’s length from his face. In a dazed confusion he stared at the fire…flames dancing, mocking him, licking his beard, throwing themselves at him…at barrels of broy…at drunken soldiers…

“Fire Elementals”, yelled Tzadkiel, “No, Fezzick, you won’t be able to put them out, you have to fight them! Get those barrels in one place…What are you doing? That sand won’t help! Just kill the damned things!”

The demons were leaping from rafter to rafter, others were moving from drunken soldier to drunken soldier, burning all in their path. In retrospect it was obvious this was no ordinary fire. It burned only where it wanted. Fires are carefully kept in their place, in lanterns, hearths, candles and there they stay unless they are mishandled, then they burn whatever they can and cause wanton destruction until their fuel is gone be it building, plants, broy or whatever else happens to be located in their vicinity. These were not that kind of fires, they didn’t want destruction, they wanted to kill and pursued this goal with a malevolent intelligence that betrayed their form. The heroes fought these elementals valiantly, getting singed for their deeds but defeating their demonic foes.

“What’s this about the Brigadier” asked the Sergeant of Thlolck. “He has been cast out, he betrayed you, and the Regent has relieved him. He was sent off to the wastes three days ago but it seems you never got the word.” “Damn them,” the Sergeant said, exasperated “you would think they would send a raven or something? That explains why had us pull out the 20 year aged broy. Its normally reserved for important dignitaries, but he said “I’ve been promoted to Regent, it is time to celebrate.” I had no reason to doubt him with the color guard he had with him. Though I should have been suspicious, I started to doubt him when there was no seal on the letter, but I wanted to believe him… that 20 year aged is so good, the Regent has been ill, the men need a strong leader…but this seals it, these fires started right near him and he conveniently disappeared right as it happened.”

Fezzik looked bewildered as he stumbled towards Thlolck, “Fezzick, are you okay you look a little…green…”, the giant stumbled and fell forward, the world spinning as he hit the ground he could taste the dust…sand…couldn’t see…I have to hold my breath…darkness..then…

“Zaiadah, stay close, I don’t want to lose you too”, “I’m right here on your coat tails” echoed through his head, he hated when they did that, it was like someone holding a megaphone to your brain, especially when they were being emphatic. “We need to get out of this storm” Zaiadah thought to him. “Where are the…cough..others..cough..” he said as he put his head down, and bulled forward in the direction he thought he last saw them. Then it stopped, the worst sandstorm he has ever seen was gone, just as quickly as it begun. Standing before him was the aftermath of a battle. Four dead thrikreen and with one live insect-man, that looked to be praying, surrounded by hyenas and dog-men. Fezzick was separated from the rest of his Company by the aftermath. The storm had scattered them and placed them right in the middle of this battle.

The hyenas were growling at Fezzick, he took one look them and swung his Mordenkrad around him, flexing his muscles “Stand down or you will reap what you sew!” The hyenas backed off ever so slightly as did the dog-man with the saber, but the large one, the Flind, he did not cower, he barked some orders at the hyenas and the dog-man and they backed up a few feet more not letting their guard down. The Flind in the middle starting barking and the one by Fezzick responded. Then Tzadkiel barked right back at them.

All this barking drowned out the chatter going on in Fezzicks brain, when all of a sudden all hell broke loose. Arkin was surrounded, the next time Fezzick saw him he was standing, covered head to toe in blood. He was about to go help Arkin when he was attacked by the Dog-man and his hyenas. Focusing upon them he saw little else of the battle. Save for when Ziaidah got surrounded, one good hit and she flew to the ground, blood gushing out of her neck, a gaping hole where her head belonged. Still attached by some muscle, her head was at a grotesque angle, it didn’t look like she would make it.

Fezzick dispatched one of the hyenas in time to have the dog-pack descend upon him…the world began to spin, his Mordenkrad smashed into all three of the enemies surrounding him and then darkness…

“Ow, my head hurts…” said Fezzick as he wiped blood from the corner of his mouth. It was quiet, light was streaming in through the open window of his inn room. He found himself lying on the cold floor, next to hearth, with his beard smelling of a sick burnt odor, in a dried pool of blood. He stood up cautiously and looked at himself. “Feet, knees, hips, arms, hands…” he said as he took inventory, looking for the wounds that caused the bleeding. When he reached his head he could feel the newly formed scab and all the dried blood on the side of his face and forehead. “Lying in blood all night will do that to you… My clothes are a mess! What did I do last night?”

There was a slight knock on the door, a knock he recognized, “Fezzick, Breakfast”, he heard in his head…”NOT SO LOUD ZIAIDAH, I AM NOT DEAF!!!”, he yelled, “neither am I.” she replied psionically “and besides, I wasn’t even speaking…”

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Whom to Trust (Part 1)

The chill of the night air of the desert had seeped into Zaidah’s bones, only aided by the sweat that drenched her body. Still paramount in her mind was the nightmare of that evening and the confusion over Huar and his possible… what? Betrayal? Megalomania? She wouldn’t know until she heard his words, but could she trust his words? So many had lied to her… and because she wanted to, because she wanted the world to be a place where people could be believed… she had believed.

But now the stakes were higher. Now she had no idea when or where a Sorcerer-Queen might take over her body and use it to her own ends. She had no idea if the man who had asked her to be his Queen could, in fact, be trusted and she was beginning to think the answer was no.

As if all this were not enough, Sil had left… again. He claimed it was, in part, to keep the girls safe but she could not help but wonder and she could not help feeling like the world had just become a more dangerous place without him.

Her dreams had left her reeling, not knowing where to turn, not knowing whom to trust. The telepath had been lucid for a good bit of time now but feared what might happen if the unthinkable turned out to be true. She needed advice and she needed it from someone who never trusted anyone.

The snores of her companions echoed in her ears and her eyes turned to their sleeping forms. She didn’t know if she could trust his words either, in fact she was fairly certain that she couldn’t, but she needed to hear them all the same. Zaidah took a deep breath to steel herself and then crept over to Tlaloc’s sleeping form. She gently reached out and shook his foot, jumping back… just in case.

His foot twitched and he grumbled, but before he actually opened his eyes Zaidah felt a wave of psionic energy pass over and through her. Her emotions changed and confusion and fear were replaced by anger and indignation, then confusion reigned once more. Was this Tlaloc’s power? To affect the emotions of those around him? Sensing the change suddenly made her aware of all the times she had felt herself more persuasive, more emboldened by his presence. How foolish that she hadn’t noticed the psionic nature of his gifts until now.

She had little time to analyze the experience though as he sat up and grumbled at her. “What is it? Is something going on?”

She opened and closed her mouth a few times. “I… um… I… just-”

He arched an eyebrow and she could tell that he was aware of her distress. He even seemed to be somewhat sympathetic to it. Was this just one more act? Was he still masking his true rage and hatred underneath? The last time they had a tete a tete she saw that side of him and it had haunted her. And yet, he was her companion. He had saved her life countless times and seemed genuinely concerned for her welfare.

“You obviously have a lot on your mind. C’mon mindbender, let’s warm up some broy.”

Once they had a fire going and warm broy in hand, the self-styled Templar of Aramis sat in silence, apparently waiting patiently for Zaidah to begin.

She looked down into her cup, wrapping her fingers around the outside to soak in the warmth of it. Then she took a deep breath and began. “I am afraid of what will happen when we reach the Jade Tower and I don’t know what I’m going to do if…” She shook her head unwilling to finish. “I know I’m the only one who holds any love for Huar, but he helped me find myself again. My mind had healed much by the time he entered it, but… those two years, what felt like two years, cleared away the rest of the cobwebs. …What if that was all a ruse though? How will I be able to tell when the time comes whether I can trust his words or not? I don’t know if I want to know the truth. But I don’t want to end up like Inocles Vas either. I don’t want to put the lives of my friends, my family and my cause in danger because I don’t want to see what is right in front of my face…”

Tlaloc nodded, but stayed silent for a long moment, staring at the stars in the night sky.

No, Zaidah realized, He’s looking at the spaces in between the stars.

“I understand what you describe,” he began, “the feeling that your choices have left you weak and exposed.” He took a long drink before continuing. “It would be advantageous to turn what seems to be a weakness into a strength. If you are feeling conflicted, then I surmise that Huar may be experiencing something similar. Perhaps we can exploit your previous relationship to attain what we are seeking. In fact, as a recognized companion to the Heirophant, you may have considerable untapped influence in the Tower.”

Zaidah blinked. She shouldn’t have been surprised. She didn’t know why she was surprised, this was Tlaloc she was speaking with. His perspective, so different from her own, was the reason she had sought him out to begin with. “Let me see if I understand you correctly. Rather than be exploited you are suggesting I be open to the possibility of being the exploiter, become the deceiver rather than be deceived?” She shook her head a little and gazed down into her cup. “I did that for Koras. I did it well. I don’t know if I can do that this time…”

“Perhaps not,” Tlaloc replied. The ex-moon priest looked hard at her now. “I believe that you are too burdened by past experiences to fully utilize the advantageous position in which you find yourself. Koras abused your gifts. From what I understand, he wielded you as if you were a powerful weapon. I would not presume to do the same.”

The half-elf sighed, and gave Zaidah a defeated look. “I cannot command you to follow orders, the way I used to command the slaves of Draj. Nor would I wish to manipulate you into playing a role in some scheme I might concoct. I simply ask that you unleash the full scope of your considerable power and intellect upon the problems before us. But if you allow your past experiences to hinder your capabilities…”

Tlaloc let the thought hang in the air. Perhaps he had actually run out of things to say. He returned his gaze to the night sky, this time focusing on the twin moons of Athas.

“We still have a little bit of time,” whispered Tlaloc, before emptying his cup. “But it’s running out.”

The smooth desert sand showed more emotion than she did, her face giving no hint to the churning of the thoughts inside her head. The telepath was silent as she stared into the flames of the crackling fire and then she cracked the barest hint of a smile. You would not command me because you know it would have exactly the opposite effect from the one you want, she thought, but all she said was, “Thank you. You have been very helpful. I will think on what you have said.”

She rose and turned to go but suddenly stopped herself. “Tlaloc? There was one other thing I wanted to ask you.” Her face was still as expressive as stone, her tone belying the urgency of the question. “Have you forgiven me for my intrusion into your mind?”

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Tales from the tavern

At a tavern in Tyr an old graying goliath sat by the fire warming himself with a cup of broy, hot and spiced. A worn blanket wrapped about his shoulders, lost in his thoughts. “…are you…Are you him?” a young boy, perhaps 15, stammered. “I am me, if that’s who you mean, yes I am me” said the goliath, “but who do you think I am?”. “Sir Fezzik, the Freer of Slaves, One of the Heroes of the Company of the Scavengers…The first to die and see the new world, the greening of the world, the return of the Gods…SIR FEZZICK!!!” , the boy said emphatically. Just as he finished a man walked over to him and put his hand about the boys shoulder “…And your…your”, “Yes boy, I know who I am and whom the man is that sits before you, but can you please keep your voice down and take a seat, you are making quite the scene…” said Sir Thlolck as he calmed the boy. Mesmerized the boy sat in a seat next to the two men.

“What are you two doing in Tyr?” the boy inquired. “I think you’ve had enough questions for a moment, it’s our turn. What is your name? Who sent you?” Thlolck questioned. With a quick look around he caught Zaidah’s eye at the corner table as she conversed with the rest of the Company, all except Sil, wherever he may be. This glance was lost on the boy but not on Fezzik, who let out a hardy laugh…”Relax old friend, this boy means no harm, he’s just looking for a tale. Aren’t you boy?”. “Yes, SIR” the boy returned immediately. “Well then boy take this here ceramic and get me and my friend another hot spiced broy and one for yourself and a tale you will have. Do it quick and maybe there’ll be a tip in it for you.”

The boy grabbed the ceramic and rushed to the bar. The companions exchanged glances and a brief but subtle laugh. “We still have it” said Fezzik, “Yes we do”, replied Thlolck “I could see you were lost in your thoughts and was going to usher the boy off, but if you want to tell a tale, I will get deep in my cups with you and embellish where I can…”. “No boasting necessary my friend, this boy will enjoy the tale just as I remember it”. “Sure,” said Thlolck sarcastically, “and If I know you like I know you, your memory never gets anything wrong…”. Just then the boy returned with the broy, Fezzik flipped him another ceramic, gave his companion a wry smile and began the story…

“…There we were, outside of Brigadier Danvers barracks. Tzadkiel was trapped inside with him, and the Jade Tower knows who else. A few minutes before he went in, the door shut, and I heard the block fall, locking him in.

Three lieutenants blocked our way and a bowman stood guard ready to pick us off. The door was barred and the building appeared near impenetrable. A thirty foot climb to the top of building would give anyone defending plenty of time to pick off invaders while they ascended, hoping for a way in from the roof. At least that’s how it looked to the casual observer.

I saw a different picture. Three Captains that Arkin and the rest of the scavengers could easily distract while Sil would deal with the bowman. I would then break down that door. I briefly considered scaling the wall, it would have been easy. The difficulty is how to get everyone else up here with me. I could’ve lowered a rope but they would still have had to deal with fighting while climbing. It would be better to break the door down.

There was a tense moment and some words were bandied but, it appeared like we were going to get through the door without any real issues. Thlolck masterfully explained our situation to the Captains and one of them took charge, seeing the logic in our argument, and ordered the others and the bowman to stand down. He was promptly incapacitated by the other guards and battle was joined.

Ignoring the blows from the guards I steeled myself, dropped my shoulder and slammed into the door, I felt the door flex under my mighty assault and then tried it again…and one…more…time…Damn the heroes of Tyr, that door is strong. Failing I turned to join the battle. Sil had the bowman engaged, dancing all over him like a bargirl at a holiday dance. Arkin moved his attention to the object of my failure and broke a hole in the door. I watched as his body turned into a mist and glided through the opening. Immediately after I heard the bar slide and Tzadkiel was standing there, looking like he got the worse end of the deal.

We continued to exchange blows with the guards, one called for reinforcements by blowing a bugle which was promptly knocked out of his hands. The other was yelling his fool head off to the reinforcements that were just within sight. The bowman just regained his foothold when Sil tripped him again. Tyr, is Sil good at that, its no wonder he and his Mul were able to get trip me up all that time ago…Sil stuck the bowman with a dagger and that was the end of his fight. The guards saw this and their inbound reinforcements and made a run for it. Not before Captain Bugle caught a sword in the throat and fell over dead. The other one, Captain Potelay, actually made it away; I just couldn’t seem to hit anything that day. I surveyed the battle, and noticed the Brigadier standing right next to me, just before I took a swing at him I recognized a peculiar look in his eye, the same look I see in Thlolck, damn him for using that hat again, it’s going to get him killed one of these days.

Seeing that we had little option but to regroup I stood guard while Captain Hero was dragged into the barracks and the others followed. I went in last, barred the door and braced it and yell for something to block it with. Someone drug a table over and we wedged the door shut. If it held me out they will need a battering ram to get beyond it now. I joined the rest of the scavengers in main room. It was a mess, blood everywhere. An oozing red stain covered a stone that blocked a doorway and there was no sign of Arkin. While Sil looked around I took a quick rest, bound my wounds and Tzadkiel woke up Captain Hero. Captain Hero blathered on about his honor and needing to confront the reinforcements, we tried to discuss other plans with him, to no avail. Someone outside was ordering us to come out and face our justice but at this point we had discovered that Arkin had gotten himself trapped behind the stone and probably put himself in the same situation that Tzadkiel was in earlier. Tzadkiel tells us that he wounded the Brigadier, swaying us, against our better judgment, to leave Arkin to his fate. We, except Arkin, Sil and Zaiadah, go with Captain Hero, unblock, unbar and open the door. Captain Hero explained our position to a lieutenant who was in command of the roughly forty reinforcements standing beside him. Potelay is there dismissing our story. Hero asked us to stay close. Hero looked a little shaken to me so I start swinging the Mordenkraden around defensively to shore him up and push the reinforcements back. Many of them were seasoned but the vast majority were new recruits and I could see the fear in their eyes. I slammed the weapon down on a boulder and it broke into dust, the recruits shivered in their boots as they contemplated fleeing.

The Lieutenant took charge of the situation and quieted the Captains by temporarily suspending their command. Seeing our only option we followed him, his soldiers and Potelay to the Regents home to defend our actions. As we entered the audience chamber Sil and Zaiadah caught up with us and slipped into the group. There was still no sign of Arkin though; perhaps he was dead, perhaps not, either way we had to answer for our actions.

The Regent arrived, he looked like he had been dragged through the sea of silt and then run over by a mekillot but he managed to get to his throne with his seneschal at his side. He questioned us about the location of his son, the brigadier, and as if on cue Arkin showed up with the Brigadier in tow, bound and gagged. The regent was visibly upset at the sight of his son in this state and demanded that we justify our actions. The brigadier was unbound and related a wholly false tale of our exploits. It was plain to see the love in the regent’s eyes that had blinded him to his son’s betrayal. I began to anger, how could such a wise man be duped? This kind of betrayal is common amongst those in power. That’s why they send their sons to be trained elsewhere and to other commands, specifically so they don’t assassinate them! And then I hear Tzadkiel say it, and it makes total sense…”if you were sleeping sir, why are you so well put together in your armor, why your armor is even expertly laced, as if you were about to tilt at a joust, as if you had your squires assistance…” (Sic, where are your jammies?). The brigadier tore his armor from his body and showed his undergarments and blustered on about being an expert in the donning of armor, but the damage was done and the tide of the argument was turned. A quick glance at the Regent confirmed this, the already beaten and weary man shrunk even further into his seat; the seneschal steadied him and took over the interrogation.

It was our turn to speak now and we did so masterfully. Our points hitting home. First at the Brigadier, next at the seneschal and then to the regent. We had control now and it was up to me to land the final blows. I couldn’t control my rage. I couldn’t control my language, barely coherent sentences spilled out of my mouth about my honor, my previous life as a guard, the dishonor of trying to kill your father. I tore at my sash, brandished my weapon and slammed my feet! The seneschal approached me, calmed me down with soothing words and asked to see my weapon. I handed it to him and he examined it and handed it back. Sil offered his weapons, the seneschal took a quick look and politely declined but you could see recognition within his eyes.

The seneschal returned to the regent’s side and spoke silently to him. The regent, now boiling with rage at us or the recognition of his sons betrayal stood, seeming nearly as if he was a giant looming over us. He called the brigadier forward. As his son came forward he exuded confidence, I thought we had failed, the son prostrated himself before his lord and the regent looked down upon him and then at us, hatred in his eyes and began to speak.

“Brigadier, I remove you of your title and the lands and rights associated with it. You have betrayed me, your Father; you have betrayed your honor, your people, your command, yourself and your family!!! You are banished to the wastes and are dead to me. Guards, strip him of his armor and his weapons, provide him with water and rations for one day and turn him out to the wastes!!!” The guards seized upon the once mighty brigadier and stripped him of his remaining armor. “Father…No…Father…it wasn’t me…they lie…they lie…” he pleaded. Then his demeanor changed, he stood straight and commanded “I will get my revenge…on all of YOU!!!” as Danvers was ushered from the chamber his ranting faded into the distance and the chamber doors slammed shut.

The regent, now crestfallen, looking even more worn than when he arrived to his throne, just a few short minutes before. “Company of the Scavengers, please make use of my hospitality, such that it is…” said the regent as he stood with assistance of the seneschal and walked away slowly, turning at the last moment before he exited the chamber “…you have my…my…”, you could see the sadness and tears in his eyes and hear the quivering in his voice as he whispered “..my thanks” .

We stayed on for a day to heal ourselves and devise our next move. Sil planned to follow Danvers into the wastes and scout ahead for us to the south. We planned to travel towards the Jade tower to try and mend our relationship there and perhaps bring the druids to the fight. The Scavengers won that day, it was a good day.”

The tavern was dark and everyone but the two companions and the boy, huddled by the fire fast asleep, had left long ago. Shelley, the barmaid, came over to them “Are you two done with him now, bored him to death I see..”. They all shared a laugh as Shelley picked up the boy…”You know his parents are friends of mine visiting from south of the Jade Tower, druids both of them.” The two companions glanced over at the barmaid and then back to their broy as Thlolck said “Yeah I know, we met them earlier, we met them a long time ago, but that is another story…for another day”.

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Zaidah's Dreaming

Zaidah luxuriated in the feel of Ralania’s hair as it slid through her fingers. Her niece sat upon her lap, chattering away about nothing at all, a warm breeze gently ruffling the curtains. The room was huge, opulent, fit for for a queen.


She walked the halls of the Jade Tower, people bowing to her respectfully but casting fearful glances at the shadow that followed in her wake. Part of her mind was aware of the shadow and disturbed by its presence, but for reasons she could not explain she simply kept smiling and walking.

Her path took her to the top of the Tower where she looked out over the green land her husband had first shown her in her mind. Their dream was a reality now: Athas, green and fertile. She felt a presence behind her and strong arms encircled her waist. She leaned back into them but just as suddenly as they had appeared they were gone and she found herself falling, falling, falling.


“Auntie Zazu! Wake up!” She woke, once again in her opulent bedchamber, Gathania shaking her. The girl had a fearful look on her face and over her shoulder Zaidah caught the shimmer of steel in the moonlight. She followed the outline until her gaze settled on the sneering face of a tall elven man.

“I told you I would protect them,” Sil said taking a step forward. “And I will, even if that means I have to protect them from you.”


She was running through the halls now, twisting and turning down dark passageways until she burst through a pair of double doors and found herself in the throne room. Tlaloc stood at the foot of the throne and bowed to her as she entered.

“You’re Majesty.”

“Tlaloc…” She breathed a sigh of relief. “Where is Huar? Where is my husband?”

He tilted his head to the side and peered at her curiously. “You don’t remember? That was the price you had to pay.”

“Price? Pay for what?”

“You think becoming a god comes without a price?” His face melted and reformed and it was Huar himself who stood before her, bathed in blood with the pallor of death upon him.


She was back in her bedchamber hovering somewhere near the ceiling as she watched. Her body lay limp on the floor, Sil standing over her, the girls cowering in the corner. She could sense the life seeping from the body as he withdrew the steel rapier from her chest. Despite the tears that rolled down her incorporeal cheeks, something about the scene felt right. She was resigned to her fate and felt somehow that the girls would now be safe forever.

And then the body on the floor began to rise. The eyes opened and everything living in the room began to shrivel and die. Her nieces screamed. Sil writhed in agony on the ground as her body rose to its feet.

They were all there now. Arkin, Fezzik, Tzadkiel, Tlaloc… even her sister and her parents were present. All were bound in chains and all eyes were on her as the walls of the room dissolved and reshaped themselves into the dias. She watched from outside as her body ascended and settled upon the throne. Then her eyes locked with those of her body and a voice spoke to her with her own mouth.

“Now my dear you see what it really means to be Queen.”

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Wishing for Death

It is the day of the twilight moon; a dark and empty city we walked through with our Lord. I suppressed a violent inward shudder as we walked along that grey path into the maw of holy ground; holy to one lost soul. The gateway to magic powers beyond my dreams is a tomb; the home of that witch, Unis, our Lady Waverly. We have the Trivecta.
_ _
The subterranean basement gateway where Ablach Ray met her lover was lonely, , except for a little girl. A feeling flashed before me as Zaiadah ran over to her, I would kill them all if she beckoned me. I want to be with her so badly. It has been 19 years now, and I’m still alone. I would do anything to be with Cory again. My heart writhed seeing Zaiadah’s little one. I closed my eyes several times hoping I she would not be waiting around the next murky alley. My shakes weren’t noticed as walked last, holding the rear guard. I was sweating as we walked the bloody streets of Raam.
_ _
The darkness passed but I know there is no safety where Cory is concerned. I made pact with the Dark one that expired today. I would do it again to find her. Someday, maybe after all is green, I will join her. I could not face Arimus if I had to choose; my faith is weak in his cause next to this. Maybe my grave will hide this secret forever.
_ _
My choice was simple; step between Llalloc and Hamanu. I have mixed feelings that I never had to now because Arimus escaped. Hamanu and Unis also faced off tonight. If Hamanu hadn’t respected Lady Waverly’s tomb, I would be with Cory now.

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A Crazy Little Thing Called...?

Payment for proof of Gengras’s death:
1/3 of a teleportation key (paid by Hierophant, Jade Tower)
500 silver (paid by Captain Inocles Vas, Legion of Bone)

I had thought that by this point I would have many more pages in this ledger filled with our syndicate’s incomes. Sometimes I think that, as champions of righteousness, our talents are wasted. There’s more profit in mercenary work, or even just straight banditry. Alas, that’s a path that’s been closed off. We are all committed champions now, and given our roster of forgotten cast-offs, former brigands, and escaped slaves…the commitment is impressive.

Impressive, and easy to understand. Hard to understand: why people of reasonably great power would be motivated by romantic love. Sure, I can understand playing on such emotions as the means to manipulate. But sincere desire with no other motive? Madness. I suppose that’s just one of several detectable flaws in the Jade Tower’s Hierophant. It is a mystery to me why he would ask Zaidah to become his queen (for one thing, queen would not be the proper term, since the Hierophant is not an anointed king). There is much about the Jade Tower I find to be…irrational. Perhaps, this simply reflects an irrational leader. I’m missing something, what is it?

Hard also to understand the attachments that come with romantic love. These legionaries who carry the scorched bones of their departed loved ones, another type of madness. One advantage of my training is that I will never suffer such a distracting influence, but it does make such people hard for me to understand.

And did I hear Inocles Vas correctly when he referred to his Veiled Alliance visitor as “my dear?” Is this another fool-hardy partnership forged from romantic love? Nauseating. And irrational. If Abalach-Re appeared at the gates tomorrow to retake Raam, the Legion of Bone would be the first to rally behind her banner. And where would the ridiculous Veiled Alliance be then?

Yet…

If there’s one lesson senior templars learn faster than their subordinates, it’s this: every obstacle can be turned into an opportunity. It will all hinge on this question: can the Veiled Alliance prove themselves to be more than useless? It’s doubtful. I’ve fruitlessly wasted my time with them before. But I do understand second chances. Sometimes I think I’m the only one on Athas who does.

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Surprises

I can’t say which was a bigger surprise: running into Jeram or having forgotten how much I want to punch his face. He has a very punchable face. He doesn’t want to kill me on sight, so he has that going for him. Perhaps I just want to see the best in people, but I felt he could be a good asset in gang-controlled Raam. I was wrong. In the field of dishonesty and incompetence, Jeram does not disappoint. Sil thinks he should be eliminated, and Sil is probably right.

Not a surprise: the teleportation circle is busted. Searching for the missing keys will be…frustrating. And cause much bloodshed, I’m sure.

Surprise: we find Abalach-Re’s secret…boudoir? And a horrific trap…on an armoire? And an entrance to a secret underground tunnel.

That last bit was not much of a surprise. I figured something like this must exist in Raam. The ground is too soft in my home city for this kind of thing, but if the land can sustain it, why wouldn’t a respectable tyrant utilize that underground space?

Under-Tyr was…intense. Under-Raam? Much less so. Though apparently every underground environment has some dedication to the dead god Zahim. The significance of which is…who knows? Who cares?
I’ve got too many problems for a dead god to register.

No surprise: underground we find a giant predatory insect. The Champions of Aramis are now 4-0 against stupidly large burrowing vermin. A respectable record, but I imagine that first loss is going to be costly.

The tunnel leads directly underneath the territory of the Black Hand. This could be an asset, but we need to proceed cautiously.

First, we have to find those teleportation keys. Barasmas’s shop might be a good starting point, and he’s not using it right now.

And now Arkin and Lucan are making noise about returning to the Jade Tower. Which is exactly what I want, another trip up Mt. Aru’kai. Still, the Jade Tower has been marginally better than useless, which is more than I can say for the Veiled Alliance. In addition to whatever my friends want, the Jade Tower may be able to help with finding the teleportation keys…

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Tzadkiel Journal Entry 1

My investigations into the loose ends of our organization has lead me on an interesting twist of fate.

It seems the mark I’ve been tracking for a few weeks has been located. Deminicles has taken up residence at an estate belonging to the former Aramis of Petrides, now deceased. I find it curious that he was able to escape from Silon so easily. Silon is not a man to leave loose ends. Something doesn’t sit right with me and so I have been attempted to question the man. Before I could head to the estate however an old man by the name of Berazmus came stumbling about the streets of Urik screaming for the Veiled Alliance. He was quickly set upon by some thugs and left unconscious in an alley. While unconscious we had one of our agents procure him to a safe house for further questioning. It seems that an acquaintance of ours has had a run in with this man, Tlaloc. He claims that he was mugged by this “Templar” and that he must be brought to justice. He demanded at once that we travel to the estate of Petrides to apprehend him. This does not seem like a coincidence to me.

The final piece of the puzzle comes from some writings I’ve discovered in Raam. It was a journal pointing to the trading of information regarding our activities. It was discovered in Eteras near the Legion of Bone. There seems to be a a conclave of individuals consorting with one another. This journal detailed some of their activities, but never their identities. They never use their real names instead they go by the following: Moonblade, Dark Root, The Lioness, and Justicar. After discussing this with Verdaigne, she found it compelling and suggested that we pay a visit to the estate of Petrides.

Upon reaching the estate we quickly found Deminicles, he seemed to be doing rather well for himself. He stated that he had escaped from Silon the Snake, with the help of a band of mercenaries, of which Tlaloc is one. This hired muscle were currently staying at the compound and would be returning shortly. It seemed he was trying to intimidate us, as if we were close to something. When the time permits I plan to question him a bit more. I smell something fishy here. Silon the Snake is not a man to leave loose ends. Deminicles was way over his head, and I think he might still be. These mercenaries that he has associated himself with seem very seasoned. If he was to cross them there is no telling what might happen. Judging by the size of a half giant they travel with, I’d say he’s between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Tlaloc seemed agitated and a bit hostile at our reunion. He denied knowing any of the names presented to him, including when I accused him of being “Moonblade”. He seemed generally bothered by the name, leading me to believe he is in fact not him. This was followed by some jovial mocking by his companions. He mentioned an elf by the name of Lithander. I’ve passed the name onto my superiors for further investigation. His last known whereabouts being the Silver Sands. However our sources points towards a group of individuals, not a lone wilderness elf. The tracking seems to be precise, almost arcane in nature. I’m close I can feel it. If this group knows nothing of these activities then they may in fact be pawns in it. Someone may have marked them in some way…

Tlaloc agreed to share what he knew regarding the conclave, which was nothing. I feel he is being genuine. During the questioning of Barasmus it was revealed that this book was in fact a tome of great importance. Apparently Dregoth, the 3rd Champion of Rajaat was not destroyed but banished to The Grey using this very tome. It can also be used to bring him back. It’s shocking that such an artifact of power exists. It’s of great importance that this book not fall into the wrong hands. Upon pressing Tlaloc about this book he claimed it was in a safe place. While he seemed sincere I fear for the book’s safety. Clearly these four agents are after it for some reason. Could it possibly be to bring back Dregoth from the They Grey? Disturbing indeed. Upon learning this Verdaigne insisted I accompany this group and keep an eye on the book. I find the lack of trust concerning between us, I hope traveling with them will help to ease their suspicion. In the end it would be a terrible day for all parties involved should Dregoth returned from the Grey. Terrible indeed…

Tzadkiel Trez’Adune

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