The Isle of Deroge-The Grand Wager...

Week 24:A Heavenly Request
Dear Verite, it’s me, Lucinde

Week 24

Val waived off the Channing’s question. His thoughts weren’t fully formed and surely the High Priest would disapprove.

The Channing looked back to the others, “You know, of course, that you are Verite’s Chosen. It doesn’t need to be me that prays to him. You each have it in you to reach out to Him.” He considered each of the Chosen, “You only need to pray to Him with the wholeness of your heart.”

Iezecele slapped his hands together in prayer and bowed his head, “Dear Lord, please smite our enemies. Wipe them off of the map.”

Channing Kearnan shook his head, “No, no, Master Willworker. Verite seeks to bring balance to the world.” He held out his right hand, “Were He to smite our enemies,” he then held out his left hand, “then Mensonge would be able to do the same to his enemies.”

Val smirked, “Level the playing field, huh?” He mimiced Iezecele, bowing his head, “O’ Verite, seeing how the bad guys have monsters and beasts, could we have something on our side? Like sexy angels and giant cuddly kittens?”

Lucinde kicked Val under the table, “Knock it off, Val. That’s disrespectful.” She had always prayed to Verite growing up. She had asked for simple things, like for her father to be successful in business or for a sibling to get healthy. If the Channing thought her voice could reach Verite, then she would give it her best effort. She looked at the Channing, “I’ll do it. I’ll pray.”

The Channing nodded. “Then I will leave it to you.” He looked to Iezecele and Val, “In the coming days, you would do well to consider her belief.”

They left the Channing. In the courtyard, Lucinde glanced at the basilica, “I’m going to spend some time here. Where can I catch up with you?”

Gaspar pointed to a building on the far side of the courtyard. “I’ve been wanting to catch up with a friend for awhile. I still have a room here. I’ll be staying here for now.”

“There’s a lot that I need to prepare for our next outing.” Iezecele noted, “I’ll be going to the Chapter House for most of our time here, but get me a room where ever we’re staying. The guest rooms are usually uncomfortable.”

“I heard the Monarch has some decent beds and a lively common room.” Val decided, “I’ll be sure to reserve some rooms for you both.”

Lucinde watched the others go off in their own way. She turned to the basilica with a bit of hesitation. In the Channing’s presence, it was easy to say that she would pray to Verite, but she was unsure how to actually go about it. She wondered if she needed to start with the usual set of prayers. Did she need to go to a chapin and have her sins purified before petitioning Verite? It was the first time she was nervous walking into a church.

Lucinde made the usual blessing as she took a pew. Glancing around, she looked at the other petitioners. An old woman was on her knees, eyes set on a distant heaven. Another man sat with his head in his hands, his body shuddering in tears. Off to the side a mother was doing her best to pray while keeping her two sons from fighting.

She knelt and clasped her hands in prayer and started. “O Verite,” she paused. Saying it like that made her think of Val and Iezecele for some reason. Lucinde sat back. She thought of Channing Kearnan. When he spoke about his connection to Verite, it was like he was talking about a childhood friend that had spent a lifetime with. Lucinde didn’t think that she could manage that.

She ran a hand through her hair, wondering how to approach talking to Verite. If she tried being pious, she felt like Val being sacrilegious. And being conversational like the Channing felt like being too assuming. Maybe if she approached Verite like she was talking to her father, but more holy or something. She took a deep breath, composing herself, “Verite, we need your assistance.” She sat back, thinking about all the times they were ambushed in the middle of the night. “Could you find a way to hide us from our enemies so that we can fulfill our destiny to save the world.” Thinking of her friends and family and of all the people she had seen hurt in the earthquake when Marmo crashed into the Isle. She didn’t want them to be hurt. She closed her eyes and reached out with all of her heart, “Please.”

An overwhelming presence came upon Lucinde. Suddenly, she felt an indescribable feeling of lightness or freedom. It was if she had been bound all this time and was suddenly released. On the other side of the basilica’s grounds, Gaspar paused in his conversation. He was reminded of the first time he had met the Channing. One Shield away, Iezecele looked around wondering if a new student had left a toxic chemical uncorked. In the Monarch, Val’s dart missed the board, looking to the mug in his hand, he exclaimed, “Bring me some more of this!”

Back at the basilica, Lucinde knelt exhaling her held breath, “Thank you, Verite, for answering my prayer.”

As she knelt, she felt as if a warm hand had been placed on her shoulder. As calming as the hand was, she kept from turning her head, a little fearful of what she might see. A voice resonated inside of her. A voice, quiet as a breeze but also as strong as a crashing wave, spoke to her, ‘I am always watching over you.’ The sensation of the hand on her shoulder moved to the back of her head. A memory of her father patting her head after she had done well returned to her. The voice spoke again, ‘Thank you for believing in me.’

Suddenly she felt a surge of power emanating from the back of her head. What could only be Verite’s power flooded into her, opening her mind, granting her skills and power beyond her experience. Only as the power left her, did Lucinde realize that she had been standing on the tips of her toes. The other petitioners were staring at her. Lucinde bowed her head and excused herself from the basilica.

As she rushed outside, Iezecele reached out to the group, ‘Did you just feel that?’

Lucinde sent her assent. Gaspar chimed in, ‘Was that from you praying?’ Lucinde again assented. Gaspar’s surprise came through his ring, ’That’s amazing.’

‘Crap,’ Iezecele’s sarcasm returned, ‘I guess I’m going to have to go to Church now.’

To Lucinde, it looked like the others had all experienced the same power. Even though he was being silent, she guessed that Val had experienced the same thing. She wondered how much had they experienced. She sent through the ring, ‘Did you guys hear a voice too?’

‘Hearing voices is usually a bad thing, Lucinde,’ Iezecele poured on the sarcasm. Lucinde could practically see the Willworker’s scar pulled in a smirk.

‘Thank you for speaking to Him for us,’ An opposite emotion came through Gaspar’s ring. He sounded disappointed.

Back at the Monarch, Val laughed off the awkward position he had been in. The rest of patrons in the common room stared at him before turning back to what they were doing. He heard the others talking about what had just happened. He had felt the power too, but didn’t know how to respond. It wasn’t as if he didn’t believe in Verite. He also believed that he needed to be part of defeating the enemy. Praying for guidance and support just felt wrong to him. Having that blind faith reminded Val of his father and the failures that kind of faith brought him. He sighed and ordered another drink.

View
Week 23: Shadows and Treasures
I do not speak with my enemies

Week 23

On watch, Lucinde was reviewing a map Captain Abernette provided. The captains of the Delmare ships had cobbled together a working map of the coast of Marmo, giving them an idea of how big the new landmass was. “On your way back from Tepest?” Lucinde spun around, surprised by the sudden voice. Just at the edge of the firelight stood one of the creatures that Val had taken to calling Eyeless. It casually strolled up to the campfire and sat down next to her.

Lucinde practically jumped from her seat, clutching her flail tightly. She hadn’t heard the creature approach. The cross between its casual tone and its horrifying face truly terrified her. “What are you doing here, foul beast?” She hoped the eyeless monster didn’t here the tremble in her voice.

If it noticed her fear, it didn’t acknowledge it. “Mastema is my name. It is proper to begin a conversation with introductions, is it not?”

Lucinde sent an alarm through her magic ring to her companions. ‘Get up! Get up! One of those eyeless things is here!’ She practically screamed through the ring. She tried to calm her voice. “Lucinde,” she said flatly. “You and your kind have no business here.”

“My Master would disagree,” it spoke in its hollowed voice. “He says that you are the Oathbreakers.”

Through her ring, the others reached out to her. Val asked, ’What’s the lay of the land?’ Lucinde did her best to explain where she and the creature were positioned.

‘Should we charge out?’ Gaspar asked.

‘I don’t want to face this thing alone!’

Not knowing if the eyeless creature had allies, Iezecele summoned his Will and bent the light around himself, rendering his body invisible. At the same time, Val used the power of his ring to make himself equally invisible and slipped out the back of his tent, looking to circle around the eyeless monster. Gaspar took deep breaths. Remembering how terrifying these creatures were, he tried to steady his nerves. He grasped his sword and dagger and rushed out of his tent.

The creature leveled its sightless gaze at Gaspar before turning back to Lucinde. “Not even willing to have a civil conversation?” It stood, but kept its hand away from the black sword at its side. “I am very disappointed in you.” The eyeless monster stepped back disappearing into the shadows cast by the fire.

Iezecele summoned his Will and transmuted a nearby rock to magnesium and ignited it. The light it cast off illuminated the area like the light of the noon day, eliminating shadows. “It’s gone now. It must have a way to travel through shadows.” He looked at the ground where the eyeless had stood. Its footprints were just in the campsite. It reminded him of when Lucinde saw someone in the alleyways of Oreville. When they had checked, all traces had vanished at that time as well.

“Why didn’t it attack?” Wide awake, he paced the campsite. “What do you think it wanted?”

Lucinde exhaled a breath she didn’t know she was keeping in. “It said that it wanted a conversation.”

“Why not talk with it?” Gaspar asked.

Lucinde made an X with her arms. “No way.” She shook her head, repeating, “No way.” She pointed at Val, “If he wanted a conversation, that thing should have waited for his watch.”

[time passes]

Returning to the Basilica, they were quickly escorted inside. When the Channing joined them, the old man looked even older. It was one thing to search for the Prophecy. Seeing it fulfilled was even more stressful. Val poured a brandy and handed it to the Channing, who accepted it with a slight smile. “So was Captain Abernette helpful?”

Iezecele nodded, “We probably found out what the Treasure it. Or, I should say who the Treasure is.”

Caught in mid sip, the Channing coughed, “What?” His exhaustion seemed to evaporate in the light of this new hope. “Tell me.”

Val shared the story of finding the log book on their trip on the Sea Queen. “Our best guess is that the Treasure is that Tobias guy we met in Hamilton.”

The Channing requested information about the Ironfoot family from his secretary. In a few moments the secretary returned with a few papers. The Channing scanned the pages, then looked at the notes Iezecele had taken from the doomed Longstrider’s log book. “Tobias Duncannon, it does match the letters you have. He’s the Treasure?”

“It fits your prophecy, right?” Iezecele tried to recall the exact words, “Something like from all and for all? Tobias is half-Eshih raised by Devonans.”

The Channing nodded, “Yes, it does make sense. His father was human and his mother was Eshih. After they were killed in an avalanche, the Ironfoot family took him in.” Channing Kearnan handed the notes back to his secretary. “So, you’ll be heading to Hamilton, then?”

Val had thought about it since the eyeless had visited them. “Maybe you should send another group to snatch him up?”

Channing Kearnan winced a bit when the rogue described like a kidnapping. “The Prophecy says that the Treasure needs to be protected by the Chosen. Why would you want someone else to do it?”

Val described the meeting between Lucinde and the eyeless on the road between Tepest and Keening. “They seem to be able to find us without any effort. I think it might be a better move the Treasure here,” he glanced at the armored Alerons ringing the room, “to a safer location before we get involved.”

The Channing paused in thought. “What do you think would be better: You being able to find them, or them not being able to find you?”

“It’s not like we have a choice,” Iezecele stated, “but I’d rather be able to hide from the monsters. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a full night’s sleep.”

“I wouldn’t say that we are without options.” The Channing noted, “Verite believes in balance. I can ask him to intervene on your behalf.”

“If he hides us, I’ll go to Church.” Iezecele promised.

Channing Kearnan smiled and extended his hand, “Is that a promise?”

Iezecele spit in his palm and shook Channing Kearnan’s hand. The high priest turned to Val, “If you don’t want to go to Hamilton? What were you thinking of doing?”

Val swirled the brandy in it’s glass. Looking over the rim, he smirked at the Channing, “I was thinking of travelling to Senna. I think my family may profit from all this.”

The Channing was confused. “Profit?”

View
Week 22: With the Sea Queen
A treasure found?

Week 22

“What is the purpose of your visit to the sovereign lands of Carwithian?” An Eshih guard questioned the group on the border.

Val laughed from his resting place in the back of the wagon, “We quest to find the Treasure to save the world!”

The guard shifted in his saddle, looking in the direction of the wagon, “What was that?”

Lucinde held up her hand, “Never mind him. He’s just our fool of a minstrel. We’re traveling to engage a Delmare ship in Tepest by way of Keening.” She fished out the papers Channing Kearnan had given each of them. “You’ll find everything sorted there.”

“Any trouble along your way?” He asked while scanning the papers.

Another giggle from Val, “Nothing much, just Darkhounds the size of horses hunting us in the night, burning their feet into stone.”

Lucinde threw an annoyed glance back to the wagon. ‘Will you quiet him?’ She sent to Iezecele through her ring. Not for the first time she wondered whether a certain kind of madness had taken rest in Val’s heart. That, or she needed to stop them from bringing any alcohol on their trips. “Some wild dogs attacked our camp one night, nothing more. You know how his kind like to embellish.”

The guard nodded. Rolling up the paper, he handed it back to Lucinde. “Everything looks in order.” He guided his horse, opening the road for the group. “Welcome to Carwithian. Remember it is forbidden by Eshih law to stray from the road. Stay to the path and your journey shall be light.”

“What is that sound, someone singing?” Val asked. There was light music in the air, a mournful something if Val could guess.

The group turned the bend in the road. The treeline opened up revealing an Eshih city. “It’s Keening.” Lucinde stated. She had visited Keening a number of times in the past with her father. She could tell from Val’s swiviling neck, that it was the first time he had ridden into the city. He was intently gazing the curving streets and smooth arches of the Eshih city. She explained to Val, “My father told me that the Eshih built this city in trying to understand the human heart. The wind makes that sound as it blows through.”

Val drank in the oddity of the city. It was if someone had taken the design of a human city, but didn’t know how to make a right angle. He looked to the rooftops and saw the metal spires swaying in the wind, making their sad sound. “Is this what they think of us then?”

“Maybe, generations ago when this place was built,” Lucinde answered. “Come on, the Street Song Inn is nearby.” They were warmly greeted at the entrance. Lucinde, Gaspar and Iezecele opted to rest in their rooms. Val chose to stay in the common room. As she climbed the stairs, Lucinde could see that the rogue already had a drink in his hand and was flashing his smile at the Eshih maid who was playing the flute. Somehow she doubted that he was staying behind to, as he said, ‘gather information.’

When Lucinde and Iezecele returned from purchasing supplies, they found Val finally awake in the common room. “So, find out anything interesting,” Iezecele asked.

“Mirielle has the cutest birthmark on,” the rogue started.

Lucinde dropped her bags heavily on the table, “The word about town, not your immoral musical adventures.”

Val nudged Iezecele, “She is very skilled playing the flute.” He winked at Lucinde, “There’s not a great deal of meat on the menu. Did you see?” He glanced over to the menu board.

“So?” Lucinde shrugged.

“The inn prides itself on the freshest game meat. I was talking with the cook and he mentioned that the local hunters weren’t having much luck. Instead of game, they’ve only been finding dead animals, slaughtered, and left to rot.” He took a bite of his breakfast, “They think that something may have gone rabid. I’m thinking that it might be either something with the blackness in it, or maybe more of our giant hound friends.”

“Well, we’re not that far from Cendrillion. It’s no surprise that the creatures are here.” Iezecele noted.

Val nodded, “Some of the soldiers were drinking pretty heavily too. They’re all on edge, pulling double shifts. The borders are closed and the patrols around the inroads are being increased. One of the guards said that he’s always feeling like a storm is about to break.”

“That’s good,” Lucinde ordered a drink, “at least they’ll be more prepared then Cendrillion.”

Val shook his head, “I’m not so sure. The guards were talking how the quake and the troubles since and how they must be the fault of the Ahebbens and their Willworkers.”

“So, they’re looking to go it alone, huh?” Iezecele scoffed.

“Yes, but they’re just as curious as Cosette. A merchant from Tepest mentioned that he saw a number of military ships were sailing northeast.” Val glanced at his companions, “Gaspar?”

They all sensed his presence to the west through the power of their rings. “He said he wanted to discuss some things with the local Druids.”

Val could see that Iezecele was curious about the Druids. Their powers were so strangely different than that of the Willworkers. He smiled, “He’s probably sharing all of our deepest secrets and giving them strands of our hair to work their weird spells.” By the time Gaspar returned, Val had weaved a tale of the warrior’s betrayal. The rogue stood up, pointing an accusatory finger at Gaspar, “There he is, the vile scoundrel himself come to hand us over to those villains!”

Before he had joined up with Val and the others, Gaspar would have wilted under the gaze of all the people in the common room. They stared at him, intent on seeing the scene play out. “Ah, so you’ve discovered my plot?” He calmly strode to the group, “Well, earlier than I expected, but I’ve prepared for all possibilities. You’ll not escape your doom.” Gaspar eyed the group seriously, before Val clapped and broke into laughter.

Realizing the jest, the crowd went about their business. Gaspar took his seat, “The Druids have been attempting to scry the lands of Marmo, but they’ve been unsuccessful. They say that there’s something resisting their powers.”

“If it had been that easy, then Channing Kearnan wouldn’t have had to send us to look for ourselves.” Lucinde reasoned. Nothing on their journey was ever going to be won lightly. It was the path of the hero.

The magic of Willworkers and Druids couldn’t spy on their enemy, Val wondered. “It sounds like they must have some powerful Willworkers on their side, if they’re blocking us.”

“Or Druids,” Iezecele added. He worried about Val’s comment.

“They’ve got monsters. It makes sense that they’ve got magic.” Nope, nothing would be easy on the path of heroes.

[time passes]

“For the last time, will you both shut up!” Iezecele yelled in frustration. Val and Gaspar had been bickering for days. Ever since they were out of sight of Keening, the rogue had talked about leaving the road for the woods. In turn, Gaspar argued the respect of the law. They had been going back and forth for days, more sniping at each other, rather than any reasoned thought.

“I’m just saying,” Val continued, “what if we were really nowhere near a rest stop and I had to go, like really bad? The Eshih are going to punish me for that?”

Under Iezecele’s warning glance, Gaspar retorted, “If it was your home, you’d not want someone mucking it up with their filth.”

Val was going to continue, not just to push against the warrior’s sensibilities, but to continue to nettle the Willworker’s nerves. He was silenced by Lucinde’s raised fist, gesturing them to stop. “Sush, I hear something.”

‘Did you just sush me?’ Val sent through the ring. He heard it too, heavy branches snapping as something huge charged the road.

A giant bear of dire size crashed out of the thick woods. “Wow, during the day,” Gaspar laughed as the beast raged.

The monstrous bear likes to throw his weight around, Iezecele thought “Let’s see how he handles some real weight.” He gathered his Will. He felt the bones inside the bear with his arcane power. Unleashing his Will, he transformed the bones to the heaviest of metals. Burdened by the weight, the bear’s movements slowed.

Even though they had argued for days, Val and Gaspar fell into equal movement. They both moved to flank the beast, easily dodging its restrained attacks. Lucinde jumped from her saddle, landing a forceful blow on the bear.

Gaspar slashed at the giant bear with his sword and dagger, their magical blade cutting through it’s thick hide. On the other side, Val thrust his spear at the bear’s legs, slicing where it was vulnerable. Lucinde ducked under her shield, pushing with all of her might to throw of the bear’s heavy paw and mighty claw. She countered with her own attack, striking the bear’s outstreched arm with her flail.

“Give me some room!” Iezecele called out. He focused his Will. First, he called forth a storm in his palm, as he often had in the past. Instead of channeling it through his strike, he split his Will and summoned forth a second storm on the opposite side of the bear. The two storms’ power sought out each other, as they were bound by the same Will.

Feeling the hairs on their arms stand on end, the others backed away from the giant beast. Suddenly, with a crack of thunder, the two storms connected as a bolt of lightning arced between them, killing the bear with its blast.

Gaspar approached the bear, its hide still smoking from Iezecele’s attack. He gingerly prodded the beast’s maw with his sword. “There’s no blackness.”

“Think this is the reason for the lack of fresh meat?” Lucinde asked. “Something like that could kill as much game as it liked. Probably scare off the rest, too.”

Val wiped off the blood from his spear point. “Just a random giant beast. Not some creature from Marmo, nor some cursed monster.” He smiled, " Really kind of refreshing, don’t you think?"

[time passes]

After a couple of weeks, deep, verdant forests opened in front of the group. The land began to gently slope towards the coast. The thick green of the ancient woods gave way to the salty breeze of the sea. Where the land met the vast sea, lay Tepest. It was clearly not a city designed by humans. The buildings were shaped much like windswept dunes. The docks looked like waves rising out of the ocean. It was little trouble finding the Sea Queen. The Delmare ship was docked in the last slip. Val stood at the bottom of the gangplank, “Permission to come aboard!” He hailed the ship.

A woman, flanked by two tough looking sailors, came down to meet them. It wasn’t the first time Val
had encountered a Delmare, but he still marveled at the amount of jewelry they wore. It seemed like the more important you were, the more you wore. By the amount the woman wore, she was pretty important. “What business do you have with the Sea Queen?” The strands of gold that ran from her nose to her ear jingled as she spoke.

Iezecele handed the woman the papers Channing Kearnan had given them. She read them, turning them over in her ringed fingers. “You may board, but you’ll have to disarm yourselves before greet the Captain.”

“Of course,” Val unbuckled his sword belt and handing it over to one of the sailors. Lucinde wondered how many daggers the rogue had secreted about his person. She guessed he was pleasantly giving in to the Delmare demands to throw off suspicion of just that. The rest of the group followed Val’s lead, disarming themselves.

They were led to a large cabin at the rear of the ship. A woman and a man sat at the table. Judging by the amount of jewelry, the woman must be Captain Abernette. The woman that permitted them aboard sat next to the captain and whispered into her ear while handing her the papers from Channing Kearnan. Captain Abernette read the papers carefully. She placed them down carefully, stood, and dug a key out of the many strands of gold she wore about her neck. Unlocking a cabinet, she searched through a number of scrolls. Finding one, the captain sat back down and compared it with the one she had been handed. Satisfied, she looked to the group, “Please be seated. The Channing has aided me in the past and the Delmare always pay their dues.”

“As the waves roll out, surely they must roll in.” The other woman, presumably the captain’s sister, spoke as if the phrase carried almost a religious tone. Indeed, as she spoke, the man touched his forehead, lips and heart in quick succession.

The captain nodded, “What does the Channing want?”

The others looked to Val, “Channing Kearnan has heard of attacks on the Delmare ships. He would like to know if these rumors are true, and, if so, what the nature of those attacks are.” Val knew that the Delmare were a secretive lot. After all the Delmare ships he had seen in Celedine, the Sea Queen was the first one he had stepped on. Even in the inns and markets, they tended to travel in groups. In the back of his head there was always a chance that these folk may already be on Marmo’s side. He felt it was a safe question to ask.

The woman who had granted them passage onto the ship threw a warning glance to the captain. The captain thought for a moment before giving her answer. “That is a Delmare concern. You may tell the Channing that I am thankful for his concern.”

Val noted two answers to the question he had asked. If it was their concern, then it was true. If it was a Delmare concern then the attacks were on their people. ‘No, not necessarily on their people,’ Val checked his thoughts, ‘it could also be within their ranks.’ Either way, Val decided, the attacks were happening and the Delmare were victims. If the Channing trusted them to ask this captain, then he thought he could push the issue.

“Were there monsters in these attacks? Twisted creatures born of nightmares? Have your people’s ships encountered a landmass to the northeast? Are the attacks coming more from that direction?”

The captain looked Val in the eyes, taking measure of the Channing’s emissaries. “You are remarkably well informed,” she finally said after some thought.

Val smiled, “My friends and I have the wounds to prove it.”

Even the captain’s sister leaned forward at this, “You’ve seen them too?”

Absently, the captain ran her fingers over the Channing’s signature. “We’ve never mentioned them to any of the land-folk. We didn’t want people to think us mad.”

“Madness,” Val leaned closer, “My dear captain, madness is the appropriate response in seeing what we face.”

The captain looked to her sister, who nodded in return. “The true danger lies not from their ships, but in the ones they’ve captured. Their ships are much like the ones your folk make, passable, but not worthy of sailing the Great Sea. All I have heard from my fellow captains say that these new people make every effort to capture, not sink, our ships. It’s as if they want to take the Great Sea from us.”

That, Iezecele thought, plus the added benefit of more raw materials for their armies. He didn’t want to share that bit with the captain. “What can you tell us about their forces? Do they attack your ships with the Will?”

“They have sorcery that allows them to throw fire and lightning, magics to pull a mist to hide their passing.” The captain’s sister answered. “Though we can not tell if it is the power of the Willworkers or more akin the Druid’s abilities.”

“How far south have you seen their ships, or ships they’ve captured?” Val asked. It was difficult to mask his worry for mere curiosity.

This time the man spoke, “The Osprey.” With a sad tone, he explained, “A ship my brother once crewed was seen as south as Saville.”

“Probably Karg on the eastern shores,” Lucinde added. “They must have come by sea to have taken the city without being seen.”

“Karg?” The captain’s eyes widened, “Karg has been conquered? Are you sure?”

Lucinde nodded, “Seen it with our own eyes.”

The man laughed wryly, “Bet King Ganelon was none too happy about that”

Iezecele leveled his gaze at the man, “No, he wasn’t happy.”

The captain narrowed her gaze at the people in front of her. Who were they? At first, she thought them merely hired hands for the Church. But not only have they faced the monsters of her enemy, but they were talking as if being in the presence of one of the Isle’s great leaders as if it was unimportant. She looked down to the scroll she had pulled from the cabinet. She had received it when she had earned her first captaincy. It warned of ancient dangers returning. “Is all this part of the Church’s Prophecy?”

Val shrugged, “Whether it’s part of a prophecy or not is for you to decide. Either way, the threat is real.”

“I’ll take you as far as I can,” the captain decided. “But if we see one of their ships, we will not fight them. I’ll not risk my sailors.” She turned to her sister. “We leave as soon as possible.”

Val perked up at that. He had heard stories of sailing the open seas on a Delmare ship. “Do you need any help? It’s not my first time on a ship.”

Lucinde was puzzled. Val was always the last to offer to help. He avoided labor like a venomous snake. No, strike that, he’d surely play with a viper than do work.

“You are guests on this ship,” the man replied, “you’re not expected to sail.”

Val pressed. “I could help with the sails. In the rigging, and the like.” Val added and Lucinde understood. The rogue wanted to play in the ropes way above the deck.

“You were already told no. You are not Delmare and your help is not needed.” The captain ended Val’s hopes.

The group stood as the man offered to show them to their quarters. Val paused at the door and looked back to the captain. “You know, that’s how we’re going to lose this war. Everyone staying to themselves.”

[time passes]

After several days of sailing, the group walked onto the deck and found a thick fog surrounding the ship. “Where are we?” Lucinde asked.

The captain’s sister pointed east, as if she could still see the Isle. “Landfall would put us along the border between Carwithian and Cendrillion.”

“Mistress,” a sailor with a tattoo of two eagles fighting on his chest padded up to the captain’s sister, “wreckage off the starboard bow.”

Torches were lit at the bow of the ship, burning off some of the thick fog. After some time, the group and the crew could see the remains of a ship floating along side the Sea Queen. “It wasn’t a Delmare ship.” She spit over the side, “Bastards rammed her with one of ours.”

All Iezecele could tell was that there was rope and wood floating. Enough of it he could guess that it was once a ship, but he could see how the captain could tell by the wreckage. “How can you tell?”

“There,” the captain pointed, “and there.” They were just pieces of wood to the Willworker. “That’s part of the cathead, see how it’s crushed? And that, that’s part of the hull. It’s shows the freeboard. Much too high for one of our ships.” She noticed the confused look on the group’s faces. Landfolk. “The cathead is where the anchor is tied. That kind of damage comes from being hit with a great deal of force. Only a Delmare ship could move with such swiftness.” She slammed her fist into her palm for emphasis. “The freeboard shows you how low that ship sat in the Great Sea. It’s much to high for a Delmare ship. This was a landfolk ship.” She touched her forehead, lips and heart, “At least the captain didn’t give her up.”

The captain’s sister approached, “It was the Longstrider. We’ve recovered the captain’s trunk.” She led them to a well made trunk that the sailors had hauled on deck. It was clearly water-proofed and was latched with a heavy padlock.

The Iezecele looked to Val, who held up his hands, “It’s a Delmare trunk. I say it’s their concern.” Iezecele could tell by the rogue’s petty tone that he was still upset that he couldn’t go gallivanting in the ship’s rigging. Val could be so childish at times.

After the crew of the Sea Queen broke the lock, the captain’s man sorted through the contents. He passed over obvious bags of coins and oil wrapped silverware, but gently pulled a book from the chest. He flipped through it. “I knew this man. Tannin Falk, out of Tepest. He was a good sailor.” He looked to the captain, “No family.” The captain nodded. The crew put all of the contents back into the trunk. The sailors quietly drilled holes into the chest before returning it to the sea.

“May he rest beneath the depths.” The captain’s sister said reverently. As one, the crew touched their foreheads, lips and hearts. Lucinde was amazed that Val hadn’t argued about keeping the gold. She could almost hear him say that it was pointless to throw away good gold. She looked to see if he was feeling ill. Instead of being repulsed, Val seemed to be watching the scene with intense curiousity. She had often thought that Val was joking when he said that seeing new things was his real treasure. Maybe that wasn’t the case.

Back in her chambers, the captain was reading through the final entries of the ill-fated Longstrider. Something caught Iezecele’s eye. “Captain, may I?” He took the log when it was handed to him. “And some parchment and ink?” When it was delivered to him, the Willworker intently went through the pages of the log, stopping to write a word here and there. When he finished, he held up the paper and blew on it, drying the ink.

He laid the paper on the table so the others could read. It read, ‘the Treasure shall unite the Lands against the greatest foe.’ Beneath the sentence there was a jumble of letters: i, o, T, s, a, a, n, n, o, D, c, u, n.

Val looked at the letters, “You don’t have anyone named Tobias on board do you?”

The captain shook her head.

“We’ve already met one Tobias?”

Gaspar spoke, lost, “he’s the Treasure?” He couldn’t imagine what Verite’ was doing. How could a crippled boy be the key to the Isle’s victory? “That makes no sense.”

The Willworker’s scar pulled into his wry smile, “No stranger than Verite’s Chosen.”

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Week 21: A Father-Daughter talk
We've got this

Week 21

“Have you decided your how you’ll journey to the coast?” Channing Kearnan asked as the group was saddling their horses.

Gaspar nodded, “At your advice, Father, we decided to avoid Cheney. We’ll head to Bergamoth first. Then we’ll enter Carwithian and head to Tepest by way of Keening.”

The Channing nodded, “Then if you’ll indulge me for a moment.” He took a breath, remembering the Lucinde’s plea for a cleared path, and spoke. “Verite, your Chosen are setting out again.” The Channing’s tone was less one of prayer and more one of conversation with a close friend. “They need your help. I’m asking. Please give them guidance about the Treasure.” He took another breath and raised his hands out. “May Verite’s light shine upon you and the Creator shelter you in the palm of His hand.”

Weeks later they rode into Bergamoth. “I’m going to stop at my place. I’ve got to tell my family about all of this.” Lucinde pointed her horse in the direction of her family’s compound. She knew it wasn’t going to be an easy conversation in the best of circumstances. “I’ll catch up with you later at the The Last Soldier.” She needed to tell her family in her own words, without Iezecele’s doubt, Val’s side comments, or Gaspar’s zealotry.

She found her father amidst stacks of paperwork. People were practically streaming in and out of his office. As soon as he saw his daughter, he stood up and hugged her, putting aside all of his work.
“Sit down, dad. I’ve got a lot to tell you.” Lucinde began to share everything with her father, from the skeleton in the caves outside of Trillian to the new lands of Marmo.

As his daughter finished her story, her father leaned back in his chair, “Well, that certainly explains some things.” He looked at his daughter with worry, “Lucinde, you have to stop your contract with the Church. It’s time to come home.”

Lucinde shook her head. She knew that couldn’t happen. “I can’t father. I don’t want to walk away from this. I think this is what I’m meant to do.”

“So you believe in this Prophecy from the Church?”

Lucinde nodded, “There’s something to it.” She saw the concern in her father’s eyes. “Listen dad, you’ve trained me. You’ve trained me well. One way or another I was chosen for this job and Solide’s always see their jobs through to the end.”

Her father held up his hand, “I trust in you, Lucinde. I do.” He remembered the men she had brought with her on her last visit. “I’m just not sure about your co-workers. I know that they take oaths, but you know I’ve always found Willworkers to be just unnatural. And that other one, he looks like a scoundrel.”

‘Well, he’s not wrong,’ thought Lucinde. “Iezecele can do a lot of strange things, but he’s saved my life more than once. And Val, he is a something of a scoundrel. He’s also good in a fight.”

“Right, if I remember correctly, he’s a snaky backstabber.” It was dishonorable, associating with someone like that.

Again, her father wasn’t wrong, Val had stabbed a number of people in the back. “He finds opportunities to win, father. If you had seen the things that we’re facing, you would want as many of those opportunities as well.” She sighed, “You’re going to have to trust me that I’ve got this. I’ll write you as often as I can.”

Lucinde caught up with the others in the common room of the Last Soldier. Val pushed her a beer. “So, what have you guys been up to?” Lucinde asked.

Val filled her in on the local chatter. The border guards of Carwithian and Cendrillion were being reinforced. Any and all Rangers that could be called to duty were being deployed. The king of Cosette was allowing refugees from Cendrillion trickle into the country. The refugees were being taken to the capital to register with the government. “Oh, and apparently the Eshih in Keening are really particular about their lawn. It seems like it’s against the law for foreigners to leave the road.”

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Week 20: Making Reports
You've got to have faith

Week 20

The group traveled at speed to reach the border of Cosette as quickly as possible with their dire information. They noticed squads of rangers patrolling the Cosettean border. As they came close a squad rode close, blocking the road with their horses. Lucinde noticed a few fresh faces had arrows knocked in their short bows. “What’s your business on this road?” Their leader, supposedly, though he seemed to have precious few years on the rest of his men, challenged them.

“We’re headed to Sorrell.” Iezecele informed them. He handed their leader the papers the Church had provided while at the same time pushing aside his cloak to reveal his Willworker sigil. The guard barely glanced at the papers after seeing that. He ordered the others to clear the road. Iezecele held up the wagon, “Tell me, when did the order come to close the border?”

“About a month ago,” the guard answered. “Not only that Master Willworker, but every serviceable fort is being manned and repaired.” He glanced about to his ‘men.’ “As well as every serviceable ranger, be they half-schooled or in retirement.”

Days later, they road into Sorrell. “I need to inform the Willworkers of this,” Iezecele mentioned as he handed the reigns to Val.

“I’ll stop at the Church and send word ahead,” Gaspar noted. They would ride as best as they were able but a pigeon would at least be able to deliver the gist of what they found at the Cliffs of Arnaud."

“Let me come with you,” Lucinde added. The broken roads of Cendrillion had been hard traveled. Not to mention the horses they lost to the dark clothed assassins. “I’ll see what they’ll be able to aid us with some more horses and supplies.”

Val urged the horse on. “I’ll head to The Last Pikeman and secure us some lodgings. Maybe see what kind of news is coming down from Cendrillion or up from Beaufort.” Of course, he thought, he’d have to have some drinks flowing to loosen some tongues. If there was a pleasant lady to talk to, all the better.

After all the weeks in Cendrillion, stepping into a chapter house was refreshing. Iezecele quickly found himself in an audience with Master Corbin Jarrell, the head of this chapter, and an earth Willworker like Iezecele. “You remember the great quake a few months ago?” It was a redundant question. Likely every earth Willworker in Deroge had felt it. “My companions and I journeyed to the Cliffs of Arnaud at the behest of the Church.” Iezecele didn’t know if the Chapter head’s raised eyebrow was for working for the Church or journeying that far into a territory in which they were outlawed. He continued, “The Cliffs are no more. Now there is a mountain range.”

“What?” He knew through his arcane senses that the center of the quake was to the north in Cendrillion. Until now, he had thought the Cliffs had fallen into the seas.

Iezecele braced himself. He knew that his next words would open up a long and troublesome conversation. “And beyond those mountains, a land.”

An old memory itched in Corbin’s head. He had been visited by an acolyte of the Church shortly after he had become master of this House. He held a cautioning hand up to Iezecele, pausing the young Willworker’s exposition. Corbin opened up a cabinet and searched through the parchment scattered there. Dust spread as he sifted down through the years until he found what he was looking for. He found the leather tube that the Church’s acolyte had handed him those many years ago and pulled out the old parchment. He had thought nothing of it then, despite the earnest passion in the acolyte’s face. He unfurled the parchment and read its central line: the Broken Continent shall become whole again with the emergence of the Infested Isle of Marmo. His legs felt weak as he slowly shifted back to his chair. “I don’t believe it.” He muttered.

“I assure you, this is the truth.” Iezecele wasn’t surprised. If he hadn’t seen the mountains and the new lands with his own eyes, he wouldn’t have believed it himself.

Corbin thought back to the meeting with the acolyte. He wished he had paid more attention to what the young man had said. “I don’t doubt your words, Willworker Iezecele.” He leaned forward, “Tell me all that you know.”

Iezecele told his tale, starting with being hired by the Church in Trillian and continuing until he walked through the Chapter House doors. He related the pieces of the Prophecy they had found and detailed the beasts and monsters they had faced. He shared all but the bits about them being Chosen. Iezecele barely knew where he stood on that matter. He needed to figure that out before he could elicit his superiors’ thoughts on the matter.

At the end of his tale, the sun was low. Students of the Will had brought them a light supper and used their meager skill with the Will to light the room. Corbin leaned back, overwhelmed by Iezecele’s tale. “I’m sure that the twins can’t wait to hear your tale, Iezecele. They’ve always lent credence to the Church’s prophecy. Now they’ll definitely have the King’s ear.”

Only through reputation had Iezecele heard of Tannin and Tyler Richardson. Both had mastered their abilities with the Will very quickly. Just as quickly they achieved their position as advisors to the king of Cosette. If he was being honest with himself, Iezecele could admit he was jealous of their power, but equally, he felt no rush to meet the two.

“So, what now for you?” Corbin asked.

Iezecele wasn’t entirely sure. As they traveled back from the mountains there had been a number of discussions about what to do next. Gaspar was the only one among them that was sure of following the missions the Church was doling out. Lucinde was torn between being a Chosen of the Prophecy and protecting her family. Val struggled with being one of the Church’s Chosen and what that meant to his ideals of what he called ‘freedom.’ “I’ll fulfill my contract.” For now, he would put aside the Prophecy and the part that the Church said he should take. Instead, he would continue to act as if he had never read a word of the Church’s Prophecy.

“The Church will become more powerful once word of this spreads.” Dealings between the Church and the Order of Willworkers had always been strained. Corbin had never met the Channing, but hoped that all he had heard of the man was true.

Nodding in agreement, “Well, it certainly seems that people will listen to them more.” Iezecele wondered if that was for the best, choosing hopes and vague prophecies.

Iezecele was last to arrive at the inn. Gaspar and Lucinde were pleased with themselves. They had gotten the Chapin to pen a writ requesting the governor of Sorrell to provide an escort back to Beaufort. “I’ll go with you to lend more authority.” Whatever he felt about the Church, people would begin to trust in them more. It would be best to be seen working hand in hand with them.

[Time passes]

Val wryly noted that they were unaccosted from Sorrell to Beaufort. Ten soldiers had joined them on the journey. Now that they had some protection, there was no need for it. Still, the rogue was glad to have people to entertain. Lucinde was glad to be able to sleep through the night without having to scramble for her armor. Gaspar thought that they were being left alone because the Enemy was gathering their strength before launching a stronger attack.

After passing into the protection of Beaufort’s Shields, the soldiers took their leave. Quickly after the group were led deep into the Basilica, where Channing Kearnan awaited them. Though he put on a pleasant enough front, Gaspar could see that he was tired, weary after long days of work and worry.

“I cannot tell you how glad I am to see you returned safe.” He gestured them all to join him at the table. “I have heard the roads are especially hard in the North. Can I offer you some tea? Wine?”

“Anything harder?” Val hoped. Gaspar glanced at the rogue. He appreciated Val’s wit, but the rogue never seemed to realize that there was a time to be serious. Couldn’t he see the strain the Channing was under?

Even as Iezecele handed Val his flask, Channing Kearnan took it in stride and asked one of his Alerons to fetch something for the rogue. The holy knight returned with a bottle of brandy. Val uncorked the bottle, glanced at the delicate glass the knight placed before him, looked at the bottle again. “This is good. Not sure what the rest of you are drinking.”

While the Channing was patient enough, Gaspar couldn’t. “Val, now’s not the time for getting drunk. We need to get serious.”

“I think this is the proper response to our situation, Gaspar.” Val replied after downing a swig. “They have beasts, monster, evil knights. What do we have? Some scraps of less than helpful prophecy?” He put the brandy bottle down hard enough that some of the liquor sloshed out. “That and us with some fancy weapons won’t cut it.”

In a way, Lucinde agreed with Val. “We just need some more detail. Everything we know of the Prophecy seems vague. We need to know exactly what to do.”

The Channing searched for the words. He had been doing so for the better part of his adult life. Searching for the right words to convince people to trust in the words and teachings of Verite. Even now, as the evidence of Mensonge’s forces at its clearest, he still had to struggle to show others a way to belief. More than anyone else, he needed these four, and the eight others, wherever they may be, to believe. “Do you know the tale of how the last war with Marmo ended?”

Lucinde had heard the tale so many times that she could almost see Arnaud lined up with this Hundred Companions. “Of course, everyone knows the story.” Though she knew Val could probably tell the tale with more flair, she related the story as her father had related it to her.

Channing Kearnan nodded, it was indeed the story that most people knew. “Yes, yes, that’s the one. There is a bit more, though. King Arnaud had been visited by Verite in a dream. Our Lord spoke to the king, sharing with him the secret of the breaking. Verite led him to where the peace line should lay, the one that would allow him to save his people.”

“I don’t know about the other eight Chosen, but there’s only one Willworker among us.” Val challenged. “That’s pretty far short of Arnaud and his Hundred Companions.”

Gaspar looked at the rogue. He didn’t understand Val. Gaspar knew that Val had shared the same experiences. He had recieved the same weapons in the vault in the Devonan tunnel. He had felt the calming energy in that hidden chamber. Gaspar didn’t understand why the rogue couldn’t find the faith in his heart to trust in Verite. “Val, surly you don’t think Verite intends us to fight them on our own?”

Val shook his head. “I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to get a taste of fighting them whether they want to or not.” There was far too much trust for Verite in Gaspar’s heart. “Your prophecy pretty much says that we’re the crux upon which victory or destruction stands.” He took a deep drink of brandy. “And we’re pretty much clueless.”

“Channing,” Lucinde tried to find the right words. “I think what Val’s trying to say is that we need more direction.” She looked earnestly at Channing Kearnan. “I believe in Verite and as my place as his Chosen. I want to win the day, but I don’t know where to start.”

“King Arnaud only won the day because of what he knew and what allies he was able to gather.” He spread forth his hands towards the four, “I’m hoping that you will be Verite’s dream, showing the lands of Deroge the path. Just as you didn’t believe until you faced the strength of the Enemy, so, too will the countries not believe. Each will think that they can face this threat on their own, but I feel that each will fall if they stand alone.”

Lucinde tapped the pommel of her flail, “I don’t think I was given this to travel from country to country and talk. And this new bit of Prophecy talks about a Treasure. Is that some other type of weapon?”

“Yes,” Iezecele spoke, “Any part of the prophecy suggest what this treasure might be?”

“It could be many things, but the Treasure’s details are still shrouded in mystery.” The Channing admitted.

Val smiled wryly. Iezecele held up his hand, asking the rogue to hold his tongue. He could understand how Val felt. The rogue needed to stop trying to see the whole picture and stop trying to make it a grand epic story. You could forget about all of the prophecy and the faith of the Church. The trick was to do what you thought was the right path. Channing Kearnan was right. If each country pulled their ranks and looked to their own, the monsters could freely strike at them individually. Together, they could have a chance. “So, the next step is Cheney?”

“From my experience, the Artegal may not be willing to grant an audience, but there is a people in Carwithian who may be willing.” He signaled the Aleron to his right. The holy knight delivered a letter to each of the group. “The Delmare may have encountered the Enemy before any of us. They may be able to shed light on the Enemy’s capabilities. They usually keep to themselves, but the Captain Marie Abernette of the Sea Queen knows me and may be willing to offer aid.” He rested back in his chair, tired, “You four have been fortunate in finding pieces of the Prophecy on your travels. Perhaps you shall find what you seek along the way.”

Iezecele rubbed his temple, “That feels like grasping at straws to me.”

“You could always try praying to Verite. You are His Chosen after all.”

Iezecele wryly smiled, pulling his scarred flesh tight. He held up his hands in prayer and looked to the heavens, “Hey, we could use some clarification here!”

Now, Channing Kearnan rubbed his temples, “You need to believe Master Willworker. First, you need to believe.”

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Week 19: Mountain Climbing
Gazing upon new lands

Week 19

“Do you see something?” Gaspar shaded his eyes and pointed further up the mountain, “Just there.” The group had traveled up the newly formed mountain range. The climb had been steep, too difficult for horses, but still passable without the use of rope and piton.

Val looked closely, “A cave, I think.” He glanced to the sky, and the waning sun, “Probably a good place to set down for the night. Easy to defend.”

Iezecele wiped the sweat from his brow, “Of course, with stone at our backs, there would be nowhere to escape.”

“Not to mention what might be lurking inside,” Lucinde added to the Willworker’s wry humor.

As the four reached the cave, they saw it had been formed by two large slabs braced against one another, forming a stable earthen V of rock. ’What’s the over and under that Gaspar reading too much into this?’ Val sent Iezecele through the power of his ring. The group had found a similar rock structure at the base of the mountains large enough to safely house their wagon and the two remaining horses.

The Willworker looked at the natural formation. ‘Explain,’ he returned through the ring.

‘First where we stored the wagon and horses and now this,’ Val nodded to the cave, ‘Both shaped like the symbol of the gods.’ Val made the shape of a triangle with his two hands. The three points of the triangle representing the two brothers, Mensonge and Verite and their father, the Creator.

Iezecele looked at the cave and then to his companion, “I think you think too much of stories.”

“Did you say something, Iezecele?” Gaspar called as he came from examining the opening.

The Willworker and the rogue glanced at each other with shared grin. “No, nothing. What did you see?”

Gaspar waved them on. “I don’t think it’s a cave. I think it’s a tunnel.”

The cave did turn out to be a tunnel. The gargantuan slabs had been upturned, forming a pathway that stretched through the thick of the new mountains. The four traveled through the tunnel with only the Willworker’s glowing light to guide them. After hours of darkness, the path ahead began to lighten. “Is that willow branches?” Lucinde asked, seeing the moonlight pass through strands of leaves.

“Through there, I hope we find a moonlit lake with a beauteous nymph beckoning to comfort us from our weary travels,” Val hopefully commented.

With the world in the balance, Lucinde couldn’t believe that Val had the time for his lecherous thoughts. “Why do you even speak?” She chided.

Iezecele sighed, “I’m hoping to see an endless ocean.” He banished his arcane light and brushed aside the willow branches. The great collision of the two lands caused the ancient willow tree to be stretched unnaturally straight from the mountain. As the Willworker stepped out onto the thick trunk, he gazed into the distance. Instead of the Cliffs of Arnaud and the endless ocean, he saw miles of weathered scrub and the lights of a city in the distance.

Lucinde stepped down amidst the thick roots and peered down the mountain. In the moonlight and starlight she saw squads of the twisted beasts being ordered by something in human armor. There were torches and bonfires at the base of the mountain. “Scouts and there’s a camp.”

Gaspar was about to express his disbelief when Val placed a finger on the warrior’s lips, “Shh, you don’t have to say anything.”

Iezecele shook his head, “I think it’s time to go.”

The group traveled in silence. The proof of Marmo’s return weighed down their thoughts as well as their tongues. Two-thirds of the way back, a wisp of dust blowing in Iezecele’s arcane light caught Val’s attention. Looking into a break in the stone, “I think I hear something.”

“We should check it out,” Lucinde advised. “If those creatures have found this tunnel, they’ll use it to speed their attack.”

Val motioned for Lucinde to lower her voice, “I think I hear…chewing.”

As the rogue motioned to go forward, Iezecele placed a hand on his shoulder. “Wait a moment.” He summoned the grace of a leaf on the wind and set its aura over Val. He then channeled the strength of the stone that surrounded them and pushed it into Lucinde. “This should help.”

Moving into the cavern, Val saw two huge centipede creatures with whip-like tails. The chewing stopped as the monstrous insects turned. A lump of bloody meat that resembled a human thigh dropped from one of their mandibles. “You’re up, Iezecele!” Val ducked as the Willworker transmuted the rock dust in the air, transforming it into a burning arc stretching from his fingertips to the creatures.

Val called upon the power of his ring, turning himself invisible as he tumbled down into the cavern.

The insects’ tails slashed through the air, cutting into Lucinde and Iezecele. Within moments, both warrior and Willworker could feel poison burning from the wounds.

Gaspar sliced at one of the huge centipedes with both his longsword and dagger, cutting into it’s armored hide. Lucinde pounded at the other creature with her fail. Ichor dripped from its body.

Iezecele felt the poison beginning to course through his body. He knew this battle needed to end quickly, but was struggling to focus his Will. He used his arcane power to rend sharp rocks and send them flying at the centipede.

Val crept behind one centipede and split his magical short sword into two and drove them into the creature’s blindside. The blades slid between the chitinous scales and through the creature. It twisted in pain at the wound. Its writhing only serving to worsen its wounds, killing it.

Lucinde felt her blows getting weaker as the poison from the centipede’s tail made its way through her body. It was almost all that she could do to hold her shield steady against the creature’s mandibles.

Iezecele blinked, focusing his vision. He knew that just as the earth gave life, it could also take it away. As all turn to dust in the end, Iezecele summoned the decay of the earth and channeled it into the remaining creature. The rot took hold of the centipede, destroying it.

As the creature crumbled to the ground, Iezecele took a moment to focus on the poison running though Lucinde and himself. He unfurled a scroll he had written, storing a portion of his Will in the ink and parchment. He spoke the words of power and released the Will that was locked inside. The power washed over him and Lucinde and acted like a lodestone to the poison in their blood. “It won’t cure us, but it will definitely stave off its effects for some time.”

Meanwhile, Val examined the dead man the creatures had been feasting upon. There was mining picks and climbing gear strewn about him. He pushed aside what remained of the dead man’s shirt and saw writing carved upon the man’s flesh. He read the words aloud, “the Treasure will be from All and for All.”

He looked over to Gaspar, “You can take this one back to the Church.”

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Week 18: To the coast?
Well, that's new

Week 18

The first town they found was a week out of Mistral. There was no one in town, no animals strayed the street. “I hope it doesn’t look this way all the time,” Lucinde murmered as she noted the caved in roofs and crumbled walls.

Iezecele looked a sky that still labored under a perpetual cloud. Though lightening, he could still only see about thirty to forty feet. “It’ll be dark soon. We should find a place to stay. Maybe somewhere to stable the horses too.” After seeing the effects of the earthquake, he doubted there would be anything adequate.

“Lucinde,” Val called out as he peered into the first building, “let’s take a look.” The stories that he first hear whispered in the tent city outside of Sorrell and repeated in the crowded city of Mistral had made him wary of what might be prowling these lands. The two began searching the house. A craftsman had lived here, if Val had to guess. There were little personal touches that tied the room together, a faint smell of sawdust still permeated the room. He took special notice of a chair. It was unique. Val guessed that it was the craftman’s masterpiece. He gently sat in it, amazed that the thin pieces could bear his weight. The top rail bore expert carvings of collared doves, robins and song thrushes, some resting, others in flight. He pointed it out to Lucinde, “I could use a good chair.”

Lucinde was about to tell Val that this place would be no good. The roof had collapsed. There was no room for the horses. Even the floor looked like it might fall into the root cellar any minute. She took a second glance at the floor and noticed an exposed piece of floor joist that looked a shade off from the rest. She reached down and found a box had been cunningly hidden there. She lifted the lid. A metal ting sounded as a small dart glanced off of her gauntlet, “Son of a bitch!” She picked up the dart that had been sprung. Lucinde saw an oil coating the tip. She waived Val over. “They take protecting their stuff seriously here.”

Val crouched down and lifted the lid, guessing that the only trap had already been sprung. Inside, he found a case of masterwork carving tools and two small pouches. One contained fifty gold. The other held five uncut rubies. “Probably this guy’s life savings.” Adding it to his backback, he left unsaid what he thought had happened to the owner, having left it behind.

“I think I saw a larger building further down the road,” Lucinde returned to the crumbled hole where they had entered. “Let’s go.”

The larger building down the street looked to be some sort of town hall. Parts of the walls had crumbled and some of the flooring had given way, but the majority of the building was intact and there was a side room with enough space for the horses to be housed indoors. Searching for supplies, Lucinde noticed that a chest wasn’t as deep as it should be. She wasn’t going to take a chance with a second dart. “Hey, Val, come check this out.”

Val tapped the base of the chest. He tapped it a little too hard, barely dodging the dart the sprung out. Lucinde was right, these Cendrillions really liked to take precautions. Underneath the false bottom, he found three bottles of wine, another pouch of uncut rubies, and, most curious, a bound stack of papers. Letters, he guessed. “Score,” he smiled. Wine, rubies, letters, he thought there was some story there.

“Could you please leave them?” Gaspar challenged Val. “There’s no need to take something personal.”

“What?” Val was confused. “You didn’t say anything when we told you about the tools or the chair we just found. Did you think that they weren’t personal?”

Gaspar pursed his lips. Val was right, of course. He hadn’t said anything when Val came out with the chair and the tools, but there was something different about the letters. “Please, they’re not valuable.” The chair, the tools, they were just things. These letters, how they had been carefully hidden, lovingly cared for, it was like taking part of someone’s soul.

Val shook his head, “Not valuable?” He held up the letters, “To me, the story these letters contain are probably the most valuable thing we’ve found in this town. But don’t worry, I’m not planning on keeping them. I promise I’ll put them back.”

The letters told the interesting tale of James Strucker and Diana Marin. In the earliest letters, they were teenagers in love. They wrote the sappy, maudlin things that teenagers everywhere wrote when they were in love. Val was about to discard the pack of letters when they became interesting. Jack and Di’s parents had different ideas for their children. It seems that for some reason or another, one family’s ancestor had wronged the other family’s ancestor. It seems that grudges, like belongings, were well cared for in Cendrillion. Both families moved from their small town. Both families tried to cut ties between the two lovers, even forcing them to marry others. For twenty-five years the two lived their lives, loyal in deed to their spouses, but loyal to their love in their hearts. Val shared Jack and Di’s story as they camped in the ruin of the town hall, each of his companions making their own thoughts about it.

Deep into the night, they were all awoken by the sound of Iezecele’s arcane alarm being triggered. The bells of the magical alarm were quickly followed by the screaming of one their horses. Gaspar rushed ahead as the screaming horse was silenced. “We have to protect the horses!”

As the remaining three followed, they found two figures, swathed in black clothes, each wielding two dark curved short swords. Two of their horses had been killed and Gaspar was desperately holding the reins of the remaining two, while trying to protect them from their attackers. Val, Iezecele, and Lucinde joined battle with the mysterious men. Or, man-like things, Val noted as neither made a sound as they attacked or were wounded. Even as they used some power to summon darkness to extinguish Iezecele’s summoned light, they said nothing. They merely grasped at the sky and pulled as if drawing close a curtain of pure night. The four prevailed, more through sheer luck than their own skill. As the last of the dark clad attackers fell, the supernatural darkness was dispelled and the first hint of dawn appeared.

Val pulled down one of their attacker’s dark scarves. To him, it could have been anyone. His face was completely average. Even in death, there was no anger in the eyes, nor was there a desperate clinging to life or happiness of death. Worse, there was no blackness about the eyes or seeping from wounds. These attackers were another weapon held by the enemy.

“We should bury or burn them and get moving.” Lucinde said resolutely. Val didn’t often wish for things to be different with his life. For the most part, he was the man he always wanted to be. For a moment, though, he wished he could trade his bravado for Lucinde’s assuredness. He thought of the black blood, the beast-men, the eyeless, and now these dark scouts. These Marmo had all the high cards in the deck. What did he have? A few allies with some fancy weapons. He briefly wished that he could think like Lucinde, that they were the heroes here and that they would assuredly win the day.

Travel was much slower over the next week. They took turns riding and resting the two remaining horses. On the eighth day from leaving the ruined town, the sun peaked through just enough for the four to see the edge of a mountain range. It’s torn and jagged peaks thrusting angrily at the sky. “Well, that’s new,” Iezecele noted.

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Week 17: To Cendrillion
whole lot of shaking going on

Staggering to his feet, Channing Kearnan approached, bleeding from a wound in his head. Iezecele reached out to heal his wound, but the leader of the Church waived him off. He pressed a handkerchief to the wound, attempting to staunch it. “Save your strength, Master Willworker. There are those who will need it more than I.” He immediately left them, calling to his aides, directing them to provide support to those who needed it most.

Iezecele exhausted his strength and all of his Will in the remainder of the day. As the Cosettean soldiers rushed to clear the debris, he joined dozens of his fellow Willworkers. Together, they gathered the wounded which allowed the Willworkers to channel their healing elemental energies.

Tired from their relief efforts, the four returned to the Basilica, finding an invitation from Channing Kearnan to join him for a late meal. They were led past the common hall where tired acolytes ate a silent meal, still stunned by the events of the day. The Channing looked over papers as he ate the same meager meal as his followers. “I fear the unthinkable has happened.”

Iezecle leaned back in his chair. “An earthquake?” He knew the angle that the Channing was working, but he was too tired to deal with the high priest’s holy prophecy indoctrination.

Wanting to lighten the mood,Lucinde joked, " Val returned something to its proper owner?" Her muscles ached. It was hard for her to lift the food to her mouth. She didn’t want to hear Iezecele spar with the Channing’s beliefs.

“That would be the sign of the apocalypse,” Iezecele wryly responded.

Channing Kearnan read their faces. If Marmo had returned, they would all believe the truth of the Prophecy soon enough. " I know that you have just returned from Har’Thelen, but I would like to engage you travel north to investigate the northern border of Cendrillion."

Lucinde looked from her meal. “You want us to go to where they don’t like Willworkers?”

Iezecele waved a dismissing hand, “It should be easy enough to borrow a cassock and travel as a wandering chapin.”

Channing Kearnan nodded in agreement, “Good, then the mission will be to see what happenend in Cendrillion. Along the way, though, I would like to receive reports on the conditions of the Isle as you travel. How the people have responded to this” , he paused, “earthquake,” . The Channing wanted to say “arrival,” but deferred to Iezecele’s description. " I suggest that you journey first to Sorrell, then to Mistral, before arriving at the coast."

“We’ll take half our pay up front,” Val finally spoke. “It’ll be useful in loosening mouths.” He saw Lucinde throw him a questioning glance. “What? There’s only three things that open people up, money, sex or alcohol. If we want information, we’ll need to have at least one of those.”

Lucinde pulled apart a biscuit and sopped up some gravy, shaking her head at the Kantoran. “Or, we could just ask an honest person.” The two traded a confused glance. He was confused with her open faith in people and she was confused with his persistent distrust.

The next day the group gathered to begin their journey. They were each given a satchel, filled with their pay and healing potions. Lucinde was surprised when Gaspar was given an equal satchel. ‘Hey Val,’ Lucinde sent through her ring, ‘did Gaspar get a contract too?’

Val shrugged his shoulders. ‘I don’t know,’ he returned. He looked to Gaspar and asked through his ring, ‘Hey, Gaspar, you finally getting paid for all your work for the Church?’

Unused to the power of the ring, Gaspar reflexively spoke aloud, “The Channing felt that I should have my own money to aid in the mission.”

Remembering when the power of the ring was new to him, Val tapped his fingers to his temple. He sent through the ring, ‘I thought you were finally getting a sense of your self worth, apart from the Church.’

Gaspar shook his head, ‘The Channing felt that I should get some experience. Remember, I was raised by the Church. I’ve never had to pay for anything.’

‘Never paid for anything? That’s the life,’ Val dreamily teased through the ring.

Seriousness overcame Gaspar’s face, ‘Given the choice, I would rather have my parent’s back.’

Val closed his eyes, ‘Heavens, Gaspar, that’s a downer. You’ve got to learn to recognize the tone of the scene.’

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A hard week of travel passed. The road was taking twice as long to travel as it should have. They group found the roads upturned. Large rocks jutted upwards in places. Pits opened up in other places. Along the way, they spoke of the powers of their rings. “Mine allows me to extend my Will longer. with it, I can cast more spells,” Iezecele shared.

“I can heal myself a bit with mine. How about yours, Val?” Lucinde added.

“My ring allows me to turn invisible,” Val answered.

“Really?”

“Sure makes bath houses more enjoyable.” The rogue joked.

“What?”

Val smiled, “Nothing. How about.” He stopped, mid question to Gaspar, abruptly thrown to the side of the wagon. He looked up from the wagon bed and saw that Lucinde and Gaspar had been thrown from their horses.

Iezecele was doing his best to steady the horses harnessed to the wagon. “An aftershock,” the Willworker explained, “the earth is settling back from the violence last week.”

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After three weeks of travel over rough roads and diminishing aftershocks, the group finally arrived at Sorrell. Even at a distance, they could see that the upheaval had a greater effect here. There was a tent city sprawling along the northern edge of the city. There was scaffolding along the walls as well as the Cosetteans worked to repair cracks and fallen stones.

The road took them to the gates of Sorrell, Val took the chance to speak to a soldier. “What’s with all of those tents? Cendrillions?”

“Cendrillions,” the guard nodded derisively. “They tell us that we keep them under their thumb and they want nothing to do with us. Look at them now, first sign of trouble and they’re practically begging for our help.”

Val nodded agreeably, “Well, that’s Cendrillion, right?”

“They’re not getting in, though, not until we know what happened up there.” The guard took off his helmet and wiped his brow. “I’m damn glad my shift at the northern gate is over.”

Knowing that guard had been in contact with the Cendrillion refugees, he pressed for information. “What are they saying is happening up there?”

The guard replaced his helmet. “Sandstorms, rent rifts in the ground, things like that. A bunch of those people told me that there was no house standing left in their village.”

Val took a gold coin from his pouch and smoothly pressed it into the guard’s hand. “Thanks for your service, soldier. Try to take it easy. Buy yourself a drink. If you’ve got a girl, buy her some flowers.” The guard nodded, smiling, and ushered the group into Sorrell.

They found rooms at the Inn of the Last Pikeman. Val quickly made friends with the wealthier patrons drinking in the inn. He weaved a tale. He told them that he worked for Stevenson Mercantile sent from Beaufort to reestablish supply lines. They all agreed that the weather made travel in Cendrillion dangerous. Dust storms clouded the skies and hid the treacherous roads. Some towns had been wholly destroyed. Merchants of Jeweler’s row felt that their world was ending as nothing of value was coming out of Cendrillion. Listening in on conversations, he heard them laughing over the dark rumors coming out the refugees. They scoffed out of tales of people dragged away in the dark. Strange footprints pressed in the ground. Nightmares walking amidst the storms. While Val outwardly laughed with them, he inwardly cringed, knowing from Karg, that those rumors were coming.

The next night Val wove the same tale in the tent city outside of Sorrell’s northern walls. He was sent from a merchant company. The tone changed, though. Instead of pushing the Cendrillions to reopen supply lines, he was now sent to see what aid the company could give to its northern friends. He saw that every refugee was dusted the same color with ash and earth. Scarves and torn cloth hung around everyone’s necks, worn to protect themselves from the dust storms. He heard all kinds of stories, detailing when “it” happened. They spoke of no stone left standing on another stone. Some just sat, still stunned by the violence of the event. A few grumbled, claiming that Willworkers must be responsible for this new disaster.

Along the outskirts of the tent city, Val noticed an older woman bent, intently staring at the ground as she wandered. As he approached, Val noticed that she stopped at every stone, closely examining it. “Looking for footprints?” he whispered. Val remembered the twisted hounds they had faced outside of Har’thelen. They had only left their prints on stones. The old woman reacted in terror. She held out her hand trying to ward away Val’s words. He continued in a softer voice, “I have seen them too.”

The woman started crying, “I saw the prints.” She sobbed, “They took my David. I woke up one morning and he was gone! All that was there, in the place that he was sleeping, was one of his little shoes”, she absently touched the pouch at her waist. She was racked with sorrow, “I searched and searched. I couldn’t find him. All I found were footprints burned in the stone.” Val pressed, hoping to find out how close the hounds may be. " We lived between Mistral and Immol, " she said, pointing in a direction towards Cendrillion, “but there’s no town there now. It’s only hell.”

The next day the group passed into Cendrillion. To Gaspar’s disdain, Val played the Church acolyte with precision. ‘If only you were speaking from your heart,’ the warrior sadly commented. The Cendrillion soldier told the group that they were insane to travel into the lingering storm. Val thanked the guard and blessed him, smirking at Gaspar as they rode out of border guard’s sight.

They slowly journeyed to Mistral. Lucinde noted how the land distantly reminded her of her home in Bergamoth. Where the rocks had been weathered smooth and the rents filled with rain and grass, here the rocks were still sharp, the rents broken and deep. They noticed that the people of Mistral had placed new posts in the gaps of the wooded wall. Inside, overcrowded was too light a term. The people were pressed on top of one another. “By the Creator,” Gaspar said as they pushed their way through the streets, “what can we do to help these people?”

Lucinde saw where Gaspar was coming from, there was no way that the city, little more than a large town in Cosette, had enough to provide for all of these people. It pained her, but they had to press on. “The Channing contracted us to investigate the coast. We’ve got to do that.”

“There’s nothing we can do, Gaspar.” Iezecele noted the obvious. “Focus on what we can do.”

Val could see the distress on the acolyte’s face. “The faster we send word to the Channing, the faster he’ll be able to sway the people who can offer these people real aid. That’s how we’ll help.”

All of the group did their best to keep their ears and eyes open. Amongst the haggard refugees, some spoke their thanks of a Councilman Stone. How he had opened the gates of Mistral to the refugees, allowing them to access to the safety of the city. Others, locals mainly, cursed him for doing the same. Lucinde spoke with a guard and learned that the Council had sent a squad of guards to the Cliffs of Arnaud. He and his friends were all anxious to hear back from them. “More than that I hope that since the storm is slowing, I’ll finally be able to get a night’s sleep.”

Lucinde was puzzled by the guard’s statement, the winds hadn’t been that loud as they had traveled to Mistral. That night, they were woken by a strange sound. Noise like the sound of thousands of wings taking flight. Val was reminded of the ocean of ravens they rode beneath outside of Kermis. He imagined what he was hearing is what it would sound like if all of those quietly perched ravens had suddenly all taken flight at once.

“Verite’ help us,” Gaspar prayed.

Val looked at the acolyte, “I hate to tell you. We are Verite’s help.”

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Week 16: The Return
Crash Into Me

Blowing out the lamp in her room in Oreville, Lucinde noticed a figure lingering in the alleyway behind the inn. To her, it seemed like the person was staring up at her window. She sent a message to her allies, Meet me in Iezecele’s room.

As she was about to knock on Gaspar’s door, he opened the door. “What?” Gaspar responded to Lucinde’s surprised face. “I heard you call for us to meet in Iezecele’s room.”

Gaspar’s part of the group, Lucinde sent through her ring.

“I appreciate it, but I don’t think you have to say it,” Gaspar said, opening the door to Iezecele’s room.

No, Val pointed at his closed mouth as he sent a message to Gaspar, she means that you are part of the group.

Gaspar started to question the others, but Iezecele cut him off, Talk about it later. I’m focusing. Iezecele had enhanced his senses to detect waves of negative energy given off by evil creatures. He was shocked to see the intense level of power emanating from the alleyway. “We should get down there.” As he urged his allies to action, Iezecele watched the person step deeper into the shadows of the alleyway.

Arriving in the alleyway, the party found it empty. “He must have noticed us watching him,” Gaspar offered, “and ran off”

“Maybe,” Iezecele hesitantly responded as he scanned the ground. He didn’t see any footprints moving away from the scene. He did notice paw impressions pressed into a few stones. “It looks like another of those dog creatures was here.”

Gaspar shook his head, whispering, “What kind of place is this Marmo? The hell they’ll bring.”

Iezecele took one last glance down the alleyway, “I suggest we all sleep in the same room tonight.”

“And set a watch.” Lucinde added.

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Two days out of town, Val noticed a figure at the top of a hill. He hailed the person with friendly wave. The person waved back, signaling that they would meet again before stepping out of view.

After riding up to the spot, Lucinde examined the ground. “There’s some footprints over here, but they disappear after a few steps.”

“Maybe it was one of those Watchers that the assassin mentioned?” Gaspar suggested.

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A week on the road to Beaufort, the party again noticed someone watching them. Again, Val waved at the person. Instead of disappearing, the person spread his arms up to the sky. Two ravens flew from black smoke erupting from the person’s outstretched hands. The dark birds perched in a tree near the party and watched.

“You read the report about us killing some ravens?” Val questioned Gaspar.

The warrior nodded, keeping his eyes on the summoned birds, “Yes, it was chilling.”

“Then let’s just go.”

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One night, after two weeks on the road, Lucinde was on watch. She heard movement coming from the woods nearby. She alerted the others through the power of her ring and prepared herself for another monster attack.

She was unprepared for what came out. Twenty or so people came shuffling into view. Blackness flowed from all of their eyes as they steadily approached their campsite. Most were dressed in simple clothes, wielding simple objects in their hands.

As the others approached, Lucinde called out to Iezecele, “Is there anything you can do? I’m not sure I can kill these people.”

Iezecele summoned his Will and released a spray of color, knocking out a number of the people. He was able to release a second spray, knocking out a few more before the rest descended on the party.

Val moved first, drawing his short swords and slapping the flat sides of the blade on either side of a man’s head, knocking him out.

To her horror, Lucinde recognized the woman attacking her. It was the mother Everton from Everton’s Amazing Animals. Months ago, the woman had given them a show with the large bear, Brutus, when they visited the menagerie outside of Beaufort. She had been so kind to Lucinde, and now her eyes were bleeding black and she was trying her best to kill Lucinde with a silver hairbrush. Lucinde winced as she hit the woman in the face with the hilt of her flail.

Gaspar hesitated, stepping back before he could muster the resolve to attack these victims of Mesonge’s evil. He steeled his will and apologized as he knocked his attacker out.

Iezecele remembered what happened to the eyeless creature’s head when he released the healing power from the earth. The positive energy had destroyed the creature’s corpse. He focused his Will and drew forth the energy. The remaining attackers screamed in pain before dropping unconscious to the ground.

Val looked to the woods. “Tie these up. I’m going to check things out. I’ll let you know if I get into trouble.” He traveled through the woods, eventually arriving at the menagerie’s main camp. It was odd. It looked like most of the animals were still present. He peeked into a few of the covered wagons. People were there, resting peacefully. The rogue wondered why only some of them were taken over by the blackness.

He went to the center of the camp and banged on a cookpot, alerting them. The ringmaster, Thom Christopher, was first to come out. “What’s going on?” A man twice as thick as Val came along side Christopher. The rogue recognized him as the menagerie’s strongman.

Val carefully thought out what he was going to say next. This would be a tough crowd to win over. He did his best to explain that they had found a number of the menagerie’s people about a mile away. The strongman moved closer and demanded Val hand over his swords. The rogue easily handed them over, secure in the knowledge that he had several daggers secreted about his person.

He led them back through the woods, letting the rest of the party know he was returning with some people. “What have you done to them?” The strongman demanded, pushing the tip of Val’s own sword hard against the rogue’s back. He saw that his family and friends had been tied up.

Thom rushed ahead, reaching his restrained friends just as the sun rose. The ringleader saw the blackness that was seeping from their eyes dry up. He took out a handkerchief and began brushing away the black crust.

Lucinde crouched down next to the Everton mother, “Do you remember anything?”

The woman, looking frightened and confused looked at Lucinde, shook her head. “No, nothing.”

She wondered if someone had cast a spell. “Was there anyone new in your camp?”

She shook her head. Overhearing Iezecele tell Thom about how the party was attacked, “Did I?” She stammered. “Did I try to hurt you?” Lucinde saw tears beginning to well in the woman’s eyes.

Val started untying the woman, “How about nightmares? Have you had any terrible nightmares lately?”

Again, the woman shook her head. “All I remember is feeling this overwhelming feeling of hate.”

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Arriving at the Basilica in Beaufort, the party was quickly ushered to a private chamber where the Channing was waiting. They party explained the fall of Karg and the likely fate of the priests they had been sent to find. They also shared the enemies they had faced, the eyeless creature and the man-beasts.

The Channing briefly closed his eyes, remembering a line of the Prophecy. “The Wolf shall twist man to create Marmo’s army.”

Lucinde shared how the blackness had infected the members of the menagerie. “How does this keep happening? These people, the infected monsters, how do they keep finding us?”

“The Wolf shall send his Bloodhound to seek out and destroy enemies.” The Channing quoted another line from the Prophecy. “The Prophecy has a number of lines about the forces of Marmo.”

Val reasoned. “Remember when the eyeless thing looked at us? Garrn couldn’t see into the room, but it seemed to notice us. The best way to find out what’s truly going on is to not be noticed. We need to find a way to hide from them.” He questioned, “So how are they finding us?”

“Before you weren’t ready to hear about the Chosen,” the Channing leveled with the party.

Val was frustrated. What did it matter if they were Chosen, if all it meant was that they would hurt those around them? “So they’re finding us because we were fingered by a deity?”

“You may be hunted, but you are not without aid. The Prophecy states, ‘The Chosen will have weapons that the Illya know not.’”

“Like this,” Lucinde dropped her flail heavily on the table. “Fat load of good it did for those people in the menagerie. They were tortured and could have been killed!”

The Channing nodded. He wished he could take all of this trouble off of their shoulders. “The Prophecy states that ’The daunting weight of the hopes and dreams of all good people of Deroge will be placed on the shoulders and backs of the Chosen.”

Lucinde nodded, accepting the duty to protect the people of Deroge. It was an extension of what her family had done for generations.

Val put his head down and let out an unhinged laugh. Upon returning to Beaufort, he had learned that Allegra had ascended the throne after the Queen had suddenly died. He could only imagine the Queen’s reaction if she heard that the fate of the Isle rested on the head of the person who nearly got her daughter killed.

Iezecele summed the situation up perfectly, “I need to throw up.”

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Val’s mind was spinning. The thought that the lives of everyone on the Isle counted on him and his allies was overwhelming. Especially because it seemed to him that the enemy held all the cards. They probably had an army of beast-men. That’s why there were so many forges in Karg. Worse, there was that eyeless creature. Who knew how many of them the enemy had? Not to mention they must have some type of magic that made those monsters.

And what did they have? Some mysterious treausure and twelve haphazardly chosen heroes? And ‘weapons the Illya know not’? He felt the weight of his swords as he walked the Basilica’s courtyard. The weapons and magical rings he and his allies bore were certainly more powerful than any he had seen wielded, matching those in some of the wildest tales he told. But what could twelve weapons do against an army?

Plus, everything was so random. They had no plan. Even as they searched for snippets of the church’s prophecy, it was check here, look there. Now they would have to find an unknown treasure, and unite all lands and races against an unknown enemy. Val had no idea where they would even start.

Adding to that was his cousin’s rise to the throne. He didn’t know what to do about that. The last time they had been together, she had been gravely wounded. He had no idea what she thought of him. Did she miss her childhood friend, or blame him for her grievous wounds, just like her mother? He was also nervous about the timing. The Queen had not been ill. According to all accounts, her death had been a surprise. Val couldn’t ignore the timing of the enemy’s arrival and the death of the Queen. Was Allegra also in danger.

He noticed Iezecele trying to get his attention, “Sorry, Iezecele, what were you saying?”

The Willworker pointed to the sky. “All the birds are flying south.”

“What do,” Val was cut off as he was thrown hard to the ground. When he was able to stand, a scene of destruction greeted him. A number of small buildings had crumbled, broken by some unseen force. He heard people clamoring for aid or crying in pain. It sounded like those cries were echoing across the city.

Lucinde pressed her palm to staunch the wound on her head. “What was that?”

Val had a sinking feeling about what it could be, “Nothing good, whatever it was.”

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Week 15: Return to the King
We've got some bad news

“I hope you’re not expecting me to lug those things all the way back to La Roche.” Lucinde challenged Iezecele.

“And we can’t just cut off their heads.” Val added. “It’ll look like we just killed a bunch of animals.”

Iezecele began to form a Will-shaping in his mind. “Don’t worry, I’ve got them.” The Willworker released his spell. Small pieces of rock swirled into a disc shape floating a few feet off the ground. “There, that should be good enough to handle two of them.” Gaspar and Lucinde loaded two of the man-beasts onto the floating disk.

Val silently wondered if he could convince Iezecele to summon one of the disks for him. He would never have to ride a horse again. “Come on, let’s get out of here.” Everyone agreed moving quickly, eager to equally get away from Karg as to get to the safety of La Roche.

The party traveled the entire length of the cave in half the time it took them to reach the fallen city of Karg. Just outside the waterfall that hid the mouth of the great tunnel, Garrn motioned for the party to take cover. His Devonan eyes saw further in the darkness, seeing another patrol of man-beasts lurking in the distance. “There’s more of those things,” he warned.

Iezecele pulled out a scroll immediately summoning the Will stored inside, reinforcing the strength of his clothes, making them as strong as a suit of armor. He then cast his Will on the tall grasses, they spun and wove themselves together, forming a floating shield that would protect him.

Val knew that the man-beasts would have the advantage in the darkness. He took his lantern and threw it towards them. He moved away from the light, treading silently among the rocks and tall grass. Lucinde, Gaspar and Garrn rushed out to face the monsters head on.

The man-beasts charged to meet their attackers, their ferocity surprising Garrn and Gaspar. The thick blades of the man-beasts cut through their attacks, pushing the Devonan’s axe and man’s blade aside with their power. Lucinde stopped short, the man-beast’s blade missing her by inches. She swung her flail connecting with the beast’s arm. Val stepped out from the cover of the tall grass and slashed at a man-beast, cutting a gash in a gap in the creature’s armor.

Gaspar and the wolf-headed creature he fought traded blows. Despite his new wound, the warrior was glad that the man-beast howled in pain. Just knowing that it could feel pain was a relief.

A goat-faced man-beast caught the top of Garrn’s head, just as the Devonan cut low into the monster’s leg.

The shield weave of tall grasses blocked the blow the boar-faced monster aimed at Iezecele. The floating shield moved moved aside just far enough to allow the Willworker to lash out with his new staff. He had learned that he could store a portion of his power in the staff. As he struck the boar-headed monster, he released the shocking spell he had stored there.

Val slashed with both his blades, cutting first along the ram-faced side, then along its throat. The creature bleated in pain as it died.

The goat-faced creature struck Garrn a second time, cutting deep into the Devonan’s shoulder. Stunned, the Devonan dropped his axe. Val and Iezecele saw that their guide was in trouble. The Willworker pulled the energy from the earth and sent it out in a wave, healing the worst of Garrn’s injuries. The rogue rolled behind the creature and slashed at the arteries in its legs, killing it.

Lucinde blocked the blow of the man-beast with her shield and pushed forward, throwing the creature off balance. An upswing of her flail shattered its jaw, sending bone fragments into the creature’s head, killing it.

Gaspar spun underneath the wide arc of the wolf-headed creature’s heavy blade and cut into the beast with his sword. He followed the initial blow by dragging his dagger along the same path, widening the wound. The creature gripped its side in a vain effort to keep its insides from spilling out onto the ground.

Iezecele knew that his staff was out of spells. He himself was drained of the energy that he needed to enact his Will. He knew that attempting to escape the boar-faced creature would only open himself up to a deadly attack. Left with no other options, and completely expecting to miss, Iezecele struck out with his staff. His swing connected with the creature’s ear, dazing it long enough for the rest of Iezecele’s party to finish it off.

“Damn it,” Val exclaimed, pointing at the two man-beast corpses from the tunnel. “We dragged these guys all this way for nothing.”

Iezecele wondered what Val was talking about. Gaspar and Lucinde had lifted the creatures. He, himself, had summoned the disc that had transported the corpses from the tunnel. Val hadn’t done a thing. “Come on, let’s get out of this valley.”

The group traveled as quickly as Garrn felt was possible back to the mountain fortress of La Roche. After showing the guards the man-beast corpses, the party was quickly ushered into a private chamber.

They didn’t have to wait long. The Devonan king strode into the room. As he took his chair, he paused, “I’m deeply sorry that you were unable to find your priests.”

Priests? With the state of Karg, Iezecele had forgotten all about them. “It’s much worse than that. Karg has fallen.” He walked over to the corpses they had brought out of the valley and unveiled them.

The king walked over to the corpses and inspected them, going so far as to check to see if the beast heads had been stitched onto the bodies of men. “Tell me.” The group shared their story of what they had seen in the fallen city. Val told a tale of the battles they had with the Eyeless creature and the man-beasts. Garrn wept as he told of the broken Devonans that had been enslaved by the army of man-beasts. “So they know of the passage.”

He waved over an aide and whispered some words to him. The surprised aide left in a hurry. The king turned back to the party, “I’ve just ordered the destruction of the tunnel. The armies of Har’Thelen will meet this threat. We will trap these beasts in Karg with our fallen brethren.”

Val remembered the fog he had seen in Karg, how it had reminded Iezecele of the cliffs in Cendrillion. “Your majesty, these monsters may have invaded by sea. It may be wise to send messages to the other nations.”

The king nodded. “I assume that you will be returning to Cosette. I will send messengers to Artegal Cearnach of Carwithian , the Council of Six in Cendrilion, even Queen Allegra of Kantora.”

Val was surprised to hear that his cousin had assumed the throne. Had the Queen stepped down, or had something else happened? Regardless, it was a question for another time.

“Queen Allegra?” Lucinde questioned. “When did that happen?”

Or it’s a question for right now, Val thought. “She assumed the throne a few months ago.”

“Did the old queen die?” Lucinde pressed.

The king waved his hand, “I couldn’t say for sure. Har’Thelen was only notified of the change in leadership.” He stood, “Rest, but be on your way quickly.”

The group was leaving when Val stopped at the door. He had remembered something, “Your Majesty, when you send your men to the tunnel, arm them with enchanted weapons if you’re able. Those eyeless creatures can not be harmed by normal means.”

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The party returned Garrn to a happy reunion with his wife in Hamilton. His wife knew something had happened to her husband, but focused on being happy that he was home. “Tobias will be so happy you’ve returned.” She looked around, “I think he’s just outside.”

Outside, the party saw Tobias wheel up to a pair of arguing Devonans. They couldn’t tell what the argument was about, but they saw Tobias calm the men down. Moments before, they were about to fight, but now the two Devonans were shaking hands.

“Quite the negotiator you have there.” Lucinde mentioned to Garrn’s wife.

“Dear, he’s always been like that.” Deidre mentioned with a smile.

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The party had pressed on towards Cosette. Val was on watch, wondering about his cousin, when two dogs-like creatures attacked. They were black as night except for their glowing red eyes. They bit deep into the rogue. His scream of pain was both verbal and mental through the ring.

The rest of the party came to Val’s aid, stepping up as Val withdrew from danger. Gaspar hit one of the dogs with his sword and dagger. “My dagger did nothing!” The dog attacked Gaspar, biting deep into his leg.

The other dog locked its jaw on Lucinde even as she drove her flail into it time and again.

Iezecele summoned shards of stone from the earth to strike at the beasts.

Val drank a healing potion. The powerful liquid healing the worst of the creature’s bites. He moved around to the creature attacking Gaspar. “Now you’ll taste my fangs!” He drove both of his short swords into the beast, killing it.

Lucinde continued to hit the remaining dog, even as it continued to bite her. Iezecele summoned his stone shards again. Between both the warrior and the Willworker, the beast died.

“This wound burns.” Gaspar grunted in pain.

As Iezecele tended to Gaspar’s wounds, Val searched to see if there were any more beasts waiting for them. He noticed that the creatures that they had fought left no trace on the ground where they had fought, but further out, he noticed that their paw prints had been burned into the stone where they had stepped. He pointed it out to the rest of the party.

Lucinde looked at the tracks left in the stone, “Does this make sense?”

Iezecele laughed harshly, “Nothing makes sense anymore.”

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