The Isle of Deroge-The Grand Wager...

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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Week 14: Karg
A Dark Enemy Emerges

The group was in wonderment over the items found in the lit alcove. In addition to the ring and staff Iezecele found, each of the others received items that were tailored to their own skills. Gaspar retrieved a suit of chainmail, a longsword, and a ring. Lucinde found a new suit of full plate armor and a flail. Val acquired a suit of scale mail and a set of twin short swords. So entranced by the new items and the surge of power that came with them, that the four failed to notice that Garrn was not among them. Gaspar and Lucinde pushed on the heavy doors, revealing their guide in a nightmarish predicament.

The stocky Garrn was gripped by a man-like thing garbed in a cloak of the deepest black. In one armored hand, he held the Devonan guide aloft. In the other, a black-red blade was poised for the final strike.

Iezecele was the first to act, quickly summoning his power and releasing a scorching ray of fire. It dropped Garrn and turned. It’s face was a grayish-white, the color of maggots. More disturbing was the creature’s face. It had no eyes. The corpse flesh was smooth over the socket’s where it’s eyes belonged. The eyeless creature smiled as the ray passed harmlessly.

It’s cloak flapping some unfelt wind, the creature stood its ground. Iezecele knew he needed to put some distance between the creature and Garrn if the Devonan was to survive. He summoned a ball of molten flame and sent it spinning towards the creature.

It jumped back, dodging the ball of flame. Lucinde and Gaspar charged the creature in black. It sidestepped Gaspar’s sword and blocked Lucinde’s flail with its dark blade. Val stepped from the alcove, immediately feeling a sense of horror grip his soul. The rogue had to grit his teeth as he forced himself to move in a wide arc around the creature.

It began to speak, Val was reminded of snakes rubbing against stones, or the droning of a mass of beetles. “Now that you have shown yourselves, the Master will be pleased when I bring your corpses.” Its blade moved like black lightning. It first cut into Gaspar, then scraped noisily along Lucinde’s shield.

“I think you have that backwards!” Iezecele caught the creature with his burning sphere. Its black coat hissing in the molten heat. He raised his hand, calling forth a spectral shadow of his hand.

Lucinde’s aim was off. She would never admit it to Val and the others, but she was terrified by this thing. Its very presence sent a deathly chill into her. Only her father’s teachings bore up her warrior’s resolve.

Gaspar turned on the fear he felt in the creature’s presence, using it as fuel for his attack. He struck the creature, opening its pale flesh and spilling its blackened blood. As the creature turned its eyeless gaze on the young man, Val moved into the opening and cut along creature’s spine.

In a rage, the creature swung its sword in a wide arc, missing Val and Gaspar, but catching Lucinde’s shoulder. She bit through the pain as the dark blade burned into her flesh.

As the creature lost its inhuman focus, the group attacked with a single minded purpose. Lucinde bashed the creature’s face with her new flail. Iezecele first bowled the flaming ball into the creature and then sent the power of the storm through his spectral hand and into the eyeless creature. Val brought his twin blades together and severed the creature’s head from its shoulders.

It was slain, yet still it continued its attacks, slicing first at Val, then at Lucinde. They were not wild blows, mindlessly tossed about in death throes. The creature was dead, headless, and yet it still fought to kill them.

“Just die already.” Iezecele demanded as he directed the ball of flame into the now headless creature. Gaspar followed up on the Willworker’s attack, slamming his sword home in the creature’s chest. The black cloak stopped waving in the wind that only it felt. Then, it finally crumpled to the ground.

Iezecele rushed to Garrn’s side. The Devonan was gravely wounded. Black veins of poison were spreading from the wounds he received from the eyeless creature’s blade. “Check your wounds,” Iezecele warned. He began searching through his cache of scrolls to find one that would purge the disease from the Devonan.

Both Lucinde’s and Gaspar’s wounds were inflamed, feverish to the touch. Both warriors could see a black poison begin to fester in their wounds. Lucinde winced as she touched the tender flesh. “There’s something wrong with it.”

Iezecele felt his scroll disintegrate as the power contained within was released into Garrn. As he saw that black veins begin to ebb, he turned to Val, “I only had one of these.”

Val looked at Lucinde and Gaspar, wondering what prolonged exposure to the poison would do to them. In his mind, he could see the infection slowly taking over them, turning their flesh the same corpse-like maggoty white. He couldn’t let that happen. He first thought of the spring. It’s water had some type of power. Val wondered if it would be enough. Then he remembered the room, the power that had come over them. “Head into the room.”

As soon as Lucinde and Gaspar were bathed in the light of the hidden room, the poison was purged from their bodies. While the wounds remained, the black veins faded and the feverish sensation cooled. Both warriors let out a sigh of relief.

Garrn gripped Iezecele tightly, “It just stood there.” He stared at the crumpled corpse on the ground. “It just stood there and let me hit it. My axe did nothing.”

Gaspar looked at the Garrn’s axe, then his own sword. There was nothing wrong with the Devonan’s axe. It looked sharp and well maintained. His own blade was smoking where the eyeless creature’s blood stained it. “Look at your blades.” He wiped off his sword with a rag, discarding that as it began to smolder. The others who had wounded the creature quickly followed suit.

“Let’s get moving.” Iezecele suggested. “That thing looked like it never had eyes. It was probably born underground.”

Eyeless." Val muttered. “That’s a good name for it.” He looked at the monstrous corpse, “Simple, yet ominous.”

Iezecele followed Val’s eyes, “If it was the creature. Did you see the way it still attacked after you severed its head? I wonder if it was the cloak.”

Garrn watched the two men calmly discuss the horror they had just faced. " You still want to continue to Karg?" Garrn asked. He wanted nothing more than to turn around and return to his home in Hamilton.

Gaspar nodded, he was even more anxious to get to Karg than before. He worried that there might be more of these things in the Devonan city.

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Wary, Garrn led the group to the city of Karg. “What is that?” Lucinde felt more than heard a repetitive thrumming.

“Hammering.” Garrn whispered. “Too much though.”

“Wait here.” Val went ahead of the group. The sound of the hammering was so overwhelming that there was no need to sneak quietly. He traveled up the steps to a precipice. Looking down into the mountain city, he saw hundreds of smiths at work. The only area only illuminated by the blue fire of the forges. Something other than Devonans worked the billows, nor the anvils. They were man-like in shape, but taller and more muscular. Beyond that it was their heads that shocked Val. Instead the heads of men, these creatures had the heads of wolves, goats and boars. It was obvious to the rogue that the city was lost to these monsters, but he wondered how they had managed to invade.

“That’s not good.” Iezecele muttered as Val used the power of the ring to report what he had seen.

Gaspar moved close to the Willworker, “What’s not good?”

Iezecele shared Val’s report with Garrn and Gaspar. “I’m in contact with Val,” he added, without explaining the power of the ring. “Come on, he says it’s safe to come forward.”

The others joined Val and saw with their own eyes the forges worked by the man-beasts. “No,” Garrn whispered. With his Devonan eyes, the guide could see a new horror in the darkened forges. In the distance, about a dozen Devonans were pushing carts of debris to a pair of large doors. With his sight, he could see their faces. They were defeated and broken.

As the doors open, a thick mist swirled in. “Like the cliffs,” Iezecele muttered.

“Lets get out of here,” Lucinde suggested. She had seen one of the smiths pause in his hammering and sniff the air. With the snouts of beasts, she thought they might be able to sense them.

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As the party returned, they found five of the man-beasts clustered around the dead eyeless creature. “What kill a Neverborn?” The group heard one of the man-beasts say in a guttural Devonan tongue.

The party descended on the five man beasts, surprising and defeating them swiftly. As Iezecele healed the party of their wounds, he watched as the healing wave disintegrated the eyeless creature’s corpse. “Well, at least we have these things for proof.”

“Neverborn, huh?” Val sheathed his blades, “I have to admit. That sounds better than Eyeless.”

View
Week 13: To La Roche
A Light in the Tunnel

“Halt there!” There wasn’t much traffic early in the morning on the border into Har’Thelen. Still, the Devonan guards at the border station took notice of the group’s addition of a prisoner to their pack horse. “What’s the meaning of this?” The Devonan guard spoke in a gravelly Common, eyeing the man tied across the horse. The last thing he needed was an Ahebban problem on the day of the inspection.

Val eyed the insignia of the guard, plumbing his teaching for the right term. " Sergeant of the Shield Masters, well met and good morning! While it pains me to trouble you with crimes that took place on Cosettean soil, I can not ignore the threats uttered by this assassin towards my Devonan allies." The group were quickly ushered into the small border fort. There, they met another Devonan, who bore additional insignia and boasted a few medals hammered into his armor. They were introduced to Ivan Bouldershoulders, Captain of the Eternal Watch, who happened to be administering an inspection of his border forces.

“Before we begin, I would like to weave a Zone of Truthfulness. You shall all be able to hear confirmation of what we say from the assassin’s own mouth.” Upon receiving permission from the captain,Iezecele cast his spell.

Val began sharing the story of the combat, embellishing the truth in his storyteller’s way, making them seem more valiant and their attackers more villainous. "It was upon our questioning that this man spewed forth a dire threat to the citizens of the city of Karg. He said that the city would be attacked."

Here, the assassin spoke, “Captain Bouldershoulders, I must implore you to release me. I never spoke such a thing. In fact, I don’t know why these ne’er do wells have treated me so poorly.” The night previous, he had been overcome with emotions, between the combat and the defeat of his men, he failed to have the resolve to resist the powers of the Willworker. Since, he had time to recover his wits and prepare.

“Wait!” Iezecele shouted, “he’s resisted my casting.” It pained his pride to share, but he needed to let the Devonan captain know before the assassin shared his lies.

The captain arched his thick eyebrows, he had so rarely heard a Willworker so readily share his failing. “While I have not fully formed my opinion of your captors,” the Devonan captain leaned closer to the assassin, “I assure you that it would be in your best interests to speak only the truth from this moment on.” Without the power of the Willworker’s spell, the captain knew a lie when he heard it.

“If I may be so bold, Captain Boldershoulders,” Val stepped forward, drawing a letter from his cloak with a slight flourish and handing it to the Devonan. “This might help.”

The captain scanned the parchment, reading what looked to be a standard letter of introduction. Two things drew his attention. First, that the letter was addressed to his king. Second, that it bore the seal of Channing Kearnan, master of the Church. He looked over the four humans. They were unusual emissaries. He handed the parchment back with a slight nod.

Val returned the acknowledgement. “The assassin is correct. He never said that the city would be attacked. I believe his exact words were, ‘Karg will be the first to feel our might.’ I apologize for the embellishment, professional habit.”

The captain looked to the prisoner, then to the four, weighing the situation. While clearly the prisoner had done wrong to the four, he could not be sure that it was a problem for Har’Thelen. The idea that anyone could mount a successful attack on Karg was difficult to fathom. Still, his duty was to defend the whole of Har’Thelen. “Sergeant. Take this man to the cells and call for a Questioner.” He looked at the assassin, “As sure as stone, we shall find out the truth.”

Two Devonan guards gripped the assassin roughly. The man looked to the four, hoping against all hope that they would change their minds and hand him over to Cosettean forces. His hopes were dashed as the rogue flashed him a satisfied smile and a knowing wink.

“For all that he’s done,”Gaspar glanced back to the border fort once they were outside again, " I pity that man’s future."

Val clapped his hands and rubbed them together, “Now that that’s done, where do we go next?” He looked to the right, along the road into Har"Thelen, “Do we continue on to Hamilton?” He swung is head left, looking down the border between both countries, “Or do we head to the coast to see about this Watcher fellow?”

“We head to Hamilton.” Lucinde firmly decided. She was curious about the man that had commanded the assassins, but they had been contracted by the Church to see to the priests in Karg. Her father had always told her that once a contract was made, a Solide would see it through no matter the distractions. The road to Karg started at Hamilton.

Gaspar nodded, thankful for Lucinde. " To Hamilton it is." He spurred his horse across the border.

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The group traveled through the foothills of the Spine of Har’Thelen, arriving safely in the city of Hamilton. Val wanted to explore the city, but Lucinde insisted that they first find the guide whom Channing Kearnan had referred. A few simple questions from Val led them to Ironfoot Guide Service.

Inside, there were all kinds of climbing tools and gear designed for the long travels into the mountainous Spine. Lucinde was drawn by the drawers full of maps. Val went directly to a young man sitting at the counter towards the back of the room. As he approached, he caught a slight curve to his eyes, his ears extended to a point, and noted the clerk’s half-Eshih heritage. “Good day to you, sir. Is Garrn about? Or, failing that, perhaps the lovely Deidre?”

“Master Ironfoot is the only ‘sir’ about, and he is out right now. My name is Tobais. Let me call the Mistress, she’s in the back.” He pushed himself away from the counter and called into the backroom. Val was surprised when he saw that the young man was bound to a wheelchair.

“Deidre!” Val exclaimed as the Devonan entered from the backroom. As she entered, she brought sweet baking smells along with her. A wide smile grew on her face as Val took one of her hands, “Channing Kearnan spoke of your fabulous pies, yet failed to mention your beauty.” She curtsied at Val’s compliment, some flour falling from her apron as she did.

What are you up to? Iezecele questioned Val’s over enthusiastic greeting.

Making friends Val returned. He always tried to make friends wherever he went. You never knew when you might need a favor. It was almost instinctual, reading the environment. He had smelled the baking, obviously for fun. He couldn’t recall much use for pies in climbing excursions. The Ironfoots had also taken in the boy in the wheelchair. These pointed to a warm, caring family, and warmth usually reacted well to warmth.

“Wow, you know Channing Kearnan?” Tobias rolled over to Val and Deidre. “You must be very important people.”

Val laughed, “Not important, I would just say we’re entertaining.”

Deidre smoothed her skirt, “If you were referred by the Father, just tell me what you need and I’ll be glad to assist.”

Val waved to the group, "My allies and I are headed to Karg by way of La Roche and the Channing said that your husband was the best guide there was. So, we just had to come here."

“I’ll have to thank the Father for his compliments towards my husband. But I have to ask, why would you head to Karg?”

Lucinde looked up from a map of the Spine. “Why, is there something wrong with Karg?” Her family rarely had to transport goods beyond the Har’Thelen border and never to easternmost city of Karg.

“Well, no, there’s nothing wrong with Karg, my dear. It’s just that they aren’t the most sociable of Devonans.”

“I heard that it had such lovely sights to see and they were so accommodating to tourists..” Val shared a knowing smile with Deidre, as if they were sharing a private joke.

Deidre covered her mouth as she chuckled. “They’ve been more recluse of late. We haven’t received any requests in some time.”

Val shared a serious glance with his allies, then quickly masked it, “So, tell me Tobias, what can we expect of the Spine? Giants? Yeti?”

The young man laughed, “You’ll have to get used to breathing the thin air, maybe a storm if you’re unlucky. Master Ironfoot is the best there is, so he’ll guide you safely. There’s no giants or yeti in those mountains.”

Val noticed that Tobias spoke with a sense of experience, noting the bravery it would have to take to traverse difficult climbs with his disablement. “That’s a shame. I was figuring that we could just dress her up in a fur coat and she would blend right in.” Lucinde shot Val a venomous glance.

Tobias leaned forward in his chair and spoke quietly, “No, that wouldn’t work. She’d be too tall.”

As Tobias and Val chuckled, Gaspar quietly cornered Deidre. “Tobias, was there no Willworker to heal his injury.”

Deidre spent a kind glance in Tobias’ direction before answering Gaspar. “There was no injury. He has always been this way. We took the boy in after he lost his parents.” Gaspar looked at Tobias, immediately feeling a kinship with the young man.

The doorway bell rang as another Devonan entered the room. By their reactions, Val could tell that this was Garrn Ironfoot. “Master Garrn, such a pleasure!”

Here we go again, Iezecele and Lucinde shared at the same time. They stood back, content to leave Val to make introductions and share the reason for their visit. The rogue explained the their mission to travel to Karg to locate and give aid to some missing priests of the Church.

“I hope Father let you know that you need permission from La Roche to travel to Karg. Devonans have a difficult enough time entering that city. Foreigners need special dispensation from the highest authorities to do so.” Val noted how both Garrn and Deidre both referred to Channing Kearnan in such an intimate, yet reverent, tone.

Iezecele spoke up, “We have papers requesting just that from Channing Kearnan.”

Garrn nodded, “Then all is well. We’ll leave early tomorrow.”

Val cringed at the thought of getting up early, they didn’t even have a single day of rest in Hamilton. He shook his head and gave a quick smile to Garrn, “Well then, there’s enough time to have some of your wife’s delicious pie.”

As they ate, Val received another glimpse of the warmth of the Ironfoots. Tobias leaned over to Garrn, “I’m sorry, master, but you’ll have to go on this climb without me. Somebody needs to mind the store.”

The Devonan guffawed, “Many thanks, Tobias, so glad for letting this old Devonan have another trip to the Spine!”

Val watched the ease that the two spoke and the genuine happiness Tobias exuded. He quietly whispered to Garrn, “That’s a good lad you have there.”

The Devonan pressed his hand on Val’s back, “Thank you, kindly, for the compliment. You have no idea how true your words are.”

Tobias grasped Val’s hand as the group began to leave, “Tell me, Val, are you going to be coming back this way?”

Val thought for a moment. If everything went well, he would like some more time to explore Hamilton. He was wary, though, of the assassin’s dire prediction for Karg. Plus, with the way things had been going lately in his life, he felt things wouldn’t go well. “I’d like to,” he smiled, “but i don’t plan that far ahead. I prefer to live like a leaf in the wind.”

“Like a leaf in the wind.” Tobias repeated dreamily, “That sounds nice. I’ll have to remember that.”

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The group was still sore for days after they arrived in La Roche. Luckily, Garrn Ironfoot was more well known that Val could imagine. He knew just who to show the Channing’s letters of introduction. The group passed over the line of merchants waiting to enter the capital of Har’Thelen and were ushered quickly within its walls. In addition, they were given quarters fit for royal envoys.

Almost a week passed before a servant, liveried with the king’s symbol of the hammer and fist, led them through the vast halls of the mountain city. Devonans made way for the party as they noticed the servant’s golden insignia. They passed several giant gates, guarded by fully armored warriors, eventually stopping at a hall dominated by a large, stone-carved throne.

Shortly after their arrival, the king of Har’Thelen strode into the room. Though he was only of Devonan height, barely up to even Val’s chest, the king had a sense of power and gravity about him. Precious metals and gems were braided into his voluminous beard and rings of untold wealth graced every finger.

Before the servant could announce them, Val took a few steps forward and bent his knee. “Ganelon, King of Har’Thelen, Master of the Unbreakable, Lord of the Spine and Keeper of the Sacred Vein, we humbly greet thee and ask for thy gracious aid.”

Lucinde and Iezecele again wondered if they were traveling with the same Val that they had seen drunkenly singing bawdy songs and chasing barmaid’s skirts. First, in Hamilton, he had been so sweet their teeth ached. Now, he bore the regal charm of a diplomat.

The king spoke, “Har’thelen has always held great regard for the Church. We welcome emissaries from Channing Kearnan, but ask for your reason for wishing a second grant to enter our city of Karg.”

As he did with Garrn Ironfoot, Val took the lead in explaining their mission to find the missing priests of the Church. Iezecele, Gaspar and Lucinde listened as Val mentioned the assassin’s threat and the lack of correspondence from Karg and eloquently urged the king to support their mission.

The king allowed Val to fully finish. “We have chosen to take your mission very seriously. Not only because of our regard for the safety of the Church’s men, but also on the word of a Captain of the Eternal Watch. Captain Bouldershoulders extracted a report that closely follows yours. We will give our permission for you to take the fastest route possible to our city.”

Val looked into the king’s eyes, barely whispering, “So, it exists.” Many had heard of the hidden tunnel between La Roche and Karg. It was said to be a massive structure, carved by the hands of the first Devonans of Har’Thelen. It was rumored to be so impenetrable that even when the lands were broken, the walls of the tunnel barely shuddered.

The king nodded. “Yes, all myths have their root in truth.” He stood, bringing his full presence to bear. “Though I must ask for your most sacred vow that you will never speak of its location.”

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The party had thought that they had parted company with Garrn Ironfoot once they reached the capital, but King Ganelon had called upon the guide to lead them to Karg. He led the party deep into a valley behind the mountain city of La Roche. Despite Lucinde’s protests, based upon her map readings, Garrn assured her that he knew where he was leading them. He led the party into the mouth of the tunnel that was cunningly hidden by a waterfall.

Iezecele couldn’t tell if Val was still in his over friendly mode with Garrn, but he was quickly becoming bored the guide. From the the tale how the Devonan Druids had crafted the waterfall to disguise the tunnel’s entrance to how the dozen hexagonal pillars had been constructed to support the massive natural tunnel, Val seemed to be lapping up the guide’s tales. Surely, Iezecele thought, Val knew that he could never share these stories of the tunnel. He hoped the rogue remembered that he had sworn to never speak of their journey to Karg. Iezecele did have to admit that the underground spring Garrn had led them to was the most refreshing water he had ever drank. Any sense of fatigue he had felt from their journey was washed away as he drank from the crystal clear spring.

Garrn was talking about how the Devonans had discovered the natural tunnel when Iezecele’s wandering eye noticed a thin stream of light arcing along the cavern’s wall. “The Devonans build hidden rooms along the way as well?” His question interrupting Garrn.

“Not that I’ve ever heard, and I doubt you’d find another Devonan that knows more about this tunnel.” He glanced over to where Iezecele was looking.

Val and Lucinde walked over and saw the light that Iezecele pointed out. When the Willworker began tracing the line of light, Gaspar was also able to see it. At waist level, Iezecele found a handhold. “Check the other side.”

Val found a similar handhold on the opposite side of Iezecele. Together they pulled, the strip of light widening, revealing a set of doors. The doors were heavy, perhaps even tons of weight, sliding slowly open. They pivoted smoothly on superbly constructed hinges.

Gaspar was the first to look inside as light spilled forth from the opening doors. A look of celestial awe blanketed his face as he took a step forward. “Wait for Val,” Iezecele warned their new companion, worried for any traps that might match the cunning of the door.

The Church’s acolyte ignored the Willworker and continued forward into the hidden room. “No, Iezecele, I think we are meant to be here.” Inside the lit room, twelve alcoves curved along the opposite wall.

“What light? I don’t see anything!” Garrn exclaimed as he watched Gaspar disappear into the wall of the cavern.

Lucinde was confused. She looked from the bright room to Garrn. “How can you not see it?” As she looked into the room, not only was the room brightly lit, but there was something shining like gold in the tenth alcove.

I can think of one reason, Val mentally communicated to Lucinde and Iezecele. He entered the room, pointing at the fourth alcove. “That one is glowing for me.” He pointed at the tenth alcove. “I’ll bet that one is glowing for Lucinde.” He turned to the opposite side of the room and pointed at the first alcove. “And that one glows for Iezecele” The only alcove remaining was the eleventh alcove, Gaspar was already reaching out to the items there. “Which leaves that one glowing for Gaspar.”

Iezecele was the last to enter into the room. As he did, the doors closed swiftly under their own power. The Willworker looked from the doors to the items glowing in the first alcove. As he picked up the ring and staff that rested there, Iezecele felt a surge of power course through his body. The energy that surged through him carried with it a greater sense of understanding of the Will within him. Glancing along the alcoves, he saw his companions shiver with what he could only guess was a similar increase in power in them. He questioned what kind of power could make this happen. The Will could make the impossible happen, but he never heard of a Shaping that could increase the level of Willworking. What does this mean? He wondered.

View
Week 12: A New Chosen
And a new Fanatic

After a few days recouping from their travels, the trio returned to the Basilica to receive supplies for their next journey, including their newest ally.

They were directed to a small garden. There they found Channing Kearnan feeding birds crusts of bread. He looked like any old man, whiling away his time, if not for the double ring of armored guards. Lucinde had told them about the Holy Alerons, a sect of sacred knights entrusted to protect the Channing. A few steps away from the Church’s leader, an unassuming man had joined Kearnan in feeding the birds that had flocked to their feet. As the three approached, the Channing quickly tore the remaining bread and brushed his hands clean. He greeted them warmly, but sensing the group’s impatience, quickly moved onto their next mission.

" Here are your letters of passage into Har’Thelen." An aid quickly rushed to hand them envelopes. " When you reach Hamilton, seek out Garrn Ironfoot. He will be able to guide you on the harsher passes in the Spine." He paused, as if searching through a vast index in his mind, " if you have any spare time, his wife, Deidre, makes lovely plum pies." He waved over the unassuming man, “And this will be the help I offered at our last meeting.”

“Gaspar Le Tresor,” he introduced himself with an outstretched hand. The man wore simple, but sturdy, traveling clothes. Underneath his brown cloak, he wore a chainmail shirt and bore a longsword and a dagger. Val was a little crestfallen. The man had looked so plain, that he would make the perfect cutpurse or lookout for a street gang. With his brown hair, brown eyes and average build, he would blend into most surroundings. Unfortunately, Val could tell by the man’s gait and his equipment, that he was much more in Lucinde’s camp than his own.

Val warmly shook his hand, wondering if that was the man’s given name. They had returned from Bergamoth with a shield bearing the inscription, ‘Good will fail and Evil will reign if the Treasure is lost.’ Now they met a man whose name could be translated to ‘Guardian of the Treasure.’ He smiled, noticing that he did not have a ring similar to theirs, “How apropos for our mission.”

Unsure if the rogue was mocking him, Gaspar responded, “Well, that’s what they say.” Introduction to Iezecele and Lucinde. Val was reminded of the time when he first arrived at the Rose Castle. His father had introduced him to the other noble boys who had already bonded from their time at the castle, and told him to ‘go play’ with them. Now, he was on the other side of that awkwardness.

Channing Kearnan, perhaps sensing his charge’s state, directed the group to the stables to see to the saddling of their supplies for the journey. He raised his hands and gave them a benediction. They all noticed that Gaspar bowed his head low as the Channing gave them his blessing.
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On the road to Orville, the closest city to the Har’Thelen border, they rode two by two. Lucinde and Gaspar in the lead, Val and Iezecele following behind. Lucinde heard Val’s thoughts buzzing through the power of the ring. He had pressed her to find out what she could about their new companion. She asked about his background.

" I was born in Kantora, in the capital, Senna, I barely remember it though. I was about 4 or five when my family moved to Beaufort." Lucinde nodded, thinking that there was hope for Kantoran men, only if one happened to expatriate them at an early age.

“I lost my parents shortly after.” Gaspar briefly paused, " I was taken to the Basilica, like so many who are orphaned in Beaufort. The priests there took me in, educated me and trained me to be an upstanding citizen of Cosette." And to be fully indoctrinated Iezecele projected to Lucinde.

Ask him about beasts of unusual size, oh, and horrible nightmares , Val interjected. Lucinde was equally curious and asked Gaspar about what he had seen on his travels. “I’ve been on some missions for Channing Kearnan, similar to what you’ve done.” He spoke the Channing’s name with reverence. " I have to admit, I’m not as well traveled as all of you, but I’ve never seen anything like what’s mentioned in your reports."

Lucinde chuckled, “Well, that will change if you stay with us.” She hoped that Gaspar knew how to use the weapons he was wearing. It was the reason she didn’t want to unnecessarily involve anyone else.

Val spoke to her again, Well done. Now we know that he knows all about us. He’s been privy to all those jottings the acolytes have been making.

As they made camp, Gaspar spoke aloud what he had been thinking since he met them, " Was it truly a skeleton that attacked you in the warrens outside of Trillian?"

The three paused. The thought of that day still stung. “The Baron Malachi,” Lucinde confirmed. “He rose from his chair and attacked us.”

“I don’t know what dark Will caused that skeleton to move and speak, but it is the truth.” Iezecele added.

Val raised his mug, “To Bob.” Lucinde and Iezecele raised their own and all three repeated, “To Bob.”

Gaspar let them finish their memorial to their fallen ally before speaking again. He had wanted to ask these three ever since he had read the report. “And did he truly say that you would never realize your destiny?” When Lucinde nodded, Gaspar quietly noted, " That sounds like something Mesonge would say."

To break up the solemn mood, Val began to play on his fiddle while the others set up camp. As he finished the Tune, Gaspar clapped. “Good song, Val. I didn’t know that you played the fiddle. I wish I had that talent.”

Val was a bit dismayed. The fact that he told stories and entertained must not have been of much import in the Church’s reports. “It’s more than something I can do. It’s who I am.” Perhaps to the Church, they were just the Chosen. “And if you like, I can teach you to play. It’s really not all that hard.”

Gaspar looked into his cup and quietly spoke a verse from the Prophecy, “From all walks of life they shall be.”

Lucinde started a fire. “So, Gaspar, you mentioned that you went on some missions like the ones the Church has us on? Prophecy expeditions. Are there a lot of other groups doing this kind of work?” She was wondering how many other of those the Church considered Chosen were out there.

“There are a lot of people dedicated to researching the Prophecy, especially now that finding artifacts have happening more frequently.” Gaspar worried what that might mean for Channing Kearnan, “But I know of only one other group like you.” The other three paused in their chores, “I’m sorry, like us.”

Should I ask him about being a Chosen? Lucinde sent to Val and Iezecele. The rogue nodded, while the Willworker only shrugged his shoulders. “So are you a Chosen?” The best plan was always the most forward one.

“Yes, I am.” He said with conviction. “Let me show you.” He opened his shirt and pulled it to the side, revealing a circular birthmark over his heart. In response, Lucinde pulled her sleeve up, showing her own mark on her left arm. Iezecele removed his glove and held out his hand, showing his own birthmark. “And you,” Gaspar asked when Val wasn’t forthcoming.

The rogue smiled. “You have to buy me a drink first,” Val wasn’t in the mood to remove his boot. He also knew that Gaspar just wanted to see them for himself, surely he had read about them in one of the Church’s many reports. “Trust me, I have one.”

“I was also born on the first on November, like my father before me and his father before him.” Gaspar added, knowing, course, that Iezecele had been born on the first of January, Lucinde, on the first of October, and Val on the first of April.

Iezecele smirked, “So it is written, so shall it be.” Clearly Gaspar was ignoring the fact that that part of the so-called prophecy missed the fact that Lucinde was a woman.

Gaspar nodded emphatically, “Exactly,” clearly missing out on the Willworker’s sarcasm.

Lucinde was harboring an idea in her head about the Chosen, perhaps they were the only ones facing the monstrous creatures because these things were somehow attracted to them, and the more of them together meant it was easier for the creatures to find them. Like over baiting a trap. “This other group you mentioned, the one you said was like us, have they run into creatures of dire size?”

Before Gaspar could respond, Iezecele interjected, “Dire creatures have long existed on the Isle. Don’t go reading into things, Lucinde.”

“In fables,” Gaspar retorted, “stories mothers tell their children. But there are no confirmed records until you three began your path.” Gaspar believed that the dark god, Mesonge, would do all that he could to thwart the Chosen of the Prophecy. “Tell me, have you ever met anyone that encountered a dire beast before you three joined together?”

Val was watching Gaspar and Iezecele, the believer and the skeptic, and decided to add some fuel. "On our way to Trillian from Celedine, we encountered some rats of unusual size and a giant spider. Then there was that killer plant on the way to Dalis, that corpse we found proved that thing had been there awhile" Gaspar would use it to point out they were two Chosen and Iezecele would say these threats existed before they were on the missions for the Prophecy. He smiled waiting to see who would jump first.

Gaspar spoke first, “See, the two of you brought Mesonge’s attention.”

“Not only the assassin vine, but I, myself encountered a monstrous creature in my youth.” Iezecele’s eye twitched, pulling his scar tissue taut.

“Tell me what happened.” Once the Church had discovered these three, they had engaged in a considerable amount of research on them. Lucinde Solide was the easiest to discover. The Solide family was well known. Once Channing Odo was able to identify Val D’Coeur as Valerian Stratos, it was equally easy to fill in the Kantoran noble’s backstory. Iezecele Grimm was still much of an enigma to them. He was found to be a Willworker in Cosette, but was clearly from Cendrillion stock. Yet the Willworkers had little beyond that about Iezecele’s youth. Any insights to his character would be valuable to Channing Kearnan.

Val knew how tight lipped Iezecele was on his past. He knew that Iezecele hailed from Cendrillion and was exiled for being a Willworker. Val wasn’t sure, but he felt that Iezecele had it pretty rough when he was younger. “Gaspar, let it go.”

Gaspar pressed, “Val, I think we’re going to be together for awhile. I just want to learn more about each of you.” He looked back towards Iezecele, “Is that how you got that scar of yours? Facing a dire beast?”

Val glanced over to Iezecele, remembering their meeting in Celendine. The Willworker had been evasive when it came to his scar. Val had picked up on the vibe from Iezecele’s fellow Willworkers that it was not a subject Iezecele broached. He could see the Willworker’s ire rise. “Gaspar, there are things people just don’t want to talk about, especially with people they just met.” His gentle smile left Val’s face, “You’re being rude. Drop the subject.”

Gaspar looked from Val to Iezecele. He realized that in his desire to help the Channing Kearnan, he had overstepped. This wasn’t the way he wanted it, “I’m so sorry, Master Willworker, I apologize, truly. Is there anything you wish to know about me. Just ask, I’ll tell you anything you’d like to know.”

Iezecele threw the rest of his drink into the campfire and stood up, “Yeah, there is one thing.”

Gaspar looked hopeful, “Yes?”

“What watch are you taking?”

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Gaspar was on watch a few days out from Orville. He looked at his companions tents. Lucinde was clearly a believer in the Prophecy. He could never quite tell where Val stood. With Iezecele, it had taken much of the journey to the foothills of the Spine of Har’Thelen for things to warm between him and the Willworker. While not friendly, the two often had what Val referred to as ‘spirited discussions’ about the nature of the Prophecy. A crunch of twigs brought Gaspar’s focus. He alerted Lucinde to the danger.

Gaspar was met by Iezecele exiting his tent. “I was just going to wake you.” He noticed Val grabbing his spear as he exited his own tent. “You both must be light sleepers.” There was no way he could tell that Lucinde had sent an alarm through their mental connection. The power of the rings they bore was still a mystery to him.

Izecele charged a stone with arcane light and threw it in the direction Gaspar had heard the sound. It revealed a large grizzly bear, eyes matted and mouth foamy with blackness. Gaspar was shocked by the blackness. He had read the reports, but seeing it was much worse. He felt that it was evil. He took a step forward, but caught Lucinde’s eye. He stepped back remembering their nightly discussions of tactics. The fighters were only to attack after Iezecele had used his magic. He looked to see if Val was following suit, but the rogue had already drifted into the shadows.

Iezecele summoned the heat of the earth and sent a scorching ray , burning at the bear’s thick hide.

Lucinde made a shot with the new bow she had purchased in Beaufort, missing the beast. She had not practiced enough with it. She dropped the bow and moved forward, drawing her more reliable flail.

Gaspar followed Lucinde’s lead and drew both of his blades.

Unnervingly, the grizzly bear attacked in silence. It’s massive paws swiped first at Gaspar, then at Lucinde, failing to land a blow.

Iezecele focused his Will on his hand, as he stepped back, a ghostly hand remained where his hand used to be. It took time, but he knew he could utilize this spectral version of his hand to deliver his Will shapes.

Val stepped out of the shadows behind the bear and thrust his spear into the creature’s leg. Like the other blackened beasts before it, the bear made no roar of pain, yet it’s blood wetted the ground.

Lucinde swung her flail, catching one of the bear’s paws in a heavy blow.

Wary of the creature’s wide swing, Gaspar stabbed at the beast, catching its side with his longsword, but failed to get close enough to connect with the follow up stab with his dagger.

Gaspar’s tentative strike left him open. The bear’s wide reach caught him in his side. Gaspar felt claws dig into his flesh. Worse, the bear curled his massive arms, drawing him into a grapple. The bear’s second arm was wounded, allowing Lucinde to block it’s attack easily.

Val targeted the bear’s other leg, stabbing through its thick hide. As the blood came pouring out, he knew there wasn’t much left to this fight.

Iezecele summoned the strength of the earth, power akin to the strength the bear wielded. He gave the power to Lucinde though the connection he shared with his spectral hand.

Lucinde felt the power surge through her muscles and roared as she swung her flail with more might than she had ever felt in her life. The metal head of her flail connected with the side of the bear’s face. A sound crunch turned the beast’s head into pulpy meat. It’s eye popped right out of its skull.

As it fell to the ground, Val clapped Lucinde’s hand. “Double win! We took out the beast and we killed it away from camp!” Iezecele and Lucinde smiled, remembering breaking down camp in the middle of the night to avoid sleeping near some hulking, diseased carcass.

Iezecele looked at Gaspar’s wound, casting his healing Will shape to close the injury. Gaspar looked over to Val. “You didn’t get hit did you?” The rogue had shared numerous accounts of claws and bites and stabs finding their way to his flesh.

Val spun to show Gaspar that he had escaped this latest battle unscathed. “Nope, that’s because you’re my meat shield.”

“Meat shield?”

“Lucinde’s mine,” Iezecele said after checking her for any infection from the blackness. The creature’s frothy mouth had come close to her unprotected face during the battle. He wanted to be sure no bits lingered on her. “Val needs one too.”

Gaspar looked puzzled as they laughed.
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“I’m just saying I don’t understand why we stayed so long in Orville,” Gaspar asked as they ate around the campfire. They were camped close to the border between Cosette and Har’Thelen. He was eager to come to the aid of the missing Church acolytes, yet his three new companions had spent almost two days in the city.

“I told you when we were drinking at the Gold Mine Inn. City rules.” Val had explained the need to rest from their time on the road.

The rogue had insisted on some protocol that he had coerced Lucinde and Iezecele into. His ‘city rules’ included staying at the most expensive room in an inn, staying up all night carousing, and sleeping late the following day. He all but said that the morning sun was a tool of the dark god. When Gaspar urged Lucinde and Iezecele to press on, they merely shrugged her shoulders and followed Val’s lead.

“Look, Gaspar, I know you’re eager to get to those priests.” Val reasoned with his new companion. “But they’ve been on their mission for months. A day or two isn’t going to matter and we won’t be much help if we’re not rested if we find them in some sort of trouble.”

The rogue could see that Gaspar was dwelling on the missing priests. His mind conjuring the worst of scenarios. Truthfully, Val thought that the priests were most likely dead. The Devonans were notoriously organized. He had never known a Devonan to be late for or with anything, and that included their correspondence. Val remembered in his youth that the couriers from Har’Thelen had never failed to arrive at the Rose Castle. Irregardless of the weather, even if the letter was of little import, they had always arrived precisely on time. In fact, he remembered the servants adjusting the waterclock according to the courier’s arrival. For the Church not hearing from the priests, something dire must have happened. The only hope was that isolationist Devonans of Karg were different from the rest of their brethren.

Val distracted Gaspar with some conversation. “Say, did you ever encounter any ravens on your missions?”

“Ravens?” Gaspar paused, thinking, “I couldn’t say that I noticed any, but they’re all over Cosette.”

Lucinde remembered the pair of ravens that had seemed to follow them, not to mention the sea of ravens they encountered after killing a pair of them. “Maybe a pair of ravens that seemed to watch you?”

When Gaspar shook his head, Val thought that their new companion’s education might shed some insight. “What about the Church, they say anything about ravens?”

“Just the usual,” Gaspar responded plainly.

“Which are?” Iezecele prompted. They hadn’t benefited from Gaspar’s life-long ‘education.’

“I thought you would know.” Gaspar wondered at the ignorance of these three. They were on the most important mission of the Church, yet knew so little of the struggle in which they were enmeshed.

Val smiled. He could identify with Gaspar. Val had been educated with the double talk and slyness of the Kantoran streets. It was difficult to imagine that there were people who didn’t know how things worked in that world. Gaspar was much the same, spending so long with the Church, he couldn’t imagine anyone not knowing what he took for granted. “Assume that we’re idiots.”

Iezecele knew he was never an idiot. “Assume that we don’t believe in your doctrines.”

Gaspar remembered something that Channing Kearnan had mentioned to him as they were feeding the birds on the day he met his new companions. ‘Always keep in mind the verses of the Prophecy,’ the Channing shared. ‘It tells us about the Chosen. It says, ’From all walks of life they shall be.’ That’s not merely just guard, prince, or Willworker. It also can refer to their mindset. Some, like you, will be the faithful. Others may be skeptical of the mission. Still others might openly refuse to believe. Remember that as you travel.’ Gaspar explained, “The creatures that closely aligned with darkness, serpents, rats, ravens, have often been referred to as the Eyes of Mesonge. It is said that anything they see is instantly known by the dark god.”

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Later, Lucinde thought about what Gaspar had said about ravens being spies for Mesonge. She thought it might be a reason for the way these monsters seemed to find them. Suddenly an arrow struck her shoulder. It didn’t pierce her armor, but she knew she’d be nursing a bruise if Iezecele didn’t heal her first. “Alarm!” she called out to her allies, both through the ring and her voice, remembering that Gaspar couldn’t receive her thoughts.

Two bandits rushed Lucinde from the darkness. She was glad these villains attacked during her watch. Their attacks slid off of her armor. She hit one of the attackers with the haft of her fail. He fell back with a hand to his chest, trying to regain his breath.

Gaspar quickly joined Lucinde, but rushed headlong into the fray and left his defense down in his hurry. One of the attackers took the opportunity and cut into Gaspar. The acolyte retaliated, catching the man’s brow with a sword slice, but failing to find purchase with his dagger.

Val thrust with his spear, but failed to land a good strike. The spear point glanced off the attacker’s armor.

Iezecele stepped from his tent and noticed three more attackers entering their campsite. There were now outnumbered. He used his Will to shape the light around him. Unlike how he pressed the light into a stone, he now weaved it around himself, effectively making himself invisible to the attackers. He moved closer to the new attackers.

Lucinde pressed her attack on her attacker. The man was still gasping for air, throwing off his stance. She swung her flail and caught his neck. His head quickly twitched to the side as his neck was broken. As the man fell, an arrow sped through the opening, barely missing Lucinde.

Iezecele surprised the new attackers as he suddenly appeared spewing jets of flame from his hands. Two of them were engulfed in the burning flames. He was now visible, the light Willshape was too difficult to maintain.

A glance allowed Val to see that Iezecele was now facing three men on his own. His worry for his ally threw off his attack. His opponent took advantage of Val’s distraction and swung a heavy greatsword. It was all Val could do to twist his way out of receiving the worst of the connecting blow.

Gaspar worried about Val. Often on their journey, the rogue had expounded on how often he was gravely injured in combat. He knew that the drawback of the greatsword was its weight. Its blow could do significant damage, but it could also unbalance the attacker. He stepped opposite Val and sliced at the attacker. His blade catching the man’s shoulder.

Lucinde stepped back, surveying the scene. Gaspar and Val had boxed in the last of the initial attackers, but the three new attackers had advanced on Iezecele. She had laughed when the Willworker had called her his ‘meat shield,’ but it was true in a certain sense. Left undefended, the Willworker could be more vulnerable than Val. She could see that one of the attackers must have scored a hit. Blood was staining Iezecele’s sleeve. She leapt over the low campfire, fully extending her swing as she landed. Still holding onto the edge of her flail’s haft, Lucinde forcefully caught the attention of Iezecele’s attackers.

As the three turned to face Lucinde’s threat, Iezecele took a step back and unleashed another jet of flames from his hands. One of the three attackers screamed as the flames consumed him. The other man caught in the quickly discarded his burning cloak.

Now flanked, the attacker with the greatsword swung in wide arcs to try to catch both Val and Gaspar. Both men easily sidestepped the clumsy attack. Gaspar ducked under the heavy metal blade and slashed at the attacker with his sword and dagger, double-slicing the man’s belly.

As the attacker tensed with the blow, Val saw his opportunity. He let go of his spear and entered the wide spine of the attacker. Standing back to back with him, Val moved like a dancer in a twirl. Spinning as his attacker spun, Val drew his short swords and drove them deep into the man’s back, slaying him.

The archer dropped his bow and joined his only remaining companion. Lucinde quickly reacted to his presence, shouldering him away from Iezecele with her shield arm. She looked into his eyes and saw the anger there. She knew that this was another group like the one they faced in the caves of Kermis. A smart man would see three of his felled allies and recognize a battle lost. This man charged in when he should have called for a retreat. She waited for the opening from a clumsy, emotional attack and struck at the man’s ear. It would further unbalance his attacks.

Iezecele smirked as the burned attacker let down his guard slightly. He must have noticed his ally step up and draw Lucinde’s attention. He thought he was safer with the warrior otherwise occupied. His miscalculation cost him his life. Instead of dropping back, Iezecele surged forward, summoning the lighting storm in his hand and slapping the man’s sword. The electricity traveled down the blade and channeled into the man, killing him.

Val watched as Gaspar joined Iezecele and Lucinde’s attack, trading blows with the last attacker. It was clear that this battle was ending. Iezecele was already dropping back and casting his stone shards at the man. Val knew he could just allow them to finish the battle, but a thought struck him. These men had attacked them out of nowhere. Why were they attacking? Were they just bandits, or something else? If they were sent, how had they find Val and his allies. He wanted to know their story.

Val rushed behind the last attacker, spinning his blade at the last moment to catch him with its flat side. His short sword caught the man on the side of the head. Lucinde’s blow and the hard slap from Val’s short sword proved to be too much for the attacker. His eyes rolled back and fell to the ground unconscious.

Val searched the man. Lucinde went back to the camp to get some rope to tie up their prisoner. “Look what we have here.” Val unrolled a piece of parchment he had found on the man. It contained accurate descriptions of all of them. Even Gaspar’s description was there, though it seemed to be added on. Where Lucinde’s, Iezecele’s and his own description seemed writ in an even, practiced hand, Gaspar’s description seemed hastily scrawled. Val imagined that their attackers already had the three of their descriptions. Gaspar’s must have been relayed to these men and they wrote it in their own hand.

“I’m going make a zone where this man will speak the truth, if he speaks at all.” Iezecele remembered an obscure Willshaping.

Val shivered, “You can make a person tell the truth?” What a nightmarish thought.

“Of a sort,” Iezecele started forming the shape in his mind. His teacher had told him to think of it much like a magnet, pulling solid metal of truth outwards from the mind. “He will know of its power and may not choose to speak.” He forced the Willshape into being and felt its power brush against both the attacker and his allies. He quickly followed the spell with a burst of healing energy, healing both his allies and bringing their enemy to wakefulness.

Val knelt down next to the restrained man. He knew he would need to get the man speaking. “Hi friend,” he put on his easy smile, “why did you and your buddies attack us?”

The man tested his bonds and found he was helpless. “To kill you,” he spat. He knew the Willworker had done something to make him speak truth. He didn’t mind. He knew he had lost, but it was only a battle in a war they were assured victory.

Val put on a saddened expression, “Why would you want to kill us? We’ve just met.”

The attacker gazed directly into Val’s eyes, “You deserve it. You all deserve it.” He had met men like Val before, liars, false words were their bread and butter. Soon they would be choking on their honeyed words.

Iezecele folded his arms, “Why would we deserve death?”

“That is the punishment you have earned for being oathbreakers,” The righteous conviction in his tone could not be overlooked.

Val saw Lucinde and Gaspar stiffen at the accusation, offended that they were looked upon in such a way. Iezecele seemed poised, as if he were waiting for elaboration. For his part, Val knew he was a liar and a cheat. Not for nefarious reasons, but some people needed to be deceived and others wanted to be deceived. “Now I can’t speak for our other friends here, but I’m not sure which oath you’re talking about.”

The attacker wished he was free. Val not only admitted to being an oathbreaker, but reveled in it. “The Peace Line! Your ancestors oathed to uphold the truce and blatantly shattered it! For that great sin, you, their children shall pay the price! As it is written, the sins of the father shall be visited sevenfold upon his children!”

With that statement, Val confirmed that these were not just bandits, looking to make quick coin. Nor were they hired assassins, hired to kill him and his allies. They were the same kind of fanatics they had met in the caves at Kermis. Val knew, assuming that the legends of his country’s namesake were true, that his ancestor was there when that particular oath was broken. His lineage twisting and turning to lead back to Arnaud’s shieldmaiden, Kantora. He briefly wondered if there was a way to see if the others’ heritage took them back to that moment.

Val knew there was no winning over this man. No amount of pleasant motivation would sway fanaticism. “I’ve got to tell you, idiot, I can’t really see that happening. Just look at yourself.” He derisively laughed at him, hoping to raise his ire for them to a feverish pitch.

“We will scour you and all the rest of the oathbreakers from this Isle.” The attacker was practically foaming at the mouth. “You are all doomed! Any resistance you may muster will be defeated! You are all corpses strutting around, not knowing that they’re already dead!”

He’s just about at his boiling point, Val noted. If he turned up the temperature just a bit more, this man might spill something of value. “Defeated? Really?” Val mocked the man, “I hate to tell you, I’m not all that strong. Still, we managed to defeat you fairly easily.” He continued to taunt their attacker, “And you’re not even the first. There was this other lunatic, What was that fool’s name?” He glanced at Iezecele while searching his memory. “Pellon,” Val snapped his fingers. “You know him?” Val smiled a satisfied grin, “We gutted that fool too. He was spouting the same bullshit that you are. We defeated him, just as we will defeat your evil, flaccid god.”

Gaspar stood shocked that Val would insult Mesonge. Didn’t he know that the god knew when he was invoked, even if not by name. The dark god kept a book where all the sins of the living were recorded. To speak ill of Mesonge was to invite his attention. Gaspar leaned in to speak softly to Val, “I know you don’t believe, but don’t tempt the dark god. You’ve gone to far.”

A madness boiled into their attacker’s eyes. “I am but a drop of rain in the storm that will consume the Isle! You will see our strength soon enough! Karg will be the first to feel our might!”

Val looked into the eyes of the attacker, “Karg, hmm? Thank you.” In retrospect, he thought he had overstepped with the ‘flaccid god’ bit. He had never been terribly religious, but things you were taught to believe in one’s youth had a tendency of sticking. Insulting Mesonge itched uncomfortably at those teachings. His mother would have washed his mouth with soap if she had chance.

As Val stood calmly, the attacker knew he had been worked into speaking about Karg. He bottled his rage, knowing he couldn’t share more. “You act so tough, four of you standing against me. So brave when you have that kind of advantage. Give me my weapon. I’ll still fight you.” He knew he would lose, but at least he wouldn’t say more.

Val chortled, “You’re one to talk. Five of you attacked us without any warning. And you talk about honor. I’m tempted to grant your request for a honorable fight for your freedom.”

The attacker tightened his grip, he knew Val would never let him go. “Give me my blade then.” The best he could hope for was to die while killing the rogue.

Val feigned surprise, “Me?” He bowed respectfully to Lucinde, “No, no, no. You would be facing her.”

The attacker laughed wryly, “Now who’s weak? You need your woman to fight for you.”

Lucinde had been willing to stay out of Val’s interrogation. Unsure of what she should be doing, she had decided to play the silent muscle in the background. She couldn’t stay silent after the attacker’s double insult. First insulting her prowess as a warrior because of her sex. Then, by suggesting that she was Val’s woman. He had gone too far.

She lifted their attacker by his collar and pressed the haft of her flail into the man’s throat. "She let the go of the flail’s chain. The flail head swung down, menacingly tapping against the man’s chest. She looked down at him, “And what’s wrong with being a woman?”

Val could see the attacker’s eyes shift, looking for an escape. He sent to Lucinde. Good work. I think he’s ready spill his guts. Val paused, considering his choice of words, I mean talk to us, not literally spill his guts. He began feeding Lucinde questions.

Lucinde tightened her grip, shaking the man a bit, “How did you know about us?”

The attacker could barely look her in the eyes, “All of us know about you.”

“Who told you about us? Who’s pulling your strings?”

“I don’t know his name. They are called the Watchers. I was told what you look like and to eliminate you.”

“Where is this Watcher? How can I find him?”

Nervous sweat began to roll down the man’s face, “The Watcher comes to me. I last met him on the border between Cosette and Har’Thelen, along the coastline. I’m supposed to go back there again after I completed my task.”

Lucinde spoke through gritted teeth, “Your task of killing us.”

He nodded, “But I can’t go back until I’ve completed the task. He’ll know I’ve failed.” The attacker knew how the Watchers dealt with failure.

“You mentioned Karg, what’s happening there?”

“They said that it would be the first city to fall. I don’t know anything more, I swear.” He looked from Lucinde, to Val, and to Iezecele and Gaspar. “I won’t say anything to the Watchers. You don’t know what they’ll do to me if I return. We can just go our separate ways. I swear.” He knew he would be running for the rest of his life. The Watchers’ punishment for failure was kind next to the punishment for deserters.

Hold his nose for me, Val sent to Lucinde. The warrior dropped the man to the ground and gripped his nose.

Val gagged the man as he opened his mouth to breathe. "We won’t be releasing you today. I’m sure the Devonans will have plenty to ask you about your pal’s plans for a Har’Thelen city.

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Week 11: Meeting at the Basilica
Lucinde has a thick skull

After defeating the smugglers along the border between Cosette and Cendrillion, the three journeyed back to Beaufort. Along the way, Val thought that the connection to Iezecele and Lucinde through his diamond ring strengthen. There were times around the campfire that he believed he heard what one of them was about to say just before they said it.. Drinking at The Little Duchess Inn, he decided to test the depths of the ring’s power.

“I know we’ve been on the road for some time, Val, but I’m not comfortable with you looking at me like that.” The rogue had been staring at Iezecele for some time, trying to pick up on the Willworker’s thoughts. It wasn’t working.

“Oh, it’s not that,” Val leaned back in his seat and drank his wine. His mind tracked down the moments he had felt his companion’s thoughts reach him. They weren’t random thoughts. Everything he had felt had been directed to him. Val thought that maybe the ring wasn’t receiving anything, instead, maybe it was projecting them. He looked again at Iezecele, who was doing his best to ignore Val’s gaze. Can you hear me? Val directed the thought to the Willworker.

“Of course I can hear you!” Iezecele put down his stein a little too forcefully. “This place isn’t too loud and we’re at the same table!”

Val threw up his arms in victory, “Woohoo!”

Lucinde and Iezecele looked at each other. It was usually much later when the wine addled the rouge’s brain. “What is your deal?” Iezecele questioned.

Val pointed at his pursed lips. Because you can hear me.

Realization hit Iezecele. While it sounded like Val had spoken to him aloud, the rogue had sent him the thought. The Willworker knew that Val had no access to his Will. How was Val doing it? The answer came quickly to him, the ring. The rings had connected them, perhaps the amount of time they wore the ring deepened that connection. It’s the rings, correct? Val responded to Iezecele’s sending with a wide grin and a thumbs up.

Lucinde was confused by her companions. First, Val was acting like an idiot. While that wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, it was odd for Iezecele sharing a stupid grin with the rogue. “What’s going on?” She looked at her stein. “Were your drinks spiked?”

Val looked over to the warrior. Why don’t you buy us another round?

Lucinde sat straight in her chair, “If you keep making eyes at me, I’ll have you make out with my flail.”

Val wondered why his companion hadn’t heard the thought he had sent her. It had worked when he thought to Iezecele, and when Iezecele thought to him. Something must be different. The rings had connected them before. An idea occurred to him. Lucinde was the only one of the three wearing a helm. Maybe the metal was blocking his thought.

“Just go with it.” Iezecele held up a cautioning hand to Lucinde when the rogue lifted off her helm. He saw where Val was going. The Willworker didn’t think that the helm was the reason. After all, the rings had allowed them to sense each other over miles. Surely there had been metal interposing them along those distances. Still, it was best to test the rogue’s theory.

Now, can you hear me? Val thought to Lucinde, but sensed no recognition in the warrior’s eyes.

“Seriously, what is up with you two tonight?” Lucinde pushed her drink away, maybe they were spiked. “You know that we’re heading for the Basilica tomorrow. I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

Val wasn’t entirely sure, but he felt that Lucinde was directing that statement more in his direction than in Iezecele’s. Lucinde was always so stiff. Sure, he could see how it could seem a little odd, but she could learn to loosen up a bit. Loosen up. Val ordered another round for the table, requesting a liter stein for Lucinde. He let the matter rest, engaging his companions in idle conversation. He waited until she had drained the last drop from the large stein. Now, hear me! He stared directly at the warrior and focused as forcefully as he could.

Lucinde covered her ears, the rogue had yelled so loud. But, he hadn’t spoken at all. His mouth was unusually closed when she heard him. “How did you?”

Val raised his hands in victory, he had gotten through to Lucinde. She had just needed to relax a bit. The ring allows us to send each other thoughts. He shared with Lucinde, pointing at his closed mouth for emphasis.

Resting her head in her hand, I’m not sure if this is a good thing. There are some thoughts that I’d rather not hear.

Iezecele let out a short laugh. Lucinde wasn’t wrong. The last thing that he needed was Val’s thoughts badgering him when he was shaping his Will. Iezecele made a note to see if he could choose to block out thoughts.

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The following day, the trio went to the Basilica inside the First Ring of Beaufort. After revealing their letter of introduction, they were taken deep beneath the main structure. There, in a small meeting room, they met the highest chappin on the Isle, Channing Kearnan. The man was older and lacking in height, but still exuding a sense of calm strength. He warmly greeted them, each in turn.

As Kearnan overlooked the shield and plate the three had found in the forts, Val was surprised at the Channing’s mien. While the Church had no military or fiscal strength, it still held sway over people in its own way. Val expected the man in the highest office of the Church to be more domineering and less…grandfatherly. The man even apologized for putting them in danger when Lucinde related of the giant scorpion’s attack.

“And what do you think of these monsters?” Channing Kearnan asked when he heard about the calcifying bite of the chicken-bat.

" Maybe they come from Marmo? " Her family had traveled from one end of the Isle to the other for generations. They had no stories of the twisted creature they faced in Bergamoth , nor of any stories of dire creatures dripping with black ooze. “And speaking of Marmo, what exactly does it mean when this prophecy says Marmo will return?”

“We believe that Verite’ is telling us that the part of the Isle that Arnaud and his allies sheared off will return.” He could see the disbelief in the three’s eyes. He was once like them. Not for the first time, Channing Kearnan wished he could share his vision and the conviction it brought.

Lucinde shook her head, “It sank.” She couldn’t believe she had to tell the Channing of the entire Church. Every child of Cosette grew up on the story of Arnaud.

“It crumbled when the Willworkers melded the highest Will shaping of all four elements. Earth tumbled their castles and Water eroded their land. A storm of Air and Fire swept away everything else.” To think that one could push a land mass like pushing a toy boat in a bathtub was beyond ludicrous.

The Channing had heard this and more, from both heads of state and leaders of the arcane. He more than believed, he knew that Marmo was returning. “With deepest respect, Master Willworker, the cursed land of Marmo is returning.”

Lucinde could barely comprehend how the Isle was broken in the first place, let alone how it could be glued back together. “Have you checked for this Marmo? I mean, something that big, you should be able to see it a ways off. Or, send maybe you should send ships? It would be nice if we knew what was coming.”

Kearnan smiled patiently, “We have sent some ships, as yet to no avail. And, my dear, I couldn’t agree with you more about wanting to know about the Enemy.”

Iezecele shook his head. They believe in prophecy. They believe in impossibilities. They send ships to look for non-existent lands. He needed to get away from this madness. “Is that all?”

It wasn’t the first time he had dealt with a Willworker’s frustration at his ideas. “I did have one remaining item. Thank you for bringing it up, Master Willworker.” Channing Kearnan explained that he had sent a number of chappins to the remote city of Karg in the Devonan land of Harthelen, but had not heard from them in some time.

“Devonan chappins?” Val questioned. He had always thought that the Devonans followed their own religion. Kantora had long relations with Harthelen. He knew from his schooling that Karg was unfriendly to all the non-Devonan races.

“Human.” Kearnan replied, “though I did secure for them a rite of passage from La Roche.”

“So you need us to find these chappins and bring them back?” Iezecele was becoming impatient.

“They were on a mission similar to yours. I would ask that you find them and provide aid, if they should need it. And speaking of aid, I worry about you three. The reports I read of your exploits are chilling. I was wondering if you would like some help of your own?”

Val rubbed his side where the scorpion had nearly crushed him to death. “The more the merrier.” It would be nice to meet someone new and have them take some blows instead of him.

Iezecle’s first thought was of Bob’s head being sliced off by the undead skeleton. “No need for help, we’ve done well by ourselves.”

Lucinde’s father had offered her something similar when she was going off to explore the forts along the border. She didn’t want to bring in any of her family, let alone some random stranger who had no stake in this fight, “No, no help, unless they’re Chosen like us?”

Channing Kearnan smiled, the reports said that the warrior from Cosette might be the first to truly believe. “Like you?” He arched his eyebrow, “Perhaps.”

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