Castlemourn

A new beginning

The curtains drew back, banishing shadows and permitting light to flood the recesses of Erasitt’s memory. The light found there a broken mind. An injured mind. A mind plagued by doubt, self-loathing, and sorrow. The light did not mend these breaks. It only illuminated shards that had been long separated from their kin, and forgotten. But this was enough.

Lornel walked through the open gate of Harkamel’s prison, eyes glazed as his consciousness shifted elsewhere. His body stumbled, recovering itself of it’s own accord as his mind repeated the woman’s words. “_It is time_”, she said.
He cried as he remembered her sacrifice, and murmured the hallowed words as he walked.

“Look not to the skies, nor to the depths below,
nor even to the distant past or future.
Seek the divine within, for the blood is the life,
and in its call can be heard the promise of eternal life.
One has but to listen.”

Erasitt shed the weight of Niams death. He let go of the prejudice he harbored against his own people. He spared an anxious thought for his children, before putting their memory aside. He purified his faith, and recommited to the Divinity Within. He let go of the man who had guided him in this foreign land.

Lornel became just another fractured memory.

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Dreams

It was nearly dusk. The sun’s last rays filtered through the low canopy above the encampment, dappling the loamy forest floor and the varnished wagon roofs with pleasantly rounded dots of golden light. The merry singing of children reverberated through the trees as young thaele spread out seeking suitable wood for the evening fires. A gentle breeze drifted through the camp, cooling the air and bringing with it the scent of blossoming berry bushes. Late spring, then.

In the manner of dreams fueled by memory, these unimportant details stood out strongest in the sleeping realm of Lornel’s mind. He felt cold water upon his hands, and shied away from the reflection of his own face in the brass basin before him. He centered himself, and envisioned the sun’s energy washing over him as it crept toward the pinnacle of it’s power. The moment where the solar globe touched the horizon, and change began to fall upon the land.

To him, this great change meant great power. Every sunset was a miracle, and every sunrise a promise that the miracle would continue.

Flicker

The dark interior of a wagon. No golden light here; the eerie blue glow of alchemical fire lit the priests chambers. He was a kind, patient man. His gnarled hands spoke of a long life in service to others. As a healer, a leader, a friend. His face was unmemorable. His name, likewise. But those hands… Somehow, they represented all Lornel wished to be in life. The reason he sought to take on the cloth himself. Those hands had taught him much in his youth, and they taught him again now. Both hands gently gripped a well rounded stone, and patiently worked to grind small beads of silver into powder. A disembodied voice spoke from somewhere beyond the hands.

“The silver must be purified before being milled into a fine dust. When added with the distilled water, and blessed under the light of Dusk, the solution will be complete. Any questions, child?”
Lornel thought for a moment, his eyes fixated on the slowly grinding stone. Rasp, rasp rasp. After a time he spoke, his tone uncertain. “You have said that silver turns away evil things, and does them harm. Are we, then, Evil? For to touch silver earns a thaele burns, and blisters.”
“No child, no. Silver is a cleanser. It purifies flesh and spirit alike. Creatures of Evil cannot stand it’s touch, for this purification denies them the foundation of their structure. This is not why it harms us.
“When meat is boiled, disease is killed. When meat is salted, disease is killed. Both are purifiers. When salt is put in boiling water, it dissolves. The crystals are damaged, and the salt breaks down.
“We thaele are as salt. We purify. We cleanse. We heal. Thaele are instruments of Dusk. It is our task to listen to Dusk, and bring all life to the peak of it’s potential before it passes. Think of it in this way- Silver is represented by the moon. Thaele are represented by the sun. Both are good, and necessary for the balance of this world. But they are anathema to one another. The sun does not rise, but the moon must set. The moon does not harbinger night, save that the sun descends to the holy horizon. Does this clarify, child?”

No. “Yes, Master.”

Flicker

A dusty road, baking in the summer sun. Lornel breathes deep, smelling salt on the air. His master speaks beside him. “Are you nervous, child?”
“No. Excited, actually. I have been looking forward to this for a long time.”
“And it is past time you received this knowledge. It is time for you to learn the secret healing technique of the thaele. How imbibing the blood of a person can-”

NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. NO-

Lornel awoke with the dawn, stiff from his second night outdoors. He his body had grown used to mattresses in the short time he had used them. Stretching, he noted the soldiers from Lhoadur had departed. He needed to be alone. Distracted, he thanked the guide for breakfast, then went into the forest to reflect on his dream.

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Chapter Seven
Lhoadur to Stormstars

Go to Chapter Seven

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The Road to Lhoadur
The Demise of Sugar

Stealing away in the middle of the night, the party packed hastily and fled the comfort of the city of Zroas. their plan was to search for the fey legends of the Stormstars Wood. Each member of the hodgepodge group weighed down with their own thoughts, dreams, and worries. Enoch, the newest and most mysterious member, was fleeing from an enemy that had sworn to hunt him down. The revenant, Acacia, has sworn vengeance and somewhere inside, Enoch knew it was only a matter of time before his debt was called due. Elkarena, in the meantime, felt a new lightness and thrill run through her when she thought of her liaison of the night before. The magnetic gang leader, known only as One Eye, had invaded her thoughts like a well planned ambush. She brushed the sleep and the starry eyed thoughts from her mind and focused on the road ahead, her instincts as Guide taking over. Anselo was laden equally with worry and hope. A realization crept steadily toward him, much like the misanthropic ooze he had spied in Maurelle’s dream tour that sputtered and crawled in some netherworld. He was all but convinced the pact he had made was not made by the creatures he had assumed. It was more than a compelling argument that his pact powers were fueled by the Winter Court not the Summer. Yet, where would he be without the powers? Or, more to the point these days, who would he be without it? Only steady Lornel took to the road free of any immediate anxiety. The storm in Lornel’s heart was far off still, yet he sensed the power of those unseen thunderheads of memory and hoped that his courage would stand when faced with the storm of his past.

So it was that each companion rode silently through the early morning darkness toward the next stop on their journey, the mysterious Elven built city of Lhoadur. These days, rumor had it that no elves lived there, although there were a few of The Banished that would pass through and spend time in the city. Sightings of elves were as rare as shooting stars throughout Lothran. These days, Lhoadur was just a city that brought the river trade to caravan trade and sent the merchants inland. The road to Lhoadur was equally mundane. By every account the Carvalho’s had heard from grandfather and from what Enoch knew from previous travel, it would be a quiet and sedate jaunt of two days. Even so, with the wall torches of Zroas still within sight, the party felt an oppressive weight upon them. Soon thereafter, a heavy rain started down, and that helped not at all.

By most estimates it was a true two days between Zroas and Lhoadur but the rain and the increasingly muddy road threatened to extend that timeframe. As fortune favors the bold, due to the early start the party took they managed to reach the midway point as dusk was threatening to close in. Enoch had passed this way coming up to Zroas and knew of the small enclave that stood midway between the towns. They were a friendly lot who took in travelers and plied honest custom to the road weary. As the four came upon this small burgeoning hamlet, it looked anything but welcoming. Nothing moved but crows and even they kept their distance. The gray skies increased the gloom that the abandoned houses radiated. Still, what choice did the group have but make the best of their luck and bed down securely here. Either that or in the woods.

As they investigated the well-built and tidy cottages and what must’ve been the town’s tavern, they noticed that most of the easily packed things were gone while those items too bulky or unnecessary for quick travel were left behind. A brief investigations led the party to believe that the good people of this enclave had packed and left in a hurry, but why? The answer to that came soon thereafter. As they searched the Tavern for food and drink, the horses that had been stable outback went mad with terror. The party went to the doors in time to see a hulking, feral creature dragging one of the horses toward the wood line. Its throat was torn and blood cascaded behind in a heavy flow. Those who could attack from a distance, burst through the front door and did so with magic and arrow. Yet, as quick as the arcane artillery and expert marksman were, the monstrosity escaped to the woods, albeit without his fare.

As Anselo stood, his gloves smoking with the vestiges of arcane bolts, Lornel headed out toward the dying horse. Elkarena suddenly cried out as she realized the horse that was down. Her beautiful riding mare, Sugar, had been the monster’s victim. Sugar’s powder coat marred with arterial spray and vestigial gore as it lay twitching in violent death shutters under the gray sky. Few things brought the sting of tears to Elkarena’s eyes but even as they welled, they froze in an anger that hummed with horrible power. With a shutter, Elkarena turned and stormed back into the building. The more introspective Lornel eyed the poor creature calculating its distance to the tree line. A brief conversation among the men brought a plan. Although Sugar’s loss was tragic, perhaps the monster of the wood would be satiated with this large sacrifice.

Sugar was actually a heavy horse but her days of anything but riding were behind her. Elkarena has ridden her from a young girl. They had spent many an afternoon in the wildflower laden countryside, the wind is Sugar’s white mane and Elkarena’s red hair. Lornel, bravely or insanely, walked out toward the dead corpse and attempted to move the heavy riding horse toward the wood.

As Lornel tugged on his gauntlets and moved toward the carcass, Enoch and Anselo looked at each other with incredulity. No man they knew could drag a horse that size anywhere. And at first, it seemed so. Lornel struggled with the load until he shook with strain. Then, they saw Lornel raise his head and arms to the sky as if searching for something as he mouthed a few words. A look of recognition crossed his face, as if he’d found what he was seeking. Lornel reached down again and took a good grip on the fore quarters of the beast and heaved. The horse corpse moved and moved fast, plowing a vicious row of rain, mud, and blood as Lornel pulled Sugar to the edge of the wood. Anselo and Enoch stood wide eyed and speechless. Lornel hustled back to the cabin, appearing no worse for the ordeal but, even given the amazing feat of strength he just performed, his steps were quick toward the tavern.

Darkness was beginning to fall as an anxiety was rising among the companions. As they watched, the horse did indeed disappear into the deeper wood and shapes began to dart and dance through the darkness. They could tell it was more than one, but if it were two, three, or four, it was difficult to say. The one thing that was becoming increasingly clear was that Sugar was not the only thing on the table tonight. Their tension mounted as they watched out the windows. They did not have to wait long. As each person tried various means to peer through the windows, create light or guard the Tavern, the monsters attacked. Huge lupine forms surrounded the Tavern and took the fight to the party. As if they had sized up the physically weakest of the group, one of the monsters crashed through the window nearest Anselo and attempted to drag him out into the woods. Looks can be deceiving however, and Anselo repelled the attack with his pact magic. The fighting was chaotic and fierce. The creatures were inhumanly strong. Enoch identified them as lycanthropes and urged the party not to get bit, lest they get infected with the curse. Easier said than done, however, as they were fighting for their lives against mounting odds. Bites and claws fell liberally among the defenders. Elkarena was bitten, as least once.

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Despite the intense fighting, the party was victorious. Eventually, morning came and, only one horse shy, they made their way away from the hamlet with all haste. The rain had set their slow pace before, and as it let up, the tempo of their journey, and their spirits, rose a bit. Yet, just when they thought they were out of the woods, they heard a panicked scream about 100 paces off the road. While Elkarena, Anselo, and Enoch paused and glanced at each other with that “Are you taking a piss?” look, Lornel rushed headlong into the deeper foliage. Unfortunately, he only arrived in time to see a giant lycanthrope tear the throat out of an old woodsman and turn to eye Lornel with hatred. The rest of the party was not too far behind and they all fought valiantly to take down yet another couple of cursed souls. This fight once again almost saw Anselo carried off. Was it because he appeared the weakest in stature or was there some other beacon that called them to Anselo? None could answer but Anselo came within a hair’s breadth from getting his own throat ripped out. Luck was on his side and he walked away with only two dislocated shoulders.

Worried that the woodsman might have a family that would be at the mercy of more of the creatures, the companions ventured deeper into the woods following a trail to the woodsman’s cottage. The cottage was mostly made up into a forge and it appeared, by all investigations, that the woodsman lived alone and made his living as a swordsmith and a hermit in the woods. Lornel, as luck would have it, was a bit of a smith himself. Given the obvious lycanthropes infestation in the woods, the party decided to use the forge to put a silver edge and head on their blades and hammer. Anselo had quite a bit of silver coin, although no one knew form where and contributed it to the endeavor. Searching the cottage, Anselo found a small vial of a thick, silver substance that Enoch suggested might likely coat a weapon and cause some sort of beneficial effect upon the blade. A small argument ensued in which Enoch confronted Anselo about the vial. Through a long and sometimes heated discourse, the party established the rights to loot found along the way. All ended well but Anselo and Enoch seemed effected by the exchange.

The groups weapons prepared and daylight still left, they made it back to the road and continued their seemingly endless track to Lhoadur. The rain was picking back up causing the road to muddy up once more. After a few miles’ travel, the party rose up over a crest and looked down upon a single merchant wagon with two fellows attempting to get it through a mud hole created by the dip in the road and the bad weather. The merchant and his man, or dwarf rather, hailed the party and appeared elated for the help. They even offered to pay the group to help them escape their dire circumstances. as the worked, they talked and it just so happened that this merchant was headed toward the hermit swordsmith to pick up his latest order which he was taking to Zroas for market. Anselo shared the bad news that his business associate had been killed and cautioned him to turn back to Lhoadur. The jolly merchant scoffed good-naturedly and said they could handle a mongrel or two, if needed, as the merchant’s burly companion did his best to appear unphased by that glib dismissal of monsters. The party helped them out of the mire and both groups parted ways with well wishing.

As Lhoadur came in sight, the party started to feel safe once more. Their luck would hold and they would make it to town. Luck even looked to be turning in their favor as they saw a discarded backpack on the side of the road. It appeared someone had left it there under a tree while, perhaps, they went a little further off the road to take care of nature’s call. It didn’t take the powerful observation skills of the party to understand what must’ve happened given the new wildlife in the woods. Some poor traveler’s misfortune turned to their fortune and Lornel went to check out the backpack. Upon opening the flap, a brilliant blue flash, clearly arcane in nature, burst forth. Lornel just had time to look into the blue light and he made out hundreds of strange, large spiders scurrying up through some magical summoning conduit, clearly to protect whatever lay inside the pack. Swarms of the spiders burst out of the blue nimbus and attempted to creep and crawl under Lornel’s armor to do gods knew what. Quickly, Lornel summoned the power of Dusk and blasted the creatures forcefully from his presence. Unfortunately, about that time, Elkarena stepped forward to see how she could assist and took a face full of spiders. Seeing Lornel’s tactic a sound one, she used her own power and, with a stylized crossing of her blades, a blistering winter’s blast expelled the spiders back toward the woods and back toward poor Lornel. Although frost now rimed along his armor and bearded helmet, the tactic worked as good as any could have. The swarm of spiders was quickly blasted into whatever dark place they came from.

The backpack itself turned out to be something worth protecting! Examining the contents, it appeared that some portal existed inside the pack that allowed much more to fit inside then a normal pack. A hard won prize true but one worth celebrating.

And with that last trial behind them, the party looked upon the green towers of Lhoadur. The rain let up and yellow rays of sun beamed through the green and dense topiary surrounding the Elven built city. A heaviness, as if they had not slept for two months, not two days, suddenly fell upon them. They trotted their horsed toward the legendary Lhoadur, their journey finally done.

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Enoch's Telling of the Tale
(Coming Home)

Enoch gave Anselo a discrete wink and whisphered to him “Best to give them what they want” as he stepped past the half elf to take his place next to Hanzi. He raised his glass to silence the exuberant crowd of revelers. He cleared his throat softly, and taking his que from Hanzi, who had only just yielded the floor to him, he smiled out to the elite of Zroas who had gathered to celebrate the safe return of the merchant’s grandchildren.

“Tell us the story!” someone shouted from several ranks back. “Yes! Yes! Tell us how you found them! Tell us!” the crowd demanded happily.

“Yes, best give them what they want.” Enoch thought to himself as he raised his glass a second time for silence.

“First, let me say how truly honored I am to be amongst such select company. I can tell you, only a few days ago circumstances were such that I feared my living body would never again find itself among any kind of company. Now, a better man would most assuredly be able to extol how he risked life and limb in support of others. I fear though, that I’m not that better man, and am most uncomfortable talking about myself. And yet as it stands, here we all are, gathered in celebration. Therefore I must ask, nay, I must demand, that this be not a celebration of my deeds, but instead a celebration of the safe reuniting of family.

“You are not the first to ask for a recounting of the trials that I and the rest of this most amazing party endured returning to the security of this fine town. Let me be clear, the part I played was but a minor epilogue to what my new friends experienced in their year-long absence. The abominations that they vanquished are beyond your imagination. I defy you, at this very moment, to think of the most vile, the most overwhelming monstrosity your mind can conjure. I tell you it pales in comparison to what this stalwart team encountered. Encountered and destroyed!

“Theirs is a tale of endurance, survival and triumph. Certainly I could recount the events of their quest, of dark nightmares vanquished, of absolute beauty liberated, of lives saved and lives lost. Certainly I could, and it would fast become a tale recounted round fireplaces for generations upon generations, a story that would bring children huddling round parent’s knee for safety, a story that would cause grown men and women to never sleep again. Yes, I could tell that tale, and it would chill each listener to his very core. And yet, were I to relate to you the obstacles they faced, the levels of absolute evil and depravity which they endured, why the story alone would be enough to drive even the strongest among you stark raving mad. Mad I tell you! And we can’t have the insane walking amongst us now can we? No, certainly not.

“Early tonight someone asked me, I’m sure out of concern for my wellbeing, if our gracious host Hanzi had rewarded me handsomely for bringing his beautiful, charming, delightful and might I add, dangerous granddaughter Elkarena, and his grandson Anselo, safety home to him. I tell you exactly what I told this person. What greater reward can there be than the safe reunion of loving family? Certainly there is none! So let us raise our glasses as one in toast to these brave adventurers, to their safe return, and to family. Salute!”

“SALUTE!” the crowd echoed enthusiastically. Hanzi waived his arm emphatically to the servant staff and wine flowed freely, refilling each glass as quickly as it emptied. From a dark alcove music started, and the audience dissolved into smaller groups of partygoers, each more eager than the next to recount the tale that had just never been told.

Enoch worked his way methodically round the perimeter of the room, nursing a glass of wine as he skillfully deflected every attempt to pry from him even the smallest detail of the rescue mission. As he worked the crowd, he made mental note of each person whose hand he had the pleasure to shake. Who might be a potential business partner? Who had a weakness which could be exploited at the opportune moment? Who might be a threat? Life is business, and business never stops.

After perhaps an hour of mingling, Enoch slipped unnoticed from the assembly hall of Hansi’s estate. He followed the path the servants had walked all evening down to the wine cellars below, liberated two bottles of the merchant’s finest red vintage, and retreated to his guest quarters on the second floor.

“Best to give them what they want,” he said aloud to himself as he pulled the cork from the first bottle and raised it to his lips. And that’s what he’d done. The crowd demanded a stalwart, self-deprecating hero and a daring rescue against overwhelming odds. And that’s what he’d given them. If the image stuck, and there was no reason to believe it wouldn’t, he and his adventuring partners would be gods among mortals for the foreseeable future. Glowing archetypes in a tale no one would be able to tell, and yet a tale which everyone would be more than happy to in fact tell.

Enoch cast a lowly cantrip, conjuring a spectral hand to appear in the air before him. With but a mere though he willed the hand to open the trunk at the foot of his bed. From within its shadowy confines the hand retrieved a dark and disturbing tome and held it above the table in front of the thief.

Rescuing Anselo and Elkarena had not gone as he had planned. Not by a long shot. Where there had been hopes of abundant treasure there was instead a trifle of coin. Enoch reminded himself that the spell book would indeed come in very handy. But it was coin Enoch needed. Coin to build his empire. To secure loyalties. To bribe the weak. To destroy the strong. And without it, Enoch knew his plans would remain nothing more than a vision, a vision that consumed his every thought and action.

At least the gambling devise was real, he reminded himself. He recalled with a rising thrill the manner in which it had enthralled Anselo, twisted his will such that he plowed coin after coin into its insatiable maw. Had Elkarena not intervened, Enoch was confident Anselo would have deposited his last copper in the machine, and then committed his very soul to securing more coin to assuage his hunger. Under any other circumstances Enoch would have exacted revenge against the half elf for injuring him. But his actions spoke to the power of the device; and so Anselo was spared. Enoch knew too that somewhere within Anselo the undying need remained dormant. And that need was a card Enoch knew he could play when the opportunity presented itself.

Yes, the machine was a critical piece of the plan. Yes it was safe. But how to get it out of the ruins? Yet another series of actions that required coin, which only added to Enoch’s growing frustration with his circumstances. Perhaps, Enoch mused, when Anselo becomes more adept at spell casting, his services may come in handy.

Enoch’s thoughts drifted back to the book floating in front of him. Empires must be built on strong foundations, he reminded himself. And strong foundations come about only from the proper development and execution of plans. If he was to build a business without rival, be it merchant, monster, or king, his plan must be executed flawlessly.

And yet, he frowned, no plan is perfect if it involves people. And Enoch’s plan was nothing without people. He couldn’t build his empire alone, nor could he stand any chance of managing it without allies. Allies loyal to him, loyal to the death. Allies with skills to compliment his own. Allies who understood that order was necessary in order to contain the chaos that daily threatened to tear apart civilization. Without order there could be no business. And without business there was no need for people like Enoch. And that would not do. Enoch’s empire would not replace the fragile order that he saw around him. On the contrary, it would bolster it from within, from the shadows.

Perhaps within the party there were allies, he wondered, setting the now empty bottle aside and reaching for the second. Did these adventurers share in his passion for wealth, for power, for security? Were they capable of making the decisions necessary to build and defend an organization? There was certainly value in continuing his relationship with them. If for no other reason than it reinforced his cover as a self-deprecating hero, and provided additional opportunity for coin. It seemed clear they were intent upon meeting up with the elves. And that meant getting into the Harrag. Which they had no idea how to accomplish. And which, he admitted to himself, he didn’t either. Nor was he sure there was any value in it for him to go where only death awaited. Treasure most certainly. And perhaps information. Enoch was confident his connections could secure them a safe passage to the Harrag. He could barter that with the group to ensure his continued participation. Whether or not he would actually partake of the fool’s journey, which he would hold off on until he had a better understanding of the odds, and the payoff. One thing was certain, this journey would certainly involve blood, and would challenge each of them in their own way. That was life, Enoch told himself, a series of difficult decisions.

“Can they do the difficult things?” he mumbled aloud? Maybe, he answered in his head. Life was a series of difficult decisions. And some decisions were much, much more difficult, and darker than others. The mad girl, what was her name, Acacia? Of course she had to go. She was a risk, a severe risk to their survival. A risk to the mission at the very least. They all knew it, yet none of them were able to make the difficult, and correct decision to eliminate the risk. Anselo clearly could not, nor did it seem could Lornel. A slave to his convictions, thought Enoch, unable to slake his thirst even when freely offered.

“That’s why they need me,” he chuckled, “to make the difficult decisions. To do what must be done. To get my hands dirty where they know they must, but cannot.” Yes, he could do the things that needed doing. They’re a naïve group, faithful to their values and principles. And yet there was power in that. Power for them; power for Enoch.

Enoch’s mind drifted briefly to Elkarena. She was different, though not dramatically so. Of the group she was the only one who was unmoved by the mad woman’s death. What did that say about her? Was there a place for her in Enoch’s plans? Could she be the war to his diplomacy? The muscle to his mind? Time would tell.

The spectral hand rotated the spell book lazily in the candle light. The book contained information in the form of magic. And information was often more powerful than gold or sword. Enoch knew that his empire would thrive only if he had control of information. To do that he would need someone in his service who would be the gatherer and keeper of intelligence. A spy in the open, deliberately placed so as to have access to the deepest, darkest secrets of man. And who better to extract the secrets from man than a woman? Elkarena? No. While she was truly beautiful, and could no doubt loosen the tongue of even the most modest and prudent of men, hers was a life of brute force, not feminine guile.
But there were women who could hold sway over any man; women with a desire to raise themselves up out of the condition and hold power over those who enslaved them; women who with the right training and guidance, could bring a kingdom to its knees, both figuratively and literally.

Enoch allowed the book to drop to the table. That woman would be his first ally. A woman of rare beauty, with skills to tear down even the mightiest defenses within any man. And yet a woman who, like him, could get her hands dirty. Or bloody. A woman who must be found in her youth, who he can release from the bondage that is her current existence, and who will pledge her loyalty to him, and who through their combined effort, will rise in station to a level she never dreamed possible.

Was that woman in Zroas? Did she exist anywhere?

“No better time than now to find out,” Enoch said. He secured the book back in the locker, grabbed his cloak, and slipped unseen out of the manor and into the night.

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Anselo's Concerns
Coming Home

Anselo was concerned. No, he was more than concerned, he decided after further consideration; he was troubled. The celebration, hastily arranged by his grandfather, Hanzi, whirled around him, but he was disengaged from it. Oh, he smiled and joked, saying all the right things to the right people, but his heart was not in any of it, and for Anselo, that was unusual.

The trip to the ancient keep of Reynaldo, whom Anselo was now dubbing “Reynaldo the Mad,” had not gone quite as expected. He had anticipated some danger and some magical strangeness, but it was even stranger and more dangerous than he ever could have guessed. The end result was a sort of “harrowing enlightenment,” a lethal, sometimes horrifying journey that gave knowledge even as it tested sanity.

Anselo had stressed to the others not to go into any details on what all had happened at the keep. It was best, he suggested, to not even be specific about where they had been this past year. “Adventuring in the north,” was all Anselo would tell anyone. Hanzi would be an exception to this, of course, but they hadn’t had the chance to really talk about their trial.

“Time enough for that tomorrow,” Hanzi had said. “Tonight, let us just rejoice in your safe return.”

That really meant Elkarena’s safe return. Not that his grandfather wasn’t happy to see Anselo alive and well, but Elkarena had always been his favorite and a year apart hadn’t changed that. Elkarena got a long, warm embrace followed by another; Anselo got a clap on the shoulder and a nod. A year ago, it would have annoyed him more, this time it was only a minor irritant—his mind was preoccupied by other concerns and foremost among those was the man who had sought them out on their grandfather’s behalf.

They had lost an entire year in Reynaldo’s keep. A mysterious magic had pulled them into a deep slumber and the ravages of time had been kept at bay by the supernatural paralysis. They had dreamed. Anselo was still unsure what Lornel and Niam had experienced during the dreaming; they hadn’t really spoken of it. He and his sister, however, had been hosted by the fae. Not together, thank Larlasse, but Anselo knew that his sister was receiving fae tutelage, just as he was. It had galled him to know that his allies were aiding her, but he had been given little choice; Maurelle could be very persuasive.

What they couldn’t know was that as a year passed in the dreaming, a year was passing in the real world. Their grandfather, certain they had met a grisly end, had hired a man named Enoch to find them and bring them back (the presumption being that he would be bringing back their remains, Anselo supposed). Instead, the man had found them in the magical slumber, alive and unharmed, and had then figured out how to revive everyone. The man was smart and perceptive, Anselo didn’t question that, and initially he seemed to be a great boon. Anselo’s first encounter with him had gone poorly, with Enoch getting a nasty taste of fae magic, but they had gotten past that quickly enough and Enoch seemed keen on exploring the keep with everyone else. Then he revealed his true colors, or so Anselo believed.

They had found the girl, Acacia, elsewhere in the keep. She was an artisan or sculptor of some sort and the mad Reynaldo had used his magic to transform her, freezing her in time forever, or at least until the party arrived and reversed the effect. She was 150 years out of time, but Anselo had liked her immediately. To be fair, Anselo tended to like any attractive girl who looked his way, and why not? He was young and charming enough and if everyone came out of the deal happy, what was the harm? His sister, in typical fashion, was not impressed by her at all; that Anselo liked the girl only made her less impressed. It had always been that way and Anselo supposed there wasn’t the woman yet born that could gain his sister’s approval.

Acacia had wanted to leave the keep immediately, but the party had wanted to venture deeper. Wary of being without their protection, she reluctantly went along. Anselo did his best to keep her in good spirits, but it was clear that the longer they stayed the more traumatized Acacia was becoming. Still, she seemed fine when she was with Anselo and, being handy with a bow, never failed to lend a hand when the nastier denizens of the keep showed their ugly faces. And then it all went horribly wrong.

Anselo still wasn’t entirely sure what had caused the scenario to begin with, though a corner of his mind blamed himself—he never should have left her alone. He and his sister had gone off exploring and left Acacia with the rest of the group. Enoch went to talk to her and she had pulled up her bow defensively, apparently not recognizing him. Lornel had tried to intervene, but this only made things worse and Acacia proceeded to shoot Enoch in the shoulder. Niam knocked her out and they called for Anselo and Elkarena to return and that should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t.

Anselo had his eye on the unconscious Acacia as he asked Lornel to explain what had happened. During the conversation, Enoch was moving the girl around the room—Anselo still wasn’t sure why—and eventually propped her up against a wall. He had positioned himself perfectly to deflect gazes, but Anselo had shifted to keep an eye on the helpless girl. He and he alone had watched as Enoch snapped the girl’s neck. There were plenty of surreal moments in Reynaldo’s keep, but nothing had chilled him so much as watching cold-blooded murder.

He should have acted in the moment, said something, done something, but he was stunned to inaction. And really, what could he have done? If he had attacked Enoch, the rest of the party would have intervened, and in truth, Anselo wasn’t sure he could kill another man anyway. Maybe in defense of himself and his friends, but he wasn’t his sister; he didn’t have that killer instinct and he knew it. So that left what? Accusing Enoch of the crime? They were in the middle of nowhere, far from any sort of authority. Barring that the party decided to just execute Enoch for his crime (unlikely), the only thing an accusation would have accomplished would have been to paint a target on Anselo—murderers don’t typically like witnesses and go to great lengths to eliminate them. Of course, there was a fair chance that Anselo might already be on Enoch’s hit list. He had, after all, attacked Enoch when they first met. Anselo had been entranced by the magical gambling machine—in truth, he could still feel the linger of desire to return to it and throw in another coin—and Enoch, whom he didn’t know, had startled him… or perhaps he was warding off someone who might force him from the machine… it was all hazy now. Either way, Anselo had not been in his right mind. He summoned up the magic and blasted Enoch without hesitation. How were his actions any different from Acacia’s? Did this make him a target for Enoch? Anselo didn’t know and was wary of finding out, so he said nothing, did nothing.

When the opportunity presented itself, he told Lornel what he had witnessed. That seemed strange, even to Anselo; he barely knew the man, if one could even refer to a thael as such. It was because of honor, Anselo decided. Lornel was feeling the bloodthirst while in the keep, he had to be, but he absolutely refused to take human blood, even when freely offered. He kept his vows and it was that kind of honor that Anselo sorely needed on his side. Unfortunately, Lornel had no more idea of what to do in such a situation than Anselo did. They eventually decided to reveal that the girl was dead and feign any knowledge of what had happened. Lornel was uncomfortable with the lie, so it was left to Anselo to do all the talking. Fortunately, Anselo was a fairly skilled liar.

As expected, Enoch pretended to be surprised, but was otherwise calm, collected and ready to move on. Elkarena’s response, however, was not quite what Anselo anticipated. His sister hadn’t liked Acacia, true, but Anselo still expected more of a reaction. At the least, he presumed that she would be curious as to how the girl had died; was it from something in the keep, some new danger they needed to be aware of? Instead, her response had been cold and uncaring, and that at best. At worst, and he hoped he was wrong, Anselo sensed that she was actually pleased that the girl was dead. Acacia was no warrior, that much had been obvious, but she knew how to use a bow and she had used it against their foes on more than one occasion and to good effect. Yes, she was traumatized and yes, it was getting worse, Anselo had to admit that, but until the situation with Enoch, heo was unaware of her doing anything counter to the purposes of the party. Why his sister would be pleased at the death of an ally, even a mildly crazy one, was beyond him and of great concern. He should talk to her about it, he knew—at the least he should make her aware that a murderer was counted among their number—and yet he couldn’t bring himself to do it. She hadn’t cared that Acacia was dead at the time and he wasn’t sure telling her she was murdered would make any difference.

As for Enoch, Anselo was still unsure how to proceed there as well. The man had given no indication of umbrage toward Anselo, had been amiable even. Of course, he was a mercenary in the employee of Hanzi, so it could be that he was biding his time, waiting until they returned to Zroas and his contract was completed. Once Hanzi paid him, then Anselo would be fair game. It was making Anselo paranoid. Even if that were not the case and Enoch had no designs on Anselo’s life, the man couldn’t be trusted. Who knew what slight would set him off? How long would it be before someone else got their neck broken?

It would be worthwhile, Anselo decided, to see what information he could ferret out of Hanzi about the man. He knew him, had hired him, after all, so he must know something of his history. There had to be reasons why he thought he was the right person to send in search of his grandchildren. It was possible, of course, even likely, that Hanzi had no idea of Enoch’s dark side. Still, more information could only be a good thing, especially so long as both they and Enoch were in Zroas at the same time. If they stuck to the half-formed plan and headed east, it would be of less concern, since Enoch would presumably be staying in Zroas or heading off to kill someone else in some other part of the world.

Anselo’s thoughts on the matter were disrupted when a smartly dressed young man sidled up to him and welcomed him back. Anselo didn’t recognize him, so he smiled, made a polite acknowledgement and tried to excuse himself. He threaded his way through the party to get another drink only to find that the man was following him. He claimed that he had recently been north himself and then started asking questions about where Anselo and his sister had been. One pointed question after another quickly put Anselo on guard.

This has to be one of Barister’s toadies, thought Anselo. And that only if we’re lucky.

Unable to escape the man’s volley of inquiries and concerned about what might happen if the fellow tried the same routine on some other member of the returning party, Anselo summoned up the magic. It was easy enough to charm the fellow, easier still to get him drinking too much. It wasn’t long before others had to escort him outside to vomit in the bushes and that, Anselo hoped, would be the end of that. Using the magic felt good, it felt right, and that scared him.

There had been many revelations at Reynaldo’s keep regarding the fae, too many for Anselo to ignore, much as a part of him wanted to. The puzzle pieces were coming together and Anselo did not like the picture they were forming. He had made a mistake. It pained him to admit it, but there it was; the source of his power, his magic, was not what he thought it was at all, and what it was, was bad.

It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had first performed the ritual, that he had first gazed on Maurelle, but it had in fact been only a few months.

A year and a few months if we include the time in the dreaming, he supposed.

He was so certain that he had contacted the Seelie, so certain that he had found his salvation in the benevolent fae, that he had not bothered to look deeper, to question more. His desire to be equal to his sister had always clouded his judgment, but this time it might have cost him a high price. At the time, though, given his knowledge of the Seelie, it had all appeared as he had expected. Maurelle seemed the perfect emissary of the Seelie Court in every way, and before Anselo knew it, he was binding himself to them in blood pact. The power he had longed for was his and it all seemed to be going his way, until the dreaming.

The year with Maurelle, studying the magic, had been a moving, indescribable experience. Had that been the entirety of it, it was possible that Anselo would still be in the dark. At some point, however, Maurelle had offered to take him on a journey across the Dreamlands, a journey that had opened his eyes. Strange creatures, fae and otherwise, had crossed their path, but none of them were of the nature that Anselo expected to find among the Seelie. He expected some wildness, some chaos, but these creatures were all tinged with something darker and colder.

Anselo knew something was off, maybe even knew exactly what it meant, but rather than acknowledge it, he had ignored it. His need to master the magic and become his sister’s equal was still much stronger than any concern he might have about the fae. They returned from their journey and Anselo continued his studies, giving no further thought to what he had witnessed.

The next testing of his self-induced ignorance came near the time he was to leave the dreaming. Maurelle had told him that Niam was a danger to him, that the journal he was keeping contained too much information. If it fell into the wrong hands, it could put Anselo in harm’s way. This had long been a concern of Anselo’s so her words came as no surprise, but he wasn’t really sure what to do about it. Maurelle offered to take care of it for him, and though she wouldn’t say what that meant exactly, it was all too obvious to Anselo—she meant to kill Niam, or perhaps worse, leave him trapped in the dreaming forever. There was a small part of him that agreed with her and wanted to let her deal with it, but he couldn’t bring himself to go through with it. Again, he didn’t have his sister’s killer instinct. Maurelle prodded and cajoled, but Anselo stood fast against her. It was, so far as he could recall, the only time he had not given in to her, and it was clear she was displeased by his reluctance. She eventually accepted his decision, but made it clear that he would probably regret not taking her up on the offer.

Once again, Anselo knew that something was off, and once again, he chose to ignore it. That his “goodly” fae allies were offering to eliminate someone for him should have resonated, but he was still too wrapped up in his own selfish desires to see it for what it was.

The final push came with the words of the marid, Lugh, when he and Lornel had last spoken to him. The marid had said that the fae statues of the keep were representations of Reynaldo’s muse, and having been up close and very personal with Maurelle on many occasions, Anselo easily recognized them as being his own fae mistress. She had then, according to the marid, lured Reynaldo into making a pact with a dark power. The Seelie could be pranksters, true, but Anselo had never read a story of them leading mortals to making underworld pacts. The marid could have been lying, Anselo supposed, but to what end? No, the revelation, along with what Maurelle had shown him and what she had offered to do for him, was forcing Anselo to acknowledge the truth: Maurelle was not a member of the Seelie at all. She was most likely a member of their dark mirror, the Autumn Court, the Unseelie.

If what he suspected was true, and it was much more than a suspicion at this point, then his dealings with Enoch were the least of his problems. Enoch was just a man; the Unseelie were a power, and one that Anselo had willingly, if unknowingly, tied himself to.

What truly troubled Anselo was that he doubted that Maurelle would even deny it at this point. The pact was made and it would be difficult if not impossible to break. Even if he could forsake it, Maurelle knew that he wouldn’t. There were too many threats on the horizon to get rid of the only thing that could protect him. Lord Barister could be looking for a little payback, Enoch might decide to murder him, and then there was the situation with the silver raven. It was some sort of relic, and the marid had warned them in no uncertain terms that there were powers out there looking for it, powers they were not yet ready to face. Without the magic, Anselo doubted he would ever be ready, and whatever the source of his power, he would never willingly step back under the shadow of his sister’s protection. Until he could find an alternative, he was just going to have to accept it.

All roads lead to the Harrag, he thought to himself.

The marid had said that the silver raven had originally been in the hands of the elves, so it made sense to try to put it back into their hands. If there were powers out there looking for it, let the elves deal with it.

Lornel had long professed an interest in going to the Harrag to see what the elves knew about the thael, so he had a reason to go already, and everyone knew that where Lornel went, Niam would follow.

More important than either of these reasons, though, at least for Anselo, was that the elves were among the few sources of knowledge about the fae. Almost everything Anselo had learned about them had come from his father, an elf of the Harrag. His father knew a lot and was not considered an expert on the subject; there were others in the Harrag who were. There was some ancient tie between the elves and the fae, and if anyone would know how to break the bonds with the Unseelie, they would know. He and his sister could…

Anselo paused in thought as a chill ran down his spine.

Elkarena had spent a year in the dreaming being taught by the fae just as he had. They both knew it, though they had never really talked about it. Accepting what he now knew to be true, that their training had come from the Unseelie, what influence might they have had on her? Anselo thought back on her attitude toward the death of Acacia. Was that his sister? Or was that the subtle influence of the Unseelie?

If his sister had been tampered with by the fae, then he held a share of the blame; after all, he had let Maurelle go to her, despite his misgivings. Again, if anyone could determine this and perhaps know of a way to deal with it, the elves of the Harrag would.

Of course, as half-elves, the gods only knew what reception he and his sister would receive there. The silver raven might give them a way in, or it could be that the xenophobic elves would just kill them and take it. There was only one way to find out.

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Lornel
(Coming Home)

Somewhere, several miles yet outside of Zroas, two road weary travelers press on toward civilization. The squelching sound of their boots on the muddy road is the only conversation between them, lost in their thoughts as they are.

I have learned much during this journey, though not the things I set out to discover. Instead, my attentions have turned inwards, to a past that I cannot recall. Perhaps Dusk dictates that I must first uncover my own history, before I can solve the mystery of my peoples past.

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Coming home

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The ride into town on the back of the teamster’s well fortified wagon is bumpy but restful for the Carvalho’s. Niam and Lornel gradually fall away into the distance and around the hillocks. Enoch rides quietly, lost in his thoughts. Each group drifts to their natural polarity as they come closer to Zroas.

As you enter the Market Gate of Zroas, the chaos of the wagons, horses, merchants, beggars, citizens, dogs, and the general mill of life suffuses your systems like a potion. The warmth of safety and something deeper, some basic human need for others, seizes you and you’ve never been so happy to be any place before.

As you hop off the teamster’s wagon, you notice some changes about the people here that seem different, somehow. The Market Gate has always been a melting pot of all the people of Mournra but you’re seeing more than the fair share of golaunts in the crowds. You notice that people are avoiding them as opposed to the other way around. Usually, golaunts keep to themselves and they end up avoiding the more civilized and numerous races. These savages are acting entitled, possessive. Almost as if they were the ones in charge.

Still, it does not damper the feeling of coming home that comes over you or the feeling of safe refuge. You make your way to the smaller gate door, where foot traffic comes and goes into Zroas, and the guard stops you. The blue livery is familiar as the tabard of Zroas for the guards but the unkempt manner in which it is worn, and the dirty stains down the side, seem at odds with your memories.

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Castlemourn Chronicles 5

As the party enter the well-appointed Museum they were awestruck by the seven amazingly lifelike statues. One in particular held their attention. A creature made entirely of water was decoratively laid out over a frozen pool.
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They knew this must be Davinia, the niece of the Marid who has created a portal inside of Reynaldo’s castle to seek after his niece. The creature and the pool were frozen solid by some magical means. Lornel sat down to perform the ritual to detect magical auras while the party investigated the rest of the museum room. One thing that struck Enoch was that the most prominent paintings in the room told the story of two brothers, both nobles, that eventually became estranged with one made a ruler of sorts and the other cast out of the pictures.

Lornel finished his ritual and determined that each of the statues were magical, however, the center statue with four arms and four deadly sabers was a different sort of magic. The party investigated the room further seeking the means to move the water and ice statue to the water portal room. Finally, there attempts turned to experimenting with destroying the container for the ice pool. Upon striking the structure, the four armed statue leapt to life and attacked.
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The party was hard-pressed to fight it off. Niam struck a definitive blow and stunned the creature. Unfortunately, this brought her attention fully upon him and a blinding series of saber slashes struck him down, deeply wounding him across the chest. Lornel moved to magically heal his companion as Elkarena came to the forefront of the battle. The dueling was intense and Elkarena was holding her own until the full focus of the animated statue came toward her. Again, four blurring sabers became an unassailable assault and Elkarena was forced back. Seeing his sister pressed so, Anselo released a mighty bolt of eldritch energy and blasted a hole clean through the statue, ending its terror. That done, they were still no closer to moving Davinia to the portal room. The party continued their investigation, hoping to find a way to free the young Marid girl.

Enoch investigated a side room that contained the broken statuary of Reynaldo’s presumable failures. He searched doggedly and found nothing of value. After he walked out, Anselo thought he too might glance through the room out of curiosity and, lo and behold, underneath the rubble and covered by rock dust, Anselo discovered a curious helmet that proved to be magical.
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Anselo was also becoming more comfortable with displaying a rod he received earlier. The rest of the party had noticed it in a passing manner however no one made any mention of it until Anselo cast an eldritch bolt using the rod and the red gem turned green; the same color as his magical bolts.
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Further investigating the museum proper, they came upon four very unique displays. The first was the God Amaunt in stunning detail. Standing in front of the statue one could feel the God’s strength and controlled fury. But more than that one felt peace in the presence of a protector.
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In the next room was an alabaster statue of a fey creature that seemed somewhat familiar to Anselo. The creature was supremely seductive, if in an evil fashion. Standing in this room one felt deep lust well up for the creature. It was hard to take one’s eyes from her nubile form.
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The next room was a display created on the wall. That of an angelic being, posed in a heroic manner giving the impression of purity and courageous sacrifice. The display was such that it gave the viewer a strong sense of inspiration, as if one could do most anything if this creature could overcome what clearly was a greater trial than the observer would ever face.
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And lastly, a display that took a good portion of the room and caused panic upon just seeing it. A loathsome nightmare of organic corruption more hideous than the blackest conjurations one could imagine flooded out with hysterical madness into the room.
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The effect of the tableau was so alarming that one could not help but stand in magnificent terror as it appeared to seeth, stew, surge, bubble and vomit serpentine slime covered creatures skittering and crawling to escape the yawning hellhole that birthed them, but to no avail, as sickly white tentacles lashed out at the infant monstrosities sucking them back into the dank soup of unknowable horrors. It was impossible to not feel the thrill of excitement and horror upon seeing this display. The emotions welled and skittered in and out of focus as a sane person could not appreciate it fully the pageant. The display urged the viewer to seek the emotion and come closer to understanding, and in so understanding find acceptance for this unnamable thing. Impressed and jarred by the various and contradictory master displays, the party managed to move on without destroying any of the works of art, although Lornel was hard-pressed to do so with regards to the bibbling cauldron of filth.
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Eventually the party came upon a simple room with two boat like objects resting lightly on the floor. Each was made of wood and approximately 2 feet long and had a well in the center in which one could place liquids or objects or one’s feet. Investigating the miniature boats proved them to be obviously magical but provided no clue to their operation. A curtain was also located in this room behind which was the most perfect statue, perhaps, in the entire museum-dungeon. It was a 7 foot tall statue of a fey creature that was beyond beautiful. Every curve and angle was perfectly carved in loving memory of this incredible creature. Anselo stared for a good long while and finally turned away stone-faced.
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Enoch, perhaps in a fit of frustration or perhaps in an inspired moment of violent investigation, took a hammer and smashed in the statue’s face. It proved to be ice and a sophisticated veneer covered it making it appear marble. Good-natured Anselo showed a rare flare of temper and demanded to know why Enoch would do such a horrible thing to such a beautiful statue. Enoch was taken aback and quickly explained that they had discovered things about the nature of the statue and perhaps the nature of all statues in the dungeon by this bold action. Anselo turned away in disgust.

While the party deliberated over the small boats, Elkarena and Anselo explored a side room which proved to be a study. It was covered in pages, canvases, frames, cross braces, and various models of the horrible mechanical/undead contraptions. Their necrotic containment chambers were laid out in design on some of the pages. Inside the room were also many cans of paint, bottles of various fluids and boxes of powders and dust. Anselo took one of the bottles and lifted it to his nose. It smelled, if one could describe such a horrible smell, as a dead, diseased slug mixed with the pungent aroma of spoiled food. The liquid was purple. Anselo tucked it away for his own purposes.

Meanwhile, Enoch, Lornel, Niam, and Acacia continue pondering the mysteries of the boat. Acacia had not been well since the attack of the marionettes. Something in her, broke, at that horrible experience. After that, she mostly followed the party quietly and when trouble came, added her arrows to their defense. But, it was becoming increasingly clear that Acacia was not a well woman. Enoch, who she did not know as well, attempted to engage her in conversation. She grew fearful and knocked an arrow. Lornel approached her and attempted to calm the woman, but when she whispered in a hysterical voice to Lornel, “Who is he?” Lornel responded with a “I don’t know.” Regardless of Lornel’s intentions with this answer, it’s effect on Acacia was instantaneous. She raised her bow and fired at Enoch’s heart. The arrow struck his shoulder and Lornel, Niam and, especially, Enoch were stunned by her action. As she attempted to draw another arrow, Lornel tried to restrain her. Seeing limited success with that, Niam leapt into the air and came down with a precisely controlled punch to her jaw. The effect was immediate. Acacia fell to the ground, unconscious and unhurt. Enoch immediately carried the woman to one of the boats and attempted to prop her up in some fashion with her feet in the well. The reason was not immediately apparent but as Enoch continued his manipulations of Acacia, he took her to the corner of the room. Right at this time, Elkarena and Anselo were rejoining the party. With his shoulder still hurting from the arrow aimed to kill, Enoch expertly applied pressure to Acacia’s spine and covertly snapped her neck. It was done so well and so expertly, that none could see. None but Anselo, who, as luck would have it, had moved to precisely the right location, in precisely the right moment, and clearly observed the murder of Acacia.
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Lornel, Niam and Anselo decided to the presumably unconscious Acacia to the water portal room where their Marid ally might be able to provide some assistance. As the party split, Anselo whispered to Lornel that he saw Enoch murder the disturbed girl and did not know for what reason. It alarmed him greatly as, if Enoch was killing those who attacked him, for whatever reason, that put Anselo in the bullseye, as he had earlier attacked the man in his maniacal obsession over the gambling device. Anselo and Lornel kept this information to themselves, for the time being, as they approached the Marid.

The Marid immediately appeared upon the three of them entering the water portal room. Through negotiations with Lugh, the water Marid, Anselo, Lornel and Niam were able to ascertain the command words for the boats which proved to be floating tugboats of a sort. Used, along with a net that was mentioned, they moved statuary around the museum. The Marid also politely but firmly told him that his water portal room was no place to discard their dead bodies and if they could remove their dead associate, that would be best. Lornel took Acacia and, in an odd reflection of what may have happened 150 years ago, he put her body in the same freezer which, earlier had belched a zombified body who had attacked them. With things settled with the Marid, they came back to join the party. Anselo announced that Acacia was dead and they tucked her into the enchanted freezer. Enoch feigned shock and Elkarena seemed nonplussed by the news. Acacia’s death was dropped in lieu of discovering the mysteries of the boat.

After returning, the party moved throughout the rest of the museum rooms and discovered two replicas of living creatures. One appeared to be a swarthy, handsome man in his mid-30s, and another, a beautiful young woman with startling red eyes. The woman felt lifelike in every detail and Lornel, respectfully, did a full examination of her. He insisted she was a person, for all he could tell, but paralyzed and unable to move. The male figure, although appearing equally alive and perfect in every way, was frozen and stiff to the touch. Noting this oddity, the party moved on. Around the next corner they found a tapestry with the exact same imagery as the painting in the Thaele actor’s room earlier. The party decided the tapestry would probably fetch a handsome sum and decided to take it with them.

Finally, with the enchanted “tug’ boats, they had the means to move Davinia to the water portal room. Experimenting with the tugboats, Lornel took mental control of them and begin to push the immense statuary and ice toward the portal room. It proved incredibly difficult and Lornel’s will was only strong enough to move Davinia so far before he collapsed, very nearly dead. Anselo took control of the boats and continued the journey, the boats moved sluggishly but they were making progress with Anselo showing some signs of strain. It was only a short until Elkarena lost patience. Seeing the effort in Anselo’s countenance and, not wanting her brother lying on the floor like Lornel, she decided to take over their command. There was some protest from Anselo but Elkarena just mentally wrenched the boats from Anselo’s grasp and easily moved them into the portal room. As she commanded the tugboats to push the sculpture through the portal room door, she mumbled something under her breath. Perhaps it was, “I don’t see what all the fuss was about,” or maybe it was just a muttered prayer of thanks to The Seven.
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Finally, the Madrid Lugh, was reunited with his niece, Davinia. Through his own water magics, he melted the ice keeping her prisoner and her water form splashed into the pool then quickly emptied into the water portal basin. Davinia came up from the water where she and Lugh had a joyous reunion, albeit in the language no one in the party understood. After a moment, Davinia waved goodbye, sinking into the water and disappearing into her own realm.

Lugh turned to the party, very appreciative and graciously fulfilled his part of the bargain. A soggy bag of 50 gold coins came to the surface and was placed in front of the party. Lugh also identified, through his own mystical means, the enchanted items the party had found throughout Reynaldo’s castle.

The rod was called a rod of the pact keeper and it enhanced a warlock’s attunement to his benefactor, making the ties stronger and the power more easily accessible. The helmet, although old-fashioned and slightly odd in appearance, was created for a companion of Reynaldo’s who was one of his most stalwart defenders. The helmet protected anyone from the effects of mental assaults and charm magics. It also allowed the wearer to focus intently on one other person and fill them with a sense of inspiration and courage for a moment’s time. The party then asked to identify the Raven which they had carried with them all this time.
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At determining the Raven’s powers, Lugh gave them a grave warning. He said the Raven was called the Song of Quinaria and was an ancient artifact from the time of The Fall. Although no one in the party was anywhere near powerful enough to use such a thing, there were many beings who were, and they would be seeking the Raven. Lugh supposed the party’s time in stasis in the castle had forestalled the inevitable and perhaps thrown off the pursuers but he assured them powerful forces would be coming for The Song of Quinaria. It was said the song would “open the portal and the dead shall answer the call.”

Deciding that nothing more remained in the castle that was of any interest to the party, they decided to return to Zroas where Hanzi must certainly be beside himself with worry after not hearing from them for more than a year. The only problem that still remained was Lornel was beyond the ability to heal himself and, being a Thaele creature, the only nourishment that would sustain him was from the living blood of a creature. None of that was to be had in the dungeon. The party rested until they determined they could move safely through the dungeon and outside. Lornel fashioned a litter, of sorts, out of the tugboats and brought himself to the top of the stairs leading out of the dungeon.

After some mishaps with forgetting the teleportation protections of Reynaldo’s castle, the party managed to escape into the wilderness. Once there, plentiful game revived all the party, but most notably Lornel. The party camped for days and during this time most the injuries they had sustained healed naturally. After a weeks’ time, the party felt fully refreshed and ready to journey back to Zroas. The trip was mostly uneventful, the small exception being camping within earshot of gnolls performing some sort of mongrel ritual throughout the night and keeping everybody awake. As they approached closer to Zroas, they managed to hitch a ride with a merchant wagon headed the same direction. This gave the Carvhalos a chance to rest. Lornel, understandably, stayed back from the caravan and Niam kept him company. Enoch stayed atop is horse and rode amiably beside the merchant wagon.
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Eventually, after what seemed like so long a time, the party came within sight of the merchant town of Zroas. More than a year had passed since most of them have seen civilization and the sight was one to heal their wounded hearts as the wilderness had healed their bodies. As they grew closer, they could feel their spirits lift, as if the town radiated goodwill toward them.

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Castlemourn Chronicles 4
Session Four: The story, in brief...

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Session Four

  • Enoch arrives at the Tower, and gains access accidentally by carrying a journal from a bygone age. He is guided through the underbelly by a white cat; presumably the same as was met before.
    • Enoch is here to find the Carvhalo children, or their remains, and return them to Hanzi. It has been one year since they went missing.
  • Enoch discovers the sleeping party, apparently enchanted. He surmises that magical riddles appearing on the mammoth statue must be solved to awaken them.
    • He solves these riddles, awakening first Elkarena, then Anselo, then Lornel, then Niam, and finally Acacia.
    • Anselo gambles further, and later on suspects that the machine had enchanted him.
      • Though in different ways, each party member was changed dramatically by their year in slumber., having gained experiences and insights within the realms of their own minds.
  • The party, after speaking for a time with one another, decide to continue further into the estate.
  • Searching the nearby quarters reveals a hidden chamber in a mans apartment. Within the chamber is a large portrait of a man drinking from the neck of another man, and a large stone coffin.
    • Within the coffin is a slumbering form, enchanted in similar fashion to the parties own sleep. The party locates a riddle, and upon solving it, the man awakens.
      • The mans name is Milford, and he is a Thaele actor.
    • A brief combat ensues as the man is startled, and with divine power, Lornel calms the emotions of everyone present. Rational discussion is had thereafter. Milford joins the group, and promises to speak with Lornel at length about his people (at least, as they were 150 years ago).
  • The group presses onward, deeper into the complex.
  • A library is found, housing a massive number of tomes on subjects such as history, religion, math, and the sciences. A strange collection of fiction is found as well, written by 4 authors who Milford claims were influential in his time.
    • Combat breaks out with 2 Skelebots; the library is partially destroyed.
    • The party takes about an hour to peruse the collection, searching for information. Nothing of extreme import is found.
      • Lornel has a vision while reading anthropological treaties on the Thaele; it reveals that he had 2 children, one boy and one girl. Something painful happened regarding them.
  • A scroll room is found. It houses many old scripts written in Sylvain, and largely reference the Fae and Fae-touched individuals (warlocks?). Also mentioned are the histories of mankind post-fall, and together they create a strong picture of civilized history.
  • A large, sturdy door is found.
    • The lock does not submit to Enochs deft hands.
      • The integrity does not crack before Lornels mighty shoulder.
        • The door is sundered at long last by Elkarenas great sword.
    • But first, repair bots come to fix the besieged furniture.
      • In the fight, Milford goes down, and is killed by the death-splosion of the Skelebots.
        • Lornel is partially responsible.
  • The barred room holds many sexual deviations and perversions, largely revolving around fae creatures.
    • Elkarena finds a strangely serviceable suit of studded leather. It has "studs in all the right places:.
  • The sound of more Skelebots approaching causes the party to flee, taking refuge for several hours (4) in the scroll room. During this time, Anselo and Lornel patch up Acacia as best as they can, and she regains consciousness.
  • Continued exploration finds a taxidermy room. Inside are stuffed animals, and a strange creature that looks vaguely like a sack of potatoes.
    • The stuffed creatures animate, and try to kill the party.
      • Anselo kills a harmless stuffed frog, who (adorably) wanted to murder him.
    • A search of the room finds useful items such as artificial glass eyes and needle/thread.
  • A large room, filled with statues is found.
    • One feature draws every eye; that of a female water elemental, frozen in time.
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