Winter!: Prepare for holiday gaming!
guild WArs ~Island Hopping
Dancer's brow furrowed as he thought about what could result from sending out the call..... Rising to his feet, he looked around the tranquil glade. Sure this place was remote and generally an unknown, but calling Alice..... And what would the others do?
A light breeze moved through the glade, bringing the scent of the ocean. Small animals moved here and there in the bushes pursuing the daily quest for food. Insects buzzed along.... All combined to create a picture of a serene, untroubled place. The island seemed restful and blissfully unaware of what was about to hit it. From experience knowing how much impact Alice could have on a peaceful setting Dancer knew exactly what was about to hit the island.
Personally he hoped it had a good insurance provider...
"Ah well...." he thought with a grin, "It’s been far too long anyway, time to mix things up a little....."
Taking a stance of summoning, the mage lifted his arms to the tropical blue sky and concentrated on thinking elsewhere as a smile formed on his lips.
It was a bright, warm day on the continent of Cantha. The wintertime weather was grudgingly starting to give way to the renewal of the spring season. Such a day scented with all the aromas of the earth waking from her slumber along with the chatter of animals and the warm sunshine brings people out in the open air to enjoy it. This day finds four members of the guild known as The Luminaries having lunch in an open air restaurant currently popular with the imperial canthan court.
“Balthazar’s balls!” muttered a large grey haired warrior sitting at a table near the edge of the court. “Do ye think we’ll get our meals sometime this week maybe??”
“Relax Thresh”, replied Kyrtos. “This café caters to the imperial court; waiting is just part of the atmosphere”
“At least we have wine” chipped in Metroid, an assassin so stylishly dressed; even his throwing stars were monogrammed.
“We need more cups though; these don’t last very long….”
Metroid looked around frowning, “What do you mean Juggernaut? They gave us cups along with the jugs. Hey! What happened to your cup??”
“Got tired of waiting for the food so I ate mine…” replied Jugg with a sad look.
Thresh Mothma laughed into his wine. “Jugg, just because the cups are made out of beeswax and honey doesn’t mean they are edible “Thresh paused to reflect. “Well I suppose they are, but you’re not supposed to eat them”
“It’s not my fault, if they would serve us faster I wouldn’t be sitting here starving already, Hey mister, if you’re not gonna eat that chicken, I’ll take it” Jugg directed the question to a local sitting at a nearby table.
The recipient, a minor noble with a small retinue looked up from his meal with some puzzlement at the question. The noble’s pet; a young imperial phoenix, viewed Jugg with obvious nervousness. It swiftly hopped up and with some fluttering of wings and quick hops managed to swiftly position itself behind the noble.
“Pardon me sir” said one of the noble’s retainers. “I believe you’re quite mistaken. The exalted minister Lo Phatt isn’t having chicken, he is of course having a watercress salad with chunks of sea urchin” the attendant finished with a sniff.
“Jugg, that’s not a chicken, it’s an imperial phoenix” Kyrtos said through his grin.
“Whatever”, replied Jugg” it’s got wings, feathers and a beak. Bet it tastes like chicken.”
The phoenix was not very comforted by Juggernaut’s direct gaze and the way he was licking his lips as he obviously pictured dinner a carte with or without feathers attached. It started becoming quite agitated and making warbling noises as it looked around for the fastest escape route. Lo Phatt paused with a forkful of greens halfway to his mouth as he looked over the tableful of barbarians he had been successfully ignoring until just now. There were two large armored warriors. Both had muscles stacked on their muscles and had that competent relaxed air of the seasoned warrior. The third of the group was in woodsman’s garb. He seemed of medium height but thin. Almost underfed, even for a ranger. Still, there was no mistaking the power in his lean whipcord frame. The fourth of the group was an assassin. An honorable profession in Cantha. This one appeared well dressed, most likely a retainer of standing in a good noble house.
Lo Phatt repressed a sneer with obvious effort. One didn’t expect uncouth barbarians to understand the finer points, but still. These ruffians were not only sitting there in their armor but had weapons strapped on as well. He was about to launch into a severe dressing down of their lack of common courtesy when he saw that they wore the guild badge of the Luminaries. A cold chill ran down Lo Phatt’s spine as the angry words dried up in his throat. He had been in the office of the ministry of finance that day two weeks ago when one of the Luminaries warriors had been riding roughshod on the ministry’s clerks demanding answers. A tall redheaded female armored in platemail with the biggest axe Lo Phatt had ever seen. The barbarian had cracked the wood of the reception desk when she slammed her fist down on it to get a clerks attention.
And then there was the elementalist that had been there. Every ministry building had wards woven around it to prevent any unauthorized spellcaster from being able to do so much as cast a cantrip. It was standard security. The barbarian somehow managed not only to cast spells, but actually blew a hole in the wall when a captain of the guard mistook her for a lady of pleasure. And the amount of paperwork that burned due to the rise in temperature was simply appalling. One could understand the mistake considering the way she was dressed. Attractive for a barbarian, her blonde hair shone like the sun itself. Lo Phatt saw much of interest in her till he looked into her eyes. Never in his life had he seen as much rage in anyone’s eyes till that day. And, if the gods were kind, he never would for the rest of his life.
Lo Phatt shivered as the day suddenly seemed colder. Oh yes, the Luminaries were known well enough. In the eternal war between the luxons and the kurzicks, a Lumi team on the field would bring a heartfelt curse to many a pair of kurzick lips. Even in the imperial capital stories of their deeds was common knowledge. People knew that the Lumis always went armed, wherever they went. People also knew it would be extremely unhealthy to argue the point with them.
“Be patient Jugg our food will be here soon” said Thresh. “Oh snap, here it comes now I believe”
Thresh gestured with his free hand to three servers heavily laden with an assortment of steaming dishes making their way through the maze of tables to where the guildies sat.
Kyrtos raised his wine cup to his lips and drank deeply.“Ah food” he started, wiping his lips, “I’ve been looking forward to……”
His words were cut off as suddenly he, Thresh and Metroid disappeared into the clear air with loud popping noises as air rushed into fill the space they had just occupied. The servers just arriving with the food openly googled at the three suddenly vacated chairs.
“Ah” began one, “Will the gentlemen be returning for their meals or should we…”
“Nah its fine” replied Juggernaut. “You can leave all their food here, I’ll keep it safe for them till they come back”
Jugg took Metroid plate of curried steak and set in next to his own plate of sliced roast with steamed vegetables. Then reached across and picked up Thresh’s wine cup.
“Oh yeah, bring more cups too…..”
The servers sat down plates hastily and backed away with all due speed. One of them quickly making a sign to ward off evil spirits. Lo Phatt his forkful of greens forgotten still halfway to his mouth continued to stare along with his attendants. The phoenix’s sigh of relief as Jugg dug into his lunch was audible……
Charmer of knights was completely bored silly. She sighed, leaning back in the chair to stretch. “Some days things just wouldn’t go right if you paid them to” she thought. Such silly rules sometimes. Why was it such a problem to kill someone because the y knew so and so or was related to some such person had always been beyond her. She had in her experience found some people to be much more useful dead than when they ever were when they were among the living.
She finished her stretch and stood up to pace around the library. The Lumis had a well stocked library. Not only was it one of the cozier places in the great drafty guild hall but the librarian allowed you to drink while there as long as nothing was ever spilled on a book. She was a bit of an odd specimen truth be told. She had a larger personal collection herself and quite a few rare books dealing on dragons. A cousin of hers apparently ran a library in a keep that had once been the lair of a dragon for quite some time. She was a bit different from most kurzick matrons. She had angular features with sharp edges, personally charmer always had suspected that the guards sharpened their swords on her in between shifts.
She usually had a dour determined expression that suggested that she would lean forward and take a bite out of anyone that was in the least discourteous to her.
The Lumis guildhall was well stocked and hosted weaponsmiths, skill trainers, traders and merchants. There was a standing force of guards and diplomats from both the kurzick and luxon terotorities seemed almost to live there. You could even find a hat maker wandering around, and firework shows were not uncommon. Definitely a lively place to hang one’s hat. The truly amusing fact was that even though, the Lumis fought for the luxon armada in the ever continuing border wars between the two nations, the guild hall was in Kurzick owned terrority. They had initially started out with the Kurzicks but found the Luxons to be better allies so they had switched their allegiance.
Several of the Kurzick officials had protested loudly all to no avail. The other inhabitants of the forest from the wardens to the many different species of walking plants armed with fang and claw had found out that attacking a Lumi party in the forest much less trying to dislodge them from the keep was an extremely bad idea. The gardens area the keep grew extremely well the large amounts of mulch resulting from said raids. So far the monsters seemed to be learning faster than the Kurzicks to leave well enough alone. Which made for some dull days to be honest. Charmer pouted, folding hers arms across her chest. She could feel herself working up to a really good sulk.
“Just a little something exciting, that’s all I want “she said softly. The group coming around the end of the aisle just missed her as she suddenly vanished into thin air in misstep.
Brigid and Tesuku were following the guildhalls steward along with a couple of guards to the hall library looking for Charmer and her companion the ranger Bender of Bows. Brigid knew where the library was, she didn’t need directions much less an escort. She had been there before. However the steward had insisted on accompanying them along with a couple of guards. Apparently the steward was something of a superstitious sort and a seer he frequented had an unnerving vision of doom and calamity. The steward had been worse than a fussing elder ever since. Coming out of the dining hall ahead she saw Arminas and Tahquil walking out the doorway each holding a plate piles high with food.
“Hey you two” she called out cheerfully, “did you bring enough for everyone?”
“Nu-uh” replied Tah, hugging her plate close to protect it against any would be poaching. “My plate of rolls and sliced cheese” she said with a grin.
Tesuku smiled, the Lumis were a great guild when it came to helping each other out and everyone pretty much shared freely. Still food was often considered sacred ground.
“Hey Brigid, hey Tes” Arminas replied with a wave “where are you guys off to?”
“Looking for charmer and Bender” replied Brigid “we are getting set for taking an expedition to Elona and wanted to see if they would come along. Tes said he saw her earlier in the library”
“Hey” said Tesuku eyeing Arminas’s stacked plate hopefully as Brigid and Tah hurried forward to keep up with the steward.
“Here Tes , maybe you can help me carry this “ said Arminas handing Tesuku a roll filled with sliced roast and grilled onions. “If we work fast then maybe by the time we get there we won’t have anything to carry back” he finished with a grin
Tesuku nodded his agreement as he bit into the hot roll. Elemental magic burned up a lot of energy. He was always glad for a chance to replenish his reserves when he could. He and Arm lengthened their strides to catch up with the rest of the group. They wound through the guild keeps hallways talking about the upcoming trip to Elona till they reached the library. The steward and the guards went to talk with the librarian who had fixed the group with a smoldering gaze once they walked in through the door. Her look made Tesuku think it would be appropriate on a bulldog with a wasp up its backside.
Tahquil spotted charmer walking around a tall row of bookcases in a section of to the left. “Ah there she is” Tahquil said pointing out charmer to the rest of the group. They decided to cut down a nearby row so they could catch her as she came around the end of her aisle. Coming around the corner Arminas and Tahquil found nothing but an empty aisle in front of them with no sign of charmer anywhere.
“Well that’s strange” said Tahquil as they turned around to find that Brigid and Tesuku had vanished as well even though they had been right behind them only moments before. They quickly looked around but could find no trace of any of the three in library.
“Definitely strange” said Arminas, maybe we should go back and look for them in the kitchen”
“Kitchen it is” said Tahquil, taking a last look around. She and Arminas with their much diminished plates went off to collect the steward for the walk back.
Dancer could feel the air shift ever so minutely as two people appeared out of thin air a few steps away. Opening his eyes he saw Kyrtos and Metroid appear on the beach wearing an expression of surprise. Apparently they had been sitting down since they were still in that position. Unfortunately for them their chairs had not come along with them so as gravity took an immediate hold and pulled them down and backwards to sprawl on the beach. He would have laughed at the expressions on their faces or their cries of shock but he felt that probably wouldn’t be polite.
“Great gods” boomed Kyrtos sitting on the sand “Ah” he beamed, looking into his ale cup. “Not a drop spilled”
“Are you out of your mind?” yelled Metroid looking over at Kyrtos. “We just god’s know how appeared on a beach that’s god’s know where and the first thing you say is yay, my ale is safe?”
“One has to have priorities Met” replied kyrtos taking a drink.
“Metroid struggled with several facial expressions before deciding on disbelief “We don’t even know how we got here” he yelled
“I’m afraid part of that is my fault” said Dancer breaking into the conversation. Metroid and Kyrtos turned to look at the elementalist at the sound of his voice.
“And who the hell are you?” demanded Metroid suddenly holding a wickedly sharp throwing star in his right hand.
Kyrtos cocked a quizzical expression towards the ele. “Dancer isn’t it/” he said nodding towards the house badge on Dancers arm. “You’re one of Kelly’s household aren’t you? I believe I’ve heard of you”
“That’s correct” Dancer replied, “We’ve never actually met yet, but…”
“Yeah, I’ve heard Kelly mention you a time or two” Kyrtos cut in “So why are we here anyway and while we are on that subject exactly where in the hell is here anyway?”
“Well, you’re here because you chose to be here, and as far as the where part, that’s not so quite easily explained” Dancer said with a shrug.
“I so did not choose to be here!” yelled Metroid. “I chose to have a roast chicken along with fresh baked bread smothered with cheese and herb butter for lunch that is what I chose! I also chose to keep my cup on the side away from Jugg before he ate it” he added
“Hey, yeah. Where are Thresh and Jugg anyway?” Kyrtos said looking around at their surrounding.
“That I don’t know” said Dancer “I would assume they chose not to come.
“Look” said Metroid pointing with the throwing star he held as he got to his feet. “I’ve never actually met you, so all I have to go on is your word about all of this and I for one am not to be trifled with”
“Ah I knew I forgot something” said Dancer with an easy grin “I’m afraid I didn’t bring a trifle”
Kyrtos had remained seated during the discussion. He was studying the elementalist with a thoughtful expression. While he had not drawn the sword sheathed at his side, his hand was resting on his leg near the hilt, just in case.
“So considering we don’t know where we are” Metroid continued, jabbing the air on front of him as he used the throwing star he held to tunicate his words. “Or exactly sure of whom you are….”
Charmers of Knights appeared on the beach in midstride just in front of Metroid. She halted he forward motion quickly to avoid impaling her nose of one of the stars sharp points.
“Metroid!” she yelled “what the hell do you think that you are….” Charmer stopped and looked around suddenly noticing that she wasn’t in the library anymore but on a warm sunny beach.
“What are you two…” she started looking at Metroid and kyrtos. Her expression became puzzled. “Where is this? What are…? Oh dear gods” she finished with an expression of pure joy throwing her arms wide. “Never mind, who cares, it’s so warm and sunny!” she yelled happily
“We’re not sure” said Metroid suspiciously. “But it seems to have something to do with him” he said pointing behind Charmer.
Charmer turned around to view the subject of Metroids suspicion. “Shadowdancer?” she exclaimed. Her smile grew even wider if that was possible. “Dear sweet gods, you’re still alive!” she yelled launching herself across the short space between her and the elementalist. She hit him at speed and wrapped her arms around him in a bone crushing hug that made his ribs creak audibly even though his light armor.
Kyrtos relaxed then, moving his hand away from his sword hilt.”You know this person then Charmer?” he asked
“You bet I do “ she replied letting go of Dancer now that she had verified that his ribcage was still hale and hearty, free of any weakness. “He’s one of Kelly’s household, he’s a warmage” she said and adding with an impish grin, “and he’s a spy”
“Ye gods” dancer laughed heartily, “I am so not a spy”
“Well then, how do you explain all the times that you are odd, or your odd hours? Odd even for an elementalist searching for fame fortune” she replied. “Or why you tend to be ever so sketchy on details at times, huh? Only spies act like that”
There’s nothing to tell Charmer, I live a dull boring life. Nothing of excitement to note” he said with a grin.
Charmer refused to let him off the hook so easily. “Uh-huh, well if you’re not out spying then you must be spending time with all those women of yours then”
“Women?” Dancer asked with an innocent expression, “I have women’s? Are they cute?”
Metroid turned to Kyrtos as Charmer and Dancer settled into what was obviously a long running and good natured teasing argument.
“Kyrtos what do you think?” he asked
“Well” said kyrtos thoughtfully pointing to a design on the elementalist’s armor. “Charmer does know him, and he is wearing Kelly’s house symbol. And you know how she would react if she ever caught someone falsely claiming of her house”
“True” said Metroid “but what are we doing here?”
“Ýeah, Mr. spy” demanded Charmer, tapping on Dancer’s chest with a long fingernail. “What is this nice warm wonderful place and how did we get here?”
“And” added Charmer before Dancer could form a reply. “How in the hell did you wind up here anyway?”
“Well I’m not exactly sure” said Dancer with a puzzled expression. I was at an art gallery in Lions Arch looking around when I ran into this girl.”
Charmer shook her head in disgust. “Yep, I should have guessed, every time you wind up in some kind of trouble, there is a girl involved in how you got there….”
“I’m not in trouble” countered Dancer quickly.
Charmer cocked her head to regard him with a doubtful expression. “Uh huh” she said “And how exactly did she get you her again?”
“Well, she ah handed me something, I think it was a sphere of some sorts.” Dancer replied.
“You’re not sure?!?” Charmer exploded. “What did it look like?”
“I, ah, don’t really remember…….” Dancer trailed off slowly.
“Too busy staring at her boobs were we?” asked Charmer giving Dancer a hard look.
“I was not staring at her boobs!” Dancer countered hotly
“Then what were you staring at Mr. Mage?” Charmer asked ever so sweetly.
Dancer replied with a faraway look. “Her eyes” he said, thinking back to meeting the red headed girl that had seemed so out of place in Lions Arch. She had possessed an ethereal vitality that made the air around her dance with energy. Dancer had found it strange that people around seemed to pay her no attention at all. It had almost seemed that she had been there waiting for him. Normally this would have set all the alarms in his head off, but he could find no ill intent in her. “I think she was one of the Fae” he finished.
Kyrtos and Metroid had decided to sit back and enjoy watching Charmer grill the Elementalist for details on how they had all wound up here. Hearing him mention on of the Fae though put things in a more serious perspective. Rare indeed was a sighting in any of the lands of one of the fairy folk. Most scholars consider them to be no more than myth or legend. There were always stories or mutterings of one being seen here or there. Most of the stories lacked evidence of any kind though. It was said that the Fae used magic differently than most. Some thought they could reshape reality at their whim. Almost nothing was known about their land of their ways. Stories varied wildly about their abilities and motivations. If one of the Fae was involved in this or this island was one of their realms then they could all be in very serious trouble indeed. Some of the stories about the Fae involved people who were taken away and never to be seen from again. The very few that involved the people returning were always disturbing.
The Ranger and the assassin looked around somewhat nervously. Kyrtos unslung his bow from his shoulder and strung it quickly while scanning the tree line behind them from any watchers that might be lurking in the trees.
“Lyssa’s sweet Lips, have you no sense at all Dancer? One of the Fae? Have you gone mad?” Charmer shook her head slowly, looking at the elementalist with a wondering expression. “The girl was one of the Fae and you let her hand you something? Are you suddenly desperate to find a girl or something?” she asked “we’ll take you to parties If you want, hell, I’ll round some up and bring them to kneel at your feet if you want”
Dancer gave her a hard look. “That is nothing like it at all, the sphere wasn’t harmful. I would have known that. It was something …different…..” Dancer stopped and turned around to look out at the ocean. “Someone else is coming” he said.
The other three followed his gaze to a part of the beach halfway to the waters edge taking up a wary posture. The air at that point began to shimmer and seemed to peal away from itself in layers opening up a doorway. As they watched a tall familiar grey haired warrior with a huge wicked looking sword in one hand and holding a large book under the other arm stepped through the doorway onto the beach his expression was one of happy recognition.
“Hey all” he boomed happily. “You’ll never guess what I found”
“Thresh!” yelled out Metroid. “What the hell happened to you? How come you just got here?”
“I dunno” replied Thresh stopping to look over the four grouped on the beach. “I was in the restaurant with you two waiting to out lunch and suddenly I’m in some abandoned city”
“City?” asked four voices almost in unison.
“Yeah, it was the most interesting place ever” said Thresh happily. “It was on some island or really close to an ocean. I could hear surf close by, though there was a lot of foggy mist so I never really saw a lot. I did find this book though” He beamed hefting the hug book he carried tucked under his left arm.
The book looked fairly heavy and incredibly old. The cover seemed of some type of hide and it was bound in heavy brass that was tainted green with age. There seemed to be an incredibly complex design on the cover with symbols that wee not readily familiar. It had to be a trick of the light, but if you looked at the design directly the lines almost seemed to writhe around slightly with a life of their own.
Thresh studied the elementalist thoughtfully. “I take it you’re the reason we are here?”
“To a degree” said Dancer continuing to stare at the doorway in the air behind Thresh. “That however is not of my doing” he said pointing at the doorway.
Dancer was not overly happy about the doorway. Its presence grated on his nerves in a familiar nagging sensation. A smell seemed to be carried on the air from it. It smelled of age and decay and of corruption. Thresh turned around to look at the doorway that he had stepped through. He hadn’t thought about it but he was surprised to find it still there. As the five of them studied it worriedly the doorway’s appearance began to change. Starting from the inside edges color began seeping out. A dark red, like the color of spilled blood mixed in with black began suffusing the shape of the doorway. Also the shape started pulsing in the air and seemed to be expanding, growing larger s they watched.
The five adventurers backed away taking up wary stances and spreading out as experience had taught them to do when facing an attack. Kyrtos fitted an arrow to his bowstring and Metroids other hand held a sharp finely crafter long dagger.
“Thresh, what did you do?” asked charmer softly.
“This isn’t my fault” said Thresh, swiftly moving back to join the others” the doorway opened up when I found the book on an altar. I hadn’t seen anything else around in the city, so I walked through it”
Thresh thought to himself that while he hadn’t seen any sign of life exactly in the city, he always seemed to hear things while he was there. Scuttling or scraping noises, at the edge of his hearing it seemed. They were always faint, hard to make out. He had put it down to his imagination, but now he was less sure of that.
The doorway seemed to pulse quicker now as it grew even larger taking on amore rectangular shape. The colors seemed darker now, a deep darkness. The kind one thinks of for hidden places or the long cold hours of the deepest moonless night. The smell coming from the doorway seemed to grow worse. The stench of corruption and decay suddenly much stronger. It also carried a taint of the ocean and made one think of age, of something ancient.
“Maybe we should find a different beach” began Metroid “I believing in sharing, and I am more than happy to let whatever that is have this beach while I go find a different one, somewhere else”
“I think it’s a little late for that Met” said Kyrtos
Suddenly the air split open as the doorway spewed forth a horde of nightmarish shapes onto the beach. Twisted, unnatural shapes defiantly not native to any land they knew of. Some rushed forth on two legs, some crawled or slithered on the ground and others were multi legged nightmares that looked like some great insects twisted versions of the ones encountered sometimes in the echovald forest. The horde didn’t seem to be of any one species. Some looked aquatic almost with long barbed tentacles and gills while others seemed insectoid or some type of arachnid. None of them looked anywhere near passive or harmless though. There was an overabundance of long claws and mouths stuffed with wickedly sharp teeth. And they all headed straight for the loose semi circle of adventurers, in particular for Thresh.
Thresh stopped short taking up a defensive stance as the monsters swarmed around him. A sharp twang sounded from behind him as Kyrtos loosed his first arrow to bury the long shaft in the chest of a scaly two legged horror that was in the front of the pack. Thresh swung his sword in a wide arc cutting into the first of the horrors to reach him. Blackish blood splashed on the sand and the monsters howled in terrible hissing voices. He stamped on the sand and cut around him in fierce swings trying to absorb the brunt of the charge so as to give the others time to prepare.
“Holy teleporting Visu” yelled Metroid “what in the hell are those?”
“Who cares what they are Met” said Kyrtos, carefully choosing targets nearest thresh. “Just kill them.”
Even though Thresh refused to give an inch of ground from where he stopped, he couldn’t engage them all. There were simply too many. The edges of the mob flowed around him and swiftly crossed the sand to where the others stood. Charmer started the beginning of a spell meant to drain the life from a foe. Whatever they were she thought they had flesh and blood. However alien their life force was, it was still a living force. She would drain in away from them and use it to her will. Then after their lifeless bodies lay on the ground, she would animate those and have her once foes fight their former allies. Dancer, drawing the katana from the scabbard slung over his back moved to stand began her and the closest horror a long semi humanoid serpent with far too many arms on it upper body. A sickly greenish venom dripped not only from its fangs, but from the end of its claws as well. The venom had an acidic stink and steamed when it spattered on the sand.
He gestured with his left arm and suddenly he was holding the straps of a gloom shield. Fitting close along his arm. The metal of it darkened black with silver chased runes set along its length. Smiling grimly, he stepped forward to buy Charmer time to finish her spell.
Metroid who had been carving up a large walking fish that reminded him of the ripper carps found in the Jade Sea in Cantha. Looked at the elementalist in disbelief.
“You’ve gotta be kidding me “he said, “Isn’t he a spellcaster? Ye Gods, not another ele that thinks they are an axe warrior”
Metroid cut and slashed at the various shapes trying to get near Kyrtos and pull him down. As soon as the first ugly thing even turned their way, his throwing stars had found their mark. Unfortunately they hadn’t seemed to do much good. So Metroid had drawn another dagger and set about hacking things into smaller less threatening bits while Kyrtos fired arrow after arrow at the many monsters swarming around Thresh trying to drag him down so their claws could get at and tear open his throat. These things smelled horrible thought Metroid. And if their lack of personal hygiene wasn’t bad enough, they smelled even worse if possible when he cut them open. His clothes were already stained with greenish and black ichor like blood. He used his daggers to cut and stab with an angry determination. There was no way for the clothes to be cleaned now he thought, he’d have to throw them to the rubbish heap or better yet burn them. Someone owed him a new outfit for this.
Dancer’s opponent closed the gap swiftly twisting its body around to strike at the elementalist with its fangs while its arms grasped the shield to pull it out of the way and drag it down in order to render the ele defenseless. Dancer let the shield fall and pivoted on his right foot stabbing the katana forward into the monsters gaping jaws. The long blade punched up and out the top of it’s skull as it’s skewered the things brain. The reptilian beast shuddered and convulsed as the light went out of its eyes and it fell with a heavy thud on the sand. It kept its arms locked on the elementalists shield in a death grip pulling him off balance with it as it fell. Dancer looked around to see there of the bipedal fish horribly close their open mouths stuffed with wickedly sharp teeth.
“Kyrtos! He’s gonna get dusted” yelled Metroid.
Kyrtos spared a glance to their right. If the right side folded, their position would become a really bad one. A difficult holding action would suddenly become a deadly rout. The monsters were almost at the ele now the front one stretching out to rend the off balance mage with its claws. He saw Dancer shift his weight and dropping both sword and shield brought his hands together in front of him to assume a stance. The day brightened somewhat as the mage let loose a blast of pure energy concentrated in the from of a bolt that punched through the unnatural creature and continued on the shred the two behind it. All three were flung back, their bodies ripped open dead even as they hit the sand.
“Oh, I think he’ll be okay Met” said Kyrtos with a wry grin. Even as the mage retrieved his katana and shield to engage the next foe, Kyrtos saw the bodies of the fallen monsters begin to jerk and shudder as awful but familiar terrible shapes tore themselves free of the corpse. Things of bone and muscle and gristle stood upon the sand now. Animated by the necromancer’s magic and bound by her will they moved forward to engage the foes swarming toward the mage. Suddenly their right side looked much more secure. However Kyrtos had only so many arrows and they were swiftly running out.
Thresh cleaved an abomination of scale and fin almost in two with a downward stroke of his heavy blade. His armor was holding up well, His wounds so far were all minor ones. Not much more than scratches as he considered such things. It has been hard initially, but as foes dropped around him, soon a bone horror would tear itself free from it’s corpse to fight at his side or his back. Normally they wouldn’t have stayed so close but the crush of bodies around all trying to get at him prevented them from making much headway. It was a benefit as they took hits that were aimed at him but it also made it harder for him to move around as well.
Thresh thought furiously as he swung about him trying to clear space. He had seen nothing like this in the city. The memory of the noises he had heard returned to him with an awful clarity. If these things had been in the city and had ambushed him while he was there away from the others it would not have been a happy time. From everything he had seen while he was there wandering through the streets and exploring some of the buildings the place had been deserted for ages. No people, no monsters, no trash in the streets even. Most places were wet of damp as if it had rained there recently. Though thresh remembered with a troubling thought the place had smelled of the sea. Not the clean smell of salt air, but that fishy smell. A smell that reminds one of the deep places of the ocean, or of water that had pooled too long and grown stagnant.
Thresh had been ecstatic after he had appeared there. Ever since his younger years, he had always had an interest in ancient cultures and religions. He had spent hours happily poking around ruins of lost places and people oblivious to most anything else. The city had seemed a treasure trove at the time. He had not only not ever heard of it but he had never heard of anything like it even. The pathways and the buildings had all seemed different, of a style he was unfamiliar with. The angles of the structure were decidedly odd, they almost seemed to shift or take on new shapes if you glanced at them out of the corner of your eye. Though if he stared at the m directly again, they appeared as they were. It felt disturbing slightly to look at them for too long though somehow.
He lopped the arm off a reaching monster and parried furiously for a space as two others came at him from two sides at once. He finally managed to gut one with a short cutting sweep of his sword. And as that one fell back with its intestines spilling out over its legs a bony shape already tearing itself free of its body. Thresh swung the heavy book he held under his left arm one handed to solidly connect with the skull of the other. He felt the bone of its skull give way as the weight of the heavy tome hitting it stopped it short. Thresh winced. He hoped he hadn’t damaged the tome.
With nearly a dozen of the animated horrors fighting at their side, the tide of the battle soon turned for the 5 on the beach. So far only three of them had taken any wounds and none of them were serious. The monsters were now being forced back and they fought off the combined attacks of the not only the adventures but that of the necromancer’s animated warriors. Suddenly the doorway still hanging in the air pulsing rapidly split itself open impossibly wide and scores of fresh abominations spilled through onto the beach. Worse still behind them followed something large and hideous. Too large to fit through the doorway its great hands seemed to grab the edges of the portal and stretch it and tear at it in an effort to pass through.
“MOAR Monsters!” Yelled Thresh loudly, as he charged forward to hit them head on. Kyrtos looked on in disbelief. His gaze went to the large shape trying to force its way through. “Never mind the arrows he thought, ye gods, I’m gonna need a bigger bow” Metroid groaned loudly. “Can we find a new beach now please?”
Thresh had almost reached the fresh opponents when the larger beast finally tore through. It was huge and awful. By his reckoning it stood nearly twenty feet tall. A large humanoid of some sort, while it only had two arms and legs, the head was nothing resembling human. And worst of all it had obviously already been dead a long time indeed. Its flesh was a pale white mottled with yellow and rotted though to the bone in several places. It wore the rags of some ancient garment. The clothing torn and rotted with age. Here and there were brass plates bolted onto its flesh and bands of metal encircling the limbs as if it had used these to hold itself together when the flesh refused to maintain it’s shape anymore. It had no eyes anymore, whether they had rotted out in time was unknown. But in the great sockets now burned two orbs of balefire that seemed to burn with a malovent intelligence and hatred of all things living.
Thresh knew that this was just gonna hurt a lot. While charmer had some healing capability for the group, it was an area effect and she could heal the party without healing their opponents as well. She could heal all of them up well enough afterwards of course. The only problem with that was surviving to the afterwards point.
“HEY” came a startled exclamation from behind him in a familiar voice. followed by a loud and commanding “DUCK”
Thresh threw himself flat on the sand a second before a sheet of roaring flame cut across the space he had just occupied to sear the hides of the monsters in the front rank, setting them on fire. Thresh pushed himself a little deeper into the sand as the temperature around him rose several degrees.
Another sheet of flame quickly followed the first, slamming into the twisting shapes. Those that were already burning nearly exploded as the second burst of flame washed over them. Their skin deeply charred and split open in places, they howled their agony in strange gurgling cries.
Thresh heard the sounds of fighting all around him but was hesitate to rise upwards only to be char broiled himself. Thresh quickly rolled on his back and glanced to either side to take stock of the situation. He looked upwards to see a huge clawed fist preparing to smash him into a flattened shape. “This could hurt quite a lot” he thought with a despairing look on his face.
The largest of the creatures to appear from the portal had managed to get part of its bulk through when more of the soft skinned ones appeared. One was burning the flesh off the bones of the lesser ones that swarmed in front of it while the other was in a stance of casting. The great Lich smiled as it saw that a hard skinned one had fallen flat and was within easy range. It raised one massive hand high to crush the hard skin into so much pulpy flesh and iron. Just then the hard skin rolled onto its back to see the lich’s raised fist above it. The great Lich chuckled, a deep filthy sound, full of the expected pleasure of crushing a life into so much gooey flesh and shattered bone.
The left side of its head exploded with a terrible ravening agony as a bolt of pure energy tore into its flesh and disrupting the flow of the ancient awful magics that animated its form. The Lich staggered backwards, off balance now and howled its rage. It turned its gaze to the mage off to its left, his hands held before him in a summoning stance as he gathered energy for his next spell. The Lich roared it’s hatred and lamed down a foot trying to regain it’s balance crushing underneath a lesser one who had the bad luck to be standing in that spot. The Lich’s skull crunched inwards as a large faming semi molten rock came screaming from the sky to impact it directly. Several more molten meteors fell among the group of horrors searing the flesh from their bones and blasting them into chunks of charred flesh. Two more of the meteors impacted the great Lich’s frame knocking it backwards through the portal. Its last sight was of the mage on its left and the red headed soft skin finishing their spells in sync.
Thresh was picked up off the ground and slammed back into it as dual meteor showers impacted into the mob in front of him with a vengeance. The shockwaves bounced him on the ground like a bean on a thrumming drumhead. Heat washed over him as the air temperature rose even further. Pieces of molten rock and bits of still burning flesh pattered down on him like a ghastly rain. He rolled back onto his stomach to shield the book he still carried from the destruction with his own body. He covered his head with his other arm as best he could and hoped that no burning embers landed in his hair as the earth shook as if a war band of jotun giants were having a grape stomping contest. The world around seemed to explode into red fire and roaring sound as the combined efforts of the three spell casters turned the tightly packed mob into bit of charred flesh and bone fragments.
What had began its day as a peaceful, quiet, unassuming stretch of beach assumed an uneasy state of quiet as the seven people on the beach looked around to take stock of things. At some point the sickly looking portal had closed in on itself and vanished completely. Of the various horrors and monsters that had poured through it intent on dragging the party down, not one was left standing. For that matter none of them was completely intact either. Three meteor showers hitting a compact area of effect had reduced whatever had been in that area to a heap of chunks and pieces of monsters, most not even being recognizable as body parts. Everyone relaxed somewhat and breathed much easier now that nothing was trying to drag them down and kill them, at least for the moment. Thresh propped himself up on an elbow and looked around.
“Has the sky stopped falling now?” he asked plaintively.
Everyone turned to look at the two newcomers which were two of Lumis current elementalists. Brigid of Avalon was an attractive redhead of medium height. With strong features and bright piercing eyes there was no mistaking her strength of character. She had built up a reputation both in and out of the arenas. Currently she had been hard at work getting the artificers in the Norn lands to work on her behalf. In their estimation she was very important indeed and had been impressed that she owned many leather bound books. Teseku Thunderstorm had brown hair he usually kept swept out of his face by keeping it in a ponytail. While he wasn’t abnormally thin or overly bulky, he could usually be found with some sort of food in his hand. He suddenly noticed that he had been casting while holding a stuffed meat roll in his hand. He looked at it in surprise and then bit into the bun munching away happily. Teseku wasn’t much on words or long speeches. Some days it seemed his entire vocabulary consisted of the word “hey”. Most people never minded that, while he may be teased for it on occasion, all knew that Teseku was a good ele and when things really dropped in the pot. The Lumis would much rather have a competent caster who could throw spells rather than one who made a speech.
“Well, well, welcome to the party, are there any more following you perhaps?” Kyrtos said breaking the silence.
“I have no idea” responded Brigid. “I wasn’t even aware we were going to have one”
“Hey” said Teseku with a wave before returning to finishing off his roll.
“My clothes are completely ruined!” fumed Metroid, trying to brush off bits of flesh or scrub off a bloodstain with a sparse handful of sand. “Someone owes me a new outfit for this!” he said with an indignant sniff. “Anybody has a change of clothes on them I could have maybe?” he gave up trying to scrub off the blood and instead started trying to brush off the clotted sand
“Oh, go earn some gold Met” shot back Kyrtos as he went to collect what usable arrows he could find. “That, or for Melandru’s sake go jump in the ocean and simply wash them off.”
“So where is here anyway?” Brigid asked with a slightly puzzled frown, “and how did we all get here at that?”
“Oh, that’s easy” answered Kyrtos, pointing towards Dancer with an arrow he had just pulled from a mostly intact corpse “It’s his entire fault”.
“The two elementalists turned to look at the warmage. Charmer having sent her minions to scout the area for any more nasty surprises before they wound up falling to pieces chipped in
“Oh Mr. mage here was too entranced by a set of boobs to pay attention to what they were attached to or what was being handed to him at the time.” She beamed cheerfully.
“Name of a god, will you get off that horse already?” yelled Dancer “I was looking at her eyes, not her rack, and I’ve told you why the whole meeting seemed somewhat hazy”
“Just teasing Sweets” she said in that innocent tone all women learn to use from an early age.
Brigid shook her head in disgust. “Honestly Dancer” she began, “there are some days I have no earthly clue how you survived the training academy. I know you’re competent enough, but sometimes I have no idea what passes through your head.”
“So is anyone badly hurt?” asked Thresh as he strode up to the group. “Since it looks like no monks decided to come along, it looks like charms is gonna be our main healer”
“Yeah Dancer” cut in Kyrtos joining the group again having salvaged as many useable arrows as he could. “Out of all the people you ah, asked to come here, why didn’t you ask any monks?”
“Well I did, I assume that they are busy or something…..”
“Oh, it was a bit of both” said a new voice. Everyone spun around to see a familiar short blonde haired figure halfway between them and the tree line. She stood their easily with a satchel slung over one shoulder holding a long staff in her right hand.
“Care Bear” boomed Thresh happily. He smiled widely. In his estimation the odds had just improved dramatically. Despite her self depreciating remarks Sarah was a competent monk. He remembered one day in the sacred grove of the kurzicks where Sarah had held against appalling odds and had revived the entire party to help them repel an assault on the grove by a band of the afflicted.
Sarah strode across the sand to join the group. Handing her staff to the mage she wrapped her arms around him in his second rib crushing hug of the day. “And you Mr. Mage” she said looking up at him with a smile, “are absolutely nowhere near where you are supposed to be today”
Dancer returned her hug with his free hand as he recovered his breath. “You are correct about that, however….”
“Sshhhh” she said silencing his protest with one finger across his lips “Don’t. It doesn’t matter; we’ll get you there regardless. It’s okay now.”
Looking around at the group gathered on the beach she swung one arm around his waist and reclaimed her staff. “So, where exactly is here, anyway? And what are we doing standing on it?”
Dancer sighed, shaking his head. “Okay if everyone wants to sit down and relax a bit I’ll explain it the best I can.”
Sarah had packed a large lunch inside her satchel it seemed. She took out containers of food and drink and passed them around to all. Everyone’s mood suddenly improved with the prospect of lunch. Metroid had immediately jumped in front of Sarah holding out his hands even before she had the first bottle out of the pack. “FOOD! I’ll take some! GIMME!” he yelled. Thresh grabbed the back of his shirt and swiftly yanked him backwards. Metroids squawks of protest were cut off as thresh lowered hid armored bulk on top of Metroid and sat on him. Metroid soon ran out of air to continue his protests. Sarah continued taking out food as Kyrtos borrowed one of Met’s daggers and went off with Teseku to cut some of the wide palm fronds for plates.
Soon enough had a truly formidable feast laid out on the sand. Far more food and drink than one would have thought could have possibly fit in the satchel had been laid out. Kyrtos eyed the satchel with a raised eye. “That quite a lot to pull from such a small bag” he said “how did you manage to fit all of that in there?”
“Oh it was a cock-up at the crafters shop” she grinned mischievously, the satchel is bigger than it looks.
As the group refreshed themselves with the unexpected picnic, Dancer explained of his trip to Lion’s arch and how he had met the strange red haired girl. Dancer shot charmer a stern look as he explained how she had possessed an unusual quality. Charmer kept an innocent expression on her face as she busied herself with her food. Dancer said the girl hadn’t spoken much but had simply handed him a sphere. Sensing neither ill intent nor any harmful energies Dancer had had let her hand it to him his curiosity overcoming his caution. The sphere had felt cold to the touch, yet had radiated a strong aura and swirled with an ever changing rainbow of colors. As soon as he closed his hand on it he had appeared here.
To the many questions of where exactly here was, Dancer explained that the island was what he termed an “other realm”. It wasn’t one of the fairy realms as might be feared, but a place where time and probability were not as immutable as in most worlds. It could make it a dangerous place for one to find themselves or it could be something akin to the world wonderful amusement park ever conceived of.
The portal that had spat out a small horde of fanged and clawed nightmares wasn’t something of this realm Dancer stated. He pointed to the large book by Thresh’s side.
“Those I think came form that city you found Thresh, and it’s my thought that they will be wanting their codex back:
Thresh glanced up from his food. “Nu-uh, I found it, I haven’t even got to read it yet…” He shifted the book a bit closer to his side “You think they’ll be coming back?”
“I’m not sure” Dancer replied with a grim expression. “The best guess I can make is…”
His words were drowned out as sheets of solid light rose from the sand to form an octagonal enclosure around the party members. People jumped to their feet spilling their meal as they reached for weapons. Waves of light began to form inside and swirl around the interior of the enclosure behaving like mist being swirled around in a slow moving windstorm. Forms faded from each others site as the swirling storm inside became a vast array of colors and hues like an impossible rainbow. A sound like the roaring of a distant mighty falls rose in volume as the space inside filled. Suddenly, only moments after the construct had risen from the sand, the octagon was suddenly empty. A moment later it vanished as well leaving behind only an empty beach.
The fairy Kime watched excitedly from the tree line as events unfolded. None of those on the beach could see or even detect her presence unless she willed it. So far everything was going far better than she would have expected. The mage she had found in one of the human cities had preformed superbly, even if he was not aware of it. She knew he would be perfect from the moment she had felt his presence in the crowded human warren. Kime was a creator among her kind. The human term for such as she would have been some sort of an artist. Though Kime used methods and abilities to produce her masterpieces that no human artist could begin to fathom. She created works of her own directly; she believed that the purest art was made not by an individual but by the materials themselves. She provided all the necessary elements for the work. But once canvas, and brush and paint had been all set of the creative plane, she much preferred to let the actions of the materials themselves and the events from their actions and the reactions to those weave together the work in an ever increasingly complex dance that created a work no single being could hope to match.
The materials she had assembled for this work had been without question superb. The fairy sphere had allowed the mage to easily tap into the energies of the other realm which allowed others to come here at his invitation. The grey haired warrior had a talent of his own whether he knew it or not. He had stepped elsewhere instead of coming directly here. Though doing so had allowed those from that city to follow him through the power of their codex. The battle had been glorious. Short and obviously one sided but glorious still. If Kime had retained any doubts of the groups ability to handle themselves, that fight had washed them away as does the morning dew would a spot of night dust.
Kime hummed a tune of olden times to herself as she clapped her hands happily. The sphere had stayed with the mage unseen by all recording events as they happened. It would continue to so such until the time that Kime recalled it to her hand. The finished masterpiece would truly be an epic tale. Her renown among the Fae would undoubtedly increase once she started passing the sphere from court to court. She could dine out for an age on this if her so choose. Though such wasn’t the purpose she reminded herself. It was neither for fame nor fortune that one created but for the art itself. She reflected that her muse would also dine well off this endeavor. She was so giddy that she willed a change from the day into the night. Suddenly, the charred corpses on beach faded away and the sunny day became a bright moonlight night with a full moon hanging low over the ocean turning the sand into a silvery whitish mirror. Insects chirped and hummed in the gentle tropical breeze.
Kime was just about to race out onto the beach and dance in the moonlight till she grew weary enough to collapse onto the sand when a figure appeared near where the earlier group had just been. Kime stood there in a half crouch. Her mouth slightly open as she stared in surprise at the newcomer.
Her puzzlement was clearly written on her face. Kime had set the sphere for eight players, no more. The mage and the seven that had accepted the invitation here gone from this island off to another larger one on the chain. Regardless of how many the mage had invited so to speak once 8 materials were assembled the sphere would allow no more access unless she willed it. No gates had been constructed no anything left fore one to focus on. The newcomer appeared to be a young human girl in her teens. From her dress and weaponry she appeared to be something of an odd ranger. She had a long ash bow slung across her back and from her belt a medium length thin bladed sword was sheathed at each hip. She looked around the area and bent down now and then as if studying the sand for whatever signs she could discern in the moonlight. She would pause now and then to ask a question or mutter a reply to the empty air beside her as if carrying on a conversation with someone. Her voice would change depending at times it seemed as she carried on both sides of discussion.
Kime could feel her using magic of a sort and began to wonder if the girl was one of the poor unfortunates that could wander across worlds at will without being aware of her actions. Some of them were quite mad for humans even. They spent their lives locked within the confines of their minds unaware of all around them. Their only reality the one in their heads. Warring between anger and pity she decided that if the girl was an unfortunate then she would send her back to her own realm or perhaps even to another realm that the girl expressed a desire to visit. Then she could get back to the act of creating. And if she was some gifted human perhaps that was exploring past their boundaries thought Kime with a raised eyebrow. She would send her someplace else whether she wanted to go or not.
It was unthinkably rude to interrupt a creator in the midst of their work. Gifted human nor not Kime was more than capable in dispensing a lesson in manners. She had just started to rise when the feline appeared out of the air seated at the girl’s side. A cat of some sorts, short haired and scrawny. Its skin seemed pulled tight over its bones as if it was on the edge of starvation. However this was no ordinary cat, sitting back on it’s haunches it’s head came to the girl’s waist as she stood upright. It had wicked claws and a wide grinning mouth filled with sharp pointed teeth. Markings or patterns of a tribal nature wandered across its body and it had a large silver ring piercing its right ear. The eyes glowed with a luminous quality that cast a smallish pool of light around itself and the girl’s feet. So taken aback by its appearance was Kime she almost missed it when it answered a question the girl asked. Kime then realized that the second voice she had heard had belonged to the cat. Her eyes widened slowly, she knew who the girl and her feline companion were now. Settling herself back into her sitting position she thought furiously. She had no idea of what could have possibly brought them here of all places at this time. Curiosity overcoming her caution, Kime decided to stay so she could listen and learn.
Alice studied the ground in front of her thoughtfully. Reading not only the marks in the sand but feeling the echoes of recent events as well. She sighed to herself. It was cutting things close as usual. Dancer known fully well what was coming up and where he needed to be. Yet, for whatever reason he had dragged himself of to this place with time running so short. She had felt his invitation to come but at that moment she had been dealing wit ha situation herself. She had also felt when the magic had suddenly ceased, the invitation withdrawn as it were. That had made her curious, for she knew that was unlike her friend. Such had made her sure an outside force was involved. She grinned nastily, if someone thought they could keep her from knowing where Dancer was or from finding a way there, they were in for a truly unpleasant surprise.
Obviously from the signs there had been a few people here and lots of other things as well. She let her gaze roam back and forth across the beach reconstructing the events. There had unquestionably been a battle. No bodies were to be found but the impressions left in the sand told of events well enough.
There was a feeling of age, of things horribly ancient and evil. Other tastes were on the air as well. Again something of the olden kin, but nether good or evil, just different from the way most thought of such concepts.
“Well cat” she said “It looks to be a proper mess once again unusual.”
Large luminous eyes formed in the air beside her, the rest of the cat’s whipcord body becoming slowly visible.
“True masterpieces are often a messy affair, the paints and brushes leave their mark on the canvas in a pattern often not foreseen by the creator of the work”
“Are you feeling quite alright cat? That was almost a straight answer from you” she replied with a wry grin.
Cat looked up at her stretching his grin even wider and twitching his tail back and forth behind him as if to display his health. “Quite well indeed. The chase has barley but begun. My energies are quite full for the moment, yet what we seek has been moved onward, elsewhere, deeper into the game.”
“Indeed he has” replied the girl with a serious expression “I don’t believe it was by his intent or as he expected it though. There is a design behind this, but it not his nor of any of those with him I expect”
She looked out across the beach the moonlight bathing her in its glow as a cool breeze ruffled back her hair. The moonlight softened her determined features but could not erase her determined expression. Wherever her friend had been taken it mattered little. She would follow.
“It’s his day soon enough cat” she said finally “it marks an end to some tings and the start of others, we all agreed to see him through on this”
Her companion nodded, his luminous eyes making the shadows dance with the movement.
“We won’t allow him to be late for this tea party even if he must attend bound and gagged” she continued
“The best of intents are often faced with the strongest opposition from quarters unexpected.” The cat purred “I sense quite a bit will stand in our way of this endeavor.”
The girl slid her right hand down to the hilt of the sword at her waist, her expression taking on a grim cast.
“It matters little” she said stiffly. “If someone seeks to stand in my way they will learn to regret it”
“Ah your courage and your dedication do your heart credit as ever” praised the cat “but the end of this day may find us set against numbers great indeed with unquestionably a ruthless intent in their purpose”
“It matters not, I’ll kill if need be, regardless of how many stand in way”.
Alice said gazing out across the sand to the ocean beyond. Her attention lost in some distant past. “ For his sake it will matter not how many there are at all….”
~k, more to follow~