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Unread 18th of July, 2003, 10:48
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Mohrg [GM]

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Location: Tulsa, OK
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The City of Tarin

The sun rises over the city of Tarin, first touching on the green-and-blue flag flying on the castle's highest spire, then working its way down to battlements, rooftops, and ledges. Well before the shadows have retreated into the alleys, the city wakes up to another late autumn day. Dockworkers haul crates and pallets of grains, cloth, metal, and other goods onto ships, while merchants harrange them, eager to be on their way before the first freeze. Street-vendors frantically hawk their wares to all passersby, hoping to eke out a few more coins before the city finally shuts down for the winter.

In a run-down tavern near the docks, a dwarf listlessly tacks a notice to a signboard, hardly bothering to tap the nail hard enough to drive it into the wood. As he brings the hammer back with dramatic -- yet deliberate -- slowness, it is taken from his hand. Turning around, he glares at his companion, an elf garbed in flowing, emerald robes. Beard bristling, he growls, "Gimme that back."

"Certainly, Kilak," the elf sneers, "as soon as I'm done with it." Leaning over the dwarf, he taps the nail home with one deft strike. As he returns the hammer, he says, "We're probably not going to get a job before the cold sets in, but the Persistent Blade has never been known for just laying around. This is the last time we're putting out a request for local work -- if we don't get a response in a week, we're taking the next ship south, to Ardon. At least you'll be warm there."

The dwarf harrumphs at the notion that he dislikes being cold. "I'll have you know--"

"That you lived on a mountaintop? Oh, right: you lived IN a mountaintop. Not the same." The elf puts a piece of parchment in the dwarf's hand. "Tell you what. Tack that on the door of the Trumpet, and I'll buy you an ale."

Somewhat mollified, the dwarf follows his companion.

* * *

Dark crimson robes conceal his features as the priest makes his way through the crowded marketplace. Moving so that he avoids brushing against the throngs, he walks with a steady, even pace. Just before rounding a corner, he pauses, noticing a piece of parchment tacked onto a nearby wall. Leaning closer, he examines it.

After a brief moment, he turns into the alley, walking just a little faster. Looks like another adventuring group is abandoning the field for warmer climes, he thinks. Good. One less hindrance to worry about, once the first snow hits.

Stopping midway down the alley, he pulls a brick out of the wall and sticks his hand into the gap. He pulls a metal cable concealed behind the brick, and replaces it just as the wall nearby slides back and away, revealing a passage leading down into darkness. He slips in just as it begins sliding shut.

After several steps down through darkness, he comes around a corner to a torchlit hallway. He follows it to the end, where it opens into a large chamber, supported by columns. At its far end, a large, muscular human sits on the floor, tracing his fingers through a dark puddle of liquid.

Ignoring the body hanging on a scaffold in front of them, he speaks to the one sitting on the floor. "It's almost time for the Gathering to begin. Prepare yourself."

Pushing himself up from the floor, the man pushes a lock of black hair away from his face. It falls back forward, failing to improve the tangled, scraggly mess atop his head. His square jaw would be impressive if it didn't have several months of growth on it, or if he'd taken the time to trim it. His bloodshot grey eyes look at the body twitching on the scaffold, but don't seem to register it; they look more like the eyes of someone who doesn't want to see.

For a moment, he just stands there. Losing his patience, the priest barks a command in an infernal tongue, and the tall man jerks, as if stung by a whip.

He raises a hand toward the hanging body, almost reluctantly. As he does, his body starts to glisten darkly in the torchlight, as if his sweat were changing -- and then it begins to drift away from him, swirling around him with increasing speed. Briefly, he is completely obscured by the spinning cloud of droplets, then seems to have been completely absorbed by them, becoming nothing more than a dark maelstrom.

The swirling mass hesitates again, until the priest barks another command in that alien tongue, then it leaps forward, completely surrounding the body. It lets out a long, anguished scream -- a cry that speaks not only of the body's death, but that of the soul as well. Abruptly, the cry is cut off, and the spinning mist suddenly resolves itself into a humanoid figure. Stray droplets continue to circle it, forming themselves into razor-sharp shards.

As the priest approaches, the bloodwraith seems to withdraw, pulling itself back into the form of a muscular human again -- though his eyes are more alive, and he seems to have been cleaned up considerably.

With a smile in his voice, the priest speaks. "Well done, Calabron. You may yet outdo your brother."