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  #151  
Unread 25th of August, 2009, 06:48
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Inn of the Red Manticore
West Gate
Tradeholm


"Are you ready?" Isac asks softly as he leans over Shade's naked form. The room was cool, yet sweat glistened on her pallid skin. She gives a short nod, the muscles of her jaw quivering like taught cables as she bites down on the strip of leather in her mouth. With out saying anything Isac gives Juni nod.

It was time.

Isac had spent the last few hours going through each of their roles, and preparing the room. Small bowls of herbs are neatly arranged on makeshift table to his right. Behind and to his left a small fire blazes under a cast iron pot in the room's hearth. Shade lies shivering on the bed in front of him, with Juni beyond. Even in the dim light fire light her arm is a monstrously bloated and carbuncled mass of rotting, necrotic flesh.

A low hum fills the room as Isac begins a Harappan chant, layering harmonic tones upon the base sound until a six note chord was reached. With dance like motions he takes a bundle of sage, dips it a pungent wash of wine and herbs and begins sprinkling Shades skin. With shaking hands, Juni lights a damp lump of freshly ground herbs. Thick tendrils of smoke snake through the air, working their soporific coils into the pale-haired seer's lungs. Struggling through the incense's effect, she traces the symbols Isac had shown her in the air.

Serpent...the bringer of wisdom.

Time becomes meaningless as the world around her seems to fold in on itself. Moments trickle by with a slowness that leaves ghostly after-images of their passing, and then spring forward so quickly that she cannot remember what happened. One moment Isac is dancing and chanting, the next he's at the table draining blood from the decapitated body of a black feathered rooster into a large bowl.

Dog...the guardian of the gate.

Red drops glitter in the fire light and float downward like large, sanguinous soap bubbles. She watches as the carmine fluid pulsates in the air before splashing into bloody sea below. Her eyelids fall like sheets of lead maille, shutting for just a moment. When she opens them the Pelorian is crouched over Shade's naked torso tattooing goblin glyphs into her skin with a sharpened bone. He was still chanting, the drone of his throat singing washing over her in narcotic waves.

Lotus...the gateway to eternity.

Glyphs cover every inch of Shade's body except a perfect ring around her bellybutton. Isac's hands ripple and wave around that last patch of skin like a willow in the wind. His chanting grows in intensity, and from the table next to him he takes a plain looking white egg and sets the tip of it against the divot of her navel. His whole body begins to undulate as he works the egg deeper and deeper into Shade's stomach. With a final barking shout he drives the egg home, its final plunge dragging the bloody goblin runes across her flesh and into her gut, leaving her pale skin clean and unblemished. Shade's body arcs rigidly then goes completely limp.


J & Kel
  #152  
Unread 30th of September, 2009, 01:46
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"I had to suggest map drawing..." Blarth mutters as he guides Nicos and Lynn towards the copse of trees Cadrius had described. It had rather quickly become clear that Cadrius was not only more familiar with maps than Blarth, but he also was used to the way humans used them, a skill the Blarth had never quite mastered. He relied on maps to provide the landmarks and way-points that any good set of directions needed. Cadrius, however, thought in terms of distances and directions when using a map. Sure, those distances and directions had to be based on some landmarks, but often enough the distances and directions were such that you couldn't actually see one landmark from another or even the destination. Humans seemed to think that if you knew where things were in relation to each other, then you could get from one place to another. They seemed to forget that there could be vast spaces in between, spaces which you had to travel through and the knowledge of which could be crucial to actually reaching your destination.

Still, the land around Tradeholm, as with most human cities, was mostly farmland with just a few large stands of trees and the river had made for a fairly prominent, and extended, landmark. As a result, Blarth was able to figure out how to get to Cadrius's stand of trees, even if the route taken wasn't the best. One farmer in particular had seemed very upset when Blarth had moved to cut across his field.

Once at the copse, things start to develop much more smoothly. Finding an area big enough to meet Isac's specifications but which doesn't have any trees or stumps larger than the inch or two diameter that could easily be cleared away takes some time, but the copse is not a popular spot and Blarth, Nicos, and Lynn able to search relatively undisturbed. In the end, it is Nicos who finds the area, a fact which he promptly uses as an excuse to take charge and supervise the work. Another human convention that Blarth has never understood; it seems to him that supervising is simply an excuse for some one to avoid the hardest work.

* * *

“You know them.”

Sarra struggles along next to him, her short legs doubling in pace to keep step with his strides. Her rough-spun dress is dirty from the days of hard travel. He makes a note to check how much coin they have left and whether he could afford the girl a new dress or two. Not here, of course, it was risk enough for them to return to Tradeholm after the confrontation with the mob earlier. Cadrius hopes what little fortune has smiled on him lo these many cursed years will at least turn his way for a little while.

That the girl is speaking at all is a miracle. She had been catatonic those first few days after the plague had overrun her village and Cadrius feared he would have to carry her as an invalid. By the fourth day she was able to feed herself, but spent her hours dully staring ahead be it at the fire or a tree or nothing at all. Once he had finally grown confident that they were not diseased and had decided to press on to civilization she had been able to follow simple instructions. Yet she would not speak, would not look him in the eye. He couldn’t blame her for it. Perhaps he had brought that terrible pox down upon her kith and kindred.

His mouth twists. He cares not if Sarra loves him for the duty he has undertaken. It is for her good. She now bears the weight of all the departed on her. If she dies then all trace and memory will have fled like shadows before the dawn.

“I do.”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I do not know,” he says.

“Is she sick?”

“I do not think so,” he lies. Cadrius understands the girl’s fears all too well. “She would need a healer if she were sick.”

“He’s a priest.”

Cadrius says nothing. One does not require a Morning Lord without dire cause. He knows not what this will require.

They do not enter by the main gate to the southeastern side of the town. Their coming and going will have drawn too much attention as is. Instead, they circle around to the north side of the town and pass through the farmer’s gate. The guards there are curious but a pair of silver stags pressed into their palms reminds them that they have other duties to tend to.He keeps their pace brisk without being too swift as they skirt along the wall that runs down toward the western gate. The inn is a bit of a ramshackle business with gaps in the roofing and sagging boards along the front, but its keeper is discrete and does not give Cadrius any trouble when he announces he is there to collect on behalf of Isac Moore.

An hour later they are on their way south from Tradeholm again, the fallen knight and the orphan daughter. The reins are slack in his hands as the mule diligently pulling the wagon along. In another life, he may have been a farmer going to market with his daughter. He sneaks a glance at Sarra sitting on his right, staring at the river as the mule plods along the rough trail. She would have made a fine daughter, one sure to have done Eadgar and Heleyne proud. But there is a shadow that lurks just behind her eyes. Cadrius worries it will harry her the rest of her days. He is determined to not let it be so. He can save her from a life of ghosts.

Can’t he?

Lost in their thoughts, the two arrive back at the copse of trees in silence.

* * *

Lynn trudged through the undergrowth of the forest, stumbling every few seconds as a malcontent plants snared her feet with their limbs. After Nicos had found the site for the ritual, Blarth, Nicos and herself had set to preparing it with a level of toil that the young woman’s past experiences had not prepared her for.

Her hands, more used to caressing instruments than swinging pickaxe and hoe, were covered in blisters, muscles radiated hot pain for the first time in her life, sweat stung at her eyes as it dripped from her forehead and soft shoes rubbed uncomfortably against her feet – it was only an act of stubborn willfulness to saved her from falling into a limp.

As the work had progressed and her energy flagged, Lynn had found herself growing ever more irritated and angry at Nicos when he would make a ‘suggestion’ from his self appointed role as supervisor. It had not escaped her notice that he had managed to avoid the more strenuous activities Blarth and herself attempted. As the time for Cadrius and Sarra to meet them approached, Lynn escaped with the excuse of guiding the pair to the ritual site, leading to her walking tired and alone through the woods.

The sound of a cleared throat snapped the young woman from her internal contemplations of suffering, and she uttered a soft curse. She had almost walked past Cadrius and Sarra, despite the wagon upon which that sat. Gazing upon the powerfully countenanced man with sorrowful eyes, Lynn tugged at her gray blouse with discomfort and rubbed dirt stained hands against her skirt. She resisted the inexplicable urge to run fingers through her hair, as from nowhere the thought of how she must appear, sweat and dirt stained, ran across her mind.

“We’ll never get the wagon there,” she sighed. “We’ll have to carry the supplies.”

The influence of approaching exhaustion made the trip seem to take hours, but in the end they all survived the return journey. A filthy Blarth and far from clean Nicos were awaiting them, resting in the shade of an overhanging tree. Another surge of tired irritation rose within Lynn before she pushed it back down.

Nicos’ eyes flicked over, meeting her own for a few moments before shifting over to Cadrius.

“We’re ready,” he said, pulling himself to his feet with a practiced languid grace. “We just need to fire the site and wait for the others.”

Collaborative effort by Black Plauge, Cadrius, and itches.
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  #153  
Unread 6th of November, 2009, 00:13
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The creak of the oars, the gentle rolling of the sea. The world swam before her eyes as Shade swam through the fog within her mind, aware that her head was pillowed on another's lap. Above her, dimly, she could make out a woman's face, long blond hair, bright blue eyes.

Mom?

She tries to mumble, but no sound comes out. She shifts her body, not quite thrashing, fighting down a sudden panic as something twists inside of her. A hand soothes her hair, lends comfort where there was none before.

"Where . . . am I?"

Her voice sounded far off, even in her own ears. Looking up again, she notices that it isn't her mother after all, even as she realizes that it could never be her. Arjuna, she thinks, beginning to remember. A jolt as the small cart hits a rut shatters the misconception of seas and ships; more memories see the light of dawn.

The curse.

The ritual.
  #154  
Unread 17th of November, 2009, 01:19
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Nicos met them about a mile from the site. The cart was considerably smaller than the wagon they had used to transport the supplies and following the path that Nicos had scouted out they were able to make it all the way to the freshly burned clearing. The cart rolled to a jerky stop.

After a moment, Shade could hear Isac speaking to the others but she could not make out his words. Not that she cared at this point. Waves of heat, and cold, and pain coursed through her at random intervals. She tried to focus on Arjuna, holding tightly to her good hand. The voices stopped, and then the gaunt priest was there, helping her step down to the ground. The look in his eyes was unreadable; she tried not to guess at why. Her bare toes squirm in the still warm layer of ash and she pulls the cloak tighter around her naked shoulders.

With a nod of encouragement to Shade, Isac produces a heavy leather sack from the cart and begins to pour its contents int a circle around the freshly burned clearing. The white powder sparkles in the angry firelight. The powder is nothing more than ground salt and lead, but in the theurgy of goblin magics their powers were absolute.

Salt representing pure, crystallized life force, and lead representing the rarefied essence of the earth. Together they were anathema the corruptive haecceity of the curse.

Once the circle is complete, the thin priest grabs the burlap sack containing the squirming bundle of bound chickens and drops them just outside the glittering ring. He then leads Shade into the circle, and turns her toward him.

"Are you ready?" he asks in a low voice.

For an answer she straightens her spine and fixes him with steely eyes unwavering. She nods quickly, jaw clenched.

by J, Gral, Kel, and Cadrius
  #155  
Unread 1st of December, 2009, 02:18
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Isac draws the cloak from her shoulders exposing the black, monstrously deformed flesh of her left arm. Shivering in spite of the roaring fire behind her, Shade sets her jaw in anticipation.

Reaching across the white line of the circle Isac grips her shoulder and once again pushes his right hand deep into her abdomen. Shade's eyes roll in her head as her naked form convulses. A low chant rumbles from the priest's throat as he works his arm in almost to the elbow. The two hang there, bodies swaying and jerking to the rhythm of goblin verse. The chanting builds into a long sustained note, and Shade's limbs go rigid. Isac's muscles stand out in knotted cords as he struggles to pull his limb free.

Then suddenly something gives and the two fly apart - Shade collapsing in a heap, and Isac stumbling back into Cadrius.

"Thanks," he says weakly as the knight helps him to his feet. "Juni," he nods the seer over. "Take this," he opens his hand revealing a wet, dimly glowing egg covered with minute goblin glyphs.

"What..." she gently cradles the warm ovoid, surprised that it wasn't covered with blood - both the egg and Isac's arm glisten with some silvery fluid.

"Keep it safe. If things don't turn out tonight, you must take this to the temple of Pelor in Keserin. Ask for a priest name Bickman, he'll know what to do."

"But you..." she starts then stops as she realized what he was saying. Things not turning out meant that they both would be dead. Her eyes go wide as she looks at the frail egg in her hand. Backlight swirls of shadow churn beneath egg's surface like clouds passing before the sun. "Then this..."

"...is Shade's soul." A hush falls over the clearing.

"You killed her?" Cadrius's asks slowly, his voice thickening with anger.

"No. Sort of. Its complicated. The curse feeds on the flesh and the spirit. In order to purify Shade, I needed first to wall it off from the spirit."

"And then."

"And then we draw it from the flesh."

"Like poison."

"More like a parasite. Now that Shade's soul is safe and outside the circle, the curse can be driven into a new host."

The knight raises an questioning eyebrow.

"No not me, the chickens. Look, its searching even now." Near the fire Shade's body jerks. Black oily tendrils ooze from navel, and from her mouth and nose, spreading across her skin like obsidian worms. Isac cast an eye towards the bluing eastern horizon. "Its almost time." Walking back to the wagon he produces a stick of charcoal that smelled strongly of pungent herbs. With sure strokes he traces large symbols onto his skin. "As world passes between night and day the boundaries between this world and kur'ah'viih temporarily become fluid."

"Kur'ah'viih?" Juni's voice sounds small as she stares wide eyed at the inky bands squirming aross Shade's naked form.

"A goblin spiritual realm of sorts." Finishing his glyph he grabs his bag of chickens and a small knife. "Nothing leaves the circle until the egg glows clear." He makes eye contact with everyone in turn, "Nothing. Purify the ground of any blood with fire and salt, burn any pieces until ash."

With a deep breath, and a quick prayer, Isac steps into the circle.

by J, Gral, Kel, and Cadrius
  #156  
Unread 9th of December, 2009, 01:22
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As the eastern sky lightens from deep purple to blue the priest labored on. Compared to what Juni saw in the inn, this part of the ritual was largely repetitive. Isac would take a heavily bound chicken from the sack, pierce it with the knife, and then hold it over Shades prone figure. Drawn by blood the blackness would leap into the bird's body. Juni remembers the horror of the first one, how the foul goblin magics gorged the chicken's body infusing it with such unholy strength that it tore free from its leather bindings. Isac had barely managed to toss it into the fire before it broke free. Even the forge like temperatures of the fire weren't enough to slow it, and several times the thin Pelorian had to kick its flaming, squawking carcass back into the flames. It wasn't until the third chicken that Juni realized they were squawking something in goblin.

With a shudder she pulls the egg closer, happily noting that with every cursing undead chicken that went into the fire, the egg grew brighter. Blarth and Cadrius kept an uneasy vigil, both of them warily pacing along the edge of the circle. Nicos looked more relaxed, but his brown eyes were ever alert.

The steady drone of Isac's chanting brings her attention back to the fire.

A sudden feeling of doom crashes down on her as the ghost like images of possible futures spring to life about her. Rotting hands reach from the shadows for her, dirty bony hands that sink like icy shards into the flesh of her back and rip her spine free. Pain and death grasp her mind as she sees herself falling into the yawing depths of oblivion. Then as quickly as it had come, it is over. Still clutching the egg she spins wide eyed backs away from the woods.

"Juni?" Cadrius' sword glints redly in the firelight. "What is it?" his hand on her shoulder makes her jump.

"Skathos," her voice comes in a choking whisper.

"He's..." a flash of silver cuts her sentence short. From the darkness a blade spins hungrily through the air before embedding into Cadrius' intercepting shield. The black pitted blade jutted from the inside of the shield just inches from her face. Cadrius eyes narrow grimly as he breaks the blade of the poinard off with his sword. It took more than human strength to push twelve inches of steel through a metal faced shield, let alone do it on a throw.

A rotting horror shambles from the darkened edge of the wood, seeming to bring some of the night back into the dawn lit clearing. Blackened flesh and scaberous tendon cover too-heavy bones. From the ruin of a face glimmer white eyes and pearly teeth; the once golden hair is now so many tufts of lifeless straw. The mere aura of this thing that was once Skathros is enough to draw every eye. His voice is low and cracked, seeming almost on the very edge of hearing, yet powerful enough to be felt in the bones.

"Give her to me."

by J, Gral, Kel, and Cadrius
  #157  
Unread 9th of December, 2009, 06:11
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Cursing in orcish, Blarth recoils at the sound of death's voice. Looking across the circle, he sees the creature which has entered the clearing and berates himself for not thinking of this possibility earlier. Shade's pure soul energy, separated from her body like that, would attract all such creatures in the area like the rotting meat attracted vultures. If it got a hold of it, then it would drain her energy into itself and all of Isac's work would be for naught.

"Juni! Run!" Blarth yells, "It mustn't be allowed to touch that egg!"

Channeling his inner reserves, Blarth drives his own soul light brighter, attempting to give the creature another focus for its hunger.
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  #158  
Unread 10th of December, 2009, 14:38
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It's the smell that hits him first. The ripe smell of flesh rotting from the bones, maggots worming their way through what used to be a living being, with a sweet overlay that clenches a stomach and brings bile to the throat.

The smell of burning flesh, of undeath from the ritual had brought Nicos to the edge of gagging, nightmare memories fighting to the surface, fighting to drag him down into their cold familiar grasp.

But when the creature appeared from nowhere, gaunt, ruined eyes and a hint of bone, the rotting smell won. Collapsing to the ground on hands and knees, Nicos choked, gagged and wretched until he voided his last hastily eaten meal onto the soil.
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  #159  
Unread 20th of December, 2009, 00:13
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Horror heaped upon horror. The grisly slaughter of the curse-engorged chickens clamors behind her, and the shambling malevolence of the undead crime lord looms before her like a nightmare come to life. It is too much, just too damned much to take in after practically no sleep for days and days, and all the worry and care, and...

"Juni! Run!"

Blarth's hoarse shout rouses Juni from her fear-induced stupor. Run? Run where?

She glances down at the egg, warm and glowing softly with life in her hands. She doesn't think running will do any good and it may do it harm. For all she knows, the soul that the egg contains must be kept near to Shade's body or.. or something bad will happen.

He doesn't want the egg.

It is the calm and reassuring voice of her psicrystal in her head, ever the voice of reason. Except when it doesn't make any sense.

What?

Skathros doesn't want the egg or Shade's soul.

He doesn't?

No, he's here to disrupt the ritual. If we free Shade from the curse then we won't have any reason to track down the scroll. That's what he wants - the scroll for himself. And he wants us to find it for him.

Oh...


So the important thing is to keep Skathros away from the circle until the ritual is completed. Isac must be allowed to continue drawing the curse from Shade's body, destroying the undead chicken, and otherwise directing the goblin magic.

Juni turns toward the heavily armed and armored knight standing next to her. "Cadrius, you must protect Isac! Don't let Skathros gain the circle!" Then she takes a moment to throw up a psychic shield around herself - Skathros could still break up the ritual if he got his hands on the egg - and then takes a small step forward before calling out.

"Skathros!" Her voice rings clear above the crackle of the fire and the steady drone of Isac's chanting. "I'll help you decipher the journal! That's what you want, isn't it? to find the scroll? I can help you figure out where it is. Just.. just let us finish here. I'll do whatever you want. Just leave Shade be!"
  #160  
Unread 23rd of December, 2009, 07:52
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Spinning.

From a vast height, shadowy seethings below.

Spinning.

She could hear the man's words, feel the heat of a great blaze, see the stone solid determination in his eyes.

Her world, wider than the sky, thrashing, raining blood from above.

There was, on the edges, a light, but it was fleeting, elusive. No matter how she turned her head, it retreated, always a hairs breadth from escaping entirely. Vainly she sought to catch it, but the darkness always swam before her.

For a moment, his eyes were there again, then gone. The light flickered, brighter now but making the darkness between all the blacker. Her body awoke, gradually, and rampant, the darkness was in her.

Twisting, like poisoned barbs through her veins. She shuddered under the assault, the world staccato, like lightning flashes in a black storm. Crimson drops spattered her nakedness with the color of life and death.

Sound returned, howling, thrashing, squawking.

His eyes . . . the light . . . the dark. Ever spinning, faster and faster, an endless cycle.

The pain came stronger, louder, like birthing a razor scaled demon. The blood was a fountain, it was her life, her death. The light pierced her, laid her bare but the light was her will and her strength. And the dark, she knew, the dark, the void, was her soul.

The realization slowed the cycle, and gradually it all made a kind of sense to her but she felt nothing. Not light, not dark, it was all grey now. A grey populated with the shadows of the things she had known, devoid of all the things that made them what they were.

The world was a fog, a ghost, a shadow - but however dim, she knew it. The eyes, Isac's eyes, above, were a line to that world. It made no sense to her, though she understood it implicitly. She lay still, no longer arching with agony, sweating, slick with blood, breathing rapid and shallow through the pain that yet racked her.

The screeching resolved into human words. With monumental effort she turned her head to the side, and there, bright and dark, she saw Skathros and knew him. Knew him for kin and kind, knew him for what he was and what he had become. A monster, like her, but not her. These things she knew but they were flat, without the connotation that went along with the meaning.

Her grey eyes were glassy in the mists that lay between the worlds, and she thought, far above, she could see herself.

Spinning.
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Unread 24th of December, 2009, 07:52
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Skathros whips his head around at the shouting. Those hungry white eyes in that blackened, rotting face fixate with inhuman intensity on Blarth. Creaking fingers flex and the thing draws a long, pitted blade as he starts toward the half-orc.
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Unread 24th of December, 2009, 13:47
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"That's it, focus on me..." Blarth mutters as the not-dead thing begins to move in his direction.

As he backs slowly away from the circle, the ink in one of Blarth's tattoos begins to move, stretching and swirling out of it's design and into his hands and feet. As it does so, Blarth clutches nervously at his club.

"Keep following me. Keep following me."
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  #163  
Unread 29th of December, 2009, 12:42
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Pulling himself together, Nicos looked up to find the creature approaching Blarth. Its attention was focused so intently on the half-orc that it should be possible to approach it. Wiping his mouth on a sleeve, the bard rose and with silent feet began to stalk the undead fiend even as it stalked Blarth. His stomach twisted within him again and threatened to upheave itself, but with gritted teeth and effort the bard held it in place as he drew near his target.

Then with a leap he was there. With his arm wrapped around its chest, Nicos leveraged one leg against the back of its knee and attempted to twist the creature to the ground. It was a simple wrestling move that would have worked on any human, elf, dwarf or orc. The creature was none of those things. It’s legs bent slightly under the assault, then with a single hand it reached around to grab Nicos, yanking him violently away with it’s inhuman strength.

“Maybe not a good idea to get its attention,” Lynn said to Juni, having made her way around the commotion to stand by the young woman’s side. The knife she normally kept hidden somewhere on her clothes was held a white knuckled grip and wide eyes trapped on the zombie in their midst. “Let the others keep it busy, they seem to know what they’re doing … maybe.”
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  #164  
Unread 4th of January, 2010, 13:21
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Isac watches as the rotting specter of Skathos tosses Nicos halfway across the campsite. Sensing an opening, Blarth takes a half step forward to strike then pitches himself sideways narrowly avoiding the rotting corpse's slash. Like black lightning the blade screams through the air, hewing tree and splintering stone in its wake. Only the half-orc's battle honed reflexes keep him from being split in two. Isac's heart sinks - consumed by the power of the curse, the one time thief is all but unstoppable.

Looking down at Shade, he knows what must be done.

He had been unable to keep himself from being used by the goblin witches while he was their slave.

He had been unable to save the elves of Sshal' En Tuath, or protect his beloved Sheolign from the Sister's vengeance.

But right here....right now he was able to save this one life.

"Juni," he calls out over the din of battle. "When the egg turns clear, you have to crack it open."

She looks at him with her milky, clairvoyant eyes. The host of possible futures suddenly resolving into one, unstoppable path.

"Isac! No!"

With his left hand the priest smears the glyphs covering his body. Immediately black tendrils rise viper like from Shade's naked flesh.

Pelor is the Light and the Way

With a deep breath he plunges the small knife into the juncture of his neck. Hot crimson jets across his hand and sprays across Shades milky skin like ripe cranberries dropped on snow. Black magics leap through the wound and hungrily burrow into his flesh. He drops to his knees as the foulness runs like icy sewage through his veins.

Its good to see you again, Mura. The goblin words burn in his mind.

Mother

My son. I told you your pride would be your undoing. Foolish manling.

Pelor save me.

Bitter laughter dances on his dimming brain.

Mew to your pathetic human god, Mura. Soon you and the rest of your disgusting pink skinned kine will know...their...place.

Isac can feel the curse gnawing like maggots on his soul, chewing away all of him that was good and leaving in their wake a simulacra of black offal.

An yet he hung on.

Why do you fight Mura? It is...inevitable...

The last of the curse flows thickly out of Shade, and wriggles its self into the blackening flesh of Isac's torso. Summoning what little of his humanity he has left Isac staggers to his feet.

Now kill them slave, and bring me the girl.

Isac smiles, the flesh of his face sliding off in black, rotting sheets.

"Never."

With a lurch the thin priest falls backwards into the fire.
  #165  
Unread 12th of January, 2010, 06:39
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Juni stares into the flames for the space of several long breaths, not wanting to believe - refusing to believe - that Isac is gone. But there can be no doubt that he'd intended to sacrifice himself at the last and that he'd been consumed by the fire. The question is: had it worked? She tears her gaze away from the inferno and looks down at the egg in her hands.

It glows clear and bright. There is no sign of darkness, no sign of the tracings of goblin glyphs that marred its surface before. What did Isac say to do?

Crack it open.

Juni turns away from the fire and kneels beside Shade's motionless body. She can hear Blarth and Nicos struggling with Skathros outside the circle, and nearer, the roar of the flames. But otherwise all is still. Is Shade breathing? How does a body live without a soul?

Hurry up!

Juni's hands shake but she does what needs to be done. As the shell cracks open, there is a flash of brilliant light and a soundless rumble, a vibration that travels up her arms and down her spine. A ghost-like, silvery tendril of smoke - no, it isn't smoke! - snakes away from the egg and hovers over Shade's mouth, swirling and dancing with life. Shade suddenly takes a convulsive breath, inhaling all of the vaporous emanation at once.

"Shade?" Dropping the empty shell, Juni takes her friend's cold hand in hers. "Can you hear me?"
  #166  
Unread 12th of January, 2010, 07:15
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A string of what can only be orcish curses emanates from Blarth's mouth as Nicos attempts to wrestle the monstrosity before him to the ground.

Never touch that which moves without life.

The teaching grated through his mind, but Blarth was now faced with a quandry. If he used his club, he was as likely to hit Nicos as he was to hit the ... thing. His bite would be even worse. Did he dare risk touching that thing to aid Nicos.

Closing his eyes and gritting his teeth, Blarth reaches out and grabs at the pair in front of him. Holding his breath, he closes his hand around a limb and breaths a sigh of relief when he feels the supple leather of Nicos's boot. Grabbing nearly tight enough to twist Nicos's ankle, Blarth begins a tug-of-war, attempting to extract Nicos from the thing's grasp.
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  #167  
Unread 14th of January, 2010, 00:38
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With a start, Shade's grey eyes snap open, locked on Juni's own blue ones.

Blue

She half sits up, her head swinging around. The world was full of color, of movement, of life. Things she had forgotten existed. And inside, she felt whole for the first time in a long time - tired and battered, certainly, and full of ache but it was a normal ache, not the twisting horror that had been. She puts a hand on Arjuna's shoulder and smiles - genuine, warm.

Warm

The cold was gone from her, that icy feeling that had plagued her for so long. She felt alive, in a world no longer filled with darkness and shadow and dread. A moment is all it takes for these realizations to fill her, a moment for her to feel clean and good and free.

The moment is necessarily brief, for the real world is pressing all around. And it takes but another moment for reality to invade her newly cleansed senses. The stench of burning flesh, the feel of sticky blood on her naked body, the horrible sound of an undead monstrosity locked in mortal combat with her friends. Tortured recollections abound, and with them comes the knowledge she had just witnessed firsthand. She stifles a sob at the loss of this unexpected innocence.

Isac is gone, the hand and the eyes that had saved her, truly. Skathros, or what he had become - what she had almost become - remained. She steels herself, feeling the power in her hands and in her body, unwilling to squander this chance at life, unwilling to squander the sacrifice Isac had made. Grimly, she levers herself up, eyes searching for something of use. Having witnessed his power first hand, she knew they were doomed in a fight.

Her eyes sweep the area even as she settles her cloak over her shoulders, hiding her nakedness. Once her gaze finds Isac's remains, crackling in the blaze. She looks quickly away.

"Swords are no use."

She wracks her brain for some solution, feeling precious seconds slip by and then she spies the twin bags at Juni's feet, the glitter in the dust around them. She remembers the ritual, remembers words she had heard in a trance.

Salt and lead

She snatches them up and thrusts one at Arjuna.

"Come on, follow my lead!"
  #168  
Unread 2nd of February, 2010, 12:26
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Feeling Blarth attempting to pull him away from the creature which had him deep within it's cold grasp, Nicos began to throw his weight to and fro in the hope that it could cause him to slip free of it's hold. With the endevour only succeeding in earning him some bloody wounds, the bard arched his body and slammed his head into the face of the monster.

The tactic worked, momentarily stunned by the unexpected attack, the creature released its hold, sending Nicos flying into Blarth.
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  #169  
Unread 6th of February, 2010, 02:24
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Shade smiled.

Juni had taken the bag that Shade had tossed at her, and then followed after her friend as she ran to where Nicos and Blarth were engaged with Skathros. But she was still taken aback by that smile. It was so genuine, so true, so real. No trace of a smirk, not a hint of irony. Had she ever seen Shade smile like that before?

Shade calls instructions to her over her shoulder as they race forward. Nicos pulled free with help from Blarth, which was so much the better.

"We hit him together but we need to be close, and we want to cover him so don't hold any back."

Juni nods, fully focused on what needs to be done now. Hit him with the lead and salt. She fumbles open her bag, running to keep up with Shade. A fine black powder spills out, and she adjusts her hold on the sack to keep from losing any more.

How close do we need to get to him? She finds her feet slowing as they close in. Now she can clearly see the flesh peeling away from bones, the face frozen in a rictus of hate, the impossible strength of the dessicated limbs. She forces herself to go closer, to stick with Shade as they move into position.

Skathros barely seems to even register their existence. He is intent only on attacking those nearest him, pursuing Nicos and Blarth with single-minded malevolence even as they try to scramble away from him. Shade moves to intercept, and Juni follows.

"NOW!" Shade yells. Juni swings her sack, loosing a cloud of dark powder at the same moment that Shade's bag erupts with a shower of white. Lead and salt. Juni remembers Isac saying something about the two substances together having some kind of power over the corruption of the curse. But she isn't prepared for Skathros' reaction.

He screams, a piercing wail like breaking glass and screeching furies and howling wolves all rolled into one, threaded with something deeper and filled with rage. The thing that was Skathros thrashes uncontrollably as the others are assaulted by the noise and a sudden charred, sickening smell.

Shade goes cold all over and her gut rolls. She grabs Juni's arm and tugs her away and in a moment they are fleeing headlong back towards Nicos and Blarth.

"Get him up and let's GO!"

by Kel and Gral
  #170  
Unread 25th of February, 2010, 09:00
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Juni knew that Shade would never let her go by herself. That's why she had to make up an excuse and slip away unnoticed. It wasn't difficult. Everyone was busy with preparations for the departure. They planned to be ready to leave in just a few hours.

If I hurry, I won't even be missed, she thinks as she crosses a farmer's field on the outskirts of town, heading south. Few are out and about in the bleak hour before dawn, but she avoids taking the road anyway. She doesn't want to be seen by anyone in the Guild who might recognize her and cause trouble. Of course, going off across country like this could leave her vulnerable to that other threat. She stops cold and looks warily around. Thick gray clouds glower overhead, and tendrils of cold mist snake among the tussocks of dry stubble in the fields. All is still, no breath even of wind.

No zombies to be seen.

Do you believe all that about the dead rising?

Why would Cadrius lie?

I don't know.


Juni moves on, picking her way over the uneven ground. She doesn't really doubt what Cadrius told them last night. But she doesn't believe that she is in any immediate danger from hordes of undead either. She figures that Skathros has already scurried back to his lair beneath the abandoned temple to lick his wounds, and it was him and his shadow minions that were her main worry. That was the reason she had not asked Shade to come along with her. She thought that Skathros might possibly still be drawn to the remnants of the curse somehow, and that Shade would be safer staying with the others.

Trees loom all around her now. Juni realizes that she has come at last to the copse, and that the clearing should be just ahead. The way is more difficult here where the undergrowth is thick, and she slows her pace.

Nobody had wanted to talk about Isac since the escape from Skathros, including herself. At first, grief had been too raw inside her for words. Then, when the time seemed right, she didn't know what to say or how to say it. Cadrius had mentioned the priest once, but Juni had become inexplicably angry over it and so she had turned away from the conversation.

You don't like him very much, do you?

Who says I don't? I like him well enough.

Come on. Who do you think you're fooling?

It doesn't matter whether I like him or not. Just... forget about it, all right?

I can't forget about it unless you do.


Juni struggles through a final screen of brush and creeping brambles, and steps out into the clearing. It looks just about the same as it did when she saw it last, almost exactly a day ago, although of course the fire is no longer burning. She stares at the charred spot within the circle of lead and salt, and suddenly the firelight seems to flicker before her eyes once again. A droning chant echoes intermittently just on the edge of hearing - Isac's voice as he performs the ritual. She can even feel the egg warm in her hands.

No, no... She tries to break free of the vision. This is one moment that she does not wish to relive!

A sudden sound behind her - a snap of a twig - breaks the spell. What was that? She turns to look, suddenly aware of an intense stillness all around her.
  #171  
Unread 25th of February, 2010, 12:55
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The silence stretches for one moment, then two, then many more. And finally, just as Juni begins to relax, a voice breaks the stillness with sudden sharpness.

"Find what you were looking for?"

For an instant, Arjuna's heart is in her throat, until the voice registers and Shade steps out from the dimness of the treeline. Her veil is up, hiding her face and her scar, but her eyes are clear and grey above the heavy blue silk.

"I should tell you it's dangerous to have come here, and stupid to have come alone. But I guess the truth is it's no worse than anywhere else. Safer maybe, since I doubt Skathros would choose to come back here, not with all that - " she indicates the rough circle of salt and lead " - around."

She looks at the remains of the great fire and what it holds, then quickly looks away.

"I guess you figured all that on your own anyway. You seem to be pretty good at taking care of yourself these days."
  #172  
Unread 26th of February, 2010, 05:16
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"Oh, I don't know about that," Juni says, trying her best to appear unruffled. This isn't the first time that Shade has managed to sneak up on her completely unawares. "I'm sure that I will still need looking after from time to time."

I'll say. And you call yourself a Clarivoyant?! her psi-crystal seems to snicker in her mind.

Oh shut up!

Juni notices how Shade's eyes dart to and away from the fire-blackened area, and she wonders how aware of things her friend had been during the ritual and its aftermath. Shade had been in an altered state - her soul detached from her body. How much did she remember? Juni had not wanted to relive those heart-wrenchingly painful last moments. But perhaps Shade needed to.

"Come," she says, holding her hand out to the rogue. "We can do this together. It is right that we should both be here to lay his bones to rest."
  #173  
Unread 1st of March, 2010, 04:48
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Shade wished that she completely shared Juni's certainty about right and wrong. Isac's remains certainly deserved better than to lay here, in this blackened chaos but that didn't change the fact that he had died because of her. For her, if you were willing to push aside the wall you had built to hide from that knowledge.

She takes Juni's hand in her own calloused one, grateful for the comfort one could only come from companionship. She squeezes it once, fighting back her emotions, trying to make sense of what had happened and why. He'd given everything of himself for someone he had come to apprehend, even kill. The fact was that Isac had saved her from a fate far worse than death, had kept her alive and eventually rid her of the blinding evil of the curse.

There was no way to repay him, even had he been alive. Nothing could even the score, but she could honor his memory. She could remind herself of what he'd done, and so remember that the world wasn't all the cold hard place she had known. There was room for more - room to share of herself, to care.

"Yes," she says, voice thick with emotion. "In honor and peace, that is how he should be."
  #174  
Unread 17th of May, 2010, 21:23
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