Pelenhar the Damned

Chapter 17: Conivar the Shield of the North

As the sun slowly sank into the distant horizon, the party traveled east along the ancient road that ran parallel to the cliff that Bysmir said divided Annwyn between the north and the south. At it’s heights the rolling hills of the gambirnin planes were connect by the grey waterfall of stone to the verdant mysteries of the Maktaer. The sea of autumn brown grass waved softly at their passage and a flock of green and brown birds spun a delicate web as they rose up to the heavens only to spiral down to the forest that lay at the base of the granite wall.

As the half light of dusk colored the land in deep purples a fog rose from below the cliff line, suspending the travelers in a haunted world of wisp and confusion. Even so, they press on, knowing that they should soon arrive at their destination. The road finally crest a slow rising hill and the soft hiss of the Vyrnag, the waterfall that lay in the center of Conivar.

Fog.jpg

Reassured by this sign, the travelers shrug off the encroaching chill and increased their speed, forcing weary feet to press on over the ancient path. Bysmir nervously recounted tales of the Knights of Autumn whose great hall, Tintara lays at the heart of of the city.

With only the echo of their footfalls to balance the growing sound of the unseen waterfall, the fog seems to grow thicker and thicker, as if it was trying to delay their arrival. To hold them at bay.

With a palpable sense of relief the blanket of white suddenly gave way and the shadow of a Conivar’s defenses appear in the distance. Unconsciously the party further increases their pace, seeking shelter from the oppressive fog. As they approach the moat, they can see that the earthen ramparts are topped with a tall wooden palisade. Any defender upon that wall would have a decisive advantage over their foe.

It’s then that they stop, the echo of their footsteps falling away into silence as they realize that the gates to the city stand open before them. They listen and hear nothing and after a moment loosen their weapons and ready themselves as they slowly continue with a heightened sense of caution.

As they pass into the city they can see some lights behind the shutters in some of the windows but they seems to few, too silent for a city this size. Perhaps it is the sound like a distant thunder where water must be falling into the air, high above the land below that creates the tension in the air. Perhaps it is the fog that has closed back in, sticking to everything it touched the whispers a sense of dread to that primal part of their brains. Perhaps it’s the half formed ghost of figures in the fog that seem to threaten even as they slip away that heralds some ancient instinct to seek safety and shelter beyond these wall.

It didn’t matter for the travelers had come too far to be dissuaded. This is the next step on the path that they have set for themselves and they have given up too much to allow a fear of shadows and phantasm to drive them away.

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Chapter 11: Across the Border

By the time Zhenais, LaKota and Cyric had passed through Ascaril, the snow-pregnant clouds had drawn to reveal hints of a merciless blue sky beyond. Cold, tired and almost completed drained of their reserves, they were heartsick to turn their feet upon the remains of the south bound road, but they knew that with the day quickly fading there was little chance of their avoiding the city’s undead inhabitants and their reptilian foes. The truth was that if night fell and they were still withing the confines of the ancient port, their chances would become none and in all likelihood, they would join the necromantic guardians of the lost city.

With grim determination the sought to put as many miles behind them as possible before night fell. Near exhausted they reached the foot of the Iron Hills. Despite their falling short of whatever standard defined such things, this, the west-most portion of these uptrusions of granite, was called the Black Mountains and any who tried to cross them would argue rightfully so.

The road was unmaintained, but still provided an easy path through a countryside gone wild, and as you crested the last hill before you lost sight of the Ascaril, you thought you noticed movement near the edge of the ruins. Neither woman was willing to wager their lives on their luck changing and that it might be their lost comrades trying to catch up with them, so with leaden legs they pushed on. When necessary, they paused for short breaks, enough to keep them forging ahead but too little to leave them feeling anything but bone weary. Had it not been for Cyric and his vivomantic magics, they might not have been able to go on at all. Again and again he seemed to be able to refresh their reserves and allow them to find strength they were unaware they still had.

As the Sun raced toward the horizon, the sky ran red and gold and the temperature began to drop. LaKota spotted a cairn up ahead, standing sentinel like in the middle of the road. Close examination revealed it to be a pillar of granite, wrapped in vines and crowned with the skull of a large lizard man. Etched with eldritch runes, the cairn reeked of magic but Zhenais was unable to determine what unnatural purpose it served. The Runes weren’t ones she recognized but she suspected they were related to a primitive form of urak.

Finally as it seemed that whatever its enchantment, the skull posed no threat, they forged on ahead. By now the shadows were running long and their pace was reduced to a slow walk, but they forged on. The path turned downward and in the distance appeared a great chasm. Extending out of sight in either direction, it seemed impassible save for an ancient bridge that spanned the gap.

Pausing to prepare themselves, they spied a guard on the bridge as well as a small tent beyond. It was too far to make out any details save that they were man-sized and cloaked against the winter air.

Going back was not an option, going around seemed unlikely, so the plan was simple. Move across as fast as possible and strike if necessary.

The battle which followed was quick and bloody. The Guard on the bridge was a scaled goblin who shared the watch with a large wolf. Unfortunately the canine howled a challenge that brought forth a large number of goblins, both scaled and red, some with similar mounts. The battle would have gone badly if not for the timely arrival of some unexpected allies. Two Khazdain and a Syrivan charged down from the south and engaged the goblin hoard.

Even so it took every bit of Cyric’s magics to limit the casualties to the goblins and their allies. However, the day was won.

Standing amongst the carnage and basking in the healing aura of Cyrics vivomental, introductions were made.

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Interlude: Captain Vyrdogh
The deed is done

Leaning back in his chair, Captain Vyrdogh took a long draught of his ale. It’s smokey richness reminded him of the deep forest to the east of Olikar. No matter what else you thought about the Khazdain, they were as fine brewers of ale as they were miners.

Candinry sauntered over with his meal, her smile a practiced invite that he was going to refuse despite the promise of her ample cleavage. The food was good, coney stew with carrots, onions and peas, well spiced. Scooped into the thick sliced dark bread, it was warm and filling.

It had taken a better part of a month but he had finally found the hounds Seeker Kasch wanted. A horned Paladin, a Khazdain of the Air and Storm and a Khazdain with hands of iron. The irony of the first wasn’t lost on him.

It bothered him to be dealing with them but what Baron wanted, the Baron got. He had come with him from Galicana and had watched his fortune rise with the Baron’s and as distasteful as he found the Seeker, if these fey could find the long missing servant of Myrot then perhaps they could bring this matter to a close and gather the support they needed to put down the rebellion.

Wiping the bowl with bread, Vyrdogh again scanned the room. He had been here long enough not to cause too much of a stir if he got up and moved around. The drunkards, the farmers, the rogues and the spies paid attention to new faces and what they did.

Draining his ale, he got up and made his way to the bar. Kalmas looked up as he approached and pulled up the pitcher. Addressing Vyrdoch as he approached by the only name he knew him by, the rotund Deliarrin grinned, " Mylios my friend, another mug of Blackstone I hope? "

The tall soldier shook his head. “You know better than that. I can only afford one glass of the Khazdain brew a night. Fortunately it’s strong enough that I can tolerate the local piss you serve for the rest of the evening.” Putting his tankard on the bar, he dropped two copper as the Barman filled it with perfectly descent ale that was house standard. “Fill er up.”

After Kalmas had done so, he asked, “Have you seen my friends tonight”

“Not tonight I afraid. I’ve got an eye out but still no sign of them. As soon as they pop up, I’ll let you know.” He promised

Vyrdogh nodded. “Fair enough, until then it’s one Blackstone a night and this piss until dawn.”

Looking about the room and let his eye fall on her. She had come in earlier with two guards who sat at the table next to hers. She was who he’d been waiting for but it didn’t matter with her dark looks and sensuous air she’d have attracted his attention anyway.

“Who’s the Lady?”

The barman grinned and chuckled. " That’s Lady Ardwiena. She says she’s from River’sfall and she’s been turning down offers all evening. Beyond that, I don’t know. "

“You know what’s she’s drinking don’t you.”

“I know you can’t afford it. Trust me on that.”

Vyrdogh nodded and thought a while. “Give me a plate with some of those candied fruits you keep for Candinry. Make it look nice.” He slipped a couple of silver onto the bar.

Minutes later, a plate of sugar preserved peaches, pears and plums in hand, Vyrdogh found himself standing next to Lady Ardwiena’s table. Her guards were tense, their hands casually resting on the hilts of their blades. There was no doubt that at the first sign of trouble, that they would be in his face and blood would run free. Fortunately he that wouldn’t be the case tonight.

“M’Lady, excuse the interruption but Master Kalmas says you’re from River’sfall. I expect to be heading that direction with my cousin in a week or so and I was wondering If I might ask you a couple of questions about the journey there.”

Heavy lidded eyes, green as emeralds and deep as the merciless ocean looked up at him from behind curls dark as shadows. Skin like milk and blood red lips that begged you to kiss them to took his breath away as those eyes pinned him to the floor. “You’d be better talking to Rigord or Pyllin, they paid more attention to the ride, not I.”

Vyrdogh, grinned. Surely you’re right but then I’d have to share these sweets with them. Give me as little time as it takes for you to have your fill of the them and I’d view this evening as something to cherish. All you have to say is I’m done and I’ll walk away.

With stiletto slim fingers she picked up a piece candied pear and slowly pushed it past those lips. With slow, deliberate motions she ate it. When she was done she slowly licked her lips and with a soft whisper of a voice grinned. “This may be your lucky night depending how long you can tempt me with your, sweets. Sit down and we’ll talk of roads I have walked and journeys yet to come.”

As he sat down, he failed to place her accent and his eyes again fell on the ring on her hand. The coiled serpents with eyes of blood consuming themselves as they went in opposite direction seemed to twist and turn and he began to think he was being drawn into something far darker then he had ever known. He raised his eyes to hers and realized to his dismay that he didn’t care.

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Chapter 10: The city of the dead.

A lengthy debate ensued but it was cut short by Lakota noticing that in the distance, a sizable group was pursuing you. You couldn’t be sure but you strongly suspected that it lizardmen. You were sure that their numbers were fat greater than yours and if they caught you, it would go poorly for your party. You needed to escape them and failing that, to reduce their numbers.

The plan was as bold as it was foolhardy. Enter Ascril, traveling as fast as discretion would allow, hoping that you could avoid the undead that roamed the city. The lizardmen’s larger number wouldn’t allow them to escape unnoticed. Then you could either make for the library (a structure that you could see was still partially intact) or proceed through the city and exit from the southern gate.

No one was happy with the plan but desperate times call for desperate measures. You trekked through the fallen snow as quickly as possible and as the entered the outskirts of the city, you began to avoid the undead. When necessary, you took down undead quickly as possible, followed by a quick departure. Unfortunately as the sun began to sink, the undead’s numbers increased and it became harder and harder to avoid them and your armed encounters became more frequent.

Blow by blow, fight by fight, clash by clash the party was becoming more and more exhausted as the the sustained action began to take it’s toll. The undead were tireless and as the sky darkened you found yourselves driven into the confines of a ruined building. Sand and cobwebs the cramped space that had once been the oil merchant’s business. Almost all of the containers were broken and the oil had long since soaked into the earth but in the remains of the second floor lay under what shelter what remained of the roof, you found a half dozen sealed barrels.

You knew that the light and the smoke would help the lizardmen find you but by the early predawn light you had no choice but to risk unleash flaming destruction upon the hoards of undead who were besieging you. Fleeing the smoke and flames you retreated to upper level and from there continued to hold your foes at bay. It was from that vantage that Zhenais spotted the approaching reptiles.

Like a scaled tide they moved through the ruins, carving their way amongst the zombies and skeletons. In the early morning light the white haired sorcerer spotted a smaller, albino pale lizard and recognized the troglodyte Shaman Syrzach. She carefully aimed her crossbow, aimed center mass and pulled the trigger. The bolt shot through the air like an eagle to it’s prey.

At the last moment a large blue scaled lizardman through himself in front of bolt, shield first. The quarrel punched through the leather covered barrier and slammed into his chest, knocking him back and out of sight.

Syrzach pulled out a obsidian edged knife an tossed it into the air. He muttered ancient words of power that no human mouth could pronounce and the blade started to glow with a green white flame. With a flick of his wrist, he directed it to fly through the air at his attacker.

Zhenais scrambled backward as the blade struck at her again and again. Wylie stepped up and engaged the dancing blade, his sword weaving a web of defiance. Lakota drove the remaining undead back into the flames and Mako focused the last of his mystical energies to feed the flames. An inferno of pure light that cracked stone lit up the floor of the building, setting flame to everything it touched, covered the floor of the building.

The party retreated from the scalding heat to the upper level. The magically animated blade finally fell mutely to the ground with a hollow. Over the battle cries of the lizardmen Mako’s keen elvish hearing caught the sound of chanting. His face turned pale as he recognized the cadence and the rhythm of the spell that Syrzach had been chanting. “An earthquake. He’s summoning an earthquake.”

Suddenly the drain of his efforts washed over him. He dropped to his knees and if Wylie hadn’t pulled him back, he’d have fallen int the inferno below.

Lakota readied one of her remaining arrows. It was a shot she had to make. If she failed they would die. Zhenais held up her crossbow. He’s got guards, they’ll take an arrow for him, we should both shoot. The ranger nodded, “On three”.

As the chanting seemed to approaching it’s crescendo she slowly counted to three. On the mark Zhenais rose and fired. LaKota paused a moment before she did the same.

As before one of the burly lizardmen leapt forward to intercepted the sorceress’s crossbow bolt. Even as he started to pull his shield back LaKota’s arrow slammed into the Troglidyte clerics shoulder, He screamed in agony and fell backwards. The power he had been summoning spilled forth, uncontrolled, unleashing tremors in all directions. It wasn’t the focused earthquake he had planned for leveling the building his prey was hiding in but it’s effects were substantial.

The building trembled as it’s flagstone floor shattered, spilling the mystically enhanced flames into the long forgotten basement that lie beneath. The flames set alight the shattered support beams that held the ceiling together, transforming them into burning spikes that fell, hammerlike upon the unremembered, undiscovered reserves of that long forgotten oil merchant, shattering the ancient tuns that held that precious commodity for almost a century. A credit to the elvish cooper who had constructed them, the tuns had kept the oil as fresh as the day it had been put in but the heat of the flames was causing them to bow. When the support beams collapsed they pierced the pressurized cask and the flames met the volatile liquid.

The conflagration that followed was unlike anything anyone had seen. Stone, wood, bodies and earth scattered in all direction. Zhenais and LaKota were hurled high into the air onto the roof of a nearby building. Wylie was still holding Mako as the explosion threw them high into the air and then back into the flaming basement.

Rolling to their feet, Zhenais and LaKota looked at the carnage where they had been. Lizardmen were scattered in all directions, slowly getting to their feet. The remaining undead were recovering more quickly and will a single-minded focus, falling upon the stunned warriors.

Where once there had been a building, now there was a crater. Smoke, dust and flame swirled amongst the ruins. Form their vantage point, LaKota and Zhenais could see Mako rising to his feet and looking about. His eyes locked on those of his allies and the same realization struck all of them. They were too far apart, they couldn’t be of aid to one another and they both needed to get out.

Mako moved to Wylie’s side and helped him to his feet. As the tried to get their bearings they noticed a collapse in the in the wall. Glancing inside they realized it was an ancient sewer tunnel. They didn’t know where it would lead but it was their only chance. They gave a quick glance to their friends who watched helplessly from the rooftop and then they stepped into the darkness.

Then, they were gone.

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Chapter 9: The Road to Ascril

The Road to Ascril

For a day after LaKota reappeared you rested and enjoyed being back in the land of the living. The breezes were warmer and filled with the sweet smells of summer turning to autumn, gulls wheeled in the sky above the green-grey sky and crickets sang in the long sea grass. After all you had been trough, it was pleasant.

Lakota located some fresh water and brought down a large albatross to eat. Mako of course prepared a fire and Wylie located some chalets and wild thyme for spicing it and Dr Varn demonstrated an unsuspected talent for cooking. Zhenais even found what probably was a garden gone wild and pulled out some sweet turnips and carrots. As the sun set and the stars sparkled on the horizon, a beach fire kept you warm, and safe.

You knew tomorrow would bring new challenges but for a day, you relaxed and enjoyed just being alive.

With dawn came the urge to be away, to make your way back to civilization and the causes that had brought you to Pelenhar. Based on what you remembered, the general consensus was that you were somewhere between Alsbin and Ascaril.

The question was how to proceed. You had two choices, you could skirt the coast until you reached Ragis Port. This would be a longer path but not only would you be able to avoid the Iron Hills. The other option was to head south, cross the Iron Hills and make your way down to the Salara, head west and make your way to Olikar of the Seven Spires or Ragis Port.

Despite LaKota’s desire for the latter, the rest were drawn to head down the coast. Not only did this open the chance for sighting a ship and reducing your travel time, but this would take you to as Ascaril. The thought of combing through the ruins of the great library of Ascaril was too tempting. All three will workers thought it was worth the chance. In the end, you set off on the next day, making your way down the coast.

After two days you reached a stretch of wetlands which Wylie identified as Erls Fen Wylie’s recollections was that it would take you at least a week to go around it so but slightly over a day to go through it, it was decided to forge ahead. At the end of the first day it became clear that it would take over a day get to the other side but you were committed to trying to get across.

In the distance on the second day you caught the scent of smoke and when you investigated you found a small encampment of lizardmen. Choosing the better part of valor you skirt to the south and avoid contact with them and were much relieved when you found solid ground beneath your feet without incident.

Within a day you found yourself again facing a long stretch of marsh. This time you tried to head inland and avoid more days of water, mosquitoes and possible encounters with Lizardmen. Unfortunately another day and a half it became clear that the solid ground was an island in the middle of the marsh and you once again you were hip deep in feted saltwater.

You tried to avoid the local lizardman population but this time you weren’t so lucky. They imposed a toll of blood. After four more days you worked your way free leaving the bog stink behind you.

LaKota managed to bring down a boar and with your food stores replenished you turned your eyes towards an ancient road towards Ascaril. The air had gotten colder over the next week and the air was pregnant with snow as you came over a rise. Your breath came like a frozen cloud as you took in the sight of what had once been the great elvish port.

Built on a rise above the deep water port, Ascaril had been a jewel of elegant elvish architecture that had gently flowed down to the docks. On the Night of Broken Shadows the it’s inhabitants had been betrayed from within with assassins killing many of the cities leader and it’s most powerful will workers. This left the inhabitant unprepared for the tidal wave that had been summoned by the sea witch Ylondri Greenmantle to rack the northern western coasts.

Tens of thousands died and with them, the dead rose. The slaughter was near absolute and less then ten percent of the city had survived. Few of the fallen cities of Pelenhar had suffered such absolute destruction and the sight that greeted the party was chilling. The saltwater of tidal wave had tainted the earth so plants and animals had been far slower to reclaim the ruins. That and the restless dead.

Even from the bluff above the city it was still obvious tat the city was still occupied by the walking dead.

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Chapter 8: Interdude
Syrzach and Dyrg

Interlude 1

Once more within the waking world Syrzach and Dyrg quickly set to implementing the plan that they laid out while they had remained in that damnedable village. Dyrg usual placid nature had been replaced with a desire for bloody revenge and Syrzah… Syrzach had changed.

He had found some black sliverroot in the remains of a dried out lake. Chewing the desiccated tuber into a paste, he had prepared a salve for their wounds. While it had eased their pain and aided in the healing, it had had unintended consequences, their wounds had healed but in their place were scars that were black as subterranean water. Worse still was the fever that had wracked the Troglodytes body leaving him shaken and weak, haunted with visions, hearing the whispering voice of the Wings of Shadow.

That thunderous voice had softly talked to him, drawing him in, suggesting and guiding. That whispering song had shaken the world as it commanded him. In unremembered dreams it taught him three forgotten words of power and awakened in him an awareness of the Shadows that moved beneath the unblinking stars.

He felt consumed by a purpose and filled with a dark power to achieve it. He was a servant of the Wing of Shadows and all who did not bow to his lord would perish. He no longer wanted to return to his home and make a nest of the bones of his foes. He was beyond such petty desires. He was, the Voice of Shadows.

Dyrg had been concerned at the changes in his friend but in the twilight hours the pale troglodyte had whisper to him in a blasphemous tongue that would have shatter the mind of any born of man. Those words calmed his fears and promised him vengeance, power and protection from that he feared most. It had promised him blood.

* * * * *

Rising out of the brackish water of the Erl Fens, Syrzach looked at the camp that lay before him. He ran a clawed finger across the kern of skulls that had been placed as a warning to any who would dare encroach on the territory of the White Tongue Fang. To him it cautioned less than it invited.

A dike of swampbriar and strangleweed was subtly spun as a barrier to keep foes at bay. Anyone foolish enough to stumble into it would find their bones feeding the Erl. Unless you could sing the to it’s blood. Unless you to calm it’s hunger.

What lay beyond was a typical nest of the Finback. A large central nest surrounded by smaller nest of the worthy. A corral for slaves was nearby and judging from its size they were probably few and over used. Behind the egg ponds and the bone field was a small dwelling, adorned with skulls and symbols of power. There in was the old speaker, a servant of the Bonedrinker. He was ancient and his knowledge was substantial, his power was more so.

With the setting of the day fire, two additional patrols set forth from the camp. They didn’t see Syrzach, they wouldn’t. He turned and looked back the way he had come. Even though he couldn’t see Dyrg, he knew where his ally was. A simple signal conveyed his desire and a minute later the Barghest appeared at his side.

Syrzach pointed to the much-adorned structure and whispered to his friend. “Mark our destination and make yourself ready. When the blood sickle is at its zenith we go. We must be swift and silent for his power is great. Are you ready?” he asked with a long fanged smile. The beast grinned and he returned his eyes towards the camp.

* * * * *

The thin blade of the moon rode the night sky until she was ready to plunge down. Syrzach rose. “ Are you ready?” he asked. His canine companion nodded his head and bared his fangs. His black eyes deepened into pools of ebony as he grabbed the pale skinned troglodyte and stepped forward. Slipping between the waking world and the realm of shadows he slid, invisible, intangible across the moor, only to resolve himself with his companion at the entrance to the bone reader’s hut.

Syrzarch strode through the door with a reptilian arrogance as he confronted the elder lizardman. Before the former could act he spoke the first of the words of power that his master had taught him. The blasphemous utterance rocked the red scaled priest as he screamed in dismay into the void of silence that had descended around him.

Even so, he had not served the Bonedrinker these many years by being so easily overcome.

He called upon the Elements of Fire and wreathed himself in unforgiving flame whose heat alone began to set the interior of his abode to smoke and burn. He shaped the flame to a spear and stabbed at the intruder, barely missing as Syrzach dived backwards. A cruel smile passed his lips as he realized that the invader was not of his power despite the earlier evocation. Striding forward towards the skittering troglodyte, he raised his spear.

Dyrg acted less from courage then from an insinuated loyalty that overcame his terror at the sight of the towering immolation. He forgot his fear and the promises that had been made. Some remote beastal instinct of action propelled him forward.

The impact rocked the lizardman as he felt the Berghest’s taloned claws wrap around his throat. His terror at the growling mock face in front of him filled him with an adrenalin boosted burst of flame that consumed them both.

It was then that it became clear that Syrzachs promise that flame would shed from his fur like water was true. Pinning his foe by the throat he looked to his ally as he recovered. He grinned a grin that promised bloody death. By virtue of strength and leverage he forced the lizardman’s head up so the defeated priest had to look at the bone colored troglodyte one more time.

Eyes wide in terror, the bone reader watched the shadows that slid across the walls of his hut coalesce behind his foe only to flow with unnatural purpose and form into a pair of wings that spread wide and unaffected by flame across the burning ceiling, . To his horror he recognized the sign and knew the truth.

The Wings of Shadow were rising and all who lived would pay the price.

He didn’t feel the claws rend his chest.

He wasn’t aware that they broke trough his ribs.

His last thoughts were tormented with the nightmare of the shadows laughing at his failure and the acrid odor of sizzling blood as his heart was consumed by his own flames.

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Chapter 7: Return from the Grave

After finishing your explorations of the tomb of Alabain the Black Handed and the grave of his advior Thyric the Wise you found yourself confronting Syrzach and Dyrg again. When you refused to yield to their demands for the mace, they fled.

Then you found yourself engaged in a far tougher battle than all the undead who haunted the coast, figuring out how to get out free of the coast. Eventually you realized that the secret lay in walking around one of the ancient stone structure.

A thick fog had rolled in off the sea as through trial and error you found yourselves at the ring of standing stones that you had avoid exploring. As a group you walked around it and when that produced no results, you went winddershins. This time the fog seemed to surround you and after your third rotation you found yourselves under a clear sky, the stars shining down you.

A thrill ran through your heart as you realized that you were free. Your had escaped. It took you a minute to realize that not all of you had made it. Lakota wasn’t with you.

You turned, you searched but to no avail. You re-circled the standing stones but with no success. That night you slept under the stars to the reassuring sounds of crickets and night birds for the first time in over a week that you could remember but haunted by the feeling that it had been far longer than that. Your attempts at sleep were an exhausted collapse, tormented by the thought that LaKota had been left behind.

In the morning, Dr Varn seemed more like his own self as he summoned a vivamental and healed your wounds as best as he could. Even some of the horrors that had held your minds prisoners seemed to loosen it’s grasp under the clear light of day.

For the next two days you rested while you hoped in vain that your companion would reappear. The fair weather made it easy to explore the oddly unfamiliar terrain that had become so familiar without any of the well known landmarks. Your search turned up a few artifacts of the village, the foundation of the church with a tree growing within it, part of the fence that had surrounded the graveyard and the remains of the well.

You even explored the tor within which you knew was the barrow that had almost cost your lives. You knew it was within and yet you could find no sign of the passage that had allowed you access. Even so, you had no great desire to try too hard to uncover that now buried passage.

On your third night there the air grew a little chill and as the fog gathered around making you again feel isolated and trapped in the night when a figure emerged from the dark.

It was LaKota. A silver crescent softly shown like moonlight upon her brow. When you asked her what had happened, she just looked at you and said nothing. When the dawn came, all signs of the luminary marking was gone and still she refused to speak of it.

Now rested but with your bellies still tightly gripping your bellies you consider the question of where you are and more importantly, where do you go from here.

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Chapter 6: Embers of tomorrow

Mako stared at the charred ruins of the inn. This was twice he had burned it down along with its ghostly proprietress. Twice he had watched it consumed by flame. Twice he had struggled his way out of it’s burning frame but the taste of victory was turning to ash.

The first time it had happened, it set his heart pounding, dodging flying furniture proppeled by the skeletal visaged guardian. He had been the one to see through the illusion and he had been the one to destroy the necromantic trap. He had smiled as the the unseen pyromentals had crawled their way across the floors and walls, consuming all in their wake. The smoke had rose like a pillar in tribute to his success.

The second time wasn’t as satisfying. Not only had it felt like he had done it all before but there was the haunting realization that the inn would probably reappear again. There must be a way of destroying it for good but he had no idea how. Worse still was Cyric’s cryptic comments that indicated that everything he had experienced since he had awoke in the crematorium had happened before, that they were trapped in a cycle of events.

Whatever they had to do to escape, they hadn’t done it. Not yet, not this time. If they were repeating a cycle of events, it was clear that they had died before they had found a way out. That suggested that the barrow and it’s undead guardians might be the key. It was their that two of their numbers had already fallen, barely escaping with their life. If there was a deadlier location about, they hadn’t found it and by all measures, it was probably a good thing.

There was also the question remaining, what if they cleared the barrow and still didn’t find a way to be free, then what. They would have to ask themselves if their behavior was keeping them here. Was there something in their choices that was keeping them from the solution. Cyric’s refusal to go underground? LaKota’s refusal to talk about how she awoke or go near the site? Mako’s own dreams where he again and again had the sickening sensation of being immersed in ocean?

What hadn’t they done? What did they need to do? What if it didn’t matter and they were cursed to play the same part in this poor production, again and again and again?

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Chapter 5: A cold morning's light

Zhenais started to stir as the cold light of dawn crept over the horizon, its sickly yellow light revealed yet another slate grey day. Her night in the long sea grass and chill had left her joints screaming their displeasure. What little sleep she had got could hardly be called restful as it was haunted by dreams that were filled with disturbing images that are even now were slipping into the back of her mind like a harbinger of things to come. Even so, a night without night sweats where she woke chocking back a scream of being impaled upon a tree was a vast improvement.

As she wrapped her cloak around her she noticed that her nails were a blue grey like the cold ocean as it jealously clawed at the shore. Shaking her head she looked to her companions.

Lakota stood a little ways apart, keeping watch. The deep shadows under her eyes were a testament to the toll that this adventure was taking upon her. She knew that the archer was haunted by the whispered shudders and convulsive movements that haunted what naps she could get. Mako was sleeping relatively comfortably a ways away. Perhaps that was just his being Silvarrin or perhaps his capacity and (almost compulsive) tendency to set things aflame brought him comfort. Wylie was laying stiff as a corpse, tightly grasping his spell book to his chest. A cold sweat was clearly visible across his brow and his eyes twitched back and forth beneath his lids.

Finally her eyes settled upon Cyric Varn. Like everyone else he is gaunt and thin, showing the signs of starvation and malnutrition. His hair seems thinner and in the half light it seems to be showing touches of grey. His breathing was labored with a rattle that seemed to shake his frame with each gasp. How long had he been here she wondered. What had he been through? What had he seen?

Taking a minute she scanned the bleak, lifeless landscape they occupied. To the east lay the ridge where the remains of the deserted fishing village. Half of it had been consumed in flames leaving only charred and blackened fingers to point accusingly at the dismal sky above. To the south she could make out the where tumorous growth at the end of the ridge where the barrow lay. As terrifying as the wandering skeletons had been, the guardians of that ancient tomb were far worse.

Shaking off the chill that ran down her spine, she rose to her feet and looked to the west at the bone dry forest that stood like a wall trapping them along the coast. Somewhere amongst the brambles and the broken boughs were the Syrzach and Dyrg, no doubt licking their wounds and plotting revenge.

It was only by force will that Zhenais kept her eyes from seeking out the tree.

Her tree.

Her grave.

Her corpse.

Were the aches in her hands and feet echoes of spikes that had held her while the elements had stripped her flesh from the bone? Was the ache in her chest a memory of the broken ribs? The image of the skull transforming into a beak that so resembled her own flash behind her eyes and she had to look away.

To the north she could see a circle of standing stones and the hills that stood as a barrier between them and the view of the Grey Sea from which they had been cast out. None of it was encouraging. She had come to Pelenhar seeking new colors and instead had found herself trapped in a grey world with accents of crimson.

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Chapter 4: Into the Dark

With the acrid stench of burning vines stinging your nostrils you carefully tread your way across what you now recognize as a dead river bed. The smooth stones slick with the grit of salt and sand slowing your passage as you follow the half concealed tracks of your quarry. Rising out from the ancient bank is a stone edged passage, beckoning you into the pit of stygian darkness beyond.

The memories of your recent, too close brush with death echo in the back of your mind as you contemplate the entrance before you, waiting quite as the grave. The hairs on the back of your neck rise as you realize that to pursue your foes, you must follow them into the darkness.

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