The sea holds the circle.

The circle holds secrets - dark and powerful secrets.

Clans battle for control of stretches of craggy stone, for glory, or just for the sake of battle itself.

Battle spills blood.

Blood feeds darkness.

Awaken, oh scions of Ancar! Dark Zolos rises!

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To the Monastery
Per Kaela’s wishes, we left the situation with her mother alone. As she said “She made her bed, she will have to lie in it.”

And so we finished our preparations and set out for the monastery. After a long first week of travel through the hills, we started having a harder and harder time keeping track of Cabhan. He was following his memories to lead him back, and we were doing our best to follow him, but it was as if something was trying to seperate us. Even tying ropes to keep us together didn’t work - a loop would come up empty, or the rope itself would be cut.

Yvor had to continually redirect and reorient us over the next couple days. Finally, the effect wore off, but was replaced by a feeling of a low-grade mythic presence. It was, we realized, the environment itself, not a creature or a particular point.

We saw, in the distance, some stone plinths. Cabhan told us that once we got through that marker we would be on the lands of the monastery. Feeling a little silly we decided to chain hands to cross, but we were soon glad we did as a force began to press on us. It cost significant effort and a focus of will to get through, and Avalor was not with us when we reached the other side.

Ahead of us, the monastery sat in a bowl of a small valley. There was a scattering of basic stone buildings, and there were few plants other than the fields. In the center of it all was another depression, a natural amphitheatre perhaps? Within it, several figures seemed to be engaging in training exercises.

We made our way down the hill, Cabhan in the lead and myself just behind him. A small group of the figures detached from their work and approached us. They were surprised to see Cabhan, although one of the six also seemed concerned to see him. Cabhan replied to their challenge that the status of his Quest was between him and the Master, and Ser Jarrad cut the tension of the moment by asking for a traveller’s respite.

Alone again, we quickly and quietly planned. Cabhan would need to make his report, but when I asked he did not think that he necessarily needed to do so alone (although he admitted that was his first instinct). He wryly admitted that they may not have prepared for the possibility of his successful return. I remembered how we had all thought the task he had been set to was perhaps a fool’s errand.

Cabhan explained, while we waited, some of how the monastery was structured. Below Master Garus, who had mastered all four elemental styles, were four Incarna, who each headed one style. Below them, senior students, initiates, and novices. He had remained a Novice because advancement required winning a battle to the death. He never saw the point in killing someone for no reason.

In the morning, we were summoned to speak with Master Garus. The floor of the amphitheatre was warm, and the edges were carved with infernal runes. Padhraig had identified them the evening before as dedications to Asmodeus, and posited that blood spilled within their bounds might feed Him. Most of the monks stood in a circle around us, while ahead stood the four Incarna, and behind them a lone figure, presumably Master Garus himself.

Cabhan, when told to prove he had completed his task, produced the Scales. But he refused to hand them to his Master, even when directly ordered. “You were set a task. You agreed to it, on your word.”

“That is so.” Cabhan replied. “And yet I believe I was misled as to the reason for this task, and I was kept in the dark about the nature of this place.”
“That is not for you to concern yourself with. We took you in. Saved your miserable life. The Mountain would have devoured you.” I rankled at his harsh words, but could not decipher if he was telling the truth or not.
The Earth Incarna broke in, “You swore an oath to your Master.”
Padhraig replied with something in Infernal, which earned him many long looks.
Trying to regain control of the moment, Master Garus continued. “One last time, Novice. Will you obey your oath and surrender the Scales to me?”
“Master, I will not.”
“Very well. Kill them.”

We had been preparing for this moment, and so were ready when the attacks began. It was a fierce battle, and none performed better than Cabhan. In an impressive show of strength and skill he managed to land the final blow on all four of the Incarna, claiming each of their sashes in turn, before turning his attention to his (now former) Master. When all were defeated, and the illusions surrounding Garus gone, Padhraid broke the circle of runes on the amphitheatre.

The moment he did, all of the Initiates of the Order dropped dead. Cabhan snapped the neck of the prone Master and turned to the group of Novices. He declared the Order over, told the assembled that they were free to stay or go, but that what had happened here would never happen again. Finally, it was over. He had perhaps not learned as much as he would have liked, but at least he had faced this part of his past...
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Familial Complications
It happened so fast, I could hardly say how it happened, but I know that Ser Jarrad and I both pressed the attack on the Argent Blade - Aoife - at the same time, and my blade found its mark. She looked at me as if she wanted to speak, but there was only blood.

The Red Spear began to slip into the Realm of Shadows. We had to run, or be trapped. But I couldn’t leave her there. I tread water, clinging to her, as I watched tentacles wrap around the doomed ship. Just before the portal between realms closed, the Aegerian hellfire caught and the ship shattered. It was a long swim back to shore, and as I swam the suit of coins fell away from my sister. By the time I reached safety they were all gone. She looked so fragile. She had always been the pretty, delicate one.

Magret and I carefully arranged her burial. It was necessary to perform a number of rituals, to protect her soul as best we could from the worst of what might happen to it. She had opened herself to the sort of evil that is not stopped by merely dying, and even if I hated her in life, I had no wish to see anything of that sort happen to her.

The journey home was a blur. We managed the four-week journey in less than three, thanks to the cleverness of the crew and some good luck with the winds. Perhaps the Storm Lord himself hastened our journey, as we were told that the orb used by Mad Trista wanted to be returned to the temple in Halvor. I was grateful for the sleeping tincture, I fear my worries of what was to come would have fed my nightmares otherwise.

In Tiranin we scarce made safe landing before I (accompanied by Jokula and Cabhan, and wearing the finery provided by the Fae) made my way to the Silverhill estate.

There was no easy way to break the news, and so I settled for the simple, unembellished truth. Mother was shocked, and it hurt me to see her eyes. Something in her broke. She had hope, for a moment, when I started speaking of Aoife. And it was horrible to shatter that hope. Her smile didn’t change when she slid into a chair, but...

It was easier to speak with Father, although the image of him from my nightmares hung over his real face as we talked. He was not shocked in the same way as Mother, he was almost unsurprised to receive the news. He asked me to tell him how it happened, and I did, as baldly as I could. I tried to emphasize it was her own poor decisions, her own greed and jealousy that led her there. Truthfully, I hoped there was time for him to change his own behavior. He called her foolish, which I could hardly disagree with. He asked what the funeral arrangements were, and on this point I spared him the details, merely summing them up as appropriate.

He eyed my clothing, and surely did not fail to miss either the family crest nor the masculine cut, but did not comment on either. We passed a few other pleasantries, and I was able to ask after Arlan. He said that they had received some letters, but that his duties at the palace kept him busy. I did not wish to extend the interview much longer, and gently suggested that he might check on Mother, and saw myself out.

That duty done, I made my way to the palace to break the news to Arlan. I was pleased that the guards checked my name and description very carefully when they heard my surname before allowing me inside.

Together we wept. I realized later that I had not cried over the loss before that, but it was good to finally let myself grieve for her.

Alice has made him one of her pages. He said he likes the uniform, and the responsibility, and even the lessons. I am glad to see if he is thriving, and if I can do nothing else for my family at least I can say I may have saved him from following my sister’s example. One can hope.

We did not stay in Tiranin much longer than it took for me to check in on my family, and within a week we were in Halvor. A priest from the Storm Temple waited for us (or more accurately, the orb). From here we were going to set out for the Monastery. It fell to me (naturally), to arrange for supplies for the trip.

The work of bartering and haggling was a welcome distraction. I worried over what we would find there, what would happen. Would they insist that Cabhan stay? Would they do something to make him? Or do something to me, if they felt I was in the way of their plans? What if he, despite his promises, decided that he wanted or needed to remain there?

But before we could begin our journey, there was another wrinkle. A trio of ships bearing warriors from the Lotus Realm arrived in the harbor. They spoke to Kaela, and they are seeking justice against her mother...
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Faltering Steps
The coins parted, revealing a face I knew as well as my own. A face I had stared daggers at over countless dinners. A cheek I had coldly kissed just a few months ago.

The absolute twit.

That foolish, jealous, power-hungry bitch.

I hate her, as much as I have hated anyone.

So why... why did seeing her face stay my blade?
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Padhraig Prays...
Storm Lord,

I was only ever taught one prayer to you, just one.

"Not today."

Every sailor knows ever day might be their day, that day when you call them to you. Every sailor prays to you that this day is not their day.

My Magret teaches her flock many prayers, for many things, but sailors know only one because they need only one.

"Not today."

Now, though, I pray another prayer, not one I learned or practiced.

Today can be my day, if that is your wish. Just so long as it is his.

We have him marked and found, and his mad rogue has taken the orb to the Fenstalker, so if you can ever see Emrys on the deck of his Red Spear, now seems the time.

Let this be his day.
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Epic!
Healing Begins
I had not yet worked up the courage to go talk to either Kaela or Magret when the former approached me. Very gently, but firmly, she asked what was wrong. It was clear she wasn’t going to be easily dismissed, and at any rate I found I didn’t really wish to delay it any further. And so, trying not to think too hard about it, I told her everything.

I described the nightmares which had been plaguing me since I left The Dark. I spoke of being chased by the Cabhan who was not Cabhan, of Zolos’ laughter, of my father standing over my helpless brother, of being too slow and clumsy to stop the inevitable. I admitted that the dreams had gotten worse - more vivid, sapping more and more of my energy - as the days had passed, and that the cold and stress of the winter had pushed me even further from stability.

She asked if I had spoken to Cabhan about my dreams, and I said that I had but that it was hard to face him. Awkwardly, a little blushingly, I explained that we had started a sort of romance (which if she had observed on her own she had not mentioned) but that made it that much worse that it was him chasing me. It was hard to be near him, to separate the real man from the image which tormented me so.

Kaela said that her demon had talked to her about all of us, but that of me it had said that “her spirit was damaged, bleeding her in her dreams, hurting herself, draining her magic.” It was hard to put it more succinctly than that, and I concurred with the assessment. I had woken feeling drained more often than not, and I further admitted to waking with sword in hand even when I was certain I had put it far from my reach before seeking my bed.

Already, opening up about all of it, I felt my spirit lift a little. Kaela suggested that we speak with Magret about my problems, and I agreed (having been split between which of the two to approach in the first place.)

Magret, wonderful listener and healer as she is, lent us her patience and experience and heard my tale. She warned that she would do nothing to simply take it away, to do so would require cutting away a piece of me, but instead suggested a few courses of action to take. She invited me to join her for meditation and over the next several weeks she was often a ready ear to listen to the same story again and again. She seemed to know when to prod me and when to simply listen. I found myself marvelling that she found the time, but she never made me feel as if I was a burden, or that I needed to rush, or that she was judging me in any way.

In addition, she offered to make an herbal tincture for me, and promised a supply to last for a good long time to come. Being able to get a few reasonable nights of sleep helped enormously, and between the medicine and the conversations with her and Kaela I began to see progress. The healing was not necessarily easy, and it was hard not to give into the temptations of either pitying myself or being angry with myself.

Still, after a few weeks, I surprised even me by prying myself out of the fireside chair and insisting that we do something about Stinkhoof and Squick. I’ll admit I worried about camping out, hoped that my dreams would behave when I was back out in the elements (and more critically, not alone), but still it would be better to find out sooner than later.
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