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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The Next Three Dawns
It was over, and somehow we had won. We withdrew to rest, and Cabhan and I pulled away from the larger group to check on each other. It seemed we were both more worried for the other - he knowing that the fight would have stirred up difficult memories, I scared that he might hold an emotional wound he would be reluctant to share. He was horrified at the loss of control over his own body and actions, and angry at his ancestor’s choice to make his legacy one of horror and aggrandizement.

I tried to explain my feelings, how while I was scared - in my nightmares, the other Cabhan never wore an expression other than profane joy at what he was about to do. The real one, in real life - I could see in his eyes that he was as scared as me. I told him that I trusted him not to hurt me, to which he replied that Blackbyrne had made him target me because he knew that it would hurt Cabhan.

His words just strengthened my resolve, and I had a plan for the morning.

-----

As red began to streak across the sky I warned MacKenzie’s men that I would be summoning a fearsome person, and gave them the chance to move back. That done, I activated my ring, now glowing mostly red, and summoned Amyri.

Perhaps she saw the anger in my eyes when I asked her to destroy what was left of the ruins. Or maybe it was my tone when I said “If it were turned to glass and nothing could ever grow here again, that would be the start of what I could want.” But if it was either or both or neither, she agreed and went to work. Sheets of fire fell over the ruins, cracking the very stone, causing the sea itself to boil. And after a quarter of a candlemark or so, she drove her sword down into the promontory sending at least half of it sliding into the water.

Liam MacKenzie offered us the use of his camp, and perhaps a boat to travel back. The rest of the day was spent debating our next actions. Generally, we agreed that we should seek the Gyre and the answer Padhraig was supposed to find there. The largest question was how we were to rejoin the Fenstalker. But there was also the question of what the MacKenzie would do with Cabhan - as the heir of Blackbyrne his life was theoretically forfeit - not that any of us would stand idly by if someone were to try to claim that. Still, the truth of it was in the world now, and we had to at least address the formality.

We sent off missives and waited for our answers, and took some time to catch our breath.

The ‘Stalker had (with all but impossible speed) already crossed the breakwater for Tiranin, and Alice formally requested a consultation before we continued our journey. It seemed we had our answers for where we would reclaim our ship. It would take until the next day, but Kaela would be able to take us all there using her Powers.

That evening I drew Cabhan away from the camp, into the quiet night. I had been rehearsing a speech to myself most of the afternoon, and the words tumbled out in a rush. I told him that I had been scared, in the ruins, scared of losing him. I was scared of losing the dreams we had together, of the future we had talked about. I was scared of the warnings that we had been given, again and again, that what was coming would leave us all forever changed. I told him I wanted to claim what happiness I could, while I could.

And at the end of my speech, I asked him to be my husband, and stand with me in front of the Gods to proclaim our bond.

He was surprised, but not unhappy at the prospect, and we talked late into the night about what our hopes and expectations would be for such a step. We knew we neither of us had the best examples in our upbringing for what a marriage should look like, but together we would negotiate the waters.

Together. My heart was warmer, knowing he would be by my side.

-----

Tired, but ready to get back to the city, we gathered ourselves to be transported by Kaela. In mere moments we were all in the stables of The Three Swords, ready to go from there to our interview with The MacKenzie.

We were ushered in after given a few moments to refresh ourselves, and Alice greeted us warmly. Arlan, she said, was flourishing. But there was not much time for pleasantries before we got into a serious discussion.

They told us of many strange happenings. Red Dragons had saved a distant settlement from an attack of the walking dead. There was a sickness running rampant through Seaside. The dead continued to rise, and the earth itself shook and cracked.

Alice’s mother had looked for help from Elvenholme, and was told that they would not dare send aid without the blessing and the warding of the Blood Oak. Without much hesitation Ser Jarrad agreed to take on the burden of talking to his people about such a thing.

There was a brief moment where we seemed unable to find the next topic of discussion, and I took my chance to force the discussion of what would be done with Cabhan. But The MacKenzie cut straight to the heart of the matter, asking Cabhan if he intended to take on the title. At his denial, the Chief seemed to consider the matter closed and was happy to consider the Blackbyrnes dead.

Alice told us that she had received some ill portents recently - three things in particular. “Cherish the next time you see your friends for you shall see them no more than two handfuls of times,” “Beware the Devouring Sea,” and “Soon Darkness will break the bands of blood.” All of it ominous, and again the discussion stilled.

After a long quiet moment, I cleared my throat.

“With an eye to the portents of darkness, Cabhan and I have decided that - before we leave Tiranin - that we are going to get married.”

The others looked surprised, but no one (including our present Royal) objected, so that hurdle seemed passed.

We had a staggering array of tasks ahead of us, though, if we were hoping to be wed before we left the city and so we excused ourselves.

The temple of the Shining Lady was all too happy to receive us, especially after learning we were Those friends of Magret. More importantly, they were happy to perform our ceremony the next morning.

Rings and clothing were even simpler to obtain, which left just two things on our to-do list as the afternoon began to turn to early evening.

My parents’ home was draped, almost ostentatiously, in mourning. My Lady Mother greeted us first, offering me her hands. She had lost much of her accustomed luster, and the stark black of her mourning dress made her look even paler than usual. A few minutes later Father joined us, sober and with either more grey hair or less effort to conceal it. He was surprised to see me, and did not bother (or lacked the energy) to hide it.

“I’m happy to see you.” he said, stiffly. He did not seem to know how to proceed from there, and I took pity on him, held my hands out to clasp his briefly, restarting the moves of the social dance we all knew in our souls.

But we were there for a reason, and I would not draw it out. “Lady Mother, Lord Father, I won’t belabor the point. Cabhan and I have decided that we will be wed tomorrow at dawn, and we would like you to be there.”

Mother looked shocked at the first part, Father at the second. For a moment it looked like she wanted to say something, but at his hand on her shoulder she - not quite deflated, but it diffused her unspoken argument. “Well that’s wonderful.” She said, trying to sound sincere.

Father expanded on her point “Thank you for telling us - and thank you for including us.”

“I couldn’t see marrying in the city where my parents were and not telling you.” He looked as if he absolutely would believe that I could, but simply responded “The Temple of the Shining Lady I assume? We will be there.”

They looked as if they might want to say something more, but they looked at Cabhan (who stood, even if he didn’t realize it, guarding my off-hand) and whatever they saw there quieted them. He did not give them the chance to regain their tongues as he took my hand, made his apologies that we had other errands to run, and walked out with me. Outside he said “My apologies for speaking ill of them, but I think the less time you spend with them, the better.”

It was time for the last task on our list, and the one I was looking forward to the most. We made our way back to the keep, and found my brother to tell him the news. He was exceptionally excited for us, and happier still that Alice had arranged for him to be able to go to the ceremony himself.

-----

In the wee hours of the morning, all of us, and indeed all of the land had distressing dreams of a vast dark presence reading shields throughout the realms. As it broke them, it released a growing howl of frustration until we finally woke.

-----

It was supposed to be a High Day, but it was instead a Fool’s Day. Privately, I thought it was both funny and appropriate, and I felt honored that my wedding day should be so blessed by the God I followed more than any other. Cabhan and I made our way through the pre-dawn streets to the temple. The others arrived not long after, and the High Priestess began. She spoke of building our family, of propping up each other’s weaknesses, and of acknowledging each other’s strengths. As she spoke the light grew, shining and golden, and as she proclaimed the Blessing of the Shining Lady on us, our bond, and all who witnessed it the temple fairly glowed.

I looked at my husband with joy, and together we left the temple.
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A Letter from Padhraig to Alice
[Everyone will be given a chance to read and comment on this before he sends it off, but this is Padhraig's response to the outstanding matter...]

To Lady Alice Fraser,

My Lady, I hesitate to write this letter quickly, without the thought its subject demands, but likewise I recognize the need to deal with this matter immediately, in the protection of a good man of both of our acquaintance who has, though no deed or action within his control, fallen afoul of Clan Law. I am neither student nor practitioner of the Law, or at least am not such within this cycle (and memories of other cycles, other lives, help little as Clan Law, as much as I know it, seems to differ in many particulars from Aegyrian Law or Thearean Law, and cycles are less identical than I might… this is a distraction, and I must end it).

I ought to begin this matter with important news, which is to say the conclusion of the matter of of the last Lord of Blackbyrne. Thought dead, yes, but even when you still traveled with us, the signs that death did not bring an end to his hold on power in this world were evident. Many more have come since, and it was in that cause that we came to the ruins of Blackbyrne and, with the permission of the guardians under command of one Liam MacKenzie, did explore for some anchor holding him here.

There were, in fact, two such anchors, a clever working that meant even if one temporarily slipped its hold or was lifted, the other might hold him to this world until both could be set again. The magic is more complex, but this sailor’s explanation is, I think, accurate enough for the matter at hand.

One anchor was a circle of enchantment, carved into the rock outside the Blackbyrne fortress, deeply enchanted to both endure and keep itself unfound. This, curiously, was the easier matter. Certainly, attempting to break the working awoke its guardians, shades of warriors long dead but, as I am certain you recall, that was not an entirely new experience for my companions and I. The key points in the working were pierced and the magic shattered. That hold is no more.

What was more troubling, though, was the pull of the other anchor. We had some hints of it, but not of how it would manifest. I will explain…

You have heard of our experiences in Tiranin and in Tillman’s Notch, where in each time was disordered and we saw glimpses of the past. In Tiranin, we glimpsed the smuggling away of small party during the final assault against the Blackbyrne’s rule. In the Notch, which had been one of the last holdouts of the Blackbyrne loyalists after their fall, we saw more sign of this group and their hidden purpose, which involved a child never clearly identified.

The resolution of which then became known to us last winter, when in the frozen depth of a lake well inland from Tree-town, we found ourselves in the Court of my Grandmother. The details there are complex and only of slight relevance. Suffice to say she is a Fey Noble of no little power nor any hint of scruple against using that power. She chose to dress each of us properly for her court, and gave each a title of her choosing. When she came to our friend Cabhan, she named him Master Marionette and dressed him in the colors of the dead clan Blackbyrne. When asked, she said this: “Your good Marrionette is in every way a puppet. The eyes of your nemesis and, so long as he lives, your nemesis cannot be destroyed.”

Thus it was that we already knew the form of the second anchor, but not its bite. As I began to study the enchanted carvings for a way to break them, as the spectres rose to stop us, the Blackbyrne pulled the anchorchain tight and gave proof to my Grandmother’s mocking name. Cabhan was gone, and in his form was the spirit of the last Blackbyrne.

Battle was given, of course. And I am most pleased to report that we were, overall, successful. The specters were driven off, and, somehow, even though the dark puppeteer used every hint of Cabhan’s quite impressive martial skills, Ailie, Sir Jarred, and Dama Michaela, with the aid of the dragon-sorceress Jokhula, were able to keep themselves and our friend from harm long enough for the circle to be pierced and broken, the first anchor cut.

It was then your cousin who cut the second anchor chain. A burning ray of the Grey Mage’s power weakened the dark spirit enough that the good man it used as its tool was freed from the hold he had been under. Cabhan ordered the other half-dead forces to return to their rest and the lingering stain of Blackbyrne on these Isles is no more.

Save one matter that lingers still.

There is now no secret of it, nor doubt of its truth. Captain Liam MacKenzie knows, and it was he who brought this last matter to our attention. If Cabhan is the last son of Blackbyrne, whatever the details of his descendance, then by Clan Law he, as all Blackbyrne, stands sentenced to death, the whole clan by law extinguished.

And thus, I must ask, Lady Alice, for your permission and command to, as captain of your ship and thus your captain, bear the accused’s parole until such time as he can be brought before full Clan Justice and the facts of this matter all given their proper weight in the determination of final judgement.

For the sake of our friend and companion, I beg your prompt response, and remain in all your captain,

Padhraig
Captain of the Fraser Ship Fenstalker
Commissioned by the Hand of Lady Alice Fraser, Heartsbloom 129

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The Battle
Dear Gods, my nightmares, foiled in their attempts to find me in my rest have come for me in my waking hours.

The darkness and the fog pressed in around us, and I felt a cold dread in my bones. I was already flinching away when he turned towards me.

But no - while his mouth was turned into a rictus of profane joy - his eyes... his eyes were a mirror of the panic in my own. He was in there still, and my heart surged with hope.

"He's MINE!" I growled at the monster who held him captive as I slashed at their shared flesh. Hoping to somehow keep him distracted long enough to keep us all alive while Padhraig figured out some way to break this curse.

The beast Blackbyrne tried to turn Cabhan's blows against me, but he managed to wrest enough control to turn the attack against Ser Jarrad instead. The Knight dropped under the onslaught and I worried that Cabhan would not have the strength to overcome his captor a second time.

And then, thankfully, my fervent prayers were answered. Out of sight was a tremendous cracking sound, and while Cabhan looked panicked, Blackbyrne railed against us, called us fools for unravelling his masterwork.

And after a few more tense breaths, it was over. The skeletal army obeyed their (new) master's commands to return to their rest. The courtyard was almost painfully silent.

And I, overwhelmed with relief, simply wept.

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The Ruins
He bore a strange and strained look since we entered the ruins, and he murmured repeated complaints that his suit of Blackbyrne colors would not be dismissed. As darkness drew itself around us, our search grew more desperate.

Padhraig sensed a growing magical effect around Cabhan, tinged with Necromantic components. And it only worsened as we searched.

Finally, we found what we thought we were looking for: a promontory stretching over the water, etched with a strange and complicated rune nearly fifteen feet across.

“By Your Power, let death at the hands of our kin bind and strengthen us both. In Darkness reborn, ro forge anew in Darkness.”

Lightning struck the sea, the fog collected and thickened until from its depths emerged several fearsome figures.

I’m unsure if I began screaming when they appeared, or when Cabhan coldly ordered them to kill us all, but in short order my throat was raw and my cheeks burned from my tears.

“Cabhaaaannnnn!”
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Meeting Mother
I'm not sure why The Mother took the form of Yvor's mother to speak with us. Perhaps she is the most "motherly", perhaps she is the freshest in our memories, perhaps it was a capricious whim. But I am glad it was her. Or at least, I am desperately glad it wasn't mine.

Even so, the interaction left me feeling a little drained and overwhelmed despite the hearty breakfast and the well wishes. And also... we had been warned, multiple times, by a hearty variety of sources that our path would leave us much changed. And I had taken that to mean that our meeting with Her would change us. Certainly Padhraig was specifically told that he would likely regret gaining the permission to see Her.

But no, it all seemed so... normal? So honest and mundane. The moon I carry feels heavier because of what She did, but I myself don't feel heavier, or changed.

And now, standing back in the real world, I mostly feel like I am waiting for the second shoe to drop.
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