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Book 2, Chapter 9: Crypt Walking and Slick Talking
Note to the Editor: I understand you prefer it when I number the chapters according to the last book, but for the last time I am not interested in releasing a version of my adventure novels where they are condensed into one book. I am aware that this could be Chapter 21 if we did that, and that it would be more affordable for the masses, but I simply don't like the aesthetic of it. If they were released at one time, the readers wouldn't feel invested in the adventures.

Much love, T
P.S. This one gets a little more saucy than previous issues, but I tried to leave it to subtext. And trust me, after meeting some of my fans, a lot of people want to see this finally happen, Hagar is a fan favorite.

As Midzaynov’s desperate speech rang out in the silent, but crowded slave pens, my party began to feel something between both inspiration and dread. The slaves appeared only to feel the dread. She carefully removed the head of the half-elf from her body, and as the face turned towards us I made note of two things. Almost all half-elves are beautiful, their carefully crafted features are at once both sharp and welcoming, their human blood softening the aloof serenity of an elven parent. Half-elves know their lives will end one day, and one day soon, as their sanguine inheritance is too strong to not be fleeting. But this face, Ejool’s face, was not stricken with the fear of death that freezes so many in their final moments of combat, elf and human alike. Instead his face had become completely calm, aloof and serene in his last moments, so much so that had I not seen him in life, his heritage would have been entirely lost in death.

My eyes roved the room surrounding us, the two-hundred slaves embattled in the corner in fear of these five strong-hearted adventurers who had hideously marred their status quo. It was then I understood the depth of our situation, my dear readers. For fear did not exist in this place from the swinging pendulum of death, ever rotating nearer, that was becalming, it was a release. Instead, fear came from the unfamiliar. The biting question of what will come to us next, shall our current routine be destroyed. The slaves we had come to save had been so devastated by Siaval’s magics and mind-numbing labor, that I began to wonder if there was anything left to save, or if they, like Ejool, would prefer the certainty of death.

Knowing that we could not find success in this crypt without honesty, I made the decision to reveal to the party my knowledge of Phanalan, his past treacheries to my family and I, and my deep distaste for the kind of sorcerers who abuse their divinely bestowed gifts to reap wealth and power from the sowings of others. I’ve spent many a passage detailing him to you, dear readers, and so I will spare you from that again, but to suffice my party was rather fearful when realizing that someone who could escape even my pursuits, may turn out to be a foe. I believe it was this act, baring my heart so readily for this audience, that inspired one of the slaves to approach us.

Her face was hardened, nothing new in the crypt, but where others had been hardened by woe and horror, grounded down until they felt nothing but hardship, she had been steeled with resolve. It was clear from her gait and her posture that this Tiefling woman was a leader among the slaves, and our fears for the strength of this group began to be assuaged. However, she was also noticeably unmarked. Although her horns did not gleam with the polished and careful smoothness of Yalban Tieflings, they weren’t chipped or scuffed like many of the other slaves. Nor did she bare marks of torture or punishment, which adorned so many that cowered behind her assured step. She may be ally or spy, but given my missing focus, I had only the choice to wait and see which she would reveal herself to be.

She began to lay down a series of warning for us, no guff, no pride, just simple direct statements of fact. These were the rules she lived her life by, and it appeared to keep her relatively safe, though her code allowed for zero progress in our goals. We were to do the labor given to us, and when we were expected to work, we would need to work. Rebellion of any kind on our parts would not lead to our torture or execution, but instead the slaves would be punished as surrogates. Siaval understood the passionate selflessness that burned in all of our hearts, and new that would keep us wary of crossing any lines. However, the woman, whose name was Aym, did give us some information she had gleaned as to the nature of the crypt’s keepers.

These were not regular humans, but instead fiendish jackalweirs, who would immortally serve Siaval, and had unnatural durability. She had some idea of the different rooms of the crypt, and its general build, but nothing substantial beyond the fact that slaves were free to roam the first floor, thought he second and third were off-limits. She also revealed that the guard of Siaval Zari had slain, was in fact a slave conscripted to duty, and now Zari was at odds and feared by many of the slaves. Zari was initially shocked by the news, and I’m sure the memories of her abolitionist past formed a cruel reflection of her bleak present.

Left wrestling with the guilt of our actions, and the exhaustion of the day, we decided that any more investigation would only merit more destruction, and that we should instead play along in Siaval’s game. As our heads cleared from the different charms and curses we had been bestowed with, Midzaynov had a sudden revelation. She knew the nature of the beast we were fighting, and knew it well. Whether from her research before our trip, or ghost stories told to her as a child by mischievous adults, Midzaynov recalled the name of Siaval’s form. Lamia.

I recalled to the others that a lamia was a form of cambion, a half-human, half-demon breed or monster, one created by an especially powerful demon out of one of their dedicated followers. She recited that lamias could weaken a person’s resistance to charms and mind-controlling effects with physical touch, which explained why all of our party members, even the stolid Wykeera, had fallen to the weaker enemies. She also told us of the great scrying powers of a lamia, honed through a magical mirror they could use to view almost anyone of interest.

Keeping secrets would then be hard, as it would be very difficult to know if Siaval was ever watching us. The next day we were awoken by crude bangings at the door, though not the crudest bangings that occurred at this palace, as you’ll know soon. The guards entered our domicile, and proceeded to hand out assignments to each of the slaves. Jafar asked for one volunteer to conduct a special cleaning task on the second floor. I knew immediately that as risky as it may be, this was my best chance at subterfuge. Siaval would likely be occupied, and expect us to be well supervised by guards. If I could somehow delude or evade being guarded, I had an excellent chance to perform some much needed reconnaissance of the second floor.

My party and I were then separated, and I’ll give you a brief detailing of each of their activities, as many of them will become important later in our tale. Hagar was luckiest of the four, he was first assigned to the library, and then was moved into the zoo for cleaning. It was their he had an emotional reunion with Deductible, and in that indescribably gregarious way of Hagar, he managed to make a new friend. Although visually unassuming, his new friend’s circumstances were rather severe.

The young man to whom Hagar acquainted himself appeared to be a young black human, no more than twelve years of age, but he was in a cage many sizes larger than him, embedded with interior spikes as if to prevent forceful collision between himself and the prison bars. His voice was of an incredible depth, and appeared mature beyond all conceivable years. He said to Hagar that he had been in this cage for fifty years. He had been there so long his name had become a distant memory, so Hagar named him Peter, and promised his salvation.

Wykeera and Zari were shipped off to perform similarly mundane and regular cleaning duties, though Zari’s were of nominally higher interest. She was taken to a gallery where many of our prized, magical possessions, and perhaps countless other aids to long past adventurers, were on display in thick glass cases. There lay her holy symbol, and the monocle gifted to her by Raha, tantalizingly close, only separated by an inch of fragile glass. And, of course, two hundred armed guards and a magical lion. Midi was directed to the workshop, where she studiously and carefully selected material components that she would need for her spellcasting, absconding with them when the backs of the guards were turned.

My situation at first turned out to be even greater than I had expected, for what did I find when Jafar was finished leading me to my assignment? That I was in the same familiar bedroom as we had spent our first night. Not only that, but Jafar had turned away and left me to prepare the bedroom for the next guest all alone, not feeling the need to supervise me. I felt a momentary pang of guilt that Jafar would hold my responsible character so highly, only for me to take advantage of his naivete. However, I simply had to take advantage of this chance at valuable information. Little did I know, that Jafar’s confidence was not in me, but in the disciplinary skills of the arriving guest, whose wrath I would face if I were to fail in this task.

But as we cannot know a mistake till it has been made, I set off about the second floor, searching for any clues as to how we could regain our power and make our escape, no longer simply with Abdul in tow, but with as many of the slaves as possible. I knew that this graciousness might mean the downfall of my party, but I simply could not go on allowing such injustice to fester in this defiled crypt. I delved into the unknown, through a second exit in the bedroom.

For safety, I checked the window of the guest bedroom’s bathroom, which looked out over the main room of the ruin, which I imagine was once a temple. It was alive with activity, guards and slaves hurrying about, loading crates of vials onto scaffolding, all at the behest of Siaval. I suspected he was too busy for any scrying and left the room quickly, hoping I would have a window for clandestine action. Each door I encountered was locked, but I knew I could easily teleport into the adjacent rooms without the aid of Tritus’ gift. I spoke a command, and my body morphed temporarily into a bolt of lightning, which shot through the locks of each opposing door as I crept further and further in.

I found myself outside of the door of an articulately robed figure, who slouched over a set of tomes, his sweaty fingers leafing through the already stained pages. He appeared important, and human, so I felt there was a likelihood that I could convince him to help us, or at the very least, pry some information from him through conversation. I cast a spell on myself that would disguise me as one of the guards, thus avoiding the endangerment of myself, my party members, and any slaves. I knocked at his door and entered, and began to play the ignorant guard. He was easily convinced by my performance, for if people are cut from a cloth, the jackalweirs were cut from a blacksmith’s rag, dull and greasy.

The man introduced himself as Skamos, a former slave who had backstabbed, schemed, and threatened his way into the position of a guard lieutenant. He gave me some information on the politics of the crypt, but for the most part appeared to be the result of a dishonest life. Fattened by luxuries earned through greed and cruelty, I was disgusted, but unsurprised to know that these were the caliber of men leading the slaves I had grown to care so much for. As I made my way out of the chamber I heard shouts and cries, muffled by many walls, coming from the direction of the bedroom that I had been assigned to clean. My heart fell at the possibility that my ruse had been discovered, knowing that although I could steel myself against punishment, some other person would be harmed for my reckless action.

I bolted back, literally and figuratively, as quickly as I could, expecting Jafar and some armed guards to be waiting in the room, standing right next to my punishment. Instead, I was presented with a grimmer sight. I now understood why Jafar, had left me to my own devices, for before me was a being that could almost certainly exact any punishment he chose upon me in my weakened state.

He was tall and broad, the build of a warrior whose technique outstrips his need for bulk. He had the sinewy muscles and lithe stance of a tiger, though he currently stood relaxed, and unperturbed by the body lying across the room from him, it’s chest opened up into a still and dark diorama of the human diaphragm. There was a black lance strapped to his back, the body of the weapon completely smooth yet nonreflective, and the tip swirled into a hideous concoction of points, still wet with blood almost as dark as the fiendish material it was wrought from. The tip of his spear was accompanied by a rack of sharp, stark white antlers that spread from his elvish head. He was coldly and aloofly beautiful, and Ejool’s face flashed through my thoughts, the body in the room was yet another reminder of our first failure.

His eyes drifted from the body he had been contemplating, and slowly swept up my body until he focused on my eyes. At first he regarded me with the same empty look he had been giving the body, before he spoke, his voice in measured dulcet tones as deceptively beautiful as his face. He asked me if I would mind cleaning the body out of his room, and explained that it was the body of a slave he had found right outside of the bedroom. He had asked the slave why his room wasn’t clean, and upon hearing the slave’s unsure answer, had killed him out of dissatisfaction.

I was shaken, but if my time as a sailor in Vallsa had taught me anything it was a poker face. I focused on two things, the possibility that the slave may not be dead yet, and that I knew what kind of creature this man was. He was another cambion, though of a different nature than Siaval. In fact, what stood before me did not appear some sick manifestation of a human’s darkest desires, granted to them by a powerful demon, this cambion was of an even more elite breed. This was one born to a demon through a non-demon partner, someone trained and refined in their demonic strength and heritage from birth. The only gap in my knowledge was that the being standing before me had a pale grey skin tone, whereas my knowledge of cambions dictated that they would have crimson skin.

The being introduced himself as Batu, and explained he was the brother of Siaval. He winced slightly as he admitted this, and I wondered if even Batu found Siaval to be an abomination. We began to have a conversation, my intention to distract him from the body, hoping that I would be able to get a chance to leave with it before he could inspect it and insure its demise. He was well-spoken, and even had some lofty ideals, but they were all perversely guided so that he had become a philosopher of destruction. He tried to ply my mind with his evil fascinations, going so far as to compare our actions. He felt a kinship with me, a claim that chilled my bones deeper than anything insofar.

I understood his need to cling to someone like myself, as I believe he found my power and his to be of a similar degree. To that he could not help but pay respect, and a part of me even understood that our goals and character were somehow intertwined. Reflections across the spectrum of light and dark, two forces that would grow together, forever opposed. I told him how I felt, and I saw the first emotion I had seen yet pass his face, as a smile grew from ear to ear. And I make no figurative statement, my dear reader. What was once a stoic and chiseled face stretched farther and farther from a semblance of normalcy, rows of sharpened teeth revealing themselves to make for a macabre vision of satisfaction. In it I saw the cruelty of every smile wrought by every evil man in my life. I saw Skamos, I saw Siaval, I saw Phanalan, and more than I could possibly count. All paled in the glinting face of the purest evil I had ever seen wrought into shape.

Batu’s satisfaction was a result of contentment. My party had long been one that he had watched from afar, along with his brother, and the thought of our imprisonment left him giddy with victorious pride. He told me his only regret of our defeat and enslavement is that I would not be in Yalba to see the streets run red with the blood of its citizens. From the spreading dye of the man on the ground near me, I knew this was not hyperbole. I had successfully put myself near the door, and between Batu and the slave, so I decided to end our dreadful conversation and leave with the body.

But as I picked the body up, he stopped me. He did not mean the body was the mess to be cleaned, he meant the bloodstain on his lance. He unstrapped the the foreboding instrument, and handed it to me, the weight of it astoundingly heavy, imbued with the weight of his total horrors inflicted. He cleared up the confusion by telling me he would prefer the body be left in his room, as it would provide a good meal for him before he had to get back to business. He smiled that otherworldly smile yet again, and I summoned a grimace back at him, utterly defeated in our encounter, unable to save the slave who had paid my punishment, serving the beast who did it.

I was led away back to the slave pen, and spent the rest of the day exploring the first level, doing any work I could find to keep my mind off the horrors of before, knowing that unless we strove forward, things would only get worse. Over the slopped gruel of our nightly slave meal, my party began to discuss future plans. Midzaynov used her powers to message the Artificer and the Crown Princess, notifying them of our dire straits, and asking Saadia to send back up. However, we all knew it was a futile effort, as the loss of Xeridal’s ring, Siaval’s power, and Batu’s cruelty would likely coalesce in unimaginable sorrow by then, and we would likely be dead or mentally imprisoned like Abdul.

Hagar kept things light among the party though, by engaging one of the nearby guards in conversation. The guard must have been relaxed, and of course who can say no to Hagar, as he quickly opened up to Hagar. Do you recall, dear reader, the aforementioned crude bangings? Well, I’ll save you the displeasure of hearing any exact details, but the guard entertained Hagar for the remainder of dinner, regaling him with tales of mixed doubles, furry friends, and something they referred to as “yiffing”. Our slaver may have been an actual demon, but some of those stories qualified as more evil than any of Siaval’s plans could have been.

Left in a light and confident mood by Hagar’s good cheer. I decided to visit the barracks I had located on the first floor, as Aym had mentioned some of our equipment may have been relocated there. I approached the door, only to be met by Jafar, who’s eternally nettled demeanor only became more enthusiastically annoyed when he saw that I wasn’t as miserable as expected. I spoke to him, asking him some innocent questions about the crypt, when one of my jokes went too far astray. I believe I was in the middle of an admittedly raucous line about the nature of his furry hindquarters when I was promptly put to sleep by him and two other guards. As my vision faded to black, I realized that his only goal would be for me to wake up as miserable as he had dreamed I would be.

I was surprised to awake unharmed, only bound to a roughly hewn table, my arms and legs spread and tightly chained against the sandstone. The roughness of the stone on my back contrasted sharply with the feeling of fur along my abdomen from the hulking beast straddling my chest. Siaval had put his legs alongside the edge of the table, giving his torso the illusion of sitting upon my stomach. He leaned forward, the crushing weight of his massive body pushing against me, and began to detail the terrible things he could do to me to make me conform. He warned that although I had only defied him minorily, that he would only be crueler with future infractions, holding a blade to my fingers and tongue in turn as he spoke about his plans for my party and I.

We had no idea that since the Tournament of Champions Siaval had been lying in wait for our delivery, hoping to make us into his playthings, watching us battle in his coliseum until we dropped dead from injury or exhaustion. The rebellious streaks in our blood was nothing knew to him, and my fiery resolve only seemed to provoke his enjoyment of the situation even more, as he felt that he dominated me spiritually as much as he was physically. I kept my bravado, not allowing a glint of fear as he inspected me for weaknesses, holding with him, bantering calmly as if he were an old friend.

His capacity for wit was impressive, and if I had not been currently crushed by the weight of his form, it would have been easy to forget his true intentions. That is, until he revealed one of the reasons for his expertise on my life. Whereas he had been a fan of mine since the tournament, he had been getting information from a longtime viewer. For on his hand was the gleaming band of silver I had taken from Xeridal.

We had feared that losing the ring could lead to trouble, but Siaval obtaining the ring, and communing with Xeridal, was far worse. She had been whispering secrets to him, promises, undoubtedly belying her intentions for freedom. But of course, there was the possibility that their evil kinship could lead to their union, two forces combined to create an age of Darkness beyond what Hell could even imagine. My façade fell through, I could no longer play along with his game. I urged Siaval of Xeridal’s cunning and treachery, but he ignored me, believing himself to be in control, much like Ostan Gerrickstan in the Garden of Deliverance. The only problem being that Siaval was a lot more dangerous, misguided or not.

Feeling as though he had broken through my confidence, he released me, and as I walked back to the slave pen I spied shadows darting outside of the crypt’s exit, shadows with no bodies, and a glimpse of green bulbs like eyes with no sockets. The situation was growing worse by each second, though I knew then that at the very least, Xeridal was not going to be working with Siaval.

The next day I spent with Wykeera, sneaking through the networks of the crypt, charting out the layout of the building to the best of our ability, using her in her beetle form, and my teleportation. The party managed to create some ash from burned leaves to help Wykeera cast a shifting shadow that masked our movement, and we evaded any untoward eyes. Nothing of note was found in our ventures, besides a desecrated chapel to the Demon Lord Yalpak, which we easily deduced as a feature for the fearsome fiends’ father. I was also able to dart through the barracks, and found that the items they had stored were simple weapons and items of clothing, none of our magical tools or foci.

On the edge of the barracks was a door leading to a kennel of monsters, growling many-headed dogs, legged, lurching snakes, and shimmering wind creatures prowled and railed against their cages, almost leading to my discovery by the adjacent guards, before I managed to escape through the door’s keyholes again. By this time we had returned to our starting point of exploration, and my arcane energy felt completely depleted. I had teleported nine times in the previous hour, a feat of excessive magical performance, and had I a weaker constitution, I may have collapsed.

We decided to end our efforts of exploration for the day, and I returned to the slave pen to meditate upon my powers bestowed by Moroden, in the hope that the great Djinn would renew my strength for the trials ahead. As you know dear reader, I grow wary of power given for free, but I knew that Moroden was a truly kind being, whose intentions were clear, and that he would not hesitate if it meant saving the lives of the innocents around me. Many paladins and clerics have done far worse with the powers given to them by their gods, whether through the negligence of the god, or their hidden spite, but Moroden would never falter in his vigilance and care for our plane.

While I was meditating, Hagar apparently had run into the same guard from the previous night, who was sitting by the cistern outside the barracks. The guard was cagey at first with Hagar, feigning anger and coldness in the attempt to lure Hagar away from him, but truly, the guards heart had begun to call out for Hagar in a completely unfamiliar way. Hagar had begun to show this being kindness, this jackalweirs born from a festering broth of evil in some far away Abyssal plane, and yet Hagar had found beauty in him, and perhaps had the first interested conversation the guard had ever experienced. He pushed him away, but Hagar was persistent and gentle.

The cool emptiness of the cistern suddenly felt intimate as Hagar sat next to the guard. He spoke his name breathily, Raam. He admitted that he had pangs of unhappiness in this ancient place, that he felt a calling for a different life. But he had been born from darkness with his only purpose being service to his Lord Siaval. All he had known was evil, and yet Hagar inspired light from him. The still water of the cistern’s pool made the guard only thing of how dry his lips were as Hagar embraced and kissed him for the first time.

That night Hagar was contentedly asleep when he experienced a dream. And not a dream of Raam’s rippling muscles, but of the young boy, Peter from the zoo. And no, not his rippling muscles either, thank Moroden. In it, Peter communicated with him telepathically about the growing dark forces outside of the crypt, confirming our fears of Xeridal’s imminent attempt at resurrection. He also informed Hagar that Siaval’s scrying implements, and likely many of our magical items that weren’t on display were contained somewhere on the third floor. Before he could say anything else, his face contorted with pain and he screamed as the dream cut off and Hagar awoke, the echo of the scream still ringing in his ears.

He awoke the rest of the party, and we dashed towards the zoo, carefully avoiding any guards with Wykeera’s shadows and our fleet feet. To say we arrived just in time would be incorrect, in fact to say we were late might have been too kind. Two of the jackalweirs were dead on the ground before us, savagely torn open by something that we could not see. The animals thrashed in their cages, the lions slashing at empty air as strips of their pelts peeled themselves off and fluttered to the ground, ribbons in celebration of bloodshed.

Deductible cowered in the back of his cage, safe, but clearly in danger of the savage invisible attackers. I became confused initially as we looked over the carnage and chaos, as none of the roiling cages appeared to contain a boy of Hagar’s description, and the cage Hagar pointed out as Peter’s contained only a massive, spiraling serpent with scales splashed with every color on the spectrum, rippling down its muscular back, past its folded wings. The majestic beast was trapped in its medieval cage, and I immediately moved towards it to begin opening it up.

Hagar split off from me, making a rapid approach to Deductibles cage, prying the bars open with his bare hands and taking the squirrel into his rags, folding his body around the small animal to protect him from the enemies’ vicious blows. Midzaynov conjured a cloud of faerie fire, billowing will-o-the-wisps that settled on any enemies in the area, revealing their form to us in glittering blue silhouettes. Wykeera summoned her column of moonlight and eviscerated some of the enemies, while I decimated a few others with the humming eldritch blast from Moroden’s mark.

I turned a few of those blasts towards Peter’s cage, busting the corner of it open wide enough for him to fly through, unfurling his wings, and pouncing on the remaining enemies in the room, even locating and reducing some of the still invisible husks to shreds. While Zari was analyzing the situation, trying to figure out the nature of these enemies, she was struck by two of them simultaneously, their coordinated and vicious attacks critically wounding her, and almost taking her down. Hagar leapt forward and ripped them apart, Zari’s retaliative spiritual weapon attacks clearing out what he left behind.

On one side of the room were a pair of small hanging cages, which at first appeared empty, only to begin shaking and convulsing wildly as the battle continued. Soon a set of magical vines crept through the floor of the room and wrapped around two invisible forms, one clearly the body of an attacker, and the other left a much smaller, indiscernible gap. Midzaynov rushed over to the now active cages and drew her breath to blast the cage with lightning. Fortunately for her and her conscience, she misfired, and instead only breathed her crackling bolts into the space right below, killing the invisible attacker, and sparing the occupant of the cage, who sprang into existence right afterward out of fright.

The cage was now inhabited by a pixie with short pink hair. The contents of the other cage became quickly apparent, and I cracked them both open with the force of my eldritch blast, revealing another small pixie, palette-swapped for black. The action subsided for a second, a lion unwittingly rending the last enemy. Zari, as she recovered from her wounds, informed us of the beings we just fought, our only hope of knowledge, given that even after death they did not reveal their forms.

These beings were called skulks, the undead remainder of souls lost in the Shadowfell, travelers who had been subsumed by the esoteric powers of the plane, and turned into wandering invisible monsters. They usually would attack anything around them, but could also be controlled by a powerful enough figure, and were likely the vanguard of a more serious infiltration. She knew that there were only three ways to see a skulks form, reflective surfaces, the candlelight made by a human’s fat, and by any child aged ten or younger.

So I warn you, dear reader, you may have felt that you weren’t faint of heart when you picked up a book like mine, but if you were to see one of these aberrations true forms, you would certainly feel differently. The next time a child of yours tells you of the monster under their bed, listen. And don’t look, take your child, and ask Moroden for deliverance. Who knows, I may be the one to save you.

Once we had insured the security of our room, we knew it was a necessity that we retreat quickly back to the quarters, as we were the only visible evidence for the dead guards and ruined room before us. Before we left, the rainbow serpent before us shapeshifted back into the form of Peter Hagar had described, and explained that he was a coutl. A Celestial being that possessed the ability to heal, despite the impressive show of damage with which he had waylaid the enemy.

Hagar suddenly became distressed as we all knew that Deductible would need to be placed back in his cage to avoid suspicion on our party. Instead, Peter graciously took the responsibility upon himself, and morphed into a form identical to Deductible, save for some small details only close friends of the squirrel could pick up on. He climbed into the cage, and Hagar bent the bars back in place. Imprisoning our friend for what we hoped was only a short duration.

We made our way back to the pens carefully and hastily, evading any suspicion, and collaping onto our beds in exhaustion, virtually devoid of all magical or physical ability. As my consciousness faded into that deep pool of our sleeping mind, I felt one last feeling race through my body. We had been beaten down, tortured, cornered, and made to feel trapped by Siaval. Every part of our plan had been dismantled by the sheer magnitude of his operation. And yet, here was a gap. A chink in his armor.

The days that were to come undoubtedly had more chaos and violence in store than we had seen so far, but these gathering forces, the beings from the Shadowfell? Well, they were at least familiar territory. And although Siaval had read my book on our previous adventure, he was completely unprepared for what was to come. The last feeling I felt, the one that jolted me out of my semi-conscious state, if only to lull me back, was excitement. Even good men feel excitement the night before battle. Because they know that this challenge will be one step closer to a better world.

Of course, if I had known that the guards were going to burst into the room, panicked at the previous nights’ elusive assault only three hours later, interrupting a particularly splendid dream about the lights in Felsira’s port, I would’ve likely felt annoyance instead. I couldn’t have known as I was sleeping that the assault had been more brutal than we had known, and not contained to the zoo, but also the kennel, and the other defenses of the temple. I couldn’t have suspected that as we rose out of bed and walked towards the door, we would see the shadows and green orbs flittering past the door, even in the harsh Janavian sun, disregarding the natural rules, as the power of the Shadowfell seethed and boiled around us.

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