Gearing up for a new campaign as the old one is wrapping up. We'll have a party full of Dragon Slayers in a setting where the dragons lord over the land treating the lesser races as peasants and property. The more noble metallic dragons feel they are doing it for the good of the poor lesser races who obviously can't be expected to take care of themselves, and the chromatic dragons do it because they have a right to: if you don't agree feel free to debate it with them.

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The lifeless gray clouds rolled in overhead, casting a shadow over the clearing. It was not unwelcome, despite any sense of foreboding it may have endeared. There, a lone figure sat huddled over a collection of fist-sized stones. Everything was quiet, save for a solemn droning whistle. That loving caress of a breeze coaxed its response from the surrounding trees and brush as if entwining an unseen hand painstakingly amongst them. Clutched patiently to a log rotten and withered, a single stark silhouette loomed, predatory and unwavering in its vigil. The figure at the center, undaunted, neither took heed nor notice as it toiled away, relentless to whatever task lie before it. The entire scene might have played out quite favorably in some serene painting had capable hands been present. As it stood, only nature would bear witness.

The stones began to take on a clear shape as their master manipulated them just so; in time, each separate would be part of a greater whole, forming an unbroken ring similar in diameter to the arm-length of a grown man. It was an altar of sorts, a simple stone circle by anyone's guess, but it also entailed so much more. Unbroken, all pieces working in tandem to serve the need of its peers and everything not without its place - this is Life, unblemished, perfect and ripe with continuity...and unavoidable. Only the strong survive to nourish the strongest, until they, too, must kneel to fated demise. All things will perish only to lend themselves with renewed vigor in some greater form. Life and death are a synonymous tranquility only understood by paltry few, often looked upon as unfortunate happenstance when glassy eyes fade to oblivion. Yes, it was just a stone circle, but it was so much more.

"It will be finished soon."

The voice was soft but firm, resolute. It was picked up on the wind and whisked away in much the same fashion that it had appeared. Its point of origin was the female crouched over the stones. An elf, to be precise, for there were no mistaking the ears or pointed features possessed of her. She fell silent once more, continuing her work; the circle was complete, a dingy, mottled hare amidst its center. The creature breathed softly as she held it, its panicked tense of muscles knotted beneath her soft palm. There could be no escape, not now, not ever; it had lost its only method of freedom, defeated by the mere length of twine now binding its fate. With one clean swipe, her other hand freed a dagger from its sheath and relieved the animal of its essence. Warm, crisp blood oozed from a fresh neck wound, and the earth drank it up even as the creature shuddered its last throes. The wind began to die away now, and the trees wailed softly, longingly in return. It is always inevitable that two lovers must be parted, but in the absence does fondness gain strength, and so it must be true with the wind and the trees for they were never separate for long.

"There," she spoke, wiping away any excess blood from her knife.

"It is done?" came a voice.

"It is done," she confirmed with a reverent nod. She situated herself to sit cross-legged in front of the circle of stones, daring a glance to the cloudy sky. "It'll rain soon." She wasn't expecting an answer.

The silhouette came to life with the flapping of wings as it swiftly maneuvered over to partake. It was the form of a crow that landed atop the crumpled hare, nimbly plucking away at bits and pieces of hair and flesh. After several moments it paused, looking into her face, its cold eyes alight with all the intelligence of a calculating individual. "Now what's eating you?" it would inquire. Somehow it seemed to find this most humorous, what with it eating the rabbit and then asking the elf what was bothering her and...well, it loses some of its appeal if it has to be explained.

She didn't look away from the clouds, but he got his response all the same.

"It's true. What he said, you know. It's true, I poisoned them. He was so... disappointed... when he found out," she added, shaking her head. "Why is it that strength of body is always cherished above strength of mind? Yes, I wanted to compete, but I only used the resources, the talent, I was gifted with. It was by intellect and cunning that I won the tournament, and I prevailed where they fell short."

There was a pause, and she seemed to be waiting as if for some sort of reassurance from the crow. It blinked once, twitched even, and began preening a ruffled feather. Shortly after it was satisfied with its handiwork, it went back to eating.

"I did them a service, in fact! Look at all the able bodied men that were chosen to champion this cause from every other village. Tell me, how many of those illustrious champions survived?" she asked of no one in particular, but it was obvious her voice was dripping with venom. "It is evident they lacked the strength of will to pass the rigorous after effects. Perhaps their heart was not as resilient as mine. Perhaps when the time comes to do what is necessary they would falter and crumble under this terrible burden," and now her voice verged with a tinge of anger, picking up speed and passion as it was. "Perhaps they would have lost the cause for all of us! So I should be thanked, glorified even, not vilified for my contributions to my village. They could have tallied up just one more death to the toll, another bloody sacrifice to the pyre for their cause," she concluded, a scowl deepening the edges of her lips. Her blood simmered with rage over the sense of unanswered injustice she felt.

"All that which cannot see shall be made clear with the passage of time," answered the crow. "Only the strong shall arise amidst the ashes of so much burned chaff. Calm thyself. You have been made whole."

The elf's breathing steadied, but the last vestiges of inner turmoil had only just ceased to be. As cryptic as the message was, she knew she was destined for great things, could feel it in her bones like a coiled spring. She stayed still for a time, peering at the crow as he ate his fill. All around everywhere the steady sound of water battering the ground and leaves rose up, until it faded into a quiet background din, drowned out by the unity of wind and trees playful once again.

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Pain. Always pain.

I cant remember a time before it. I remember falling for what seemed like eons into a pit of fire. Everything that I looked upon seared my eyes from its inferno. I remember the collective roar of the army of Hell, rising up like a chorus towards the Infernal General Geyron as they met the neverending army of the Tanari. And I remember Bel, Lord of Avernus looking onward from his Bronze Citadel over all.

And before I met my rightful end, my Lord reached his divine hand down and craddled me in his touch. "Not yet Virkhus. No, not just yet. I have yet plans for you." he spoke to me.

I remember the heat passing by my scorched flesh as I ascended out of Avernus to the dismayal howls and curses of its inhabitants. I knew no more...

And finally my eyes opened to a world that would never be the same for me. I walk this world with scorched flesh and eyes like embers for one redeem myself for my deity by freeing this world from the tyranical grasp of its draconic enslavers. For I have no choice...Avernus awaits.
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