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Jadziel
April 14th, 2004, 09:55 AM
Castle Kreb rested on the crest of a steep hill, blue and gold banners fluttering from its towers. Ancestral home of the Duke of Karst, it had withstood the ravages of war and erosion for five hundred years. During the precarious period leading up to the Great War, the men of the north had constructed a chain of forts and castles along their borders. Set back from the frontline, Castle Kreb had served as a prison camp during the height of the bloodshed, interring officers and nobles. It was said that of the twelve hundred dark elves who were sent there, only fifty survived.

Mystiqe looked upon the castle, a cold chill spreading through her blood. She shifted uneasily in the saddle, and released the reins of her black steed. Surely the violence and hatred had run its course? The war had ended. It couldn't be allowed to resume, whatever the cost. Strapped to her back, the blackened blade pulsated with energy, red sparks racing across its surface.


*******

Deep underground within the Kretik Citadel, Tularis Yassassin paced back and forth, a long dark cane striking the ground with every step. The sound reverberated around the deserted training hall, echoing back from the high vaulted ceiling. Two rows of red lanterns hung above the sparring ring, suspended by ropes. They swayed gently in the cool breeze, rustling slightly. A blood red rope marked the border of the ring. In the far corner of the hall, Mystiqe lay sprawled across a neat stack of mats, head resting upon her hands. She watched the Master Assassin patrol the granite flagstones inside the ring, moving with a purposeful grace that belied his strength. His leather boots glided silently over the unforgiving surface.

"Do you want me to prepare the ring, Xa'Cha?", Mystiqe asked.

"No", Tularis replied with a bitter laugh. "Sand is too good for his kind. I want him to feel the cold brutality of granite."

Golden light glinted along a black and red scabbard strapped to the Master Assassin's back. He raised his right hand, and lovingly cradled the ivory hilt of his sword. His left hand slid down to the dagger attached to his belt.

"He's here", Mystiqe said, eyes drifting to the huge darkwood doors.

Tularis continued pacing around the ring, his steps calm and precise. Two circuits later, the right hand door swung open. Silhouetted in its frame was a human, draped in the dark cloak and cowl of the Kretik Citadel.

Without looking in the newcomer's direction, Tularis snapped, "You're late".

"I'm sorry. I'm afraid i didn't get much sleep today, crammed behind those combat dummies". The rogue's voice was rich and warm, with an unusual edge to it. He walked towards the Master Assassin, coming to a halt by the blood red rope. "Are you sure there isn't anywhere more...", he paused while glancing around the room. His blue eyes swept across Mystiqe's reclining figure and a slow smile crept across his lean features. "...comfortable for a man to spend the night?". For a fleeting moment, he dared to meet her gaze. A jolt of contact shot through his veins.

"Insolent whelp! Apprentices are to be seen and not heard!". The dark elf's cane swished through the air; crashing down on the granite paving, it struck the dead centre of a chalked 'X'. "Take your place, boy", he snarled.

Juzzza looked uneasily at the mark, then scanned the perimeter of the training hall and the vaulted ceiling. Unable to spot anything untoward, he tossed his cloak and cowl aside, and rolled up the sleeves of his white linen shirt. Without hesitating, he stepped across the rope and planted his feet firmly on the marked cross. Staring boldly ahead, he looked the Master Assassin straight in the eye.

Tularis raised an eyebrow, a wry smile curling the ends of his thin lips. He strolled to the side of the room and knelt beside a low mahogany table. From a long thin box lined with red silk, he drew two black scabbards bearing the insignia of the Xa'Chari Elite. When he returned to the human, he offered the scabbards with outstretched hands. The haughty, ebony face was solemn, its silvery grey eyes unreadable. Juzzza lowered his head in respect, then gracefully accepted the gift. The scabbards were cool and hard to the touch.

"Let's see if you have mastered the basics. Prove yourself worthy of my time, human."

Juzzza unsheathed the blades, a sharp dagger and curved sword. He weighed them in his hands, nodding with grim satisfaction. They were unlike anything he had encountered before. The metal was blackened and semi-translucent; incredibly light and delicately balanced. He ran his index finger along the edge of the sword. It was deadly sharp.

"A dark elf would have struck already", Tularis taunted with derision.

The human grinned, refusing to be riled. He moved towards the Master Assassin, dagger held at waist height, sword raised before him on guard. Tularis smirked, eyes cold; his blades nonchalently swinging in their scabbards. In a swirl of rapid motion, Juzzza stepped forward, sweeping his sword in an arc towards the dark elf's throat.

The Master Assassin sidestepped and laughed. "Is that your best effort?".

Glaring with annoyance, Juzzza circled his opponent, feet moving deftly on the cold flagstones. The dark elf edged around the perimeter of the ring, black leather trenchcoat flapping. Gloved hands still arrogantly empty. Slick with sweat, the leather bound hilts slipped in the rogue's hands. He gripped harder, trying to get a firm hold, knuckles blanched white.

Tularis shook his head, tutting sarcastically. "I've seen monkeys handle blades better than that".

The rogue stepped forwards, feigning a plunge to the midriff with his dagger, then darted backwards and brought his sword down in a crashing arc to the head. The dark elf became a blur, hands moving with lightning rapidity. Before the sword cut into his skull, his blades were drawn, blackened metal thrumming with red sparks. His sword shot upwards to parry, metal biting against metal. Juzzza stabbed beneath the locked swords with his dagger, thrusting its point upwards towards exposed ribs. The Master Assassin somersalted backwards, kicking the human hard across the knuckles. Blood seeped out from split skin. The dagger clattered to the floor. Juzzza ducked low, reaching to grab it whilst fending off the dark elf's sword above his head. A booted foot stamped down on his fingers, crunching bone against granite.

Tularis laughed. "A mere street brawler. I was a fool to hope for better."

The Master Assassin lifted his boot clear and wiped the sole across the floor, as though removing filth. Fury and embarrassment coursed through the rogue. He snatched up his dagger, gritting his teeth against pain. Without a second thought, he charged at his opponent, sword flailing wildly. The dark elf sidestepped and kicked his feet out from under him. Juzzza crashed to the floor, chin smashing into hard rock. A booted heel ground itself into the base of his spine, applying a tiny point of excruciating pressure. He gasped, unable to breath, unable to move. In a single fluid movement, the blackened dagger ripped the rogue's shirt apart, crackling with energy. Its sharp point skimmed across the exposed ridges of his spine.

Juzzza lay dazed, the dark floor warping before his eyes. When the pressure was finally removed, he choked and spluttered, coughing up blood.

A booted foot kicked him hard in the ribs. "Get up, slacker".

He drew himself to unsteady feet, breathless, wiping thick red liquid from numbed lips. Caught in the glow of the red lanterns, he removed his torn shirt and threw it outside the ring. Harsh light flickered across his muscular chest and biceps. A vein pulsed in his neck.

Tularis sheathed his blades, and strolled towards the exit, cane clicking the ground.

"Where are you going?", Juzzza asked, voice ragged.

There was no reply. The huge darkwood doors swung open.

"Where are you going, Master?", he repeated, still gasping for breath.

The dark elf paused in the doorway, surveying the human with distaste. "I don't have time for this... thuggery. Don't contact me again until you deserve my attention."

"You have to train me", Juzzza replied, "You have no choice."

"There are always choices in life. I cannot be pressured or forced into any action. I chose to allow you to come here as my apprentice".

Juzzza stared at the Master Assassin in disbelief.

"Now it is your turn to choose. You can elect to brawl and bully like a thug, or strive to earn my respect and understand the true art of the Xa'Chari. Blades are like women; beautiful and unique, but cold and deadly in the wrong hands. Only the enlightened understand how to wield them and unlock their true potential."

Dawnstorm
April 14th, 2004, 04:19 PM
"Magic wants to acquire and maintain shapes," Arleena explained, "just like life wants to procreate and survive."

"Heard that one at my year at the acadamy." Reed rolled his eyes. "Anthropomorphic nonsense."

Arleena sighed. "But we're human, Reed. How else are we going to approach this?"

Reed pressed his lips together and stared at her across the table. Then he shrugged.

Arleena went on: "You need a powerful impetus to shape magic. The emotions of a sentient being work best. According to ancient lore, fear has always been the prime trigger. The first incarnations of magic will always be monsters."

"The Shadows," Reed mumbled gloomily.

"Playfulness isn't a very powerfuly impetus. So, if you've got faeries in a world..." Arleena glanced at Reed.

"Plenty of magic to go round, huh?" Reed shrugged. "Quite the opposite of the world we were born in."

Arleena nodded. "You do remember the Artefact we handed over to those final instances of magic we could find?"

Reed nodded cautiously.

"Well, after Gilli had told me everything, I've looked up the Kult'ar."

Reed grew pale.

"I've seen pictures..."

Reed gulped. "The shadows, they refer to the Kult'ar as the prison. Alternately, as the cancer."

Arleena nodded. "Reed, we've handed over the Kult'ar to, for lack of a better word, magic. The result was..." Arleena pointed into a random direction, her arm fanning out. "...this."

"So, you think what we remember is the future?"

Arleena shook her head. "What I think is going on is we're caught up in a dual world. Two cycles. Magic erupts from the Kult'ar, magic returns to the Kult'ar. We've been unlucky enough to get swept up with events."

Reed frowned. "But the Kult'ar has been crafted by dark elven mages. In this world. There's no way it could..."

Arleena sighed. "I've seen pictures. Magic likes to maintain shapes, as I said. A cycle's just a bigger shape. But magic needs carriers. Sentient minds to help along with the transition."

Reed's shoulders sagged. "I was needed to call the shadows. I, you, Aynsley, Suz..."

"Not Suz. She's needed to facilitate the eventual concentration of all the magic in the Kult'ar. Her name's in the records, somwhere among the myriad of assistants... I wonder how many cycles she's lived through, in ever changing bodies, forever imprisoning magic in a single artefact, in the name of vengeance."

Reed sighed. "Suz, the Nemesis of magic."

"Oh, and by the way, I've got a message from her. 'Beware the shadow hunters. Suz.' Coded into an ancient Drow poem. Your name's the key."

"You read ancient Drow poetry?" Reed stared at her.

"Ah, no. I don't. The message's been found by Nasim, the Adventurer, actually. You can ask him for details, he must be around here somewhere."

Reed nodded and grinned.

"Any idea what that message means?" Arleena asked.

Reed nodded. "Outside interference. Would that be possible? Could you interfere with the circle from outside? Say, if your a powerful inter-universal mage. Or an ancient, um, deity bound up in yet another artefact, for example?"

Arleena nodded. "Certainly, though their powers would be limited by the magical and natural perimeters of this world."

Dawnstorm
April 14th, 2004, 04:52 PM
"You haven't paid the entrance fee," the elderly museum warden remarked.

"I doubt I used the entrance," Gilli replied.

She had been watching Reed and Arleena talk at that table in that tavern, and then she'd decided to leave them to it. They shared something she wasn't part of. And for the first time since her death she'd felt lonely. Terribly lonely. So she'd dispersed, drifting with the wind...

...until she found herself materialized in a museum and being talked to by a warden.

"S'okay, we're not opened anyway." The elderly warden smiled warmly. "You're the first spirit drawn here by the Chrysalis. I'm honourerd."

"The Chrysalis?"

The man pointed to the large crystal, a crude, milky white thing, resting on a red cushion. It wasn't something you'd expect on display.

"You can feel it, can't you?"

And Gilli could. "It pulsates. I... feel it inside of me. Like I've got a heart again. It... I see... I smell... what's going on?"

The old man smiled. "You're using my senses, I'd guess."

Gilli drifted a few inches away from the man.

"Don't be scared. You'll be able to see through other's eyes, hear through their ears, taste with their tongues, touch with their skin... The Chrysalis, it's famous for waking latent powers. Ever since it resurfaced, many people come here to see it, hoping they're latent telepaths." He chuckled. "Quite a boon to the Miner's Guild Museum."

"I don't remember coming here," Gilli said. "I..."

"Don't worry. It's normal. The stone's a pretty powerful catalyst. And since all that's left of you is your mind there's no body to distract you once you catch its vibrations. I've had another spirit here, oh, 50 years ago. Different crystal. Less powerful, but basically the same thing."

"But I'm no telepath. I mean..."

The man laughed. "Most spirits are latent telepaths, girl. How else do you think you managed to leave your body behind?"

Richardb
April 14th, 2004, 11:10 PM
During breakfast the next morning, things were getting lively at the Lamplighter.

Boldar was eating his fourth plate of mystery sausage, his frequent belching keeping the bench next to him empty. On the other side of the table, Gina and Mya sat talking quietly with Bass, all three scowling at the gasseous emanations from Boldar.

The door banged open for the first time that morning, a great shadow blocking the sun. Everyone looked up in alarm at the hulking figure, several sets of hands grabbing belt knives.

Boldar stood up. "By the balls of a hairy Ogre... It's the hairy ogre!" Bits of sausage sprayed from his mouth. "Come in Crom!"

As Crom cleared the door, entering fully into the room, he stood up straight, and his burns became evident. Boldar stood up and walked over to the Ogre. He approached Crom and looked him in the eye (not a small feet for a human).

"It looks," he paused, reached out, and rubbed the ogres head, bit of crisped hair and a bit of dead skin flaking away, "like no one told you I prefer my ogre done medium well. You seem a bit rare."

Crom flinched at the pain of his burns and scowled at Boldar. "And you need know," he poked a sausage sized finger into the wound on Boldars shoulder, breaking the stitches, bringing a gush of blood, "holes let meat ripen. Better taste that way."

Boldar grunted, smiled, and slapped the Ogre on the shoulder. "Good to see you! Where is Mik?"

Crom shrugged. "Room burn. Big bang, Mik hurt. Out in cart with healer."

Mya and Bass stood and rapidly left the room, keen to see how Mik was doing and help him in. A few moments later the group, now joined by Terk and Shef, were moving along the back of the dining room, heading up the stairs to the bedrooms. Boldar and Crom had sat down and seemed intent on eating each other under the table, and Gina sat watching in horrid fascination.

About a half hour later, the door opened a second time. Boldar, looking a bit green from eating his twentieth sausage, looked slowly up. Crom jumped up. As the door closed, a small figure could be seen standing in the doorway. He was scrawny, though impecably dressed in what appeared to be earthy colored leathers trimmed in lace.

From the side of the room came whispers, and a few loud chuckles.

The little man stepped forward and flourished a low bow. "I am pleased to announce the entrance of Nasim the Adventurer. I am hear to save you from the dark elves and put this adventure group on the map!"

Gina jumped. "Shut up you pompus fool!"

Crom just stared, seemingly stuck working through the speech.

Boldar looked up and belched loudly.

Nasim smiled, as if the entire room were applauding him. Then the door behind him banged open once again.

Jadziel
April 15th, 2004, 06:59 AM
"S***", Juzzza swore, reigning in his palamino. "What the f***'s going on here?"

Kahn and Mystiqe drew up alongside him, both staring into the forest on the opposite bank of the Longfin River. The moon was high in the twilight sky, a pale pearlescent disc, full and round. Red streaks of light twisted through the trees, accelerating and braking, rising and falling, leaving scorching trails. Kahn hung his head and released a low growl, his mane of black hair tumbling forwards. Juzzza looked across at Mystiqe, eyes grim. There could be no mistaking the rancid odour, the sickening fusion of charred wood and flesh.

Juzzza nodded at Mystiqe. She tossed him the reins of her black steed and slid from the saddle. Quietly, she slipped into the silvery water and sank beneath its smooth surface. The current was strong, tugging at her slender body, threatening to carry her further downstream. She fought against its persistent pressure, clawing her way to the muddy river bank. An agonised yowl cut through the night, followed by the frenzied tearing of flesh from bone.

Heart pounding, Mystiqe merged with the darkness, letting it envelop her spirit. The world was clearer now, illuminated with an eerie ultravision. Objects were sharper, contrasts greater, movements slower. The forest was consumed with a dozen or more fires, raging out of control. Guttural voices called out to each other, wild and bestial.

Juzzza turned to the berserker beside him. "You know what this is?", he asked.

Kahn raised his head. His body was shivering and teeth chattering. The skin across his face was taut, the flesh swelling and reddening. "Have to get away", he grunted, "can't control...".

The rogue stared up at the full moon. "But that's just an old myth...".

"Not... the... moon", Kahn growled, dark eyebrows drawing together.

Horses hooves struck the grassland. Juzzza span towards the barbarian, but he was gone. A distant figure riding with fury. The rogue took one glance at the opposite river bank, then raced after the berserker, screams echoing in his ears.

juzzza
April 15th, 2004, 08:58 AM
Gilli heard a noise coming from the back of the large display hall and instinctively she flittered up towards the ceiling.

The old warden watched her float away and then paced over towards the noise. He jerked upon seeing two hooded figures silhouetted against the moonlit window. They held clubs and both moved forward.

"Who goes there?" shouted the warden, his voice breaking slightly.

"We're just here for the crystals old man, stay out of it and you won't get hurt," replied one of the intruders.

"I'll call the watch," replied the old man.

"Foolish," replied the thief and striding forward he swung his club at the elder's head. The old man cried out and held up his hand, the club hit hard and the warden fell heavily to the floor, clutching his broken arm. The man stood above him and raised his club again.

"No," squealed Gilli rushing from the rafters. The other man jumped back, clearly frightened by the appearance of the little spirit.

"This place is haunted," he shrieked.

His colleague stepped away from the injured warden and cuffed his partner around the head. "Of course it's haunted you idiot, it's a bloody museum," he said.

"Leave him alone," pleaded Gilli weakly.

"And what are you going to do about it little one," the older thief said grinning, displaying black teeth.

Gilli looked at the warden then over to the Chrysalis. She concentrated hard and her spirit form would seem to close her eyes to the intruders, if she had possessed eyelids.

Gilli suddenly became aware of three heartbeats in the room and for a second she felt the sensation of oxygen flooding into living, breathing lungs. She reached deeper, feeling the humans' psyches and then her eyes snapped open. She was inside.

The younger thief turned to face his partner and he held up his club. The black-teethed man took a step back, confused.

"Til... What are you doing?" he asked. But it was too late. The younger thief hit the man on the side of his head and he fell to the floor unconcious.

The warden stared at the scene, then looked over to Gilli. He grinned.

"Go on girl, you show them," he shouted.

Gilli pulled herself back and the young man fell to the floor, the possession too much for his body to take. He groaned but did not wake.

"I possessed him," said Gilli.

"Yes you did lass," said the warden, "I told you, you had telepathic abilities, and I was right I was." The old man climbed gingerly to his feet, clutching his arm.

Twenty minutes later, after the watch had taken away the would-be thieves and the spirit had returned to wherever it was she had come from, the warden held out straight his broken arm. He pulled off the bandage and with a 'click' his arm was as good as new. His image shimmered and even his clothing changed.

Swooping a large-brimmed hat onto his head, he paced from the main display room within the museum, whistling a chirpy tune as the spurs rattled on his leather boots.

Jadziel
April 15th, 2004, 10:43 AM
Mystiqe watched the dark shapes crash through the forest. The frenzied rampage seemed to be drawing to a close. The shrieks and screams were finally subsiding, drowned out by the roar of fire. All around, trees were burning, flames shooting upwards into the night sky. She advanced, darting from shadow to shadow, ebony skin glistening in the intense heat.

Suddenly, she crashed to the ground, boot caught. Cursing inwardly, she tried to tug herself free. The boot jerked loose and she lurched sideways. The empty sockets of a man stared up at her. Open wounds were visible along his neck, staining blue and gold livery.

Something soft and wet brushed past her, sliding across her neck and cheek. She froze, senses reeling with the scent of fresh blood. The sticky substance trickled down her skin. Her back was pressed hard against the soldier's corpse and the knotted roots of a tree. She lay still, holding her breath, not daring to move or make the slightest sound.

The beast padded onwards, steps slow and deliberate. Mystiqe's hand slid down to her dagger, gripping the familiar hilt. She turned her head slightly, watching its departure. As she did so, the beast stopped in its tracks and crouched low, nostrils flaring. It turned around and retraced its steps. Yellowed eyes stared in her direction, illuminated from within, engorged with rage.

"Ulfhednar, gather! Gather now!", the cry echoed across the forest, loud and clear.

A shaft of white moonlight burst through the canopy of leaves. The beast's mouth lay open, bloodied tongue hanging to one side. Its head was that of a wolf, with sharp teeth protuding from a long muzzle, but its torso and limbs were shaped like a man. Matted grey pelts hung from cords tied around its neck and waist. Red markings smothered areas of pale skin. The beast's eyes were bright and hard, inquisitive and alert. Its open mouth crept forward, teeth closing in on the dark elf's neck.

"I told you to gather!", the shout went out. "Are you lot deaf?"

Releasing a snarl, the beast turned away and padded towards the centre of the burning forest.

Mystiqe closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Drawing the blackened dagger from its sheath, she crept after the ulfheddin.

Richardb
April 15th, 2004, 02:05 PM
Reed strode through the door into the Lamplighter, followed by Arleena. The two saw Nasim standing beeming in the middle of the room, and each grabbed an elbow and escorted the man forwards to where Crom was still standing, having worked through enough of Nasim's speech to realize he didn't like the little man.

Nasim looked at Boldar. "I am remembering that you caused the furry little dragon beast to attack Nasim. I have a special revenge for you planned..."

Boldar glanced up and smiled. "The... badger... attacked because you must have forgotten to say the keyword to activate the magic in the pouch. You did open the pouch and read the instructions didn't you?"

Nasim blinked and stared at Boldar much like a cow looking at a new gate. "I, uh..."

Boldar shrugged. "Though you'd have known enough to read the instructions little man. Without the invocation, the pouch would draw the badger like a duck to a beatle. Bad move, mate."

Nasim smiled a sickly smile. "Nasim is grateful for the knowing that all was a mistake. Nasim feels forgiving today!"

Reed grimaced and pushed the man down on the bench.

"Where is Bass?" Reed asked.

Boldar looked up. "Why?"

"Came upon an idea." He noticed the glare from Nasim. "Well, er, Nasim came upon an idea and I wanted to speak to the old mage about it. Frankly, neither you nor this one," he indicated Crom, who was now sitting and picking at something lodged inbetween his toes, "seems the type to have an intelligent conversation with."

Crom growled. Boldar shrugged.

"Upstairs, with the others." Boldar answered. "Go on up. And do a fellow a favor. If Mya is up there, and if she is naked, could you be so kind as to holler for me?"

Reed looked at the big man, shaking his head slightly. He simply got up and walked up the stairs, Arleena following.

Crom turned back to his plate of congealed sausage. "No more eat, big man?"

Boldar, not wanting to be outdone, took a deep breath and turned to face the ogre. "Just letting these set up, friend." He picked up a thumb sized sausage, a glob of white mostly congealed grease plopping noisily onto the plate. "Cheers!" He slid the meat into his mouth and began chewing.

Crom smiled and picked up two. "Crom like you, human!" And he picked up two sausages and tossed them into his mouth. "You like ogre!"

Boldar was unsure of the compliment. He picked up another sausage. Held it near his mouth, then suddenly turned and loudly vomited on the floor.

Crom smiled broadly. "You like enought to eat again?"

Boldar grimaced, and vomited a second time.


Meanwhile upstairs, Bass was struggling mightily with the question of how much longer he could, or should, keep his secrets.

Jadziel
April 15th, 2004, 02:18 PM
*****

Juzzza walked across the training hall to Mystiqe, stretching his aching muscles. "Is your father always like that?".

"Nah, only on his good days". She grinned mischieviously. "I was waiting for you to say something back to him."

The rogue laughed. "I was too busy letting him beat me up."

"Letting him?", she queried, eyes dancing with amusement.

"Yes, letting him", Juzzza replied, leaning towards her.

"Mmm ... it was impressive". She ran her eyes across his body, then gave him a wicked look. "I've never seen a man go down so fast".

Juzzza spluttered back laughter. "Then you've been with the wrong men, honey."

*****

Dawnstorm
April 15th, 2004, 03:40 PM
Reed knocked, waited, then opened the door, and strode into the room, Arleena following. He stopped, then bowed. "Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. You must have missed me, terribly. May I introduce you to a good friend of mine? Arleena, D'Jyle."

"Hi, all!" Arleena said.

Several faces turned to stare at them. Mya spoke first, "Your other little friend is not with you, I see."

Reed tuned her head. "That you don't see her, doesn't mean she isn't there. Although you're right. She isn't." He paused, looking at the ceiling. "Back then, sending her away and invoking the shadow legion seemed a good idea." He shrugged. "Well, we all make mistakes."

"Understatement," Mya muttered under her breath.

Reed gave her a smile. Then he turned to Bass. "What you did to my friend back then, that scared me, you know."

Bass looked at Reed. He wasn't looking forward to the conversation. Mya was suspicious enough, already, without Reed bringing up things. "I released her again, didn't I?" he said.

Reed nodded. "And I apologize to resorting to a threat back then. It's not my usual style."

Mya's eyes moved back and forth between Reed and Bass.

"No bones broken," grumbled Bass.

"And now I have a question for you. Our mutual friend Nasim has helped me make the connection. Oh, and have I mentioned that Arleena here is an expert on magical Artefacts? You know, Kult'ars, bottled demons... that kind of stuff."

Bass wondered whether he should ask for a conversation in private, but that would only fuel the others' curiosity. How much to reveal, then? How much to hold back?

"I've had a message from an old acquaintance of mine. And I do mean old. Nasim detected it encoded in an ancient Drow poem. The poem predates the language the message is written in. That's pretty odd wouldn't, you say?"

Bass stared at Reed, unsure. "Nasim told you that, did he?"

"Ah, you see, the key to the code is my name. And the message makes sense. And we both know that history isn't as fixed as we would like to think it is, where magic is concerned don't we?"

Bass nodded, but remained silent.

"The message tells me to beware of Shadow Hunters. Are you a shadow hunter, Mr. Bass? If so, there are a few shadows I'd like to get rid of. Preferably without getting rid of myself in the process."

"I second that," said Arleena, "also, I doubt he'd make a good..." she smiled at the old mage, "...Sacrifice."