Armin was running so hard it felt as if his heart was in his throat. He drew breath in hard rasping gulps while his legs strained under the effort. Terrible sounds echoed throughout the forest, screaming and snarling. He wanted to go back and try to help, but the the beasts had come out of nowhere and just began tearing everything apart; animals, people homes. All he could do was keep running and pray that they didn't catch him. They had made no sound when they struck and moved with lightning speed and in total silence. he'd dared not even look behind him for fear or what may be in pursuit.
A huge form crashed in sight ahead of him. Armin stopped so fast he fell face down into the leaf litter and lay there for a second, paralysed with fear, praying the thing hadn't seen him.
A deep rumbling growl forced him to look up to see the terrifying visage blocking his path. Suddenly three more appeared in his peripheral vision and began circling.
"Oh dear God... " he whispered, "Please help me...", His eyes burned as salt water began to well up. He began trembling uncontrollably, wishing that it would just be over as quickly as possible.
The three beasts didn't attack him and seemed pre-occupied with the first creature he'd seen. He controlled himself long enough to stare squarely at what he was sure would be his killer to notice it was different from the others. It stood on two legs, and seemed to be clothed.
Confusion and curiosity held his fear back long enough for he to reason that perhaps this was their leader or..
One of the trio leapt without warning. There was a flash of steel and the beast fell to the floor a foot short of it's target, minus it's head.
The two remaining creatures attacked in unison and Armin watched in muted astonishment as both were cut down in a blur of action leaving the beast standing over their corpses holding a huge longsword.
The beast glanced momentarily at Armin before sprinting off towards Armin's home.
Armin collapsed with exhaustion onto the forest floor and lay in a semi-shock as his brain struggled to process all that had happened. He lay almost frozen in time oblivious to the world around him until he sensed a prescence approaching.
He clambered to his feet, limbs aching with his earlier exertion to see a tall, heavily muscled man.
"Who are you, and what ..." Armin, noticed a sword on the warrior's back and realised.... "You're one of them! The man beasts.", he shook his head in confusion, "You killed you're own?"
Kahn frowned at him, "They are not my own " he emphasised with venom.
"I... I'm sorry.. I.. "
"Go to your people. They are safe now, but the living and the dead will both need tending."
Armin nodded and ran off without another word.
April 15th, 2004, 04:18 PM
Bass jumped as if bitten in the bottom. He quickly tried to hide his shock, angry at himself for being so obvious.
"No, I," he emphasized the latter, "would not make a good sacrifice." He calmed himself by taking several deep breaths. "Mr. Reed, you obviously know more than you let on, and perhaps that is a good thing. I also think perhaps Albert has been talking to you, or at least has been putting hint in your path."
Reed nodded. "Right then. Are we ready to come clean?"
Bass shrugged. "Yes, perhaps so, though we all must hold certain truths close. However, I think that there is much that must be said about this quest, and I do in fact hold some data of worth."
Reed looked around the room. "If the rest of you would just..."
Bass interupted. "No, it is their lives at stake too. We must trust them, and frankly, we should call the others up too, get things out in the open with everyone here."
Reed scowled. "But there could be spies among us, or agents of the enemy."
Bass nodded. "Yes, but I have a little something that will sort that out, if you could just get them all in here for a minute. Time to find out who else has secrets."
Mya ducked out of the room and returned several minutes later, with Crom and Boldar in tow. Nasim had been left behind, having been deamed not part of the group.
Bass started the conversation. "It seems that there are things that must be shared at this point, and it also seems that we don't know each other enough to know if we are all in this together. So, before beginning, I am going to cast a little spell on each of you. Don't be alarmed, unless of course you are not what you seem, in which case Boldar here is going to kill you."
Everyone tensed at that, especially Boldar, who gripped the hilt of his long knife and moved back toward the door. Long years of association with Bass had taught him when to simply follow orders.
Bass reached into his pocket and pulled an object out.
"I knew it!" Reed barked.
"Shut up," growled Bass. He then began a long incantation coupled with hand gestures. Those in the room could not sense anything abnormal. He then stepped in front of Bodar.
Everyone in the room sensed concern, resolve, and a faint feeling of sickness, as if the man had a stomache ache. Bass moved on to each person in order, Gina, Mya, Arleena, and Crom. From each, a set of thoughts and emotions, none indicating fear or something being hidden. The only surprise was from Mya, who seemed to be feeling... attraction... though to whom it was not clear.
Bass stopped before coming to Reed.
Mya spoke first. "What about you and Reed?"
"There are some things that must not be shared, dear. Sorry. I have some secrets that I will only share with Juzza, and Reed... well, I think we will just leave Reed out of this for now. If he is up to something, the spell would have constituted a threat, and that would be... um... less than wise."
Boldar relaxed. "Good then, we are all onboard. Out with it then, Bass."
And Bass spoke of Sacrifice (only leaving out the small fact of his relationship with Mystique), of the demon bottle and how he believed it could transform the magic, and of everything else he knew, everything that is, except who and what he really was. That was his, and his alone to know... unless one considered Albert and what he seemed to know, but that too was another issue.
An hour later, the group broke up, somewhat enlightened, yet thoroughly out of their league. Crom summed it up best. "Little man speak to much. No good eating, too many bones. Crom have no use for little man."
Boldar laughed. "I can't help but feel the same some days, my fine large friend. Eager to just get on with the mayhem, myself!" He winked at Mya. "You want to come down for a drink with me and the ogre, lass?"
Crom smiled and ducked out the door. Mya frowned, and shook her head slowly, almost imperceptibly.
"Yes," she said, "I suppose I'd like that."
Boldar's smile widened and he gestured to the door, allowing Mya to go out first. He then pushed through, blocking Gina, who was trying to follow.
The fist thing they heard, upon entering the common room was Nasim. He had collected a small group of listeners and was telling the tale of how he had defeated an ogre in single handed combat.
Crom walked by and casually swept a hand out, swatting the little man off his feat, depositing him on the straw littered floor. "Crom thought he saw fly on arm. Crom sorry."
Nasim sat on the floor rubbing his numb arm, the crown dispersing from around him.
Boldar, Mya, Gina, and Crom sat down.
"Bring four flagons of ale, barkeep, and keep them coming until somone passes out!" Boldar yelled.
"And then," Mya added, "start bringing the cheap stuff until the rest of us are gone."
Gina shrugged. It was going to be a long night.
Up in the room, Arleena, Reed, and Bass continued discussing thoughts around the demon bottle and the Kult'ar. Understanding that a Sacrifice was involved changed things, and they needed to understand how. Bass, despite his long knowledge of the desires of Sacrifice, just was not sure what to say.
April 15th, 2004, 08:54 PM
Once the door closed behind Gina, Reed's demeanor changed. He let his shoulders sag, stared to the ground, took a deep breath. He looked at Bass, opened his mouth, but didn't speak. All of a sudden he felt like a school boy at an exam who didn't know the answer. Bass seemed to avoid his eyes. Arleena leant against the wall, watching them both.
Somebody had to say something, but nobody felt up to it.
At long last, Bass asked, "How do you know about Sacrifice?"
Reed sighed. "The shadows. I asked them, who would hunt them. Their answers are less than clear, and very likely designed to manipulate me. Trouble is, I don't know how well they can predict my actions. Coming here could have been the right thing. It could have been a big mistake." Reed shrugged.
"What did they say?" Bass asked.
"They spoke of someone they called 'the Wasted', or 'the Chained One'. Arleena made the connection." Reed looked in her direction.
Arleena nodded. "Here's what I know. The artefact you've just shown us, it represents a mystic power, that scholar's have been afraid to name in texts. There are no names. Nowhere. It must be something very powerful." Arleena composed herself, thinking. Then she continued. "'The Wasted'. That could very well have been a term for a sacrifice. You see, the shadows, they're Reed's shadows, they take their shape from his mind..."
Reed grinned vaguely. "Sacrifices are almost never worth it, are they?"
Arleena went on: "And someone so powerful that he must not be named in texts, surly somone like that would require a sacrifice. A real one. Not the one-ox-more-in-case-of-a-draught deal."
Reed shrugged. "It was a bluff. I'm sorry, but we needed to know." He paused. "I know I cannot trust the shadows. The question I have is this: do you trust your... er... contacts. And if yes... why?"
April 15th, 2004, 09:23 PM
"You always know where to find me, yet I cannot contact you. I don't like that constellation very much." Suzé watched Albert flick away a spider from his shoulder, and smile at her.
"I'd call more often, if you had a nice, little cottage beside a lazy stream..."
Suzé cut him short. "Impervious to the lure of luminous insects caught in cobwebs, I persume. Well, it can't be helped. What do you want from me this time. I'm not exactly happy with your interference with the Kult'ar, last time we met."
Albert made a gesture. Despite her age, Suzé had never seen daylight, blue sky complete with bunny shaped clouds, in a cavern.
"There. That's better." Albert chuckled.
"As you like it," Suzé shrugged. "As always I adapt. And as always, I remain without an answer."
"As always, you're such a delight to talk to."
"As long as you remember that this world is mine. This magic is mine. It is my essence. I'm free to hate it. I'm free to destroy it. And I don't appreciate your meddling."
Albert smiled at her pleasantly. "And yet the gambler has ursurped your shadows. You should have killed him when you had the chance, shouldn't you?"
"It's not up to you to question my ways, is it?"
"No? And it's such a fun way to pass the time."
And then Albert was gone.
When the dark returned, Suzé sat brooding. Life did that to you. No matter how ruthless you are, there will always be people who you don't want to see dead. Perhaps, the dark elf she was now would have killed them then and there, but she'd been human. And, with the memories, the feelings remained. She didn't like them any better, this time round.
Damn the hatman! Here she was, wasting time with fruitless thoughts. How did he do it?
April 15th, 2004, 09:48 PM
Bass sat thinking about Sacrifice. He remembered the first time they had met, well over 100 years before. The memory was vague but persistent.
Bass stood firm on the small basalt hillock on the northern end of the great cavern in which Derudin sprawled, its buildings like so many toadstools in the dark. The bodies of three of his colleagues lying nearly in shreds around him, victims of a terrible spell he had not been able to counter. In front of him stood Kolmer, a half elven warrior, drenched in blood, a good bit of which was his own.
Kolmer was surrounded by bodies, as was the hillock in general. Dozens of orc, a handful of ogre, and about a dozen drow lay bloody and torn about the hill. Bass could not pause from his constant spell casting to truly admire the warrior, a ranger by trade, and a sworn enemy of the drow. Kolmer was the greatest of the warriors of Suyava, the goddess of the wood, and was the founding member of the expedition. Now he was all that was left besides Bass himself.
It had all started so well, Ganin, the mage (who’s burned body lay more than a mile away now) had used a special item she had acquired to port them directly to Derudin. Using a map Bass had procured for a tidy sum in the streets of Crystal City, they had quickly found the compound of House Korsurval and gained entry through might of arms. The looting had gone well indeed, and Bass had collected dozens of items of power, enough to set him up as a high mage in the world above, surely.
But, little did they know of the ways of the underdeep, and even less of the powers and servants of the drow. For the last day the party had been in a series of battles, always giving ground, always taking damage. It had all started when the wicked looking drow named Tularis had arrived on the scene, proclaiming himself as the doorwarden and patriarch of house Korsuval. Along with him came hundreds of gnoll, trolls, and drow. They had forced the party out of the compound after killing two of its members. Only the magic of the two mages kept the party alive, and then only barely.
Tularis sent his minions in waves, and spun great magics to counter those of Bass and Ganin. The party dwindled and was driven, though never annihilated, just driven.
And here they found themselves, just two, and under attack by dozens of drow, a handful of ogres and some trolls. Kolmer had battled heroically, and had proven himself a true champion of Suyava. It was not enough, however, and with a suddenness that shocked Bass, he found himself alone on the hillock, amongst the bodies of comrades and enemy.
Tularis motioned back his warriors and stepped forward. “I would know your name, as a worthy opponent.” His voice held power, his stance spoke of confidence.
“My name is Bass, remember that in Hell!” Bass screamed, and released a torrent of powerful magic. Fire blossomed in the air all around Tularis, then the ground opened up under his feet.
After a moment, the glow of the fire dissipated, and Bass, standing haggardly on the hillock, saw, to his amazement, Tularis floating above the crevice, unharmed by the flames.
April 15th, 2004, 09:49 PM
Before Bass could react further, the drow reached into a pocket and pulled out a small figurine. The next thing Bass knew was blackness.
And later, there was pain, and a different blackness, the blackness of awareness in a place with no light.
“You are not weak, human. Among the humans, you must be a man of great power.” His voice spoke of contempt for humans. “And I have a use for such power, a need.”
Bass raised his head and croaked. “Kill me and have done, drow.”
The voice gentled a bit. “No Bass, I do not seek your death. While I don’t feel sorrow for the death of those invaders you brought with you, I do not seek any harm to you. In fact, I have a purpose you will fulfill with me.”
“Never,” was all Bass could say though his abused body and confused mind could offer up no other resistance.
“But first, Bass, you must hear me out. I think you may be surprised at what I have to tell you, here in my place of worship, here where no others may come. Look!”
And there was light. Blinding light. Bass fought through eyes bleeding tears to see, and when his vision cleared, he blinked in confusion for a long minute.
He stood in what he could only call a church. Not one of the dark powers, but a church of Varsnya, goddess of light. He knew the altar and the symbols, there was no mistaking it. However, the presence of the drow, sworn enemies of Varsnya, belied his vision. He thought, perhaps, he had lost his mind.
“You know my secret, Bass. You could destroy me with this information. I am the avatar of Varsnya, her servant in the flesh on this world. I work in… secret… and my work is nearly at an end.”
“Impossible.” Bass stammered. “Varsnya has no avatar.”
“That the world knows of…”
“But you betray your own people!”
“No, fool, I betray no one. I serve. Varsnya is no enemy of darkness, only the goddess of light. Are you an ignorant fool to believe light and dark must be enemies? Are they not part of the same cycle, each an aspect of the absence of the other?”
Bass stood slowly. “I admit I do not know. I know you destroyed my party. I know you took me here with a power beyond any I could imagine before today. I thought myself beyond such manipulations, beyond…”
“Beyond the powers of any but a god?”
Bass nodded. “True.”
Tularis walked over to Bass. “Bass, we shall come to know each other well in the years and decades to come. Now is not the time for explanations. Let me just say to you two things. First, Varsnya does not ask any to be avatar, she conscripts them. You have been conscripted. Secondly, I am sorry, and that is not something my kind says often. We are a cruel people, arrogant, and I am a son of my mother. I live among my people as a mage and a master assassin. I have been, and will always be a creature of cruelty. Only thus can I continue to serve.”
“But why sorry?”
Then came the blinding light and the pain. Eternal pain, pain worse than death. Then cold, numbness, oblivion.
Bass awoke in the same place, though it had darkened. Before him was Tularis, impossibly chained to the wall.
“What have you done! Why has your goddess chained you, her avatar?”
“I am no longer her avatar. I am Sacrifice, and this, “he handed Bass a figurine, “is yours.”
“I don’t understand.” Bass almost whined in his confusion.
“Bass, you are the avatar of Varsnya. I have a new role. You must walk the long path, and you must set things to rights. I will have years to explain this, but the basics you need to know are simple. Varsnya seeks balance, and there is an imbalance coming, an imbalance long past… You must bring the demon bottle to the appointed place at the appointed time. I can not do this, so you must. As I said, I am now Sacrifice.”
“What does that mean, Sacrifice?” Bass could only manage the one question.
“Many things must come together to make the cleansing. The demon bottle must be broken at the right time, an interplanar mage must open the Kultar (sp) and the a soul must be given voluntarily. I will be that soul, when the time comes.”
“But,” began Bass.
“No more, Bass. You need know no more. It will come in time, the knowledge you need. Others have their roles to play. Tularis persists in the caverns beyond, a soulless making of the goddess. There is only one thing I must insist on, Bass. You will not fail in this thing.”
“My daughter must survive what is to come. She must never learn of my role, and she must not befall the fate that will befall many of my bretheren, those seeking to destroy the balance using the kult’ar.”
Bass had been sent back to the surface then, and as a mage of great power in the flower of his youth, he moved on with his life and only rarely had thought of the needs of his seemingly disinterested master. It was not until years later that Sacrifice began to commune with him and prepare him for his tasks. It was not until decades later that he began to understand what it meant to be the avatar of Varsnya.
He finally was beginning to grasp why Sacrifice had apologized. In chosing his chains, he had taken the easier path, leaving the decisions and struggles to another. It was Bass, not Tularis who would make decisions of life and death for so many.
April 15th, 2004, 10:03 PM
Hours later, down in the common room. Gina and Mya lay sleeping under the table, coated in the unbelievable filth.
Boldar stood up, leaning heavily to the right. "The plablem wid girls, "he slurred his words horribly, "and drink is... bigness...er fat... er, well..." He stood up straighter for a moment, and raised his mug. "Cheers to fallen camrades!"
And he fell over unconscious to the floor.
Crom noticed his cup had fallen upright on the floor, and reached over, grabbed it, and drank the dregs. "Crom carry to bed now. Not Bodar friend, too heavy." He kicked Boldar until he was a bit nearer the fire and out of the filth near the table. "That better!"
Crom then reached down and picked up a women in each arm and lumbered up the steps to their rooms.
April 16th, 2004, 12:48 AM
By the time Cromwell got to the top of the stairs, Mya was awake. She kicked herself free, insisting that she stumble to the room under her own power.
Cromwell had never completely understood why humans did that to themselves. As ususal, he'd gone through the motions. Drinking was a cultural thing with them and he didn't want to upset any of them.
He put Gina to bed, gently brushing her off and then pulled the covers up over her.
"Hey!" Mya shouted, stumpbling she drew her sword. "What are you doing in our room, you big ogre?"
"Put you to sleep. Big day tommorrow."
"You sure you're not trying to get with her?"
"Huh? Am with her - and you."
"You'd like to think that wouldn't you?" Mya unbuttoned her shirt. "You like human women?"
The ogre nodded. "Yes. Like you. Like Boldar. Him good man."
"I don't mean like that, Silly. I mean like 'urges.' Don't ogre's have urges?" She sat back on her bed and crossed her long legs legs in a slow, drunk, exaggerated manner. "Do you find me attractive, ogre?"
"You very attractive, for human."
Mya turned around, getting on her hands and knees on the bed. "Do I give you urges?"
"Mya, we different... um... not know word."
"Of course we're different. You're a man. I'm a woman."
"I am magnalopithicus. You are homo sapiens. We different."
"Why does everyone think that Gina and I are lovers? Can't a couple of incredibly attractive women just be companions?"
"No not..." Cromwell sighed. "Me not understand humans most of time."
"Well I can assure you, Mr. Hornshmash. I am quite capable of lying with a man." She collapsed on the bed.
Cromwell stayed up on watch that night, thinking about his wife.
April 16th, 2004, 01:24 AM
Albert was busy doing Albert things. Daniel was busy eating. It was the flying that did it, plus the fire in his belly. It made him hungry. Daniel also liked to eat and because of the flying and the fire in his belly he never had to ask "did his bum look big?"
Now he fancied a large thick slice of fruit cake with plenty of little Alberts that is NUTS.
You couldn't find good cake just anywhere, especially outside this strange place, all there were was spiders and caught flies. Not that both were not tasty, bit like pork scratchings. Only one burb and any affect they had at filling the cavern he called a belly was gone.
Albert wouldn't miss him, not for a few seconds, minutes... well, maybe half an hour. Daniel sucked in a deep breath, expanding to nearly twice his size. Stuck his right forepaw round his muzzle (to stop himself exhaling too quickly) and counted to twenty then released his muzzle. He shot backwards like a released balloon, hit a slimy rock face, bounced upwards and vanished with a wail!
Ok it wasn't as neat as Albert's way of doing things but it got him where he wanted to go.
And where was he going? Well the split second after the wail he appeared at 40 thousand feet above his target and dropped like a stone right down the chimney. The chimney on the eastern wall of a farm house belonging to one mother of the Loveable Rouge, Juzzza.
"Hello Alice, got any cake..." Daniel bellowed as he hit the mound of cold ashes. cold ashes Daniel's talons flicked out. Alice without a cooking fire? Not known.
Daniel got up and trailed ashy, dusty footprints over the not so clean and tidy floor of the farmhouse kitchen. Some one had turned the place on its head....
"Alice?" Daniel called, his voice shaking. No answer; not that he expected one, something told Daniel foul deeds were afoot and it had nothing to do with chickens.
He sniffed, and began to cough. He could smell blood, human and Elf... "Oh shite..." Daniel muttered and sniffed again, following the scent up onto the large kitchen table. There written in a dull brownish red were the words... "We are aware of you, keep your distance. Stay out of our affairs and no harm will come."
"Right and I am a blue nosed Baboon" Daniel tartly said, then realised someone had made this personal. The last thing they or this world needed was for Albert to "take things personal"
"Can some one stop this world so I can get off." Daniel muttered.
"Bored already?" Albert asked behind him...
"Errr....." Daniel began
"Fu........." Albert swore as his eyes took in the situation The roof of the farmhouse lifted two feet and resettled off true at a 20 degree angle
April 16th, 2004, 02:46 AM
Alice sat in a puddle. She wouldn't have sat in one by choice, but her choices were limited at the moment.
The surviving three Elf Assassins were contemplating the body of the fourth. Alice was contemplating the iron manacles on her wrists and ankles. She was also wishing for a large juciy steak to put on her right eye. The orb was nearly closed, watering and as sore as bear's backside.
Bungled it she thought getting old and slow; still one down and three to go
"How did you..." the new leader of the elf party asked, bringing his dark face down low and peering into Alice's
"Luck?" Alice said softly. Though luck had nothing to do with it.
"Hmmm, you were able to get his knife and..." The Elf looked at the length of metal in his former leader's back. "Not luck he made a big mistake."
"You all have..." Alice said under a breath.
"No... you are bait...least there is a chance he will make some effort on your behalf, they don't like it when others mess with their TOYS"
"That' what you think I am?" Alice's voice hardened. and she shifted, bringing her legs up and getting onto her knees.
"What else could you be? A woman, living alone on a small farm, raising chickens and milking cows. You are nothing, have been nothing, done nothing." The Elf laughed.
"I was once, still am, just decided on a career change." Alice answered as she mentally prepared herself.
" What from chief whore?" the Elf barked with laughter.
"No... from Wizard's Knife.... they have to have someone watch their back when they are muttering the mumbo jumbo." As she softly spoke, Alice launched herself up, hitting the half bent over Elf, knocking him flat. Her two arms went round his neck and her mouth to his ear. She snapped the chain between her wrists hard up against his adam's apple, smashing it and his windpipe. As they fell in the muck Alice's lips moved telling the elf what she thought of his parentage as her teeth ground off the pointy bit of his ear.
The two other elves dragged her off, slamming her with their fists. As she curled into a ball to protect herself from their blows Alice watched as the New, now former Leader of the small group of Elves, struggled to breathe. One.... two.... now there was two....