Shields of the Vale

A side effect of Torog's demise
Torog's death causes ripples in fabric of the universe.

After Torog’s release from the Underdark Prison, a most curious thing occurred. Naivara, Berradin’s cousin and Victoria’s sister-in-law, was no longer able to fey step. This was not immediately life-threatening but was quite strange. Naivara then gradually lost the rest of her arcane abilities, she could no longer tap into the universe to apply her swordmage training.
Rezz’ine studied the phenomenon and came to a disturbing conclusion: The lost tribe of Eladrin had been part of the enchantment to hold Torog for so long that it was part of their racial fabric. Once Torog passed away, their enchantment was lifted and with it went all their other arcane abilities.
Out there somewhere, scattered among many dimensions, was a race of Eladrin with no magical reserves to protect them from the evils that lurked in the universe.
Could Berradin find them in time?

View
Shanna - The beginning of the end
Shanna has her future path revealed to her

SHANNA: THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Shanna sat at a distance and watched her friends depart, the promise of two years held close to her heart. She’d been the first to leave after Saran, but the truth was she didn’t feel to need to go anywhere in particular. She could pretty much go anywhere now. She wanted to see where everyone else went, so she could keep an eye on them. She knew Flea could sense her but that didn’t bother her – it was nice to be noticed sometimes. And she liked Flea.

She watched and listened as her friends left in twos and singly, and as Flea sat down scratching his chest. She was satisfied – she would be able to find them if she wanted to… or needed to. Then she moved away – it was also good to be alone sometimes.

Her eyes turned north to the Vale and she smiled. She found it odd how Torog’s curse was actually a blessing for her. She’d stopped thinking of the Vale as her home long ago and now that she couldn’t return the planes were hers to wander. Anyway the Vale and its people were protected and made safe by a god’s loving sacrifice and the various defenders who remained behind.

She turned and her keen senses saw the faintest smoke on the horizon to the south and she frowned. There was still a reckoning due for the Iron Circle… perhaps it was time to eliminate that threat. She also glanced eastward over the water, remembering the small delegation of motley rangers who had asked for assistance from far away to fight an evil and warlike empire.

And there were other places, centres of evil and undeath scattered over this world that could be cleansed. She couldn’t pick one thing so maybe she’d just do it all.
“Right then,” she muttered, hoisting her pack. “Let’s…

She blinked.

…go.”

And she was elsewhere. It all felt vaguely familiar and yet she was sure she’d never been here before. Grey green mist circled endlessly at knee height and although she could feel something that she was sure was ground underfoot, she couldn’t see it. Vague shadows of trees and other things clung to the edges of her vision and yet she couldn’t quite focus on them.

“Hello Wayfinder,” said a tired voice.

Shanna stopped trying to work out where she was. She knew that voice.

“Hello Treespeaker,” she said turning around, and there he was. Young and old, skin more like bark than she remembered and a sad smile on his face. They hadn’t really spoken the last time she was with her people. It had been a pretty busy time with all those demons and then she’d rushed off to help her friends. She’d felt a bit bitter about his deception that night, but without it she wouldn’t have survived this long. And now that he was actually here, her ill feeling was strangely absent.

She reached out a hand and placed it on his shoulder. It was warm and dry to the touch and she could feel the life pulsing beneath her hand. “It is good to see you,” she said and hugged him warmly
.
“And you also Wayfinder,” he said as she broke off the hug. She sensed apprehension in his voice.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, smiling cheekily. “Are you going to do something else for my own good that I’m not going to like again? I’m up for it.”

He sighed, wincing a little at the gentle barb of her words and shook his head.

“I am merely here, Wayfinder, because I asked to be. You could not come to me and the reach of my power is not unlimited. I wanted to see you again to clear the air between us but I see it was not necessary. It is obvious that this silly old man was worried about nothing. I am proud of you and what you have become and you really don’t need my counsel anymore.” He smiled and patted her shoulder. Then stopped and let his hand drop, his face serious. “But I did not invite you here to this place.”

Shanna arched an eyebrow. She’d been practicing and knew it meant asking an unspoken question. With her face.

The Treespeaker shook his head. “It is not my place to say. But I will walk with you to them. And then will leave. They wait there,” he said pointing, and Shanna saw a faint glow in the distance. She was sure it wasn’t there a moment ago.

“Right then,” she said, taking the Treespeaker’s arm. “Let’s go.”


Shanna was unsure how long they walked, but it felt like the exact right amount of time. She and the Treespeaker talked about many things before lapsing into silence as the glow of a campfire in a grove (Trees? Shanna thought Where did they come from?) grew nearer. And where three figures waited, gathered around the flickering flames.

Now she could feel a familiar power all around them and looked at the Treespeaker nervously.

“Are they…?” she asked. She didn’t want to say the word ‘gods’. She just had taken part in the death of one. Maybe they were angry – her limited knowledge of them portrayed then like one big dysfunctional family.

He nodded slowly. “And here is where I must leave you, for their business is not mine. But it was good to see you again Shanna. May you travel safe.”

As he turned to go Shanna reached out and hugged him fiercely. “Thank you,” she whispered and let him go. “But I have a question – can you please answer it properly? No riddles, no avoidance, no questions as answers?”

“I am out of practice with such a thing but I will try,” he smiled, eyes twinkling.

“What are you?” Shanna blurted. She’d meant to ask something else but she’d always wondered.

The Treespeaker paused thoughtfully. “Once… I was an elf. Now… I am more.” He shrugged. “It is not something I can explain. You have the Green Dream – I live that Dream. In some ways I am that Dream. I am connected with it and it with me. But once, I was an elf. And perhaps that is the most important part to remember.”

“Are you a… god?” she asked, whispering the last word and biting her lip. She didn’t want to say it wrong and annoy him.

He chuckled wheezily and Shanna swore she could hear the wind in the leaves of a forest. “No, Shanna, that is one thing I most definitely am not.” He looked at the grove. “But they wait and you must go. They grow impatient. I hope to see you again.”

“And I you Treespeaker,” Shanna said, her cheeks wet. She didn’t remember starting to cry, but she was. She wiped her tears away as best she could and checked her pack was resting easy on her shoulder.

“Right then,” she said waving goodbye to the Treespeaker, and stepped towards the fire.

She had to duck to enter the clearing and felt the warmth of the fire immediately. There was actual ground underfoot now and the smells of earth and life lingered in her nostrils. The three figures huddled over the fire turned toward her, revealing themselves. She stopped, shocked.

“Greetings…” said the Maiden, with the joy of spring.

“… Shanna…” said the Mother, with the warmth of summer.

“… Wayfinder,” said the Crone, with the cold of winter.

“Come. Join us. You are welcome,” they chorused together as Shanna dropped to her knees, stunned.

“I-I am s-sorry for the loss of your b-brother,” Shanna whispered, stammering.

The Maiden and Mother nodded in acknowledgement sadly, and the Crone replied. “He was lost long ago.”

“We have much else to discuss…” said the Maiden gaily.

“… but know that in this…” the Mother said warmly.

“… we are pleased. Our brother is finally free. But now, another task awaits,” they chorused.

“Arise,” said the Maiden, taking Shanna’s hand gently and lifting her easily to her feet.

“Drink,” said the Mother, holding a cup of something that both soothed and burned as it was poured down Shanna’s throat.

“Listen,” said the Crone, looking deeply into Shanna’s eyes.

“Remember,” they chorused, and Shanna fell into eternity.


Shanna waited and watched for the others impatiently. She’d checked up on them from time to time, but she’d moved around a lot in the last two years.

“Or eleven,” she thought, thinking that felt about right as far as time went for her. It didn’t really matter. She’d been busy and had so much to tell them. To ask of them too.

END

View
Time passes
What happened in the next two years

The Shields had gone their separate ways. Some singly and some together.

The Vale experienced a time of peace. The damage suffered from the demonic invasion of the Vale left its marks but they faded over the seasons.

The world had changed.

Torog had been vanquished, the Shields of the Vale had entered his dark caverns so far below and had destroyed him, or so the Bard’s tales said.

The large force of humanoid monsters that had unbelievably moved peacefully through the Vale had last been seen heading south into the Nerathi wastes. They had not returned.

The Iron Circle had stopped its raids along the northern coast. Some said the Shields had taught them a lesson, others knew that the Circle was fighting for its survival to the south.

Tiefling’s throughout the land were now giving birth to non-tiefling children. The marks of the devil-pact did not mark their children any longer. The Tieflings themselves had begun to slowly change also. Their horns were gradually receding and they became ever more human.

Rumours were passed that the fell court survivors were now holed up in the ruins of Bael-Turath, where the devils still roamed.

Sightings of dragons had become common-place. The creatures flew high and fast but rarely a day went by where one was not spotted winging overhead.

View
Bittersweet Symphony
The Shields face Torog beneath the earth

The Shields followed their Troglodyte guides away from the remains of the Squid KIng and his relocated lair. Using the staff of tongues the Shields were able to speak with the lizards, whose native tongue was Deep Speech.

After several hours with their “fragrant” guides Flea got the definite impression that the troglodytes were being deceptive and leading them in the wrong direction. Berradin and others also noticed that the lizards did not have any symbols to Torog. In fact they had totems to Tiamat, Goddess of Dragons and dragonkind.

The Shields stopped their progress and interrogated their guides. The guides admitted that they were taking the Shields away from Torog. Tiamat had sent them dream messages to lure the Shields away, as they were unlikely to survive against Torog presently.

The Shields drove the troglodytes off and had Shanna return them back to their arrival area. Saran summoned her wood woad who informed her that they were less than three hundred yards from Torog.

Flea performed a ritual to allow them a full nights rest within an hour, and as the Shields rested the wood woad proceeded to scout out the underground environment around them, taking care to avoid Torog himself. The wood woad found the remains of Bael Turath, an ancient Tiefling city that was sunk into the earth by Torog so many years ago.

The Shields had recovered from their battle with the Squid King and, fully refreshed, made their way to Torog’s chamber.

The Shields encountered three young Gnoll warriors on the way down the winding corridors and the pups lead them right to Torog’s doorstep.

Torog’s chamber was over three hundred feet wide and Torog was near the center of the cavern. Torog would stand over twenty feet tall when upright and was still covered in the scars of his battle with the Primordial he had battled in this cavern over 5000 years previously.

Lengths of chain were wrapped around his lower, mangled legs and spread out around him in long, writhing coils up to twenty feet away. Nearby was the smudged outline of a summoning and binding circle.

Torog was kneeling as the Shields entered the cavern. “Welcome my guests. Please come forward.”

The Shields spread out and approached Torog warily. Torog looked them over, especially focusing on the DawnForged weapons that they were all wielding.

Torog then spoke again, “You will not be going home.” It sounded more like a statement of fact than a threat.

“Orcus had convinced me that there was only one key to my prison but after much thought I have determined there is another way. All seven Dawnforged weapons in one place can alter reality and attain the impossible. Now they are all here for me.”

Torog raised himself to a standing position with the chains acting as splints to keep him upright. “I have lost so much, including my brother, and you are always involved. This ends today. Let us begin”

Torog shook the chains to loosen and free them. Then he waited.

Shanna’s first arrows exploded against his chest without leaving a mark. Torog did not respond.

The Shields moved in, carefully stepping through the floor of chains to get close to Torog. They struck at him but could not get past his defenses.

Torog sighed and then he acted. He swung multiple lengths of chain at the Shields gathered around him, knocking Victoria and several others off their feets and away from him, now restrained by the chains around them.

Nesh released a guttural roar and charged the God. His will was strong and his heert and aim were true. A massive blow connected against Torog’s leg rocking the giant.

The Shields continued their assault but most of their attacks proved fruitless as Torog’s defenses were nigh unassailable. Torog cast a spell upon Berradin and even used his restrained opponents to block attacks made by their companions.

’Droth saw the futility of the battle and his revenge would not be denied. He prayed to Moradin for guidance. The reply was quick and direct, “Unlock the artifacts, the girly elf will know how.”

’Droth yelled to Berradin, “We need to release the dawnforged weapons power”

Berradin considered the information and managed to ignore who the source of the information was. He looked inwards, then extended his power around FlameShadow. YES. There was more power that was available. They needed to attune to the weapons.

Berradin tuned out the battle and skillfully unlocked the reserves held within FlameShadow. He then realised that the enhancement could not last long.
“You must bond with the artifacts. We must all be attuned or this will not work.”

The Shields one by one communed, coerced, bonded or bullied their artifacts into alignment and then all of them felt power beyond description fill their minds and muscles.

They struck back at Torog and finally overwhelmed his defenses, leaving new wounds upon his flesh.

Torog fought back hard and injured the Shields but they were desperate and fighting for the world and not just their lives.

So much damage had been done to Torog that he decide to change the playing field. He fired chains into the ceiling of the cavern and lifted himself and the coilde chains over 30 feet off the ground. Many of the Shields were caught in his chains and when they freed themselves fell to the floor far below.

Victoria flew up to face Torog and other Shields climbed up the chains or teleported to Torog. ‘Droth used his massive strength and muleback harness to drag Torog’s chains down, leaving Torog only five feet off the ground.

The Shields unleashed a flurry of blows that devastated the God. He smiled at them “Finally I am free. Enjoy your victory.” Torog fired barbed chains from the floor at his surrounding foes. Saran was horribly impaled and when Torog pulled the chains back to him Saran’s lifeless body was ripped in two. ‘Droth rushed to saran’s side to try and heal her but the damage was beyond his ability. ’Droth pulled her two halves back together as a sign of respect.

Torog dropped to his knees and began to discorporate. His divine energies were released and washed over the Shields and his cavern. The Dawnforged weapons fell apart and all the non-permanent magic items with the Shields supercharged and burnt out.

Saran’s eyes opened. Torog’s released energies had healed her mortal wounds.

The Shields were stunned by what had transpired and after recovering their composure asked the Gnoll pups to take them to the surface.

Several days later the Shields emerged from cave tunnels on the East face of the Dragonspine Mountains, near the ruins made by the Chaos Scar.

They headed to the summit of the mountain range but found that they could not enter the Nentir Vale. A powerful compulsion had been impressed upon them with Torog’s death. They could not go home to the Vale. They had saved their land and friends but would not be able to celebrate their victory with those they loved and protected.

The Shields looked East towards the coast, to the world beyond the Nentir Vale.

They might be cursed to wander away from the Vale but that did not mean that they wouldn’t try to get back there someday. There must be something out in the world that could end this geas.

The Shields marched down the mountain side drifting away from the Vale and each other, a promise to meet back here in two years on their lips.

End of Book 2.

View
The lair of the Squid King
Our heroes finish with their Paragon enemies

The seven-pillared hall quickly emptied as the visitors, traders and mercenaries scarpered into exit tunnels around the main cavern.

Saran appeared from out of nowhere and rejoined her companions. She seemed satisfied by the news of Razor’s end.
Ptolus and Citrionna Ambershard appeared from a side tunnel and made their way to the Shields. They offered to take them back to their quarters, where the Shields could rest, recover and make plans. The level 2 Saruun Mage also came with them.

In the Ambershard’s quarters, the Shields debated what had just occurred and made ready their plans to find the Squid King. The nameless Saruun Mage who was with them offered to lead them to the Squid King’s Lair, as he too was marked as an enemy of Ovaad Zeer, level 1 Saruun Mage known by the Shields as the Squid King.

The Squid King began broadcasting to the Shields inside the Ambershard’s Quarters. He offered to return Shadowhunter and promised no harm would come to nameless mage or the Ambershards, but in return the Shields would leave here and never return.

The Shields did consider that they would have achieved their main objective but Berradin did not wish to leave the Squid King in power, and certainly did not wish to make a binding agreement where they could never deal with the Squid King if he did indeed become a threat to them or others.

Berradin was sure that the connection that the Squid King had with the far realm would eventually make him a gateway that would allow the horrors that dwelled there to enter into the prime material plane. To Berradin that made him as much of a threat as Torog.

Shanna partially listened to the blah blah blah of the Shields and their foe, she was more interested in the sounds that were emanating from the rock around them. ’Droth too became aware that stress was being placed upon the stone in their vicinity. Shanna warned the Shields to get out and started moving to the front door. The Shields followed with nameless while Citrionna lagged behind, packing some of her more irreplaceable spell books and tomes. Ptolus assisted his wife and they made their way to the front door just as the roof collapsed on their domicile, crushing them and their belongings beneath hundreds of tons of stone.

The Shields and nameless made their way towards the caverns of the Squid King, managing to avoid many more rockfalls along the way.

They finally were in the final corridor leading to Squid King’s quarters. They moved into the cavern and found themselves facing two Bronze Minotaurs, who guarded the entryway, and behind them was a dark pool of water that filled a very large cavern.

The Shields engaged the Minotaurs. In the hallway outside the cavern, nameless was at the back of the party with Shanna and Saran, his eyes began to glow purple and then a ray erupted out of him and washed over Shanna, which seemed to have no obvious effect. Shanna had been prepared for nameless to betray them so filled him with some arrows. Saran too turned her weapon upon nameless. Nameless desperately fired magic missiles at Shanna, knowing how destructive she was. He was not working for the Squid King, but the Squid King was linked to all lower tier mages of Saruun and could use them as his eyes and ears.

Dark energies were cast from the cavern pool striking at Nesh, and this revealed the curse that was upon Shanna. Any damage that the Squid King caused to any foes would also be felt by Shanna. Shanna was bleeding from many wounds now and knew she had to sever the Squid King’s link to nameless. So nameless’s head was severed by Saran and Shanna.

Nesh dove into the cavern pool to find the Squid King. He found the wizard but was pounced upon by a Chuul, an underwater giant lobster aberration, that served the mage. Victoria also dove in to assist, and battel was finally joined with Ovaad Zeer.

’Droth, Saran, Shanna and Berradin targeted the Bronze Minotaurs while Flea tried to assist while recovering from a blindness spell that had been cast upon him by the Squid King.
Nesh and Victoria applied pressure to the Squid King and his Chuul.

Several Shields noticed that the water in the cavern pool was beginning to lower, Shanna could feel some movement in the stone around this chamber. The hallway outside collapsed.

The Shields had badly damaged the minotaurs so Flea, Saran and Berradin had gone to assist Vicki and Nesh while ’Droth and Shanna finished the Minotaurs. The Squid King decided to retreat and hastily swam away from the Shields, but the lowered water level left him vulnerable to an attack from above, which Saran gladly obliged.

The water had fully drained through now visible large cracks around the edge of the cavern. The Shields felt the ground shift and then the whole cavern floor plunged downwards building up in velocity.

The Squid King feebly attempted to resist the Shields but was eliminated efficiently and quickly.

The Shields felt an aura of magic surround them and pin them to the cavern floor as it rushed ever deeper downwards.

The descent finally stopped and ’Droth estimated they were at the bottom of the Underdark. The Shields and their cavern were in a larger chamber which seemed to have many branching corridors running off it.

A small delegation of Troglodytes, underground dwelling lizard-men, approached the Shields and offered to guide them to Torog, who was expecting them. The Troglodytes told the Shields that they were three days travel from the Crawling God’s home.

to be continued

View
The Bear jumped over the moon
Nesh has a night of wonder

The once-Bugbear Dragonborn looked out into the night sky from the balcony of the tavern. Around him, the hill-town was quiet. Nesh wondered at the moon, smiling fat and bright as it floated across a sea of cloud. He was grateful for that moment to drink in peace.

His heart filled to remember Victoria sleeping soundly within, but a quiet longing remained. This place was not his home, or his love’s. His tribe was scattered. He missed Shanna; so potent and so earnest, like a godchild struggling to adapt to mortal custom. He missed Droth, the brash boy with power beyond his wisdom, who had grown to a champion of righteousness. He missed Saran, the warmly smiling angel of cold death. He missed Flea, the strange and smelly little creature of magic; so loyal and humble and good. He even missed his academy-brother Berradin, the precocious and glory-seeking scholar of power, whose courage often rivalled his vanity. He missed little Dinnan, clever, deadly and irrepressible; and Mal, golden, shining and selfless. Each was a hero worthy of songs and tales, and to Nesh, each was family, many of whom he might never see again.

He thought sadly of friends beyond reach. He thought of Grik, the warrior-brother of his heart, who now cared for a wife and daughter, and Xinto, his father. He thought of the Academy, and the crowd at the Red Carpet. He thought of Victoria’s family and of her home; beyond their seeing or their going. Nesh stared at his scaled hands, still surprisingly unfamiliar. He would help his lady home, though the seeking would likely take more patience than charging into a battle.

A laugh carried to Nesh from the cobbled street. He looked to its source, a beautiful and familiar sight. Nesh had no idea when or why Victoria had risen and walked downstairs to stand in the empty road, why she was dressed in a flowing gown, or where she would lead him to as she beckoned and walked away.

In his tunic, the drop to the street from over the balcony railing was effortless. Nesh caught up with Victoria in a few quick strides and fell wordlessly into step beside her. After a time, they reached a small shrine, where she turned, pulled him close and kissed him.

“Do you love me?’, she asked.

“In this life and the next.”

She laughed. “You are sweet, changeling.”

Nesh opened his eyes. In his embrace was not his lady, but a lustrous and beautiful figure, dressed in silver and black hooded robes. Whether it was human or elf, man or woman, Nesh could not say.
Ergh. Magicians. Always so pretty.

“What are you, trickster?”

“Yes. Trickster, I am. But you, changeling…you are her greatest trick.”

“Her? Her who?”

“Her who made you. Your mother.” The moonlight shifted around the stranger. Where the priest(ess) stood, now crouched an impossibly old bugbearess. From Nesh’s earliest memories, he recognised the ritual scarring and skin and bone cloak of the she-shaman.

His mind reached for her name. “Um…Um-or…”

“Umawagh. Yes. Mother.”

“My mother…?”

The old one clubbed at his head with her heavy hand. “No. Umawagh did not whelp changeling. Umawagh tribe-mother”

“I remember you.”

“Umawagh nurse you. Umawagh hide you. Then you strong. Strong to walk. Umawagh sell you to Hobs. Hobs pay three fat bunny-hoppits. Hobs do not fear changeling.”

“Why did you sell me?”

“You changeling. Bad omen. Bad magic. Umawagh want to crush, but kill changeling bring more bad magic. Feed you. Sell you. Safe. Yes.”

“What does that mean, “changeling”?”

“You bad magic. Mother young. No mate. But belly grow fast with bad magic. One moon. One! She grow with whelp from full moon until very next full moon – then changeling come too soon. Full big. Too soon. Bad magic.”

“What happened to my mother?”

“We crush. Must crush. Whelped changeling. Bad omen. Bad magic.”

“But you…protected me?”

“Changeling not for tribe to crush. Bugbear whelp for Bugbear father to crush.”

“And…you said I had no father.”

“Umawagh say mother no mate. Father different story. Father song.”

“A song?”

“Well…to be pedantic, it’s actually a lament.” The voice had changed. The moonlight shifted again. Umawagh was gone, and a friendly face remained in her place.

“Jonas?”

The bard tipped his cap with a smile. “It’s been too long, my mighty friend.”

“Why are you here?”

“Perhaps to sing you a song. The one song you never wanted me to sing. In or out of your presence.”

Nesh thought and growled. “The Song of Jagganash. After the Tiamat-child changed me, people wanted to give me the glory of a dead hero’s name and honour. You encouraged it. I didn’t like it.”

“As I said, it’s actually the Lament of Jagganash. Do you know why it’s a lament?”

Nesh shook his head.

“Jagganash is remembered as the Unstoppable, a legend of battle; the Arkosian Empire’s Dreadnought in the Tiefling wars. But he was no dour warrior born. He was a brother of my vocation.”

“A…bard?”

“Yes. An artist, a poet and a hopeless romantic. A soul so inclined to the divine mysteries of love that he fell utterly in love with the symbol of love itself, a lover who would never hold anything but his heart.” Jonas gestured skyward.

“You’re talking about…the moon? That’s…ridiculous.”

“Yes. And of such ridiculous love are the greatest of songs written. Jagganash’s adoration and devotion was so powerful, that the mistress of the moon loved him back. And when dark and corrupting forces conspired to abuse her and take her mystery and majesty for their own purposes, her dragon-heart poet took up arms and became an unstoppable force in her defence. Devils, warlocks, witches, vile creatures of the dark, they all wanted her power. And Jagganash, a lover of peace, smashed them all. Until the night he brought a citadel of tiefling warlocks down upon themselves, and his Lady called him unto herself, that their love might live forever.”

Nesh stared at the moon. He thought of Victoria. In the corner of his eye, the moonlight shifted again, returning the figure of the robed priest(ess).

“What is this place?” Nesh asked.

“This, changeling, is the shrine of Our Divine Mistress Sehanine, Goddess of the Moon and Autumn, Patroness of Trickery, Illusions…”

“…and love.”, finished Nesh.

“Yes, beloved. And love.”

+

Victoria woke at dawn to find Nesh smiling at her.

She raised an eyebrow at him sleepily. “Is there some reason for you to look so happy first thing in the morning?”

“There is, my love. For the first time in my life – I know what I am.”

View
Victoria and Nesh sitting in a tree
Feelings are shared as a lost member returns

Earnestly, I’m glad you’re keen to have this chat. Nesh’s feelings for Victoria have long been one of the most interesting elements of the character to play – it’s very cool that we have each “accepted the offer” as they say in the improv world and been able to have some fun with it and turn
into a significant, if not game defining, arc within the story. Yay, romance! (Doomed or otherwise…)

Anyhoo, I don’t know if you imagined Victoria beginning this conversation, but with the emotional state Nesh was in when last we left them, I feel like the second they have a moment alone and Victoria begins to say anything to him, he is going to emotionally boil over and start ranting a little too quickly and animatedly:

“My Lady, my Captain, with all due respect I insist that you listen. I have followed you and I have been loyal. I have served you as best as I have been able. I have soldiered under your command.
I have waited upon your comings and goings. I have at times stood uncomfortably as your proxy in your absence and tried to play leader.
All of this ends now. I am not your soldier. I am your right arm. I am your shadow. I am your shield.
When Grik took his retirement, I swore an oath that I would stay at your
side, that I would fight with you and defend you until the very end. He understood what you do not. That while Gods stand against us, my honour, my purpose and my being is to guard your breath with the last of mine.
What happened here, you being… taken… unknown to me, unseen by me, so far outside my reach – that can not happen again. Not while I live. From now on, until this war is over, where you go, I go.
This is the way of things.”

For a long moment Victoria stared at Nesh, shocked into silence. At first it was simply surprise that he had spoken over her – she couldn’t remember the last time that had happened, or even if it had ever happened. She was beginning to flip through her memories in search of a precedent when that insistent part of her mind that always, always listened to Nesh began clamoring for attention.

When she turned her attention to his voice, the world seemed to shift just a little beneath her feet. It was a sensation that she had experienced, frankly, rather more often than she liked recently. Especially over the past… however long it had been since she died.

It was ridiculous, really. She had died, and Bahamut had brought her back, and he had died, and every rule in the world seemed to have changed, and yet the only thing she seemed able to focus on was Nesh’s voice. His voice, not his words, because she knew somehow that what he was really saying was not exactly what he was saying, but something else, something much more important, and…

…and she didn’t know what it was. She knew it was important, that she had to say something, for herself as well as for him, but she could not even grasp what they were talking about. Furious, she cursed herself for a fool.

Nobody who knew Victoria would suggest that she had ever been terribly good at dealing with feelings. Awful at it, really, outside of a tiny circle of people whom she had known since her earliest memories. She blamed her father in bitter moments and herself in dark ones, but for the most part she was content to simply shut them away – after all, there were so many more important things to deal with. She knew it was a failing, really, but the focus and control that resulted had almost always seemed sufficient reward to warrant it. Now she felt that failing more keenly than she had thought possible; feelings she couldn’t simply shut away roiled within her, raw and potent – fear, rage, frustration, and others she could not even name.

She was drowning.

It wasn’t until she felt the cool touch of Nesh’s breastplate against her brow that she realized she had even moved, but the contact immediately calmed her. Nesh, her rock. Closing her eyes, she leaned into the touch, wondering if perhaps one rule in the world had not changed after all.

For a long moment Victoria stared at Nesh, shocked into silence. At first it was simply surprise that he had spoken over her – she couldn’t remember the last time that had happened, or even if it had ever happened. She was beginning to flip through her memories in search of a precedent when that insistent part of her mind that always, always listened to Nesh began clamoring for attention.

When she turned her attention to his voice, the world seemed to shift just a little beneath her feet. It was a sensation that she had experienced, frankly, rather more often than she liked recently. Especially over the past… however long it had been since she died.

It was ridiculous, really. She had died, and Bahamut had brought her back, and he had died, and every rule in the world seemed to have changed, and yet the only thing she seemed able to focus on was Nesh’s voice. His voice, not his words, because she knew somehow that what he was really saying was not exactly what he was saying, but something else, something much more important, and…

…and she didn’t know what it was. She knew it was important, that she had to say something, for herself as well as for him, but she could not even grasp what they were talking about. Furious, she cursed herself for a fool.

Nobody who knew Victoria would suggest that she had ever been terribly good at dealing with feelings. Awful at it, really, outside of a tiny circle of people whom she had known since her earliest memories. She blamed her father in bitter moments and herself in dark ones, but for the most part she was content to simply shut them away – after all, there were so many more important things to deal with. She knew it was a failing, really, but the focus and control that resulted had almost always seemed sufficient reward to warrant it. Now she felt that failing more keenly than she had thought possible; feelings she couldn’t simply shut away roiled within her, raw and potent – fear, rage, frustration, and others she could not even name.

She was drowning.

It wasn’t until she felt the cool touch of Nesh’s breastplate against her brow that she realized she had even moved, but the contact immediately calmed her. Nesh, her rock. Closing her eyes, she leaned into the touch, wondering if perhaps one rule in the world had not changed after all.

Something had happened. Nesh breathed. In. And out. He’d known time to slow on a battlefield; a calming of the heart in a storm of disarray. Time slowed like that now. In battle, he’d seen from outside his eyes. He’d seen…more. Nesh saw like that now.
In his arms, that had moments earlier lashed at the air in anger, rested Victoria. Against his chest, that had moments earlier pounded with primal feeling, rested his lady. Something had happened. Nesh breathed, in and out, and knew her smell as home.
Victoria. For so long, his Captain, his duty, his hope, his reason.
Now, something had happened. Clarity. Truth.
Victoria. The one he loved.
Nesh stroked his lady’s hair and kissed her head, keeping his embrace tight. He took a slow breath in and repeated himself, in a voice gentle but firm enough to be an oath.
“Where you go, I go. This is the way of things.”

View
Saran's rest
Saran journeys towards her destiny.

Finally they were here, and TOROG awaited them. Saran was eager for the battle to begin. It was the maimed god’s time. His moment was upon him, and He must know it. He was marked for the Raven Queen and she would not be denied.

Saran almost pitied Him as she looked around the tunnels. An immortal shackled here, bound to darkness in a shattered body for eternity, never able to look upon the sun.
It would be enough to drive anyone mad.
Her mouth crooked with a tiny smile as she remembered a fleeting image from her past – one of the precious few original memories left to her of her old life – of chasing through the forests near her home, laughing in the warm sun… but the almost-smile died on her lips as another memory intruded. Her betrothed ran along side with her. Razor. Betrayer. Bringer of pain and loss. Murderer.

Saran straightened and berated herself for losing focus. TOROG was there, and as the Shields prepared, she remembered to not appear too eager. Her friends did not like to see it, and would not understand. So she allowed thoughts of her friends to veil her excitement.
It was still strange to her that even after all this time they allowed her a place in their company. Each was noble in their own way. Each with their own strength. And Saran, the outsider, the Revenant among them who did not belong, tasked with terrible deeds… but still they accepted her. It was… pleasing.

The battle was joined, and once the dawn-forged weapons had been unlocked Saran knew TOROG would fall. But before it was done, her body was torn asunder and with her last breath came the realization that she would not complete her task… she would fail her Lady! And the disappointment had burned through her worse than any wound.
Then all thought faded and was gone as life slipped from her.

Saran felt at piece. Content finally in death. Welcomed it… and was at rest.

Then abruptly – once more – life returned to her. She LIVED again! Saran exulted.
She remembered her last moments and vowed never to disappoint her mistress again. Failure was pain worse than death!

So while the Shields made their way to the surface, Saran brooded over the troglodytes comments; if TIAMAT believed that they were unworthy, that she was not worthy – then she would find herself sadly mistaken. Anger and pain had been given purpose and direction… and when the Shields finally walked under the open skies again, Saran knew that she was worthy. TIAMAT was right to test them, a weapon needs to be tempered. And Saran’s eyes burned with a cold light; she was the chosen weapon of her Lady. The Dagger in the night, the one who would do what others could not. It was all she would ever need.

As her friends bid each other their farewells, Saran slipped away, eager in the knowing that her work could begin.

View
Flea's Journey
Torog is faced, a destiny is revealed.

As they prepared to face against Torog, Flea felt the weight of Shadowhunter in his hands. It wasn’t meant for him. In its heart, it still half believed it was an axe, made for a mighty warrior, charging into battle. Yet it had been changed, moulded into something strange and ill-fitting, made to fit a different role. Flea knew what that was like. Flea still half-believed that he was just a goblin, keeping his head down to stay out of trouble. Flea had never been a great warrior charging into battle. Yet he had also been changed, moulded into something strange and ill-fitting, made to fit a different role. He had become a hero carrying a hero’s weapon. For this moment at least, hero and weapon were matched. Flea felt the presence of the crescent moon birthmark on his chest marking him at birth as a child of fate.

As Torog’s vanquished body disappeared before them, Flea felt Shadowhunter departing as well. As the healer, he should have been the one helping Saran as the wash of divine energy that filled the room somehow restored her broken body to life once more. Yet instead he stood transfixed, still not truly believing that a goblin could fight a god, let alone win. He had come to Bugbear Nesh and his Shields to help them, and he had helped them time and again, but it was only now, having been joined with them in this moment that Flea realised he was actually one of them. He was only a goblin from the swamps, but in this moment, he stood alongside fellow heroes as one of them. Flea was held in the wonder of it all, not even realising that he was scratching at his chest as he stood there.

As the Shields stepped from the tunnels to feel sunlight once again, Flea was confused in his emotions. For the first time ever in his life, he felt like he belonged; and yet, the Shields were going their separate ways, fulfilling their individual destinies, and for the first time ever, he had no idea where he was headed. Usually the world had a way of showing Flea what was needed if he took the time to look, but at this moment, the world simply seemed … relieved. As if to vex him further, something had been biting at his chest. It wasn’t the first time a new “friend” had been impatient waiting for a meal and taken a bite even from its own shelter. It happened often, but this one itched like nothing before. While the other Shields talked about their plans, Flea quietly undid his shirt, ready to heal the bite. Instead he saw his birthmark inflamed and sore, along with seven of his many skin spots. This was no insect bite; it was nothing he had seen before. Once again, the world was calling to Flea, but it would take time to understand what it was saying. Flea quickly pulled his shirt closed. Shanna had seen it all of course, but had also discerned that Flea didn’t wish to talk about it, and to her credit, she didn’t ask.

As they said their final farewells, swearing to meet again two years hence, and turned toward their different paths, Flea knew that he would see each of them before then, would journey for a while with each of them. And he would see many lands he had never seen before, different realms on different planes. But for now his place was here. This entrance to the lower depths would serve as his shelter while he listened to what the world had to say. As the others headed off, Flea sat down in the dirt and scratched his chest.

View
Saran - the hooded one
Saran meets with the Raven Queen

The mists began to enclose Saran as she appeared within the Shadowfell.

The black stones crunching under her feet, the dry cool feel of the mist over her skin, the faint scent of tulips and the whispers of the recently gathered, all filled her being with a sense of familiarity and satisfaction.

Saran headed to the vaults. She moved heedlessly past the cathedral of finality’s silent, terrible guardians and entered into the hall of destiny. Saran basked in her Lady’s presence as she drifted towards the throne of lost souls. Saran dropped to one knee before her Lady.

The Raven Queen’s gaze fell upon Saran, seeming to study her to the depths of her soul-shadow. The Lady moved her right hand almost infinitisemally, a gesture for Saran to approach.

Saran raised herself up and slowly moved closer to the Dark Lady.

“Razor still lives” stated the Lady

“My apologies great Lady. I will remedy that” confirmed Saran

“You have mistaken my intent. This was a reward for efficient and loyal service in my name” breathed the Dark Lady.

“Reward” Saran’s confusion was evident.

“I had assumed that you wished to be the one to end his story” the whisper was almost warm.

“Oh!” Saran understood now.

“Make no mistake Saran, you are important to me. You are my right hand of resolutions guaranteed.”

There was a flicker of a … smile ? … or so Saran thought.

“You have chosen able companions. God-touched … God-marked. One of them has dealt with Razor as we speak, though the cost of that might be more than your allies can afford.” sighed the Lady of Ravens.

The God of the deceased paused. She was still, the surface of her face finally broke into a mournful expression that almost drove Saran to her knees in horror. The Raven Queen’s full gaze clawed across Saran’s soul. The Lady’s voice rasped out a whisper that roared in Saran’s soul, “I will take my brother now dearest one”

Saran concentrated and streams of gossamer like residuum flowed from around her and gradually coalesced into the majestic form of Bahamut. His impressive frame showed no signs of damage and yet he seemed … diminished. Bahamut looked down at his hands wonderingly as he began to take in his surroundings.

“Welcome brother” breathed the Lady

“Sister.” he acknowledged.

“My servants will guide you the rest of the way to your well deserved rest”
Bahamut nodded.

“You do not rail at your fate. Your stoicism is a credit to you” The Raven Queen stared intently looking deeply into his being.

“I achieved what I needed to. My sacrifice was not in vain. I have no regrets. My spear-maiden will ensure justice is served.” Bahamut sadly smiled.

“My right-hand shall be with them” she affirmed. “It won’t be long now.”

Servants of the Raven Queen emerged from the shadows and gently took the hands of Bahamut. He looked back at his sister and his eyes began to cloud and eventually dulled to white orbs. Bahamut shambled from the hall in the helpful arms of the servants.

“He is no longer.” The Lady of Ravens looked at Saran. “His divine spark is gone from him, scattered over the prime material plane. Another may rise in his place but my brother’s time is past.”

The Raven Queen slightly shook her head and looked over at Saran. “Go join your companions. The Shields need their dagger.”

Saran headed out into the Shadowfell mists and drifted back to where she was needed.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.