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Chant - Four years later
Mon, 08 Aug 2011 05:39:51 GMT"One of the first lessons any student of the Art must learn is how to separate illusion from reality," Chant said, as he stood at the center of a semi-circle of twenty students, mostly prospective initiates of the Corona Cor Igne, and therefore Tiefling, but with a few beings of other races. The Bright Kingdom maintained several Arcanae, but several wizards piled their trade as independent agents. and the Flamehearts had the benefit of notoriety, not to mention exclusivity. Tieflings were rare enough in the land that any of Chant's race who ventured abroad was likely to be assumed a member of the Flamehearts, whether or not that was in fact true. The fact that Chant was not only a Tiefling, but a recognized (and even celebrated, albeit in a very minor fashion) member of the Animus Igne, The Order of the Flaming Mind, meant that Chant was expected to spend some time in what the Seneschal called "outreach." The lesson had been going for nearly two hours, the students standing that entire time. Chant found it focused the mind of his students to have them stand with him during the lesson. Besides, it made cleaning up the space easier.
He considered the air in front of him for a moment, and the image of a dragon roaring in an icy cave filled a space perhaps a hand's width on each side. "Sometimes, this is a trivial matter, and even one untutored in the arcane can distinguish it." He gestured at the dragon, still roaring silently, while the tiny figures of an elf, two dwarves and a cloaked figure with red skin battled it. "This tableau is obviously illusory, an image of some other place and time," he smiled inwardly as the dragon reared its head and fell under the onslaught of the tiny warriors. The minuscule figure of a Dwarven ranger raised twin axes in triumph. "But not all illusions are so obvious, and their purposes vary according to the whim of the caster. Be seated." He gestured to the chairs that stood behind the students, dropping the illusion in front of him as he did so.
Twenty figures found their seats, but only nineteen actually sat in them. From Chant's left, he heard a yelp of surprise. With a stately turn, he faced the sound, and saw Wroth, her pale red skin flushing at her cheeks. She appeared to be sitting through a chair which, untroubled by the attempt to use it as support, remained motionless. Several of the other students laughed quietly, although not unkindly. Wroth was hardly the first student to be caught unawares by a demonstration. Chant faced the Tiefling squarely. "Why did you attempt to sit on that?" Wroth attempted to rise, but Chant forestalled her motion with an upraised hand. "Answer first. Stand later."
The young woman twitched her tail in agitation, clearly humiliated. "I thought the chair was real."
Chant stared at her, impassive. "Why would you think that?"
"It appeared real."
"Did it? It doesn't appear so now, though."
Wroth considered for a moment, and then amended sullenly, "It looked real."
Chant nodded, and dismissed the illusion with the same gesture that invited Wroth to stand. A chair that had heretofore rested along the wall scraped along the floor toward her, stopping a foot away. She hesitated, grasped the back of the chair, patted its seat, and took her place in the circle of sitting students.
"Looking is certainly the most common way of establishing our reality, but practitioners of the Art recognize it as one of the least trustworthy. You are all familiar with this lesson," he chided the room at large, but did not look away from Wroth. "Why would you trust your eyes to determine whether something was safe enough to place your body in its care?" She said nothing. "Then the first lesson for today is, your arcane senses are not simply a set of spectacles to pull over your weak sight. They are your primary sight. The divinations and explorations you learn by exercising the Art are your first, not last, recourse when confronted with any new thing." He turned to pick up a heavy glass orb, the size of a small melon, that rested on a small table next to him. He hefted it for a moment, raising it to his eyes, then turned and flung it at Wroth. She remained motionless as the orb passed through her, "landing" behind her without so much as a sound. Chant smiled faintly in approval. Wroth stared back at him defiantly, and Chant had to fight to keep his smile from growing wider. Young people were always so passionate.
"But this lesson has a corollary, as all lessons do." He removed his robes, laying them on the table, and stood in front of them clad in a simple shirt of lightly woven tan homespun, with brown drawstring pants. The shirt opened at the front, revealing a corner of his Flameheart tattoo, inscribed in slightly luminous golden ink over his heart, shining beneath one seam of the collar. In the center of the "V" formed by his collar, a small citrine charm bearing an intaglio of a courtier in ornate robes, hung on a copper chain around his neck. He exercised his will and felt a small pulse from the locket. On the charm, the carving moved, donning pieces of armor at an impossible speed, until it resembled a knight in full plate mail. The air around Chant shimmered slightly, as if his skin were a cobblestone street on a hot day, and he was suddenly clothed in robes of a deep emerald. Gold accents traced the hem, collar and cuffs, and a flaming heart outlined in tiny rubies lay above his heart, twin to the tattoo that lay in his skin. "What appears real, may not be." He picked up a dagger and held it delicately in front of him. "But what appears insubstantial," he drove the dagger toward his heart, hearing a collective gasp from the students around him which choked off as the dagger stopped with a "thunk" a scant inch in front of his chest, point centered in the ruby flame. "May be able to affect reality in unexpected ways."
He laid the dagger on the table and once again concentrated on the charm. The robes disappeared and Chant lifted the charm from his breast slightly. "Armor of the Cohors Praetoria," he said and looked around expectantly. To his surprise, an Eladrin whom Chant could not recall ever having spoken before answered. Chant fought to place the boy's name as he spoke in a soft, high voice like bells on a still morning, "Sir, Armor of the Cohors Praetoria is given to the personal protectors of the Emperor of Elphame. Because they must appear with the Emperor at courtly functions, they wear these lockets so they may don armor and protect their lord at an instant's notice, without imposing the presence of armed guards on proceedings of the court." Chant listened half-attentively as he fought for the young man's name. Brell? Trell? He gave it up as a bad job.
"Very good, young master." The Eladrin reddened slightly, although whether his color arose from pleasure at the praise, or shame at the instructor obviously forgetting his name, Chant could not be sure. Chant laid the locket again on his breast, and tapped it. "A gift from one of that worthy order, thanking me for service in the Devilswood some months ago. When the robes are summoned, the thinness of the cloth and delicate workmanship bely the enchantments woven through it. However, even though the enchantments are unseen, they need not pass undetected." He once again summoned the armor, and invited the students to examine him using their arcane senses.
He saw Wroth's brow furrow into a frown. He faced her expectantly. "There is more," she said, uncharacteristically hesitant. "At your shoulder, no it's moving across your back." Chant raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Deleásei, please show yourself." He heard another intake of breath as a few students gasped at the sudden appearance of the imp on his shoulder. "My familiar," Chant explained. "He prefers to remain hidden, and it is a testament to your own powers of perception that you were able to detect him at all, let alone identify his movements." Wroth said nothing. "Thank you Deleásei," the imp disappeared, but blew a small raspberry into his ear. Chant breathed slightly easier. The imp was typically brusque and rude, and Chant did not relish the thought of salving some student's bruised ego, so he suffered this extremely minor indignity silently.
"So, today's lesson." Chant said, dismissing his armor and donning his robes. "First," he raised a finger. "That which appears solid may be insubstantial, but may yet hide a real danger. Second," another finger, "what appears insubstantial or ordinary may hide great depths of power. Therefore, nothing may be trusted to appear," he stressed the word as he glanced at Wroth, who flushed again, "as it is, but only reveal its true nature on close inspection with all of your senses, chief among them, your perceptions of the arcane."
He dismissed the class and the handful of students who were not pledges to the Order departed. Chant surveyed the room, now occupied only by Tieflings. The Corona Cor Igne taught lessons to all comers, but that did not imply that every lesson was for all ears. "Your task, young aspirants to the Flamehearts, is to explore the arcane ramifications of this box." He walked to the corner and pulled out a box which had gone heretofore unnoticed simply because it was so ordinary--to all appearances a supply chest such as might be found in any arcanist's workshop. "I do not set this task to you individually, but as a group; you must learn to rely on each other as much as yourself. If you continue even a short way into a career with the Corona Cor Igne, you will find that having teammates upon whom you can rely completely is more valuable than all the treasure in Elveald." He left unspoken the fact that only rarely would those teammates come from within the ranks of the Flamehearts themselves. The Order preferred its agents to act independently.
"May we open the box?" Wroth, of course.
"You may explore whatever avenues seem advisable to you, but by our next meeting, I expect a thorough explanation of this box from all of you." They always opened the box.
The boxes were an instructional affectation, something Chant had done several times previously over the past year and a half of "outreach" duty. Once, he had secreted a powerful magic rod in the box, although the box itself was ordinary. Once, he had sealed the box with a powerful enchantment. The students had been so self-congratulatory upon opening the box that they utterly failed to notice the mildly explosive runes Chant had laid upon the book therein. That had earned him a sour rebuke from the Praepositum Militum Arcana (who was nominally in charge of those agents of the Corona who drew chiefly upon the Art for their power) and an altogether more ferocious scolding from the Healer tasked with mending the burns two of the students sustained. He expected no similar result from this test, however; Chant had trapped the box with the trigger for a binding circle, which would effectively prevent any Tiefling from passing through it, either to escape (if trapped inside) or to aid (if outside). The packet of noxious stink salve that he had applied to the inside lid and charmed to release when the box was opened was simply an unsubtle reminder of the gravity of these students' chosen profession.
Their quest laid upon them, the students departed, box in tow. Chant watched the retreating students and made a mental note to be on his guard for the next few weeks. If history was any indication, he would be faced with several attempts at good-natured revenge in the form of illusory books, quills, and papers, not to mention all manner of potentially explosive or aromatic items.
Chant gathered his materials from the table and walked to the door, but rather than pass through, he closed it and turned to face the empty room. He looked at the corner closest to the large windows, and bowed deeply. "I hope you were not bored by the class, honored guest." Knowing someone was there, and identifying that person, were two entirely different things. Chant had noticed the presence enter the room some twenty minutes before class let out, but since it remained quietly in the corner, he had seen saw no reason to interrupt his lesson.
"You," said a familiar voice from the empty corner, "are becoming quite devious as you age."
Chant allowed himself a rare, full grin as Master Fell appeared in the corner, looking slightly older and far more careworn than when Chant had seen him last, perhaps a year ago. Chant dropped his materials on the table and approached the older Tiefling clasping his hand warmly. "I learned certain lessons well from my teachers," Chant said with a hint of slyness. Fell chuckled and gestured to the chairs. Chant led the way back to the circle of chairs and waited for Master Fell to take one before seating himself.
"You are well?" asked Chant. Master Fell declined to answer, instead asking a question of his own.
"I trust your recent journey to Eskaton was successful?"
Chant knew better than to question the man's sources of information. While he was one of highest ranking members of the Corona Cor Igne, his reputation as a voracious consumer of information was widely known. It appeared that he had not lost his touch. If Fell wanted Chant to know the source, he would reveal it. If not, he wouldn't, and Chant would be left to wonder, guess, or puzzle it out on his own. "Quite, Master," Chant said. "The Drywkirdara were most grateful for our assistance, although we ranged rather further afield than Eskaton."
"Yes, the Forest of Tirsifa is fraught with peril than now more than ever. The locals have take to calling it the "Devilswood," did you know?" Chant nodded. "But with peril may come great reward, or so it is said." Fell's eyes crinkled and Chant nodded again.
"It is said rightly, Master Fell."
"Tell me of its finding, then." He raised a hand, acknowledging Chant's hesitation and forestalling any apologetic refusals. "Do not betray any confidences of the Order in which I spent so many years, but tell me at least the general circumstances."
Roughly two years prior, Fell had announced he was leaving the Corona Cor Igne, a move which generated no small amount of consternation amongst the rank and file membership of the Flamehearts. Chant had not been overly close with the man, but his departure had left many with questions about the circumstances. He was ousted in a power play, some said. He left after he was denied admittance to the Iustum Inferno, the Order's highest rank, others opined. Whatever his motivation, the forms were maintained, and the goodbyes were appropriately tearful and, to all appearances, sincere. Nonetheless, as he was not an active member of the Flamehearts, he was not to know of the details of any missions undertaken on their behalf. Or at least, not to be told by a member of Chant's rank.
But at that, Chant realized the older Tiefling likely knew as much as Chant would be able to relate in any case. He reached into a belt pouch and withdrew his orb, passing it to Master Fell. The spinel orb was a translucent, pale red, polished to a glossy finish. A delicate desert rose lay at its heart, its "petals" extending in an eight-pointed star. "The Heart of Corellon," murmured Master Fell, examining it from all angles. "A remarkable conduit for arcane power, and a work of great beauty besides," he said, handing it back to Chant. He replaced it in his pouch as Fell looked at him expectantly.
"As you say," Chant said. He collected his thoughts for a moment. "I came across an unexpected shrine to Father Corellon in…on my last journey," he amended. "The shrine was abandoned, but had been thoroughly defiled at some time in the past by disciples of the Spider Queen."
"The recent past?" asked Master Fell.
"It would seem so," Chant agreed. "Many of the defilements relied on the blood of victims whose corpses had been left to rot, and they were no more than two years old, I would estimate."
Fell nodded, "And you believe followers of Lolth did this thing?"
"I do," Chant said. "The altar had been sundered, and her symbol was rendered in blood upon its broken pieces. The idol of Corellon had been toppled from its plinth, replaced by a roughly-cast spider of some dark gem." Fell nodded again, and Chant continued. "The idol itself was as you may have heard, a marble statue perhaps half as high as a man, with nearly its entire chest taken up with the Heart." He touched the pouch. "I studied the statue for some time before attempting anything, but noticed the marble was unmarked. For the Spiders to have left such a thing unmolested is inconceivable--"
"A safe assumption," Master Fell said dryly.
"--so I can only surmise that the magic of the thing itself protected it from their violence."
"After a time, I righted the statue, made a prayer, and an offering, and performed my obeisance. The Heart glowed, lit from within along the edges of the desert rose symbol you saw in the center of the orb, brighter and brighter, until the Star of Corellon filled all of my vision. When it cleared, the the altar had been cleansed of Lolth's symbol, although it remained cracked, and I sensed the Heart of Corellon call to me. I retrieved it from the statue, and it came as easily as if it were set upon a cushion, rather than embedded and nearly surrounded by solid marble."
"A fine gift to a worthy man," Fell said, and Chant bowed his head in thanks. "You used the orb shortly thereafter, did you not?"
The conversation was about to take a turn into territory where he would be forced to reveal details he'd just as soon leave unsaid. Missions for the Corona were not exactly a secret, but as a rule, members of the Order did not discuss its activities with those who were not directly involved. "Yes, Ma- my Lord Fell," Chant said in sudden discomfiture.
Fell acknowledged the change in honorific by explaining, "The Drywkirdara maintain a small shrine within my keep. Small, but notable for the quality of visitors it attracts, from even relatively well-placed members of the priesthood."
After he departed the Corona Cor Igne, Fell (no longer "Master") had established himself in a holdfast on the northeastern edge of the county. The keep was small, housing a little over 100 beings, but his position as the ruler placed Fell at approximately the same level as a baron in the peerages of Elphame and Elveald. Chant had visited once on his way to Pellemar, a year after Fell had left, and found the place well-maintained and staffed with a surprisingly robust contingent of warriors, apprentice wizards, fortifications and magical defenses. That he also hosted dignitaries of the Drywkirdara surprised Chant not at all, and explained his knowledge. Chant's own mission had been arranged at the bequest of the Drywkirdara, who had approached the Flamehearts a year ago with this very task.
Fell continued, "One such visitor mentioned that a Tiefling named Chant had led an expedition into the Forest of Tirsifa to exorcise a devil that had recently taken up unwelcome residence there. They mentioned that you acquitted yourself admirably, and made special mention of the orb you wielded to such great effect." He shifted in his seat and said, "I believe this will not be the last time you will use the orb in the Devilswood, Chant."
Chant locked his bronze-red eyes directly onto Fell's emerald ones, waiting. Fell continued, "The ostensible purpose for my presence in the capital is unremarkable affairs of managing the Holdfast, but I tell you frankly that the actual reason for my visit is you." Chant blinked in surprise. "I have believed for some time that the situation in the Devilswood is becoming worse, and your recent adventure there confirms this. However, my entreaties to the parties in authority have gone unanswered in any meaningful way." Was that a hint of bitterness around the edges of the man's tone? "Too much history, I fear.
"Therefore, I have asked my friends in the Drywkirdara to request the services of the Corona Cor Igne--and specifically, you--again. The Bright Kingdom needs a presence in the Forest of Tirsifa," said Fell, "if for nothing else than to provide advance warning of the storm when it arrives."
"Not 'if' it arrives?"
Fell shook his head. "I fear not. You know as well as I that prophecy is an ambiguous undertaking at best, but the skilled can read certain portents in the movements of the world. Even without those, however, it is plain for all to see that something evil stirs in the heart of the Devilswood."
Chant considered this, and said slowly, "I am honored by your obvious faith in me, Master Fell, but I am sorry that I do not see what I would accomplish there."
Fell nodded patiently. "There is a cottage on the outskirts of the Forest, some two days journey southwest of my holdfast. It is a rustic place, to be sure, but secluded, and situated along a clean stream at the top of a hill. A stream running into the Forest, I hasten to add. A sufficiently skilled member of the Order would be well placed to keep an eye on the activities in the area and report back to the Corona if he observes anything noteworthy. And if such a member were from time to time to pay a visit to an old friend only a couple of days distant, such a thing would hardly be worth mentioning."
Chant allowed himself another full grin, the black flecks in his eyes dancing. "Such a duty would be lonely," he agreed, "and regular visits to friends," he paused at the word and continued again, "would be most welcome."
Fell matched his grin, then sobered. "Again, I cannot ask this of you officially, but I implore you Chant: Come to the Forest, observe what is happening there. You are the best person I can think of for this duty." He stood, and Chant rose with him. He began to bow to the older Tiefling, but Fell stopped him, clasping his hands instead. He released Chant's hand, and pulled his hood over his head. "No need to be quite so dramatic on my way out, I think," he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Chant watched Master Fell retreat through the door. When he re-gathered his materials and stepped through the door himself, the wide corridor was empty.
]]>Palpatimhttp://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/entry.php/1649-Chant-Four-years-laterChant confronts Sir Listeneise
Sun, 07 Aug 2011 22:55:46 GMT"The singing has stopped."
Chant looked up from his search, his breath fogging the chill air in front of him. The icy walls surrounding the party glowed faintly with light streaming through them from outside. Corw'achs looked over at Chant, concern showing plainly on his face, then returned his attention to the western passage, where shapes stirred at the far end, sending sounds of movement toward them. Fear gripped Chant's stomach suddenly, and his tail twitched anxiously. He strode to the wide path that bridged the shallow, icy stream running through the middle of the chamber and waited on the eastern side. Corw'achs and the two dwarves, Kathra and Orthrum, arrayed themselves beside and behind him.
"Congratulations on your victory!" came a jovial voice, one he had last heard croaking and wavering as if near death. Sir Listeneise strode into the hall, Sister Eda and four of her followers trailing behind him. Hatred replaced fear in Chant's belly, and his hand clenched the Orb of Winter's Wasting as if it were the paladin's throat. Struggling to keep his voice even, he called, "Listeneise. What brings you to this far place? Surely you cannot be recovered yet?"
The scales of Listeneise's armor glistened like the ice of the walls as the Eladrin continued his slow approach. His smile remained easy, as if he were greeting an old friend. "The cloister has nursed me back to health with uncommon skill. I am not yet my old self," he admitted, "but I felt well enough to travel. Have you riddled out the mystery of the wall yet?" He inclined his head toward the northern end of the chamber, where the glacier filled the entire width of the room.
"Nearly." Chant kept his eyes moving over Listeneise and his followers. There was something odd about them. "I was about to attempt it."
"There will be no need," Listeneise said simply. "I will retrieve the Prism Ostracon from within, and return to Poemepine, quest complete at last."
"Still you seek this?" Chant asked. "Surely you know that Poemepine has never forsaken her vows, will never forsake her vows, no matter you bring back the heart of a dragon or a star from the sky. This quest was simply a way for her to remove a meddlesome fool from underfoot."
The paladin's eyes narrowed slightly, but his voice never wavered. He continued his slow progress toward the bridge. "So Chant, what do you say, one-on-one, you and I?" The scrape of Listeneise's sword as it rang against its sheath filled the otherwise silent chamber.
Chant's mind raced. He felt his companions beside and behind him, and their tension was nearly palpable. If he could somehow keep this fight between Listeneise and himself, he might save them pain, or even death. But no, that was foolishness. He was a wizard, his power linked to the fundamental energies of creation itself--but even a wizard must fear sharp steel wielded by a capable warrior. Whatever his many other faults might be, Chant had no doubt Listeneise was a capable warrior. Listeneise's slow progress brought him to the western edge of the bridge, but he did not stop.
"You think this is a game, 'knight'?" Chant hissed at the paladin.
"I'm just thinking about what would be most satisfying to you."
"What about the wall, and the Prism?" Chant asked. "You will need the Orb, and someone to wield it, if you wish to break through."
"I am an Eladrin," Listeneise said. "The wall will not stop me." He stopped, facing Chant, his sword held casually at his side, the easy smile on his face belying the threat of steel in his hand.
Chant looked from Listeneise to Eda and the other two members of the Cloister. Their feet drifted above the ground, never quite touching the floor. "What have you done with these people?"
"Nothing," Listeneise replied. "they serve me because they must. It is their nature to do so," he said, as if in answer to a question. "Do not waste breath persuading them to abandon me." The paladin approached closer, only a dozen paces now separating him from Chant.
"You will pay for the pain you have caused the sister and her cloister," the Tiefling said, struggling to control his face, which threatened to contort into a grimace of rage. His tail thrashed wildly.
"You seem to be misunderstanding something. I haven't done anything to the good folk of the cloister, may their souls rest in peace. These are the true forms of those whom you met in Fiaell." Chant looked at Eda, his mouth agape, and she nodded solemnly. "We are not of this world," she confirmed in an ethereal voice.
"Well, these are!" Orthrum's cry broke the near-silence of the chamber as he clanged his axes together. As one, the junior members of the Cloister leapt into the air. Orange flame-like halos in the shape of wings emerged from their backs as they moved rapidly through the air, and sword-shaped tongues of fire appeared in their hands. Angels.
Idgel charged straight at Corw'achs, her sword pulled over her head for a powerful downstroke. Without transition, she fell to the ground in a crumpled heap, Corw'achs arrow protruding out of her back, through her heart. The orange fire of her wings grew to envelope her entire form and consumed her. With a cry of anger and denial, her twin flew to stand in front of the elf, the flame of his swinging blade narrowly missing Corw'achs shoulder, but scorching his face painfully and setting his robes afire. He dove into the pool, but instead of simply soothing his burns, the unnaturally icy water instantly wracked him with convulsive shivers.
Eda called, "Serga, aid your brothers and sisters!" Dageloyg and Fasti flew at Orthrum, their blades swinging nearly in unison, but the Dwarf raised his twin axes and met each blow, returning vicious swipes of his own. Fasti dodged backward, and a scrap of his robe drifted to the ground, burning as it went. Orthrum's other axe cleaved Dageloyg in the head. He fell back, his orange aura spreading over his falling form, consuming his body as he fell.
"Serga, be wise and stay back!" Orthrum retorted. The angel that had once been jolly Serga looked sorrowfully at the falling body of her brother, shook her head to clear it and moved to engage Orthrum. Her face contained only sadness as she swung her fiery blade, catching the top of his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she half-whispered to him as he struggled to put out the flames that threatened to engulf his head. Fasti moved in behind the Dwarf, pressing the advantage. His blade missed only because of Orthrum's unexpected writhing as he beat out the flames on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry, too" Orthrum snarled, and swung both axes at Serga's head. The angel cringed away, and the blades missed her face by inches. Allowing the momentum of the swing to carry his axes, he whirled and lunged forward, and the axes tore a bloody gash in her side. Her eyes widened in shock, but fire instantly oozed from the wound like blood, and where the fire passed, the wound became only a stain.
Eda turned to Kathra. The warden stood resolutely between her and Chant, glowering. "I am truly sorry, Kathra," the angel said sadly, "Not about this situation, but about your clan. They have just about written you off as a traitor. Your love of the Feywild is nothing they can understand with their hearts or their minds, even your parents." Her words carried more weight than simple sound. Kathra felt them worm into her brain, sowing seeds of doubt as dark as tar, muddying her thoughts and confusing her actions.
"Ye...Ye lie!" Kathra held her hammer and shield up defensively. "Mah Pa, Me Mah, they both knew what Ah fought for...what Ah still do!"
Eda shook her head sadly, "I cannot lie when it comes to prophecy. Would that I would send you to your rest with fairer news, but your life is ill-starred."
"Ah'll knock one tooth down yer throat fer every lyin' word ye spoke," Kathra growled, her thoughts and movements still sluggish from Eda's magically-enhanced pronouncements.
The paladin's sword flashed and suddenly Listeneise was in front of Chant. The tip of his blade struck sparks from the stone floor and he drew it upwards in a great, arcing slash. Chant reeled back in surprise, and a wide, bloody cut appeared across Chant's robes.
Howling in pain, Chant nonetheless raised his orb and focused his will on the paladin. The orb reflected the scene before him in miniature, as if it were a diorama. Suddenly within it, Listeneise's companions transformed into dark beasts, slavering as they turned on Listeneise and attacked him. "You," Listeneise paused to swing at empty air, "I know these are just illusions." He parried as he spoke, "It will not work forever."
I don't need forever, just long enough, thought Chant. He raised his orb again, but this time, the threat he conjured was real. A ball of lightning appeared in front of him and streaked toward Listeneise and Eda, engulfing them both in arcs of blue energy. The smell of ozone suddenly overcame the lingering stench of the dragon lying across the chamber. "Ah!" shouted Listeneise, "Not an illusion, damn."
Chant allowed himself a brief, taut smile. "No, not an illusion. These powers will kill you if you do not yield, Listeneise!" His smile turned instantly into a grimace as the wound on his chest flared with pain, and he gasped loudly.
It was Listeneise's turn to smile. "I shall bring you to ground today, Chant," he said. Chant tried to suppress the dread that gripped his bowels as the knight threw himself behind a swing that would have easily removed his head from his shoulders if he hadn't ducked. "Still fast on your feet, but let's see for how long."
Chant's mind reached into the orb in his hand, and he let his hand follow. When it emerged, he held black shadows that writhed and coiled hungrily. He cast them at Listeneise, and they exploded all around him, twining around his feet and wrapping tendrils of darkness around his neck. Listeneise set his face stoically, "I remember this one."
"I hoped you would. It is the only way I escaped you the first time you turned on me."
Listeneise lashed about at the ephemeral limbs, "Will it work again, I wonder?"
From across the room, Corw'achs fired an arrow that caught Serga through the back, piercing her heart. Her face twisted in pain and regret, and as she drifted to the ground, she looked at Orthrum. "I'm sorry," she said again, and then she was gone, consumed by orange flame. The ranger blinked, and the lines in his face seemed to soften as he lost his perpetual scowl for something more thoughtful.
"Kathra," Eda whispered, oblivious to Serga's passing. "Kathra, you've done enough. Let it go. If you prevailed here, there is only more pain to await you in your future." Although it was barely above a whisper, the angel's voice pierced Kathra as if it were driven by an awl.
Kathra glared at Eda. "So long as Ah draw breath, Ah'll endure every bit o' pain if it means me friends draw theirs." She shifted suddenly away from the angel. "Orth, Ah leave her to ye...Ah need ta help Chant."
Listeneise turned his head toward her, his face wreathed in a smile of genuine amusement. "Do you, my dear? Eda is a fearsome opponent to turn your back on."
"Yer fight is with me today," the warden said in a voice like rain pounding on stone, like wind through a mountain pass. An eruption of blue and white primal energies cascaded from her being, and she straightened as she threw off the lingering effects of Eda's spell. A vague, winged shadow seemed to fly from Kathra's head, leaping instantly into Chant. The Tiefling grimaced as the shadow lay over his mind, distracting him with memories of his parents wrath at his leaving, their accusations of cowardice and betrayal.
Kathra swung her hammer toward Listeneise, who turned it aside and slipped his sword into the opening her swing left. Kathra grunted and stepped aside, feeling the blade scrape her armor. "Not yet," she growled, as if in response, and this time, her voice sounded like the crack of a thunderstorm. She slammed the head of her warhammer into the ground, and for a second time, lightning erupted around Listeneise and Eda. "You face me, paladin," she said again.
"I have nothing but praise for your exploits, Kathra," said the Eladrin. "Even you, though, must be a little tired after dispatching Hroddzegor. But aye, I shall face you now."
The Eladrin and the Dwarf faced each other, steel and stone ringing together. The paladin's sunblade flashed and rang, but the warden's hammer met every blow and returned double.
Chant took advantage of Listeneise's distraction and raised his orb again. Within the orb, spectral figures appeared around Listeneise, tearing at him with their claws. The paladin jerked violently in surprise, then smiled again. "That is not quite as convincing as before," he said gently, as if reprimanding a naughty child.
"Shut yer trap! Ye're fightin' me, remember?" Kathra shot at him.
"I seem to be fighting both of you, good Kathra."
"Not fer long ye won't be." She swung her warhammer again, and a blast of cold air trailed behind it as she brought the force of a winter's gale to bear on the paladin. He raised his shield quickly and deflected the hammer.
He shook the frost off his shield, "I can't believe you have so much vigor even after dispatching the dragon."
"Yer gonna see more, I promise." But for all her bravado, the Dwarven warden was clearly suffering. She shook her head and slapped herself to stay focused, but her shoulder bled freely and a bruise flowered on her temple. Listeneise shoved his shield into Kathra's face and stomped at her knee. She twisted out of the way, but the paladin's armored boot caught her calf and sent her to one knee. She grunted and sprang back to her feet, but her movement was slow and painful. She deflected another blow from Listeneise, but was soon beset on her other side by Eda.
"Eda!" called Chant. "Why do you fight for this man? Surely you see his treachery at work?"
"Be silent, old friend," admonished Listeneise. "She fights because she must. She is an angel, not a mortal." Chant focused again on the orb, but every clash of axes, or crack of hammer, or twang of bowstring, seemed to rip at him like an echo of the burning wound on his chest. Chant felt despair rise up within him.
Kathra fell back under the double press of Listeneise and Eda. Listeneise caught her in the elbow with the flat of his blade, and as she twisted away from him, she stepped directly into Eda's line of attack. Her injured leg throbbed and she lurched, barely catching herself before she fell, but her balance was too compromised to react. The angel smiled sadly and raised her sword. Its flames grew bright in anticipation of the final blow, but before Eda could swing her arms down, her throat sprouted feathers.
From behind Listeneise, Kathra saw Corw'achs raise his bow in silent salute. Listeneise looked at the falling angel in dismay, and her body hit the floor with a heavy sound, much louder than her fellow Cloister members. "Eda!" shouted Listeneise, and then eyed Corw'ach, his face grim, "Four on two, is it now? I've had worse."
From behind him, Orthrum called out. "Four on one." Fasti's body drifted to the floor behind him, limned with orange flame.
Chant felt a wail beginning in the back of his throat. "These deaths! Listeneise, I lay all of these deaths at your feet!" The chamber seemed to spin about him as he looked at the bloody faces around him. He fought to keep his equilibrium.
"Ya see, Listeneise, Ah fight fer me friends ta keep 'em safe. How many friends o' yours are still up an' fightin'? And how many o' mine?" Kathra laughed heartily despite the pain and her injuries. She raised her hammer in salute to Cor, and he bowed with a wicked grin.
"You won't know how many will be left. You'll be the first to fall," Listeneise said. He spoke calmly, as if tallying off coins, "Then Chant, then that elf, and finally your dwarf comrade."
"Ye'll have ta get through me first. Try hard."
"I would do no less." He takes a deep breath, and paused as if surveying his opposition. "Kathra!" he yelled suddenly, and brought his sword down.
"Listeneise!" she shouted back, raising her shield. Sword met wood, and deflected into the ground, but her injured leg betrayed her again, and she buckled under the furious blow. The paladin's blade continued around and caught her chin on the upswing, knocking her head back and toppling her like a stone pillar.
"Kathra!" Orthrum called, as Chant yelled "No!"
Chant shook with rage and frustration so badly he could not summon his concentration. Within the orb, a few phantoms halfheartedly clawed at the paladin, but Listeneise stood smiling. "Not going to save you, Chant." He started slowly toward the Tiefling, and Chant backed away.
Corw'achs rushed across the bridge, digging into his pack, and stopped by Kathra's side. His hand clenched a potion, which he shook quickly and unstoppered, pouring the contents into Kathra's open mouth. Instantly, Kathra's breathing eased. The bloody gash in her chin closed, and the bruise on her temple faded somewhat. Still battered and torn, her eyelids nonetheless fluttered open, and she looked at Corw'achs. ""Ah hafta fight," she gasped weakly. "Cor, is he..still alive?" Corw'achs nodded, but said, "Lie still for a moment, we have to get you stronger first." He fished for another potion. He caught a motion out of the corner of his eye and turned to see Orthrum throwing a small vial toward him. With a deft motion, he caught it and administered the healing draught to Kathra. Her condition immediately improved, and she pushed free of him and began to rise to her feet.
"We both knew it would end this way," Listeneise said quietly, still approaching Chant slowly. Orthrum ran at him from the back, swinging his axes as he came. The paladin spun in place, catching one axe on his shield. The other slammed into his side, but his armor deflected the worst of the blow. Listeneise considered Orthrum for a moment. "As tempting as it is," he turned back to the Tiefling, "it's still you, Chant." He stopped in front of the wizard, considering him. He looked almost wistful as he swung his sword in an easy arc. The wizard twisted against the wall where he had backed himself, but the sword drew a line of blinding pain like fire across his chest, a twin to the wound that was already there. Chant howled again, his raspy voice sounding like a wounded animal caught in a furnace. Chant shook his head, over and over. The room spun, growing darker by the second. He raised his orb, but this time, not even a flicker of movement showed within it.
Dimly, he was aware of his companions shouting. The paladin's shoulder sprouted an arrow, then another, as Corw'achs found his mark yet again. The Eladrin winced, but for all the notice Listeneise gave them, they might as well have been wasp stings. Chant lurched drunkenly against the wall, his bloody robes leaving a smear of red against the icy wall. He saw Orthrum rush in again, but Listeneise stepped aside lightly, gripped the Dwarf's hand in his gauntlet and twisted it aside. "Not just yet…Orthrum, was it? First things first." The Eladrin shoved Orthrum away and turned once again to Chant, pulling back his sword as he turned. Chant twisted to avoid it, but an instant later Chant felt the sword spear his belly. The terrible pain spread instantly to engulf him in bright agony. He stared into Listeneise's eyes, and then fell to the ground.
His mind drifted for…hours? Minutes? No time at all? A stab of pain caused him to grind his teeth and nearly shout out. Chant he gave a shuddering gasp, and a thin line of blood trickled down the corner of his mouth, almost invisible against his ruddy skin. He saw his companions arrayed in a wide arc around Sir Listeneise, the tableau weirdly distorted as he lay on his side, staring up at them from the freezing ground. The paladin was limping slowly, his battered face bleeding from numerous cuts, his sword moved more and more slowly as he fought…something. A pale, nearly alabaster figure had joined the battle, and Listeneise faced it with a look of disgust on his face. Chant was at a loss to identify it until he heard the unlikely bleat of an angry goat.
Glatisant's Ivory Goat gored paladin with its horns, issuing a bleat that would have been comical if it weren't so fearsome. Sir Listeneise looked down incredulously, just in time to receive the goat's horns full in his chest. The charge knocked him to his back, his sword skittering away, and the paladin shouted in agony. Even from across the room, Chant could hear the "crack" of the knight's sternum as it snapped under the force of the goat's attack. The paladin doubled over and fell to his knees, and blood frothed at the corner of his mouth as his mouth twisted in a rictus of pain.
Kathra, her face grim, approached the fallen knight, hefting her axe. "Wait," Chant croaked weakly. His mouth seemed to be dry as old bones, and he worked his mouth and called again. Kathra looked back at him, surprised. "Wait," he called again. Her jaw clenched in a disapproving frown, the Dwarf nonetheless walked over to Chant and helped him to his feet. He leaned heavily on her. His side screamed where the sword had pierced it, and his cloak and shirt were torn and soaked with blood, but he tottered toward the knight, Kathra nearly carrying him. He fell heavily to his knees by the paladin's side.
The knight's eyes were glazed in pain, his face swollen, breathing in shallow gasps. Chant moved his hand to his belt, brushing the party's last healing potion nestled in its pouch. He paused for a moment, then moved his hand further.
He raised the dagger in front of him and looked calmly at the Eladrin. The paladin looked up at Chant, his eyes focusing weakly on the dagger, then gave a convulsive nod, his eyes fixed on Chant's. The black flecks in the Tiefling's eyes filled with red as he drew the dagger across the knight's throat. Sir Listeneise's hand reached up to clench Chant's wrist, then loosened, and finally fell limply by his side. He slumped forward, nearly toppling Chant, and slid to the floor.
Chant wiped the dagger on his cloak and replaced it in his belt, looking tiredly from Kathra, to Orthrum, to Corw'achs. He fumbled with the pouch at his side, but his fingers were numb and unresponsive. With a wan smile, he slumped to his side, Kathra catching him at the last moment and lowering him gently to the floor.
He never felt the potion pass his lips, but when he awoke a few minutes later, the pain in his side and chest had eased, and his head was clear.
Wed, 10 Nov 2010 17:35:43 GMT"Chant."
His eyes closed, awareness unfocused, the word fell across his ears without leaving an impression. Breathe.
The word's repetition caused certain of his mental processes to stir, and he felt the tendrils of the world insinuate themselves back into his consciousness, pulling him against his will into the here and now.
The tiefling's eyes opened, red-gold orbs flecked with obsidian black. Focusing on the figure in front of him, Chant rose from his cross-legged position on the cushion to assume a respectful standing posture.
"My apologies, Master Fell," said Chant. His voice echoed with overtones of smoke and fire common to tieflings, a hoarseness that seemed to crackle at the lower registers. His tail twitched slightly, but otherwise he betrayed none of the nervousness that gripped him. For one of the Spiritus Fornax to visit someone of Chant's rank--in his private chambers, no less--meant something momentous, but he was at a loss to think what that could be.
"You were far away, I think." Master Fell cast a piercing stare at Chant, who quickly lowered his eyes. "No shame in moving yourself into the Beyond, as long as you take care to leave yourself a pathway to return." Master Fell, as Praepositum Militum Arcana of the Flamehearts, was not only Chant's superior officer, but himself well-versed in the myriad ways an Arcanist could lose himself to the mysteries of the Universe. As gentle as it was, the older tiefling's remonstration enhanced Chant's discomfort. Why was the old man here, anyway?
As if in response, Master Fell stepped into Chant's quarters and, without waiting for an invitation, seated himself comfortably at the plain table, examining the remains of breakfast without interest. "I am here for two reasons. The first, and most trivial, is that Hubris has left the Flamehearts." Chant recalled the man, with a soft voice and a humble nature that utterly belied his name.
"He fell in battle?" Chant asked.
"Alas, he fell to love, an altogether more difficult obstacle for us to overcome," replied Master Fell with the smallest of twinkles in his emerald eyes. "Our own Claustro would be able to resurrect him if it were something as simple as death. However, on his last engagement, Hubris met a woman who overcame him as easily as brushing aside a cobweb, and she used, by all accounts, nothing more than the honest character of her love for him to do so. He returned yesterday and bade a tearful farewell to Mistress Keen and the Sicarii before he set out on his new life." Fell sighed, "It is one of the greatest dangers to those of our Brotherhood who join us from an early age--that they never learn life outside our walls, and are unprepared for the sorrows and joys of the great world."
He clapped his hands to his knees, "Be that as it may, all of the Brotherhood ranking below Hubris have been summarily promoted one rank." He studied Chant, who struggled to keep his face impassive. Competition among Flamehearts was fierce, and rank within the organization conferred immediate privileges and status. While re-ranking usually occurred at midsummer, special circumstances, such as the death or retirement of a member, could sometimes be used to reshuffle the membership. Regardless of the reason, this promotion put Chant in a new class among the order of the Flamehearts. The corner of Master Fell's mouth twitched. "I am not so far removed from you in years that I have forgotten what you are feeling," he said, "but believe me when I tell you that this is truly the most trivial of the reasons for my visit."
That stopped Chant's thoughts cold. The Master had mentioned two reasons, and something like a mass promotion would hardly be reason for him to visit someone of Chant's rank, even newly promoted as he was. He brought his full attention on the Master and straightened his posture. "Yes, Master Fell."
"This promotion puts you within the ranks of The Order the Manus Igne. The lowest-ranking member, to be sure, but nonetheless, ready to represent the entire Corona Cor Igne." The repeated use of the ancient names of the Order of the Flaming Hands and the Brotherhood of Flamehearts instantly put Chant further ill-at-ease. This visit began to take on the character of a formal meeting between a superior officer and his lieutenant.
"You still maintain an Imp as a familiar, am I correct?" Chant felt his Book Imp stir around his midsection, its interest heightening. The query was a pleasantry, Chant was sure--Master Fell would not have asked a question to which he did not already know the answer.
"Yes, Master Fell."
"Excellent. The Corona Cor Igne charges you to travel to the Cloister of Fiaell, in the foothill of Acanthras, to examine an artifact said to be housed there, the Prism Ostracon. You are then to return to us and report your findings." He handed Chant a scroll bearing the seal of the Corona Cor Igne, the Flamehearts, and again fixed Chant with a piercing stare. "Have you heard of this artifact before?"
Chant thought for a moment, "A minor relic of the Drywkirdara, I think. I have read some texts that hint at connections to other worlds, or planes, but…" he paused, letting the implication sink in.
"Just so," said Master Fell with a smile. "You, of all of the Manus Igne, will be uniquely capable of evaluating this artifact, and your familiar may lend an even deeper insight. You leave at dawn, two days hence." He rose slowly from the table and faced Chant. "Stay true to your purpose, Chant, no matter what you," he hesitated the barest fraction of an instant, "encounter." Chant covered his chest with his right hand, the gloved fingers brushing the Flameheart Tattoo underneath his robes. Master Fell returned the salute, turned from the chamber, and left without a backwards glance.
The next two days were filled with preparations and congratulations. All members under Hubris shifted one rung up the ladder of rank, which granted them each a new cell. As a member of the Magnus Igne, the Flaming Hands, Chant's new quarters included a luxury he hadn't had in seven years of living at the Corona: a curtain across the doorway. More than anything else, this modest nod to privacy drove home Chant's change in station to him, although he also noticed the wine at evening meals was markedly less vinegary.
Finally, his pack filled by the Corona's quartermaster, his spellbooks and reagents securely packed, and enough gold to see him through the journey, he set out on the road toward Acanthras, his thoughts filled with memories of Master Fell's final words to him. What concerned the old man enough that he felt compelled to warn Chant?
Tue, 21 Jul 2009 10:45:52 GMTSelf-assured to the point of arrogance, Rogur earns his nickname from his wandering eye and unquenchable thirst. Apprenticed at 7 years old to a...Self-assured to the point of arrogance, Rogur earns his nickname from his wandering eye and unquenchable thirst. Apprenticed at 7 years old to a merchant captain in the port city of Imareska, he's been on the sea for so long he can't remember any other life. Rising to first mate of the sloop Jewel of Imareska, he seemed destined to take over as captain until the ship was sunk during an attack just as they left port. Swimming back to shore, Rogur fled and begun trying to rebuild his life. He is his own worst enemy, though, seeming constitutionally incapable of passing up a pretty face or a rumor of treasure. Unless he passes a tavern along the way.
He carries a flask embossed with the standard of the Jewel of Imareska, the only possession he managed to retrieve from the ship. More often than not, the flask is empty, but Rogur never passes up an opportunity to fill it with any number of interesting substances. Rogur prefers his encounters to be close, personal and if possible, involving members of the fairer sex. His grin is easy, and his purse rarely has more than a few coins. Disrespectful and cocky, he has no patience for formality or "10-stater words".
Rogur is deeply distrustful of magic, since the Jewel's wizard, hired specifically to protect her from attack, knew only low-level fire spells, which were useless as the attacking force simply reached into the water with a bucket and quenched the flames. He is frantic to resume the roaming lifestyle he once knew, and feels uncomfortable staying in one place for more than a few days.
As to what brings a sea-rat as far inland as Beilston Mound? The Jewel occasionally took on small deliveries of a sensitive nature for one client or another. Those transactions were invariably handled by the captain (not unusual in itself--most trade vessels carried out similar transactions), and all Rogur knew was that these packages were to be hidden carefully in certain secret compartments. No other crew were trusted with any knowledge of these packages, and the Jewel's master was careful to stress discretion to Rogur.
When she was sunk on her way to the Vodlaian Archipelago, the Jewel did have one such package on board, but Rogur knew nothing other than it was secured in a locked waterproof chest small enough for one man to carry--not unusual for antiquities, books, papers, or any valuable (and therefore taxable) or contraband item that the owner wished to escape the attention of Ministry of Trade.
It seems unlikely that cloth, spices, foodstuffs and luxury goods would attract the violent attentions of another ship, so Rogur guesses this secret package that was the object of the attack. After his escape and return to Imareska (a fascinating journey in itself, fraught with danger and at least one beautiful village shaman), Rogur discovered the vessel that sank the Jewel was called Fortune's Sword.
Roger profited from his frequent trips to Imareska's portside taverns. Although his moneybag grew rapidly lighter, he was able to contact some of the Sword's crew, and discovered that the order to pursue and sink the Jewel came from a well-dressed female representing unidentified interests in the west. She dealt directly with the Sword's captain, but after returning to port, she was seen departing down the Yu bound for points west.
It took Rogur a while to scrape together enough funds to book passage himself and continue his investigation, which eventually carried him to Beilston. He had been investigating for several days before the approach of the rainy season forced him to make a choice: evacuate to the countryside or retreat to Beilston Mound, where the more powerful made their residence.
As someone once wisely noted, "There's not a lot of money in revenge." Now nearly out of funds, Rogur is keeping his eye open for any job that will pay the bills while he continues his search for the mysterious woman.