Xarth makes his way towards the Rottziel District where he speaks with Jarrick who directs him to Captain Alanna. Belenus is already speaking with her in a small baker’s shop she has taken for her command post. The creatures in the Rottziel are growing stronger and it will be only a matter of days before there are too few of her company left to contain it. She is called away leaving Belenus and Xarth a free moment to talk. Xarth leaves to recruit members of the his Fight Club while Belenus hopes to gain some support among the elves.
Gia Sojourner listens to the spirits during her travel to Bornheim. The earth spirits are nearly rebellious, which is very wrong. The clay from the soil around Tminir Tower has stuck to her legs and encourages the earth spirits to gather around her. She tries to remind the spirits of their nature, but they grasp unto her and begin pulling her towards a place they describe as beyond permanent a place of only existence. The earth spirits believe she fits there, but she understands the danger.
As she is pulled along she passes a pair of Mladovians walking quite strangely. Morin is a stone singer and is from a long tradition of caring for the land. With the help of his son, Berchel, he quiets the spirits and frees Gia from her permanent entombment. Morin knows that an elder spirit of the earth awoke and came through the valley and has followed it path to determine why it happened. He is traveling to Kernwerk to speak with Yswa who knows many of the local spirits. Gia decides to travel with him and see things for herself.
Brizanthimus heads up the hill to speak with the Lord Marshal. When he reaches the outer gates he finds that he is not on the list of those allowed inside. After arguing back and forth with the guards they send out a scribe to take his message. They assure him the message will be read by someone responsible to arranging meetings with the Lord Marshal. Disgusted, Briz decides to return to where his old room was before the Reavers burned it down.
While enjoying the company he bumps into Dobry. Dobry notices that the spirits are no longer attracted to Briz, but he tells him that the spirits of the earth are shifting in ways even his grandfather never mentioned. A very ancient spirit of the earth recently awoke and they could be responding to that, but he also tells him that he took Belenus north to confront Horenski.
Dobry has been looking into problems with the ley lines as they have shifted, something that should be nearly impossible. Although Briz spends a few hours helping him neither of them can find the major ley line that runs under the Zaber River.
Belenus runs into Mirwen speaking with some elven soldiers, he notices a tension between them. It is clear they are trying to pressure he into something as she is not only on her guard, but angrily shaking her head no. She seems to make a small concession to them as she spots Belenus approaching. Her mood changes as they leave and Bel approaches, she is still guarded but warmly greets him. He tries to get her to speak of what just happened, but the only thing she offers is a cryptic statement to be wary of entering the Elven Quarter – things have changed.
More luck is on Xarth’s side as he runs into Erzan, who agrees to help him. In fact he knows where a few others are located and offers to fetch them for Xarth. After thanking him Xarth goes in search of Merrick Stonearm. He finds the dwarf guarding the clanhold, he is miserable but bound to his duty. He does agree to extend his patrol out towards Blackyard Prison and if something should cross his path that is a danger to the clan he would of course have to deal with it. It is a thin fiction, but Xarth is glad for his friend’s help.
Gia arrives is Kernwerk to find the entire village missing. The docks, some cut stones, and some supporting timbers are still around marking the village, but everything else is gone. The earth is very unsettled as as they walk it constantly shifts under their feet, a few times sharp rocks jut up from the ground. Morin has his son gather some earth and stone while he prepares for his ritual.
With his father in communion with the earth, Berchael tells Gia he found something strange at the docks. There is something strange about the stones on the dock. Gia elects to wait for Morin to inspect the stones. When he finally comes over he tells her the earth spirits are not only angry, but very active – unlike spirits of the earth. After he examines the stones he takes a small chip off one, which runs with a pungent liquid that flows into the river. The liquid smells and tastes like blood.
Gia convinces Morin and his son to tip the stones into the river. When they dislodged the top block they find some pattern chiseled on the top of the lower block. Gia recognizes the markings as those she saw in Tminir Tower. The knowledge that Gia was in that accursed tower makes Morin wary, but Gia manages to calm him with her explanation. While Morin attempts to destroy the markings, Gia discovers that the river spirits are blocked from moving downstream from the dock. The river is swelling and lashing at the banks.
She draw from her strength and the purpose of all living things and works to free the entangled spirits. A demon rises from the water driving both Morin and his son to cower on the ground. Gia pushes with her will but cannot muster the strength to confront the demon. It is drawing far too much power from the corrupted flow of magic along the river. With no ability to confront the demon directly she summons forth the strength of the river spirits. The spirits respond to her call churning the water and pulling the demon beneath their waves. With the demon held Gia shatters the ward holding back the ley line.
With the river and the magic returning to its normal flow the river and earth spirits in the remains of this village calm down. Gia helps Morin and his son recover from their ordeal before leaving the area. She feels herself pulled along the river back to Bornheim. Something terrible is happening in the city and she wants to see with her own eyes.
Is All Hope Lost
Brizanthimus reaches the Rottziel District where he finds the Guardians are barely holding their own against the demonic creatures pushing out from the prison. He shares news with them of King Gul and Baron Hellstrom Darkmaster. The possibility of a Dakarian army reaching the city in five to seven days. Alanna thanks him for the news, but confides in him that she believes the city will fall before then. The city is divided and a sense of hopelessness has spread. People are fighting for their lives, but with no sense of unity.
The local problem centers around Blackyard Prison. Briz wants to help and goes to examine the wall surrounding Blackyard. The flow of magic is chaotic and destructive, but there is a deeper thought driving it from the depths. When he tries to contact this thought the wall, both physical and magical, collapses. With such a golden opportunity Xarth, Merrick, and Erzan spring across the courtyard, followed by Briz.
The stones are scorching hot from magical fires that they are forced to take chunks of the wall and use them as platforms. Progress across the courtyard is slow, but there are plenty of charred bodies in the courtyard reminding them to be careful. Erzan slips near the end lands with his right side on the courtyard stones. Although Xarth and Merrick pull him up quickly, the warrior is still heavily burned. He can barely keep moving and needs assistance to reach the safety of the stairs.
Belenus goes to the elven picket line and finds them very lightly manned. He eventually gets word to Thanien and tells him about Ælfric’s capture. Together they go to speak with Knight-Captain Ramirus, who is friendly with the conclave elves. He is currently assisting with the defense of Blackyard Prison. The two of them arrive at the prison just in time to see Xarth and Briz enter the central building. Bel fashions two pairs of stone shoes allowing both of them to cross the fiery courtyard.
When Xarth and Briz enter the central hall the bodies of the guards are scattered about the room, most of them missing limbs. Against one of the supporting pillars is Sir Hugo, a spear driven through his stomach. Xarth salutes the fallen knight for his valiant defense, but Briz is instead steps forward and demand he stop this charade. Briz can tell that there is something very wrong about Hugo.
The warden raises his head and smiles, “How did you know child?” Hugo pulls the spear from his stomach and throws off his mortal skin. He stands in the room as his true form, an Angel of Battle. His spear is gold and red and radiates with his near divinity. He tells them the tale of the battle and how he is the last guardian. He is forbidden from entering the lower chambers nor can he see what is happening. The sins of mortals is not his to judge or forgive.
After Belenus and Thanien catch up to the others, together the five of them descend into the lower chambers. A single flight of stairs reaches a guards’ room. Their are broken bodies scattered across the floor as a single surviving guard staggers to his feet and challenges them. After assuring him of their intentions he tells them that Lady Hapsteng was here to inspect the lower chambers when the escape happened. They barely got her to safety, but at the cost of nearly all of their lives. He is wracked with guilt knowing that he barred the door to the prisons while some of his companions where still alive on the other side.
Assuring the guard they will rescue anyone still alive they help him lift the bar and open the door. Briz cannot even touch the door without feeling cold from the wrought iron and other materials. Even the air beyond draws the magic from him and everything else – a dark lifelessness fills the void.
The chambers on the first level of the prison have been torn open from the outside. They can see a intact chamber far in the back, but elect not to investigate too closely. They can hear the sounds of bones crunching and slurping from in the darkness beyond their torchlight, but each time to try to get closer they feel immense hatred and hunger. Whatever is back there is best left alone.
The second level is far deeper than the first and contains far more chambers. Wandering the hallways they find a disheveled woman carrying a fresh bone. She is glad to have someone to talk to as there are only dead people here. She calls herself Heidi and grins when she tells them they she has killed over forty for his glory. She has slit their throats and emptied their blood into the sluices below. She now wants to draw out their beautiful blood to feed his glory.
Animated bodies stumble out of the chambers driven on by her. Without magic this is a battle of bone and steel. Xarth takes the point and drives towards Heidi while Belenus and Merrick keep the zombies from overwhelming them. It is tiring work as whatever dark force is holding these bodies together keeps pulling them back after they destroy them. Eventually Xarth risks it and drives forward towards Heidi. The zombies tear and claw at his back but he reaches the crazed jailer and kills her. With no focus the darkness recedes once again into the corners of this prison whispering of power.
The third level of the prison is empty except for a few fresh bodies, so they continue to the lowest level. They find several living prisoners chained to the floor along with a pile of fresh bodies. Atop a stained wooden table is a large beaten silver bowl, a pair of knives, and wire straps. A sluice runs from the table into a hole in the floor. The stench of blood from the hole is overwhelming. Once freed the prisoners all tell tales of being drug here by someone wearing a uniform and wearing a silver cloth over their head. The man was impossibly strong, able to lift them completely off the ground with only one hand.
Gia reaches Bornheim, but that is not her final destination. After speaking with a few of the workmen building the fleet she passes through the eastern gate. Her goal is to reach the Reaver camp and see what she can learn. She manages to sneak past the outer pickets, including several new watch towers they have built along the ridge. Unfortunately she is discovered before she can reach the inner encampment. She is bound and drug into one of the smaller clusters.
As they are discussing just killing her or eating her raw a group of horsemen approach. She recognizes one of them as Tazeed and calls out to him. The Reavers who captured her challenge Tazeed, but retreat from a masked rider that approaches their fire – several of them simply die before they can get away. The masked rider has a whispered conversation with Tazeed before leaving. Tazeed has his men hoist Gia unto a horse. When he pulls the her horse close he takes the book from her that she recovered from Tminir Tower.
Although she is tied up and thrown over a horse Gia has a nearly pleasant conversation with Tazeed. He admits that it is not his real name, but lets her no further into is history. She knows that he is very old and has severed many masters, but little else. She does not give up and continues to inquire about him. He smiles and tells her a rather tall tale. He is from the Realm of Fire, grant wishers, is forever tied to this existence, loves music, servers many or even one master. Some of this tale may be true, but Gia expects most of it is false or only partially true. Tazeed is a puzzle that wants to be solved, but he clearly enjoys the game too much to speak in anything but wandering conversations. Maybe he just loves the sound of his own voice.
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