Monday, October 24, 2011

About to take on the Brotherhood of Dread...

July 4th, 708CC
2nd day of Brightmoon

The phases of the moon are particularly important at the moment; according to our "guide", we will need to be able to reach our destination within a certain phase. I explained this, as well as our adventures over the past week or so, over in the journal of my group. Here I will just write of things that are more personal in nature.

First, a minor observation- minor because personal is not the same thing as important. When trying to find ways to hurry to our destination, Ayman's Haste spell was brought up. Just... no. I am sorry but I will never allow that spell to be cast on me. Gaining a few minutes of extra speed is not enough to balance out making me one year older. This does not seem to bother the rest of my traveling companions but it very much does to me. Why, I will not explain though they are likely to learn the reason at some point, but I cannot do anything that will make me age faster than I already am. I have a good reason for this, even if I am too reserved to explain it.

Now to move on to what is actually important. If there is one thing I dislike more than the aristocracy, it is evil priests. "Loathing" and "repulsion" do even begin to describe that hatred. As much as I would like to never have to face these abominable creatures again, I am also quite impatient to get this quest sorted out and the duke rescued... if the vile priests have not already taken control of his will and bent it to their own. We certainly need to rescue the duke, but we also need to be prepared for what shape he may be in. This is not just goblins and a stray evil bugbear cleric or two anymore. This is a huge temple of the Brotherhood of Dread, the priesthood that already wants to see us destroyed. How can I get my friends to understand what we may face there?

I am not just speaking of undead or monstrous minions, either, which are things we have defeated before. My companions see me throwing around mind control magic on a regular basis with little effort and I am limited in what I can do with it, being bound to a priesthood of Good and my own principles (yes, mischievous people do have those). These individuals will not have my morals; they will not refrain from using us as they wish should their magic take hold. When you are mind-controlled, you lose who you are, your ability to think and react properly... that sounds obvious, I know, but it is not a good feeling to be on the wrong side of that, particularly if the person wielding the magic is using it for nefarious purposes. Even getting hit with mild mind-control is not pleasant (been there- how do you think we Messengers learned?) but my kind is at least harmless. I need to get my friends to understand what they may face so they can be wary. They are not nearly wary enough.

I do not think they understand how much of a threat Tarus still holds. I know I am coming off as paranoid and peevish, but I am feeling paranoid and peevish. I do not understand why the others seem to trust him. After using magic for well over a decade I know my limits and the reach of what I am granted by my god, particularly when it comes to charm and beguilement as those were what I was taught first. Something as empty-headed as a goblin will remain beguiled for quite some time, but a human priest? I would not be surprised if the spell wore off before we even reached the temple and then what? Once an evil priest, always an evil priest; how can we know that the moment he breaks free from the spell I placed on him, he won't gleefully stab one of us in the back- or worse? This is a spellcaster who has tried to kill us on more than one occasion. I know the kind of magic he wields and how it can be twisted so I will continue to keep a watchful eye over him, being the only one who truly knows what to look for and how to cancel it. This is fine and good for now, but one Messenger cannot possibly shield his friends from ranks of those with this kind of magic. Not for the first time, I wish I had one of my brothers or sisters by my side as I approach evil.

Hermes, please guide our steps, let me keep my wits and my magic ready so I can protect those I travel with. I know my magic is not the most powerful, but let it serve us well. Please.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 6

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 6
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 7)

Meren retrieved the rope and stashed it back into her bag before turning to face the wizard again. Only then did she realize that she'd had her back to him the whole time, but he hadn't even moved. He had a sad, distant look on his face, as though he was thinking hard about something, and it wasn't until she'd walked over and poked him in the arm that he snapped out of it. As he blinked down at her, Meren noticed that his eyes were an uncanny shade of dark brown, almost a black. Is that normal for humans? she wondered, although this didn't hold her attention long. "I'll lead you to the edge of our lands. Be sure not to come across here again because the other guards won't be as kind."

"Trapping me in a hole is kind?" he asked bitterly. When he saw Meren frown again he bowed his head, letting his now rather-mussed long hair fall over his face, and clutched at his quarterstaff. "I didn't mean- look, thank you for getting me out and fixing me up. I do appreciate that, elf-girl."

Meren could tell that something was bothering him but wasn't sure if she should pry. Instead she just nodded as they began walking, or hobbling some, in his case. "It's fine. I do have a name, you know. It's Meren."

"Surprisingly pronounceable. I'll try to remember that for the next time I need a healer... not that if I get hurt, I'll wander around a forest, of course. And I'm Phillip, by the way." The wood elf was relieved to hear his voice take on a less cynical quality.

She couldn't resist asking, however, why a human wizard was wandering a forest. "Why were you here this time?"

There was that sad look on his face again and Meren almost felt bad for asking. Almost, because she knew herself to be far too inquisitive to let something like that go. "I'm trying to get home. My master-" he stopped in mid-sentence and began to look around again, frantically looking from side to side.

"Isn't here," Meren finished, assuming that that was who he was looking to avoid. She was sure of that; anyone wandering this area wouldn't be doing so undiscovered for long, whatever this master was.

As his dark eyes went large, the wood elf was sure that she'd hit a sore spot, or, rather, a paranoid crazy spot. He whispered to her, "No, you don't understand. He's... horrible, evil, unhinged. He may not be here, but what if one of his servants are?"

Now Meren was entirely confused. Why would servants be a problem? Didn't humans just use them for pouring tea or watching their children or something? Clearly this was a cultural misunderstanding. "Come again?"

Phillip shook his head and continued in a low voice, "You don't want to understand, elf-girl. Trust me."

The wood elf tried to shrug nonchalantly, but this actually had her somewhat worried. Whatever had gotten to the young man had obviously upset him and she didn't think he was faking that fear. Maybe if she changed the subject? "Alright, I won't ask. Where is your home?"

For some reason that subject did seem to calm him down and he loosened his grip on his quarterstaff, his knuckles fading from the white that they'd become. "Birchlyn. It's a village-"

"To the southwest," Meren answered with a smile, one mystery solved. So that was why he spoke Halfling! She knew that to be the nearest town to Woodedge, a halfling village and, oddly enough, where the shorter side of her family was from. Since he was local, that would mean that he at least had heard of the forest he'd ended up in. "You overshot when trying to get back there and ended up in the outskirts of Fayiron."

For the first time the elf saw the wizard give a genuine smile, which made him look a lot less haunted. "Then I am close to my destination. That is good to hear!"

Meren was extremely curious about those halflings who must have taught him their language; he was quite fluent, so it was likely that it wasn't something he'd picked up secondhand. She was just about to ask him more about his home when she was startled by horrible laughter to her right.

They'd left most of the trees behind them and Meren's curiosity had left her not to realize just how out in the open the two of them were, which wouldn't have been a problem, except for the group of monsters that seemed to have them surrounded. There was that orc the elf had wished for earlier and two more of its kin. But even worse than that were … well, they had to be what Phillip was talking about earlier.

Meren shuddered as she was hit with deja vu. Here was a handful- flock? Horde? Graveyard? Words flipped through her head- of skeletons, which were upright and walking towards them, clinking slightly as they moved. No wonder Phillip's so jumpy! she thought. Gripping her bow tightly, she drew an arrow from her quiver and put it to the string. If these things thought they could just stroll into her home, they had another thing coming to them, or so Meren hoped. She had a feeling arrows would only harmlessly go through the more boney enemies. She looked over at the man, her only backup in this mess. Phillip had frozen in place, his eyes wide again and he appeared to be trembling slightly. Meren sighed. Yeah, that's a big help.

Careful to keep the monsters in her line of sight, she kicked the wizard in the shin. It wasn't the injured one, but it hurt enough that he scowled at her, fear replaced by annoyance, which had been the elf's intention. "Now what?" she asked. Before the human could reply, one of the orcs began to speak.


"A new friend? Too bad for her we'll have to kill her, too," the orc said in the human tongue. Phillip glanced over at Meren, worried about her reaction to that statement. Upon seeing her expression of complete incomprehension, he realized she had no idea what the orc had said. One small favor there.

Taking a deep breath as he tried to keep his fear under control, he asked, "It was a waste of time to follow me, was it not? Don't you have something more important to do than follow one worthless apprentice?" Maybe they'd listen if he sounded like his master...

No such luck. The orcs only sneered at him while the skeletons, lacking faces with which to emote, remained still, which disturbed him even more. Maybe if I can get the green ones away, the creepier ones will follow, he thought as the skeletons continued to stare at him with empty eye sockets. He gave a shudder and looked over at the elf. She, too, hadn't moved further than to ready her bow and Phillip hoped she'd be be willing to cover for him with it if his idea didn't work.

The man reached into the neck of his robe with his free hand to retrieve the amulet he'd left hanging there and tugged the chain over his head. Assuming what he hoped was a powerful wizardly stance, but worrying he simply looked like a ragged, injured, terrified boy, he thrust the amulet forward. Doing his best to make his voice boom, he demanded, "Stand back or I'll unleash the full fury of this arcane amulet!"

To his amazement, this worked. Partly. The orcs stepped back, looking nervously between themselves. Phillip gave a quiet sigh of relief. Now can I get this thing to actually do something? For all that his master had desired it so much, he'd never actually used it, or if he had, it wasn't in his apprentice's presence. He concentrated deeply on the charm danging from his hand, trying to weave the power he controlled around it. Preoccupied by this, he didn't notice that Meren had begun chanting next to him. Since his eyes were directed at the item in his hand, however, he did take notice of its current state: the stone began flickering between purple and green. After a few seconds it settled on a deep blueish-purple, as though both colors had combined into one. He had only a moment to wonder about this, however.

Suddenly struck by what felt like a bolt of lightning, or as though a cat the size of an elephant had rubbed against his leg, he fell to his knees. As a cloud of purple smoke engulfed him, he began gasping to try to breathe through the heavy fog. His lungs felt on fire, his skin tingled, his head rang. What's going on? Never had his magic done anything like this, even as a new apprentice; the most he'd done was catch a book on fire, but this was a bigger problem than a bucket could fix.

As he gasped and wheezed, he felt something grope for his arm and he flinched back, knowing what kind of horrible things were near. When he saw the tattooed vines on the hand rather than bones or claws, he let out a sigh of relief, which caused him to break into another coughing fit. Leaning heavily on the elf and his staff, he was able to get to his feet as the smoke began to clear, but something was wrong... his lungs continued to ache and he felt a draft on the back of his neck, which contrasted greatly with the hot tingling of a moment before. And his hands, why did they look so discolored? Meren gave a gasp and he looked over to see her staring at him with her mouth open, but before he could ask, the sound of approaching rattling made him look past her. The monsters, no longer frightened since the smoke had all but dissipated, were approaching again. The orcs seemed to be staying as far from the skeletons as they could, but all were moving forward.

Phillip was at a complete loss. He couldn't run, he could barely breathe and what would happen to a spell if he couldn't stop coughing while trying to recite the necessary words? He was defenseless; all he'd be good for would be getting in Meren's way as the monsters sent after him got her, too. Perhaps if she could get back into the thick part of the forest, she'd lose them. He couldn't get away, but he had no reason to expect her not to want to flee.

His mind now made up in a decision he couldn't really comprehend, he found the elf's hand again. He dropped the amulet into it and whispered hoarsely, "Run, elf-girl. They want me, not you."

Her reaction surprised him as much as his own had. Meren looked up at him, her green eyes narrowed, and shook her head defiantly. "This is my home. My land. My magic. They have to get through me."

Before he could do more than blink at her vehement reaction, she dropped to the ground in a crouch, letting go of her bow to clutch the grass, keeping the amulet in her one hand. As the monsters neared, she began to chant in her unfamiliar airy language. Hoping she knew what she was doing, Phillip gripped his staff tightly with both hands, pushing back the pain in his ankle and the ache that still filled his lungs. If an elf was willing and brave enough to face monsters obviously arcane, then a wizard darn well could do the same.

Part 7 can be found here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hidden Magic - Story, Part 5

Banner art by JackOfClubs (jack_spire on livejournal).
You can find the whole cover art here- JoC did a great job on it!
There's also a great mix/soundtrack that goes with this story- you can find that here.

Hidden Magic, Part 5
(Prologue, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 6)

Phillip wandered through the treeline in a stupor, leaning heavily on his new quarterstaff as he pushed through the undergrowth. The briars and thorn bushes snagged and ripped the hem of his black robe, but he hardly noticed this, so preoccupied by a memory he could not erase. His master had given up the illusion magic he'd excelled at and abandoned it in favor of Necromancy, the magic an Illusionist normally could not use any more than a snake could use a boot. Phillip still shuddered at the thought. And what the once-Illusionist had done with it... he shuddered again from the memory of those skeletons created when his master had looted a cemetery. He'd tried to convince the wizard not to do this, but Phillip had been so frightened and horrified that he'd ended up hiding when those pleas were ignored, invoking more anger when his master had realized his assistant was not there. The only thing going for the young wizard at that point was that the old man had been too preoccupied with his newly created servants to give much attention to the person he was supposed to be training.

The old wizard had been getting progressively more and more disturbing and this had been the last straw; grabbing what he could carry, his apprentice had fled. In hindsight, he should have left as soon as his master had begun slipping down that slope towards horrifyingly crazy, but Phillip had been holding out so that he could become a master wizard in his own right, not that it had become possible in the end. By that point his master had only been casting magic Phillip either could not or would not do. Caught not quite at the status of full Illusionist, but no longer truly an apprentice either, the young man had grabbed the amulet he'd recovered for his master years before on the way out, not trusting it to the warped old man, and with the vague hope that it could aid him in some way, possibly to fill in for the training he still lacked. Who would take in a mostly-trained twenty-six year old apprentice, anyway? That was why he hadn't left Bluecoast sooner; he'd had no idea of where to go.

He glanced down at the ash staff in his hands. It was a gift sent from his father, a skilled woodworker who knew nothing of magic but was aware that most wizards carried staves. He also knew that his son's favorite hobby was astronomy, or something with stars, anyway. That had always been a bit over his head, but the man had apparently caught on enough to know that it would be a good theme for an almost-wizard's staff. Seeing the intricate stellar carvings in the wood had sent a wave of sudden homesickness over the young wizard. A longing for a time when he didn't have to wonder what horrible monster he'd have to see that day (and that wasn't even counting his master...) had hit him like a ton of bricks. Home may not give him the new master he sought or the end to his training, but it was at least a destination.

He'd left the coast behind and headed west in a long trek back to his homeland. Slowed by the fact that he constantly felt the need to look over his shoulder in case skeletons or something worse were at his heels, he had made it two-thirds of the way when this pensiveness left him lost. He thought he'd been following a trail through sparse woodland but he had lost track of it.

Walking slowly in a small circle to try to at least get a bearing of which way north lay, he heard a snap and was dropped into a large pit. As he tried to push himself to his feet, he heard a quieter snap; the cause of this was readily apparent by the terrible pain in his left ankle. Trying to keep from blacking out, he used the staff to support his weight so he could survey the hole which he was beginning to suspect was actually a trap. The evenness of the dirt walls validated this assumption and the arrow drawn and aimed down from above the pit proved it. Yes, this most certainly was not his year.

He raised one hand up in surrender, the other being far too busy holding him upright to join its brethren. He began to wonder if he could fire off any sort of spell without falling over when this was interrupted when the figure said, "It's you again?" He recognized that voice and now very much wished he had a way to get out of here.

Grimacing at the pain that shot up his leg, he shuffled backwards until his back hit the dirt wall. Of all the elf traps he could have fallen into, it was the one she was guarding. At least this particular elf wasn't likely to actually fire at him- or so he hoped. He stared up and wondered if he should duck. As is probably obvious, the language the archer had spoken was Halfling.


Meren patrolled the forest alone. Occasionally Kryro had to report to his own tribe and this was one of those times. Wanting to stay on guard, however, she'd managed to convince her father to allow her to do so on her own. She still wasn't sure how she'd accomplished this, but she had a hunch. The centaur had kept insisting that she had magic, which she denied at first because wood elves were not magical, but soon she had started to experiment, figuring that it was a sort of weapon and it would be foolish to not use everything at her disposal to protect the forest and elf camp. This she kept secret from all but her brother and had tried to not use it anywhere near where her kin could possibly see; as well as being unmagical, elves were rather... superstitious about it, and that was putting it nicely, but she had a feeling that some magic had been working through her as she'd argued with her father. Her fingers had felt tingly, a sure sign that she was pulling energy again, and his green eyes had taken on a glazed quality while she was speaking. She hadn't stuck around to see if she'd truly been the cause and had hurried out as soon as she'd gotten his approval just in case she had done some sort of spell and said magic wore off.

So alone she roamed. Alone until she spotted a glint in a place that shouldn't have anything shiny. Sneaking forward in her soft leather boots, Meren crept behind some ferns and low greenery to get a closer look ahead. The glitter was coming from the sun reflecting off the silver-embossed tip of a wooden quarterstaff. The elf rolled her eyes. She was all for using bits of fallen trees as weaponry, but why wrap something so ostentatious around it?

When the figure turned, the reason became clearer- it was that blasted infuriating wizard again, wasn't it? Meren still wasn't sure what to make of him but knew she didn't want him roaming around her forest. Although was it more out of wanting him gone as she'd want any intruder to leave or was it not wanting a more trigger-happy scout to find this particular nuisance? The elf sighed. Trapping him would be best. Closing her eyes and trying to focus the green energy of the forest into doing her favorite spell, the energy decided that it had its own desire, as the elf had occasionally found to happen. Instead of the forest reaching out and rapidly growing into a dense thicket, it remained in place, but what didn't remain in place was the ground between her and the human. The black-clad man gave a startled gasp as the dirt under his feet vanished, then a yelp of pain as he apparently hit the bottom of the pit that had appeared under his feet. Well, that works, too, she thought with a shrug.

She put an arrow to her bowstring out of habit and crept forward to the edge of the pit. Now getting a good look at the man's rather pain-filled face, she saw that it was indeed who she'd thought it was. Unfortunately. Why couldn't she be rid of this human for good? I guess bats weren't enough to scare him away, she grumbled to herself.

"It's you again? You're trespassing on guarded lands." Why did she want to add "again"? The last time she'd had the pleasure of his acquaintance, he hadn't been in the forest. She could almost recall... she shook her head. No matter, that wasn't important.

"Would it help if I said I didn't realize where I was?" he asked hopefully, giving what she thought was far too innocent of a look.

Meren sighed again. He likely wasn't going to be a threat to the forest but why was he here? She lowered her bow and cursed at the complication that had presented itself. She was almost wishing she'd found an orc blundering through the underbrush instead.

Well, if he really had hurt his leg, as it appeared from his stance, he wasn't going to be able to move fast if she got him out of the hole. The trick would just be not to turn her back on him, which she vaguely recalled had been her mistake last time. And this time she had magic at her disposal, as well. She patted the pouch at her hip where she'd begun storing the bits of plants and miscellaneous trinkets that seemed to make her magic function better- usually, although that latest spell fumble could attest to this not always being the case- to reassure her that it was still in place. She gave a small smirk. Yes, she'd be alright even without her brother to back her up.

Leaning down over the pit, she crossed her arms over her chest. "I suppose I can let you out. But try anything and you'll find another pit beneath your feet." Not that she could likely duplicate a result like that, but he didn't have to know that. When the young man shook his head frantically, she asked, "Do you think you can climb?"

The human bit his lip, but nodded. "I'll have to try."

Meren took a few steps back and looked around for a tree to which she could knot the end of her rope. Luckily her misplaced spell had backfired in the middle of the woods instead of a desert, so she was able to find a good sized one. Pulling the grey rope out of her satchel, she knotted the one end around the tree trunk and dropped the other end down into the hole.

The wizard hobbled over and lobbed his staff up and out. It took all of his strength, but he was able to pull himself out. Once back on the surface, however, he sat down heavily, his face gone ashen, clearly hurt from that injured leg.

He's never going to get out of my forest that way, Meren thought, but pity was beginning to take the place of her irritation and she began to riffle through her bag to try to locate her healing supplies. Her mother had been the tribe's healer and had passed that knowledge on to the young elf; Meren had always assumed that the reason she was less inclined to automatic violence than the rest of her kin was because you don't really want to hurt something when you become used to patching things up instead.

Finding what she needed, she crouched down next to the human and began to tug at his boot. He immediately gave a shriek of pain and swatted her hands away. "What are you doing, elf-girl?" he demanded through clenched teeth.

The frown she gave made him shrink back; momentarily puzzled that he should find her threatening when she was clearly trying to help, she answered calmly, "You're hurt or have you not noticed? I was going to wrap that up for you until you can find a healer, but if you'd rather just sit here alone in an area known to be patrolled by wild cats, that's your choice." Okay, so that was a lie, but maybe he'd let her help if he thought trouble would approach soon.

His eyes wide, he began to look around desperately, as though Meren had brought an assortment of large pet cats with her. Holding back a chuckle, she grabbed his boot again. This time he remained still and allowed her to work, but it wasn't until she'd finished and given him some herbs to chew on to help with the pain- this time not lying about that, although she'd been tempted to hand him some simple tea leaves instead- that the color began to return to his face. Using the staff to get to his feet, the young man tested his ankle. He winced slightly, but this time didn't look about to faint, which Meren considered a job well done.

"You did well. Thank you," he told her, his voice sounding sincere.

Meren shrugged as she got to her feet and began putting the herbalism kit back into her bag. She didn't really know what to say to that because she probably shouldn't have helped him. Even her brother would have left him in the pit... or perhaps not. Kryro wasn't like the rest of her kin, either, and would probably have lifted him out of the hole, but only to leave him injured and to his own devices.

Part 6 can be found here.