The March of Ages

The Cost of a Life

The Chore
Serafina Anduril, Sani Nodin, Rondal, Cadimus, and Naiora stood at the entrance to the Duggubahalla’s cave. Cadimus agreed to remain there and wait for children to be sent up. The others descended.

They trudged down almost a thousand feet of steep, damp, narrow tunnel. Serafina slipped and fell down a side tunnel, falling thirty feet into water. She set the surface on fire as she felt eels (or something) slither around here and try to pull her under. Sani was quick to think and asked the Heart Tree above them for its roots to pull Serafina up.

Further down they discovered a pit-trap and Serafina lodged a fireball into it, burning something below. Eventually, they found the eleven children (one more had been captured the night before when they were returning from visiting the Dy’Voth encampment and speaking with General Gorgos). Three were dead. One could not be woken. Serafina burnt them out of their webbed encasing. Slowly and carefully they made their way back to the mouth of the tunnel. Cadimus treated the sick one.

Everyone heard the whimper of a small child. Serafina could hear through it, as if the voice were hollow. She told the others that it was the Duggubahalla and to ignore the pleas. She sent Rondal, Naiora, and Cadimus back to the village with the children. Sani and Serafina placed the three dead Lluaran children near the heart tree. As the others began to walk away, one little girl turned to them and warned them to leave and let her have her meal. Serafina hurried the others away and told Sani to ignore it. The girl had been controlled by the monster.

As soon as the others left, they heard a buzzing sound. It sounded as if every bug in the forest was swarming toward them. Then, they saw the dark wall of insects. Serafina and Sani took that as their invitation back into the tunnels.

Each time they passed a smaller side tunnel, Serafina threw a fireball down it, just for good measure. Sani communed with the spirit of the heart tree above to receive knowledge about the Duggubahalla. The fallen hero said that it was unkillable and that it took near their entire village to keep it contained. He fell in a fight and kept it trapped all these years.

Once they were at a small clearing with some space to move around, they waited. The Duggubahalla was an awful and hideous creature with the torso and head of a haggard woman and the body and legs of a giant arachnid. It moved quickly but not as quickly as Serafina’s fireballs. It had been hit twice on its passes through Sani, whom it paralyzed and ripped open. Serafina hastily dispatched of the monster, burning it to ashes, before running to Sani’s aid. She was able to stop his bleeding and over several hours, drag him back to the village. Knowing he was paralyzed and probably fearing for his life, she cheered him up with stories along the way.

Back at the village, Cadimus treated Sani to the best of his abilities and Serafina asked Jayla where the most fertile soil was. She then tucked Sani in and she and Rondal stood watch over him until they fell asleep. Sani grew roots that night that were thicker and deeper than any he had ever grown.

The next day the village threw them a celebration at sunset. The monster that had haunted them was dead and 8 of the children had survived. Jayla wrote and sang an epic song of Sani and Serafina’s heroism.

The Word
The following morning Milana returned. Gorgos would accept the cease-fire and leave the Lluaran forest. However, she would not release the prisoners unless Serafina and Sani spoke with her. Milana had no inclination as to what Gorgos would want from them in exchange. They took Rondal and Naiora and left Cadimus in the village.

General Gorgos said she would release the prisoners if they brought back three fugitives before the full moon. They were Dy’Voth, two men and one woman, their names were Deltin, Reckard, and Marine. Serafina noticed Milana flinch ever-so-faintly at the last name. They were to capture if they could, but kill if they must. If they killed any of the three, they were to return with proof.

Before Serafina, Sani, and Rondal set off to the task, they asked Milana if there was any other information about this seemingly innocuous task that the General could have sent her own men on. Milana said that it was a coming-of-age trial to survive in enemy territory on your own for thirty days. If you were returned alive by captives, you would become their slaves. Serafina prodded about her reaction to the final name. Marine was Milana’s daughter, whom she had not seen in years.

The Task
The second day of the hunt they found fake tracks. Sani and Naiora hid in the trees while Serafina and Rondal acted as bait and followed the tracks. They noticed a trap up ahead and two Dy’Voth hidden in the trees. Serafina began to yell the things she was saying at Rondal, who caught on and helped in warning Sani about what lay ahead. He spotted the two Dy’Voth and tangled one in vines. Serafina yelled, “FETCH!” and pointed to the other Dy’Voth for Naiora to pin down. Within moments both Dy’Voth were snared, disarmed, identified as Deltin and Reckard, pulled down from their trees, and tied up.

Three arrows hit them in succession but no one was hurt. Sani ghosted to pursue the archer in the trees. Rondal ran directly toward the archer. Serafina lit the archer’s quiver on fire and remained to watch over the two prisoners.

Chasing the archer through the forest, Rondal fell into a punji pit. Sani, however, caught the archer in one of her own traps and dragged her back to Rondal. Marine soon joined the other two captives.

That night they took watch two at a time. On first watch Serafina noticed Marine asking for a lot of water but not getting much in her mouth. Rondal was instructed not to give her any more water. Marine talked all night but had the worst of it during the third watch when Sani and Serafina discussed her mother. That seemed to hit a nerve.

The next morning Sani noticed that while she hadn’t escaped, Marine had loosened her bindings just enough to wiggle. Any more water from Rondal and she probably would have made it. On the return, Deltin attempted to jump into a punji pit and Reckard made a failed escape attempt. Marine had been the most successful, but still managed not to get loose. To top it off, Rondal was tired of her squirming and gave her new restraints, tying her to a piece of driftwood.

Serafina attempted to tell them that sparing their lives would be better than the alternative and hinted that they would not be slaves in Voltierra. Nevertheless, they were humiliated upon return to the camp.

Serafina, Sani, and Rondal were asked to stay the night and for a celebration the following evening. They were given a tent of their own and treated as honored guests. The prisoners were taken away. Gorgos said that strength should be respected and that they would celebrate not being foolish enough to bring weakness into their ranks.

Privately, Milana asked about Marine. Sani was honest and Serafina said that she thought the damage to their relationship could be repaired with time. While they were gone, Marine had taken care of the Lluaran prisoners, treating them and washing them. Sani went to the Lluaran tent where they were cramped and chained. He freed them and sent them to the village.

That night before sleeping, the three discussed how to handle having slaves. This was not the custom of either of their races. No one was happy but playing along was the only chance to get the three youthful Dy’Voth out safely.

After Serafina and Rondal sparred the next morning Milana asked the three what their sigils were so the blacksmith could make brands for the evening’s ceremony. This affected Sani the most and he was in a grim mood for the rest of the day. He and Rondal both chose the crests of their fathers. Serafina, not having one from her family in the old world, made one up. She chose the human symbol for life, thinking that after Marine was freed, it could become a tattoo or remembrance of the gift of life instead of a sign of servitude.

The Celebration
The ceremony began with a short speech from General Gorgos. She then instructed the two humans and seedling to, “take your mark and claim your prize.” With heavy hearts and hands, they each grasped their prods and branded Marine, Deltin, and Reckard. The crowd immediately cheered and the party kicked off. Deltin passed out and Marine silently cried. The three were taken to the tent where Sani and the others were quick to use a salve and treat the Dy’Voth’s burns. Serafina whispered to Marine, “I’m sorry. For more than the physical pain. All of this. Please trust that your life will get better.”

When asked what custom demanded, Milana said that they should partake in the celebration and parade the new slaves around. Rondal looked downtrodden and Sani was distraught. Serafina said she was drawing a line and that they would not humiliate them further.

To numb the events, Serafina had a few drinks. She briefly spoke with Gorgos, who stated that she had much respect for Serafina. Rondal drank and had a good, forgetful evening. Sani learned more about the Dy’Voth, what they had done, and where they had been. He found their life stories very interesting. Sani stayed up late to watch Rondal while Serafina returned to the tent early. She gave Marine extra salve to use when needed and attempted to talk to her and make her feel a little better. When asked what she would want to do in the human city with the rest of her life, Marine said whatever would make Serafina happy. Serafina changed the question to, “what did you want to be when you were little?” Marine opened up and said that she had wanted to be a dress designer. This gave Serafina an idea and some hope.

The Departure
The next morning they cleaned and ate. Serafina and Marine took a walk around the camp so Marine could take one last look at the life that she had considered home. They said formal goodbyes to the General and left for the village. Milana would remain one more day in the camp and meet them on the coast. Only Sani entered. He made sure the Lluaran had returned safely, set up a message to go to the Great Heart Tree, said goodbye to Jayla, and took Cadimus.

Ten days later they found the shore. A very large ship was anchored in the distance and had dropped a row boat. Serafina began to run toward the ship until the figurehead and name came into clear view. A fifteen-foot carving of her likeness with flames rolling off of her was on the bow and the name had been changed to Serafina. This slowed her to a dumbfounded walk. The rowboat brought a familiar face and Serafina once again ran to embrace Braeden Brightburn in an engulfing hug.

Everyone was introduced and Sani informed Braeden that they were waiting on one more. Braeden said, “of course, where is Stangil?” Serafina, Sani, and Rondal instantly changed disposition. Someone muttered, “he isn’t coming.” An awkward silence fell until Braeden said they would talk about it later.

He changed the subject to getting them all on the ship. He had dresses waiting for Serafina. They all had rooms to settle in.

Milana eventually arrived and boarded. After being introduced, Braeden turned to Serafina and asked, “would you like to do the honors?”

And with that, “ANCHORS UP! TAKE US HOME!” They set sail for home.

Do You Even Know Who I Am?

Serafina Anduril, Sani Nodin, Rondal, and Cadimus were heading south to find a bay where they were to meet with Braeden Brightburn and sail home to Voltierra. At some point on that journey they expected Milana, emissary of the Dy’Voth to join them. In the mornings Serafina and Rondal would practice sparring before beginning the day’s travel.

After ten days they came upon a Lluaran village, or what was left of it. It seemed only elderly and young Lluaran remained and they lived in terror. Jayla, a young teenager, was their spokesperson. She said that they had been terrorizd by a Dy’Voth camp several hours away and that the last of their warriors had been taken prisoner. The Dy’Voth had also tortured people into disclosing information about a Heart Tree that protected against an ancient evil, the Duggubahalla. They had released it and it was snatching children in the night. Ten children had been lost.

Serafina and Sani decided to deal with the Dy’Voth first, hoping it would be easy to inform them of the cease fire and get the prisoners back. They sent Cadimus ahead with a note. When they arrived at the camp, things did not go as expected. The camp was a large outpost with over 500 Dy’Voth. They appeared to be well-trained elite soldiers with an honor guard.

Once inside the General’s tent, they saw Cadimus being beaten. The general herself was as tall as Rondal and looked as strong to boot. She had an aura of a raging fire, almost as insatiable as Abigor. They admitted the truth about Cadimus and that the intent was to prepare the camp of their arrival and avoid a hostile situation. In order to preserve his life, Serafina bent the knee and begged for the general to give him over. They told the general everything about the cease fire and peace treaty. She did not seem wholly convinced, nor did she seem inclined to allow them to leave when Serafina spoke about the cave in. They were instructed to leave. No agreements were made and releasing the other prisoners was not a topic up for discussion.

Irritated with the way that went, Serafina barely stopped at the gate to retrieve her weapon. As she passed Rondal and Cadimus, she merely said, “we’re leaving,” without stopping to explain. An hour later, Sani realized they were being followed.

After finding a clearing Sani, Naiora, and Cadimus hid. Serafina and Rondal stood, awaiting the Dy’Voth. A fist of honor guards had been sent to follow them. Serafina and Captain Seneck exchanged provoking words and the conversation became heated to the point where the Dy’Voth attacked. This was the fight Serafina was hoping for.

Three Dy’Voth were killed and one badly injured. Serafina was knocked out in the fight. Cadimus and Sani took care of the wounded and Sani placed a note with Captain Seneck for his return to the general.

The next morning Rondal remembered the general’s name. Gorgos. She and her four companies were woken before every other Dy’Voth and sent on a special forward mission that only Ouroboros knew about. That’s why word was never sent to her about the cease fire.

They returned to the Lluaran village, a little worse for wear and a little less enthusiastic. Jayla proudly announced that they had captured one of the Dy’Voth. Sani and Serafina found Milana sitting next to a tree, unharmed, a bit puzzled and slightly amused. They told Milana about General Gorgos and how poorly the meeting went. She expressed concern and explained that Gorgos was her older sister. She offered to go to the camp and explain the situation, hoping that Gorgos would defer to Durand’s deal.

The others decided to investigate the Duggubahalla’s cave in the meantime.

The Cost of Peace

Serafina Anduril and Sani Nodin awoke in the forest with their escort Milana, the emissary of the Dy’Voth on their way to meet with General Durand. Serafina received the impression that not only was Milana precisely perceptive (she could see that Serafina was wrapped in Somnambuliss’s cloak), but also honest for her part and aware of the reality of the situation on both sides. Milana warned them that the general was gruff. Cadimus privately explained to Serafina that Milana was very highly ranked, possibly the second to General Durand.

They arrived on the third day at a camp of around 50 Dy’Voth. They were shown to a private tent where they were able to wash and prepare for their meeting. During this brief respite, Sani asked Serafina about the purple in her hair, to which she remarked in surprise, “I have bitch hair?!” This was sorted out as they waited for their meeting.

General Durand was an impressive first glance. He moved and gave the impression of a skilled warrior and had a red and purple aura that burned with vigor. His tent was sparse except for a table with refreshments. It appeared he had attempted to prepare Lluaran and human customs and provided what he could, accordingly.

After some conversation and debate, a peace treaty was struck. A cease fire would commence and the Dy’Voth would leave the Lluaran forest. They would live near the mountains from the northern border to the sea on the south with a 60 mile width into the forest. They would not cut down or harm any Heart Trees. They would receive a seat at the summit.

The Lluaran and humans would be responsible for returning 3 eggs stolen from Ouroboros’s cave thousands of years ago by Krolovik the Bound and Stangil Drakebane. The Dray would be called off. Within 12 months, the first egg must be returned. Within 6 more months, the second. Within 6 more, the third. If they were not all 3 returned within 2 years, the peace would end and the Dray would be called back but this time hunt down those responsible for the cave in and all of their loved ones. A second deal was brokered. For every extra egg returned, 10 miles wide would be returned to Lluaran territory.

Before they left, Durand spoke privately with Serafina. She had admitted to the cave-in and accepted his wrath. Durand did not strike out against her but said that she would live with that for the rest of her life. He foresaw “dark days to come… the east painted with blood.” Serafina told Durand about Kalloruth and Voranyth, attempting to clarify his vision. It seemed that the two races might need not only peace in the near future, but an alliance.

The next morning they left the camp with Milana to return to the Great Heart Tree with the good news. When they arrived Sani spoke with Adlei Rhiggs and then Ancient Thyiss, who suggested to Sani to extend friendship to the humans. He stressed the importance of an alliance between the two races.

Serafina returned to find Rondal a mess both emotionally and physically. He had not been dealing with withdrawal from the charnal honey well. He felt abandoned because they had left him suddenly and without warning. He was struggling to process the death of Stangil. He was drunk. And angry.

Serafina told him about Aleetha being very pregnant when they last spoke. She told him about the peace treaty with the Dy’Voth. Stricken by the news of being a father and the sudden importance of the future, Rondal’s eyes opened and he decided to pull himself up.

Serafina gave Milana samples of their blood for a ritual to call off the Dray, but did not disclose whose blood it was. Serafina felt it was up to each individual to admit to the Dy’Voth (or not) their part in the cave-in. Milana asked to return to Voltierra with them and Serafina approved. They would leave in five days and head south. If Milana missed them, she would know where to find them.

That night Sani gave a speech to all the Lluaran and Seedlings who had gathered at the Great Heart Tree. He announced the cease-fire and the treaty. He named Adlei and Serafina as heroes. He spoke of the land agreement (but not the eggs) and the safety of the heart trees. Sani then toasted to peace. It was a rousing and successful speech. The Lluaran celebrated.

Over the next five days they relaxed and Sani prepared to leave again. Serafina spoke with Adlei and promised to send his children back. Before leaving she also paid her respects to Ancient Thyiss, who named her “Tree Friend” and gave her the mark. She noticed an instantaneous change in the Lluaran’s attitude toward her. They hugged her and showed respect. A week earlier they had her sleeping in the mud, eating sludge, and begrudgingly gave her clothing.

A Grateful Homecoming...
...and an Ungrateful Stay

Autumn had arrived. Serafina Anduril, Sani Nodin, Adlei Rhiggs, Rondal, and their new companion, Cadimus were traveling from the Grimvald to the Great Heart Tree. They discussed Somnambuliss and Serafina’s faith in him along with Ouroboros’s plan to wipe out the Lluaran. Rondal still retained parts of his memories of Ouroboros and Cadimus had the memories of the Dy’Voth he had taken. They shared information and Serafina asked insightful questions. Some Dy’Voth are awakened with fire, ether, or both.

Rondal could not withstand the draw of the honey and was struggling with lower and lower doses. Cadimus took watch for Serafina and she trusted him.

Three days out they came across Dy’Voth tracks and discovered that General Durand had a perimeter encircling the Great Heart tree about two days out.

The Great Heart Tree itself was surrounded by a wall of new heart trees. Ky’Lea greeted Sani and Adlei upon their return. Serafina stayed outside the wall with Cadimus.

Sani spoke with Ancient Thyiss and Elbria. Twenty-eight Seedlings were now there. Adlei referred to Cadimus as “it” and Thyiss instructed Sani to welcome them inside the wall.

While settling in for the night, Serafina and Cadimus had a heart to heart until picked up by Sani and Rondal. Serafina gave Sani and Cadimus the honey. Sani had the bulk and gave it to Ky’Lea for safe keeping. Serafina inspected the Great Heart Tree and noticed that most of her and Stangil’s blood had washed off. There was some power still pulsing but not out of Ouroboros’s brand.

Sani went up into the tree and spoke with Delona and Ky’Lea, who both cooed over his heroic stories. Meanwhile, Serafina prayed before falling asleep in a lean-to outside in the mud. Still wearing Rondal’s shirt from weeks before. With broken ribs and ether burns all over.

The next morning Rondal had a particularly aggressive attitude when he was told that the drugs were being cut off. Serafina asked for food, clothes and bandages and was met with glares of disgust. Eventually, the healer, Te’Mal came to her aid. He also told her that her soul was burnt as well as her skin. Sani and Adlei debated over telling Thyiss about Cadimus before finally checking on Serafina.

Despite intense discomfort and physical ailments, she had enough spirit to begin yelling at the Lluaran for being stubborn and ungrateful. She gave Adlei an earful as well before offering him the best suggestions she had to aid in this war. She could speak with Braxys about sending the new humans to fight, but they were no less than six months out. They could ask the Cragga in Kunik for help now that they were at an armistice. Adlei did not like either option.

Sani dealt with a detoxing Rondal ransacking his room before going to speak with Thyiss and disclose all of the truth. Thyiss told Sani that he had to live with knowing that the world has a little more darkness because of him.

Sani eventually was able to look over the map and scrolls with Cadimus before an alarm went off in camp. A Dy’Voth emissary had arrived. Her name was Milana.

Milana spoke with Serafina, Sani, and Cadimus. In fluent Lluaran she said that General Durand was willing to talk peace. Serafina noticed that Milana had the abilities of a reader and was careful not to lie.

The four embarked on a two day journey to the General’s camp, leaving Rondal and Adlei at the Great Heart Tree.

Strangers in a Strange Place and Stranger Things

Sani Nodin and Adlei Rhiggs dragged Serafina Anduril and Rondal until first light and until they could move no more. Serafina had enough energy to treat Rondal. He was feverish; the blade had been poisoned. They rested for a couple of hours but dared no longer. They pushed until they made it to the Grimvald.

It was a sight to behold, if you were not weary, wounded, or running for your life. The Grimvald was encircled in Heart Trees as far as the eye could see. They acted as a magical barrier, trapping the dark things inside. Once they passed the threshold, they could instantly feel the heaviness of death. The sky was darker. It was almost pitch black. In the distance they could see the shadows and outlines of large animals. Twisted magic permeated everything.

Sani laid traps and misleading trails. They avoided nemesis vines. A tree that had been swaying… no, shuddering… began to flutter. The leaves flew away from branches and toward Adlei, who had been laying misleading tracks. He picked up and they began to flee, Serafina was able to throw a fireball at them, but the swarm continued to pursue them.

Out of the shadows a figure appeared and urged them to follow him. Out of desperation, they did. He led them to a concealed cave that had a small fire burning. As her eyes adjusted, Serafina noticed that their savior was a grim creature whose skin did not quite fit around his eyes and mouth.

Their host said his name was Cadimus. Serafina, too tired to beat around the bush, confronted Cadimus. She asked him directly what he was. He explained that he had been born with no form that he could remember. He would live with a village for a while then, when banished, live alone for years. He admitted to helping them in return for help of theirs, when they were well. He needed a new body. He asked what hunted them and offered to throw the Dray off their trail for as long as he could.

After some deliberation, Serafina had the final word. They would stay, promise to help Cadimus, and take the help he offered. They were too badly injured to try to attempt surviving in these woods themselves. Sani and Adlei were not happy but had no good arguments against her.

The small cave was covered in animal skins and smelled foul, but it was hidden and warm. There was a pig in the corner, which Cadimus used in a ritual to bind their essence. The pig’s name was Pipo. Pipo’s tracks would look like theirs and theirs would look like Pipo’s, for as long as Pipo was alive. Serafina thanked Cadimus for his sacrifice as it seemed that Pipo was not being kept as his dinner.

Then, focus turned to healing. Cadimus said that he could hasten the healing process if they could retrieve honey from a charnal tree. He described the tree, where to find it, and how to extract honey safely to Sani and Adlei. He also warned against coming into contact with the Lluaran there. They would go in the morning to retrieve it.

That night Serafina took first watch. Cadimus spoke with her for a while and inspected the nerve damage on her left arm and hand. He said it may never return to normal. “It could be worse,” she replied.

Rondal woke up the next morning, unable to move. Cadimus returned with a snake and a rat for breakfast. He carved them into pieces for everyone to eat. He ate his raw. Serafina cooked hers and Rondal’s.

Sani and Adlei headed to the charnal tree and saw the Lluaran extracting honey themselves. As they walked away, Sani used vines to steal the honey and they absconded with the stolen goods.

Serafina learned new treatment techniques from Cadimus, seeing the value in his knowledge. He was skilled and more knowledgeable than anyone she had met. He turned the honey into a powder and administered it to Serafina and Rondal.

The honey worked instantly. They both felt like they could move around. They felt no more pain. Cadimus said that it also healed them faster but warned against becoming addicted to it. He also said that while they felt better, they were not actually better, so they needed to take it easy and let their bodies do the work.

Serafina spoke with him more and got to know his sad story. She felt sorry for him and wished that she could take him with them and find a way to help his situation. Sani and Adlei argued with her once again. They did not want to help him get new skin and thought it was a bad idea to attempt to bring him out of the Grimvald. Serafina suggested that they do some recon at the village to see if the locals were in fact “savages” and if they would feel less guilty then.

An idea formed. What if they used a form from outside the Grimvald, such as a Dy’Voth? On the third morning Sani and Adlei left to find a Dy’Voth. They were instructed to bring one back unharmed and about the right size for Cadimus. If the body were damaged, it would all be for naught.

As soon as they crossed the barrier, they felt better. On the second day they ran into a patrol of five Dy’Voth. They killed four and took one prisoner. Meanwhile, Serafina and Rondal had time to recover and talk to Cadimus, whose company Serafina did not mind as much as Sani and Adlei.

The Dy’Voth was brought back to the cave, unharmed. Cadimus said he would do the ritual the next day and suggested that the others not be around to watch. That night, they spoke with the captive. Serafina almost regretting asking his name before he spit out that she was “a bleating cow. A she-goat.”

When Cadimus began the ritual the next morning the others went for a walk in the lovely Grimvald. They dared not go far because while feeling better, Serafina and Rondal were still in no condition to do much. They heard horrific screams and shouting from the cave for an hour or longer before silence. When they thought it was okay to return, they saw a new Cadimus. He now lived in the body of a strong and healthy Dy’Voth. The change was jarring. Even though they knew what to expect, the reality felt cold.

After a couple of days more had passed and Serafina and Rondal were approved to walk by Cadimus, they set off to leave the Grimvald. Rondal was angry at Serafina for giving Sani control of the honey for emergencies and beginning to cut doses down each day. Serafina scorched Cadimus’s armor and chest to get rid of the sign of Ouroboros.

As they approached the ring of Heart Trees, everyone grew tense. Would the spell with Pipo hold? Would Cadimus be able to leave? Would they make it to the Great Heart Tree?

They walked forward and Serafina held Cadimus’s hand.

Nothing stopped him.

They emerged into sunlight. Cadimus said, with tears in his eyes, “so… many… colors.”

And The Hits Just Keep On Coming

Sani awoke in the cave. Rondal was already awake. “I don’t know how we’re going to get off this mountain,” he grimly stated. Adlei Rhiggs woke up next, seriously wounded and septic from the fight the day before. Serafina Anduril stopped breathing in her sleep. Sani quickly recovered her breath and they all sat, huddled in a small cave, on top of a mountain, surrounded by enemies.

The plan was to avoid the Dy’Voth city below, use Rondal as a back up plan (but ultimately avoid direct contact), find shelter and an alternate route down, and to go a little at a time. Serafina and Adlei could barely walk.

Rondal and Sani went scouting. They were going to Rondal’s quarters to steal a map and important missives. During a fight against five guards they realized that the Dy’Voth no longer exploded on contact. Rondal made an off-hand comment that he was glad only 1/20th had awakened. And Sani remembered what the Dy’Voth looked like even when they were out of sight.

Meanwhile, Serafina and Adlei could do nothing but talk. Serafina was suffering from broken ribs and ether burns all over her body. Most of her hair had burnt off in the lava. They had a brief heart to heart about the loss of Stangil when a patrol discovered them. Adlei quickly caved in the entrance.

The four reunited and decided to leave as quickly as possible. It was too dangerous to be discovered. Using disguises, they made their way down the mountain. In an effort to arm themselves better, Rondal brought them to a cave that contained hundreds of thousands of sleeping Dy’Voth.

It looked as if, originally, half a million slept here. However, over the ages, most fell into dust and only 150,000 remained. Serafina had an idea. Adlei was concerned and inquired, “are you going to be able to live with this?” To which she said, “I have to.”

Half-carried, Serafina burned the still bodies and as she did, Adlei crumbled the walls and ceiling until there was nothing left. They started in the back and worked their way to the front, breaking the thick support beams that held the dome up. At the end, Serafina’s nose was bleeding and they were holding each other up.

Rondal and Sani made a gurney for Serafina and they carried her up and out. Delirious and out of energy, Serafina prayed to Somnambuliss, If you are able to do anything that would get us out alive, I would owe you a favor.

They cut south through an open gate. The mountain was falling. The gate was destroyed. There was no mist. Sani had a map. It was five weeks to the Great Heart Tree.

Adlei and Sani were happy to be in the forrest again. As they fell into a heavy slumber, Serafina saw the Seedlings for the first time and drifted off saying, “I want root thingies.” Sani told Rondal that he did a good job today because he noticed that Rondal was struggling. Rondal took the compliment but did not seem to feel good about it.

The next morning Naiora had brought a small antelope and laid it by Serafina. In the middle of breakfast they heard a horn. Rondal became upset and explained that the Dy’Voth had called the Dray, an expert assassin trio. They always caught their prey.

Adlei suggested they go to the Grimvald to lose the Dray. They came upon a Lluaran outpost where they met Delona. She agreed to send out scouts while the adventurers slept. Sani and Serafina agreed that they were not going to leave these people to die in the wake of the Dray so they laid a trap and waited.

Three Dy’Voth arrived that evening on horseback. One with a sword, one with a bow, and one with two short blades. All but three of the Lluaran were killed. Serafina’s disintegrate barely affected the Dray but she was able to kill the woman wielding the bow. Rondal was stabbed through the gut and a dizzy Serafina saw the rest of the fight in slow motion. She thought to herself, home is so far away.

The remaining two Dray retreated to tend to their wounds. Delona and two other Lluaran were ordered to go to the Great Heart Tree with the maps and missives. The outpost would be abandoned and the others would head into the Grimvald to, hopefully, survive long enough for the Dray to be killed.

Sani used vines to carry Serafina and Adlei, although wounded himself, carried Rondal on a stretcher.

The Life and Death of Stangil Drakebane

Rondal stood before them, holding the orb. The symbol of Ouroboros emblazoned on his chest plate. He spoke in a strange language that no one understood. It became clear that Ouroboros controlled Rondal. He spoke to Stangil Drakebane, “I waited for years in that chest… in the armor… you built me this body.”

Stangil was both outraged and filled with regret. He pleaded to trade places with Rondal. Ouroboros instructed Stangil to meet in his home to trade.

They retreated.

On the way back to the Great Heart Tree Serafina Anduril asked Stangil what his plan was. Stangil turned to her and said with the most severity, “after we switch, you need to kill me.” The conversation turned to asking Cernunnos how to kill Goraurik.

Meanwhile, the Seedlings Sani Nodin and Adlei Rhiggs plotted how and when to kill Cernunnos. Serafina and Stangil caught wind of this conversation and weighed in, disagreeing. They insisted that they needed his help when it came time to face Ouroboros.

That night Stangil and Serafina both spoke with Somnambuliss in a shared dream. They were told that the orb was called the Burning Ember and was the source of Ouroboros’s power. If they destroyed it, then he would be weakened. Somnambuliss would be able to cloak one of them. They agreed that Serafina would destroy the orb while Stangil distracted Ouroboros. Scouts were sent out to determine where Goraurik was but the heroes of Voltierra were instructed to close their eyes, spin three times, and point. The fearsome five headed northwest at first light.

Goraurik was not difficult to spot a few miles away with his four-hundred foot long body. It appeared that one of his wings was injured and something metallic was stuck in his shoulder. Stangil began the fight by throwing a tree on Goraurik’s head. Adlei and Cernunnos found their way on the great beast’s back while the other three distracted and fought him. Serafina did her best to burn him from the inside and when she caught too much of his attention, Sani held him at bay and protected her. Stangil fought Goraurik on and in his face.

Many close calls and terrifying moments later, he was defeated. Serafina had a foot-and-a-half long tooth in her leg and Sani was helping her up when the ground began to break. Cracks formed all around them and he carried her away. In the aftermath of the death of a great power, an earthquake erupted and a mountain had formed.

It took hours but Stangil, Serafina, Sani, and Adlei were reunited. No one could find Cernunnos; he was assumed buried or dead. They had lost many of their belongings, including Cybol. Stangil pressed on toward his son. This was merely one errand completed.

Limping away, the four were discussing possible names for the new mountain and the plan to warn the Lluaran against allowing people to live on the mountain. Serafina had forgotten her oath to Ancient Thyiss and horrific stomach cramps began to plague her. She was in excruciating pain and realizing what she had done, called out to Somnambuliss, who appeared at once. He pushed his hand into her and pulled a small tree out of her body.

They pressed on, off of the newly formed mountain. They slept. Naiora became more protective of the injured Serafina. As they felt they were nearing Ouroboros’s cave, Stangil gave Serafina a letter and asked her to give it to Julian upon her return to Voltierra.

One afternoon Serafina noticed that the others were avoiding a fog and they had been walking in circles. Pushing through the mist they discovered a camp with tens of thousands of Dy’Voth. They chose to climb the mountain to get to the cave. It was a grueling and dangerous twelve hours. They fell. A lot. They were exhausted, cut, bruised, and bleeding by the time they ascended the ledge.

There, Stangil saw an old and familiar shack. He threw a make-shift spear through one Dy’Voth guard that exploded into flames, killing the second guard nearby.

Stangil Drakebane was first, and foremost, a loving husband and father. He may have been known as a great adventurer and hero among humans, but those stories were not his greatest accomplishments. Not according to his values. Stangil was also a great friend. He was someone who would give more than he had to others. He had faith in humanity and made it his life’s work to ensure that we would survive. His deeds were that which no one could fathom and he made sacrifices that we should never know. May his spirit live on in the lives of those whom he touched and his stories grow in the imaginations of our story-telling.

Down a spiral staircase. Down a cooridor. Down a larger staircase. Into the lair of Ouroboros.

It was a vast cave hundreds of feet wide and long. Etched on the walls was the history of Ouroboros. The floor was smooth, polished obsidian. In one corner slept Trelias. Across a small arc of lava, on a throne, was Rondal. The Burning Ember in his hand was now a small star.

Stangil approached. He felt himself floating… as if he were a passenger. He saw Rondal who said, “Dad? I love you.” All of a sudden, Stangil was wearing the armor of Ouroboros and Rondal was wearing his.

The Burning Ember smashed to the ground. An explosion erupted and sent Serafina flying into the lava. Rondal’s body was thrown over the river onto the opposite bank with the others, including six guards and Trelias.

Chaos ensued. Serafina struggled to swim to the bank while Sani and Adlei fought off guards. Rondal, unarmed, attempted to fight the oncoming Trelias. Adlei was stabbed in the back helping Serafina out of the lava. Sani crossed the river to attack Ouroboros. Serafina scrambled to make it back to save Sani and fulfill her promise to Stangil.

Ouroboros laughed at her attempt before she put up a wall of fire and briefly caught a glimpse of Somnambuliss. He shouted at her to, “get the boy out of here!”

Everyone rushed away while Adlei created a cave-in to trap Trelias.

In the commotion of escaping, running up the stairs and out of the shack, Sani and Rondal found themselves carrying a naked, burnt, and badly injured Serafina. A tense moment later, Adlei emerged. They quickly found a cave to hide in and crashed into slumber.

Serafina awoke to find herself in a familiar place. The bar in front of her had beautiful scorched engravings from a master craftsman. Seated next to her was her dearest friend. Stangil was given the gift of one last goodbye to Serafina. She stuttered and trembled as she cried, unable to face another loss. Stangil thanked her and told her to be the strong leader he knew she could be. When she awoke, in severe pain, she noticed three items by her side: the letter, her staff, and Cybol.

Daddy Issues

As Serafina Anduril bounded back toward Kunik with something on her mind, Stangil Drakebane and Sani Nodin kept pace while carrying the unconscious Maloran Argent.

Once inside the city walls, Maloran, too wounded to walk on his own, was left at the arena. Serafina barely stopped for Stangil to let him down. They marched past the festivities and the new statue up to High Lord Diedik’s hall. Startled guards did not attempt to impede them.

Without breaking stride in the hall, Serafina located Grand Marshall Turk and bee-lined for him. She stopped two feet away from his face and held the Cragga heart in front of his beady eyes. She began to use her power to burn Turk from the inside. As he screamed, she spoke to the quieted guests in the grand hall. Sani translated:

For weeks we have observed every measure of your customs. One of us paid a great price for insulting your leader. We have apologized and made amends. No longer will humans be treated as inferior. Let all who witness this understand the consequences of betraying us or High Lord Diedik.

Before she was done speaking, the Grand Marshall was dead. Silence hung heavily. Stangil approached the High Lord and addressed him. He was apologetic, yet stern in explaining what had happened in the mountain pass and that it was Turk who had orchestrated the ambush. The High Lord motioned to speak with the humans privately.

High Lord Diedik was pleased to know that Turk’s treachery had been squashed, but warned that he had devoted followers. Abigor showed them a secret passage out of the hall and they took to the keep.

Stangil sealed the doors and the three climbed over the outer wall and onto the barracks. From the highest floor they assassinated the other marshals and worked their way down, leaving the women, low-ranking officers, and foot soldiers alive. Stangil made sure to warn a lieutenant about the necessity of loyalty.

Returning from their coup, they spoke with Diedik one last time. He seemed concerned about losing his invitation to the council, which Serafina assured him he would not. On their way out of Kunik for the second and hopefully, final, time they saw over a dozen Cragga on display near the statue. Other conspirators, a warning to others.

Weeks later, the three humans had finally made it to the Great Heart Tree. Along the way Serafina had seen poggles and learned as much Lluaran words and customs from Sani as she could. The homecoming, however, was not what Sani had expected. A wall of 20 foot trees had been grown around the area near the tree and scorch marks dotted the trees and ground. Hundreds of new trees were growing around them.

Once they could see the Great Heart Tree up close, they saw a sigil of Ouroboros burnt into the side. Serafina could sense it drawing power from the tree and all three humans could feel its invitation emanating.

Adlei Rhiggs met with them and greeted Sani as a brother. He explained that two days ago a devastating attack of ghosts came in force, created confusion, and at some point, the symbol appeared. Elders were targeted and all but one were now dead.

He showed them to Elder Ancient Thyiss, who shared a great secret about the tree. The symbol of Oroboros that was placed on it was ancient magic and Thyiss did not know how to remove it.

The attacks had been coming from the west, so the three humans agreed to set out in that direction the next morning. Sani and Adlei shared a drink and caught up. Later, Adlei ran into Serafina and they spoke. Meanwhile, Stangil’s curiosity got the better of him and he reached out to touch the symbol.

Stangil was transported to a world that seemed to be the world during the time before. The land was a desert with two moons and a red swirling sky. In front of Stangil stood a magnificent red and violet dragon, Oroboros. They spoke at length and (in typical dragon fashion) Stangil felt frustrated that he did not receive many answers to his questions. He did, however, receive a promise that he would see his son within a week’s time.

As quickly as he appeared, he disappeared and found himself again in front of the Great Heart Tree. Stangil found Serafina and told her what had transpired. Not one to let Stangil have all of the crazy fun, she went to touch the symbol herself.

Serafina’s conversation with Oroboros was different. She got under his armor with her indifference toward the dragons, their power, and their games. He offered to remove her mark and sever her servitude to Somnambuliss for a price. When asked the price, he said she would have to murder a stranger when he asked her to. She declined the offer. When pushed, he told her it was Atterick, the Unkillable, the Cragga King. She declined. Serafina questioned the dragon with impertinence and frustrated, he promised that she would speak to him again, within one week. Then, she was returned to her own time.

Both proud of herself and terrified, Serafina sought out Adlei to take him up on a drink he had offered her earlier. They got to know each other a little better and she admitted to him that she was surprised, he was not what she had expected, and she did not get along with his wife during their travels together.

That night in their sleep, Serafina and Stangil spoke with Somnambuliss. He explained that the symbol called to Goraurik. They could mask the call by painting his own mark over it with their blood. To disconnect the call, they would have to kill the source. He then told Stangil that tough times were ahead. Somnambuliss said something about a visitor and they awoke with a start.

Neither could see a thing but Serafina sensed Cernunnos. It took all of her not to kill him as earlier she made a bet with Adlei about which of them would. He had come for their help and to offer a trade. In return for tracking the ghosts for them to Oroboros’s lair, he requested that they assist him in removing Goraurik’s shell. It had gone insane over time and even Cernunnos (nutbag that he was) knew that his master’s husk needed to be disposed of.

Stangil was ready to leave with Cernunnos that moment but Serafina insisted on waking up Sani and Adlei. It took some convincing to ensure Adlei would not attack Cernunnos and that despite her own vendetta, they needed him for these tasks. Serafina promised Adlei that when it was all over, she would let him kill Cernunnos.

While tracking the ghosts, Cernunnos expressed his happiness that Serafina did not die from his attack when they last saw each other. She furiously showed him the mark that was the result of his wound, to which he held up his dagger and offered to get rid of it for her. Strangely, Adlei had made the same offer earlier.

A few hours into the hunt, they came across a fissure in the ground where they saw the ghosts and a cave. The ghosts were Divoth, like Reikasha. The devoted. A human figure stood among them. It was Rondal.

Mind Your Manners

The celebration of the gladiatorial fight that Stangil Drakebane, Serafina Anduril, Sani Nodin, and Maloran Argent won was held in the hall of High Lord Diedik with around 200 Cragga in attendance. Aside from Abigor, they were the only humans and Serafina was the only woman.

Many of the Cragga gave gifts to the humans and offered to purchase them. The highest offer came from Grand Marshall Turk, who invited them to dinner the following evening. Some even offered to buy a child if one of the male humans were to breed with Serafina.

At the arrival of High Lord Diedik, Maloran refused several times to bend the knee. He finally acquiesced, at Stangil’s insistence. It was considered a huge show of disrespect to the Cragga and the High Lord. When the High Lord moved past the incident, the party resumed.

Serafina attempted to learn the dance, despite being unaware that it was not custom for women to dance and how terrible she was at it.

High Lord Diedik spoke with the humans. It came out that he was at odds with Atterick. The humans told him about the council and discussed representation.

The evening continued pleasantly until Maloran drunkenly tripped over a slave and Serafina tackled him to the ground before he could fall on a table. The scene disrupted the party and the hall fell silent. Stangil grabbed Maloran up and apologized publicly to High Lord Diedik. He then beat the heavily intoxicated Maloran unconscious. Diedik said the three of them could leave. They walked out, leaving Maloran.

The next morning Maloran awoke vomiting on himself, chained upside down. The others met with Diedik, determined not to leave the city without one of the humans. After some talk, as this was an egregious affront that would normally result in death, Diedik’s demands were threefold:

- Stangil would construct a statue for the city
- Maloran would apologize publicly
- Maloran would take ten lashes as penance

They took this to Maloran and Stangil made it clear that the other two options were slavery and death. Maloran agreed. The apology was set at noon that day.

A crowd gathered to watch Maloran apologize, which Sani translated. High Lord Diedik looked appeased (Stangil and Serafina noticed an odd expression on Grand Marshall Turk’s face) and the penance commenced.

The lashing was brutal and Serafina saw to healing Maloran as soon as he was released.

Over the next two weeks, Stangil constructed the statue. It turned out to be a 100 foot tall statue of Kunik, himself, High Lord Diedik’s grandfather. During that time Grand Marshall Turk came to visit. He told the humans that if they bent the knee and helped him overthrow the “unpopular” High Lord, he would let them leave the city safely. They refused and Stangil warned Abigor.

On the day of the unveiling of the statue, the humans stayed through the dedication but thought it best not to remain for the celebration. They said their goodbyes to Abigor, whom Stangil had attempted to convince to come with them. He had also procured a gift for Sani, four mugs and a pitcher like those in the hall of the High Lord.

About two hours outside of the city, they saw an ambush. 40 Cragga were poised to eliminate the humans on their way out. Stangil and Sani snuck up on either side of the cliff to take care of the archers with the help of Naiora while Serafina remained on the ground with Maloran, who was largely unable to defend himself.

After seeing Naiora hit with multiple arrows and the others injured, Serafina ramped up the carnage and waves of fire wiped out several dozen Cragga in minutes. Maloran, Sani, and Naiora were patched up. Then, Serafina ripped the heart out of the leader and stormed back toward Kunik with something on her mind.

Other Peoples' Business

As the humans re-oriented themselves, Ky’Lea, the leader of the dozen Lluaran, explained that the Cragga were specifically destroying Heart Trees. The Lluaran were having difficulty fighting them off because Cragga can see through their natural camouflage.

They walked a day north so Stangil Drakebane, Serafina Anduril, Sani Nodin, and Maloran Argent could speak with the Cragga, in the hopes of solving this conflict diplomatically. They learned that the Cragga had an outpost headed up by Lord Varrikin.

The Cragga treated the humans strangely, with disdain even. Before the meeting with Lord Varrikin, Serafina was given clothing to cover herself, following the custom for women in the Cragga culture. At the meeting they learned that someone named Abigor who lived in the city of Kunik had a contract out for the Heart Trees. Unless that contract was pulled, Lord Varrikin would not call his men in. Kunik was another two days north.

It was decided among the four humans that they would spare the time to go to Kunik and meet with this Abigor. As it turned out, Kunik was a rather large Cragga city deep in the mountains. They were directed toward a giant gladiatorial colosseum that was being constructed out of primal materials. It was a grand and gaudy tribute to death.

Abigor, it turned out, was a human that Stangil and Serafina recognized from their younger days. Abigor used to be Tamarin. It had been twenty-five years since Stangil had last seen him and he was believed to be dead. Tamarin, Abigor, had been living and fighting here as an enslaved gladiator.

After some discussion about pulling the contract, Abigor agreed under one condition: the four humans fought in the arena. If they all agreed to fight (without using powers) and lived, he would stop the construction for one year, leaving the Lluaran time to figure out a new strategy. All four agreed.

In the arena they fought 13. Sani lured Cragga into traps. Naiora and Serafina fended off a mounted Cragga. Maloran speared a Lluaran. And Stangil rained destruction. When the last opponent was dead, Serafina lit the dead Feoral on fire and rushed a wall of fire around the edge of the ring to entice the crowd.

Abigor greeted them after they were seen by a healer and cleaned up. He said they were invited to a festival later that night and that he would keep his end of the deal.


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