Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Mancleaver - The Sword of Lady Darkness

Mancleaver is an ancient blade, forged on a distant world by a sorceress whose broken heart and arcane powers knew no limits. Drawing its strength from the hatred and rage of its creator, Mancleaver existed for thousands of years with the single goal of slaying males of any species. Given a new purpose in the hands of its deific wielder, it has somewhat let go of its blinding fury for all things masculine... but it still prefers to wet its night-black edge on their heart's blood whenever possible.

  • +7 keen bane (male creatures) greatsword of speed.
  • Bearer gains Uncanny Dodge (cannot be flanked and always retains Dexterity bonus to Armor Class) against male creatures.
  • While drawn, Terrasunder grants the bearer darkvision and malesense, both out to 60'.
  • Terrasunder grants the following spell-like powers to its wielder:
    • greater rage, as per the Barbarian class ability (at will)
    • darkness (at will)
    • shadow evocation (at will)
    • Evard's black tentacles (3 / day)
    • greater shadow evocation (3 / day)
    • greater shadow conjuration (1 / day)
  • Mancleaver's wielder becomes immune to any targeted spell with the Light descriptor and can affect non-targeted spells with the Light descriptor on contact as per greater dispelling (CL 20th).
  • Any male creature hit by Mancleaver with a confirmed critical strike suffers the immediate effect of a harm spell (CL 20). Mancleaver's wielder cannot suppress this effect and cannot choose to not confirm critical hits rolled against male targets. Any given target can only be affected by this harm effect once in any given 24 hour period.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Where There's a Whip

"Can we stop now?" Faile asked quietly. Though her voice was soft and slightly muffled by her mask of bandages, the winds that always circled her carried her words to everyone nearby. She did not, and perhaps could not, speak very loudly, it was impossible not to hear her.

"Faile," Azure looked back sympathetically. "I am sorry but we have to press on. Not only have we made the classic mistake of letting the man who cannot get fatigued set the pace of the march, but every moment we delay is another in which we might be discovered." His cyan and white silk robes fluttered in one of Faile's breezes, a random motion on an otherwise serene and utter constant person.

"Yeah!" From the head of the group, Corundar called back without stopping or turning his head. "What Blue said. We gotta get as close as possible to the Citadel before we get spotted. The Lord of this place ain't gonna run out of troops. If we have to fight out way to Cavitas, we won't make it very far."

"If you say so." Nyx punctuated her words with the sound of steel clearing steel. Her runesword now in hand, she kept walking forward at a grim pace, actually passing Faile and falling into step right behind Corundar. "I welcome a fight."

Now in the back of the group, Byrne nodded and murmured, "As do I." Her hand rested over the haft of her axe. Sensing her inner turmoil, her weapon's invisible blade began to pulse with fiery life. It could tell she wanted blood but did not understand its mistress well enough to realize that most what she wanted to do was bleed...

"I cannot say that a battle would be a welcome thing, siblings," Akasha's voice was clear and calm. "But please remember that if we come into conflict too soon, we will be fatigued and battered long before we reach the castle gates."

"That's what you are for."

"My healing is not infinite, Nyx, as you well know. The Dark One's troops are. If we get caught out in the open, we will surely fall before we even see Citadel Cavitas."

"I agree with you in theory, Akasha, but there's one thing you're wrong about." Corundar rumbled, literally and figuratively, to a halt at the edge of a wide crevasse. Before she could ask him to explain, he did so silently by pointing far into the dark distance.

There, surrounded a dim glow of corpselight, a massive tower of pale stone and titanic white columns. Even from miles away in the din of night, they could all tell that those pillars were carved bone. It was a nightmare of architecture, a maddening complex yet viciously simple construction borne from the terrible mind of a vile god.

Citadel Cavitas, the physical seat of Vecna's power.

Nyx was the first to speak. "Fine. We can see it now."

"I would still rather not fight anyone until we get to it, Nyx. Every battle before we reach the Dark Lord himself will only sap our strength and drain our resources."

"Your resources, perhaps. Every death makes me stronger. "

Azure spoke up again, trying as always to diffuse the impending argument. "Ladies, please. I think we can all agree that we would be better off getting to the Citadel as quickly as possible. Can we please no argue and just move on?"

The quiet winds rose up, moving along everyone's faces in gentle but insistent lashes. "Yes. We need to keep going. We cannot fight the Lord of Secrets and each other if we hope to survive this."

Byrne, quietly, murmured something under her breath. Unfortunately, she did so at precisely the moment when no one else was talking and there was still, empty air between her and the others. Everyone heard her voice but no one could make it out.

"What was that, Lady Fire?" Azure asked in concern.


"No, seriously. What did you say?" Corundar stared at her, his brow furrowed. "If you've got something to add, just do so."

She shook her head. "It wasn't important."

The winds flared again, this time carrying Faile's words like a small clap of thunder.


Byrne winced. Then, taking in a deep breath and looking down at the ground, she spoke just loud enough to be heard. "I said, 'Some of us don't deserve to survive.' That's all. Maybe some of us should die."

Before anyone could respond with more that a shocked look or grim eyes, a blur of iridescent white came shooting up over the edge of the cliff right in front of Corundar, soaring high over head to hover on wings of shimmering pearl. From the back of the sudden dragon, its rider shouted down to all of them with words of resigned hatred.

"Perhaps I can be of assistance with that!"

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Riddle of Regret

He watched from the parapet, his only companion sound the hiss of scale on scale as one of his bonded mount shifted in her sleep. Sylfrost was as white as her mate was red, slumbering over a nest of crystal, dark iron and glittering ruby-pearl eggs.

Above him, Sangwynn was keeping guard as well, the flares on either side of the dragon's muzzle wide and open. Both dragon and rider were alert for the same thing, looking for the same quarry, but for very different reasons. The dragon was the more honest of the two. All Sanwynn wanted to do was tear the Elementals apart, ending any threat they might pose to his mate, his eggs or his bonded master.

The master, on the other hand, was no longer as simple in his desires. He was here because he had been called across the multiverse to serve the only being capable of doing such a thing, of compelling him to once again being someone's slave.

It was Tenebrous that had pulled him from the aether, forcing him to leave his private exile and returning him to the terrible state of undeath that had been his Hell for so long before. All Vertrius had wanted was to be left alone. Betrayed by those he'd loved and stripped of his powers, he had just wanted to be away from them... to not be a liability to them... to not have to look at them every day and feel his poisoned adoration curdling into hate.

But no, the Lord of the Undead had not forgotten him and, only a few days after he'd found a small world in Wildspace to call home, Vertrius had been forced by the ancient pact his father wrought with Tenebrous, then Orcus, to leave peace behind and return once more into the fold of evil.

The Shadowed Lord had wasted no time stripping him of the humanity he'd so long wished for and only just achieved. The dark kiss of a pale woman had drained his life and replaced it with the red mockery of unlife eternal. It had amused Tenebrous to make him kill his new sire, moving him like a cursing, cursed puppet to tear out her unbeating heart and suffer through a weeping feast.

But Tenebrous' plans for him, whatever they might have been, were quickly dashed by the plots of Vecna, the Maimed One. Vecna had come to him in dreams during the single hour of day that existed in the Dark Realm. The Lord of Secrets had promised him freedom in exchange for an oath of a year's service and one... small... favor.

Vertruis had been utterly eager to strike such a bargain. At the right moment, Vertrius cast a secret spell to transpose the doomed goddess Kiaransalee with a drow pawn "raised" to godhood by Vecna for the sole purpose of existing just long enough for Tenebrous to think he'd slain his hated rival. What happened to Kiaransalee after the spell, Vertrius neither knew nor cared. His part in the masquerade was done.

Surprisingly, Vecna had upheld his end of the bargain. Pretending to slay Vertrius during a mock raid of Orcus' newly reformed Bone Citadel, the Maimed Lord spirited him away and conscripted him for one soul-ensured year as a general in his lifeless armies.

In a way, Vertrius wished he had been betrayed by Vecna. Now he felt honorbound to serve, to fulfill the rest of his oath. One year of unquestioning service, doing as his master bids, with no magical coercion existing or needed. The Master of Whispers obvious knew him well; Vertrius would never break a vow. Not even to save his own life...

And that loyalty had brought him here, to Cavitus to stand guard at the top of the Bleak Tower. His red dragon was perched above him, scanning the dismal horizon with sight unrivalled by any living creature.

Vertrius, however, was no living creature and his vision revealed things even draconic eyes could not see. He prayed under his breath to no god in particular that as acute as his sight was, it would fail to perceive what he was here to guard against. If the Elementals somehow managed to find the lost portal stone and get to his Dark Lord's godly realm, it was his duty to ensure they never reached the fortress.

"Kill them. Quick if you must but kill them all. When next you meet, either they fall or you do. I will accept no other outcome."

The Maimed One indeed knew him well. Vecna's orders left no room for interpretation. He had hesitated before, something his divine master would not tolerate or forgive again. If those he had once loved made their way here, he would have to fight them.

He would have to kill them. Even Akasha.

Even Faile.

For that reason if for no other, he hoped against hope that his vigil would go undisturbed. Let them be on any other world, please. Let them wander, lost but alive. forever. Let the portal stone from Tovag Baragu remain in obscurity, discovered by no one and forgotten until the end of days...

A sharp hiss broke his prayer. He was almost afraid to look, suspecting grimly what he would see.

Sangwynn was pointing with one adamantine-laced talon, snarling in warning to him. "Six come, Whitehair. Six come!"

Vertrius raised his head and let his profane sight show him what he already knew to be true. They were leagues away, moving through the Ashcrags on foot. Clever of them, really; flight would only have made them easier to spot. But they had been spotted and as such his duty was clear. There would be no escaping it this time.

"You are still wounded, Sangwynn. Stay with your eggs. I will take Sylfrost into battle."


Vertrius looked up into the angry eyes of his dragon, letting his own flare with unholy, blood-crimson power.

"If we need you, I will send for you. Be ready to teleport on my command."

The red juggernaut growled again but nodded, cowed by the twin impact of his bond with Vertrius and the force of the vampire's unimaginably strong will. Few could tame a dragon with a thought, but only someone that potent could rightfully tame a beast such as Sangwynn.

"Yessss... Master."

By the time the scarlet male was coiled protectively over his precious clutch, his beloved was already taking wing, their shared lord astride her back. Sylfrost was the color of opals, complete with the inner fire that ignited within her scales the first time they'd mated. Hissing the first part of a teleportation spell over and over, Sangwynn waited for the call.

His master was powerful but the vampire was also soft when it came to these foes. Lord Vertrius might have trouble finishing this battle...

...but if any of them harmed Sylfrost, the horror of their deaths would become legend.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Dark Days

"Has anyone else noticed something?"

They had been walking a long time. So long that they had made camp, broken camp, walked until they were tired, and did so again. There was nothing to eat but Akasha's magic was capable of creating food, even if it had basically no flavor and the consistency of lumpy mud.

Azure was the first one to answer Corundar's question. "I have noticed that I am proud of my aestetic lifestyle."

"Why's that?"

"Because that way, I am not disappointed that the inside of my mouth tastes like a quarry."

The Lady of Light scowled. "Would you rather starve?"

The blue elven monk shook his head. "No, I wouldn't. I was commenting because of the chorus of complaints at last night's repast."

Corundar pointed at Azure. "There! That's what I am talking about!"

The monk master looked confused, an all too common expression of late. "You were wondering if we'd noticed how much we complained lately?"

The big man sighed, his massive shoulders slumping in exasperation. "No. You know, for a paragon of wisdom, you can be pretty damn dumb at times. Where is all that monastic insight when we need it?"

Without missing a heartbeat, Azure replied, "You are calling me stupid?" One pale white eyebrow raised, letting everyone around him know that the Lord of Water was about to open up a verbal fire hose.

Nyx cut the moment of silence with a hiss and a hollow rasp. She spent most of her time in armor these days, something that quite rightfully unnerved her siblings. "Stop it."

Corundar blinked and looked to his dark sister. "What?"

"I am getting tired of the fighting. If we insist on attacking each other, perhaps we should just do so honestly and get it over with."

Akasha shook her head frantically, light pouring from her hands as she held them up. "No! No fighting. Please! I don't like it when we get like this. I won't have any of my sisters or brothers hurting each other!"

Under her breath, Faile murmured, "Too late." No one around her heard it but all the way at the other end of the group, Byrne caught the comment. Inwardly, she died just a little bit more.

Oblivious, Corundar rumbled a quiet apology and looked back up at the shadowy night sky. Perhaps the comment was sincere, perhaps it was just a token to satisfy Akasha, but it was said all the same and it seemed to defuse the situation. For now. Nyx glowered, the black flames around the eye slits of her helm burning a little smaller as she pressed on down what passed for a path in this endless wasteland.

They had been heading towards what seemed like a coastline on the horizon. The thought had been, 'find water and follow the coast, eventually you'll find civilization'. After all this time, however, they weren't any closer to the coast... assuming the end of visible land far in the distance even was a coast. They had been to planes where the world just ended.

"I do not know if I can take much more of this," Akasha said quietly. She might have been referring to the walk, the fighting, or both. "This would be so much easier if we could still..."

The Lady of Light trailed off, but everyone knew what she was going to say and why she didn't say it. They had been able to travel between the planes without needing a portal or gate. That was before they had betrayed a loved one's trust and before Akasha herself had broken his heart. That had been before a lot of things...

"That was then, sister. This is now." That was Faile, talking softly. Her offering comfort in this was surprising to most of them. It was no secret that Akasha's driving Vertrius away had also driven a rift between Light and Air. The pale, gentle vampire had been loved by them all but none had cared for him as much as Faile. "Talking about it won't get us through another day."

"There! That's it exactly!" Again Corundar was shouting and again he was pointing.

Faile frowned visibly, even through her bandages. "Cor, give it a rest. I wasn't complaining."

The Lord of Earth stomped his iron-shrouded foot and shook the ground, nearly toppling them all. "I am not talking about complaining! Haven't any of you noticed something about this place?"

"It's dark?"

"It's gloomy?"

"There's nothing good to eat?"

"Screw you, Azure!"

"Don't. She'll only leave you too."

"And you, Fay!"


Corundar pointed at the sky. "We've been here a long damn time and it's still night. There haven't been any days. There isn't a moon or stars. There's no life at all and no light except those bands of magic in the sky."

"What is your point, Corundar?" Akasha was clearly at the edge of her patience. "Quickly."

"My point is that we were all in the last monolith when Tovag Baragu exploded, remember? We were almost to Vecna's realm when everything went boom."

Azure rubbed his side; there was a wound there from part of the funeral bier of Tharuzdin. That cut would never completely heal - not while the Lord of All Destruction was partially free. "Don't remind me."

"Well apparently I do... because I think I figured out what you all haven't."


Corundar chose to ignore the insult and press on. "Look, I think I know where we are."

Byrne growled. "Then enlighten us..."

"I think we've spent all this time looking for the monolith to get to Tovag Cavitus when all we had to do was what we did. Teleport without a destination again." He pointed to the sky. "Remember the glimpse we got through the portal before it closed and we got thrown into the Astral? It looked just like that!"

They all stared. They stared hard.

Then they looked back at Corundar.

Azure thought out loud. "We must have carried the monolith with us magically. We were in it... and now it is inside us."

Nyx unsheathed Mancleaver and stared down the runesword's glittering black edge. "Then we are finally at the end at the journey."

"Well, sort of."

They all stared at Corundar again. Azure said what they were all thinking. "What do you mean, 'sort of'?"

A man that size should never be able to look that sheepish, but somehow the titan of Earth managed to do so. "Ummmm... does anyone know which direction to go now?"

The silence was epic.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lost in Transition

"Okay. Does anyone know where we are?"

That was Akasha, tired and exasperated and seemingly at the end of her patience. She had gotten here drained, as they all had, and hadn't gotten any better in the short time since. Her aura of light, a constant presence around her whether she was in armor or not, was at the dimmest they'd seen it since she was nearly slain by their "father" in the ruins of the Ruathym.

The only person to speak was Corundar, standing nearby on the highest precipice of rock he could find. He had one hand in contact with the ground, obviously trying to speak with the stones of this strange world. Overhead, the violet sky was ablaze with massive bands of scintillating blue and white. Occasionally, a rage of lavender fire shot down from the heavens, burning out before it could disappear over the distant horizon.

"No clue. I did not know where we were when I got here and I still do not know. Please stop asking."

The Lady of Light glared at him, her thin hands curling into angry fists. "You...!"

A swirl of blue silk marked Azure rising from his meditation. "Siblings, temper will not grant us prescience. We need to remain calm and solve the riddle of our location without fighting among ourselves." He looked between Earth and Life sharply. "Or would you both rather do what the Dark One's forces just failed to accomplish?"



Neither of them really meant it, but the slight contrition was enough to satisfy the monk. At least for now, he accepted it. "Good. Now how are we going to puzzle through this conundrum?"

Nyx didn't answer her blue-skinned brother. She was angry, brooding in her own way, hidden in a nearby shadow. This was typical for the Elementals. Too much power, no damn sense. She was most upset because she had no specific person to be upset with. The Dark Lady was as guilty as the rest; none of them had thought to consider a destination. None of them, not even her. It was infuriating, utterly frustrating.

She almost hoped the Maimed Lord would find them and send more minions to the slaughter. Her runesword was hungry, so very thirsty for death. Right now, she was of a mind to let the fiendish blade feast.

Nyx would not answer the question and the last two Elementals could not answer. Not because there was anything stopping them directly but simply because they were too far away to hear Azure's voice.

Byrne and Faile were on the other side of Corundar's outcropping, having an uncomfortable conversation of their own....

"Ummm..." Byrne hated how she sounded, how she was standing, but most especially how she was feeling. She was a few feet away from her winged sister, head bowed, shoulders slumped, shifting from one foot to the other in Faile's shadow.

From the Mistress of the Winds, there was only silence. She was sitting as she always did, balanced on the fronts of both feet, her legs folded under her, her wings arching up and curving back. Her fingers were tracing abstract pictures in the dirt, swirls of air erasing them moments after being drawn.

"I..." Byrne growled inwardly. She was a bloody warlord, a tyrant in the life she could no longer remember. She had ravaged nations and ruled a planet. A planet for Fire's sake! How could she be tongue tied talking to a feather-backed elf?!?

"I don't blame you."

Sputter. Byrne fell as silent as her sister had been for more than an hour now. They were simple words but she just could not believe she had heard them right. Finally, as the quiet seconds stretched into more than an empty minute, she found the cognizance to say, "You... you don't? You don't blame me?"

"That's right, Byrne. I don't." Each word was careful, meticulously phrased and nearly emotionless. For the normally flighty avariel woman, Faile was being incredibly, almost unbelievably, calm.

"So you aren't mad at me?"

Faile shook her head, her personal winds making her hair flow in hypnotic, unnatural patterns through the otherwise stagnant air. "No."

Byrne started to breathe a deep, soul-quenching sigh of relief.

"I am furious at you."

The breath caught in her throat. Caught and started to choke.

Faile stood up slowly, her agonized body only barely healed enough to let her stand. She was still bandaged, her skin ravaged by a godly fire that might never fully heal. Akasha had done what she could... but unless they all found a way to attain their divinity again, the scars of Byrne's single, terrible blaze might last forever.

Slowly, the winged elf walked past her, heading with staggered steps back to the rest of the groups. As she passed close to the Lady of Flames, she stopped and a single, deliberate breath. What came now was as hard for Faile to say as it was for Byrne to hear.

"I pushed you, did not back away when you warned me, and I was burned for it." Faile closed her eyes, steeling herself for the next words. "But it was you who burned me. You. My sister. Someone I love more than life."

Byrne dared only a slight turn of her head, just enough to see Faile in her peripheral vision. She had heard before that elves did not cry, that elves were not capable of weeping.

Apparently, she heard wrong.

"Byrne," Faile started moving away. "I don't blame you... but I also don't trust you. I may never trust you again."

Byrne sank to her knees as his sister walked away. There was nothing to say. No response to what was just the simple truth. She wanted to say so much but there were no words. No way to express her pain. Her utter disappointment in herself.

No. It wasn't disappointment. It was hate. So many times, she had wondered if the others were being changed by their powers. She did not understand them like she used to, no longer felt the same connection to her family that once bound them so close together. For many nights now, she had worried that they were becoming monsters...

But now she saw the truth. They weren't the monsters.

She was.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

<--- Terrasunder - Sword of the Earth Lord --->

Forged of heavy iron and bearing a crystal blade, Terrasunder is a massive sword intended for only the strongest of wielders. Weighing nearly thirty pounds while still maintaining a nearly flawless hilt-balance, this greatsword's impact is nearly indescribable. When swung by a bearer with the power to do so, very little can withstand its deadly edge.

  • +10 keen greatsword of mighty cleaving.
  • Bearer cannot be bull rushed or tripped while standing on solid earth or stone.
  • While drawn, Terrasunder grants the bearer tremorsense out to 60'.
  • Terrasunder grants the following spell-like powers to its wielder:
    • move earth (at will)
    • stone shape (at will)
    • stone spikes (3 / day)
    • earthquake (1 / day)
    • wall of stone (1 / day)
  • If swung overhead and then brought down to strike the earth (a full round action that does not provoke an attack of opportunity), Terrasunder can split the ground in a 60 foot long, 5 foot wide chasm issuing straight ahead of the wielder. Any creature in the path must make a Reflex save (DC 25) or suffer 10d6 of bludgeoning damage and be stunned for one round. On a successful save, only half damage is taken and no stun effect occurs.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Press of Dead Flesh

"I never thought I'd say this, but I am getting tired of fighting!"

Corundar's voice rang out over the din of battle, its sentiment echoing what everyone else was feeling. Even Faile was up and engaged in battle now, her weak body driven by the needs of survival. They were back to back, a circle of six against a vastly outnumbering force.

"It would seem the Maimed Lord is somewhat upset with us." In his own way, that was Azure's sense of humor creeping out. Everyone but Byrne took a moment to laugh, a desperate second of mirth in the middle of crushing combat. Byrne was in no mood to be amused; she was standing beside Faile, the sister she'd seared, and she knew better than any of them what a joke from the austere blue-skinned monk meant - they were in trouble.

It wasn't hard to see. From horizon to horizon, the land was covered in walking dead. Some armored, some not. Some bearing weapons, some with just bony fingers and broken fangs. The stench was oppressive, the sound of their unholy wailing even worse. It was as if Vecna had opened the gates of Death and poured forth every corpse in the multiverse against them.

Perhaps he had.

Akasha's hands were raised to the sky, calling down bolts of sunlight to shatter the undead legion. Her powers were amazing, shattering skin and breaking bone beneath an onslaught of pure radiance. Even so, for all the righteous destruction of her holy strikes, lumbering shapes continued to lurch violently into the craters she left behind.

Across from her in their defensive ring, Nyx was faring no better. A mistress of the undead, she was actually ill-suited for this battle in many ways. These animated corpses were bound to a power greater than hers. She could not command them and she could not force them to return to their graves. Her beloved blade was keen enough to slice them apart but held no real interest in the bloodless battle. Of all the Elementals, she was faring the worst.

Faile wasn't doing much better. Barely standing, she was firing arrows into the horde of lifeless assailants as quickly as her bow would draw. Even now, wounded as she was, she was capable of putting a shaft through a man's eye socket at a hundred yards. Unfortunately, the undead were not much discomfited by the efforts of piercing weapons and the closer they got, the less freedom she had to fire.

Corundar could see how slim their options were becoming. "No more ranged! Everyone press forward as hard as you can. Get us some space!"

Between arcs of burning light, raging blasts of fire and sweeps of Corundar's great blade Terrasunder, they swiftly cleared a circle more than ten feet wide all around them. "Good! Now fall back. Azure, ice column as soon as we've got the gap for it! We need a barrier!"

It was a good plan, one that worked perfectly. The Elementals ran back together and Azure surrounded them in a column of dense ice before the mass of shambling dead could reach them again. Almost instantly, the sounds of weapons and desiccated fists echoed through the translucent pillar. It would hold, but not for long.

"We have to get out of here. Faile, are you up to a teleport?"

Nyx did not bother waiting for the winged one to respond. If she wasn't capable of channeling her air element, they were all dead. Nyx pulled back the gemstone armor covering her right hand and held it out in the middle of her brothers and sisters. "Darkness," she said insistently. As she spoke, a shadow flowed over her palm, spiraling around her fingers.

There was only a moment's hesitation before Byrne followed suit. There was so much she needed to say, especially to Faile, and dying here wasn't in her plans. "Fire," she said quickly and put her hand on her dark sister's. Flames raced down her arm and mingled with the tenebrous energy already building there.

Corundar nodded approvingly. "Earth," he said confidently and clasped both of their hands with his. Thick fingers surrounded their grasp, channeling the verdant, emerald glow of his terrestrial element into their shadowy conflagration.

It was Faile's turn. She was still reeling, barely standing, but the need was great and without her, they would all perish. Nodding her agreement, she reached out and laid her delicate hand on top of the others. A whirl of wind caught the rising powers of their combined touch, billowing it even greater as she whispered, "Air." The drain on her soul was almost enough to knock her out but wounded as she was, Faile was not about to let her siblings down.

Azure gave his flighty sister a rare smile, appreciating how great an effort she'd just made for them. He reached out with one finger, seeking the precise point in the amalgam of elemental power to contribute his own. "Water," he murmured as a wave of blue and cresting white flowed into the mix, crystallizing instantly and locking it all in a waiting matrix of perfect ice.

Akasha moved quickly. Outside, the barrier was cracking beneath the onslaught of hundreds of tireless attacks. The undead had nearly climbed to the height of the pillar itself, smashing into it with all their defiled strength. The Elementals had scant seconds to finish before their house of glass came tumbling down. "Light!" she said emphatically, resting her hand on top of the others. Prismatic arcs flared out from her fingertips, arcing into the ice and energizing the magic to the point of blinding brilliance.

The conjunction complete, they all stood perfectly still as the magic pulsed and flowed over them. The energy of teleportation blazed to life, about to whisk them away from this hopeless battlefield.

"Wait!" Nyx yelled as loud as her graveborne voice could. "Did anyone have a destination in mind?!?"

Everyone's fading face was a blank. In the haste of needing to get away, none of them had thought about exactly where they needed to go. The last time they'd teleported without a destination in mind, the results had been... unfortunate. They'd ended up on an alien world, drained of powers and nearly dead.

Corundar closed his eyes in frustration, summing up everyone's sentiment as they all disappeared.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Soul in Shadow

On the darker side of the camp, one of the Elementals was not as asleep as she appeared to be. Silently, motionless through all of the conversation between Corundar and Azure, Lady Nix was awake and aware.

Awake, aware, and something she rarely was these days - emotional.

A cascade of feelings, burning through the range between fury to cold, ashen pity, passed through her heart as each word framed a friend's betrayal of them all and a mistake that might very well cost them all of their lives. The Master of Earth might not fear their former ally but Nix knew better. What Corundar lacked in common sense, Nix made up for in bitter reason. Right now, that power of deduction was pointing only one direction - death.

Nix knew death well. She was an incarnation of its most pervasive force; her power was negative energy, the dying of the light. In many ways, she was Akasha's opposite. In others, she was Akasha's other half. Together they created a circuit that gave both beginning and end to all things.

At this moment, she did not feel like a part of any circuit, and circle. She felt very alone and for the first time in years, very afraid. She'd not experienced dread like this when their father, Urathyme Liche, rose above them with all the destructive magic at his command. She had not been gripped by such panic as this when Vecna himself appeared before them to deliver his ultimatum. Even the presence of Tharuzdin, Mad God of Oblivion, did not leave her shaking as she was now. She was trembling, caught in the certainty that what Earth had done would be the burial of them all.

Once Corundar was back on his watch and paying her no attention, Nyx silently faded into her own shadow and transported a few hundred feet away into a larger one behind a rocky precipice. She needed to be alone with her thoughts; she needed to consider what was done, what was still yet to do, and wonder if there was in any way still hope. She feared the answer to that last question.

Years ago, she would have turned to her husband, the Gravelord, for advice. He was no longer with her; his existence had been the first to end with the rise of the new threat to Reality. He'd left to seek out a strange echo in the deepest parts of the Negative Plane and placed her in charge of their mutual control over all things Dark. She would never forget the moment she felt him in anguish. The moment she felt him die.

It tore at her heart and, until this very moment, she'd believed it had killed her inside. Since that instant when her soul had torn in half, she had truly thought she would never feel again. Even this quest to save Everything had been the result of inertia. Her companions were acting to preserve existence; she had merely been caught in their wake.

But now... Something changed. She was feeling. She was feeling too much. Hurt, betrayed, fury, sorrow, pain. When the Gravelord died, she had not wept.

Now tears were streaming down her face.

Was this all for Vertrius? No, surely not. She'd loved him, yes, but they all had. Was this because of fear? No. She was not afraid to die. In recent days, she'd almost wished it would happen just to make this terrible emptiness finally end. Was this because of Corundar? Not likely; she'd always known he'd someday do something terrible and doom them all. Stupidity as monolithic as his was an avalanche waiting to happen. This infuriated her, but his actions came as no real surprise.

Then why the tears? Why?

Troubled and bereft of answers, Lady Nyx did the one thing that always at least gave her another perspective. She reached back, drew her runeblade, and plunged it into the ground with its hilt jewels - its eye - facing her.

"Hello, Mancleaver."

The voice was soft, like the whisper of a killer professing his undying love over the bloodied ear of his latest victim. "At last you want to talk, my Lady."

She sighed. "It had been a while."

"Indeed it has. Long has it been since we tasted blood but longer still since we spoke. We were beginning to think my Lady had forgotten us entire."

She knew Mancleaver's hungers. It had only been a short time since she'd bathed his edge in dragon's vitae but for her ravenous sword, even an hour could feel like starvation. She considered apologizing but decided against it. Mancleaver was as manipulative in his way as she was in hers. Their pairing was a constant struggle for dominance, one in which she could show no weakness. Ever.

"You'll feast again soon, beloved. Perhaps on the blood and soul of an old friend." It hurt her to say that, but she knew it to be true.

The metallic ring of her blade's voice echoed serpent-like as its tone became almost intimate. "Yesss, Vertriusss. We told you he would turn on us, my Lady. They all will, one by one. Even now the shade of the past comes to extinguish all light. All life."

She knew her sword had a power of prophecy, one it used very infrequently. Was it foretelling now? "What do you mean, Mancleaver? Are you seeing the future?"

"We see nothing else, my Lady. Each moment in your life is a past second in ours. Your heartbeat we hear only in echo. Every word we speak to you is, to us, a eulogy. Present and future are coming together very soon, my Lady. These days may be your last."

Nyx closed her eyes, nodding in agreement. She had been feeling the same way. Her power over destruction gave her something of a precognitive sense where death was concerned. Lately, that ability had been clouding her vision. Their demise was at hand. It was not unavoidable but the circumstances were inevitable. Soon, for better or more likely worse, they would all face the Void.

"Who brings our end, beloved?" She already knew the answer.

"We see a heart from the past, broken and reforged in ice. We see a traitor in your midst. We see a house divided and a fatal regret. Beware, my Lady." She had never heard her vicious companion speak so clearly or give up its advice so easily. The coming pain truly had to be dire if Mancleaver was being so helpful. "Beware the blaze at your back."

She nodded once and stood up, crossing the drained earth to draw forth her sword from it. Mancleaver always took a price for its aid; this night the barren circle of gray, now-lifeless soil paid for the augury. "Thank you, beloved. I will heed your..."

The blade twisted gently in her hand, nicking her cheek and drawing a touch of crimson in its own, homicidally affectionate way. "We could just skip ahead and kill all the men in their sleep. Let us start with the lummox, my Lady. There is much blood in him."

She couldn't help but chuckle darkly all the way back to camp...

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A Communion of Pain

He watched them as they slept. Guard duty was usually his first, so Corundar was used to being awake while everyone else caught what precious rest they could find. He didn't really need to sleep and he preferred the quiet of the lookout's post. He loved watching the sun rise each day so this arrangement actually worked out well.

Or at least, it used to work out well. Now, when all was silent around him, the voice of his own conscience was anything but.

And tonight, he had company for his guilt. Azure was 'meditating', which was to say he was wide awake and staring at him with his unwavering, sea green eyes. So. Unnerving.

"They all blame me, don't they?"

The elf's answer was quick, almost automatic. "Shouldn't they?"

"I did what I had to do."

"The typical defense of the despot."

Corundar sighed. "You blame me too?"

"I don't blame anyone. Blame and fault are frames of reference, signposts on the road to truth."

"And that means?" He was in no mood for the sea elf's riddles.

"It means you are responsible for what occurred marginally more than the rest of us. Nothing more, nothing less."

Corundar seized on that. "So I am not the only one to blame here?"

Azure nodded slightly, his arms and legs still folded in deep thought. "Of course. Diverting the godly energies of Athas was not something we could have done without a consensus. Vertrius undoubtedly knows that as well, which is why he rightly finds us all at fault for his condition."

"Hey now!" Corundar's raised voice caused Nyx, sleeping nearby, to shift uncomfortably and Byrne, lying next to her, to lash out in her sleep with an imaginary axe. He stayed quiet long enough for them to both settle down before continuing. "I didn't make the white-haired bastard join up with V. He did that all on his own."

"On that, my boulder-skulled companion, I cannot dispute your point."

"Bloody hells, Az. Can't you ever just say, 'you're right'?"

The pale blue fae looked at him curiously. "I thought I just did."

Corundar passed his hand dismissively in the air between them. "Bah. Skip it." In return, Azure nodded and settled back into a contemplative state. After watching him for a moment and not feeling relaxed or consoled in the slightest, he spoke again. "Az?"

The elf, showing only the dimmest expression of annoyance, opened one eye again. "Yes, Corundar?"

"If I am not at fault here, why is everyone so damn mad at me?"

Azure looked at him fully and spread his hands in a 'look here' gesture. "You seem to misunderstand, my stony counterpart. I said you were not the reason our former ally has turned to serving a dark power. But to say that you are faultless in this situation would be a grave overstatement."

It took Corundar a while to digest that and make sense of Azure's words. The Lord of Earth was by no means unintelligent, but his mind worked at a different speed than the Scion of the Seas. It took him longer to think things through. He wasn't stupid, but he could be slow. "Wait. Then what am I at fault for, blue boy?"

"I can only tell you what I perceive, Corundar."

The big man shrugged. "It would be a whole lot more than anyone else is telling me."

Azure nodded. "An accurate statement, to be sure. All right, but keep in mind that this is my opinion based on observations and previous conversations. It may be partially or even wholly incorrect. Are we agreed on that?"

Another dismissive wave. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Just spill."

Azure shifted into a more relaxed posture, one that only required a slight amount of contortion. "On Athas, when the power of that world's long-slain deities was released following our sundering of the Primal Ziggaraut, you took hold of that energy first and chose to be the one responsible for its guidance."

Corundar nodded. "It was mostly Earth energy; I figured I was the best choice."

"No argument, but when you learned that you could not internalize the power yourself without binding your essence to Athas, you decided to send it elsewhere."

He nodded again. "I had to do something. It would have faded and been wasted forever if I'd waited much longer."

"Also no argument. But when you came to us for help in directing the energies, you failed to inform us of something very important, didn't you?"

Corundar visibly cringed. It wasn't common expression on a face as massive and stoic as his; it seemed utterly out of place. "You... you know about that? How could you know about that, Azure?"

The elf with sea-foam tresses shifted to gaze directly up into Corundar's averted gaze. "Come now. The flow of energy is my domain. Did you really think I wouldn't see that it had somewhere else it could go besides a living host?"

Now he looked worried. "Damn it, Az; I was afraid the power would disappear if I sent it into Athas itself. That much energy with that planet so ruined and wasted... It could have been disastrous! It could have been the end of that world! I couldn't let that happen, not when there was someone else to contain it, someone who could keep my homeworld safe!"

Azure raised an eyebrow even as Corundar's louder voice made the others stir once more. They waited, eyes locked and breath held, as sleep reclaimed their friends. Then, when it was safe to converse again, the Lord of Water spoke softly, "Your world? So we are out with it at last."

Corundar grumbled. Damn the sea flit and his word games. "Fine. Yeah, I admit it. I didn't want the planet I came from destroyed. We all gave up a lot for what's happened to us. Why couldn't Vertrius do the same?" Then, one fist clenching tightly, "He's been nothing but undead weight since we met him."

The elf sighed and reached up to lay one hand on the big man's much larger one, closed in silent violence as it was. "You do not really mean that."

Corundar's shoulders slumped in defeat. "What does it matter? I screwed up good this time, Az. They aren't going to trust me any more. Not after this."

Blue face expressionless as he spoke, Azure answered in a quiet whisper. "Should they?"

There was no immediate answer. Before Azure could prompt him again, the heavy silence was broken by Corundar's voice, sounding far more subdued than he'd ever heard it before. "Do you?"

Azure thought a long time before replying. "I trust your heart, Corundar. I trust your bravery and I trust your willingness to give all you have to the task before us. I trust that you would fight and die before seeing any one of us hurt."

After a few moments, the same voice said wearily, "But?"

"But I cannot say honestly that I trust your judgment. You did not lie to us but you withheld information for your own ends. If we had all known the full truth, it is doubtful Vertrius would be our enemy now and we could have worked together to prevent Athas from collapsing under the weight of all that divine energy."

Corundar started to protest and found himself utterly without something to say. He'd simply not thought of that possibility; he had never considered using their combined powers to keep his home stable while it absorbed the godly essence he'd forced into Vertrius. It... it was such a simple idea. Elegant. Effective. Why hadn't he thought of it?

As if he was reading Corundar's mind, Azure continued. "You have always guarded us, Corundar, but you do not see us as equals. We are your little siblings, to be protected and guided through the travails of your dangerous life." The hand on his never wavered; Azure's tone was neither condemning nor harsh - just ruthlessly candid. "You still think like the warlord you used to be."

The Lord of Earth sat down heavily, his massive frame all but giving out. There was only one thing left to say. "You're... right."

No, there was something else. "And I'm sorry."

Azure shook his head and returned to his own sleeping mat. "I do not need your apology, though I appreciate the effort you have gone through to reach the point where you could offer it."

Corundar looked up at him. "But..."

His aqueous friend favored him with a rare half-smile. "I do not require it, but the others most certainly do. I suggest you use the rest of your guard shift to practice. I doubt the words will come easily."

He nodded, breathing deeply. "Az? Do you think they'll listen? Do you really think it'll matter what I say?"

Just before slipping into a deep trance, Azure replied with his last words of the night. "Honestly, Corundar. Does that make a difference?"

And for the first time in his short life, Corundar found himself fearing the coming dawn more than he did the possibility of attack by Vecna's forces. A rampaging army of bloodthirsty, unstoppable creatures could be just past the edge of their campfire and he wouldn't have been concerned.

Hells, compared to facing his friends int he morning? They'd have been welcome.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Silent March

No one said a word. Not one word.

First in line was Corundar. Always at the head of any formation, he was usually quiet and dour. This time, things were much worse. His eyes were as hard as the stone of his homeland, his gaze as cold as any diamond's chill gleam. His jaw was set, immobile and unyielding. He had quarreled with his siblings before but this time was different. They blamed him for this new enemy, this old enemy renewed. Was he at fault? Hell no. This was NOT his fault.

Was it?

Behind him, agile and silent as ever, Azure kept pace with the much bigger man's ground-shaking strides. Almost unshakable in his resolve and unflappable in his calm, the sea elf could weather any storm and never lose his bearings. Until now. Now his nerves were on edge, his eyes casting about, darting from shadow to shadow. They had been through so much, his sisters, brothers and he, but this was new. This was something of their own doing, a sin they all had to share. Was this at last the mistake that would doom them all?

Was it?

Third in line was Akasha. They always tried to keep her within arm's reach so the Lady of Light could heal their every ailment in battle. They counted on her for comfort and life, but she was not unable to deny that her hands were also the cause of what could easily be their demise. She'd been Vertrius' companion. His lover. In her arms, he'd revealed so much, opened himself so completely. When she'd chosen another, that heart had shattered. He'd tried to be noble, tried to be understanding, but in the end, was his hatred of them her fault? Was her fickle heart the true betrayal and his only a pale shadow?

Was it?

Behind her Byrne walked with all the life of a crumbling statue. Inwardly, her life was fading fast. She'd failed her family on so many levels. She'd burned Faile, failed to defend the others, and when Vertrius needed her most all those months ago, she'd turned on him as well. If she'd just spoken out against Corundar, just refused to will the divinity to Vertrius when he was begging to be spared, perhaps none of this would have happened. She'd prided herself on being strong, but in truth, was it only weakness that burned so falsely in her veins?

Was it?

Nyx hovered over the ground, walking without actually touching the stone. To stride the earth itself would have grounded her too much, made her feel too strongly. Damn Vertrius, and damn them all for being part of his damnation. She'd been pushed, as had they all, into doing as Corundar commanded back then; there was no dodging the arrow on this one. They might have been coerced, even bullied, but the responsibility had to be shared. No one was innocent, especially not the Lady of the Dark. Was this then the end of them, an End even her powers could not control or forestall?

Was it?

Lastly, walking when she would have preferred to fly, Faile struggled to keep up. Her wounds were healed, but her heart was another matter. Still aching from the searing of her flesh, it was her soul that bore the deepest injuries. Nyx had told her of Akasha's words, that Vertrius had been the armored knight on dragon back. For years, she'd harbored a silent wish, that the elf would see her and not the Bright Lady, see that she too... loved him. Inside, she could only cling to one hope. Was it foolish to think that when she met him again, he would feel anything for her?

Was it?

And as six, the Elementals moved to the portal monolith. Its power was active. Another world awaited, another reality closer to the City of Secrets and its dread lord. Another gateway on the road to their victory. Or oblivion.

And none of them, at this moment, could be sure which fate they preferred...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

To Reap What You Sow

"No way. No damn way."

Azure sighed and shook his head, too tired from having dug the big man out to argue with him now. Fortunately, there was someone else at hand willing to do it for him.

"What part of 'Vertrius was the one that just attacked us' is unclear for you, Rockhead?" Nyx's tone was cutting and sarcastic, as dark as her ebon-flamed eyes. "Do you need me to use smaller words or did some of those stones knock loose what little sense you had?"

Corundar stood up from where he'd been sitting, squaring his shoulders and staring down the lithe shadow sorceress. "I'm not the enemy here, woman. He is. Or did I give you that little love tap up your side?"

He was referring to the sword slash left by the armored warrior as he flew past her back to his mount. If she'd not lurched to the side as he passed, his blade would have ended her. Growling, she broke eye contact and clenched her fists. "He's our enemy, but he's also our responsibility."

The half-giant spat into the ruins of the wall where he'd been buried by his own folly earlier. "I don't buy that! He's always played on the wrong damn team!"

Azure opened his mouth to speak but Byrne made his point for him. "Actually, he was with us for a long time, Cor." Her voice was uncharacteristically quiet. Hearing from Akasha that the knight they'd been fighting was their former friend Vertrius had really taken a toll on her.

"So what?! Am I the only person here to remember what happened when we first met him? He was on Father's side, trying to kill us. Has this escaped you all?!? He's rotten, through and through. I knew he'd turn on us again."

Nyx, who'd been trying to hold back her temper, finally snapped. She lashed out with one hand, manifesting her powers as a tendril of utter darkness. The whip of shadows sliced through the air between her and the Lord of Earth, veering aside only at the last moment to unleash her rage on the stones of the sundered wall.

"Hey! Watch it, you witch!" He clenched his fist, the ground beneath him shifting and shuddering as he prepared to defend himself. "Does the truth hurt?"

Nyx's armor appeared in a flare of onyx, obsidian plating covering her entire body save for her face. Her features, harsh and furious, made even Corundar take a step back as she screamed at him. "You hypocrite! Truth? You should have your tongue ripped out for daring to use the word! You want hurtful truths, trying looking at yourself in this mess!"

Byrne held her hands up, finding herself in the unlikely role of peacemaker. As Azure moved quietly behind Corundar, preparing to restrain him if he had to, she approached the Dark Lady slowly. "Come on, Nyx. let's all calm down, okay?"

"Not until Big Stupid pulls his head out of his ass or I shove it there permanently." her voice was taking on that ethereal quality, the ghost-like tone that meant the woman named Nyx was going away, soon to be replaced by the wrathful persona that lived inside of her - Sardon. If that happened...

In her mind's eye, Byrne saw the same thing she'd done to poor Faile occurring here. Only this time, it would be with all of her friends and the damage would be far worse. She couldn't bear to see that happen. Never again.

Her own armor manifesting in a pyre of raging heat and dancing flames, Byrne took to the air on the wings of a phoenix.


Her voice, amplified through the power of the goddess still within her, echoed for miles around the mountainside. Below her, her friends were all stunned and deafened by the sonic blast. They were still struggling to stand up by the time she landed.

"Please, all of you, we can't do this! This is what the Maimed One wants! We can't change the past. What's done is done."

Azure, Corundar, and Nyx turned to look at her, their expressions letting her know instantly that no matter how impassioned her speech might have been, waiting until their hearing returned first might have been a good idea. Still, the point had been made.

Nyx relaxed her powers, her armor fading away and the fury in her eyes subsiding. Corundar released his fist, sending the energies built up within it back to the earth from whence they came. Azure shot her a pained look, his skin tender and blushing from where her manifestation had given the poor water elf an instant sunburn.

Nearby, Akasha was still oblivious. Through all of this, since whispering her shocked revelation, she hadn't moved. The woman was still catatonic.

Corundar was the first to say something, as usual. "Look, I am not trying to dodge blame here, but I just don't see how him being a bastard is my damn fault."

Nyx growled again, but there was little hostility in it now. Rubbing her ears, she spoke quietly. "Vertrius lost his powers and left us because back on Athas, you were the one that tried to force divine energy into him."

"Hey now! I was trying to help him! Who wouldn't want to be a god? He was already basically invulnerable; nothing could affect him or hurt him. Godhood was the next step, right?"

Azure sighed again, finally getting what Nyx and Faile had been telling them all for weeks. "I think I see what the ladies have been saying."

Curundar turned on him even as Byrne figured it out as well. She dropped to her knees, shocked and disgusted at what they'd done. "Then for the love of Ao, tell me!" he said, his tone getting frustrated again.

Azure continued slowly, his calm demeanor the only thing keeping him from breaking down like the Lady of Fire. "Invulnerable, yes. Which meant he could not absorb the power you sent at him. Remember when we all had to work together to get the divine spark to merge with him?"

Corundar nodded. "Yeah, so?"

"We forced it to penetrate his defenses. He didn't want it but we made it happen anyway. It must have been... agony."

Corundar shrugged. "Again, so? I remember ascending. It hurt like a bi..."

The blue elf raised his hand, shutting Corundar up. "No, Cor. Think about this. We shattered his invulnerability. We drove the power of Athas' divine life force into a vampire. We didn't ascend him"

Byrne finished the thought, her voice dark with self-realized horror. "We murdered him."

The Lord of Stone was having none of this. "I don't think so. He was walking and talking just fine afterwards. Sure, he lost his vaunted immortality, but he was alive, damn it. A-LIVE."

"He was alive because of the contingent resurrection spell Akasha put on all of us. We'd long since used ours, but Vertrius never had. Byrne's right. We didn't make him a god. We killed him. Horribly."

"But..." Corundar scoffed, looking to anyone else in the hopes of having some support. "Come on." His tone turned a bit desperate. "You can't be serious." Seeing no one on his side, he tried to bluster again. "I was trying to help him, all right? I didn't want to hurt him."

Byrne nodded slowly. "I know, Cor. None of us did."

"But we are all to blame. It wasn't just you. It was your idea and you forced it to work, but we all had a hand in it." Nyx was speaking now, her eyes shut and glistening with bitter tears. "He's different this time. Before, he fought us because he was forced to. Now..."

For a long time, no one said anything. Finally, as the night glittered coldly above them, it was Akasha's voice that broke the uncomfortable silence.

"Now he wants us all dead."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Before the Battle

Twenty minutes before the attack at the fortress...

Leathern wings glided down out of the midnight sky. Though massive in size, the crimson dragon was grace incarnate as it touched the earth with little more than a whisper of shifting stones. Its rider was even quieter; a fleeting shadow of silence and stealth. Even in plate armor, he only echoed a single breath as he moved from the beast's back onto the ground at its feet.

There, ahead of him, a lone figure lay covered in a blanket of flickering light. The radiance made his eyes narrow through the narrow slits in his adamant mask. Slowly, he crossed the short distance between them and stopped beside the sleeping Lady of the Winds.

Before he could reach her, his mind thundered with his mount's powerful thoughts. *You should hurry. Slaying her will cripple the others.*

Annoyed, he turned to face the dragon and stared into its eager, amber gaze. *I am well aware of what her death means. Do not think to tell me my duty, wyrm.* One hand balled into a tight, metal-adorned fist, a sign of his irritation.

The dragon, Sangwynn, snarled softly but backed away a few feet. He knew well that his rider was capable of great and terrible things, including killing him if he desired. Sangwynn was not sure the Maimed Lord would intervene to save him either; as a traitor to Takhesis, he was fortunate enough just to be alive. No sense pushing his bonded "master" before he was strong enough to destroy him. No, that delightful day would come. All in good time...

*Now be silent and keep watch. I trust you can plot my doom and keep your eyes open for our quarry's return at the same time?*

Sangwynn startled. The human insect could read his mind even when he wasn't sending? But... but... The Eye and the Hand had told him his rider was stripped of his magical powers, that he had lost them at the hands of the very beings they were here to kill. So how...?

*Obviously, reptile, it isn't magic. Now do as you are told, please.*

The human made no sense! He was always like this. One moment cold as a white's breath, the next as cordial as a devil at the bargaining table. Never losing his temper, but always on the edge of it. Confused and more than a little intimidated, the dragon withdrew to seek a higher perch for lookout.

That done, the armored knight turned back to Faile. He paused, hand on the pommel of his runesword, and stared at her. She'd been burned, and not by his dragon. The Lady of Air hadn't suffered these wounds at his hands; he was sure of that.

No, this fire could only have come from one place. Byrne. Swift and lithe, Faile would never have let anything else come close enough to hurt her. Not the Faile he knew, anyway.

Without meaning to, his lips parted and he began to whisper his thoughts. "So we have something else in common now. We both know what it is like to be burned by so-called friends." The last word dripped more venom than a medusa's tresses. He knelt down beside her as he spoke, one metal hand opening to touch her slumbering face.

"I should kill you quickly, like this. It would be a cleaner death than the others will get, and better than what awaits you at his hand if you are captured. V won't be pleased if I spare you."

For some reason, that thought amused him. Beneath his helm's wickedly carved mask, Vertrius smiled softly. "Seems like we've been here before, haven't we, love? I let you all live when my father Urathyme ordered your deaths all those years ago. Odd how time seems to echo for us both, isn't it?"

He flinched, his smile faltered, as he recalled the lashing he'd received for disobeying the Liche Lord back then. His own father had given him to his maralith commander for punishment. He could still feel the whip across his back, still had the dozen scars it left...

His hand traveled to Faile's throat, fingers closing around its graceful length. It wouldn't be diffiuclt, not with her like this under one of Akasha's healing shrouds. The magic was a powerful tool of life, but it had the drawback of keeping its subject asleep through nearly anything.


He snarled, biting back a sudden wave of tangled emotions with hate at their crest. He'd loved her so much, given up everything he'd been for her, and allied with the Elementals all out of his feelings for the Lady of Light. He gave her his heart and she'd given it back in pieces. Fury flickered in his chest and in his hand.

Instantly, he pulled back, shaken by the intensity of his reaction. His fist had nearly closed around Faile's throat; a spreading bruise showed where she'd almost been throttled to death. That wasn't what he'd wanted to do. Not to her! Not to one of the few who'd always treated him kindly. He couldn't kill her. He just couldn't...

Getting a reign on his emotions again, he stood up quickly and turned around. Not like this at least. If she died at his hand, it would be fairly, in battle. He was many things, not all of which he was proud of, but he was not an assassin. Vecna had plenty of those. Straightening his cloak, Vertrius walked away from Faile quickly. Others would die this night, but not her. Not now.

*Let's go,* he sent to Sangwynn as he mounted again. The dragon glanced once at the woman on the ground, slitting his pupils at the fact that she still breathed, but said nothing as he took to the air.


On a throne of woven corpses, a gaunt, nearly-skeletal figure watched his cat's paw with one gleaming eye. A thin whisper of amusement passed his remaining teeth as his face twisted in a rictus grin.

"So, my conflicted friend, you are not as cold as you pretend. Ah well... We'll just keep that as our little secret, shall we?"

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hearts Asunder

Corundar barely had time to raise his sword before the knight was on him. Vaulting down from his armored saddle, the dark warrior was a streak of steel and shadows, ending in a tremendous impact that managed the impossible...

The Lord of Earth was disarmed and knocked off his feet, crashing to the ground as his balance failed under the power of the lightning-fast assault.

Even Azure was caught off-guard by this. The Elementals all paused, stunned for a second by the unthinkable occurring. Even during the battle with their "father" Urathyme, the big man has never been knocked down. He'd suffered enough damage during that final conflict to slaughter an army but he'd remained standing through it all.

Now he was down, the look of shock on his face quickly during into something else inconceivable.

Corundar was losing his temper. The strongest of them all, Corundar was also the most stoic. Azure was, as his monastic training would suggest, the calmest of the Elementals, but Corundar was truly a rock among them. He never grew angry. He never raised his voice. He never lost his focus during battle.

Until now, that is. Roaring in frustration, his right hand became a terrifying fist while his left pushed him to his feet. He came up swinging...

...at nothing. The dark warrior was there over him as Corundar started his attack, but his blow never landed. The armored fell-knight seemed to vanish just as the strike would have connected, a blow that could shatter a castle wall achieved nothing but a minor clap of thunder as the air behind it rushed back in to fill the void.

Then he felt a sting of pain across his shoulders, a flare of heat that told him instantly his armor had been slashed open. Blood flowed from the shallow wound running all the way across his back as he turned in a rapid combat pivot to punch again.

And again, struck nothing. The knight simply wasn't there. Azure hurled an ice bolt as the enemy vanished, also to no avail. Then he and Byrne both had to deal with the knight's powerful mount; fire was his bane and if its breath were to catch him unawares, Azure could actually be slain by such an attack.

Fortunately, Byrne was there, shielding him from the flaming torrent with her impervious body. Fire meant nothing more than welcome warmth to her. Glaring up at the dragon through its fiery barrage, she lifted her axe and threw it with all her might. Its gleaming edge cut the spray of burning breath, arching end over end into the roof of its mouth. The dragon screamed in pain and lashed backwards, taking to the air as caustic blood geysered from its open mouth.

The blood was almost more dangerous than the dragon's blood. Byrne was immune to fire but not to acid, especially the intense ichor raining down over the battlefield. Only Corundar could ignore the deadly storm; the others were badly burned as they scrambled to find what shelter remained in the ruined keep.

Azure concentrated, using his inner power to shrug off the acid's damage. His body renewed itself, a painful but potent technique honed to perfection through years of mental training. He was nowhere hear as effective a healer as Akasha, but he could mend his own body very well when he needed to do so. Pressing his hands together as the agony of his seared flesh subsided, he formed a stack of wickedly sharp shuriken forged from pure ice. As soon as the knight reappeared, he would be ready.

The weapons were created not a moment too soon. As Corundar charged across the rent courtyard to retrieve his lost blade, a flicker in the air made him stop short. That combat reflex saved him from having his throat slashed open; the dark warrior's sword whistled through the air where his neck would have been.

The Lord of Earth open stopped for a moment. The instant the sword strike passed, he was charging again. This time his punch made contact and the armored knight launched into the air in a high, painful-sounding arch of bent metal and hammered flesh.

Akasha took the opportunity to dash across the battlefield to Byrne's side. Azure could heal himself, but the Lady of Fire could not. She was at the mercy of the acid, rolling on the ground in a vain attempt to rub off the vicious fluid before it ate through to her bones. Akasha caught her friend in her gentle but deceptively strong arms and whispered a calming word into her melting ear. "I'm here... I'll take care of you..."

A pulse of light surrounded them as Akasha called forth come of her most powerful healing magic. Byrne's wounds and the Lady of Radiance's own both vanished under its restorative powers. As the light passed through them, they were cleansed of the acid and their injuries became naught but a painful memory.

Then, as Azure was lining up for another ice assault on the still-hurtling figure, a strange thing occurred. An arc of power leaped out of Akasha's healing sphere and raced through the air. It slammed into the body of the dark warrior, healing him instantly. Staying as placid as possible despite this distressing turn of events, the sea elven monk continued his attack.

A swarm of icy stars darted between Azure and the knight as he landed gracefully on the distant stone. The enemy raised his sword in a mock salute, its hilt gem flashing a brilliant cerulean blue a split second before the shuriken hit.

Each one shattered harmlessly off an invisible barrier. So did the ice lance Azure fired next. And another. And another. Nothing the monk through was having any effect; the warrior seemed impervious to his powers. Grimly, Azure stopped using cold attacks and drew his katana. Steel might succeed where elemental magic was failing.

Corundar apparently had the same idea. He had his sword back now, gripped tightly in his massive hands. Howling now in a nearly incomprehensible voice of frenzy, the Lord of Earth raised his blade high overhead and charged again. Using his power to landrun, he was incredibly fast; the momentum of his next strike would surely be enough to cleave his target in half!

Assuming it ever connected, which it did not. Again, a second before the mighty blow could tear the knight in half, its intended victim disappeared. Another roar from Corundar echoed through the ramparts, making their crumbling stones tremble and shake.

"Damn it, Cor! Get ahold of yourself before you bury us all!" Ironically, it was Byrne who was trying to calm him down. Well acquainted with berserker rage, she knew that what it offered in power it also cost in precision. This knight was too nimble, too fast to get taken down by brute force. "Don't make me smack you again!"

Akasha was still on her knees, staring at her hands with a dumbfounded, almost pained expression. "He... he took my magic. I healed us, and he forced me to heal him too. How...?" She shuddered, a feeling of utter magical violation passing through her body.

In the air above all this, the dragon and Lady Nyx were shadow dancing. Her faint, eerie laughter rang out through the night sky. The dragon was being deadly serious, but it was obvious she was just enjoying the battle. She was enjoying the chance to stretch her wings of darkness once again.

Reeling from its latest wound, the scaled beast clutched its pierced chest with one taloned hand and breathed forth another cone of fire. The momentary blaze cast everything on the ground below in deepest shade, causing Corundar's shadow to loom like an continuous wave of black from one side of the courtyard to the other.

Azure blinked at what he saw in that instant. The wave was actually mostly continuous. There was a small gap in the shadow, a part of the ground that didn't darken with the rest. "So that's it," he murmured to himself. "Invisibility."

He moved so swiftly, the shadow hasn't completely disappeared yet. He threw Wavecrest in a powerful, two handed pitch at the gap, smiling softly as it struck something no one could see. Its enchanted edge bit deep, raking through adamantine and cutting the wearer within. A short, stifled cry of pain was the monk's quietly appreciated reward.

Blood fell from apparently empty air, leaking from an unseen wound. Now leaving a trail, the knight ran for the nearest wall. "Corundar!" Azure called out, pointing at the droplets.

"I see 'em!" The big man was getting himself back under control; Byrne's words had pierced his haze of wrath. Bearing aloft Terrasunder again, he ran as fast as his powers could take him. The crimson path led the Lord of Earth straight to a gap in the castle's bulwark. The knight had obviously slipped through it; Corundar just charged straight through.

An explosion of rock and metal marked his passage. Unfortunately, while he was completely unharmed by smashing through the wall, he was not immune to the effects of its immediate collapse. Tons of fortification came crashing down, burying the Lord of Earth and concealing that entire side of the cliff in a spread cloud of mortar and dust.

Byrne looked at the scene, smacking her face into her open hand. "Big... stupid..."

High overhead, Nyx suddenly veered to the side in pain. A slash appeared across her body, her onyx armor cleft by an invisible blade. As she plunged earthward, her ability to control her wings somehow broken, the knight appeared on the back of his mount. Wounded by not slain, the pair shimmering away just as they'd done before.

Azure sighed, walking from his safe perch under a tower overhang to where the Lord of Earth would be needing some help. He wasn't worried about Corundar's safety; the huge warlord had lived through much worse. Byrne joined him at the edge of the avalanche as Nyx floated safely to the ground. Her wings weren't working, but her magic was still effective. Once again, feather fall was a mage's best friend.

"He teleported." The Lady of Darkness said flatly, her boots touching down.

"We saw." Byrne started hefting stones out of the massive pile. "Cor's under here."

"I saw." Nyx cast a spell to start moving the earth in much larger volumes. It would be a slow process, but together they could get their friend out of his latest disaster. With Azure making ice slides to get the debris moved away from the site as it was dug up, Corundar would be all right. Embarrassed and frustrated to be sure, but all right.

Meanwhile, Akasha was oblivious to all of this. She hadn't seen a thing since the healing, hadn't known a single moment since her spell had been taken from her so viciously. It was an intimate, hostile sensation, the touch of someone powerful enough to simply force her will to do as it pleased.

But that wasn't why she was shaking. The violation was horrible, but it was not why she was staring into the sky blankly, her mind a dozen dimensions away. Guilt, betrayal, pain, and sorrow echoed through her whisper, a word none of the others heard as it fell from her lips...


Sunday, January 7, 2007

<--- Weapons of the Elementals --->

Each of the Elementals has a signature weapon, something either crafted by their own hands when they were still divine or made for them by a powerful ally. Each weapon will be detailed here with a description and picture as well as a list of powers in d20 format. These characters were originally from a long-running D&D campaign and it only seems right to complete their circle by providing gaming information as I tell their stories.

First up, Terrasunder - the Sword of the Earth Lord!


Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Lone Tower

"So, what do you make of it?"

Corundar grinned at Azure's question. "Given enough time, just about anything. You have a particular shape in mind?"

The Lord of Earth might have been joking, but he was also perfectly serious. His power over earth and stone meant the basalt tower in the distance could, given time to shape it, be turned into almost anything by the massive warrior. That, however, was not the point of the sea elven monk's question.

"I meant..."

Corundar nodded. "I know what you meant. As far as I can tell, it's a sentinel post. See how it sits on the highest rise, with all its main windows and vantage points positioned to watch the valley. The lack of disturbed ground means it has probably never been sieged, at least not for long, and the only approach is probably heavily guarded by weapons ports on the upper floors."

Azure blinked at him and chuckled.

"What's so funny, blue?"

"Nothing. I was only asking if you thought the tower might have the next monolith in it. All the energies seem to point this way."

Corundar laughed and shrugged. "No clue. But I can tell you this. Whatever's in there is there to stay. They are serious about defense. That place is going to be nothing but pain. Mark my words, fishie. Nothing. But. Pain."

An hour later, they were all in the tower. The front gate had been unlocked.

Azure grinned at Corundar, who looked down at his feet with a low growl. "Okay. So I was wrong. You live a hundred years, it's bound to happen once."

"Actually," whispered Nyx. She was in full gemstone armor, so her voice sounded like the hollow hiss of an opening grave. "this place was easy to enter because everything here is dead." She gestured and the shadows nearest to her pulled back like a curtain, revealing more than a dozen humanoid skeletons, a pile of mostly disassembled bones.

Akasha recoiled. "They are stacked like firewood. What happened here?"

"I can watch the destruction that took place here, see what occurred to these doomed folk."

"Then do it, and be quick if you can. I can feel the powers of death in this place." Akasha looked almost ill, as if just touching the floor was nauseating. Given her power over Life, it likely was.

Nyx hovered over the bones, the shadows she'd just parted now forming a column of power to hold her aloft. Her black masked face tilted back, her long mane of night gray flowing across her back and mingling with the shades at her feet. The others stood still, knowing better than to disturb her when she was doing this. When she was literally communing with Death itself.

It took nearly an hour, with everyone but Faile utterly motionless. The Lady of the Winds was outside, still resting in their makeshift camp. She'd not regained consciousness since she spoke her few words to Byrne earlier, but she was recovering well. That thought alone kept Byrne, normally the worst of the group at keeping put, calm enough to stay where she was.

Eventually, Nyx landed and in her wake, the bones crumbled to gray powder, ashes ghosting across the desolate floor of their tower tomb.

"As I feared, the next gatestone is here. It appeared in the basement of this place, where the tower's node of power rested. When the Maimed Lord came for it, his forces sacked the fortress from the air and from below. The defenders never stood a chance."

Azure shivered despite his usual implacable calm. He'd seen firsthand what Vecna's minions could do, and the dark relish even his so-called "mindless" undead took in the tearing of the living limb from limb. "The gatestone." He took another breath, calming down. "Is it... is it still here?"

Nyx nodded. "I can feel it. It is still in the basement, surrounded by the dead. The people of this tower tried to make a stand down there to stop Vecna's forces. It did not succeed."

Byrne finally found her voice again. "But if the Lord of Secrets won, why is the gatestone still here?"

Before anyone else could answer, the tower above them exploded in an inferno of rock and magma. Rising over what remained of the building, a colossal beast of crimson hue and burning breath reared back, exposing the armored rider on its back.

"Why, Lady Pyre? Because traps need bait!"

As the knight spoke, he drawn his sword and made a gesture with his empty, gauntleted hand. Dozens of flagstones around the Elementals shattered upwards, turning to rubble as a swarm of the restless dead rose up to surround them. Their empty eyes glimmered with malice, an evil dread reflected a thousandfold in the gaze of the dragon high above.

Corundar drew his mammoth blade and pulled the others into a defensive ring with him as its breaking point.

"Damn... I hate it when I'm right."