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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Mark's Journal #17: Homecoming.

Mark’s 17th Journal - 02-13-2011

The journey back to Fur-Lonn was uneventful, which was nice, seeing as though we had dealt with so much already. Two cities visited, one saved from the scourge of crime and corruption, the other saved from itself and a goblin invasion. We have gained and lost so much. Tori stayed behind to join and help some druids. James, our long-lost friend, joined us and helped us rid Aristaal of goblins. Leviss lost the use of his legs, albeit temporarily, and I lost the use of my eyes, less so.

As fate would have it, we were returning to Fur-Lonn, or Central City, in time for the annual celebration of the Keepers. The city was busy, and full of life, with people running around getting ready. The streets were loud, and the smells of freshly baked breads, meats, and treats, escaped no one’s attention.

Making it back to P3TR’s shop, it was as if nothing had changed. I could hear P3TR working away in the shop, cleaning something probably, and he greeted us as if we had been gone merely a week, as opposed to the months it has been. One thing that was different was the smell. Off to one corner of the room, I could smell…well, I hadn’t smelled something like that since Tori was around. It was as if the smells of animal and vegetable combined into one focused area. To be fair, we all smelled like that, a little, having spent weeks on the road, sleeping on the ground. But, this person, whoever it was, smelled like they had lived in nature itself.

P3TR made the introductions, and we were to learn that this newcomer’s name was Gabriel. An old friend of P3TR’s, Gabriel was rescued by the Keepers sometime ago. Leviss even had the trading card among his Keepers’ fanfare. Since he was a new arrival, P3TR asked us to take him around town.

First thing first, we went to the Temple of Pelor, where James could be welcomed home after his long departure. James told us little about his life between when he left and when he met with us in Aristaal, simply that he had been adventuring on the mainland, and that his group had been killed by a bugbear. He also told us that he hasn’t been home in all that time, having traveled straight to our aid in Aristaal. When we got to the temple, we were stopped by Red Cloaks, and not just any. According to them, and their uniforms (described to me by Avaron), they were mainland Cloaks, sent especially by the King. They demanded that James be released into their authority, to be taken back to the mainland to be “punished” for his crime. Punished. Not tried, not questioned, simply punished. Avaron, questioning the legality of the matter, demanded to see their identification. Showing the proper seal and a request for James’ arrest by the highest court, we had no choice; we had to let him go. We bargained for one last chance for James to at least see the Head Cleric of Pelor, say goodbye one last time. They agreed to it, but it took a fair amount of convincing for James to part with his weapons. Holding his arm tightly, I could feel his anger swelling in him. Feel it like a fire swelling in his chest. I calmed him down, and we opened the doors. The cleric, upon the door’s opening, asked James what he had done, and shunned him away before anything else could be said.

James was...well, the fire in James’ heart died right then and there. Barely able to stand, the Red Cloaks took him away. I tried to offer words of encouragement, tried to convince him to calm down, and be strong, but nothing worked. He looked at me with what Avaron said was the deadest look she had ever seen in anything living.

They took him away.

Rushing back to P3TR’s shop, we told him the details and he agreed that there was nothing else that could be done. We told him that if he had any contacts with anyone out east, or moving east, it would be nice if someone were to keep an eye on James, ensure he makes it to the waterfront okay. P3TR did his best to act confused by this, but seeing as though Ray was watching our every move in Portsmouth, it was likely that P3TR had other contacts who could help us as well.

Contacts like Gabriel, who seemed quite adamant about following us around. Avaron and I, and probably Leviss if he wasn’t so wrapped up in the Keepers celebration, suspected that Gabriel was following us around purely for P3TR’s benefit. Deciding he was no harm, we all set off toward the Erathis Temple. The entire way there I was worried about James, and worried that my own reception would be taken negatively.
Weaving through the busy streets, we finally made it. I was back, where it all began, where I grew up. Tripping on that first step brought everything back. Learning from the clerics, playing checkers with Ted, sneaking off to dream of adventures with Leviss, James, and Avaron, I spent most of my life here, and yet most of my living had been done elsewhere. Inside the temple, it was as busy as I remembered. Familiar voices rushing to and fro, offering encouragement, issuing orders, it was another day in the service of Erathis. Talking to Verril, a high cleric, and second in command to Cleric Gary, it seemed that Gary wasn’t doing so well. He hadn’t left his room in days, and has been refusing to eat anything or see anyone. Pushing my way to his room, I had to slam myself into the door frame just to talk to him. He sounded awful. He smelled sick, and old, and with something weighing heavily on his mind, or his heart. After having the door shut in my face after barely saying hello, Avaron told me that there was something magically sinister going on. She said there was a black aura, a darkness, surrounding him and that it didn’t look good.
Telling Verril what happened to me, I sensed an apprehension from him concerning my tale. While he grew proud of my newly strengthened faith in Erathis, he seemed worried about my transformation, about my appreciation of the natural side of things. I did not say it to him, but I have always felt distanced from the clerics here, and how could I not? Clearly not from around here, always seen as different, as a beast, or at best as a problem that needed to be fixed, most of the Erathis community saw me as a threat. It was Gary who first saw the good within me; he was the first to have faith in my ability to serve the greater good in a way differing in method, but not in purpose. Since my newly found faith in Erathis, I feel like I walk between two worlds: the rigid, protected, and righteous route of Erathis civilization, and the wild, unpredictable, curving path of nature. But, it’s like I told Leviss when he asked me how I was able to follow a country road without sight, I keep one foot on the path, and one foot off it, as long as that holds true, I’ll find my way eventually.

I made my rounds of the temple, sharing tales of bravery with the rest of the listeners, while Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel left to tour more of the city. Avaron told me, upon their return, that Tori’s family had moved on. Only a brother and sister remained at the edge of the city, and they welcomed Gabriel most enthusiastically. They seemed to appreciate the nature in him and made him a bracelet. At a collector’s shop, Leviss got into a bit of a fight with the collector concerning an “authentic” sword of the Keepers. Avaron saw a set of new edition Keeper cards and refused Leviss the money to get them. (She showed me later that she bought them, and is planning on surprising him for his birthday)

Back at P3TR’s, we celebrated Avaron’s 18th birthday! P3TR did his best to surprise Avaron, complete with streamers and party hats, but seeing as though he does this every year, the only “surprise” was that it was done a few days early. Avaron, Gabriel, and P3TR played, “Pin the Tale on the Goblin”, leaving Leviss and I out due to “unfair advantages”. Among her presents, Avaron received what we were told was Ghostphase Armour, and a Staff of Fiery Might. That last one sounds about right, and my beard tickled with fear of what she might do with it, heh.

After a night of merrymaking, we head back into the city. Leviss picked up a meat-toaster that toasts the meat to look like a picture of Alan, or so I was told. We headed back to the Erathis Temple, to check in on Gary, and met Ray on the way. Looking a little different than the last time we saw him, the changeling was enjoying the celebrations, with women on each arm. We asked him about the black aura and while attempting to get an answer, we followed him back to P3TR’s. Once there, Ray gave Avaron a key to something he called The Roost. Apparently, this key, used on any locked door, can create a passageway to the old hideout of the Keepers. Leviss nearly passed out from the thought of being able to check out the Keepers’ old hideout. Reminding Ray of the black aura, he said that once, a long time ago, a guy who murdered 27 people, went insane and killed himself and that Alan had seen a black aura around him. Not sure what to do with that, I suggest we go outside to let off some steam, and practice our abilities. Leviss casted the battle ritual, a feat which I am sure terrified Gabriel at first, watching the terrain change and having illusive monsters attack. Gabriel showed his prowess in battle, shooting down some spectral tigers with his crossbow, and finishing off some more with his knife. Avaron just blasted them with pure, raw, arcane energy. Magic, effective, but I’ll never quite get it.

The next day was the day of the festival. Leviss dragged himself out of bed; his legs healed enough that he could walk, in casts, and slowly, out toward the festival. Attempting to follow him as best as we could, we made it out to the parade. Every year is more or less the same, with floats to each of the Keepers wheeling by. Avaron and Leviss said that this year, the float of Alan looks way too chiseled, too perfect. It’s like the city is putting on a false bravado, I tell Avaron. She reminds me that it’s the same every year. Leviss also had more arguments concerning the presentation of such, and it was only through some quick deferring, and some spirit glue, on Gabriel’s part that we were able to get Leviss out of there without causing too much trouble.

Later that evening, the city had its Keepers dinner. Each year, the city hosts a huge dinner, partially provisioned by the Temples, and each year Avaron, Ray and P3TR sit at the mayor’s table, while Leviss joins his family, and I join those from the Erathis Temple. This year, after asking Gabriel to join me, we were all surprised when Avaron asked us to sit at her table, at P3TR’s request. After making a speech thanking everyone for their tribute, P3TR wished to convey the fact that it has been years since the Keepers retired, and that the city should be celebrating the newly formed Guard as their heroes. Unexpected, it was quite a compliment. To be acknowledged by P3TR as heroes, instead of children with a sense of adventure, was an honour itself, but to be put on display and celebrated among the city, well, that was something more. The loyalty of the city seemed a little scarce, and it was clear that this day was more of a reason to party than a day to pay tribute to their protectors, the party went on, completely uninterrupted.

Going home early, we turned in, letting the city celebrate whatever they wanted, in their own way. I woke up suddenly, crushed, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. It felt like the entire house had fallen on me, and it turned out, that wasn’t too far from the truth. Lifting a beam above my head, I called out to Leviss. Assuring me he was alright, he looked around for our stuff, for a way out, as it seemed we were trapped in a tiny pocket of air, and my strength was weakening. Avaron, P3TR, and Gabriel, sleeping on the upper floors of the house, were able to get out more quickly, and it was just as I thought I would collapse when I felt a metal hand rip Leviss and I free.

I could smell the city, smell the rubble that used to be homes. Avaron, Leviss, and Gabriel confirmed this by saying that it seemed the entire city had been attacked. Again. This time, it was our home, this time, we knew these people personally. Agreeing that we needed to get to the Erathis Temple, that it was probably there where all of this first occurred, we set off. P3TR wished us luck and set us on our way. We asked for his help, but he said that this was a job for The Guard. On our way, Howard the Alchemist, called us over to help with his assistant, Fred, who was in the basement of his building. Digging our way down there, Leviss was able to crawl in and unfortunately, determine that Fred was dead.

We moved on. The streets seemed oddly empty. There wasn’t the hustle that we saw in Aristaal, of people rushing to put their lives back together. Instead, it was almost eerily quiet. Passing a man sitting on the ground, he was doing his best to assure his baby that his mommy would be coming back soon. Uttering a short prayer to Erathis that she would, we moved on. Next, we came to a house where we could hear an entire family crowded in one place. Avaron explained to me that their house had collapsed, completely cutting one of the family members, an old man, in half. I knew what had to be done; I had heard of this kind of injury before. Instructing Leviss and Gabriel to escort the family away, keep them distracted, I asked Avaron to help me. Moving to the old man’s side, we found that not only was he still awake, but he was remarkably clearheaded. Avaron told him he was going to die, that there was nothing we could do. The old man laughed, and said that he built this house, had lived here for so long, and here was where he wanted to go. Drawing a dagger, I granted his final request.

It’s never easy. I draw my sword and shield only when I have to, and only to defend those in need from the scourge of the evil and the corrupt. But, sometimes, in order to help, in order to do what needs to be done, we have to be strong, and act fast. Erathis! Atlas! Please, watch over me, and ensure that I only act when needed.

Finally, we made it to the temple, and I could not have imagined what came next.

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