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Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Mark's Journal #19: When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes

Mark’s 19th Journal – 03-13-11

We had to get to Aristaal; that much was certain. Avaron and Leviss felt a terrible presence in that direction and it was obvious that we had been mislead to Hampton. Remembering the geography of Ori, and conferring with Gabriel, we came up with the idea of trying to gain access to the Roost. If the fabled hideout of The Keepers was indeed in the mountains just west of Aristaal, and if the key given to Avaron for her birthday could get us to the Roost almost immediately, we knew we had to try.

Renting a room above the nearest tavern, we decided to give the key a try. Avaron locked and opened our single room door and immediately I could tell something had happened. With a whoosh of cold air, our room seemed to open to a cold, dark, cave. Now, I may not be able to see, but sometimes it is astounding how blind I can be to my surroundings. I should have known that as soon as that door opened to the Roost that Leviss would take off. With a shake of my head, I went after him, certain that Ray would never give Avaron a dangerous gift, or more certainly, that P3TR would never allow such a danger to fall into Avaron’s hands.

Following Leviss was not an easy task. His legs have improved since Aristaal, he’s still in crutches, but he moves fast, especially when potential Keepers memorabilia lies ahead. I was not worried; the air was fresh, and Avaron told me it was dark, but since I was blind, I actually felt comfortable moving along the solid stone walls. Clanging my shield every other step, I felt the noise ringing off the walls. I was reaching out with my senses, and I felt a little better. Making my way down the path, I eventually found myself in a much larger room. Leviss had smashed into a thing or two, and I reminded him that he may need to see, and that he should use his lighted bow. He lit the bow and told me that we were surrounded by bows, ballistas, and other terrible looking weapons pointed straight at us. I told Leviss to wait, and that the others would show up soon enough and could help us.

Sure enough, Gabriel and Avaron arrived moments later, leading our horses. Moving past Leviss, Gabriel made his way into the next room, which appeared to be some sort of monitoring room with mirrors and levers, corresponding to the different weapons fixed on us. It seems that the Keepers were ready should they have intruders. Moving past that, we came to another round room, this time seemingly more inviting. Carpets covering wooden floors, tapestries on the walls, the style was very much inspired by the Old World, or so everyone said. In addition, this seemed to be more of a “sitting room”, as there were couches lining the walls, and cases on pedestals showing off some of The Keepers’ adventures. At the end of the room, there were three doors.

The first door opened to a giant pantry. I could smell the food, spices and such. Gabriel said it had enough food to feed us all for a year at least and that everything was so well preserved that it seemed like it had been placed there only days before. The second door opened to an Observation Room. There was a giant slit on the wall with telescopes, runes carved into the ceiling, maps and notes on one table, and tools and alchemical materials on another bench. The last door hosted a hallway with a curious set of slots on the walls where torches might go. In addition, there was a handle on the wall at the far end. On one table, there were a few carved figures: a goat, a drake, and a creature even Gabriel had never seen before. Gabriel, placing a torch into one of the slots on the walls, was immediately trapped in a cage that sprang from under him. Avaron freed him, moved the horses into position, trapped herself in with them, and then teleported out. The slot on the wall, upon investigation, provided the animals with hay. It hit Avaron right in the face! Swallowing my laughter, I moved back to the main room.

Commanding Leviss to not touch anything, I ran my hands along the wall, trying to get a feel for the place. Apparently, my warning came in good time, as Leviss was about to touch some foreboding sword, literally dripping with evil and hate, it seemed. Moving along the room, I found a brick that, when pressed, opened a secret passage to four more doors. The first was obviously Ray’s bedroom. It boasted a bed, and a curious reflective ball that, when spun, lit the room in sparkling light. The next room was clearly P3TR’s. It was bare, with only a cot, and a single bookshelf with books of philosophy on it. The room after that was Alan’s room. Leviss told me later that no one had been in that room for years, probably left exactly as it was after Alan died. Avaron pushed past us and shut the door.

The fourth door was a vault of some sort, with a modest pile of gold and jewels on the floor. After this investigation, I asked Leviss and Gabriel to go about looking around, see what they could find out about the place. Leviss continued going over all the artifacts, careful not to touch any of them. Gabriel moved to the pantry where he provided us with a nice dinner, and some travel rations for later. I sat in front of Alan’s room. I wanted to make sure that Avaron had this time, alone and uninterrupted, to connect with her father. He was a great man, and while she never said as much, I know she missed him a great deal. Finally, she heard me outside the door and told me that she was fine and that she had learned a ritual or two from some old notes her father had made. Sitting in the hall, going over them, I asked if I could look into something with Jello, her oozing familiar. Recalling the sound of my shield on the bare walls, I wanted to know about the tremor sense that Jello seemed to have. In earlier encounters, Avaron had used Jello’s senses to determine if there were other creatures about. I was not sure what I would accomplish at the time, but going blind opened my mind to new ways of perceiving the world around me.

The next day we made plans to set out. Deciding to leave the horses where they were, we trekked down the mountain, for upon a cold, snow-filled mountain we were. Upon reaching the bottom, we noticed a column of smoke not exactly in the same direction as Aristaal. Needing to find a door at which to use Avaron’s key to retrieve the horses, we made for the smoke. Night was beginning to fall when we came upon a goblin camp. It was clear that Gabriel was agitated, but Avaron and I quickly suggested we leave, as we had no reason to bother or be bothered by goblins. Not long after, we were attacked by goblins, but quickly dispatched of them. It was a needless act, but we had wandered into their territory, and goblins are a cowardly lot.

The next day, we came across a ruined cabin. We actually would have passed right by it if it wasn’t for Gabriel. He noticed that some of the foliage was out of place, and we quickly realized that the cabin had overgrown with vines and formed a leafy wall. Unfortunately, the door too was destroyed. After a couple of minutes of silly, albeit creative attempts to remake the door using surrounding materials, Leviss remembered that he had a ritual which might help. Lighting his ritual candle, he was able to recreate the door. We used it to retrieve our horses, and Leviss kept the handle of the door for future needs. In addition, Avaron grabbed the figurines because their purpose was still a mystery to us. Accidentally dropping the strange looking one, it immediately grew to a large beast! It was roughly 15 feet long and wide, had a tough leather-like body with a saddle on it, three horns and a giant head shield of some kind. Apparently, these figurines were enchanted mounts that could be called upon. After toying around with it, Avaron was able to figure out how to turn the creature back. Leviss was extremely disappointed by that last part. Even I could tell he really wanted to ride that creature, which we called a lizard lion for convenience. He bothered her about it, he kept trying to steal it; everything he said related to it in one way or another, but Avaron was not comfortable with Leviss having it, not just yet.

Making camp, and hoping to get to Aristaal soon, Gabriel and I took the first watch. We have a rather quiet group and while I like that, I made some effort in talking with Gabriel. I feel I could learn a lot from his travels, and his insight has seemed most useful thus far. It was a quiet, uneventful night, and I finally settled down to sleep after waking Leviss and Avaron. Upon waking in the morning, I overheard Avaron telling Leviss that he wasn’t the only one who had dreams. This worried me a little. Dreams are rarely a good thing, in my opinion. Sure, sometimes, I see things in my sleep, and most of the time I forget about it come morning. Either that or it was not worth remembering: killing a goblin here, painful memories there. But, when someone makes an effort to mention a dream, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

Off and riding. All this traveling has done nothing to calm any of us down. We are still looking for Gary and for answers concerning Fur-Lonn. I fear P3TR’s involvement with this as he did seem to mislead us slightly by suggesting Hampton so enthusiastically. Avaron had been quieter than usual, so I rode my horse up to her so we could talk. Mostly, I needed to say some things; things which I feared might never get said between us. I told her that, with the Erathis Temple gone, and all the clerics dead, that Avaron and Leviss were the only family I had. The Guard, and all of our adventures has brought us together in a way I never thought possible when play-acting as a child, but I wanted Avaron to know, to hear, how I felt about our group and how I would feel quite alone in this world without them.

Finally, we made it to Aristaal. The walls, Leviss reported, were less beige, and the city seemed to have improved upon itself since last we saw it, which really isn’t saying much, but progress is progress. We did notice, however, that many were leaving the city. We asked one old man why and he said the “man in black had made things unsafe.” Even an old student from Avaron’s classes said the same thing. Moving more into the city, we noticed a statue. I could tell it wasn’t good even before anyone said anything. Avaron’s horse stopped, with a grunt from Gabriel and a gasp from Leviss, I waited to hear what it was.

Standing before us, was a statue of P3TR. It said, “Here fell Saint P3TR the Keeper, who knew the value of a life. May we never forget his lesson.” We couldn’t believe it; P3TR's dead? What? Some nervous sounding kid made his way to us and tried to explain but before he had said 3 words, Avaron galloped ahead. Following as quickly as we could, we made it to the Evocation Tower, there to find Avaron talking to her old professor. He told us the horrible tale.

About a week and a half ago, P3TR showed up, asking questions about a man in black robes. No one had seen this person, so P3TR decided to get a room at the inn, and waited. Finally, a man in black robes, with a face like death, and bleeding bare feet showed up. He was ignored, taken for a beggar. These were trying times for the people of Aristaal; they had seen their fair share of beggars and the homeless. Eventually, P3TR was seen talking to this man, and they appeared to be arguing. Or rather, P3TR seemed to be trying to get a point across, but it wasn’t working. The onlookers couldn’t hear what was being said but before they knew it, P3TR drew out his shield.

P3TR retired the day Alan disappeared. He had not brought out his shield in all that time, and here he was, drawing it on some beggar. The two of them fought a very intense, dangerous battle. The man was pure power, Avaron’s professor said, able to destroy buildings with a thought. P3TR did not back down; he stood his ground and laid into the man with everything he had. When all hope seemed lost, when P3TR looked to be at his end, a bright light appeared, and both the man and P3TR were gone. The townspeople looked all around, but only a small sliver of P3TR could be found. Avaron’s professor gave this sliver, kept in a vial on a rope, to Avaron. The people of Aristaal, the people left that is, made a statue in honour of P3TR and have been laying tributes at it ever since.

I quickly ushered us to the arena. There, I tethered our horses, and got out of Avaron’s way. I could not deal with P3TR’s loss yet myself, but thought it best if the rest of my comrades had a chance to blow off some steam. I didn’t think it would cure anyone, but I’ve seen Avaron’s potential when she’s in a good mood, at least this way, rocks would be the only thing harmed. Gabriel was quiet, and mostly stayed with me and the horses. Leviss was quiet and just sat around, unsure of what to do. Avaron, well, she did exactly what I figured she would do. She hurled her arcane chaos at that quarry with more power and frustration than ever before. Blasts of lightning, fire, acid, wind, sand, all scorched the earth and left the quarry bare of rock, but full of hate. Eventually, the day wore out, and Avaron, while not ready to quit, was powered more by anger that by ability at this point. Convincing everyone to pack up, we booked two rooms at the Warmhearth Inn.

Avaron took one room, and I told Leviss and Gabriel to take the other. I sat at the bar, with one single glass of wine, all night. P3TR was dead. Even now, some time after, I find the words difficult to write, difficult to hear or read. This man, Avaron’s guardian, had been with her since a very early age. He had looked out for her every second of every day since as long as I knew her. Even adventuring, it was obvious that he looked out for her; he had Ray track us in Portsmouth, and he sent Gabriel clearly to guard her. But, now he was gone. None of us had a chance to say goodbye, and again, Avaron was left without a parent, without a guardian. I lost my friends and brothers from the Erathis Temple, but this was different. Avaron lost someone who had become like a father to her, and she lost him suddenly. I prayed to Erathis that we would get through this. I prayed that I would have the strength to keep this party together, and I vowed that justice would be served. We will find Gary and find out what exactly has been going on.

The dawn awoke, surprised by my steadfastness, and I heard the Wizarding Council coming to the Inn. Upon finding me there, they asked if I could get the others as they wanted to talk with us. Gabriel was already awake, standing at the top of the stairs, probably overhearing the wizards, and I asked him to wake Leviss while I woke Avaron.

The council was curiously quiet as I rejoined them. All of the familiar wizards were there, Avaron’s professor, members of the different schools of wizardry, and even Ed, the Geomancer. The council seemed to be only partially recovered from their loss of the Archmage. It was obvious that they were unsure of how to handle themselves when no clear leader was established. Ed seemed to act as leader for now, albeit uncomfortably. He told us that the council wanted to keep us informed on their plans for the city.

The city had taken quite a beating. The goblin invasion destroyed most of the city; homes, schools, most of the buildings were taken out. But hope remained. With this new attack, even that was demolished. Ed told us that they knew the man in black robes would be returning. They could tell by the levels of arcane energy still in the air that this man would return very soon. The council’s plan was to evacuate the city, get everyone out and safe if they could. It would not be easy as many of the city’s people were stubborn, and refused to give up anything more. We asked how we could help. This is when the council got really quiet. Even Ed, usually stronger than the rocks he bends, seemed unsure of himself. The council wanted us to ride out and meet the man. They had an ability to “see” his whereabouts, using some form of magic known as “scrying”. Our mission was straightforward. We were asked to meet the man in black and stall him, buy the city’s people time to get out of the city. I asked for a couple of minutes alone with my comrades.

When we were alone, I turned to Gabriel and said, “P3TR is dead. It is a harsh truth, but it is so. We three (pointing to Avaron and Leviss) have been through a lot together. What we have, it goes beyond friendship, goes beyond family, and so there is no question what we will do here and now. You, however, are new to us. You have been by our side for a short time, and P3TR was just a friend to you. We know why you were asked to be with us; it was P3TR’s wish for it to be so. But, with him gone, you are released from that; you are free to choose and should you choose to leave us, we will understand. This mission sounds like death, we will not ask you or anyone to join us, but you can, and we will welcome you by our side.”

It was a little winded, but it needed to be said. Gabriel, though new to us, had shown some tenacity. He had shown dedication. But, I wasn’t wrong. P3TR stood face-to-face with this man in black and paid the ultimate price for it. I could not ask anyone to join us on this foolish mission; I could only present them with a choice. Gabriel said that he would not run, not now, he was coming with us.

With our agreement, the council was noticeably and obviously relieved. We told them we needed their help to prepare. We took some General Wizards with us back to the Roost. Looking through old spell books, crafting from reagents, and planning strategy, we took the drake, goat, and lizard lion figurines and were on our way.

We rode north of the city. The way was quiet, the mood was subdued. Gabriel and I rode the lizard lion, Avaron rode the drake, and Leviss rode the goat, which I was told had the most intimidating face any of them had ever seen. In a way to break the mood, Leviss named it Vizier. He also said that there are worse ways to die. At least, this battle will mean something. We will have hopefully bought the people of Aristaal some time and with it, their lives. It wasn’t enough to cheer us up, but I think it strengthened our resolve. We made it to a clearing, which we thought was well suited, and waited.

And waited.

Finally, the man showed up, dragging his feet. I could hear his every step, shuffling as they were. We told him to stop, and he actually did. He looked at us, and Avaron told me that he was trying to speak. Leviss said it was like he had marbles in his mouth, like he couldn’t figure out how to use words.

Suddenly, a thousand voices, a horrible chorus, shouted, “No.” I kept trying to talk to it. It didn’t answer, but I thought the more I stalled it, the better. I asked it why it had chosen Gary, why it had taken his form. It screamed at us and said it wanted to destroy us all.

It was then that we fought it. We had no choice as it stopped listening to us, wanted to get past us. We hammered it, hit it every which way. It grew spectral wings of black death and struck us with power hidden beneath his robes. We dropped it, it came back. We dropped it again, it came back. We kept at it, but we were getting tired.

Suddenly, it got past me and got to Avaron. It turned me to stone, and pummeled her while Gabriel and Leviss tried everything to hit it and push it back. I broke free, I was bloodied, angry, desperate. Avaron was in her moon phase, and I shifted, bones breaking, blood pumping, wind blowing.

Avaron fell.

Gabriel and Leviss tried healing her. Both cried out words of grace, nothing worked. I could hear Leviss shouting at her, “Get up! You have to get up!” Gabriel slashed at the man in black robes, telling me Avaron wasn’t responding. I tried calling out to Atlas to save her, nothing happened. With a renewed, but exhausted effort, we tore into this “man”. If Avaron was going down, this man would not survive the day, not if I had to bite him in the face and hold on past death itself.

Suddenly, Avaron got up. I could hear Leviss shouting in joy, and confusion. Two arrows hit the man right in the chest; I heard them thud into him like hitting dead wood. A light arrow from Leviss went right between his eyes. I brought my sword down, blazing with fire, right on his head, dropping my sword. Suddenly, I heard a fire that wasn’t mine. A crackling energy hit the air with a familiarity that made all my hair rise on end. Avaron had moved into melee range.

I raised my shield in anticipation and with that, sand, wind, acid, fire, all combined in a horrible whirlwind of hate, and utter destruction. I could feel the heat from where I stood, even behind my shield. The man screamed, but not in pain, more in resignation, saying, “It’s not me.” Grabbing my sword, I got a lucky swing in and heard his head fall with a sound as dead as he was.

We beat him. I lowered my weapons and called out to everyone. Gabriel and Leviss said they were fine, Avaron moved past me, sat down, and did something I have never seen her even come close to doing before, she broke down crying.

I didn’t know what to do; she seemed fine physically. Leviss tried to hug her. To say she did not let him is a gross understatement. In an effort to help, we made camp, Gabriel and Leviss busied ourselves and I wrote this journal, amid the sounds of a crackling fire, and subdued sobs.    

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