Balance

The Fire that Burns in the Heart Pt 3

26th of Harvester 383 ONT, Champion’s Fist, Impromptu Bridge Meeting 11:05am
It was a meeting of the command staff, save for the Ship’s Wizard who was currently down in the mess trying to cook a noontime meal for the crew. Captain Thalion looked around at the assembled officers from the first mate down to the Carpenter and Master Gunner. None looked happy to begin but they all knew the reason they were there. They heard a crash from below and then shouting from Hikari, “Gods damned tail! I swear I’ll cut you off!”

Willhym sniggered and Thalion sighed and looked to zir Alchemist and Healer. “Any news? Any progress on being able to help her or stop this?”

Both shook their heads but it was Josiah who spoke first. “It’s not a disease or a magical affliction. Nothing I do shows anything beyond Hikari being in perfect health. Restorations, cures, remove affliction, I’ve tried them all and by the might of the Old Stone this is nothing I’ve ever encountered or can heal.”

“Her scales might make an interesting concoction if I can get some from her.” Cassidy added thoughtfully, or at least thoughtfully for him, “They are a lot darker today than they have been so they might make a good basis for potions of fire resistance.”

“We are trying to help her. She is part of our crew and family.” Thalion reminded him.

“No offense, was just trying to be helpful. But it’s not a bad chemical reaction going on here. We could get something out of it though.”

The captain sighed, of all times why did something like this have to happen now? “Anyone else have any luck?” This was followed with silence.

“Well if you all are not going to say it then I will.” Willhym spoke up annoyed at having to be the one to bring it up. “She’s changing and it isn’t stopping. We just barely survived a run in with a giant red dragon and I don’t reckon we should be waiting to tangle with another one. The crew have been talking and they’re right worried.”

Thalion folded zir arms and glared at the Master Gunner. “Look, no one wants to see her go. She’s full of fancy tricks and a great cook and all but if she keeps changing and becoming more of a dragon then will she really be Hikari? And that spider thing, its changing too. I’m sure I saw wings on it the other day.”

“The wyrm Aurumtec was an agent of Bogna and steeped in the evil,” Thaden adds nodding, “Nothing but evil can come from consuming his heart. The fall from Bendu to Bogna is a short one.” He wouldn’t outright call for her being removed from the ship but he still did not trust those who did not use Ashla.

“I will not abandon family. She can stay for as long as she wishes to and we will deal with what is to come.” Thalion stated. “But don’t stop looking. If we can do something about it we will.” Another crash from below and a cry of frustration made Thalion wince wondering how much the repairs were going to be. They dispersed each to their own tasks and thoughts whether worry for themselves, the ship or Hikari clouding the easy flight back towards High Port.

26th of Harvester 383 ONT, Champion’s Fist, Wizard’s Quarters 1:34pm

Hikari paced her small room the sound of coins beneath her feet only adding to her frustration, fear and helplessness. A few days prior she’d found her bed to be too soft of all the damnedest things and only when she’d finally overturned a chest of coins on the floor had she felt comfortable and relaxed enough to sleep. Though it had taken a good six hours of staring at the mess before she relented and lay down on it. But it had been ten days since the end of Aurumtec and ten days since she’d been afflicted with all this.

How long? How long could she go when even her own mind wanted to betray her? Even now thoughts of those coins sparked concern that others might take them from her. And the quiet and solemn presence of Phobia was now filled with a growing need to seek out more coin and add to what she already had. These were dangerous thoughts and she’d only realized the extent of it after staring too long at the belt pouch hanging from Teagan’s belt trying to decide how much it contained until the mate asked her a question. Which is why she was now hiding in her quarters afraid to go out and face the crew. She’d wrecked the soup she’d made earlier when her tail swung around and knocked it off the stand and one chair had ended up as kindling earlier than that. The only thankful part was that her wings at least she had managed to settle and drape them like a cloak and the Captain’s mastery of the sewing arts had left her with an outfit designed to accommodate the tail and wings.

How long? She was running out of time and the answers could be anywhere. With a growl she kicked coins across the room and left her quarters intent on retreating to her Sanctum as had become an increasing habit of hers. The doorway was just down the hall and she entered swiftly before taking to wing and flying for the rooms at the top of the stairs. She glanced to Pan’s shrine as she passed. Another frustration as he’d remained silent to her pleas and Hikari assumed there had been some agreement about her between him and Ymeri and she’d find no help there. Plus this was of her own doing and Pan only disliked others meddling with mortals.

Finally the mithral doors opened and she landed. Taking a deep breath Hikari worked at calming her thoughts in preparation for her daily ritual. Approaching the red dragon egg she sighed and ran a scaled hand over its surface feeling the smoothness and enjoying the heat and warmth of this part of her Sanctuary. Then she patted the egg before sitting down with her back to it and her tail wrapped slightly around the base. This had become her peaceful resting place.

Closing her eyes Hikari began draw upon her powers. First she began to gather the energies of her will (mythic power) shaping and forming it in her mind as one might the blueprint and base form she wished to have to cover herself, Phobia and the egg in. It would act as a guide and a focus for the rest that would follow. Then she gathered her arcane power from the reserve she used to go beyond what normal casters could do to the very power behind her spells she pulled it all in pooling it and then weaving it deftly into the matrix she’d created with her will. But the tapestry was not yet complete and she again breathed deep and focused as she had learned on the weave drawing in all the Bendu weave she could hold before threading that through as well.

Now, with all her powers gathered and twisted together and wishing she had a ley line or nexus to draw through as well Hikari brought it all to bear on herself, Phobia and the egg. It was not a specific spell and used three very different sources of power but she did it daily and held it together for as long as she could over them and through them trying to purge any essence of Bogna, any malicious magics and will from their forms and to remind and reinforce the idea that they were not a red dragon and they were not an evil creature and they would never be the monster that the heart was trying to make them be.

It took all her skill, all her knowledge and more than a bit of faith and will to make it work but she had created something. And until she could learn more she would continue to use it and to do everything in her power to push the evil in all forms from her and those affected by the heart… But would it be enough?

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The Fire that Burns in the Heart Pt2

20th of Harvester 383 ONT, Champion’s Fist inside Archmage Hikari’s Sanctum

Hikari stopped and surveyed her work. The place was turning out very nicely. Well as far as interdimensional mansions created with one’s own mind went. With her augmented power Hikari managed to create a space well in excess of her original estimates and when paced out came in at a decent 80ft by 80ft floor space with a 20ft ceiling before it went to the next level and then had a final 40ft by 40ft floor on top that was the innermost sanctum of her hidden sanctum.

It was a unique style all her own based off of the best of Elven and Fire nation architecture with a touch of Arachnis here and there to accentuate the space. The first large floor was mostly open with tall crystalline pillars spaced evenly around the room that left the main area in the middle open. Currently there was a grand table capable of holding more than 72 people arrayed with the best food and drink her mind could imagine. The floor was a mosaic of tiles and crystals forming into a pattern that when seen from a height would show the banner she’d envisioned for her Free Company of mercenaries, Hikari’s Hawks. The fun part, having borrowed an idea from Tar Di, was that depending on where you stood the floor tiles would appear to be a different colour. The crystalline pillars were also the main sources of illumination on this level glowing brightly from within and adjustable both in colour and intensity from a series of buttons she’d placed back near the stairs to the upper floor. The table, chairs and food also would appear only when she willed them to be there leaving a ballroom capable of holding the best of parties. And finally she made a couple of set of tapestries for her unseen servants to change out depending on the occasion. For now she had hung a set that displayed one of her friends in each tapestry doing something memorable to her.

The second floor was a bit more of a maze with the stairs branching off at the landing to two different areas. The first was designed as a luxurious set of rooms for any visitors she might have staying with her for an extended period including internal plumbing for baths, showers and toilets, a guest wing. The second half was set to be her library/ treasure chambers to place her books and anything else she collected from here on out in her travels. It would also serve easily as a meeting place to strategize over missions or make plans away from prying eyes or ears.

Separating the two was a pair of shrines. The first was to Pan and set as a rendition of a grotto and faint ethereal music of pipes playing from within that mingled well with the trickle of a small clear stream and pool of water. There were many pillows and cushions set to one side for other longer activities set to the worship of Pan. The other side was a shrine to Ymeri and fairly radiated with heat. At In the centre was a blazing fire about which were a couple of curved benches to reflect and pray at. The tools needed for cleansing oneself were to one side as were the tools for sacrifice on the other. It was not a forge but for the heat it may have well been and one could not escape the presence of the flame in that place.

And finally at the upper most level lay Hikari’s Solace, her own special place where only a small handful would ever get to see. A large mithral door of worked metal with intricate detail and gems kept any but those she wanted from entering. The floor was polished mithral and the room opened into four distinct areas. The first was a hot spring done in the traditional style of the Fire Nation naturally bubbling up into a pool of sand and rock with a small waterfall at the back where the waters cooled slightly. This led to the area she would call her bedroom complete with a giant, oversized bed made of pillows and mattresses so soft one could easily lose themselves inside and spend days trying to find their way back out. This led to a smaller area designed to Phobia’s tastes being darker and more cavernous with places to explore and hide within or move freely on all surfaces including making a web if she so chose to. Hikari was hoping to see it happen. And finally was a decent sized place that was much like the lair of the great red Wyrm’s lair made to accommodate the egg and keep it warm and safe without endangering anyone.

The Sanctum door to Argyle was currently set on an inner wall of the Champion’s Fist and she’d made certain to key it to the entire crew. The magical door shimmered faintly but matched the wood of the rest of the ship and stated all were free to enter but under no circumstances were any bags of holding or other portable extra dimensional spaces allowed past the door. This was a measure of her power and she wanted to be able to share it with the others that had fought so bravely with her. And what better way than with a 9 course meal none would walk away hungry from. Though she sniffed at the contents and sighed for she’d tried earlier to eat and almost threw up at the wonderful salad and found the food she normally loved to be bland and unappealing. In the end she had to conjure blackened and fire crisped meat to finally sate her appetite and did so alone ashamed at what was changing within her.

She was just about to leave and call the others in for an evening meal as they had just arrived a few hours earlier at Treefall when it started. Pain flared up white hot along her spine causing her to stagger and stumble to her knees. Her cry echoes amongst the empty floor of her mansion and the servants paused to listen. Hearing no command they went back to their tasks. But for Hikari it was only the beginning as the pain began to consume her running the length of her back and causing her to fall to her side. She didn’t know what was happening or what set it off but it felt like her spine was being pulled by an inhumanly strong hand down through her body. She screamed. Her screams were punctuated by the sounds of bones popping and snapping as her spine began to lengthen. May time she wished oblivion would take her and end the torment of fire as she thrashed on the tiled floor. This was worse than the taking of her eyes or the drilling into her skin from the throne. And it went on and on unrelenting and unforgiving in its brutal task.

And when it was finished, when the pain finally throbbed to a halt, Hikari could do nothing more than cry. She tasted blood on her lips where she’d bitten her tongue and her knuckles and hands were bruised bloody as well. But it was what they held that made the tears come. She had a tail. A red scaled appendage sinuously flowed from her hands to where the base of her spine once was. She could feel it, feel the muscles and tendons twitch, feel her fingers play over its surface. The curse of Aurumtec’s heart had progressed.

Slowly Hikari stood. Tentatively she straightened feeling the tail move behind her almost overbalancing and sending her back to the floor. But she gritted her teeth and focused on keeping it down and low so as to not upset her balance. One step, then two she moved with deliberate purpose and fought the rise of despair at what had happened and might continue to happen. Step by step she made it to the stairs and ascended to her own private chambers letting the door close silently behind her. She needed to think. She needed time to figure out a plan to fight back.

For the rest of the crew Hikari’s earlier promise of an amazing meal in an amazing place would still happen as the unseen servants directed each of the crew to a seat at the giant table where each would find their favourite foods and drink if they’d let her know when she asked. The meal would last for as long as they liked and each was allowed to explore the Sanctum save for the closed mithral doors on the top floor. They would not open that day nor did Hikari make an appearance at the feast…

22nd of Harvester 383 ONT, Champion’s Fist inside Archmage Hikari’s Sanctum 3am

Hikari sat in prayer in front of the blazing flame at her altar to Ymeri. She reverently spoke the ritual words with bowed head and then taking the small knife set to one side made a shallow slice in her hand. This she held out to the flames and felt both the pain from the fire on her skin and the sizzle as they greedily consumed her blood.

“Ymeri, goddess of fire and queen of the inferno, I call to thee. Tonight I beseech thee for aid beyond hearing my worship and words. I am changing. I am cursed by the Wyrm Aurumtec’s heart to become that which I helped destroy. Please goddess, hear my call and aid me in this darkest of times. Be my light and my fire and burn away this taint.”

Hikari had not expected a reply. The goddess’ silence since the day of her creation was telling of what it had cost Ymeri to battle with Pan over two souls and the resentment for being thwarted, if only in part. And yet this time a reply came. The fire flared to life startling Hikari and she pulled back as the presence of her goddess settled into the small room.

“You dare." It was not a question but Hikari didn’t shrink back. She knew her goddess’ moods and the perilous path one walked when asking her for anything. But still it took a few moments for Hikari to collect her thoughts and order them in such a way that she might at least live through this meeting.

“My goddess,” Hikari bowed low, her head touching the warm tiles. “I have freed the Phoenix and strengthened the cause of fire. I have thwarted our enemies with your help and still seek the end of the Fire Lord as you did command.”

“Yet you stray and fought my will. Even now you are divided in your loyalty.” There was resentment and anger in those words and tinged with hurt. “Hiro was my vessel, Hikari is but a shadow Half claimed by that nature god Pan.”

“I am but mortal my goddess, I fought for life with everything I had. Both did and you found that fire of spirit to be worth saving when you could have snuffed it out and taken Hiro’s soul.” Her mouth was dry from the heat and swallowed licking her parched lips to continue. “I am not the same as I was but I grew stronger because of it. If your will is to be done and the Fire Lord deposed I needed more.”

There was silence save for the crackle of flames but Ymeri was still there, still listening and Hikari was still alive. Best to ask now. “I consumed the heart of the Ancient Wyrm Aurumtec and it is changing me. Please goddess, to do you will I need to be myself. The wyrm will undo all we sought to make happen.”

The fire laughed crackling and bright, “You destroyed a powerful agent of fire. You are becoming his replacement and the chaos you shall cause will do nothing but further my plans. You are not Hiro but soon you will not be Hikari will you?” Ymeri laughed again and the fire died down to normal levels with the departure of her presence.

Hikari glared at the fire. The lack of aid hurt for someone who felt that they were both blessed and born from the flame. And yet she was not dead and if the goddess would not help her then it was up to her to find the solution and show the stuck up gods that she had a will to rival any.

Halfway up the steps to her room she felt it begin again. This time the pain made it feel like Hikari was being torn in half and at a level her mind could not handle. It was like all the pain shed ever felt in her life had been balled up and shoved between her shoulder blades. Hikari remembered screaming out in pain, the frightened call of her lover from their rooms and the resonance through the linked Dumatheon items as four others felt an overwhelming fraction of what she was going through. Then there was falling and blackness as her mind shut down…

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The Fire that Burns in the Heart Pt 1

16th of Harvester 383 ONT, Champion’s Fist outside the Lair of Aurumtec

Hikari groaned and opened her eyes. Many of her friends were gathered around her and she could see concern and worry on many faces. Her mouth was dry and tasted of ash. “Water” she managed to croak. The water was welcome and she could feel her strength and senses returning in equal measure save for a splitting headache.

“You had us all worried Hikari,” Valeira looked down at her relief still warring with concern as she hugged Hikari close. “Collapsing like that for as long as you did.”

“Sorry. How long?” She sat up looking around as Thalion began calling for the crew to get back to work. The number of people nearby dropped though many were still giving her odd looks.

“No more than ten or fifteen minutes. But…” Valeira was searching for the right way to tell her something when Tar Di piped up.

“You’re red! Like bad sunburn red!” Tar Di cheerfully pointed out. “Did eating the dragon’s heart do that? Do you think it is an allergic reaction? George told me that certain foods can give people rashes and he was very careful in what he cooked with so people wouldn’t do that. You should have let me eat it if you knew you were going to be allergic to it. I get to eat the next one right? Ohh maybe a purple dragon!”

Red? She looked to Valeira and the others gathered around still to a chorus of nods. Hikari looked down at the skin of her arms and her eyes when wide in shock. Tar Di was right. Every inch of her skin was red, not the red of the ancient wyrm but still a red that brought the dragon to mind. She’d never eaten a heart before so maybe this was some sort of reaction. Strangely enough Phobia also had absorbed some of the colour though against her already dark carapace it was a deeper red.

“Do you feel ok?” Josiah asked from the other side as he finished a small spell and Hikari felt the healing magic flow through her from his light touch.

She nodded, “A headache but I’ll be fine.” It was said with more confidence than she felt. Valeira and Thalion both looked at her doubtfully but Hikari forced a smile and sat up wincing slightly from the pounding in her head. “Nothing that will stop me after what we’ve been through.” And with that they moved to enter the lair of Aurumtec and deal with the traps and elementals still inside.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Hikari threw open the door to her room and staggered inside slamming the door shut. The pain was intense and had worsened over the course of the day. She’d hidden it well from the others focusing past to concentrate on freeing the prisoners and cataloging the dragon’s horde but in the end had to beg off claiming hunger and a chance to recover her magic. Her skull felt like it wanted to split open and the pain was sharpest where her eyes had once been. Hikari collapsed on her bed unable to stifle the groan of pain she’d held back for the past six hours. Six hours of hushed comments about her skin and the evil omens of eating a dragon’s heart.

She knew better, should’ve listened to her own warnings and let it go to someone else. Or better yet be destroyed. But Hikari was weak. And temptation ever preyed on the weak. What was she supposed to do? Surrounded by goddesses, saints, legendary knights and scions whose actions were shaping the world had made her pause and assess her own powers. Sure she helped but just as often didn’t have the answers or magical talent they needed. Erindale had forgotten more than she would ever know. So in helping Saint Fargazer she bargained for Aurumtec’s heart knowing that a being who had lived many millennia would retain power.

Hikari rubbed in futility at her eyeless sockets for relief even using the little magic she had left to wet and chill a cloth to lay over her eyes and forehead. But the pain and heat radiated from her and kept Hikari from finding any relief. It was a punishment for her arrogance of thinking that she could simply gain a portion of Aurumtec’s power as her own without consequences, without changes. But now the question was how much would she change what was the true cost of this power? Pain dulled her ability to think and hastened her weary body to a restless sleep…

18th of Harvester 383 ONT, Champion’s Fist outside the Lair of Aurumtec

Hikari woke to the absence of pain. The headache that had kept her secluded from the others intending to focus on identifying the items they’d found. So far she’d managed to avoid setting anything off and had quite the growing list of ancient magical relics for Thalion and the others to pick over. But with the pain gone Hikari felt invigorated and ready to face the day. She opened her eyes and turned towards the warm and soft form beside her and then gasped and bolted upright. Hikari tentatively touched at her eyelid and felt for the first time in a long time an actual orb in the socket.

“Val! Val, wake up!” Hikari nudged the sleeping form of her bard. “You’re not going to believe this.”

“Mnmghhh,” Came Valeira’s tired response. She’d been working overtime wherever needed and that included a watch last night.

“I can see! Valeira I can see you with my own eyes.” Hikari laughed and hugged the other woman tight. This caught Valeira’s attention and she looked up at Hikari and gasped.

“Were your eyes a vibrant green and slitted like a cat before?”

“No…” Some of the joy fled from Hikari, “They were quite normal and a pale blue.”

Val reached up and ran a hand over the contours of Hikari’s cheek and jaw the concern and worry crushing Hikari’s happiness at being able to see things as they truly were again. “Love, I hate to say this but… You’ve got scales now too.”

The room spun and Hikari looked blankly at Valeira. Her words didn’t make any sense. Sure the redness had not faded but nothing more had happened leading them to believe that nothing more should. But she could see the tiny scales covering her arms and hands that held her love and she recoiled to the edge of the bed. “No… Not possible. I checked, you checked, hell even Josiah checked and there was nothing. No magic, no weave, no disease or poison. How is this happening?”

“I don’t know, there is little to no record that I’ve found of the effects of eating a dragon’s heart and nothing on a creature this ancient. Dragons are far from social creatures when it comes to sharing information with other races and most encounters are at the cost of one side or the other.” She moved to comfort Hikari who in turn slipped from the bed and moved to their small mirror to further inspect her changes. Valeira sighed behind her, “But we will figure it out. High Port has some of the greatest collections in all of Argyle and you have been making friends that will come to help.”

But what if we don’t have that much time? Hikari wanted to ask afraid of the answer and feeling like what she’d gone through so far was only the beginning. What had been done for power had not taken into account the nature of the creature that it came from. Between the two of them they had a good grasp of many subjects but another question she wanted to ask was better off in the realms of the bard and the stories she might know.

There was one thing beyond all others that put a chill in her heart. One fact that she hoped her love could dispel but feared she knew the truth of it. Wherever or however this went her fate was all but certain. “Correct me if I’m wrong but in all my studies there has been nothing on good aligned chromatic dragons.”

“The stories and oral histories very much agree with you on that.” Valeira nodded a thoughtful look on her face, “In fact there is only one story I’ve ever heard of that spoke of a dragon that rebuked its very nature and sought to change its ways. The story is incomplete and the book I found it in was falling apart but it told of a dragon that met someone, though it didn’t say who, and over time came to realize that its nature did not match how it wanted to live. There was a struggle of some sort and somehow through strength of will and at the end divine intervention the dragon was able to shed its scales and grew new ones of a different colour and with that so too did its very nature change.” She shrugged and shook her head, “Sorry Hikari, that’s all I remember and there wasn’t much in the way of detail really. But there is hope at least.”

Hikari nodded doubtful of being able to best it in a battle of wills against the insidious nature of the ancient red wyrm where time meant little to it. But she would try and she would throw everything she could at it and fight to the bitter end. If nothing else the gods knew she was good at that…

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A Temple is Born, A Deal is Struck

Aurellia, and Lux de Umbra stood in the abandoned dragon’s lair as Edwardo slowly cleaned and transformed the space into the first Temple dedicated to both the Goddess of the Night Wind and the Goddess of the Stilled Wind.
“Here is where we will begin,” Said Lux de Umbra, surveying the outer lair, “but here,” she whispered as she crossed the threshold into the secret room, “is where our True Power will lie.”
Aurellia stepped forward, “You will need my help……”

Lux turned coldly to look at the mortal, pitifully clinging to her old life, she was going to take some convincing, “and you would like to strike a deal for that help, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes I would. I do not know you yet as you seem to know me. Your past is hidden, mine is open. You know what I desire most.”

Lux smiled, “Like it or not, we are linked you and I. The power that runs through you is mine. But the body in which that power has manifested is yours. Your Goddess of the Night Wind may not desire the shards right now, but I am not one to take a quest lightly. Many have much to say about my character, but on this point none can fault me, above all else Daime’s will be done!”

With the final words, the golden Statue stamped it’s right foot, and each of the other golden statues depicting the pantheon of Daime fell into perfect order, guarding the chamber, their backs to the walls and spaced carefully around it, with Daime at the head of the room. Lux walked over quickly and moved the statue of Gabriel to stand facing the doors. She looked at Aurellia, whose face betrayed her recognition and then disgust.

“What?” the statue smiled for the first time, allowing her cold exterior to slip, “I also have a sense of humour. I think in time, you will learn to like me.
Now, back to this deal you would like to strike. You are using the wrong bait. You see, this quest is now yours as well, and eventually you must complete it, so I do not need to barter for your compliance.
There is however a desire that you and I share, and for this, I would be willing to make a pact.”

Aurellia’s arms were crossed tightly over her chest, as she stared at the Statue of Gabriel and pondered this heartless God she was to become. “What desire could you and I possibly share?”

The statue of Lux de Umbra reached out and touched Aurellia’s back, causing her to spin in shock, the golden fingers were surprisingly gentle and warm.
“Companionship.”

Aurellia felt a rush of heartache, followed by a brief happiness, and then the crushing emptiness of loss. It took her a moment to realize that these were Lux’s feelings and not her own.

When Aurellia raised her eyes to meet the golden statue, she found herself commiserating with this outcast God, as tears of liquid gold melted from what Aurellia realized for the first time was not only a beautiful face, but also one that bore a striking resemblance to her own.

“We have suffered similar fates, you and I. I will help you find Serenity, if you will help me to reunite with Illiate.”

“Why him?” were the only words Aurellia could muster in the face of this shared grief.

“Because he was the only one who was willing to see the real me. His love for me was stronger than the ire of my purpose. Just as Serenity saw through to the core of you.
Talib and I are both necessary, but are hated for our natures. Allow me to spend some time with him, and I will help you search the afterlife for her.”

The shackles of her life breaking away, Aurellia whispered, “It’s a deal.”

With that she strode forward and began consecrating the lair, willing it into a holy space. Her gun rang out, as she spun, each shot finding it’s mark just above the heads of the statues, transforming the walls behind them into obsidian stone, then drawing sconces with ever burning candles out of the holes the bullets had created.
Engrossed by her task, Aurellia never thought to look for Lux de Umbra, the Golden Statue that kept to the shadows behind her, it’s movements beginning a quarter of a second faster than hers, as a master puppeteer might lead it’s creation in a performance.
Smiling, Aurellia stepped into the outer chamber to consecrate it as well, but the Golden Statue did not follow, and for some reason, her powers seemed lessened here.
Lux_de_Umbra.jpg

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The Funkiest of Flotsam
27th of Reaping 383 ONT, South East Ocean, Elven Waters, Uncharted Island

Wave minus 6 Months

Jane sat on her porch, smelling the salt in the air, as she looked over the small garden she had managed to grow on her island. This small spec of an island in the south eastern elvish sea was often avoided by the larger sailing ships due to the large shallow bar surrounding it, but it made the perfect spot for her to find the peace of the waves. There was plenty of work for her daily, creating the fresh water her garden needed alone took an hour every day, but it was work of the free, in a place she loved. She had even shaped a chair from stone overlooking the islands bay, so she could sit and think as she imagined the big P would.

She had lived here for 3 years, self sufficient, fulfilled and alone, until one of the specs on the horizon caught her eye. it wasn’t sliding past like all other ships, but instead seemed fixed, and as she watched, slowly grew.

She watched as what looked like a haphazard barge of many large trees strapped together slowly drifted with no sight of sail or rowers, directly into the center of her bay, and slowed.

Jane expected to be irritated by this intrusion in her private paradise, but the smell of the air, the warm breeze, and the sound of not shouted orders, and work being done, but instead faint music and laughter washed away her unease, and she arose to go meet the new guests in her island surf paradise.


Wave minus 3 months

Jane looked over the growing garden, almost a field, being happily tended by several of the new people on the island, The Halfling Twins, Gaba and Greta had taken well to the garden, and along with the Half Orc Theddan and one of the few other humans, Martha Poole, were walking and watering, using the prayers in the big P that she had shared with them, of an oddity, it seemed that every wanderer that came upon the great wooden barge was fleeing something, but all found brotherhood in worship of the big P, and one of his travelling worshipers, someone Shreddin’ Ted called The Fargazer. Together theywere all working to keep this island a paradise as they carved, cooked, baked and surfed together. None shirked their chores in this group, and though all had a shadow behind their eyes, they had hope before them, and a drive to master the waves. Ted taught each of them to carve their own surfboard from the heart of one of the trees that carried them here, and life was good.


Wave minus one month

Jane awoke in the sleeping hall with a start, like a chill bucket of northern ice water had been poured over her… she carefully extracted herself from the pile and moved to the porch and her stone chair to sit a spell and think, where she found the Half Elf, Galionas already sitting.

“Dreams?” he asked?

She nodded…

“Like a wave of cold water, pushing you awake?”

feeling an unusual dread, she again nodded…

“I had this dream as well tonight, and once before tonight, the very day I decided to flee Glandora ahead of the invasion. I knew then I needed to go and get on the water, but I do not know what it means now, but I feel it means we must prepare…”

Jane nodded again, and laid her hand on his shoulder, of all the flotsam who washed ashore on her island, he had been the quickest to learn, and the first to find deeper faith here.

“I believe our island, like all paradises, is not long for this world… we have been given this island for a time to find the paradise in our hearts, but now we are being called to prepare, to face the world, to help bring the peace of this place to others, though by the sting of the cold in that dream, I know it will not be pleasant, and it will test us. but the time is coming where we will travel where we are needed, and like the big P before us, ride the wave of good as it sweeps embittered lands.

Galionas nodded, puffed and passed… and they silent watched the waves lap the shore until the sun peaked over the horizon and other began to wake.


Wave minus 1 week

It had been a busy month, they had increased the gardens, and the soil of this island waters with divine water gave forth food well in excess of what they needed, and it was dried in the long hot sun with care and kept safe and ready to travel. Not many talked about it, but they all knew now, something was coming, and they would need leave, but still every day was filled with joy, they walked the island, tended the plants, waxed their boards and rode the waves. The lived in the now of paradise but stood ready.


Wave minus 30 minutes

At once everyone in the sleeping room woke, shivering, wet… there was no cry, shout or cursing, they all felt in their heart what it was. the end of this paradise, and the beginning of another journey. This time though, they would not sit idly as flotsam, but instead ride as the Great P once had. It was clear to all now why they had gathered here, to know peace before the floods, to know contentment before the battles, and to grow together before they faced the world.

The all rose, gathered their meagre belongings, and took their boards down to the bay. Jane watched as they formed into their 3 surfing teams, Gold, Silver and Bronze, and paddled out into the unnaturally still waters… She lit one last island grown blunt, took a hit and left the rest sitting on the stone chairs arm, an offering to Prometheus, and made her way down the steps, and led her people out of the bay, into the ocean to wait…


Wave minus 30 seconds

the water around them dipped, rocked and to the south seemed to rise like a wall…

All at once, they cheered. it was finally here…

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Home Coming

9th of Harvester 383ONT, 11:41pm, The Accidental Pudding Inn, Common Room, High Port, Elven Court

Please Listen While Reading

Most of the crew was still awake. The injured had found a peaceful sleep, but the remainder of them sat, absorbing the company of one another. Mandy and Taaj had at last come down and found a booth in the corner to snuggle in as a cheery fire crackled. While most of the crew held a drink, few drank; instead it was like a pass, a card that allowed them to stay up and feel connected with one another. Valeria had at last put down the lute, and there was a familiar silence among those assembled. The door opened with Rick poked his head in.

“Couple guests Captain” he called, causing many a crew member to look up. The hour was late and the Captain had been clear long ago that he didn’t wish to see anymore City officials until the morrow.

“No more tonight Rick, this is a place for family only right now” He called back still nursing his glass of wine at his table with Teagan, Flit and Aurellia

“Family only?” A familiar voice called from outside. It sounded hurt but had a light-hearted mocking tone to it. Through the door came a short figure, with a green and brown mottled cloak and a familiar long bow strung and over his shoulder. Behind him came the tall blond figure, his golden shield and breast plate gleaming in the lantern light of the Inn’s common room.

“I say Horace, have you ever seen such a sorry group of sailors?” Rand asked of his companion, his tone still mocking

“I don’t believe I have, perhaps we should fine a more hospital able in down the way?” The Oak Leaf Knight replied, in the same conspiratorial tone.

“HORACE!” Aurelia cried breaking the spell and diving from her seat across the room to give the giant knight a hug. The rest of the crew began to call out in recognition and joy at the famed knights and the Rangers arrival. “What are you doing here?” she asked squeezing the Honalian in a hug so tight is showed some small fear that he might disappear. Ouuffffff he gasped at her bear hug, laughing along with her. When he could at last extract himself he picked her up and looked at her in the lantern light.

“Aurelia, I can honestly say… It’s good to see you” he said with heart melting sincerity. She hugged him again, the two distant souls still sharing some connection.

“Rand, Horace… you two are a sight for sore eyes” Thalion said crossing the room and offering each a hearty handshake, his smile ran ear to ear “What are you doing here?”

“Well,” Horace offered, putting Aurelia down and shaking hands with the other officers “we were in the south on business, and received a message about an important knighting happening in a few days. We couldn’t miss it, so we caught a ride and came at once” Horace said

“Just pulled in now” Rand added, in the sea of his own back pats and hand shakes, “Took a little asking to track you fine folks here”

“Just arrived now? What ship arrives mid-tide into a port under heavy alert?” Flit asked walking forward and offering a hearty greeting to each of the Honalians. As he said the words the door opened

“Thar better be a fine ale served in this inn, else I’m gonna be sorely disappointed in the Elf’s taste” came a roar as Thitmed barged into the room. To this a hearty cheer rang out, but it did not stop there. Hatrutt came in hot on his heels, laden under a heavy pot steaming with some delicious new concoction.

“Hikari better have the stoves lit, my fesadini is cooling fast, and we need to make the base for the pudding” the gnome called, he wasn’t three steps in before the pot was taken from him by Hugh allowing Hikari to lift the gnome up and pull him into a hug. The half elf was laughing and crying as still more poured into the room. The sound of a baby crying alerted the assembled to the presence of Belinda, and her and Thitmed’s newest addition to the crew of the Champions Boot. The halfling quartermaster was pulled into the room, and near mobbed with hugs and congratulations as the crew began to coo at her baby. Robinson, Celia, Beleen and even Baker made there way in, each receiving a cheer that rivaled old Thors thunder.

Already Devedan could see where this was going, he graciously allowed the gnome and half elf access to his kitchen and began pouring mugs of ale while is son Dakath ran down to the cellar to fetch a few more bottles of wine. The room was crowding out fast, and the volume increased growing in crescendo like waves crashing upon a shore.

Ding, Ding, Da, Da, Ding

The notes plucked from the lute brought the room to silence. No one had seenCaptain Folas Cailana enter the room, but there he stood, back against the wall beside the fire place, plucking at the strings of the Lute of Quiphine

“Captain!” they shouted in excitement, many of the cries coming from the officers, even the Captain of the Champion’s Fist

“The moon has several rings tonight, and Quenya and Nimrodel could not be parted no matter how the tiller veered. It is a night that called for family, and ours seems to be here” Captain Folas sang the words as he plucked the lute. In seconds however, he had to stop as he was surrounded by officers and crew alike swarming him with hugs, handshakes and thanks.

“This be a good night, now, as I be understandin it, there are a number of chaps who are needin thar health drank to…” Thitmed called slamming a pouch heavy with gold on the bar and passing out the foaming mugs, as the reunion began in true.

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BROken Gears

9th of Harvester 383ONT, 9:58pm, The Accidental Pudding Inn, Mandy’s Room, High Port, Elven Court

Taaj knocked on the Door of Mandy’s room at the Accidental Pudding Inn.

“come” he heard her voice call from inside, he entered, and grinned despite himself. Mandy had a thick blanket over the bed and the lion share of her tools laid out across it. There was a momentary pang of sadness for his love as he noted the pile of burnt or destroyed tools on the floor, the few on the bed marked all that had survived the great fire. Despite this she was already back to work; stooped looking into the chest cavity of Broseph a lantern in one hand and a metal tong prodding with the other trying to figure out how she would go about fixing the poor clockwork creature.

“You really ought to have your door locked, things aren’t safe right now” Taaj scolded as he entered. Mandy didn’t even look up at him.

“For someone to enter my room they will have had to fight through you, Aurelia and the rest of the crew downstairs… if they are still spoiling for a fight after that, I’m pretty sure my door being locked isn’t going to stop them” She said. Taaj paused, he hated when she out logic’d him on things like this

“Still though… it’s probably a good habit to be in” Taaj mumbled but she was giggling now

“I have defeated Flit Fargazer, the Goddess Miriel and Captain Alfrin, famed Knight of Quenya, but alas, this tiny wooden bolt has defeated me. I shall now go home in shame, sparing whoever was so smart to latch this poor excuse for a door” she laughed as she made a deep voice of some fake assailant

“OK, ok” Taaj said putting his hands up in surrender “I’m just a little nervous with what happened, that’s all” She looked at him putting down her tool and lantern and crossed the room to hug him.

“I know, but if I don’t laugh now, I might cry… sorry” she said. He looked down still holding her in his arms

“You’ve nothing to be sorry for” He said with a grin “Now… how’s our friend Broseph? Any hope for him? Maddax is eager to know if he can be added to the watch rotation” Mandy nodded at Taaj and went back to the bed to collect her tongs.

“Grab the lantern” she said as she leaned in to the chest cavity once more. Taaj did as he was bade, holding the lantern high so he could see over her shoulder. “Whoever did this knows their stuff… all this…” she pointed to a thick black stone that seemed to clog the gears “was sprayed in as a liquid, then immediately turned solid and shut his entire system down… I’d be impressed if he hadn’t done it to one of our friends”

“Can you fix him?” Taaj asked, she gave him a look, reminding him that their was nothing she couldn’t fix if she put the time and resources in.

“I think so…” she said looking back at the gears “Cassidy thinks he can make up a solvent that I can use, if we are carefully we can break down the substance without eroding any of his gears… if the Captain lets me, I think I could get it done by tomorrow night” she replied

“Sounds good… I’ll speak to the Captain… I think having our clockwork back is a priority” Mandy turned and nodded

“Besides, he’s a part of the crew, he should be taken care of right away, like we would for anyone else” Mandy said. Taaj merely nodded, he was not going to wade into those waters again.

“I’ll talk to the Captain… please lock your door” she gave him a look as he was leaving “For me?”

“Fine… night” she said

“night”

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Why oh Why Can't I

9th of Harvester 383ONT, 9:46pm, The Accidental Pudding Inn, Port District, High Port, Elven Court

Willhym entered the common room of the Accidental Pudding his heart was heavy as he held the ashen husk of what was once the Lute of Quiphine. His head was bowed, he knew how much this gift had meant to the Master Carpenter, had seen how she treasured it after Captain Folas had gifted it to her for her Birthday, and now it was all but destroyed. He numbly took a few steps towards the stairs, when he found his approach cut off by Hikari and Valeria.

“What’s wrong Willhym” Hikari asked, there was a sharp intake of breath as she recognized the Lute. Willhym shook his head,

“Her workshop was right under the part of the cannon deck that exploded, the fire dripped in there and with all the grease and such… most of the room is pretty fried, a lot of her tools and most of her things were in there… and well… this was hanging above her work bench” he sniffled a little, further wounding Hikari’s heart, Willhym wasn’t often the type to show vulnerability

“Is that a Sung Lute?” Valeria asked in awe as she looked down at it.

“It is,” Hikari offered “The strings were made from Chimera gut, and the wood itself was sung into shape before the 2nd Talib Wars” Valeria let out a long low whistle as she leaned in closer

“May I?” she asked of Willhym holding out her hands. The Halfling looked at her and shrugged passing the charred lute. She carefully took it from him and closely examined the instrument. “You say Captain Folas gave this to Mandy?” she asked as she eyed the darkened strings

“He did, as a birthday present” Hikari responded. Valeria nodded

“A Kingly gift this is. Did you know that Sung Lutes, are fed through emotion, they can tap into the emotions they elicit in a room… would you mind if I play a few chords?” Hikari and Willhym both gave her odd looks

“ I don’t know if those strings are going to hold honey” Hikari said

“Or if they do, what kind of noise that will make” Willhym added. She gave them both a a cocksure grin and she turned and walked towards the bar

“You have to have some faith my friends” she said as she struck the first chord, it was heavy and off key, but it did not give her pause “Suli, come over here… I need your vocals, the song we practiced”

Please Listen While Reading

Valeria’s graceful elven fingers danced delicately up and down the frets, forcing the clunky lute to produce some semblance of a melody. As she did she watched as little Suli hopped up onto the bar and began humming trying to harmonize with the off Lute. It took a few chords, but when at last the vocals and strings hit a harmony there was a surge of power on the little lute, and some of the ash fell away revealing beautiful on scared wood below.

“Take it Suli,” Valeria encouraged as the girl began to sing. The mood in the bar shifted, it had been a hard day, a long day, but the music pulled the crew from their ales, from their misery and caused them to reach out and know that things would get better. As the Lute and the Vocals did better, the Lute began to reshape, began to fix itself and reform into the once more beautiful Lute of Quiphine. “Come on guys, you know the words, sing along” She called out, nudged with her foot at Hikari to come join them. She did, followed by Nathan, and then the horribly amazing off key vocals of Cassidy which seemed to be the last nudge needed to bring the rest of those assembled to join them as they sang together.

Across the room Captain Alfrin leaned against the wall watching the dynamic beside his First Mate. He was impressed, moments ago there was a depression that hung over the room, and though the sadness wasn’t gone, it no longer felt like they were about to drown in it.

“She’s got a talent for moral Captain” Flit noted as the crew belted out the chorus together.

“That she does Flit… This marks it I suppose, give Valeria a commission as ships Bard, make her formally a member of the crew” Flit looked over at his Captain to assure the elf was being serious, he saw no jest in his eyes

“Aye Sir” Flit said, moving to step forward

“Flit…” The Captain called after him. The Froghemoth turned and looked at him

“After the songs done” The Captain said with a wry grin

“Aye Captain” Flit said, returning the smile and turning back to watch Valeria Mistborn’s performance.

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A Mad Man's Dance

9th of Harvester 383ONT, 9:45pm, Somewhere the Party is too Dense to Find, High Port, Elven Court.

Please Listen While Reading

Aled danced through the shop, picking up vials and containers, spinning with them and carefully placing them on another table or shelf. His heart was light, this was what it was like to experience glee. His hand slid up and down his fine silken purple shirt as he thrust himself into his imaginary dance partner. He could not contain himself, he carefully flicked his waxed mustachio as part of his dance as he contemplated what was next. This had been meant to be a test mission, a careful skirmish to test the waters and see if the rumors about the Champions Fist was true.

“HA” he barked to know one in particular thinking about the glory of his victory. The ship, the glory and pride of Captain Alfrin was all but trashed, even now being dragged up into dry dock as a massive pile of smouldering ciders. Beyond that, if his sources were right, there were at least three dead… three on a test cycle, what awesome luck. He took a thick gel from a small tin container and ran it through his luscious black hair as he continued his dance. It wouldn’t be long now… a few adjustments, a few tweaks and then they would all pay. The fireproofing had worked well, but the men would need better armor for dealing with the pesky officers. They were the ones that carried the ship, the guard, the crew… they were weak; but he would have to be careful with the officers now. He spun his way to a little alchemy set bubbling over a burner by the wall and turned the heat up a little. He would bring about a final strike soon, something incredibly decisive, something that would show those officers what the consequences were for crossing a man of intellect and taste. Then he would saunter up and claim his prize. He spun again as he thought about Callwen, his wife. About owning her, about subduing her once more. Just thinking about her made his temperature rise, made him lose a beat on his dance. How dare she flee, pull him away from his important work and discoveries and force him to chase her half way around the world. The bitch would learn… oh she would learn a lesson when he claimed her at last! “She’ll never dare leave a room without my permission.” He said to the empty room. He paused, forcing himself to take a few calming breath’s and bring his mind back to the present. Tonight had been a victory, he’d taken the leader of the famed Grey Corsairs and made him look like a sniveling stooge, he brought that ship to sunder, and he’d done it on a test run… things were good, it was important to savour and recognize victory when it happened. He jostled once last time finishing his victory dance. He then straightened his vest and shirt, fixed his ascot and walked over to his tiny lab. Now, there was work to be done, traps to be laid; and a wife to reclaim. Everything was coming up Aled.

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A job never done

9th of Harvester 383ONT, 9:34pm, The Accidental Pudding Inn, Port District, High Port, Elven Court.

I tried to focus on the hearty stew in front of me pretending I couldn’t hear Maddax’s tirade to Douglas.

I was pretty obvious to me that Maddax was reliving his own choices from back when his patrol was captured. It was sad, I could picture Maddax in his youth, confident slightly arrogant and a little bit rebellious. The one time he thought he knew better he was punished far worse than anyone deserved and he had been punishing himself ever since.

“He can’t do that!” Teagan jumped to her feet beside me.

“Hush,” I tugged her back down. “The captain of our guard absolutely has full rights to who is in the guard.”

“But Douglas is family! There is a madman trying to picking us off. I won’t allow Douglas to be alone out there!”

“Of course not, Maddax has had a bad shake. We all have, you will not undermine his authority in front of the crew. I’ll go talk to him. In the meantime, we’re short a swab, if Douglas’s pride will allow he can hold that position. He’ll be with the crew, have room and board, it will give Maddax a chance to calm down and Douglas a chance to prove himself worthy of a second chance.

She sighed heavily, “You’d best speak with him now. I’m going to get Douglas.” She marched to the door.

I shoved the stew away suddenly not hungry anymore. How do you explain to your best friend that his issues where spilling over into his work?

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