In the Shadow of Kings

The fight in the vault of Yaramuke

Corrin

Xeeliah, Aryenne, and I are running through those tunnels. It’s dark in here. There’re ways everywhere. We find small rooms, filled with rubble and bones. We find large rooms, empty with nothing but stone walls. Then we reach a large room that looks fancier. It has pillars and braziers. It is all very dark in here, but we quickly find all the walls. It is large and there’s fancy stuff in here. Swords and bows and nice armors, some even fit for a halfling. Xeeliah checks out one the two altars that somehow stand in the darkness. When she comes closer, the darkness creeps further into the room and Xeeliah shrieks because of pain. We better don’t get closer to those altars then. Although, I am somewhat tempted I resist the urge to check them out myself.

Aryenne reads some of the crazy drawings on the pillars. She says it reads: “The hand that protects. The voice never hears.” And there is something about evil magic she cannot quite grasp. I would not even have thought of those drawings as writing. Xeeliah and Aryenne look through the weapons and armor carefully, while I just grab a huge axe; more a halberd, I’d say. Xeeliah looks a little puzzled, when I carried it to the entrance, she understands. I fix a rope between some stone that will make the axe crash down when someone trips over that rope. I also find some straw that I pile around the braziers at the entrance. I made some of the torches at the pillars light. I set up another rope that makes a burning torch fall on the straw once someone is stupid enough to get stuck in it. I already hear some footsteps coming. I quickly fix the third rope I got between the pedestals around the entrance. If someone comes rushing through, they will fall and hopefully push their own swords into their bellies.

Just then, I see Grax running around the corner, right towards the fire trap. I can only yell at him: “jump!” and he jumps over the trap. He must have seen the other traps then, because he jumps over those ropes as well. Aryenne and Xeeliah come back to the entrance when they hear the noise. Aryenne quickly exchanges the bow she found with the sword that Grax is holding. Then we hear a loud voice: “This is your last chance! Give me the girl!” We make no reply and just listen, knowing there are traps waiting for Nidaba and her soldiers. Suddenly we hear two bone-shaking >BANG< sounds behind us. I glimpse back, but there is nothing to be seen. It is so very dark here, especially towards the back of the vault. Hopefully that is not the rest of the army breaking through the stone. But whatever it is, it can’t be good. Nidaba shouts again: “This is your last chance!” Her next shout is more asking: “Sarghon?” Again, there is no reply. What does that mean? Does Sarghon ignore Nidaba? Did he go back to finish Legion? We can only guess at this moment. Nidaba shouts further: “That was your worst decision ever! It will be your doom!” Another >BANG< comes from behind us. But the soldiers in front of us are the more immediate threat!

Xeeliah and I go into a hiding position with a concealed view to the entrance. Aryenne and Grax go to those pillars and look at the script. Stupid them – we will first have to fight. But I am more focused on the entrance. Then the soldiers rush forward. One triggers the axe trap and has the axe collapsing onto him with some loud noise. Another soldier rushes past me towards Grax who is suddenly behind me. Why or how Grax got there is a mystery to me. I throw my Shuriken at the soldiers back. I am very sure that this throw will hit. Suddenly the soldier ducks. How did he know? When I hear the clonk, I realize that he must have tripped over my last rope. Now would be the moment to attack him, but before anyone else can react, a harpoon flies at Grax and hits him in a leg. He falls down and gets pulled to the entrance. He screams very loud and in pain for help.

Then both soldiers that passed through the entrance encircle Xeeliah, but I know what to do. With a blind fury of my blade, I rush through both of them and give them several gashing cuts. One of the soldier screams in pain and he rushes after me. He is almost at me, when Xeeliah sends her huge axe after him and splits his skull with a satisfying crack. >BANG< – another one of these worrying sounds behind us. Aryenne summons Claw to help Grax with all these soldiers at the entrance. >BANG<! This time, the sound does not simply die out. We clearly hear that something came through the rear wall. We can’t clearly see them, but they move slower than soldiers. They are also not as loud as you would expect them to be. A deep disembodied voice says: “The secrets of the vault will be kept!” These is something evil, I feel it in my bones.

Suddenly we hear more footsteps coming from the other side. Abalach-Re and Legion come around the corner. Abalach-Re walks towards Nidaba and says in a soft voice: “There is something I want to tell you!” And with that Abalach-Re turns into a furious Sarghon who attacks Nidaba. With the help of Legion and Sarghon, we can save Grax. I’m usually quick to see things, but when I turned around, I already saw Nidaba aching in pain. I threw a shuriken at her, but the final blow came from Sarghon. Nidaba’s gone, and so are her soldiers.

The zombies from the rear wall are the only foes left. No matter how hard we throw our blades at them, they just keep coming. Grax and Sarghon tell us others to distract them; so we do that. We see them running to those pillars again. Do they just want to run away from the fight? Good! More fight for Legion and me! Those are some really tough zombies though. After we finally struck one of them down, the two others just collapse. Legion and I are puzzled. We make sure that they really do not get up again and cut their heads off. Then we see that Sarghon and Grax come from the back area with smiles on their faces. They must have found some way to kill these monsters…

View
Stuck between a rock and a hard place

Sarghon

I wake up, dazed, in a dark daft chamber. The low amount of light from the torches is still blinding me. I must have been sleeping for long for my eyes to hurt this easy.

Yes, the dreams, I remember! Those dark stories that played in my mind. Stories I am not so certain are of my own life, but which must has been engraved into the spirits and souls locked to this dark city. Our presence must have disrupted the calm of the city and the stories came flowing through the streets, buildings and every corner of the city. But the stories they told, it is almost as if they were meant for us to be seen, to explain what happened here in this city and guide us to where we must go. The chamber of secrets is where I possibly can find the truth, found out what to do about the heart and what it is, what it does. But I am not sure I trust Grax and Xeeliah with the knowledge and power in there.

The light is finally fading and I can begin looking at my surroundings, to find out where, and maybe when, I am. I see that my fellow adventurers are still laying still on the ground the same, as I must have been for a long time as my joints complain when I sit up to get a better view. But there is also a dark figure present, looming over someone. There is a glow around the space between the two and it seems like the dark figure is draining whoever is lying on the floor below him.

But I can’t find Aryenne anywhere amongst the unconscious bodies scattered around the chamber. I do see the heart and dagger lying on the floor on the other edge of the room, but there is no sign of the small elf. With the others unconscious I have my chance to get to the chamber without the others following, and I can take the heart to make sure Grax and Xeeliah are not given the chance to abuse the power that it can bestow. But I cannot leave my colleagues to be drained from this dark being. I carefully stand up to get a better idea of the situation. Xeeliah is the only one laying close to me; the others are in the wrong direction for me to grab the heart and dagger. Even her close relationship with Grax in mind, she seems like the next strongest and dependable person in the group next to myself. I am confident that her love, or whatever it is, for Grax is going to keep her occupied while I grab the items.

First I move up to the dark figure, and as I get closer I see that it is a wraith, much like the ones we’ve met while moving through the city so far, and it indeed appears to be draining the life force of Grax. I don’t really care much for that lizard, his soul is oozing with darkness, but no one is deserving of such a fate, and although I never would admit it, he has saved me twice already. I decide to attach the wraith in order to catch its attention, spreading fear into its mind and hopefully move it away from Grax while I wake up his companion, who can also help me with the others. But my spear just passes through the wraith and it gives no sign of even noticing my presence. Confused I hurry to wake up Xeeliah, and she is quickly up on her feet. At first she is blocking my way, seeing as I am heading for the heart and dagger. I let her known of the condition of her companion, and that she can choose to stop me or save him. She made the smart choice, which I wasn’t fully certain she would, but on my way I managed to help stabilize the others with the help of Xeeliah.

As I pick up the heart and dagger lying on the ground, I notice small footprints in the dust that must be belonging to Aryenne. She has run out of the chamber, but I have no idea of how long ago, but it can’t have been long ago. I look around the room and see Xeeliah has just killed the wraith. That woman is stronger than I ever thought, and with my help we wake up the last of our companions. While they try to recuperate I see no reason for me to follow after Aryenne to make sure she is safe. I let Xeeliah know that I will be right back, but in the end I don’t think she heard me, being busy attending her companion instead.

I hurried through the corridors, finding my way through the maze of corridors until I again was in the middle of this dark, cursed city. From the, albeit severely dimmed, sun shine made the footprints from Aryenne much clearer. She appears to be running towards the city gates. For some time I follow her tracks, but as she turns in the wrong direction I try to conceal my movement as best as I can to avoid the others following and finding out where I am going.

It is unfortunate that I couldn’t catch up with Aryenne and make sure she is safe, but Nidaba should be able to catch her before she manages to escape the city. As soon as I am content with disguising my footprints I change my course towards the palace and the chamber.

After dodging some zombies on the way and walking through corridors and down many sets of stairs, I finally arrive into the chamber door, much alike the one for Kalak’s chamber. Inside it I feel a bit worried, cold. There is something, or someone in there with me. Voices starts speaking to me from all around. It seems to come from inside me! Bodies appear in front of me, hoards of them, floating in the air. They are the builders of the caverns, and were sacrificed for the secrets that are held within to protect what has been hidden. Avengeful spirits they might be, but they still cling to some of their humanity, and understand my difficult situation.

They quickly dissipate and I hurry quickly through the corridors, picking up items along the way. Eventually I find myself in a chamber filled with pillars, each of them covered in texts. A quick look at them tells me they are filled with secrets of many different things, including the ritual for using the heart. The noble blood of someone from Aryenne’s line, one live sacrifice and a ritual text is needed to complete the ritual and gain the power of the heart. It seems all too easy, like anyone can do it! I memorize the ritual text just in case, and head back out. I am sure Nidaba has caught Aryenne by now, hopefully also the others.

I move to catch up with the others, making sure to avoid detection from the soldiers I know are scouting around in the city. Eventually I find them, it is hard not to notice the rattling of armor and weapons as the little army makes its way through the city. There I see Nidaba with my colleagues, and also an unfamiliar face, at first. That woman moves with a grace I have seen somewhere before, like an empress of the world, so sure of herself. That’s when I recognize her as the Grand Vizier of Raam, the tactical genius of the Sorcerer Wars who disappear into her city and has not been herd of afterwards. I have no idea what she is doing here, but from her ways, she expect to get some entertainment from the situation as she follows behind the group, observing everything that happens. After observing the group for a while I walk up to them, and let’s say I get a cold greeting as soon as Nidaba greets me calmly, and they must’ve realized I have been working with her. They will never understand why I have done this to them, and even less why I will do what I have to do next …

View
The Queen of Yaramuke

Corrin

“Come, she expects you!” Those are the words from the hag. I don’t know why we follow her. It seems we have no choice. “We go to the mind; the mind gives the order, the body follows.” These parts of the city are in very bad shape. Buildings are mere ruins; rubble is all over the place. The mind can tell us what we are looking for. That is all very mysterious and I don’t believe a word from that hag. Yet still, we just blindly follow her. She points at a door. It is half broken; hangs loose in the hinges. “It is in there!” What’s in there? I am all suspicious and look for traps while I have a peek through the door. Legion enters the room right behind me. It has loads of rubble and piles of these books everywhere. There are even shelves that hold many books.

There it is! The obsidian dagger lies openly on the floor. I walk towards the place where the dagger lies. The walls are odd. That room must be huge. I cannot see the walls. They’re pitch-black. When I arrive at the dagger and want to pick it up, the hag is suddenly in front of me. She smiles when she picks the dagger; my hand only grabs air. I look up towards the hag and see a huge bodiless shadow hangs behind her. “Home!” The hag does not move her lips. It’s the shadow talking. “This is where it wanted to go for a hundred years. I followed the heart that you brought here; and that is most excellent.” The shadow doesn’t fit the hag, I don’t understand. What’s going on here? The shadow continues: “I have been searching for it since the Tyrant king took it from me. It needs a carrier. Kalak ripped her heart out and wanted to use it. But he could not. The dagger caused my Death.” By now everyone is in here with us. I can see in their faces that they don’t like what they see.

The hag-shadow is talking about weird things that I cannot understand. Suddenly it speaks about powers and strength. She offers us powers. The word ‘power’ let me listen up again: “Together we will fight back my brothers and sisters! The other sorcerer kings have done nothing in the past 100 generations. They are destroying my world. I know more about this world than anyone.” She – it is very egoistic. That’s what I could tell from these lines. I, me, my – it’s all about her. I look around and feel uncomfortable, but somehow I cannot leave the place just now. She wants something of us. Again, it is about her. The entire conversation is weird. It feels so wrong. Grax and Xeeliah tell us that they have felt something like this before.

The shadow asks us what we would do to achieve power. “Would you sacrifice a friend?” Grax says that all of us would. But I disagree – I would not sacrifice a real friend, a false one maybe. Legion wants to be free from his enemies. Sarghon is weirdly silent. The shadow does not ask Aryenne about her opinion, though. That is the moment when I realized what the shadow-hag was suggesting: She – it wants us to sacrifice Aryenne and give us powers in exchange. The shadow is suggesting we should join it. We could fly, create darkness, and make plants wither or grow. Before I could do anything about it, Grax is with Aryenne. He wants to take the heart of her, but Aryenne is stronger and keeps it for herself. I ask Grax if he really wants to kill Aryenne. But Grax just ignores me and speaks to the hag-shadow: “To complete this task, you need not puppets, but companions. I can do the dirty job for you.” I’ve a very bad feeling about this.

Grax wants to the dagger from the hag. The hag does not want to give it to Grax. Xeeliah tries to steal it from the hag, but does not seem to get close enough to her. There is a power in her. Suddenly the hag becomes impatient and says: “There are still servants who do work for me, even in their deaths!” Grax grabs Aryenne and holds a dagger to her neck. This time I was prepared. I run to Grax and hold my dagger onto his neck. I cannot grab him though, but I see that Legion does that for me. He holds his sword directly at Grax’ belly while he grabs his jacket. That is when I suddenly hear Grax whisper to Aryenne: “I am trying to save your ass, dammit!” I am very confused by this and the hag must see it. She uses this moment to attack all of us. At first I am half at a mind to kill Grax first because he threatened Aryenne so much. But I think that we can deal with him later.

I focus my attention to the hag-shadow instead. We all slash and try to hit the hag, but nothing seems to have any effect on her. She must be way more powerful than she seems. Xeeliah almost gets pulled into these shadow walls, until she teleports and takes the shadow with her. The shadow continues to attack her even in the middle of the room and she seems close to death. Meanwhile Legion runs burning through some of these shelves and creates a massive destruction in his path. This is how I know Legion – this is why I like to fight along his side! The hag pulls Aryenne to her (“Come here!”) and we do not know whom to save first. Aryenne is being pulled to the hag, Xeeliah is dying. In the end, Grax saves Xeeliah and Legion and I continue to attack the hag to free Aryenne. Finally the hag seems to get exhausted, but she is not yet dead!

View
The City of Secrets - The Tower of the Voice

Aryenne al

When I woke up from the horrible nightmares, everything in the armoury was calm. The silence was deafening. I looked around and saw my companions wakening one after another. Sargon made a gasping sound and clutched his right hand. It looked as if it had been burned. Had he been out of the armoury while I was asleep? When I asked him, he simply shook his head and turned away, whispering something about having a bad dream. Xeeliah also looked hurt. But all others were fine. Suddenly I felt something deep inside. It was an urge to avenge something, to correct it. I had not noticed this feeling before the nightmares begun, but I tried to shake it off me and think of something else, for example food.

Corrin started preparing a meal, this restless night had taken a lot of energy and I could feel my stomach hurt with hunger. When Corrin finally presented the pieces of dry bread and some pieces of drooping vegetables, it was one of the best tasting meals I have had on this journey. Grax apparently did not share my opinion. He spat out the piece of bread he was chewing on and threw it all back on Corrin. “What have you done with the food!” he growled. “This tastes like eating a cadaver. You didn’t think we would notice if you put in some of your disgusting raw meat, huh? But I did! I will not eat dead humans!” Corrin looked shocked and swore that he hadn’t done anything to the food. Xeeliah eventually managed to calm Grax down.

During our meal we spoke a little about what we had learnt the last few days and Sarghon and Grax skimmed through the books and letters we had found in the library of the Hand. The Eyes and the Hand were killed, but by whom? The Hand talked about betraying the Queen of Secrets, she wanted more freedom for the city and to be queen herself. But then she would not kill all the citizens, would she? Was the Eye also a part of this plot against the Queen? Who killed them? The Eye was killed by a blow to the head with something blunt and heavy and the Hand was killed by magic and her tower blown to pieces. Was there a connection? Who is the Mind of Yaramuke? I have never heard of a city having one of these. It was her defender we met in the black fog in the armoury. Is it she who controls the Spear? Did she kill the Eye and the Hand?

The letters in the library had been well hidden, and Grax soon found out why. He read pieces from a few of them and we learnt that the Hand had ordered the murder of the Eye, by an assassin’s blade, and of the Voice, by poisonous spiders (apparently imported by the Voice herself). The Queen herself wasn’t considered important or dangerous enough to kill. One paper also said something about the spears betraying the betrayers, and them being the puppets of the real master of Yaramuke. It was the spears that attacked the tower. The Hand must have been keeping notes even during the siege. But however much they scoured around in the papers, there was no mention of the Mind…

When the reading was done I let Grax examine the stone heart again. He had been doing this a couple of times since we entered Yaramuke and he said that he could feel it waiting for something, listening… I think he made this up just to keep us alert and on the edge when walking around in this dead city. But what if he was right? If the heart was a part of the Queen of Secrets, there might be something triggering it here in her city.

Grax gave the heart back and said he wanted to go back to the library in the Hand’s tower to look for the key to the coordinates we found in documents both here and in the Tower of the Eye. To be able to help him search, I asked him what he thought this “key” would look like. I had never seen a key that unlocks symbols in a book. He answered that it was probably a picture with a lot of lines and squares on it. That sounded strange, so I pretended to look for it, but I mostly hanged around examining the fancy instruments in the tower.

Corrin was looking for traps, as usual, but this time he found something else. From a hidden compartment behind the bedroll he dragged out a very shiny metal sword. It had symbols and runes around the hilt, but Corrin had only eyes for his own reflection in the blade. Finally he had to hand it over to Legion. It was too heavy for Corrin to handle. Sarghon tried to make out the meaning of the symbols, but the only thing he could read was “Loyalty until death”. There were stands for other weapons in the room, but all are empty. The sword was very well hidden. Did even the Hand know about it?

Grax found a map in one of the piles of paper covering the floor. It showed the castle, but had no lines or squares on it. Anyway, we decided we should be going to the Tower of the Voice to check if anything had happened there. According to the map, the Tower was in the eastern parts of the castle, close to the balcony where we met the first zombies. We decided to try the door we had seen in the yard, the one opened by the swarm, and they probably hadn’t locked it behind them.

We were walking through the streets, talking about the crodlus we left at the city gates and how many food rations they might have left. If they stuck to the plan we had and didn’t eat everything the first day, they should be ok for another two or three nights. Suddenly Corrin stopped. We had come to a crossing and some way up the other street was a bunch of zombies. They seemed like they were eating something… or someone. How could they have come by fresh meat here? Was it the Hag that had been torn into pieces? We quickly decided we wanted a closer look. I tried to distract them with Claw. When I summoned him, I had a weird feeling. He didn’t respond as quickly as he usually does, but he managed to take one of the zombies down. A dozen other zombies gathered around him, and I tried to unsummon him, but the same strange sensation remained. One of the zombies reached him and he was hit badly, and disappeared. The majority of the zombies didn’t react to the ghostly lion appearing in their midst, and continued their feast.

Corrin was convinced by Grax to let him teleport Corrin up on the roof above the zombies. He must have been very curious to let the lizard use his dark spells on him. He looked down on them for a while and then threw a stone further up the alley to distract them from us when we quickly crossed the street. When I was on my way past there, one of the zombies turned its head in my direction. I could feel its stare. Before I had time to react, Claw was there, throwing himself between me and the zombie. I could feel the rotten flesh of the zombie hand when it touched my arm, its nails scratched me, but Claw finished it off by aiming his teeth to its neck. I ran…

When we reached the castle, Corrin told us, while setting up a simple trap at the door, what he had seen. First, it had been hard to get a good look on whatever the zombies were tearing and biting at, but then he had seen a reflection cast by a piece of armour. It was marked with the Urikan lion. What had he done in the city? He must have been part of an Urikan force stationed outside Urik, or how else had he managed to get out alive? Had the force got into Yaramuke before us and closed the gates? Or had they come there after us? Where were the rest of the soldiers, or did he got here alone? Even more questions without an answer!

We followed Grax and his map into the castle, looking for the right tower. It seemed like the whole castle was built with different towers, but after a few wrong turns and a couple of zombie encounters, we found the right one. When we made our way up the stairs, we didn’t see any traces of zombies, or anything at all, really. The rooms were completely empty, stripped of any furniture and other things that may have been there before. At one point we saw a spike trap that had been set off. In the area around it there were several dark patches, probably blood stains. In a small soldiers room we saw the sign of the Bow, so it seemed like the Voice was protected by his soldiers. They didn’t make a good job in protecting the tower from thieves though… The room was as empty as all the others we had seen so far.

Halfway up to the second floor, there were two additional traps that Corrin made us aware of. Those weren’t activated, though. Hadn’t the intruders got this far, or did they recognise the traps from their first experience? We would soon get the answer to that question…

Some way up the stairs, we saw the rails and walls covered with something white. When we got closer, we could clearly see that it was spider webs. I guess the plan the Hand had made had worked out. The corridor was completely covered with the webs when we made it to a cloth-covered screen that blocked the doorway of one room. When peeking in through a crack at the side, we could make out a dimly lit room with a large hole in the floor. To the right was a room that looked like private quarters, to the left we saw a library or working room. Corrin got a torch from Grax and moved the screen to enter the room slowly. Grax followed, while we stayed at the door. The hole in the floor reached all the way down to the next level, and it was filled with broken furniture, cloth, bones, skulls mixed with more spider webs, and here and there were some pieces that looked suspiciously like half-digested zombie parts.

They moved into the private quarters and found a really fancy bed. It had a mattress and everything! When looking closer there was someone lying in the bed. Corrin got closer and could make out the body of a young girl. She wore no jewellery, no bracelet or golden amulet. She was not the Voice, but must have been a servant girl or something. How did she end up in that bed?

Suddenly we heard something moving up the stairs behind us. It sounded fast. Corrin started moving towards the door and in that exact moment Grax gave a startled cry. When I looked back at him, I had no difficulties figuring out why; there was a giant spider dangling from the ceiling right before his nose…

Grax recovered quickly, and with the strange attack he has used a few times before, he sent the giant spider away in a puff of smoke. We saw swarms of smaller spiders crawling around in the corners of the room, and behind us, in the stairs, the sound of many feet on the floor, (or maybe on the walls), got closer. We started the slaughter and did not stop until the tomb spider from the stairs was chased out from a window, the swarms were scattered and killed and the blade spider was severed into pieces and thrown down into the pit in the middle of the room. There spiders must have evolved during many decades, from the poisonous ones that killed the Voice…

With all the spiders gone, we searched the Voice’s quarters. Everything seemed to have been dragged down into the hole in the middle of the room by the spiders, everything except the bed with the dead girl, which had been used as a dining table. Then someone spotted something shiny down in the pit. It is a long way down, and we could really have used that rope we left at the city gate… Corrin and Legion, who were the most athletic ones, or maybe more drawn to shiny things than us, got down into the pit and found their way through the mess of broken furniture and pointy weapons. There were small spiders crawling around everywhere, feeding on half-eaten bodies.

Corrin reached the medallion first, but when he picked it up, it did not show the mouth of the Voice, but a golden star. Then, he saw something human-sized moving under a piece of the floor that fell down during our fight with the big spiders. It was a zombie; lower parts of the body rotten, broken bones and blackened flesh. She moved her unseeing eyes towards Corrin and Legion, spiders crawling out of her mouth when she tried to speak: “You will perish in here as I perished; Betrayed and alone. This is only fitting, the betrayer was betrayed. Everything is too late now…” Legion tried to ask her who betrayed her, but she took no notice of him. That was when Corrin and Legion decided they had to bring her to us. Corrin took up his knife and Legion held her head steady. When she opened her mouth to start a new sentence: “My Queen…”, Corrin slit her throat, and she fell silent. After searching her body and finding the medallion of the Voice, they brought the head up to the room where we were waiting. They proudly presented us with the head, explaining that we would only need her mouth,since that is the talking part of the body.

Fury and extreme frustration shot out of Sarghon’s eyes when he snatched the head from Legion, and showed the two idiots away. He desperately tried to summon the spirit of the Voice to be able to question her, but the head kept its silence. Meanwhile, Grax had searched the library, only to find it empty and all books shredded, their pages spread in the pit. He sent Corrin and Legion down again to get some of them, but with very clear orders not to destroy them or take anything else. The pages were filled with comments and stories from the Voice’s travels around Athas. Grax also seemed a little obsessed with figuring out what had been standing in the middle of the room before the spiders destroyed the floor.

Suddenly, we all heard a voice in our heads. A female voice said one word, once: “Coooome”. Everything was calm and quiet outside. We left the tower of the Voice and moved towards the throne room, where everything looked exactly as when we left last time. Then, everything got dark and the large doors opened from outside. We saw the old Hag standing in the doorway, and she looked directly at us. “Come! Follow me, quickly!”, she said. “She wants us to come, the clever one, Betrayal! She wants her servants to come! Death!”.

We quickly followed her. Grax tried to get some information about the Secret Library from her by asking where he should put the new books. The answer gave no clues: “I have tried to find it for hundreds of years. If you know anything about it, you tell me.” We got out in the courtyard, where a thick mist hangs all the way down to the ground. We stopped, and the mist swirled around from our movement. For a moment it got thinner to my left and what was revealed almost made me gasp. We were surrounded by ghosts! And not the harmless ones walking around, repeating the same sentence over and over. I recognized these; we had met them before, inside the throne room. The spirits of the advisors had risen once again!

View
A fog of nightmares

Sarghon

We enter the dark cold tunnel, closing the door behind us and the zombies starts banging on the door, growling and clawing. But then suddenly it all stops as the tower comes crashing down on them, and eventually everything turns silent again. From the neatly carved rock we realize we must be in some form of service tunnel for the tower. It reminds us of the crypt, with a similar architecture. We look through the journals to try and find our way so as not to get lost in the tunnels, and eventually find our way for the tower of the hand. On our way Grax takes a closer look at the amulet of the eyes, which has inscriptions listing the names of all previous advisors who has hold the position. It seems it has been going on for thousands of years!

On our way we come upon what seems to be a guard station, and Xeeliah and Grax finds some crude spears. But the rattling sound of the weapons seems to wake something up, and we suddenly hear the sound of dragging feet in the direction we are heading. We continue and the sounds get closer, but then eventually it disappears before we see a sign showing the direction of the Tower of the hands. Suddenly the sounds become stronger again and we reach a corridor with some 10 zombies. While they haven’t noticed us yet, we try to sneak past until one of them spots me. We are forced to fight them off but in what I can only excuse as a bad choice in the heat of battle, Grax sends of a sounding thunder attack which echoes loudly through the cave tunnels and we hear the sounds of more enemies coming closer, attracted by the disturbance.

When we arrive at a trapdoor leading upwards to the tower of the hand, it is locked and while Xeeliah tries to lockpick it, it seems that it is instead something resting on top of the trapdoor. With some force we manage to open the trapdoor and enter into the entrance hall of the tower. Things are not as we expected it, with half of the hall in rubbles, the rest intact. Outside, barracks, blacksmiths and more surround the plaza. It is evidently the military center of the city, but the plaza is empty of life, but dead bodies are spread around all over the place. In the hallway there are several entrances that lead to the other rooms.

In order to try and get a grasp of what’s been going on here, Xeeliah runs out to the plaza together with Grax to fetch one of the bodies for a ritual. They notice that the bodies of soldiers are marked by the spear, sword and hammer, the latter two seemingly the defenders.

Meanwhile Aryenne and me go through the rooms, which seem to have been broken into with some kind of explosion, but no fire. The main entrance is totally in ruin, not many bodies around with signs of another powerful explosion as the throne in the room has nearly been smashed to dust, but we see two statues depicting the sword and hammer. There is only one other exit, leading to stairs heading upwards. It seems the tower has 5 floors and on our way to the next floor there is a body on the steps like if it had been trying to crawl up. Looking closer she has an amulet around her neck, the amulet of the hands. She has no wounds, so in the hope she can better explain what went on here we carry her up and lie her down on a table. While I make preparations for the ritual, the others go up the stairs to investigate the other levels. The top floor, which seems to be the private quarters of the hands, is divided into smaller chambers with a small library with books of the city’s military history. Amongst them are letters with private correspondence with the eyes, voice and hands, clearly holding secret information as they talk about things the queen should not know about, coordinates of where a large force has moved, and more.

When the ritual is finished the spirit of Samelia, the hands, shows herself, asking why we disturb her soul to risk her wrath. She told us that the advisors wanted more freedom, and although the queen did her job well Samelia wanted to be the queen. She was killed by magic, fierce magic. And while they all organized this, their plans were destroyed by the betrayal of the spear, which she now found out was the puppet of the real power in Yaramuke. Once this power, which she refers to as the mind of Yaramuke, found out about their betrayal, it made them pay. Her finally words before her soul fades away again is simply “It is no use, she will kill you all anyway”.

As she finishes the words, a female scream comes from the north, quickly joined by more voices. We all run down to the armory but are stopped in the stairway by a spirit. “I am the guardian ….” is all we hear before the spirit slowly disappears again. It lingers for a little longer and before it disappears it tells us “I will have your souls” and the screaming continues.

After we escape into the armory shadows appears behind us. We close the door and when opening the other door we see more shadows quickly approaching and quickly close everything. Fear strikes us, remembering the shadows from the dreams, as a wind swooshes through the room and something begins seeping through the door, something like a dark fog. We quickly try to cover up all the holes but before we finish the fog begins to materialize. The Guardian of the Minds proves to be a tough fight, but eventually disperses. After that everything just turns into darkness, and we find ourselves yet again sleeping with restless dreams. The same dreams again, with screaming women dressed just as the hands. I see a black fire enveloping the queen, who tries to protect the children around her. But the fire catches her hand and the heat begins deforming it by burning through the skin as if it was a claw. Then everything turns black again…

View
The city of secrets - The stargazer and the girls

Corrin

We’re down in the narrow alley. Zombies are all around us. Most of them above on the balcony we just jumped from. They follow us down. Some never get up after they fell with a strange crackling sound. We’re leaving; running away from them zombies. I don’t know where we’re heading. Somewhere more quiet for sure. Sarghon wants to look for “the eyes”. I don’t see no eyes. We need to find a tall tower to have an overview. I see a tall tower; much taller than most buildings in this rotting city. I think I know the way to it. Grax is surer about the way. So we follow him. On our way we hear more of them whispers. They whistle about pain and sufferings. This city with its tall buildings seems like a labyrinth to us. But it’s an easy one compared to the tree-top villages and town in the forest. I quickly gather the way and almost run ahead of Grax at times.

We reach the tower. There’s a locked door at the entrance. I look at the lock more closely and see the trap mechanism that will trigger once we carelessly open the door. I push my finger down on the wire to prevent the mechanism from snapping and open the lock with my bent-tip dagger. The trap’s no danger no more. We all go in and just a set of stairs. I see a flashing image of the stairs in the Black Palace under Tyr. We need to be careful about those stairs. After locking the door behind us, I go ahead again to check every step for traps. And sure as that I soon find pressure plates that would possibly trigger an arrow or other bad things. Avoiding them is faster than actually disarming them. They also give us good cover if zombies break down that door.

Up in the tower’s a room with a ghost whispering stuff. He has all kinds of strange instruments around him. He’s got one tube with weird glass, lots of maps with many dots that look like stars. One of them glasses is broken, I see. The ghost speaks again: “I was the stargazer for the queen using the sky. I unveiled the secrets for Yaramuke.” He’s floating above a skeleton. The bones got shiny metal rings. There’s a balcony outside; looking not very stable after all these years. Since I am the lightest, I go out to have a look around. Looking down I see that this tower must be higher than many trees in Algor, maybe as tall as the great sentinel. Grax and Sarghon urge me to stay in Yaramuke.

I see that this tower’s the tallest building in this region of the city. To the north I see the center with the palace. I can see the labyrinth of towers and flat buildings. I am sure there’s still something moving in there. The north and the east of the city are rising and end abruptly in a high cliff. The south is much flatter. There’re about four dozen other towers in the city, but ours is about the highest as far as I can see. It’s hard to spot things on the ground. Everything’s foggy and the darkness swallows much of the ground. Squinting, I can see 10 squares scattered around the city. I remember the one with the shield being towards the east. We came from there. To the east is also the only gate leading into the city. There’s a market place around the castle. To the north-east there’s a square with lots of towers around it. Over there’s also another tower that might the twin of this one. High and bold it stands there. There are still lots of shades and shadows moving around everywhere.

When I come back in, I see Grax doing things with that tube and some more of these glasses. He looks funny if I look at him through the weird glass. Sarghon looks at them metal rings and says boring stuff about it being gold. Xeeliah, Grax, and Sarghon look into some books. Sarghon reads “The hands: she does the dirty work for the queen. The eyes: he is looking for attacks from Urik and Raam. The voice: she travelled a lot, but stayed close to the queen when she was in Yaramuke. They all don’t take much notice of them zombies that are at the foot of the tower. Aryenne and I decide to take a nap. Legion watches the door while resting a little.

Just a little later, there’re screams everywhere. Mostly women, but men alike scream so loud as if they were with us in the tower. I look outside, but only see the zombies down at the door of the tower. To the north I suddenly see a black fog, shrouding the city. Sticking our fingers in our ears does not make the screams any quieter. The fog’s coming ever closer. We close all hatches and doors to try to keep that fog out. I see the stargazer ghost fading when the torchlight goes out. The screams get ever louder. Sarghon collapses before our eyes. The door opens and some of that black fog is coming in. Xeeliah slams the door shut, but the blackness just pushes her back. She collapses as well. I see Legion, Grax, and Aryenne fainting while my vision blackens out.

Suddenly I am in Yaramuke. I want to protect my children from the fire. But there’s no way out. I see my youngest catching fire and can do nothing about it. I want to save my oldest boy. I try to grab him out of the fire. It is really hot. My hand hurts. Flames feed on my skin. My boy is dead. I am burning. I am dead.

When I awake later, I still feel the pain in my hand. It feels black. It feels burned. It hurts so much. When I look around, I see the same fear in the eyes of my companions. Aryenne and Sarghon hold their stomachs and look pail. Grax and Xeeliah mention a woman, an advisor they call her. She was causing “it”. She was killing with her gaze. We take a while to gather all our senses and relax again.

Grax works with that tube and looks into it. He points it here and there and I wonder what he does with it. He then tells us that the plaza towards the north-east, with the many towers around it, belongs to the hand. The eyes are in the other tall tower towards the south. I don’t know how he possibly could have seen these things in the tube, but I know that Grax knows magic. I don’t want to mess with that. Now that we know where “the eyes” are, we can go there. The zombies at the foot of the tower all disappeared, so we can leave it without any problems. There’re footsteps and claw marks around the door. So we haven’t imagined that part.

The city seems quieter now. We walk straight to that tower of “the eyes”. On the way there’re more of them ghosts. On a small plaza, we see two small girls, maybe six or seven years old. She’s the first ghost reacting to us. She starts to scream when we pass by. It’s a scared scream. Then she says: “I was just a poor girl. I played hide and seek. And then I died.” She looks at Sarghon and then goes on: “My mom used to comfort me. But she is not here. It hurts too much.” We see a big black hole in her chest. Suddenly she screams: “I will show you what pain feels like!” Looking around we see that 5 ghost soldiers appeared: “We were guards of the shrine. We betrayed our kin once. We will not fail it again!” They and the two girls attack us.

I put my dagger right into the big wound the girl already has. That should kill her – anyone would die from that. She only smiles and smashes me back to the ground. Sarghon looks weird and frightening. We all keep some distance to him. I whirl around to attack the girl again, this time aiming for her head instead. Once I pushed my dagger hard into the ghost that felt mysteriously solid, it dissolves in front of my eyes. The dagger is free and the girl is no more. Seeing that, the other girl disappears in the wall next to her. I am sure that’s not the last we saw of her. Looking around to the soldiers, I suddenly feel dizzy. I am in a street full of people. I have a spear in my hand. I push it forward. I push it into the chest of a little girl. It looks at me with big eyes. It does not scream, but I see in her eyes that she feels pain. I know that my master is gone. I look around and see a woman with steely eyes. I wake up from that dream. My friends are still fighting them ghosts. I whirl around with my dagger, slashing a solid ghost here, stabbing a disappearing ghost there. In the end there’s just some ghostly mist around us, but no more solid ghosts. We killed the dead and go on our way.

View
The city of secrets – The city of perdition

Xeeliah

After the adventure at the Smoking Crown we all agreed quickly to direct our way to the City of Secrets to find out more about the Stone Heart. If I say “all”, I mean all of us with more intelligence than a piece of dead tree bark. Corrin tried to convince us to join him going to the forest. But since his most convincing argument was “The forest is green!”, we quickly decided to just ignore him although he managed to keep pace with us – jumping more than walking – on one only hand followed by cart wheels and flik-flaks. We should really sell him to a travelling circus. Then we would have our peace and quiet, although I have to admit that he was always really effective during recent fights. At this point I didn’t have a clue yet that it would be just a short time until his fighting skills would be desperately needed again.

On our way to the City of Secrets lay the obsidian mines near Makla. After a two days march we finally were about the reach the small miners town and just had a few hours left to walk in the dusk and beginning darkness. Suddenly we all realized simultaniously that there was not just the fire of the Smoking Crown in our back, to which we were all perfectly used to by now but also a shimmer of light that reflected on deep hanging clouds right in front of us – something was burning in the south-east… and something was approaching us from that very direction as well. A tall figure wearing a cloak with a hood and carrying a spear came nearer and nearer and finally we could identify him as a large blue man. Grax and I were quite surprised that our companions knew that strange guy – his name was Sarghon and accompanied the other for quite some time before we met. He told us that he was coming straight from Urik, where he escaped from prison in which Alina was held captive as well. He could tell that the city was apparently burning for more than two days now.
I still don’t really trust that blue guy. Isn’t it quite surprising that he escaped the prison BEFORE Urik started to burn? If he would have left Urik in the chaos, I would have understood this, but isn’t it quite a coincidence that he could flee from the normal every-day-life in the prison and knew directly where to look for us? Fortunately, my old friend Grax is sceptical as well. I think it sounds more as if he was sent, but the others are just to blind for mistrust and just want to go quickly to Urik to search for Alina – especially her sister Aryenne.
Arriving in Makla we learnt that they already sent out riders towards Urik to figure out what happened but they haven’t been back yet. They thought that it was quite suspicious that so far no refugees arrived from Urik fleeing from the fire and I could only agree. Not to waste too much time we quickly traded some minor artifacts for some food and Corrin managed to acquire a new figurine. I swear, at some point he will need a pushcart for that junk.
Before we could leave we met a caravan that had left Urik a few days ago and they told us that the king Hamanu hasn’t been seen for quite some time now…

After a one day travel towards Urik we met the riders which were back on their ways towards Makla. They didn’t stop at all, just shouted at us: “All dead! Everyone is dead!” and rode on.
After four days we reached the city or what was left of it. The whole area looked like a burned battlefield: just ashes and ruins. The leftover of the palace was a black hulk and stood stunted against the smoke blackened sky. Sarghon led us to the Templar district where he was held captive but the cell tower didn’t survive the hell of flames – no signs of Alina as well. Aryenne was devastated. On our way through the city we found two molten swords made from metal and one obsidian one, which was still perfectly fine. We strapped them to our pack crodlus and went on to Yaramuke.

Coming closer and closer to the City of Secrets it seemed the world got darker, more desolate and lonelier with each step. Meeting in the beginning regularly travellers and passing unmanned guardhouses, these occasions became rarer and rarer. When we reached the black water, only a black mud pool was left. Approaching the city even the sounds left the world. All noises were muffled and quieter than usual. After the sounds left the light: the sky grew darker and darker and in the end we couldn’t see the sky at all although we knew that it was the middle of the day. From the corner of my eye I could make out shallow shadows but as soon as I turned the head and tried to concentrate on them, they were gone… like ghosts. This place is doomed…
Finally a really high mountain arose in front of us. On top of it, we could identify the shadowy city with a huge amount of towers. The road spiraled upwards and we followed – everything in deep silence. Died black grass ‘grew’ next to the road and I knew, everything that stays here longer than necessary will die! The moving shadows came more often and closer and the other saw them as well. Now, there were hundreds, shuffling around, never specifically looking at us. The wind carried voices towards us, hundreds and thousands of voices repeating in a choir: “We were the finest of Uriks lions. Battle for battle we brought honor to the code. Then we were betrayed by our own king!”
Carefully we wiggled trough the army of ghosts and went on until we came to a gatehouse. Next to it a gate stood open – bent and rusted. It looked like something tried to get into the city from the outside – with success. A ghost lingered next to some toppled over statues and repeated on and on: “We guarded the secrets of the queen. Through our efforts, the queen could never die. We failed.”
Although this gate stood wide open, the next gate towards the city we found was black and old but intact and closed and apparently locked, maybe barred from the inside. Grax managed to go up there and met another ghost soldier on the wall, moaning: “I was a soldier of Yaramuke. I protected its people. Then I died.”
Grax went down on the inside and opened the gate for us. A screeching sound set our teeth on edge but died away in the large city without an echo. Behind, another about twenty transparent soldiers lingered around, repeating: “I was a soldier of Yaramuke. I protected its people. Then I died.”
Fortunately Grax did find an old map of the city and led us towards the queen palace. Where else should we find out more about the Stone Heart, right? I really hoped it was not a long walk. This city really sucked all the happiness directly from the bones and just after a short time I felt empty and lonely and I could feel that Grax felt the same.
We passed streets and alleys. We met a lot of ghost lingering in the streets – bakers, merchants, watchmen and many others – repeating sentences like mantras as: “I was a dyer. Because of me, Yaramuke was always dressed in the brightest colours. Then I died.”
The city didn’t look like a large fight took place here, but each soul was dead.
Next to the merchants headquarter stood a very detailed statue that was unharmed.
The palace turned out to be a big tower complex without an additional wall around it. After crossing the prechambers we directly came to a large hall in which a dirty and tattered red carpet led the way and couldn’t believe our eyes: in front of us sat a statue of a woman on a podium, twice the size as a normal woman – made of pure gold. She didn’t have eyes nor a mouth nor hands. It was not as if they have been chiseled out by some plunderers, no. They are just not there. Where you usually expect eyes, they face was as flat as at the cheeks. The only attribute her face possessed was a nose. Was I mistaken, or did this nose a little bit like Aryennes? But maybe I was influenced by the pointy ears which perfected the statues head.
On both sides of her stood two chairs each, in which skeletons found their last place – their undead ghosts floating above them. On the left and on the right side of the hall were high pillars and eight life-sized statues on pedestals guarded the entrance, the podium and the space in front of it. Each pedestal had an inscription:

“ What the spear has pierced, will always be dead.”
“What the shield has blocked, will always be blocked.”
“What the bow has shot, will always be dead.”
“What the voice has said, can always be retold.”
“What the hands have done, can always be redone.”
“What the sword has slain, will always be dead.”
“What the hammer has forged, will always be unbroken.”
“What the eyes have seen, can always be reseen.”

Behind the statue lay a thick red tattered curtain, which apparently separated once this very part of the room from an area stuffed with tables and other old furniture.
As soon as we approached the podium, the ghosts floating above the skeletons started to whisper. The ones on the left side of the statue and the one in the rightmost chair started in a choir: “I was a revisor of Yaramuke. I provided knowledge of everything that happened in the kingdom. I did it in the duty of my queen.”
The fourth ghost started to hizz: “I was Ta Ori, senegal of Yaramuke. I cared for the city, I cared for my queen. By protecting the eyes, voice and hands, I protected her sectrets….. I protected her sectrets… and I’m still protecting her secrets!!!”
And then, the hell broke loose. All four ghosts rose and attacked us in the same moment as soldiers – dead? alive? – enter the throne room! Flashes swirled through the air, followed by shurikens and thunder. Ta Ori vanished for quite some time, sent to another world by Grax enormous powers.
While attacking and defending I see out of the corner of the eye that Aryenne was badly hurt. Both, Sarghon and Grax do their best to rescue her and they managed. She survived, we all survived… the question is how much longer will we survive in this city of perdition?

View
Celebrating Iptyamuta with the Shukkriya tribe

Aryenne al

The aarakocra kept their promise and showed us the way through the desert. We closed in on the hills and mountains at the far border of the desert lands, and the birds showed us the way towards a high pillar standing there like a gateway. When we got close enough to make out a hand painted in black at the top of the pillar, the aarakocra suddenly lifted and circled higher than before. “Krrraaaa! We go no further”, said their leader, “this is what we agreed. You are now on your own.” He had barely finished the sentence when an arrow flew against him and brushed his feathers when he wriggled to the left and then made two hard strokes with his wings to get out of range of further attacks. He and the other aarakocras disappeared in the skies.

From behind the pillar and large stones in the area raised half a dozen warriors. Their clothes did not conceal much of their painted bodies and they had necklaces dangling with bones and feathers. Two of them had bows pointed at us, the others carried spears. “Vått yo vant vit Shukkriya tribe”, one said in a growling voice, “friends åv Aarakocra are nått velkom here!” We tried to convince her that we had only used the bird-people to show us the way through the desert and that we wanted to speak with the Ember Seer. “Seer nått servant of strangers”, she replied, and not until we told her about our news of the big events in the Tyrian valley did she agree to take us to her mistress.

We were escorted through a landscape of red stone and high mountains. In the narrow valleys between the mountains were large pools of bubbling, hot, red, water. The steam hung low and we did not see the small village until we walked in to a narrow opening with caves and low shelters and tents surrounding it. The warriors gave our crodlus to a pair of young boys, who looked terrified at the sight of the large animals, before they showed us into one of the larger caves.

The Seer was a pale, sooty girl dressed in ragged black dress and a mask of an aarakocra beak. Beside the stone chair, where she was half-lying, stood an old man clothed in black; “Great vårriors kome to overr land in trobblesome times. Vått gifts do yo bring to the Ember seer?” We tried to offer her pieces of jewellery that we had found in the Vault of Kalak, but the advisor was not impressed, not until Grax offered the beautiful bow he had found in the ruins of Bodach. This seemed to satisfy the Seer, or rather the advisor; the Ember seer had not opened her mouth once. She seemed drugged and far off. Apparently, this people put greater value into weapons and practical tools that can help you survive, than jewellery and glitter. They also seemed well isolated; our news from the valley of Tyr was really news to them. But neither the bow, nor our information from the southern lands could make the Ember Seer answer our questions about the stone heart…

We sat outside one of the caves, eating some stale bread that the Shukkriya had offered us, when people started shouting and pointing towards the north. There was smoke rising from behind the mountains. The Ember Seer walked out from her cave on unsteady legs, supported by the advisor’s arm. She walked right past us and the other people standing on the bank of one large pool. The advisor stayed on the shore, but the Seer continued her walk until she was waist-deep in the bubbling water. It was obviously hurting her, but she stood there for several minutes, facing north. The people were absolutely silent until she turned and walked back to the shore. Then the advisor called out: “Theerre are grreeaat times ahead. The Iptiyamuta is here!” and everyone around us started to cheer and dance.

Tables were drawn out from the caves and stews were cooked over open fires together with large pieces of meat, turned slowly over the flames. We went to the Seer’s cave once more to find out what the feasting was all about. “Iptiyamuta is the start of a new era”, the advisor explained, “When the large Mountain off in the north starts breathing fire, the time starts again. But first there will be a feast for three days when the most courageous of our warriors travel to the Mountain to get the sacred artefact. If you are willing to make this journey with us, we might answer some of your questions.”

We did not even need to discuss it. Of course we took the challenge and started to prepare for the journey. Legion intimidated some clan members to give us food and water, but we had a hard time convincing him not to try the basilisk meat. The warriors of the clan apparently proved their greatness and courage by eating pieces of this poisonous meat; the ones who remained unaffected passed the test, while the ones rolling around on the ground, moaning with pain lost their status as warriors. An utterly stupid rite…

Early the next morning, after only a few hours of sleep, we started to make our way towards the mountain range far off in the distance, where smoke was still rising from the highest peak. Our party consisted, apart from our usual group, of the Ember Seer, her advisor, a few warriors and three servant girls. We spent the night at the foot of the large mountain and started the climb as the first ray of light was seen. At the rim of the crater the advisor stopped and turned to us. “From here on you are on your own. In the middle of this crater you will find a shrine, and inside lays a dagger made of horn. Bring it to me.”

We found a way down into the smouldering crater. The heat made the air condense and the fog lay thick. Further down, the fog lifted and we could see lava bubbling and smoking at the bottom. Some fifteen meters above there was a system of ramps and pathways leading out to a stony island in the centre of the crater. There, on an altar in the middle, lay the shrine.

We walked out to the altar and opened the shrine. Suddenly, the island started to shake and two large drakes appeared, Ipti and Yamuta. We had no trouble killing the beasts, the group has been fighting together for so long and by now we know each other’s intentions without the need of further communication. When the drakes were slain (one had fallen down and disappeared in the sizzling lava, and one lay beheaded on one of the pathways) we took the knife from the shrine and went back up to the rim, where the rest of the party waited.

When the Ember Seer saw the dagger, I saw how her eyes cleared for a short moment. She took the knife out of Corrin’s hands and held it, watching it closely. Then, without taking her eyes off the blade, she started talking.

“You want to know more about the Adar Na Tia, and I will tell you what I see. The heart once belonged to the Queen of Secrets, Queen of the city once called Yaramuke, but the city is now as dead as its ruler. Its ruins are hidden in darkness; they shelter the secrets of her powers…”

I remembered the story of how the great city of Yaramuke was destroyed by Hamanu in a fight over the Obsidian mines. This was a story my father often told us after dinner when the flames of the cooking fire started to fade. The Seer continued: “Oronis the Dirge was the lover of Wylin of Bodach. Wylin and Sielbe of Yaramuke were like sisters before the Great War. Who knows what Oronis would want with the power of Wylins former sister? Little is known about Myra the Scorcher, though. She was almost as distanced from the others as Kalid-Ma; the Stranger, but wilder and more treacherous.” She suddenly turned her head and looked right at me. “Your sister is kept in Urik. The blood of Sielbe of Yaramuke flows in your veins, but not in hers.”

The Ember Seer went silent. Her eyes were now fixated on the knife once more. She turned to face the crater and started to silently sing a slow tune with words from a forgotten language. Her voice grew stronger and suddenly she shoved the dagger right into her own heart. She fell to the ground, but neither the advisor, nor her servants or the warriors seemed to be surprised. The advisor turned towards us and said. “The old era is gone. A new one begins! You have helped us to accomplish this, now you have to choose our next leader, the new Ember Seer.” He pointed towards the servant girls and introduced them by name; Inana looked as an outgoing girl, Astarte had a clever look in her eyes and Melana seemed shy and frightened. We finally decided to pick Astarte.

We parted at the foot of the mountain. They went back to the village to introduce (and probably drug) the poor girl and we decided to make our way towards Yaramuke, the City of Secrets.

View
Find old friends with new friends?

Corrin

It’s the first day after we fled Tyr. The city’s still burning in most parts. The nights are bright enough to walk around even without the pale green Ral out. Guthay’s golden orb is barely visible with the city burning so close to us. We’ve seen many strange folks out here. With Aryenne desperate to find Alina, we’ve been talking to many of them. People leaving, tell us that King Shamash and Queen Ishtar reign with an iron fist; they rule more fearsome than before. They say they want to restore the city to its former glory, but those who fled don’t see how. Most of them lost family members, but none has seen even a glimpse of Alina or Sarghon. Aryenne wants to go back into Tyr to look for Alina. At dawn we went to the Caravan Gate and almost made it in. Legion then suddenly draws us back. One of the guards had started to walk decisively in our direction. We did not want to risk capture and retreated back. Aryenne wants to keep trying, but we hold her back. During day we look for shadows and wait and sleep. Aryenne’s hard to calm down; she’d keep searching with the sun out. We can keep her down with drawing Alina’s picture to show to people. Maybe this way they can give us better information.

The second day we ran into a group of Toothcutters. They’ve not recognized us from the start, but after Aryenne showed them the painting of Alina, they must’ve realized who we are. They drew their daggers, but I grabbed their leader quickly. He stopped the others while I put my dagger on his throat. He yielded and dropped his dagger. Most of the group did the same. One of them was bold enough to attack Legion. He merely got out his sword and stuck it into the belly of the attacker. That stopped all those who had more attacks in mind. They all dropped their weapons. The leader told us that they’ve been in the Warrens when king and queen came back. They are flattened, no building survived the attack. Every building there’s burning, they say. They decided that fleeing people would be easy targets. So they went out The Stadium Gate. On their way out, they saw mostly rubble and fallen buildings such as towers. That raised Aryenne’s awareness and she kept asking about that tower and whether any of them saw Alina. None of them did though. They said they wanted to get back into the city. With most of the guards dead, it was probably easy ground as well. They’d go for the Merchant or Noble district, because it’s much less destruction and more loot to take. They might even try raiding the Shahram’s house. There’s none to protect the house after they’re all dead, the leader said. That’s all he knows he says. We let them go on their way. I wonder whether Sariel would’ve done that.

The third and fourth day we’ve been wandering more and more around and talked to several refugees searching protection in the city. Aryenne’s showing them all the painting of Alina and hope that someone will find her in the city. The refugees talk about troops from Urik passing them, going north-east. Some heard about Nidaba, the Voice of Urik, being speechless now. They say that King Ishtar struck her silent and want to seek the wisdom of such a mighty man. One man swears he has seen and talked to Musa Dyan. He’s gone exile the man claims, but he’s no clue why or how. Dyan wouldn’t talk about that he says. I think it’s unlikely the man really met Musa Dyan. He probably just heard rumors. There are more rumors about Musa Dyan around. Some say he seized the Senate before King and Queen came back. Others claim he died defending the city. Even others talk about conspiracies by rivaling houses. None of them says anything about a vault. Many talk about his brother, Harharu Dyan, who’s now chasing Azera Semira in the Valley of Tyr. Some, however, swear that Azera Semira, leader of the Urikan forces, died during the invasion.

It’s going on for days now. We’re walking round and round that city of Tyr. All Aryenne’s doing is looking for Alina. Since that tower fell between us and Alina and Sarghon, we didn’t see either. She’s gone crazy, listening to no reasons. We must’ve gotten round the city twice at least by now. None of the people streaming in or out of the city know anything about them. At least she agrees to make camp now. Legion’s going to report back to his kin, so I’ve got some time to check on my latest recipes.

Legion’s just gotten all excited after he contacted his others. He says that one of his kin has seen a blue man. He doesn’t know where the Deva’s been spotted, but he’s seen an image of him in a green background. It must’ve been in the forests then, I say immediately. It’s the only place I know where you can have a green background. Neither Legion nor Aryenne really believe there even is a forest. I tell them I know the way and that’s the only lead we’ve got so far.

We finally agreed to go – when Legion spotted some people approaching us. Aryenne walked ahead to talk to them – she wanted to ask about Alina, as usual. But those men weren’t as friendly as most we’ve encountered here. They’re from the Tyrian guards from the looks of them and they started to shoot at us. They’re many more and we’ve only got two really fighting since Aryenne is still very confused. But luckily two wanderers came to assist us – a Dra named Grax and his associate Xeeliah. Grax’s been using quite a nice bow and Xeeliah is chasing the enemies as if she were an arrow herself. With their help we fought off those guards quick and clean. We questioned the last of them very shortly before we killed him. He says that they were promised rewards and seat in the senate if they bring our heads and plundered goods. We asked for our charges and he said that we conspired to kill Queen Ishtar and that we stole a “family heirloom” from the Golden Tower.

They’re a queer people those two. Grax’s talking often in riddles and rhymes while Xeeliah doesn’t talk much at all. She’s got a big tattoo, but we can only see the upper bits – the rest’s hidden beneath that robe of hers. Grax seems to be very interested in all that stuff we found in the vault. He takes this in hand and that and tells us whether it’s a good hand-wrap or a nice dagger. I know that sharp daggers are good daggers. I don’t know what makes any hand-wraps better than others though. It seems a little fishy to me what he’s doing. But he didn’t do anything bad so far. Our way leads us north and those two want to go north as well. We can use some good fighters, so decide to team up for our trip to the forests.

Moving! Finally we’re moving again! We‘re heading to the forest ridge! I hope we’ll get to visit Algor. I can’t wait to see Algor again. Derlan, Garret, Merric, Kithri, Verna and Wenna – and father! I wonder what they have been doing while I was gone. Merric’s gone to the crystal forest, Jana said. But I’ve never heard of anyone else. I am leading us north-east. We need to get to the passage close to the Mausoleum of Shivarm. From there I can lead them on good trails through the forest. But the Mausoleum, I remember from last time: It still gives me unrest. The strange feeling we had, the creatures that attacked us. Last time we barely escaped – but this time I will not run!

Since we met Grax and Xeliah, our spirits went up a bit. They’ve gone through our stuff and explained us some the engravings. These lines and circles will stay a mystery to me. He gave me some hand wraps that look a little red. They’re supposed to make me stronger somehow. I haven’t felt it yet. I still can’t lift Legion. Well, they are comfortable, so I’ll wear them. The Dra knows all kind of things and still often surprises us. We talk a little on our trip. For the night he took us to a good place. Here we have the cliff to one side and can see wide in the other directions. It’s good to rest our legs for the night. Grax is taking watch and Legion is edging his new shiny blade a little at the camp fire. I’ll get some good sleep now!

In the middle of the night Legion woke us from our slumber. There was this hag almost right in the middle of our camp! She’s got some dogs with her – some big dogs. Before I was entirely awake and aware of what’s going on, the hag grabbed Grax and put a dagger on his throat. She keeps asking for a “sister”, but we all can’t make any sense of it. Grax is getting annoyed be her and shoves her off. She tells us that these dogs are the “hounds of the seven”. Well, there are only three dogs here… I hope she did not bring all seven.

Then the hag ran for Aryenne. She threatened her; she said that she wants Aryenne’s heart! That was too much! I put her to the ground showed her my sharp dagger. During more talking and discussions (How I hate these long discussions! I can barely think straight during these long talking times.), one of the hounds attacked us. The hag killed it with a single blow of her dagger. Suddenly we were in the middle of a fight. The hag disappeared right before our eyes! This must’ve been evil magic! I just saw this and then I ran to fight one of the two remaining hounds. I was so sure I could strike it down with me dagger as the hag just did. I was so wrong! I not only missed the hound, it also stroke back on! That did hurt a lot! It made me run back to my friends. Together we fought against the two remaining hounds who gave us a good fight. But in the end we killed them both.

The hag appeared again later while we were fighting the hounds. She’s more powerful than she looks like. Put we’re stronger than her! In the end she ran off, probably frightened. After we pulled all of us together and made sure that we weren’t in immediate danger any more, we’ve discussed what just happened. That hag was curiously interested in Grax and Xeeliah. She’s mostly buffing on Grax, but also seemed to be drawn a little to Xeeliah. These new companions of ours have some ‘friends’ as it seems. There were also some other interesting things we’ve seen. Grax was breathing a flash of lightning that made one of the hounds whimper and retreat for a few seconds. He also vanished in the middle of a fight and popped up several feet off. That must be magic! Magic is evil! Also the vanishing hag must’ve had something to do with magic. It might have been her or Grax doing this. Xeeliah did some strange things as well. I am getting weary around them!

Who are these new companions of ours? Can we trust them? They maybe do magic, but magic is evil! Aren’t we better off leaving them as soon as we can?

View
The shadows of Tyr

Dm

For a long moment, the heroes stood there frozen to the ground, as the scenery around them went up in flames. The two silhouettes floating high up in the air covered the sun, but the roaring fire that shot out from the King and Queen of Tyr forced the bystanders to cover their eyes. No invader was spared as the fire hit the city, quarter after quarter, and agonizing screams from both friend and foe reached all the way to the Golden Tower where they were standing. Shortly thereafter, the stench of burning flesh woke the heroes up from their paralysis.

Everything was now clear to them. In hindsight, it had all been so obvious, but who could really have guessed? The notes of Aziru’s dreams that Arannis had written down, the similarities between the new King and Queen and the statues of the Seven in Kalak’s Vault, the fairy tale rise of two gladiators fighting against an oppressive Tyrant. But who would be able to kill a Sorcerer-King if not another user of Defiling magic? And who else but someone with the power of a Sorcerer-King could do what these two were doing right now? King Shamash and Queen Ishtar could be no others than Oronis the Dirge and Myra the Scorcher. The nightmarish monsters from the tales that children of all cultures were taught by their mothers to fear. “Don’t be out in the sun by mid day, or you will be almost as bad off as the victims of Myra the Scorcher”. “Watch who you are wooing, young man, or you might end up as Oronis the Dirge.” They were back to destroy the world. It was the only possibility.

And now, the city around them was burning. They had to get away from Tyr, and quick! The area around the Dragon’s Gate was strewn with dying or dead men belonging to both the Tyrian Guards and the Urikan Lions, and there was no one there that could stop them as they fled. Their path continued through blocks of burning buildings, and even though the fighting and screams were everywhere around them, there was never anyone in their way.

Suddenly, however, one of the tall buildings near the Artisans’ Square emitted a deafening blast that must have been heard halfway to Urik, and the explosion sent two floors of stone right over them. Exactly what happened at that point is still unclear, but Legion and Corrin remembered a burning and hysterical Aryenne searching for her lost sister. Sarghon was also nowhere to be found. Exactly how or when they finally managed to carry the gravely burned half-elf through the Northern Gate, no one really know, but after an eternity, they had finally reached the relative safety of the wilderness north of Tyr.

The low hills around Tyr were full of fugitives that were trying to either flee the burning city or seek refuge there from the wandering bandits and rebels in the rest of the Valley. As the days went by and the three remaining heroes; Corrin, Legion and Aryenne, recuperated and searched in vain for their lost friends and allies, the rumors started spreading around the campfires. The beloved King and Queen of Tyr had saved the city by setting a clever trap. And it did seem that although the city was in ruins and parts of it was still burning, thousands had been saved, and the rebuilding had already started. And so many celebrated, because the King and Queen were back, and the Urikan army had been spotted fleeing back to their own city, and the few remaining soldiers of Azera Semira had fled south out from the Tyrian Valley. The city was once again safe, and they had shown to everyone that the new Tyr was a power to be reckoned with!

But the remaining heroes mourned their dead and lost, and they knew that it had all just begun….

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.