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Instruments of the Gods

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The Rod of Seven Parts…

For many, it was only a thing of legend; a whisper in the night never to be fully realized in the waking world of reality. An artifact of such intense power that it could not remain in one piece for long, destined to be eternally broken and remade time and time again. Many who sought the Rod and its power embarked upon a fruitless quest, the waste of a lifetime. Yet, there were also those who built their entire life around it, believed them destined to find it.

Taka Ironfeather was one such creature. Born in the shadow of the Star Mounts as a child of the Last Aerie, she was raised on stories of the Rod and fed the light and word of the old Goddess, Syranita. As she grew up, her entire life’s work was dedicated to the study of the Rod, mapping out where even the barest whisper of rumor cared to mention it. She also studied the Arcane so that, someday soon, she might make her way out into the world of the Ground-dwellers and seek out the Rod. Never once in her wildest dreams would she have ever thought that opportunity would come looking for her instead.

Summoned by the Goddess, Sune, Taka was taken to Her celestial demi-plane where the Goddess herself requested for her aid.  The party that Taka arrived with prostrated themselves before the beauty of this foreign goddess, but the aarakocra remained unmoved. Her heart and soul belonged to but one goddess; she would bend knee to no other. What interested Taka most, however, was the goddess’s promise that she would be the recipient of a piece of the Rod of Seven Parts. The woman’s request seemed simple enough: rid her of her enemy, the evil goddess, Talos.

There are some who might have said it a fool’s errand. What chance to mortal men and women have against the power and might of two deities at war? The same chance of an ant against a boot, some might say. Yet, aarakocra are bred of sterner stuff. Any chance to find a piece of the Rod was worth fighting for; it was even a chance worth dying for. Taka’s loyalty to the search for the Rod and the might of her people was no exception as she agreed to the woman’s terms.

Across dangerous planes and the paths of equally dangerous foes, Taka and her party fought. Down into the heart of a mysterious labyrinth of puzzles, curiosities, and creatures most foul did they win their way. It was here, through the grace of Sune, on the cusp of the final battle with Talos, that the very item that was Taka’s lifeblood now rested in her hands.

A twelve-inch piece of the Rod of Seven Parts.

The lusterless black substance of the rod was not metal, wood, or stone.  It felt neither light nor heavy. Each end of the foot-long piece was an intricate puzzle of geometric facets of both protrusions and depressions. She clutched it to her chest, closing her eyes and praying to Syranita that this wasn’t some kind of twisted illusion. Part of her looked around at the party she was with, calling to mind the Teleportation spell that could easily carry her back home. She had what she came for. What care did she have for ground-dwellers and their ground-dwelling problems?

Despite her loyalty to her people and to the search for the Rod, however, she was an aarakocra of her word. She would follow through with her end of the bargain, as she promised, and conduct herself with honor.

Part of her paused. Since when do I care about honor and keeping my word?

None of it mattered, however.  What mattered was keeping this part of the Rod and then, perhaps, finding the next.  First, though, they had an evil goddess to slay.

“Let’s not waste time, groundlings,” she said to the party as they gathered themselves in the Room of Mirrors. “I’m sure you want to go back home as much as I do. Let us finish this.”

The Queen’s Wizard

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Author’s Note: I said a while back that I would start fictionalizing my journey with Rheumatoid Arthritis through story, so here’s a small bit toward that.

Late was the hour as Reynaud crouched beneath his blanket on the Southern Battlement.  No fires were permitted, no warmth except for the ragged bit of cloth draped over his shoulders, reeking of wet, mildewed wool.  He’d drawn a corner of it over the top of his head and over his face in a poor attempt to keep some of his body heat to himself, but it was to no avail. The cold cut like a sharp knife and seemed to find every hole and tear in his tattered shroud.

Thud. Thud. Thud.  In the distance, the constant thrum of a battering ram resounded against the South Gate.  For hours it had been pounding away at the sturdy iron-wrought doors, but neither a dent had been made nor had it moved a single inch.  It was Reynaud’s job to keep an eye on things, but the sound of it had grown so monotonous, so perpetual by now that it just throbbed in his bones.  Every time wood struck metal it gonged like some sinister bell, but no quarter was given.  It simply ached, particularly along his back and shoulders where his tension resided.  If only something would happen.  Some change.  Something different beyond this waiting.

He was tempted to fight back, tempted to use the anti-siege weapons that bristled along the battlements waiting to be used.  However, the Lady’s orders had been clear: These were Arey’s own citizens, both innocent and ignorant of the crimes they committed against their own capital and the Crown.  She believed that with enough patience they would realize the error of their ways on their own and return to the normalcy of their lives.  There were many who were skeptical of such faith.  Others who believed that they should fight back with every ounce of their strength and courage.

This was to be a protracted battle, fortified only through the influx of supplies that came in secret from what few allies remained of the city.  The siege wall of the Trinity Princes was difficult to slip through, but there were those loyal enough to the Queen to take the risk.

Thud. Thud. Thud.  

“If only someone would silence that damnable ram,” Reynaud muttered to himself, “I might be able to get some sleep.”

“It seems you’re in for a bit of a rough night.”

A tall, dark-haired man dressed in a flowing red robe mounted the steps of the battlements not far from where Reynaud had set himself up. A grizzled old veteran, Reynaud only grunted in response.  What was he doing here?  Kodean was the Queen’s pet Wizard that rarely ventured out from the heart of the citadel.

“S’all’us a rough night on the South,” Reynaud grumbled.

“So it would seem,” Kodean chuckled as he leaned over the battlements to watch the ceaseless work of the battering ram. “Perhaps, though, I can help you get a few hours rest.”

Reynaud only rolled his eyes. He wasn’t the kind of man that believed in magic. He waved his hand, however, to signal the mage to do whatever finger-wiggling nonsense he had in mind. It wouldn’t change things for him, but perhaps it would make the Wizard feel useful. Perhaps he was just as restless as the old wall-sitter.

Kodean smiled, bobbing his head at the man’s permission before he returned his attention to the ram below, but moreso on the men that hauled it. He spoke a strange, sibilant series of words as his fingers weaved in artful patterns. From his sleeve, he seemed to toss out a handful of what looked like sand that glittered in the night air and the torchlight for only the briefest moments before it fell over the crowd of men below.

Thud. Thud… And then silence.

“What in the hell?” Reynaud muttered, looking over the wall for himself.

Down below, every single man bearing the battering ram was on the ground, each of them snoring gently in slumber.  Reynaud looked from them to Kodean and back again in disbelief. Maybe there was more to this wizard than most gave him credit for!

“Maybe now you can get some rest,” Kodean said with a sympathetic smile.  “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more.”  With no more than that the Queen’s Wizard turned and descended from the battlements as mysteriously as he had arrived.

“Hell yeah,” Reynaud muttered shuffling off to find himself a comfortable place to sleep.

I write, therefore, I am…

I’ve decided this year that I’m ditching the word “hope”. I’m going to stop hoping for things: hoping to get better, hoping to get back to my writing, hoping to get back to my art. Hope is for those who lack the will to actually /do/ something.

I plan on doing things. So this year, my keyword is determined. I’m determined to get better, determined to get back to my writing, and determined to get back to my art.

That was a post I made a few hours ago on Facebook.  True to my word, here I am to update my blog and get back on the right path for myself and my life.  I may still stumble from time to time, since I’m still struggling a bit with my auto-immunity issues and finding some decent pain management, but I’m determined not to let it continue to drag me down.  I have a lot of things I want to get done, a lot of them that I will likely pay for in pain, but that’s what it takes.  I won’t always be at my best, but at least I’ll know that I put forth the effort.

To that end, you’ll probably see more on this blog than you have in the past couple of years.  A lot of it will probably be nonsense writing from my forays into the world of Hydaelyn on Final Fantasy XIV Online, some of it will even be from my adventures with the Table of Fantasy Awesomeness every Wednesday with our Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League table.  You might even get some of my classic writing and roleplaying prompts, or my oftentimes opinionated self ranting about one nerd-topic or another.  Whatever comes in the days ahead, I want to live up to the mantra that features so readily on this website as a hallmark to my life:  I write, therefore, I am.

 

A Path to Survival

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Patience was rarely a virtue; recovery was slow, vastly slower than she might have preferred. In the aftermath of the Calamity, aetherics were hard to come by since few actually remembered how to use them. Those who could did so haphazardly and with sometimes worse results than they tried to heal. Still, it was better than nothing.

Allerian withdrew his hands away from her still-sore ribcage. “That is the best I can do for you now, there are others in greater need.” With no more than that, he stood, turned, and departed. There was no hesitation or afterthought for her. There wasn’t time. There were too many yet who needed his help.

Syranelle propped herself up on her arms with a groan. Every fiber of her being still ached and her ribs throbbed unduly, but it was all manageable. Allerian had done his job well, the rest fell to her and her own resiliency. She’d make it, she didn’t have much choice otherwise. As if to emphasize that thought, Arthuriel sat nearby wringing her hands into the coarse leather of her skirt as her hazel eyes stared at Syranelle in worry. In an effort to comfort her, the elder sister waved a hand and grunted as she got herself up into an upright, sitting position. She smiled over at her pale-haired sibling.

“There,” she grunted, placing a hand to her ribs. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Arthuriel hedged in close, her hands aflutter like nervous birds, half-afraid to touch Syranelle anywhere that might hurt. “A-are you sure you should do that? Allerian said–”

“I don’t care what he said,” Syranelle said, holding out her left arm. “Here, help me up.”

For a moment, Arthuriel hesitated on the verge of refusal, but all it took was one look from the older of the two sisters for her to meekly take Syranelle’s arm and drape it over her shoulders. With a quiet grunt, the younger sibling levered the both of them up from the cold stone of the floor, the two of them wobbling like a pair of newborn foals until Syranelle found her balance. There was a part of Syranelle that hated this; she was never meant to be dependent on others. Certainly not on her younger, delicate, sensitive sister.

Regardless, Syranelle gave her a smile. “Don’t know what I’d do without you, Ari.”

“You’d manage, like you always do.” Arthuriel pointed out, an edge of bitterness to the words. “You don’t need me as much as you let on.”

“Hey,” Syranelle said, lifting a hand to touch her sister’s chin and make her sibling look at her. Arthuriel’s blue eyes met Syranelle’s green and the elder sister could see the pain written there. Pain that spoke more loudly than Syranelle’s own battered form. “You are my sister and the last of my family. I need you. I will always need you.”

Arthuriel grunted, shifting her sister’s weight on her shoulder and placing a steadying hand on Syranelle’s waist. “Where are you looking to go?”

“Anywhere that isn’t here. I’m tired of being abed and the air in here is stifling.” Syranelle replied, hobbling forward with her sister’s support. Together they crossed the cave as Arthuriel spoke of the matters of what remained of their colony.

“The air in here is running out. They’ve managed to dig a tunnel, but it comes out on the surface. People are frightened, Syra. We’ve always dwelt underground; we have no place above it. How would we survive? We know nothing. We’d be as children. But we can’t stay here. We’ll die if we stay here.” There was an edge of panic in Arthuriel’s voice that worried her older sister, causing Syranelle to search her sister’s face, even in profile, looking for answers.

Though Elezen are slender by nature, there was a gauntness to her sister’s countenance that spoke keenly of malnourishment. Pale hair that was once brushed several times a day and washed to a silvery sheen now hung in brittle, lank snarls over Arthuriel’s shoulders. At her waist, Syranelle could feel the bony, skeletal-like fingers that dug in. Always had her sister been slim, but this emaciated creature was far removed from her pampered, cosseted sibling. It disturbed Syranelle to see her delicate sister brought so low, filling her with a resolve to recover as quickly as possible so she might do better by her.

“Take me to this excavation,” she said, putting a hand to still bruised and aching ribs as she leaned on Arthuriel for support.

Her sister did not argue and together they hobbled through the warren of tunnels their people subsisted in until they finally reached the tunnel that led to the surface. The tunnel was carved at an low-grade angle, making it easier for the wounded to either walk or be transported up it when the time came. So, by necessity, it made it obscenely long. The light at the end was a mere thumbnail of brightness in the distance. Up this path lay a world of uncertainty of sights, sounds, and creatures they knew nothing of. There would be untold dangers and brilliant wonders, but foremost on Syranelle’s mind was the fact that there would most likely be sources of food and fresh, clean water, things they did not currently have.

“How long is the walk?” She asked to one of the Duskwights that was helping with the dig.

“No more than a bell, I imagine. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less.” The worker looked her over with an appraising eye. “With legs like those, I’d say less.”

Syranelle gave him a sharp look, her lip curling in contempt. “Yes, perhaps you should say less, we’d all be better for it.”

Arthuriel looked at her, aghast. The worker merely rolled his eyes and barked a laugh. Syranelle turned with her sister to go back the way they had come so they might return to the main body of the camp. As they walked, despite her pain, Syranelle already began planning. She would need a sturdy pack if there was one to be had, provisions to last her a few days, a good, strong hunting bow, and a lot of luck. It was going to take every onze of her courage to go through with her plan, but she didn’t see how she had much choice. She had to protect her sister and she would do it, no matter the cost.

Buried Soul

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Chapter One
The Darkness, My Enemy

The world began in pain, darkness, and choking death; the sensation of being crushed beneath a mountainous hand as if they were naught but insects. Ringing in her ears sent her head reeling and each breath was a struggle; she cried out in pain, but could barely hear the muffled thrum of her own voice as it clawed its way from her throat. Tears burned trails like hot brands down each cheek, only to cake into mud from the dirt and debris that covered her like a second skin.

“…yra…” came something muffled in the distance, cutting through the ringing in her ears. “Syr… can… hear me?”

Movement was infinitesimal and more effort than she wanted to expend given the pain it cost her to do so. “H-here…” she thought she managed to rasp out through the grated ruin that was her throat. “Arth…here…”

“Syra!” She could almost hear the worry in her sister’s voice now as a pair of scrabbling hands searched through the debris that covered her. The rubble shifted and the first breath of fresh air cut through the stagnant miasma around her. It was sweet and clean and her lungs drew it in with all the desperation one drowning. The dust in the air made her cough and coughing hurt, but it meant she was alive. And living was paramount. Surviving.

“Wh-what…happened…?” Syra gasped between ragged breaths as her sister continued to dig into the earth around her. Sounds continued to warble in and out, all equilibrium lost. Her head spun and she felt the overwhelming desire to sleep. She couldn’t, though, not yet. She had to focus.

She could feel Arthuriel’s fingers scraping the dirt and stone away from her neck and shoulder. Even that small release of the pressure crushing her form was a relief. It gave her more to focus on, more to feel. For the time being, that was more important than anything else. To know that beneath this pile of rubble a duskwight still existed.

“I-I don’t know…” Her sister, Arthuriel, managed as she wiped a filthy forearm across her nose. It didn’t much help matters. She was crying. Even in the darkness, Syra’s keen duskwight vision could make out her sister’s face. It was covered in grime and dirt, her tears having cut two darker trails down her face, one for each cheek. “There was… a cave-in, I think. I was asleep under the lee of that stone, down by the aqueducts, so I was somewhat sheltered.”

Arthuriel leaned forward, touching her forehead to her sister’s. “Gods, Syra, I thought I lost you…” She sobbed. Syra could feel the warm patter of yet more tears splash against her own cheek as her sister wept over her.

Syra stirred. “Well, you haven’t yet…” She said, strength returning to her voice with each lung full of air that she drew. “Help me out of here.”

“R-right…”

Between the two of them, Syranelle was the stronger of the two, the leader while Arthuriel was the follower; the eldest and the youngest. It seemed to always be the way of it. Even as exhausted as she was, it fell to Syra to keep Arthuriel motivated, murmuring words of encouragement long past the point of her throat going dry. Minutes bled into hours and hours felt like days. When finally Syra could no longer keep up her tide of words, she murmured into the darkness.

“Water…”

“Gods, right, I should have done that first thing. Oh, Gods, Syra, I’m so sorry!” Arthuriel whimpered on the verge of panic, her voice trembling with the stress of all they had been through thusfar. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’ll go get some now!”

Stone and dirt clattered and shifted as her sister scurried away. For long moments, it was all she heard until silence descended again. The darkness, once a place of peace and comfort where she and all the other duskwights of their small band resided, now felt heavy and oppressive. Panic blossomed in an explosion of fear within her, she could feel it gripping her heart to send it racing as she gasped for breath. Crushing. Lifeless. Endless. The dark was no longer friend, but enemy. Syranelle let out a whimper, feeling the tears of her recreancy spill from the corners of her eyes.

I don’t want to die. Not here, not like this! Her mind swam, filled with only the overwhelming need to survive, the desire to live. Still mostly buried beneath the rubble, her body spasmed as every fiber of her being urged her into panicked flight, a will and want she could not obey. There was only one thing she could do, trapped there in the darkness.

She screamed.

The Promise of Life

Brynn settled her back against the massive oak that loomed over the party’s encampment.  They would arrive back in Red Larch some time tomorrow and she had to confess it would be good to get back to civilization for a while.  Granted, their search for the missing delegation had led to several dead-ends thusfar, but she was hoping that through her many donations to the town that they now took a vested interest in the party and its doings.  Thereby, perhaps more willing to lend an ear for anything of note when strangers came passing through.

It wasn’t just for party gain that she’d begun donating to the town, though.  Her ideals and the Oaths she swore were about living life to its fullest, bringing light and joy to others, and protecting them when necessary.  When she and the party had first arrived in Red Larch it was a place troubled by bandits and cultists with no noticeable militia or means of defense.  Between the funding she’d been sending them and the armory from Feathergale Spire, it was her hope that the town was now building itself into a place of sustainability.  It was a promising beginning to a more prosperous life for the entirety of the town.

From this point forward, they would have no need to hire on rag-tag bands of adventurers to take care of things for them.  With any luck, they would be able to take care of their own problems with a minimal amount of fuss, thus saving the town the expenditure as well as building a personal sense of pride and belonging.  After all, when one risks life and limb for a place it makes it all that much more endeared.  Or so she hoped.

She looked skyward into the bright face of Selune as the moon trekked across the sky, the Tears of Selune trailing after it like a silvered bridal train.  A smile curved across the dwarf-maiden’s face, feeling comforted by the shimmering body of light.  Yes, it will be good to see how the town has grown.