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Chapter Thirteen: Hearts and Darkness

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Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
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.:| Nivirea - The Sorceress |:.

For what seemed like a long time to her, Nivirea sat stupefied on the ground. So overwhelmed she was with the sudden change, that even after it was all over she remained as she had been, as if paralyzed. She simply stared at her hands, even as Bria took hold of them and spoke to her. Then her eyes somehow managed to meet the other girl's, still blinking away her confusion. It wasn't clear if she could even hear what Bria was telling her, but she stared back at her. Intently.

And then she practically jumped at Bria, with nearly enough force for both of them to end up on the ground. Her arms locked around the healer in a tight embrace, and even before Bria could see or hear it, she felt her start to cry. It came in waves, as one cries when they are suddenly overcome by a great emotional relief, and her tears were all lost in Bria's soft robes which she refused to let go of for a good while. Somewhere amid all that struggle to breathe, think, and feel, two simple words found their way to Bria's ear, muttered and whispered with great effort as they were.*

Not long after that, Luna was able to have her turn.

Though now she probably looked like an even bigger mess than before, a beautiful grin shone on the young girl's face that mere moments ago one couldn't have imagined in their wildest dreams.



Thank. You.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Part 1 of 2)

Bria had never been a woman of great physical strength and Nivirea's hug nearly bowled her over. She gave a surprised little shriek followed by a brief fit of giggles for the Ko healer loved a heartfelt hug regardless of the circumstances. When she hugged Nivirea back, it was as if the black-haired young woman were the only person in Bria's universe. She whispered a reply.

Whenever you need me, please call.

Bria stayed with Nivirea as long as she wanted. Seeing the other woman's spirit soaring after it was so terribly low brought her own spirits up sky-high. Doing as Brias do, she found herself rapidly rambling to Nivirea even as they were joined by Luna.

"Oh, together we'll break these other two curses too. Just you wait and see. I learned the power of togetherness when my friends rescued my soul from a shadow dragon. I died in combat, you see, and the dragon stole my soul on my way to Heaven. Oh, I don't think he meant to be evil. I just think he was really, really lonely and loneliness makes people do strange things, don't you think?" Bria rambled on and smiled as they hugged.

* * *​

Looking at the three as they hug, she idly comments, "If it were not for Bria's giving nature to suggest giving our last question to SkySting, then the two of you for accepting it, you would still be trapped in your opposite forms. Truly the power of giving and love is how we shall defeat the hated Goddess."
"Indeed," Oscar the Furry Sage agreed. "Evidence and logic support your theory greatly." He had jumped off of Bria's shoulder when it was clear that Nivirea and Bria were going to hug. Now the little fellow was standing upright and beside the arcane archer, perhaps up to Oreleth's knee, watching the scene with her. "By breaking the first curse, I say we have certainly thwarted the Maiden of Pain's foul plans for you, at least in part."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Part 2 of 2)

SkySting composed herself without haste or shame. With hollow eye sockets, great creaky bones, and the haunting presence that all things undead share, she watched the Wayward Wanderers.

She watched you all without speaking a word.
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna turns her attention to Bren. "My friend, we still have the third question to pose to SkySting. Let us see if we can help her from her suffering as we have been freed from the first part of our curse. We can then open one of the chests to see what we can use to thwart the plans of Loviatar and break the second and third part of the curse on us."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
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Character sheet
Hit Points: 26/26
Armor Class: 22
Touch Armor Class: 16
Spell Points: 3/3
Hero Points: 1/1
Mighty Blow uses: 1/1
Interpose uses: 1/1
Color code: 3399ff

A moment before, his expression and body language had been full of pleading. Now, both were full of joy, for Bren could no more hide one than the other. He rather wished he could hug Nivirea in congratulation too, but, well, she hadn't reached for him, though he hadn't drawn back his hands. He wasn't offended by that, but it was clear she wanted female hugs, probably from those she felt closest to right then. He was reminded that poor Nivirea had joined them only recently -- only Oreleth was newer to the party -- and had been rather reserved until this point. He chose to avoid interrupting the girls' celebration and moved to where Oreleth and Oscar were standing. As things quieted, he nodded to Luna. "I believe this was the third of the curse that cut most deeply," he replied. "The rest... well, we have our answer for returning home, and if we cannot find a way to dispel the curse on our skills, then perhaps experience will replace what we have lost, in time." He smiled up at SkySting. "So, lady dragoness. For our third and final question, as we agreed even before our friends became themselves once more: How may we aid you in ridding yourself of Loviatar's curse and returning to your proper state?"
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
SkySting loomed over the Wayward Wanderers and given her undead state and state of mind, she could not help but appear terrible and ominous. She was the very stuff of nightmares and she knew it. At the Wanderers' portayal of honor and compassion, SkySting became quiet, cautious, and very, very watchful of your whole group, especially your leader.

With a flick of her smallest claw, she pointed at the three chests. She spoke slowly, her dreadful voice echoing off of the cavern walls. "The middle chest. It doth contain only an aged vellum scroll, but that single page hath the tremendous power to raise the dead. Any true believer of a divine being may bring forth its awesome gift.

"Were its magic to be cast upon me, my curse would be broken and the scroll depleted... but the first chest to be opened doth cause the others and their valuable tokens to vanish... forever...

Unmoving as the bridge she once was, SkySting waited and stared at you with her unblinking, reptillian gaze.

"Choooosssse."

That word, like a whisper from a long-dead ghost, swiftly made its way not only through every deep and dark corridor and corner in these great caverns - but those along your minds as well.
 
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Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna is still feeling giddy at the transformation back to herself, and her heart goes out to the ancient being. Unless someone stops her, she walks over to the middle chest and kneels down in front of it. Pausing for a moment, she says, "There shouldn't be any debate over the choice ahead of us. This is the right thing to do. It is not like we are losing something we already had, but instead, we are granting someone freedom from an untold amount of misery, and as such, we gain so much. This is the right choice."

She places her hand upon the center chest, but then Luna looks back at the others. "But we all must be in this together. What say all of you? Shall we go ahead and free our benefactor from her torment?" Her eyes plead with everyone to make the right choice.
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth smiles. "I agree with Luna. Let us take the scroll and use it to free SkySting from her curse. We have our wits, our gear and our true forms to do battle with the goddess Loviatar. We can pass on getting some treasure for ourselves, and have Brendoran use the scroll to restore our benefactor."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
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Character sheet
Hit Points: 26/26
Armor Class: 22
Touch Armor Class: 16
Spell Points: 3/3
Hero Points: 1/1
Mighty Blow uses: 1/1
Interpose uses: 1/1
Color code: 3399ff

Seeing Luna so reflexively put the needs of another before her own keeps the smile of pleasure and approval on Bren's face, nor does it fade with Oreleth's agreement. "I am ready," he nodded. "To do nothing for her would be unkind. To do nothing for her after asking how we might help would be worse than unkind. Let us keep to our implied word." He walked over and knelt next to Luna, ready to take the scroll within the chest once she had opened it.
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
With no dissenting voices trying to stop her, Luna will undo the latch on the chest and open the lid. "Time to strike a blow against the evil of this place."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
The moment Luna lifted the creaking lid, the pair of chests opposite vanished instantly leaving only the dust of time upon the cavern floor in their wake. Rusted iron hinges squeaked painfully to the ear, but once opened, were silent. There in one corner of the heavy wooden box was one rolled-up parchment aged a foul yellow with time and held only by a single white ribbon tied into a neat bow. The scroll looked ancient, brittle, and decayed. Only a gentle hand could interact with the thing without it crumbling into uselessness.

Oscar and Bria, both being the curious type, cautiously peered into the chest and then to Brendoran.

SkySting the Undying waited with the patient of a huntress and continued to watch your every move.
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
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Character sheet
Hit Points: 26/26
Armor Class: 22
Touch Armor Class: 16
Spell Points: 3/3
Hero Points: 1/1
Mighty Blow uses: 1/1
Interpose uses: 1/1
Color code: 3399ff

Like Luna, Bren felt that without dissenting opinions within the party, there was no need to waste time. He paused only to remember what it had felt like to be a peaceful healer like Bria, how his hands had brought healing instead of fighting. Calling on those memories of gentleness, he reached very, very carefully into the chest and lifted the fragile parchment from its resting place. He glanced up once to give SkySting an encouraging smile, then gently unrolled the scroll. Mielikki, bless our efforts to save this dragonlady from Loviatar's curse, he prayed, then began the spell.
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Oreleth simply stands to one side, waiting for the spell to be cast. The idea of freeing SkySting from this curse just feels right, and she is looking forward to striking a blow against Loviatar.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
The yellowed parchment strained and cracked but in Brendoran's gentle grasp, it did not break. It was good that the paladin was as careful as he was strong. There, as he unrolled the curled page, he spied the twisting words of magic written there in deep blue ink by some unknown hand in days gone by. Brendoran had seen such works before and knew had to be spoken aloud and with great will! And so, his Summerset-born voice, a voice born to carry across valleys as like that fabled city had long sat upon, carried through the caverns, echoed down tunnels, and as he spoke them, the magical words vanished one by one off of the page and into history! Brendoran would get no second chance!

During one moment, the words ahead of him seemed to fade, but from someplace about and above your heads came a soft, shining glow - like the birth of dawn that makes green things grow - and the words did not fade so much. They remained just long enough for the Wayward Wanderer to shout them out.

But what Brendoran did not know was that the words of the page were not vanishing, but instead they were reappearing above his head, word by word, one by one, all in glowing symbols, all in blue ink, and all hanging suspended above the paladin. Everyone else who witnessed could see this taking place, but to point it out or interrupt the spell in motion was something like dropping a wine glass to the unforgiving ground. The spell would be shattered, undone.

But Brendoran saw it through, though his voice was a touch hoarse as he finished the final words. These caves here in Pohjala had heard them. For a moment, nothing occurred. Then suddenly, the hanging words caught fire! This Brendoran saw along with his party! The scroll, now wordless, yet unfinished, rose up and out of Brendoran's hands and into the air with a life of its own. There, it joined with the hanging words. The letters that formed those words performed a mad dance until they spelled out a single phrase, a new phrase against the scroll! They read, "Spirit is the fire that brings light to life!"

There was a grand flash, a pyrotechnic blast of indigo, azure, and awesome blues! A crack of thunder rattled the caverns and creatures near and far felt the rock tremble under their feet as did you. For the span of several heartbeats, you could see nothing at all except for the swirling colors. But you heard! You heard the sound of a fresh, vibrant voice, womanly and strong, behind that magical curtain!

She said, "Then let the fire of my spirit be as a star! For I wish to live!"

This, but minus the rider, and much, much larger. About the size of a gigantic bridge, to be exact... And with scales of the most beautiful of blues. =)
422483.jpg
(Image credit: Getwallpapers.com)

The magic faded away. The scroll and its words were gone. The curtain too was swept away.

And in its stead stood SkySting the Undying! Her scales glittered against the light of your enchanted weapons in every hue of blue. The scales of her awesome wings, her titanic chest, her splendid face, all gleamed like sparkling jewels. She stood with a straight back and head held high - a dragon reborn! And her words were true - dragons were not like elves or humans or Felane or any other creature - SkySting's very presence was now no longer unholy and blighted, but full of such great majesty it was hard to bear! You felt like cringing, perhaps fleeing, or so your natural instincts of survival screamed inwardly at you.

Perhaps SkySting saw this, for she proclaimed in a booming, mighty voice like that of a living thunderclap, "Naaay, little creatures! Flee not but stay thine ground!" And at her command, even the insects dug deep into the earth and stone froze in their fearful tread.

SkySting the Living was wholly another creature than SkySting the Dead Dragon Bridge. She wore a grin about her features, proud and defiant and ever-impatient. It was a sight to fill an young adventurer's dreams and an old adventurer's tales. For the average, the undaring, and the unwilling never beheld such glory!

SkySting spoke again and her voice was a rumbling thundercloud. "My fate is mine own and thou hast granted it! For I believe in no greater power. Bahamut? Tiamat? But the strongest of dragons. Nothing more, nothing less. I worship no one." The echo of those words seemed to rebound a dozen times off of the deep cavern walls.

"Hold this ground, little creatures! I shall return here with the means to end mine debt to thee - and perhaps more! But if thou art foolish enough to defy me and leave, then this pact is nulled forever!" With a cruel look in her eye, SkySting the Undying turned her reptilian neck out and down as the scales along it glittered and danced. Her eyes, like twin sapphires, became starlike in their delight as she mulled something not altogether unviolent. "I hath a little ssscore to sssettle..." Like a hunting cat, she curled and braced while aimed at one of the four tunnels leading away from the cliff.

There was a flash of blinding white light and she was gone. A low rumble like distant thunder followed and faded.

You found yourselves alone on the cliffside with its boulders and crags all about you and pointy stalactites above you. Beyond these, a single tunnel 100 feet away led away to parts unknown. The tunnel was 20 feet high and 30 feet wide and seemed agelessly sturdy. You had no reason to follow it, but as any good dwarf might tell you, tunnels have not one route, but two depending on one's view.

You soon heard heavy, plodding, thumping sounds, from down that lone tunnel. People your size were too small to make such sounds on solid rock or so your young ears told you. But something was indeed coming...

...and coming toward you.
 

Psychie

Princess Psychie
Once the great dragon is whole, Oreleth looks up at her in amazement. She is so . . . beautiful! I am glad that we took this path to free her.

Then, after SkySting is gone and the sound of the footsteps coming towards them are heard, she says, "No big surprise with as loud as SkySting was, but we've got company!" Oreleth looks about rapidly, trying to find some sort of cover to ply her arrows from. "I suspect that this is something hostile to us, so let us prepare an ambush to get the jump on whatever it is out there."
 

Captain Hesperus

On Vacation
Supporter
Otiorin Taletreader

Otiorin watched mutely as his comrades made the decision to restore SkySting to her former glory. It wasn't his choice to make since he had already restored himself to his true self, so he kept his own counsel. But as the spell drew the Dracolich back from beyond the veil of death and into true life, he smiled, knowing that by their sacrifice, Luna and Nivirea had undone their curse.

But now was not the time to celebrate, potential danger approached and they were essentially trapped on a ledge with only the one route of egress. Well, two but the second option was by far the worst best option. He sought out his own place of cover, withdrawing his hand-crossbow and carefully setting a bolt to the string. His intent was to fire a bolt, then close and engage with his sword, using the narrow entrance as cover. But it would all be determined by what confronted him.
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
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Character sheet
Hit Points: 26/26
Armor Class: 22
Touch Armor Class: 16
Spell Points: 3/3
Hero Points: 1/1
Mighty Blow uses: 1/1
Interpose uses: 1/1
Color code: 3399ff
SkySting the Living was wholly another creature than SkySting the Dead Dragon Bridge. She wore a grin about her features, proud and defiant and ever-impatient. It was a sight to fill an young adventurer's dreams and an old adventurer's tales. For the average, the undaring, and the unwilling never beheld such glory!
Bren's face filled with joy as he saw what he and his friends had wrought (for with their agreement, he felt they were all a part of this). "Thank you, Lady of the Forest," he whispered, remembering that soft green light that had kept the words of the scroll visible until he could read them all. More loudly, he said to the great dragon, "We shall await you here, SkySting, for as long as we may." He watched her fly off with something like awe for the majestic presence. No matter how many dragons one meets, the sight is always an inspiring one.

...and coming toward you.
Reluctantly Bren dragged his attention back to earth, both literally and figuratively. Now was not the time for daydreaming! He glanced 'round at his party, noting each's self-disposition and not seeing anything to alter at present. He smiled to see Oreleth and Luna apparently searching for cover. For that was his job, now that he was restored to himself -- to be their cover. Confidently he moved to an open place between his party and the tunnel entrance, making sure to leave plenty of room for them behind him in case they needed to dodge spells and such. Drawing his axe and shield and holding them at the ready, but not aggressively so (they had not been attacked yet, after all), he awaited events.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
There was a pair of columns some 30 feet in diameter, wide-enough to hide the Wayward Wanderers without either having to go down the tunnel nor having to take the cliff. The cliff edge dropped off behind you about 40 feet away. Since deciding to take cover, you were all now 100 feet away from the tunnel mouth. As your party hid yourselves, Otiorin's blazing Elvish hand-and-a-half sword, the Sunfire Blade, suddenly ceased to crackle. Indeed, its flame dimmed until it was just a single edge of superheated red, all without a nudge from Otiorin.

The plodding sounds became greater until perhaps you wondered how many such creatures were coming up through the tunnel. The answer was only two. But each had six legs. And a carapace. And a hideous countenance. For such was the world of adventurers to see great and grand things along with horrible and deadly things. These were truly the latter.

Ankheg from monster.fandcomdotcom.jpg
(Image credit: monster.fandom.com)

Up and onto the cliff platform, they hobbled, each the size of warhorses and more dangerous. Normally these were undoubtedly quietly-moving creatures, but somehow their legs and underbellies had become covered in a thick, rich black mud-like substance. It was this, clinging to their claws, that aided you in your hearing their approach. They moved in territorially with great aggression or perhaps hunger. They appeared to notice the absence of the trio of chests for that is where they looked to first, picking and touching the ground with their mandibles, each the size of axe-blades and just as deadly. They were 80 feet away from you.

Luna and Nivirea, through their education, knew just what these horrors were. Ankhegs! They attacked by grabbing, spat lines of vile acid when tasked, and loved the taste of fresh meat. They possessed an ability adventurers and sages called 'tremorsense' which knew instantly that which was in contact with the ground up to a certain distance which was around 60 feet.

While neither evil nor good, they were burrowing creatures that hunted to stay alive. Your meat would be as good as any they could find down in the dark caverns leading to Castle Anguish...

Oscar and Bria kept quiet as they huddled in uncomfortable silence and more than a little fear. If you stayed hidden, they might find you but they might not. A great, tense silence took the cavern. To speak, even to whisper, was to be heard. Down here in these forsaken caverns of Pohjola, the challenge for your very survival was upon you.
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Seeing that his friends were all, for the moment, successfully hidden, Bren likewise took advantage of the small window of opportunity before the monsters noticed him, and joined them in hiding behind one of the great columns, though again keeping himself between them and the monsters. With luck, the things would go away peacefully; but it was not Bren's intention to rely wholly on luck. He prepared to charge forth at the first sign that any of them had been spotted.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
The pair of horrid creatures crept up suspiciously, looking this way and that, their mandibles close to the cavern floor, seeking. Step by step, they moved as one toward the columns, peeking around boulders as you stayed as quiet and still as you could. They had been searching for what felt like long moments when a tremendous chorus of terrified cries went up from somewhere farther back in the twisting caverns. The cries were goblin, you were certain, but the voice that followed them was anything but.

"Draaaaagon! Run for it!"

"Maglubiyet be damned! Iz dat... iz dat...?"

Distantly but clearly, you heard SkySting's angry roars. "It is! How many years hast thou impudent fools walked all over me? Did I not tell you revenge would one day be mine?! 'Tis time for me to return the favor and walk upon thee!!" Then came crashing and slashing sounds, screams and the sounds of little things breaking and squishing, and all the time trembling thunder accompanied the sound of crackling lightning - a storm of vengeance was loosed in Pohjola!

"AAAAAGH!!" screamed the Gully Gulch Goblins.

While this continued, both of the horse-sized insects heard this for they froze. Then they recoiled and stared uncertainly at one another.

Oscar spoke quietly but surely to you all. "I believe it is safe to whisper... and ambush if you wish to. Those Ankhegs are carnivorous, hungry, and if they move ten more feet toward us, will detect us with tremorsense. I would add more facts but between the cavern shaking and SkySting depopulating, I am shaken enough to hide." His small size and harmless appearance seemed to be more obvious than ever. Though he sounded every word with logic, the tremble of fear had also crept into his voice.

"What have we unleashed?" Bria whispered more in awe than fear.

What do the Wayward Wanderers do?
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna looks over at Bren and gives him a nod. Quietly saying, "Lets do this," she points her finger at the bug on the left. "I am ready to cast on that one. On your signal, my friend."
 

Kaerri

Dannigan's Lady
Administrator
Supporter
Character sheet
Hit Points: 26/26
Armor Class: 22
Touch Armor Class: 16
Spell Points: 3/3
Hero Points: 1/1
Mighty Blow uses: 1/1
Interpose uses: 1/1
Color code: 3399ff
"What have we unleashed?" Bria whispered more in awe than fear.
Bren smiled wryly. "Unintentional justice, I think," he whispered back. He then turned to Luna and returned her nod, but held up his hand to signal her to wait. Looking at Oscar,* he whispered, "Anything unusual we should know before we ambush?"

*Because they haven't said anything yet, Bren doesn't know that Luna and Nivirea know any more about the ankhegs than he himself does.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Bria nodded eagerly at Bren's response. "That sure is a fine answer!"

Oscar pondered briefly, then his little eyes looked up into Bren's own. "Ankhegs will often fight to the death. They prefer to grab and crush a prey with their acid bite and, when pressed hard or frustrated, a painful acid spittle. If anything unusual is touching the ground within 60 feet of them, like us, they will know it."
 

Sherwood

Luna's Concubine
Supporter
Luna adds, "They are not necessarily evil, just animalistic, and will consider us to be as tasty of a morsel as any they would encounter in here. They will attack us on sight."
 
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