Fruit of the Fallen

A Plot Revealed

Ends and Beginnings

Part 12 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

Only a distance of 15 feet separate Vargard and Redmont. Marwyn nervously looks at the Cyrians, quickly appraising them before the battle began. Redmont stands at the front, metal armor in the style of Aundair gleaming, great sword gripped in both hands. The one standing directly behind him, the Cyrian he must have been talking to originally, is a female elven cleric. Marwyn doesn’t recognize the holy symbol, however.

The other three Cyrians stand near the end of the cave, about 50 feet away. A half elf stands in front, reaching for two swords strapped to his belt. A bow is also strapped to his back, ready for use. Behind him are two mages, from the look of their robes. One, a female human, holds out a wand, while the other, a male gnome, holds out a staff.

Marwyn, to his surprise, manages to get off a shot before anyone else reacts. He wasn’t sure who to aim for, Vargard hadn’t assigned a target, so he aims at Redmont. As he pulls the bowstring back, readying his shot, his arcane senses also focus on his target inadvertently, and he is almost overwhelmed by the aura of the enchantment on Redmont’s armor. The sudden surprise causes his shot to go wide, so far that he almost hits the cleric standing behind and to the right of Redmont.
“Les, his armor!” Marwyn cries out, retreating slightly towards the back of the formation. An arrow flies past as he does so, the half elf must have tried a shot before moving towards the center.
Lesani observes Redmont briefly at Marwyn’s words, and then looks shocked. “His armor, Var. It’s soulforged,” she whispers.
“Worry about it later,” Vargard says, moving to the center of the battle, but not approaching the enemy’s line.
Lesani raises her wand, preparing a spell. Ethereal howls fill the cavern as she finishes it, and spectral wolves start circling Redmont, tearing into him. The wounds themselves are small, yet the total effect leaves Redmont gasping slightly at the pain.

“Him,” Redmont says, pointing to Vargard and addressing the cleric. She nods, and raises her holy symbol. Dark light surrounds Vargard, and he grunts, absorbing a blow. The light then congregates around his sword, blunting its edge. Redmont smiles at this, then charges Vargard.
Vargard delivers the blow he had prepared, though the energy surrounding his sword saps some of the damage, only dealing a small gash to Redmont’s chest. Redmont’s greatsword swings at Vargard’s chest, though Vargard manages to dodge this blow. Seeing the energy around his sword, Vargard gives a quick gesture towards the cleric. The message is clear.

Cletus draws an arrow, and looses it towards the cleric. Marwyn catches a glance at it as it goes, and notices that the arrowhead is slightly larger than the normal ones Cletus carries. The arrow flies true, and impacts the cleric in the chest, dealing a terrible wound. The shape of the arrowhead, rather than act as a stopper as normal ones do, channels blood out of the wound, adding to the severity. The cleric screams in pain, and desperately tries to dig the arrow out and stop the bleeding.
One of the mages, that with the wand, reacts by raising the implement. All but Vargard try to dodge sudden tendrils of spider silk that appear from nowhere. Only Jorduna is successful, the rest are pinned to the floor by webs. The mage with the staff casts another spell at the same time, and a crack of lightning emanates from the striking Vargard straight in the chest. He survives the blast, but it is clear that he’s close to fading to unconsciousness.
Jorduna fights through the webs coating the ground under her feet, then skirts around Redmont and Vargard’s duel. She manages to reach the cleric, who is still grasping at her chest, trying to free the arrow in order to heal the wound. Unfortunately for her, Jorduna takes the opportunity provided by her distraction, and drives the dagger deep into the chest, right next to the wound. The result is a long gash that only increases the blood seeping out of her chest. The cleric fumbles for her holy symbol in a last ditch effort to stave off death, but it is in vain. Her hands go weak before the cleric is able to harness her powers, and she collapses, life blood pooling below her corpse.

Redmont sees the energy fade from Vargard’s longsword, and quickly glances behind him. “Bastards!” he cries, seeing the cleric dead on the floor.
Marwyn, still trapped by the webs, attempted to struggle loose. He is unsuccessful, however. As his arms are still free, he utters a quick verse while placing his hand on his lute, restoring some of Vargard’s quickly fading vitality. He then renocks his bow, and aims for the mage who cast the web spell, green energy beginning to collect at the tip of the arrow as he draws back. The arrow strikes true, though it only gives the mage a grazing wound, catching her across the forearm that held the wand.
The woodsman approaches Jorduna, both swords drawn, and engages her only feet away from the other melee. His face is full of fury, and as he attacks he is careful not to disturb the body of his former comrade. While reverent, his actions detract from his attack, and Jorduna is able to dodge one of the swords. The second, however, hits her in the arm.
Vargard, meanwhile, retaliates by attempting a solid blow against Redmont once the energy around his sword fully dissipates. The armor withstands the assault easily, however, and Redmont smiles mockingly at his failure. Lesani focus for a moment, and the spectral predators that assaulted Redmont once attack again, though their frenzy is diminished somewhat. They disappear again as Lesani attempts to free herself from the webs coating her. She manages to slip out of them, magic aiding her attempt as her legs partially phase to assist her movement. She then lobs a handful of purple fire at the man engaging Jorduna, which sticks to him, particularly around his arms. Besides burning him, they impede his attacks, allowing Jorduna to dodge his quick strikes with ease.

Redmont renews his assault against Vargard, a quick strike to his arm which cuts a shallow, but long wound. He then unleashes a flurry of blows against Vargard’s shield, so fierce as to cause him to drop it. Vargard chances his stance, gripping his longsword with both hands and using the blade to parry attacks.
Cletus, the last member trapped by the webs, is also unsuccessful in freeing himself. He too, however, is perfectly capable of firing a bow, and lines up a shot at the wand mage. He quickly loads and fires two arrows, the first catching the mage in the calf, and the other catching her in the chest. The pain causes the mage to step back slightly, clearly disoriented by the damage. She has enough focus, however, to send a green bolt of energy hurtling towards Cletus, which catches him in a glancing blow. Acid eats away at his offhand arm, though Marwyn senses that the damage to Cletus could have been much worse.

The staff-bearing mage, who had so far gone relatively unscathed by the battle, raises his staff high. Spikes of ice shoot up from the ground in the middle of the melee, hitting both Jorduna and Vargard. Both shiver from the cold, legs freezing from the icicles that piece them. Jorduna takes the pain silently, and easily drives a dagger into chest of her opponent, who was unaffected by the spikes.

Marwyn, meanwhile, finally frees himself from the webs, able to move once more. He stands still, however, keeping his focus on firing his bow. “We’ll have to break down his armor,” Lesani says to him, noticing Marwyn reaching for an arrow. “Use your fire on Redmont.” Marwyn nods in acknowledgement, chanting the mantra that alights the tip of his arrow, and takes careful aim at Redmont. The woodsman, meanwhile, attempts to strike at Jorduna, though he is unsuccessful due to the fire still burning his arms.
It goes out as Lesani focus again, recalling the spectral wolves. Now that Redmont was standing beside his ally, the wolves nip at the woodsman too, injuring the legs of both fighters. Marwyn takes this moment to release his grip, and the distraction provided by the wolves allows his arrow to hit through Redmont’s armor. The plate above the wound starts to glow red, as the fire arrow heats the surrounding armor and flesh. Lesani nods at his work, and turns her attention to her Cyrian counterpart. She unleashes a silent assault on the wand bearer, and to her, Lesani disappears from sight. The mage falls to one knee under the attack, clearing near unconsciousness, or worse.
Vargard, meanwhile, sees the new hole in Redmont’s armor, and focuses his assault there. His attacks, though not penetrating flesh, manage to deal bludgeoning damage to Redmont, exacerbated by the heated metal. A scowl stretches across Redmont’s face as his wounds begin to trouble him. His form is still stable, however, and he manages to deal another strike to Vargard.

Cletus, meanwhile, stops trying to free himself, noticing the wand-bearer’s struggles. “I can’t hold back,” he says to Vargard.
Vargard, caught in the struggle with Redmont and disadvantaged by the loss of his shield, only manages to reply, “Do what you have to,” in between avoiding blows. Cletus nods solemnly, and fires an arrow at the female mage. It catches her in the lower torso, not a fatal wound on its own, but combined with the blood loss and mental trauma, causes her heart to fail. The mage fully slumps to the ground. The webs retreat from the ground around Cletus and Marwyn, indicating her death.
The other Cyrian mage steps back slightly, disturbed by the additional loss to his side of the conflict. The Cyrian remains resolved, however, not fleeing from his position. Instead, he raises his staff again, and targets Jorduna with another assault of ice. This time, however, chunks materialize out of the air, battering her body. Acting unusually quickly, the mage then hurls an orb of acid at Jorduna, which only adds to her wounds. Jorduna lets a groan escape as her concentration fades, the damage taking its toll. She swipes wildly with her dagger, trying to connect with her opponent. She is unsuccessful, however, the pain interfering with her fighting.

Marwyn sees this, but is torn between helping her and Vargard. He hesitates, allowing Lesani’s continued assault with her ethereal wolves to harm Redmont and the woodsman. The sight inspires Marwyn, who remembers the maneuver he had used weeks ago in the Brelish countryside. He had been working on developing the power, and took the chance to test it. “Pull back Jor!” he yells. Jorduna attempts to protest through shaky breath.
Vargard cuts her off with a gruff, “Do it,” and Jorduna nods in compliance. Marwyn strums a quick chord on his lute, and the Cyrians stumble briefly, temporarily halting their offence. Jorduna takes the opportunity to slip behind Marwyn and Lesani, limping slightly from her wounds. Marwyn then fires an arrow at her former opponent, green energy again surrounding the bolt. It hits the woodsman, which causes his movements to become as shaky as Jorduna’s. In his attempt to attack Vargard, his other target unreachable, he oversteps, and trips with his first sword stroke. His sudden fall cuts off his other blow.
Vargard, seeing him on the ground, shifts his focus temporarily onto the woodsman, plunging his sword into the woodsman’s exposed back. The lightly-armored woodsman is unable to stop the blow, which causes a deep puncture. The Cyrian is still alive, though his breath is fading.

Redmont, seeing his side losing, roars in anger, and delivers a series of brutal overhead strikes. Vargard attempts to deflect them with his sword, but one manages to cut into his right shoulder. The stress causes Vargard’s arm to drop from his sword, now only wielding it with his off hand. Cletus, seeing the woodsman near death, decides on his next target. Though the prone figure presented him with a diminished figure, the woodsman head is exposed. The arrow cracks the skull, delivering a quick death.
The demoralizing blow still does not dissuade the remaining Cyrians, as the remaining mage prepares another spell. His target, however, is Jorduna, and another sphere of acid eats into her chest. She gasps in pain, and falls over. Dreading for a moment her death, Marwyn is relieved to see a slight rise and fall in her chest, indicating her survival.
“Jor is down!” Lesani yells at Vargard. Marwyn eyes the caster and looses two quick arrows, actions rushed by his anger at Jorduna’s condition. Both bolts of green hit the caster in the chest, one burying itself deep. After repeating the same invocation of her wolven allies, which constantly whittle down Redmont, she focuses, and disappears in a flash of purple energy. She reappears behind the remaining Cyrian mage. Her spell from before still blocks his sight from her, and he did not notice her sudden appearance behind him. It is this trickery that allows Lesani to plant an engraved dagger between two of his ribs. Though the stab itself was not a fatal wound, it is what follows that kills him.

A tree branch sprouts from the point of the dagger, still inside of the caster’s torso. It forces itself forward, piercing through to the other side, cutting clear through the heart. Soon, it is only Redmont that remains. “Give. Up.” Vargard says.
“Never,” Redmont returns, along with a strike at Vargard. His sword falls short of Vargard’s armor, and in a stroke of luck, buries itself in Vargard’s discarded shield. Redmont reflexively tries to pull it out, but it had bitten deep into the wood. This leaves himself completely open for a moment, which Vargard uses to strike. He ignores the pain in his shoulder, gripping his sword with both hands, and delivering a devastating overhead blow that cuts through Redmont’s left shoulder, almost completely severing his arm and definitely cutting into vital organs. Had his plate not stopped it, it would have likely cut all the way through. Redmont stumbles back, somehow still alive. Vargard’s sword is still buried in his chest, and he had stopped attempting to retrieve his as soon as the blow had hit him.

“How…” Marwyn says, as Redmont continues to force air through his one intact lung.
“His armor,” Vargard says, breathing deeply. He relaxes, recognizing that the battle was over. “Some of his life energy is stored within. It’s an extremely rare and expensive enchantment. He’ll die soon, when it runs out.”
“Damn you…..” Redmont forces out, voice unnaturally raspy due to the terrible damage to his chest. “I was… close…… Cyre…….” He falls to his knees, the energy from his armor fading, “I was…. going to…. bring it back…..”
“Where is your accomplice, the Blue Cloak?” Vargard yells at him, walking towards Redmont and shaking him.
“He…..said I……my homeland….” Redmont’s voice is barely at a whisper now, and if he had the strength, Marwyn believed he would be weeping, “he…….betrayed us all……”
“Where is he?” Vargard yells again.
“Below……” Redmont finishes, and then slumps over. Blood begins pouring from his wound, exacerbated when Vargard removes his sword from his chest. He gives it a few flicks to disperse the blood from it.
“Marwyn, see to Jor,” he says in a low tone, starring at the corpse. Marwyn remembers Jorduna’s unconsciousness, and hurriedly heals her. She sits up slowly, still aching from her wounds. Everyone else sits down where they stand, resting from the battle.

“Les, what did you do?” Marwyn asks, eyeing the tree branch still sticking out of the sorcerer (Lesani had identified him after the battle by his supplies).
“What I had to,” she says simply, in a tone that suggests he drop the matter. “Below….” She adds, thinking.
“Jeez, Var. You did a number on him,” Jorduna exclaims, eyeing Redmont. “We find out what we needed to?”
“Below. That’s all he said.” Vargard responds.
“Some of these tunnels probably lead downwards,” Lesani responds.
“The Cloak’s here, Les. Here. I don’t like that,” Vargard responds. He stands, and walks over to the fallen cleric. “The Dark Six.”
“What?” Marwyn asks.
“Her symbol. It’s the Dark Star,” Vargard says, surprised.
“Var.. does this mean They could be involved?” Lesani asks
“I suspected involvement from something like them. Redmont, and this woman, confirm them,” Vargard explains, “The Cyrians had a sudden shift in focus, and Redmont speaks of a bargain he had made with the Blue Cloak. It’s an easy guess that they’re involved.”
“What does this mean?”
“It means we have a name for our foe now. Rest up, then we go down to put an end to this.” Vargard says. The party remains silent, though it is clear to Marwyn that everyone, including himself, are processing this new development. To Marwyn, it evokes something close to a primal fear. The Dark Six were only ever mentioned in passing, his only knowledge of them from their mention in conversations he had eavesdropped on as a child. All he knew were that they were figures to be feared.
After a short rest, the group stands. They go over the belongings of the fallen. “A shame,” Vargard says, inspecting Redmont’s armor, “Too damaged to be useful.”
“In any case, the enchantment has been dissipated,” Lesani adds, “It was broken trying to sustain Redmont.”
“Hey Var, mind if I take this sword?” Jor asks while leaning over the woodsman. Vargard nods, and Jor detaches the sheath for the short sword from the belt, then places both in her pack. Some material wealth is found among the group, which is evenly divided. Not much else of major note is found, and the rest is placed in Vargard’s bag of holding. With the bodies taken care of, Vargard leads the group out of the cave, opposite of the chamber they had entered from.

They eventually reach a branch. One, which leads off to the right, obviously heads to the surface. The other slopes downwards. Cletus and Jorduna takes the lead, their sharp senses enabling them to keep a lookout for anything ahead. A low whistling sound eventually comes to everyone’s attention.
“There’s open space ahead,” Jorduna says, “We’re, what. 100? 200 feet down? No way it opens to the surface.”
“Ravine,” Cletus says, in agreement.
“A ravine?” Marwyn asks.
“Yeah. That’s sound from wind. No way is it coming from the surface, so there’s probably an underground river causing it. At least a little ways away though.”
“You…. know a lot about this,” Marwyn says, surprised.
“I wasn’t always a merc, and I didn’t always live in Aundair,” Jorduna says, tolerating Marwyn’s curiosity and taking the implicit compliment. The tunnel opens up as they continue walking, and an oppressive darkness meets them. Marwyn hears a sharp crack behind him, and he sees Vargard holding a sunrod. In the illumination provided by it, Marwyn can clearly see a sharp crevice ahead.

“Woah,” he says, not being able to see either the other side, or the bottom. The narrow ledge they stand on extends both to the left and right. Through the light, Marwyn can barely make out something spanning the gap to the right.
“Stay clear from the gap,” Vargard warns.
“Looks like a bridge,” Cletus says, pointing to the right.
“We’re not crossing it, are we?!” Jorduna asks, incredulously.
“I’ve not come all this way for nothing,” Vargard says, determined. He then looks at the gap, and relents, “Though… this is beyond where I expect you to follow. Leave if you must, Jor.”
“You know I can’t damn well do that. I need this mark off just as much as you do.” Jorduna sighs, accepting the inevitable, “I just don’t like the look of that drop.”
Vargard moves the sunrod closer to the structure to the right, and reveals a stone bridge. The bridge is wide, though flat, with no railing on the side. Jorduna curses when this fact is made plain. She follows, however, as do the rest. They soon reach the beginning of the bridge. Marwyn stresses his eyes, but he can’t see the end. Neither can anyone else.

“Stay in the center, but keep an eye out.” Vargard orders.
“Wait,” Lesani says, “This seems an ideal place for an ambush. We should take measures against someone falling.”
“Like what?” Jorduna asks.
“It’s a good idea.” Vargard thinks for a moment, then withdraws a coil of rope from his pack. “Loop it around your wrist, then pass it on. If anyone falls, we can pull them back up.” Vargard does this first, then Jorduna, then Cletus, then Lesani, then Marwyn. Prepared, they start walking across, cautiously, scanning for any traps or weakness in the rock. The bride is sturdy, and doesn’t yield to their weight.

“This place is old,” Lesani says, while they walk, no end in sight.
“Might be the wood’s namesake. Some sort of… unholy site,” Vargard responds.
“Oh great. That makes me feel so much better about all this,” Jorduna says, in tandem with Marwyn’s thoughts. “Var, do we even know what we’re going to do once we find Blue Cloak? Assuming he doesn’t just teleport out the moment he sees us?”
“We ask nicely,” Vargard says, “And then we beat the everliving hell out of him when he doesn’t respond.”
“What if we can’t?” Marwyn asks, resolve slipping.
Vargard stops walking, and the rest stop behind him. “Marwyn, Jor, get this straight. If the Dark Six are involved, then this curse is bigger than just making sure we stick together. There has to be an underlying purpose. I would rather not wait to find out what it is. If it means we go into a fight we can’t win, so be it.” Vargard’s word do little to comfort Marwyn, but they carry the air of authority, which enables him to keep walking.

A minute after, still no end to the bridge in sight, a bright light suddenly illuminates a space above them, off to the side and over the chasm. A ghostly figure hovers over the abyss, dressed in the blue-and-gold robe that Marwyn had last seen in Passage.
“YOU!” Vargard yells, drawing his sword, his other hand still wrapped around the rope. The figure remains impassive, not moving. “Say something you bastard,” Vargard challenges.
After a long pause, a laugh echoes throughout the cave, “Ah, arrogant as ever. I thank you for dealing with my Cyrian leftovers.” The voice is as mysterious as before, no indication of even gender or race. It simply emanates from the long robe.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Vargard seethes, off balance by the robed figure’s words.
“You must have felt it odd that there was a convenient, yet faint path that allowed you to flank dear, dead Redmont. Or perhaps you were too consumed by your own apparent cleverness.”
“Wait, you meant us to find that?” Marwyn asks.
“Oh, the bard,” the voice, first unnaturally loud, now softens, somewhat disappointed. “How unfortunate that you survived our last encounter. No matter, our sanctuary has measures to deal with unwanted guests.” The figure glides over to a spot on the ceiling, and its hand glows. A rune, barely visible from the bridge, activates.
“BRACE!” Vargard yells, seeing the spell activate. He is far too late, however, as a sudden, icy gust of wind besieges the party, numbing them. The robed figure extends a sleeve towards Marwyn, and the wind that assaults them focuses on him. He begins to slide towards the bridges edge. The rest of the group tries to stop his movement, but their words and actions are lost over the wind. Their fingers, chilled, lose grip on the rope. Struggle as he might against it, Marwyn edges closer, and closer to the edge, and the chasm below. And then falls, pushed off.

The wind stops moments later, and all four rush over to the edge. Marwyn has long left their vision, and only the rope remains, trailing after him. That too, is soon lost. “I am sorry for that. So much simpler if he had just died at the start. Still, that rage you must feel only helps me.” The robed figure says, watching impassively. It then quickly adds, booming voice overruling any other, “You will find me ahead. Our business concludes there.” The robed figure disappears in another burst of light, and The Split Falchion is left in the center of the bridge, reduced to four.

“I can’t believe… he just killed him,” Jorduna says, still looking down, “He could of killed all of us.”
“Not now,” Vargard says, clear anger in his voice, “We avenge him, and then we mourn him.”
“Let’s kill tha’ bastard,” Cletus says, in agreement. Lesani is the last to leave the edge of the bridge, shock still present on her face. It takes a shout from Vargard to rouse her. After which, the four finish crossing the bridge, running.

It is a short walk from the bridge to a new tunnel. Another short walk through which leads the group into a small cave, obviously dug out of the tunnel wall. An altar is placed in the center of the roughly oblong space, and behind it, stands the robed figure, features obscured, as always. “I would have thought, after that display, you might lose your conviction. Stubborn, as well as arrogant.”
“Pray to whatever dark god you follow. You die here and now,” Vargard threatens, sword and shield ready.
“But then who would remove my marks? Aren’t you at least curious? You know, I was worried I would have to search for suitable hosts, but then four worthy vessels practically delivered themselves to me.” The speech is in a conversational tone, the entity completely unphased.
“Remove them, and we might make your death quick,” Jorduna responds, strongly irritated at the stranger’s lax approach to their threats.
“There is no need for such bluster, rogue. In fact, I will do so now. Remember, you asked for this.” The cloaked figure raises a wand. Lesani shouts a warning, detecting a spell. It makes no matter, however, as no amount of mental defense could have prepared them for the savage onslaught, as both mind and body burned. The pain continued well past any normal spell length, torturing the four.

“I’m afraid this is the end, for you.” the robed figure states, while placing four dark gemstones on the altar. “How fortunate, that you told no one of your plight. No allies are here, to rush to your defense, of this I am sure. Your companion lies dead, broken at the bottom of the chasm. In other words,” it pauses for a moment. The movement of the hood suggests that it was observing each of the four. A dark glow begins to emanate from the gems placed on the altar, “I can indulge myself. Give you some closure in your final moments. You have been such good puppets.” Vargard tries to fight the pain and challenge him, but he is unable to bring his voice to bear.
The figure chuckles at this, then continues, “Do you know how much was lost to the Mourning?” it asks, rhetorically, “It wasn’t just Cyre. All of the Houses lost resources. Every major religion, as well.” It pulls out a small wooden box, and breaks the top off. It then withdraws another wand. This wand, however, is different from most. It is constructed entirely of obsidian, runes etched into the sides. The robed figure places it on the altar, next to the gems. “Fortunately, there are always fools who can be convinced to do most of the hard work. Toranel was such an easy target. Promise him his homeland back, and he’d do anything.” A thoughtful tone enters the voice, “Though it took far more effort to force him to take on an alias, oddly enough.”
“When…is this bullshit…going to stop?” Jorduna manages to say, through gritted teeth.
“Oh, interesting. That must have taken quite some effort. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to suffer. Much more than your friend.”
“Why?” Vargard grunts, question barely discernable from his screams of pain.
“Because I only needed four of you for this to work,” it responds, simply. A sigh, then it continues, “Had you not followed my trail so ruthlessly, I might have needed to have you captured. Fortunately, you seemed intent on delivering yourselves, so I let you run with it. Honestly, I’m still surprised you followed me after the bridge. I’ll let you take a few moments, to think on your mistakes.”

A few minutes pass, the pain still nearly unbearable to the four. Jorduna had tried letting herself pass out, but was unsuccessful, something forcing her to remain conscious. Multiple times, one had tried to charge the robed figure, who stood impassively behind the altar. Each time, they were forced back down by a blast of force from the robed figure, easily taking care of the assailant in their weakened state. After the fifth such time, the robe starts talking again, “We’re almost done, now. Your warlock has probably guessed at the purpose of your marks by now. You see, some powerful artifacts need… refreshing, from time to time.” A gesture towards the obsidian wand, “This one is no different, especially after the ordeal it went through. Its needs, however, are… refined. Four souls which must themselves be… charged. The original four, to be precise, who forged this. Four fools who thought a bargain with devils ended at death. Your marks simply gave them lodging, and your actions, power.”
It holds a sleeved arm over the first stone, “These gems make fine vessels for them normally, but nothing like the misdeeds of the living can give them the requisite strength to power the artifact. The bard seemed the least suitable host, so he I merely graced with infection. A miracle he survived that,” The figure moves onto another stone, and exclaims in a pleased voice, “Torture…. you really made my job easy, didn’t you. My master will be grateful. A shame that this process is painful, though separating two joined souls is never an easy process.” The gems glow even brighter, light now as strong as a torch. “I think I’ll leave you to the pain for now. This is a rather… lengthy process, and I grow tired of this one-sided banter. I suggest you learn to enjoy the sensation, it will be your last.”

Five hours later, the group is too weak to even manage a groan. The gems on the dais shine bright enough to hurt the eyes. The figure had been watching remnants of The Split Falchion writhe for the entire duration, briefly observing a soul gem from time to time, assessing its progress in absorbing the soul. “Unfortunately, your time is up. Death, I believe, will be a release at this point. A final mercy.” The figure slips a dagger out from one of its sleeves, and begins approaching the party. It stops suddenly, hearing something from the passage out of the cave. “No….that’s not possible.” Vargard, with the most strength left to him out of his companions, manages to turn around. He, as well as the robed figure, sees Marwyn step out of the tunnel, clothes torn and bloody, bow broken, but alive. “That’s impossible,” the robed figure speaks again. “What does it take to kill you!?”
“More than you, apparently,” Marwyn responds, quickly reaching for, and drawing Vargard’s longsword before the robe can reach him.
“I have had enough of you,” the robe spits at him, rage for the first time entering its voice. It approaches Marwyn, and easily bats the sword out of his untrained grasp. “If neither sickness nor great heights will kill you, then I will have to squeeze the life out of you myself.” Marwyn tries to struggle away, but is unable to avoid the hand that comes out of the robe, reaching for his neck. All, save the robed figure, are surprised when it is a skeletal hand that pins Marwyn to the rock wall by his neck.
Strangled, Marwyn tries to resist, but is unable to break the grip of the robed figure, the bones of its hand acting like a vice. As his consciousness fades, Marwyn manages to force out one thing. A laugh.
“What, what is so funny? I am killing you, you idiot. How. Is. This. Laughable?” The robe asks, squeezing harder at each word to emphasize them. He loosens his grip ever so slightly, to allow Marwyn a few final words.
“Got…your…wand. Snap it,” Marwyn chokes out, the final words directed at someone other than the cloak.

6 hours earlier
Marwyn slips from the bridge, falling down into the darkness below. In the confusion of the fall, and the lingering numbness of the wind, he barely acknowledges this before his face cracks against the ground in a sickening thud. He lays at the bottom of the ravine, quite dead. The only sound that remains is the soft sound of the rope that trailed Marwyn, landing next to him. That too, quickly ends. A permanent silence falls over the scene, save for the low wind that blows through the canyon. The distance from the bridge too far for even his former comrades’ voices to carry this far.
Minutes pass, Marwyn’s corpse already settling into its final rest. His blood pools below him, cooling in the dark abyss. His clothes, already torn from impact, become saturated.
Hours after the fall, his friends by this time captured by Blue Cloak, insects find his corpse, speeding decomposition. Some healing solution that was spilled from a broken bottle of healing potion finally soaks through the back of his pack and shirt, mending some of the wounds in the flesh, though the effort is futile. However, a few moments later, an event far more helpful occurs.

Light suddenly spills from Marwyn’s pack, exactly four hours after his fall. Marwyn’s eyes open, breath and pulse returning to his body. He shakes off the bugs that had been crawling over him, confused and in a panic. He eventually calms down, and sees the only source of light. A faint glow emanates from the tome Ner Omidan had given him. The front has been scorched, the silver that had graced it seemed to have been burnt off. Marwyn, confused and curious, opens the front of the book. A new inscription, much longer than the first, has taken the place of the first. It reads:

“Veilgilard, I’ve never forgot what you did, what I owe you. You may consider the matter settled, though when it comes to my daughter’s life, I feel that a payment greater than coin and a few scraps of lore are necessary.

I’ve included something special in this tome: a fail safe. I know the crowd you run with, don’t worry. To most eyes it’ll appear simply a boring tome on common archery techniques. This inscription, too, shall be veiled by a more mundane message an hour after you first read it. However, to you, the book’s owner, this will be much more. Keep my gift with you at all times, and if your daredevils antics finally get you into more trouble than you can handle, it’ll take care of you. Your friend,” It ends, with the same signature of Rathmandi.

Marwyn laughs, seeing this, relief and surprise overtaking him. The light fades, however, and he realizes how very dark it is. He can’t even make out his own hand, nor can he see the bridge from which he fell. After thinking for a moment, he tears a pant leg off, and wraps it around a large shard of wood that his hand finds. Vargard had given him two other pieces of equipment when he had signed on to The Split Falchion, the elven cloak he wore now (its magic allowing it to escape the fall unscathed and unstained), and the standard of any mercenary: the adventures kit. Fumbling in the darkness, Marwyn manages to find his flint and steel, and light the makeshift torch.

With his surroundings more or less lit, Marwyn is disheartened when he sees nothing but blackness above him. With no idea how long he had laid there, or where his friends were, Marwyn decided he should first try and climb out of the chasm. The rock face, however, is far too smooth for Marwyn to even think about climbing. Then he notices the rope that fell beside him, and he has an idea.

Half an hour later, Marwyn stands from the crude ritual circle he had set up. Fortunately, his reagents had survived in more or less workable condition. Beside him, invisible to normal eyes, two unseen servants stand. Lesani had mentioned, a while back, that he could cast the spell multiple times at additional cost, though Marwyn had seen no reason to. Now, though, he needed something to support his weight, and one servant wouldn’t be enough. He hands the end of a rope to both servants, withdrawing another from his adventurer’s kit. Together, they are able to lift Marwyn, though not enough to pull him out of the chasm.

Instead, he loops the ropes around himself, trying to tie them into a harness. Unskilled as he is in the art of rope tying, it takes him several attempts and another half hour to fashion one that both holds him, and isn’t too uncomfortable. With that, he walks to the cliff face that he thinks is opposite to the one he came from, and orders his servants to lift the ropes taut. Fortunately, there is enough rope on both sides left for the servants to extend themselves to the full range of their movement, 20 feet. Freed from the majority of his weight by the servants, and confident in the knowledge that they would stop his fall if he slipped, Marwyn begins the long process of climbing.

Half an hour later, after many near falls, Marwyn throws himself over the edge of the cliff, panting from the effort. After a quick rest, he stands, and tries to get his bearings. A scream echoes out, and Marwyn curses when he comes to the dual realization that it is Vargard’s voice, and that it is at the other end of the cavern. He finds the bridge again, running across it, with no regard for his own safety. Thankfully, the rough surface prevents him from falling, and the blood on Marwyn’s shoes had long dried. At this distance, he is able to hear the weakening moans of his friends, and, guided by their voices, he carefully walks towards their location. When he nears the tunnel mouth, he tosses his torch over the side of the cliff, the light spilling from the tunnel entrance enough to guide his movement.

He comes to a bend, and from the noise it is clear that his friends are right on the other side. He chances a peek, and sees the cruel tableau ahead, the four companions sprawled onto the cave floor, strength fading, and the blue cloaked figure standing a short distance away, over an altar. He hears the figure’s final words, and watches as it pulls out a dagger. He stands, reaching for his bow, then remembers it had been shattered. This is a mistake, as his rise to his feet dislodges a few rocks, which clatter back towards the chasm, the slope of the tunnel guiding them. Given away, he quickly gives an order to his two servants, eyeing the four gems and obsidian wand still lying on the dais. Then, he decides to do what he does best, draw attention.

Back in the present
“NOO!” the robed figure screams, seeing the wand levitate into the air, and then seeing the servants which are lifting it. It’s hand falls from Marwyn’s throat, the form turning in a vain attempt to stop them. However, their combined strength is more than enough to snap the glass-like wand in two. Had the harvest been complete, the magic that normally flowed through it would have easily protected it from such an assault. Unpowered, however, it was no different from any other obsidian stick. The cloaked one runs towards the dais, but isn’t fast enough to stop Marwyn’s next order.
“Smash the stones!” Marwyn yells, and the servants bring their force down upon the soul gems still on the altar. Dark light spills from the cracks they make, and though the gems do not completely break, the damage is enough to disturb their complex properties. As each one shatters, one of the cursed members of The Split Falchion gasps in relief, the pain fading.

The blue cloak grasps at the remains of the stones, and the wand. “I…. failed. Because of that…. idiot. This was my chance…. and now…. I’m abandoned.”

Marwyn helps Vargard to his feet during this, and hands him his sword. The rest eventually stand on their own. They no longer burn with pain, but the ordeal had stressed them, leaving muscles sore, reflexes dull, and throats exhausted.
“How’d you survive that fall?” Vargard asks, incredulously.
“Later, after we take out that blue robed bastard,” Marwyn replies. Vargard nods, grabbing his shield. They both look at the figure standing over the dais, who had not moved.
“Right. You three good?” Vargard asks.
“I’ve been better,” Jorduna responds, while the other two just nod. “Hey asshole, tip for capturing people. Make sure you actually take their weapons,” she addresses Blue Cloak, who doesn’t acknowledge her statement.
“Is he dead?” Marwyn asks, noticing this.
“Yes, and no. Its hand suggests an undead of some form,” Lesani replies, “The reason it concealed its appearance, apparently.”
“I saw we grind the bastard to dust, just to be sure,” Jorduna says.
“You will find that to be…difficult,” the figure finally speaks. At the same time, the golden runes stitched into its robe begin to fade, blackening through some form of rapid degeneration. At the same time, the robe begins to expand, well past the frame of a normal humanoid. It soon falls off, pushed by the force of the smoke that billows out from the skeleton underneath. A chill graces Marwyn’s heart when he realizes that it is not smoke, but gray mist. The skeleton hovers in place, the mist shrouding its form and the immediate area. Small tendrils of mist extend from the main column, writhing and lashing out at anything nearby, though their movement doesn’t appear directed.

“That’s…” Lesani says, recoiling at the sight.
“You’re a monster,” Marwyn says in horror.
“No. I am cursed. A curse that could have been lifted… if not for you.” The voice comes not from the skull, but from the space around the skeleton itself. To Marwyn’s arcane eye, it appears that the majority of the creature’s power is contained within its mist. One of the skeletal hand points a wand at Marwyn, and a large column of mist extends from it, far larger than the others, swiping at Marwyn and batting him to the side. Marwyn manages to maintain his footing, though the force that had hurt him extended far past physical pain, assaulting his mind as well.
“Les, what the hell is this thing?” Jorduna asks, drawing a dagger.
“I have no idea. But it has clearly been born of the Mourning,” Lesani replies, fear in her voice.
“Two years I have waited for my redemption, and you ruin everything in an instant!” Another tendril shoots out at Marwyn, who is able to dodge it this time. Though the others are still recovering enough strength for battle, Marwyn has a chance to retaliate. With his bow broken, he only has one recourse.
“I’ve seen some screw ups, but I gotta say you messed up big time,” Marwyn bites back, mockingly, his wand in hand, “I mean, come on, you couldn’t even kill me. That makes you a bigger failure than me.” Though admittedly not the most clever or insightful insults one could use in a situation, the content was not the important part of the spell, but rather the magic itself. Already infuriated, Marwyn’s spell easily connects with the ethereal foe, causing it to scream in rage and begin lashing out more erratically.
“Your bow break or something?” Jorduna asks, seeing this.
“Yeah.” Marwyn nods, moving back to the main group, and behind Vargard. Vargard positions himself at the front of the group, swinging out at any tendril that tries to pass him, and blocking any that come close to him with his shield.
“Take this,” she says, handing him a small hand crossbow, along with a pouch filled with bolts.
“Thanks,” Marwyn says, still shaking slightly from the blow he took.
“Look, it’s either that, or I have to listen to your half-assed cursing. Just say that this makes us even.”

Meanwhile, Vargard focuses on observing the creature, looking for possible weaknesses. “Les, see anything?” he yells, while ducking under a larger-than-normal tendril.
“Marwyn’s spell hit it for full effect. Its life force is contained in the entire being, but concentrated inside of the mist. Magic can hurt it, though I am not sure about physical attacks.”
“We’ll find out,” Jorduna says, charging the monster with a dagger in hand. She easily dodges the tendril that shoots out in response, and stabs at the skeleton. The dagger stops a few inches away from bone, though from the mist creature’s reaction, it is clear that it felt pain.
“Not as effective,” Lesani yells from the other side of the battle, “It has some resistance to physical attacks.”
“——!“ Jorduna curses, jumping back slightly as some of the mist reaches out in an attempt to grab her. It was a reflex, however, not guided by the intelligence of the being, and isn’t a major threat.

Cletus recovers enough strength to withdraw his bow, though not enough to deliver his usual string of curses along with the arrow he sends towards the center of the mist. The arrow bounces off the internal column surrounding the skeleton, however, not penetrating far enough to deal any damage.
Lesani withdraws her wand angrily, dark energy already crackling off it as she readies her first attack. It coalesces into a stream pointed directly at the skeleton’s breastbone, impacting the undead in its center mass. Another quick flourish causes fire to pour from that point, making the motions of the attacking mist tendrils wilder and more frenzied.
“Two years I suffered in this form,” the mist creature speaks again, “Not even granted the peace of death!” The main tendril of mist emanating from its wand curls inwards, making a grab at Jorduna, “Now you will suffer with me.” The mist envelops Jorduna, and pushes her to the other side of the skeleton, trapping her between it and the altar. She survives this, but appears affected by the ordeal, stunned slightly.
“Jor, you ok?” Vargard asks, running up to draw the creature’s attention.
“It was… so cold,” she answers. Jorduna then rouses herself, slight conviction back in her voice, “I’m good,”

Marwyn, meanwhile, loads the crossbow he had received, taking longer than normal as he’d never handled one before. He manages to slot the bolt in place, the draw weight of the crossbow well below what his longbow used to demand.
The principle of aiming a crossbow is different from aiming a normal bow: it’s easier. Instead of intuitively estimating the path of the arrow, sights are typically built along the shaft, which allow an archer to line up the target that way. An archer also needs not worry about fumbling the shot by a sloppy release, the mechanism of a crossbow provides a clean, reliable shot. The tradeoff, however, is the slower firing rate and lighter ammunition, which means an archer armed with a longbow can typically put more arrows in a target for greater overall effect.
With his bow broken, however, Marwyn makes due with what he has. He looks down the sights, centering the skeleton in the center of them, and releases. The bolt flies slightly off center, and only skims the surface of the shroud of mist. That, combined with the fact that Marwyn hadn’t charged the shot with energy, led to negligible effect.

Vargard, meanwhile, tries stabbing deep into the mist with a strong blow, approaching the being cautiously. He succeeds, penetrating far enough to impact the being’s left femur, cracking the bone. He quickly withdraws the blade as the creature screams in pain, though he isn’t fast enough to avoid the main tendril of mist, which cracks him over the head.
Jorduna swipes into the mist as the creature’s attention is turned the other way. Still impaired from her travel through the main column of mist, she only manages one solid blow, which cuts a slice of space into the column. It quickly reforms, though Marwyn can tell that the maneuver still weakened the skeleton. Cletus, meanwhile, had been focusing on the creature’s movements, lining up a solid shot. He releases with a little more drawback than normal, and though the arrow impacts onto the column of mist, this force only causes it to shatter, sending fast-moving shards of wood and metal into the column of mist. Some strike bone, lodging themselves in places over the entire being, which screams again.
Lesani, meanwhile, having spent much energy in the previous battle, and feeling drained from the ordeal just before this battle, only manages to send a multi-colored bolt towards the mist column. It warps on the surface, however, multiple rays shooting off in different directions and impacting the cave walls.

The voice from within the skeleton ceases, as pain drives it to focus solely on lashing out at the two fighters closest to it. The main tendril of mist momentarily dissolves into smaller shards, and the skeleton makes a circular motion with its wand. The shards spin around the central column of mist, sharp as glass, trying to cut Jorduna and Vargard. They both take a good collection of small scrapes, but Vargard’s armor and Jorduna’s quick leap backwards onto the altar prevent them from taking fatal damage. Still, the onslaught weakens both considerably.

At this point, Marwyn risks a magical bolt, fire igniting on the tip of the bolt. This time, the bolt flies straight at the skeleton, and the fire helps drive the bolt through the mist shielding it. The bolt impacts one of its lower ribs, which crack further when the bolt heats the surrounding bone and mist. He then rattles off a quick rhyme while gesturing with the wand in his other hand, healing some of Vargard’s injuries.
The heated portion of the skeleton disrupts the mist protecting it slightly, allowing Vargard ample opportunity for another thrust at the creature’s bone. The mist providing less resistance than before, Vargard is able to crack several other ribs. The skeleton lets out a roar, and reforms the main tendril of mist from the shards floating around it, bringing it back down on Vargard. He is able to block the counter attack with his shield, though his shield arm leaves bruised for his effort.
“It is weakening!” Lesani yells, paying attention to the flux of magical energies that surround the undead. Marwyn focuses as well, and feels the eddies of power running through the mist weaken, the life force that powers it being slowly forced out by their actions.
“Good!” Jorduna responds, while jumping back off of the altar, both hands on her dagger. The blade pierces through the mist and cuts at least a third of the way into the spine of the skeleton as she falls. The creature stumbles forward, away from the pain of the dagger, Vargard shifting to the side to avoid being caught in the mist around its body. Patches of empty space begin to be visible around the skeleton, its shield failing under the constant punishment. One such space allows a well-placed arrow by Cletus to pierce its skull, through the lower jaw and out the back. Lesani fires off a burst of dark energy to complement this, but though it hits, it doesn’t penetrate to bone.

The creature lets out a ghastly shriek, though it is more than just a reaction to the pain. Embedded within the noise is a mental assault, casting waves of dread and anguish over the combatants. Vargard and Jorduna somehow completely escape unscathed, and Lesani manages to resist the worst of it. Marwyn, however, feels his consciousness fade a little under the negative emotions, his defenses and aim dropping due to the mental strain. Cletus takes the worst of it, falling to his knees in response to the magic, stunned.
The skeleton then lashes out again with the main tendril, actions becoming wilder and more rapid as the cracks in its bones grow deeper and more widespread. It quickly turns and strikes Jorduna, she being the weakest of the five at the moment. It deals a glancing blow, though her injuries are starting to get the better of her, and Jorduna grunts in pain.
Marwyn, his arms shaking, is unable to get a clean shot off, and the bolt of green energy surrounding his shot goes far off wide, clattering against the cave wall. He moves forward, though, and gets close enough to heal Jorduna. “That’s the last of the healing. We need to finish this thing fast or people’ll start dying!” Marwyn yells, the lingering effects of the shriek adding desperation to his voice.
“This thing is close to death,” Vargard says, noticing that the cracks in the skeleton now spread by themselves, blows only speeding the degeneration. He then addresses the skeleton, “You mentioned death as a final mercy. I now grant you the opportunity to finish this peacefully.”
The voice returns to the creature, though it is ragged and fading. It throws down the wand, and kneels before Vargard, saying, “My rest will be an unending torture….please, mercy.” The mist at this point barely covers half of its body. Some bones are completely shattered, all that hold the shards together is the creature’s life force.
“Sorry, fresh out,” Jorduna responds, “We ending him boss?”
Vargard nods solemnly, to which the skeleton desperately adds, “I could tell you of my master! Of the artifact! Just spare me.”

Vargard discards his shield and grips his longsword with both hands, responding, “You have caused enough pain already. Whatever you are, and wherever you go, may your afterlife be a just reward.” Vargard brings the sword down hard on the skull, completely shattering it. An agonizing scream fills the room as the mist surrounding the skeleton completely dissolves into the air, the bones that compose it falling apart into dust. The death wail itself fades, until the only sound is that of the gentle breeze that blows from the cavern outside.

“It is gone,” Lesani says eventually, grabbing a handful of dust and letting it run through her hand, “I believe that it is over.”
“So, the curse is broken? The marks are gone?” Jorduna asks, trying to look over her own shoulder to see.
Cletus stands back up, the effects of the shriek over. He pulls her jerkin down over enough to see her shoulder, “Yours is gone.”
Jorduna lets out a relieved laugh, and checks Cletus, “Yours is gone too.” A quick check clears Vargard, then Lesani.
Vargard then checks Marwyn’s back, and a concerned look crosses his face. “Les, come look at this.”
“What’s wrong?” Marwyn asks, worried. Lesani takes a careful look at Marwyn’s shoulder.
“Your mark is still there,” Lesani says hesitantly.
“You’re…. you’re kidding right?” Marwyn asks skeptically, “This is a joke?”
“No,” Vargard responds, seriously.
“I would not worry about it,” Lesani says reassuringly, and everyone looks at her in confusion.
“Uh, Les, why not?” Marwyn asks.
“The being explained to us that the marks allowed a soul to reside within a body. We were implanted with souls, but the same was not done with you.”
“Wh… what?”
“I will explain later. For now, look at it merely as an interesting tattoo. The magic used by that fiend was beyond the knowledge of the University of Wynarn, I doubt there are many alive who know how to manipulate yours. As you are the only one who bears such a mark, we need not even worry about the distance we put between each other. ” Marwyn, not completely understanding the situation, allows himself to calm down, trusting her words.

“Les, you should take a look at this,” Vargard says. He had walked away from Marwyn, letting Lesani handle him while he examined the room. Now, he holds out the robe that the skeleton had discarded. The charred remains of what once were golden runes still linger on the cloak. Lesani takes it, laying it out on the ground. The rest stand by Marwyn, starring at him.
“What?” he asks, shifting under their gaze.
“Well, for starters,” Jorduna answers, “You’re clothes look like they took a rockslide, you’re covered in enough dried blood for five bar fights, and the last time I saw you, you were falling into a bottomless pit. Then you walk back in here without a scratch. That about cover it?”
“Aye,” Cletus answers, looking coldly at Marwyn.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but we did just fight an undead monstrosity,” Jorduna continues.
“I… was as surprised as you were,” Marwyn answers eventually, trying to think of an elaborate story, but only coming up with the truth. “This saved me.” He pulls out Rathmandi’s tome out of his torn backpack.
“What is….” Vargard starts to ask.
“The tome?” Lesani cuts in, walking over from the cloak, “How in Siberys did that allow you to survive the fall? Was it the emblem on the front?” she asks, noticing the burn mark on the front.
“Yeah… I’ll… let you see for yourself.” He hands them the book, opening it to the page with the new inscription. The rest huddle around it, inspecting it.
“I don’t believe it.” Jorduna exclaims.
“It happened, though I didn’t believe it myself at the time,” Marwyn says, “This is going to make a great story.”
“I…..don’t suggest mentioning this to Ner if it ever comes up, Marwyn,” Lesani admonishes.
“Well…. yeah.”
“So… looks like we owe you one,” Vargard says, still winding down from the battle, “But we’ll take care of that later. Les, I change my mind. Grab the cloak and look at it later, we’re getting out of here now.”
“Should I recover the artifacts on the table?” she asks.
“Yes…. but only because we’re going to toss them into the chasm on the way out,” Vargard answers, “I don’t want those things ever seeing the light of day again.”

One day later, Ghalt
The Split Falchion sits around a table, in a tavern located in the outskirts of the city of Ghalt. Roughly the same size as Lathleer, it had plenty of inns to choose from, and The Split Falchion had sprung for one of the more expensive ones.

Their first round of drinks is brought by Cletus, and he slides one to each of the other four. “It’s really over, isn’t it?” Marwyn asks. He was dressed in new clothes, and on the ground beside him is a new, unstained pack. He had yet to purchase a new bow, however.
“Redmont, Blue Cloak, even the marks.” Vargard answers, “All that’s in the past now.” He takes a deep drink, but looks troubled.
“What is it?” Lesani asks, seeing this.
“We should have died,” Vargard responds simply, “I led us right into a trap, headlong, even after that thing showed us it could have killed us three times over. We should have died.”
“So what?” Jorduna asks, “We lived, got a boatload of loot from those Cyrians outside of the door, I say we came out on top.”
“So… What I’m saying is that I don’t like how I handled that. I don’t like how I nearly got all of us killed, or worse. Hell, I did get Marwyn killed, if only briefly.”
“Var, it’s fine, I lived in the end,” Marwyn says, defending him.
“That’s not good enough for me,” Vargard responds. There’s a dark pause, in spite of the atmosphere, and he continues, “I’m saying this because I want to give you all a chance to walk away, right here. I’ll find more people to work with, you don’t have to worry about me.”
“Not a chance,” Jorduna responds, “Besides, even if next time you get us dumped into a pit of lava, Marwyn’ll probably have found the ancient spoon of freezing lava or something.”
“I’m stayin’” Cletus answers, in between quaffs.
“Me too,” Marwyn says.
“Do you seriously doubt my faith in you?” Lesani asks, “You did what you had to. We all did.”

Emboldened by their support, merriment enters Vargard’s face again, “Good. I wanted to get that settled. One last point of business, then, before we take a much needed vacation. Learn anything from that cloak, Les?”
“Yes.” Lesani answers, “The enchantments had been broken, but were of great power, and left enough of a signature to derive their purpose. After a time,” she pulls out a sheaf of parchment which she had written notes on, “The cloak had provided its wearer several abilities, notwithstanding temporary invisibility, flight, and the capability of casting illusions of several magnitudes. In addition, they allowed a certain clarity of mental thought. Combined with other, more enigmatic enchantments, I believe that the cloak kept that creature underneath sane, and contained within its boundaries. I highly doubt we would have been able to defeat it while it had bourn the cloak.”
“Any idea of its origin?” Vargard asks.
“The creature or the cloak?” Lesani asks, then answers both questions, “The creature, I suspect to be an… echo of one who was killed in the Mourning. Other such entities have been reported, though I have not heard anything other than passing remarks. As for the cloak, one would believe it originated from the Dark Six, by the nature of the ritual it subjected us to, and the symbol we found on the cleric. If I had to guess at one in particular, the Traveler seems to be the most likely suspect.”
“Who?” Marwyn and Jorduna ask at roughly the same time.
“Doesn’t matter. Whoever it was wouldn’t have withdrawn its support from the creature if it still wanted us dead. What does matter, Les, is if the cloak is still worth something.” Vargard responds.
“Perhaps, if we find the right buyer,” she answers, “It has no magical value, not enough remains of the enchantments to even think of duplicating them, but could provide insight into the activities of the Dark Six.” A pause, as she retrieves a small scrap of parchement from her pack, “One, last item of note. I found runes inscribed near the back of the hood. They were inscribed in infernal, so I was unable to read them until I had brought them to a translator. Surprised to find one in this city, I have to admit.”
“What did they say?” Vargard asks.
“Simply a name. Shar’radun, or at least, that is the most accurate translation in the common tongue. I believe it to be the name of the one bound in the cloak, though I was unable to find any record of it’s existence here. Of course, we could always attempt to research further later, such as in…”

“We’ll worry about that later,” Vargard cuts her off, satisfied, “Let’s drink now, and celebrate. After maybe a week, I’ll think about looking for more work. For now,” he says, raising a glass, “I’d say we’d earned some rest. To The Split Falchion_!”
“_The Split Falchion
!” the rest yell, joining in the toast.

Continued in Episode 2: An Honest Day’s Merc


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