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  • scratch_flannigan
    scratch_flannigan  2 days ago

    Section Six starts in 1.75 hours. That will be 7pm CST (GMT - 6).

    Good(ish) characters of LEVEL 10 or below.

    We will meet at the Iron Minogon in Webster's Landing. Just assume that your character received a mysterious invitation.

    I will be IG as Taran if you have any questions!

  • Zhymm
    Zhymm  1 week ago

    Happy Turkey Day (i.e.Thanksgiving Day) to all our US players. And Happy Thursday to all others!

  • Zhymm
    Zhymm  2 weeks ago

    Uh, what happened to my message? Two paragraphs now random impulses across the interwebs ...

    Take care, Scratch.

  • Zhymm
    Zhymm  2 weeks ago

  • scratch_flannigan
    scratch_flannigan  2 weeks ago

    RL calls me away from Section Six tonight, folks! sad

    Should any of you want to go ahead and run it, please feel free to do so! smile

  • Crayzee4dnd
    Crayzee4dnd  3 weeks ago

    Sam and Hugdish's wedding will begin in about 4 hours from this post. Yay!

  • scratch_flannigan
    scratch_flannigan  3 weeks ago

    Section Six starts in 2 hours. That will be 7pm CDT (GMT - 5).

    Good(ish) characters of LEVEL 9 or below.

    This week will be a bit different, with time being "frozen" at the end of the last event.

    There will be a portal in the Iron Minogon that will take your character to the very start of the Temple level in the Yuan Ti caves.

    If you did not join last week, that is perfectly ok. Just assume that you caught up with us like we do whenever someone shows up late.

    If your character has never been on a section six mission, you can assume that you stumbled on us while exploring !

    It is a little unorthodox, but we will make it all work! biglaugh

    I will be IG as Taran if you have any questions!

  • Squidget
    Squidget  3 weeks ago

    Edrick and Vae in the same day? heart suprised

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    scratch_flannigan  3 weeks ago

    Hello Edrick and Vae!

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    Seeing you here makes my heart smile! heart


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The Island of Thain :: Forums :: In Character Discussion
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The Razor's Edge of Life and Death: "My name is Sam."

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saadow
5:17:20 pm GMT 09/14/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140
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saadow
8:29:44 pm GMT 09/14/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140

The Fifth of Mirtul

The planting of the hops a few months ago went well. A few local hands had helped, and we managed to buy some slaves from the market in Thay to lighten the load. Some of them, they don't like to work. They know what life can be like, from their training. We keep it easy for them, I don't push. I don't beat. You beat and you break. Damaged goods don't serve well. There's just some things you can't do for them, but they got beds, good straw mattresses. No lice, no bugs more than usual. We take care of them, and they us. Matilda has shown her belly. Looks like we've got our first on the way. The gods have been good to me. Yondala is kind.



The Nineteenth of Kythorn

The wildflowers in our fallow field look beautiful, the missus and I, we walked the property together, and met the hands helping us today. We shared food with them, talked about trouble on the homestead. One of the fences broke and I'm pretty handy at carpentry. I spent the better part of the day milling down some birch around the property to patch the fence where it was decorative. Hickory was used for the livestock fence, we don't have much but a few cows we breed to keep up with our needs. Our greatest export is grain and hops, but we dabble. Pa always said, "The farm should always be working, Samhain." I think I've done him proud. We even had a visit from the man of Kara-Tur, that my father knew. He's much older now, deep wrinkles on his face and a hunched back for a longshank. Always been kind though, remember him when I was on Pa's knee. He would come so many years apart, and spend time on the homestead as a guest. We hadn't seen him in years. Left his sword on the mantle, said he wanted to give it to me and my Pa to remember him. Just happy he thought about dad enough to leave such a thing. Told me if I oil the steel every so often it won't ever pit or rust. I reckon I can do that at least.



The Twenty-Eighth of Flamerule

She was born this morning. We had no idea how far along Matilda was. She is the most beautiful little pea pod, has her mothers everything and I couldn't be happier, her and her squishy little cheeks. We agreed to name her Terry. I never knew I could fall in love again, but here, surrounded by our friends and our property, I'm a father. One of our own has experience as a wet nurse, and is helping Matilda become used to Terry. She's a first time mother and her own family doesn't speak to her anymore, she's had no-one to guide her in this. She's so strong, Yondala grew her from the roots of Ironwood, I'd swear. This one that works for us, her name is Zadee, I've moved her into the main house and invited her to move another to help her with duties, she picked a human boy named Rogan. We've set them up in the farmhouse with us, so they can help Matilda recover and tend to Terry. A big storm had come through, and damaged the roof on the slave quarters on the property. I took one of the men with me and he helped me onto the roof, I fixed the cedar shake shingles and found one of the joists had water damage. Wish they told me sooner so I could have made things more pleasant for them, but it's done now. The summer wheat is growing in nicely on our two working fields, our fallow field is blossomed, and the hops is growing well. Should be ready in a few months.



The Sixth of Eleasis

Its just been a few days since I last wrote, but the summer wheat has already sprouted. Rogan, and two other humans in our roster stepped into the fields and began to reap. They were good with their scythes, and made the work go fast. I've let them keep a bushel each that they could sell for their own coin. As you know, they really can't own property, but they tell me where they want it to go, I manage that in my name, and I put it in their own private coffers. They've asked to use one bushel to make ale and asked if they could use some of the hops harvest. I sold some to them at about half price of the stores, there should be plenty from this first harvest that I can still make a profit and sell them enough to make a brew for their hard work. Pa had an old still so I helped them get the parts out and showed them how to set it up. I'll get another small still for the household, if it gives them a little joy to work towards I'm fine with that. Terry is just, the most precious thing. Zadee likes to carry her and she's so large, Terry looks like a little bundled towel in her arms. Matilda is feeling better and with Rogan's help, the house has been in great order. You'd never tell she just had a little one. The market was kind to us with what we harvested of the rest of the wheat from our fields. We made a killing at the market. Price for produce grown without the aid of magic hits a niche market in Thay, we make a gold off of each bushel, and we had twelve bushels. The three bushels we saved for the men left us with nine gold for this harvest. We have more growing that was staggered and ready to be harvested by next month.



Five years later: The Thirtieth of Eleint

The magic of the leaves changing never escapes me. We haven't seen that stranger in the past three years, he seemed to be exhausted when we last saw him. Even still, he celebrated with us on our little one, and even enjoyed some of the Beer the slaves had been producing for years now was so good, the taverns in Bezantur began to sell Shackle Swill. They did so well, the slaves asked if they could not only buy their freedom, but if they could stay on the property and work the land with me as partners. I was so happy for them, and frankly I was losing nothing, so I agreed. They stayed, they bought a few more stills, and eventually my farm was growing a little more than I expected. The slave quarters became a brewery, and the property itself was isolated enough that, well, we lived more now as neighbors than as owners and owned. They truly owed me nothing, their goods had put gold into this property and once they bought their freedom, they worked for their stay all the same. I kept up on the property as I had always, and I became more a landlord for them. Matilda was so beautiful this evening, she had made such a lovely dinner and I was so overjoyed at everything, we laid together like we were young loves again.



The Fifteenth of Marpenoth

The leaves are falling, Matilda has a glow to her, the world is beautiful and the farm is doing well. Shackle Swill had purchased my two fields and grew vastly, we've got more than we'd ever need. Zadee stayed on, she's older now, but still as motherly as any I have known. Matilda and her get on well, teaching Terry all she needs to know about keeping household, even at her young age they put her to work and she delivers, as best as her little hands can. The alminac says the winters in the coming years will be hard, but with what we have saved and made from the property, we will never have to worry again. My father would be very proud, we even still have a single field for subsistence. We can mayhaps produce a bushel of grain and keep coin coming in. Vegetables, winter gourds, we can do all of these things with just enough for our home and perhaps the brewery as it grows. Rogan came to visit, he's grown into a fine young man, we laughed over a pint of our own brew here in the house and talked about business. I wasn't much of a business man, but he asked about barrels and I knew a few tricks to make oak casks, so we went out to the old barn and I showed him how. It was good, clean, honest work, and it reminded me of the old days when the farm was smaller. He asked if I could produce a few casks for them and I agreed. That ended up being the work I would do and the brewery was able to afford two gold a cask. Hand made, charred from oak we sourced. He asked if we could use the old oak tree outside, but she was old and knotted, wouldn't make good planks for barrels I told him. Besides, it was Pa's favorite tree to have a pipe under the boughs of. Rogan left with a few casks to be rolled up with some hired help of his own.



The Fifth of Ches

It was a terrible winter, Zadee fell ill and broke her leg, we did all we could to help her, the clerics tended to her, but she became ill and never recovered. She was rather old by this time, and a curing of disease did not seem to be enough. Matilda, Terry, and I, wept bitterly to this. Zadee was like part of our family. She sits in a plot just south of Pa and Ma, in the family grave yard. We did that to honor her and think of her more than her station. The house is a lot more quiet without Rogan and her banter, with the "Shackle Swill" brewery in full swing and their own lives. Some of the lads took wives from town, they were happy. It was then after such a somber day, that my dear wife called on me to attend her. We knew over the months she was with child, Zadee was so excited to meet the little one. We had another little girl, she had my eyes but her mothers smile. In her life, the woman talked about her mother when she was young, her name was Yonah, so to Honor Zadee, we named our little girl after her. Terry and her little sister Yonah.



Three years later: The Fourth of Alturiak

It had been a quiet winter, the bewers in the other lot had gone west for a vacation to see the world, their wealth had purchased more land and elsewhere outside of the Tharch. It had been a more bitter winter than those previously recorded, our little home could barely take it. Terry is eight years old now, and so full of love and life. She loves visiting Bezantur and the shops there when we sell what we didn't need from our own garden. Yonah is quiet, and at three she already reads with such proficiency. This winter has been brutal and we have been cut off from all others. A group of six men came and asked for a place to stay for the night. I was happy to let them in. We shared stories and I told them about the swo--


The ink on this page is smudged with a dark brown residue. It's dried blood.

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saadow
9:17:50 am GMT 09/15/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140

Office of the Autharch: Guard Sergeant Weyland, *The Date is smudged by a thumb print* DR.

Two hours after sunset, on the eighteenth of Alturiak. Inquisitor of the Guard Deputy Raynor was dispatched to the outlying Hin farm after an expected delivery of winter produce did not arrive on time the week prior. Deputy Raynor reported:


  • Samhain Banicknet, 35, was found chained to an old oak tree outside of the house. His condition was dire, suffering mortal injury; he survived collection by Illmateri clerics on charity from the seat of the Tharch, Bezantur, and is recovering.
  • Matilda Banicknet, 29, was found eviscerated by some bladed weapon, and *the ink is smudged here as if redacted from the report* She was pronounced deceased at the scene.
  • One unregistered child was found approximately three meters from Matilda Banicknet, Estimated three years old from what could be located. Pronounced deceased at the scene. Later identified as Yonah Banicknet
  • Terry Banicknet was found in one of the farm house bedrooms. She was also eviscerated and *also smudged* Terry was estimated at eight years old. She was pronounced deceased at the scene.
  • A curved Kara-Tur blade was found on the ground beside the fireplace. It had no signs of use in any of these crimes, but initially kept as evidence.

Banicknet was questioned by the office of the Guard and given interrogation with advanced techniques. The nature of his injuries and the hole in the side of his face were consistent with several assailants and likely not self-inflicted flagellation. Samhain was cleared of all suspicion. He describes six human men around the age of their mid-twenties. They asked for a place to stay for the night outside of town and he obliged them with an arrangement of a few copper a night. While writing in his journal he heard a scream and something wet hit his face. He then claimed he jumped and armed himself with the blade found at the scene. He describes that the men disarmed him, and forced him to watch as they *the ink is smudged and runs off a bit.* Matilda was reported to suffer a mortal injury as the men split up, one chasing the eight year old daughter, the other tearing Yonah Banicknet away from her mother and *the ink is also smudged here.* Samhain was forced awake to watch what happened. He was then dragged outside, chained to the oak tree, then beaten and tortured with acid. The men stayed one more night and left.



The Autharch sent a magically duplicated form letter expressing condolences and an approximation of his signature, the weapon collected was released from evidence and returned to his estate

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saadow
2:42:08 pm GMT 09/20/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140

The Seasons that Remain

A Rokku Renga



In Alturiak,


the claw of winter bites deep;


there remains a wound.



Thankful ice will stop the bleed


that falls from a broken heart




Finally in Ches,


the talon of sunset gleams.


Covered it remains.



It took this long to unsee,


crimson drain from the washrag.




Eyes open; Tarsahk?


Looming rumble of thunder;


In my gaze the storm.



All traces of them are gone,


the pit in my chest remains.




Mirtul held the thaw,


the numbing cold had faded.


Only silence now.



Then forth came an august voice,


Had I finally gone mad?




Thus Kythorn did bloom;


The house a mournful barrow.


Fallow fields, wild.



Again so spoke the august,


this time I chose to listen.




Flamerule, summer heat.


Cedar shakes are gray, cracking.


God rays through the dust.



"Pick up the sword," he had said;


with my head bowed, I obeyed.




In Eleasis,


the walls began to crumble,


friends became strangers.



"The moor west of Laperdrar,"


the cover of night my cloak.




Chilling Eleint,


ruins where once stood their pride;


emptiness remains.



The glint of steel in the night;


five were felled, one had escaped.




Marpenoth, the fall.


No longer was there a home;


colored leaves did stain.



Vengeance was an empty gift;


nothing would return her eyes.




In Uktar, rotting;


leaves blown through shattered windows.


In sat a dead man.



"In this you will know my name."


"My chosen, I'm Velsharoon."




Nightal drawing down,


The fell wind with snow did blow.


No food passed his lips.



"Live or die, you will be mine."


"Again, you'll be of service."




The truth, hammered home.


Memories were abandoned.


The old oak tree bent.



Leaving this behind him now,


the line of life and death sought.




Alturiak came.


Gashes now all that remain.


The wound never healed.



The snow fell as he boarded;


left behind, a broken heart.


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saadow
10:40:33 am GMT 09/23/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140

The Drive to be Driven: How he rose from his Tomb

In this land of disparity
Intentions of darkness and villainy
And guardsmen they abuse their authority
Red wizard frowns they not know solidarity
Boom!

The eldest veteran they go murder them slow
Ne'er-do-wells were sent to call me from Tharch Pirador
Velsharoon watch, I clear my sheathed blade now evermore!
Emerge from the darkness with my sharp soul a glow
My katana a cleave and strike them all yet low
Come ahoy round a big wave, sail Sam, undertow
Free of the sheath fast, glinting sword in his hand, though
A two cut he had to slice them in stereo
Cause

I got to keep on sailing on the sea to Thain, man
We've got to keeps the oil burning o'er the sea to Thain, man


Inspired by Damian Marley: Road to Zion

With the felling of his assailants, those who robbed him of his family, and his life, the living shell of a man slowly walked across the lands of Thay, towards Pirador, the Tharch which held his home outside of Bezantur. People looked at the halfling covered in blood and wounds, thinking him a dangerous man, so none offered to help him with food, or lodging, or succor. He held no blame for them, he truly held no thought of them. Only one thought prevailed in his mind. One solitary concept rose among the shattered stained-glass imagery you could call his memories right now.


Death


Nothing else had mattered, nothing of value. The path was slow and arduous, Marpenoth was a difficult month to travel in, and each day was an arduous fight to travel the wet and rotting underbrush; Uktar was surely on the horizon. Eventually at the border to Pirador, he managed to find a kindly farner, who harvested and sold straw to make thatch. His own travel was going Sam's way, so he had climbed aboard his wagon and rode along the bumpy roads. "Do ye have a name, lad?" The older farmer called back. He rose his head in a daze with a long pause, before answering, "Sam." The man was polite, making conversation to pass the long ride towards the City of a thousand Temples. Sam was not very conversant. The one, solitary thought rising above all others, leaving the poor farmer to ask him sometimes a few times, before he would realize and respond. "Ye seem really distracted, Sam. What is it you do?" The hin shook his head, that question filtered into his mind. It took a moment, but he answered, "Nothing. I am, nothing, I do nothing. I'm like the memory of snow in the heat of summer." The farmer shook his head in surprise, "I know plenty who sweat their brow off that'd think the winter a blessing, lad."


The old dirt road passed ahead and Sam left the perplexed farmer with the sum of all the silver he had taken from the men who attacked his home. The one that escaped began to gnaw at his memory, but only for so long. The sword on his shoulder, the blade Soren'na laid on his shoulder in the western stance of the Maiden. Of course, this was not a refined thing, but just how someone so small could carry a blade so large in two hands. The spine of it bit into his flesh as a worldly anchor. The little thought came again and again, as peace slowly filtered into his mind. As far as he was concerned, the balance of the scales of justice were settled. Nothing would bring back his wife or daughters. It was time to rest.


Dead grasses laid over, too tall, like a wild field itself. A gentle breeze moved the stalks to the side, then the other. The lonely figure walked through the stalks that obscured him, blowing over him, blowing around him. The plumes of the foliage brushed his face, causing him to blink only with their contact, before the ruins of the home in disrepair loomed ahead. What was a home once with warmth and life, sat there grayed and weathered. Windows were falling apart, railings had curled and rotted, floorboards of the farmhouse were left untended, buckling, and a few mushrooms growing from the exposed wooden planks. The door on a single remaining hinge was reached for, opened as far as it could before grinding onto the floor. The figure walked through the door, and didn't bother to close the door behind him. The stairs leading up to the floor above creaked, those dark eyes cast up like the eyes of the dead in a battlefield. He expected to see a smiling face up there giggling and running around the corner to hide from him


Death


It was like when the dream no longer needed its dreamer. He lowered the sword from his shoulder and let the grip fall from his fingers, clattering to the floor with the hum of the steel bouncing through the empty halls. In silence, he walked towards the old fireplace, remembering that night with perfect clarity. He had gone to sit down on his favorite arm chair--his fingers graced the old, worn back of the furniture as he passed--and write in his journal. He looked at the dust-covered book, splotched with brown splatter long forgotten. He glanced towards the fireplace and the fur rug laying before the mantle. He slowly moved, and then laid down on the carpet. He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. The little thought was there. If the gods were kind, his heart would stop, his breath would cease, and he could simply rejoin those he loved.


The gods were not kind.


"Sam?" There was a familiar voice that came knocking at the door. The figure there, Rogan, stepped inside. The human in his late twenties went wide-eyed as he saw the figure laying on the floor. He looked like a corpse, dehydrated, pale, and thin. "Sam! Gods, get up Sam!" He crouched down and scooped the hin up into his arms, he barely weighed anything. Cradling his former owner, the man got him water, and started a fire in that death hearth perhaps by sheer will and determination alone. Hours later, dark eyes cracked open to see a shape looming over him. The Halfling gasped as the sensation of warmth and his awareness returned to him. The taste of broth he had been gradually given filled his mouth and throat, and the man settled beside him had a compress across his brow. "Good morning, Mister Banicknet. Felt like living today?" The human's question stung, he wanted to answer, no, I most certainly did not, yet the words never left his lips. "I heard what happened and I came back east the moment I got word, it's taken me a while to get back. I'm so sorry about what happened, I wish we were here, maybe we could have scared them off." The Halfling closed his eyes and listened to the voice for a long moment, memories drifting away for a moment, before crashing back like the ebb and flow of the tides.


How long had he been laying there on the floor? When did the fire start in the hearth, as the last thing he remembered was frigid stone, dead and cold. "I don't know how long you had been here," Rowan said, "What happened, Sam? Why were you here on the floor?" The hin shared with him his adventure to the northwest, looking quietly to the sword laying on the floor. Enraptured, the man listened, never having expected to hear about this from the man who tended to his fields and minded his business. "You aren't the man I remember, Sam. The house is falling down around you. It's really like you passed away the day they found you." Having little to say about that, Sam turned his head and stared at the fire in the hearth. "Listen, given you've got this sword and, after your adventure to the northwest it's pretty clear you can handle yourself. Why don't you get out and see the world? They're looking to hire mercenaries in Bezantur. You should go. Show up, offer your sword arm. What do you have to lose?"


What did he have to loose? That was a fascinating question. How else could you sum up everything that has happened to him? "Rowan," he started patiently, rasping through the hole in his right cheek, "I think you're right. However, I think I'll need a little more time to myself to really roll this around in my head." Rowan nodded, and gently clapped the Hin on his shoulder, "There's some more soup on the fire, Sam, I'm heading back to the brewery if you need anything. You going to be alright?" Sam slowly sat up, and nodded, rubbing his temples, "Yeah, yeah I'll be fine, Rowan. Have a good night." The human left out the doorway, trying to shut the door, which finally failed off of the one remaining hinge. He set the door down beside the doorway, and left. Sam considered this and looked at the sword, his expression almost rueful.


Vengeance was an empty gift, an whatever you could call sleep after this was filled with dark places, with laughing grimaces and cruel faces that offered only terror. Only terrible memory. Often, he would lay awake on the moldy sheets of his bed. The mattress smelled of rot and decay, the scent of spores on the air as the house was digested around him was his only comfort. Except for in the sleep addled moments there sat just a tiny voice. A tiny, immutable thought.


I've offered you Death, yet it is not taken. I've offered you Life, yet it is discarded. You walk a fine line.

Do you listen?


"What choice do I have?" His own voice surprised him, dry and cracked, monotone, and it echoed like in a closed space. It was dark. His hands reached and touched the inner walls. Soft satin. There was a sound of tiny feet skittering around the outside, distant. The sound of falling sand and dirt. The sound of scratching. The sound of shovels. His eyes widen, he begins to pound. His fists strike the inside of the box, the coffin thudded with finality. "I'm alive!" He howled into the darkness, "I'm alive, let me out!" Panic, horror, breath choked, body wrenched yet tightly held in the undersized coffin, used for human children. He battered on the inner walls, "Let me out! Please!"


Do I have your attention?


"Y-yes, please. I, I hear you. I'm listening. I, please let me out." He said, a simper of his dourness before. The sensation when he blinked and opened his eyes was the lonely farm house, that rotted around him. It was his tomb, it was his grave. As it rotted around him, he looked up and just breathed, he took it in, this sensation.


You are a curious thing, Mister Banicknet. A quaint little creature, so torn up over your loss, that you would rather be lost. But this isn't about what you want is it? It's about what I want.


Swallowing hard, he closed his eyes and dipped his head, sweat pouring off of him from his nightmare, cold and clammy skin shifting as he laid to his side, curling up, "What do you want? Tell me, please. I don't want this torment, I don't want this horror. Please, please spirit, do not haunt me, I am haunted enough!" He cried in lament


In this all you will know my name. You are chosen to me, I have selected you. You have suffered and I see how it torments you that what you've created has been destroyed. Life and Death have surrounded you in a particularly auspicious manner. To you, you won't understand this. I will set you on the path of my choosing. You will go and you will take this job. You will know my will when you see signs of my passing. Look for bones, look for teeth, look for the grimace of death. Walk the fine line, seek to understand all sides of it, and you will please me.


Sleep for once came easily, in fact, Sam slept like the dead. His night was peaceful, his dreams were of memories of his family, of his life before, of his father and sitting on his knee. Memories of his mother and the biscuits she used to bake. Memories of the wheat fields, memories of the wildflowers and the tree boughs waving in the breeze. The sword sheathed at his hip bounced gently as the gates of Bezantur rose up ahead. Guards watched the man with a measure of amusement: who would see a halfling dressed as a farmer with a sword? Yet here he came, and the gates were opened. A barker on the roadside, a herald, called out the notice, the call to arms. "Be ye of stout heart and strong arm?! Come, come and serve the Empire of Thay! Sellswords needed! Competitive compensation offered! Inquire within the office of the Autharch!" Stepping up, he pushed the door open, and looked at a hastily constructed folding table, set before the side of the doorway. The young man behind the table brushed back his red sleeves, looking up with a bald head at the halfling, "Hello there, may I help you?" Sam looked up to him and nodded, "I'm interested in working as a sellsword, I want to see some distant lands, make a name for myself." The red wizard did not look impressed with what he saw, before frowning and nodding, "Very well." The man set a cup, covered in condensation on the outside of the metal surface of the goblet. He folded his hands, "There's a number of open bounties you can take, extend the reach of the Autharch and be his will. Make a selection." He removed the cup from one paper. Sam looked down and saw the first of his signs, eyes going wide.


The ring the cup had made with its condensation looked like a skull, faintly, with drips of water having formed teeth, and two eye sockets.


"I will take this contract." The Hin pointed to the paper, and nodded to the wizard behind his table. A flourish of his hand caused a quill to burst in with a spark, handing it down to Sam, he directed him to say, "Sign here." He did so, his fingers quavered as he signed the document. "Tomorrow, you will sail to the lands of Kara Tur."




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saadow
7:06:17 pm GMT 09/28/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140

What he found in Wa:

Himself

Inspired by Lewis Caroll: The Jabberwocky

Brillig, slithy toves
gyre, gimble in the wabe.
Mimsy borogroves;
The mome raths outgrabe again;
looking into monster's den.


Warnings unheeded,
Biting jaws, catching claws? No.
Bird, and Bandersnatch?
Vorpal sword in hand he stood,
nevermore misunderstood.


Manxome foe he sought,
at the den in uffish thought.
A monster he fought:
Jabberwok he did not find,
no Jubjub, nor Bandersnatch.


Monster plainly seen,
the den was no den at all;
polished silver sheen.
hero, villain, all the same;
who tells the story again?


So step in and swing;
One two, one two, through and through.
Crescent blade did arc.
Cut the shadow, heal the self;
remember though, it remains.


When you hunt monsters,
keep in mind this simple truth;
in the den it brews.
If what's staring back is you,
monsters within, never through.


On his Arrival to Tukushima


". . . The sailing took the longest of any trip I have ever undertaken. I have never left Thay in my entire life, to see the great waters of the Celestial Sea. To see sights like the Dragonwall, to pass through the steppes, and to see the world east of Thay was a treasure. It tested my mettle more than a few times. Bandits and raiders attacked our Caravan, but thankfully the apprentices with us were able to strike most dead before even any of us with blades could raise them. We were more for a show of force, and that was fine. Supplies were sparse, but that saved plenty for the trip by boat across the Celestial Sea. The waters were dangerous, storms wracked our journey. I was often favored for the crow's nest, as I was small, and able to climb swiftly. It took nearly a month of sailing, we went north along the Celestial Sea following the coast before we hit a certain heading according to the captain. With the help of warmer currents it made our trip faster, and we ended up heading eastward towards the distant coastline of Wa."


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"Our journey by sea was punctuated as we came up along the southern tip of the Islands of Wa that privateers had sailed around the southern tip. They saw our vessel and the colors of Thay on our flags. The fighting was brutal, we were rammed and boarded. The battle was arduous, and we were tasked to a man. One of our apprentices was cut down, the other managed to shield himself with his magics as I came down the ropes. My blade was in storage, so I had to fight with a cutlass. I was not experienced in swordsmanship and my style was wild and untrained. I still managed to kill one of them in the brutality of combat, but I was injured in the process. Bandages and sutures later after the battle, we buried our dead at sea and continued with both damaged ships to limp towards Tukushima. The Island was beautiful, and the port at Uwaji--the name according to our captain--was beautiful this time of year. The capital had a port of call on the coastline that we were able to find safe harbor in. We recuperated much of our losses from spoilage and death in the sale and bounty of the vessel that attacked us. Our own ship was repaired as a service. The remaining apprentice knew enough Wanese to help us get accommodations in two different inns. Those of us as sellswords stayed in the cheaper housing, while the captain and the apprentice stayed at finer accommodations further into town."


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Soen'na Densetsu II:

The Estranged in the hands of the estranged


Sam was coolly received in Uwaji. It was understood that a sword was a special thing, and though the blade on his hip was genuine, people did not think he was. He wore it wrong, the curve going down instead of up, the blade sheathed on his right side instead of his left, when he fumbled to draw it. He was a laughing stock, and he never knew it. The apprentice speaking with others often made joke of it himself, 'What do you expect? He's Gaijin. Thayan. Likely never held a sword like that before." The nature of the contract was one of defense, which lead the others and the leader of their expedition to pull Sam aside and speak to him privately, "Listen, yeah you held your own on the ship and over the steppes leaving the Tharch but it's pretty obvious people are saying some things about you. You really don't know what you're doing, do you?" He had to be honest, he didn't. It infuriated him that the people around him took him so disingenuously. The words of that old man Tanaka were remembered though, "Remember who you are. Remember who your Father and Mother were." So he asked the man, "Can you arrange someone to teach me? A local? I'll work hard, I'll take care of things locally. Just, ingratiate me with someone. Please?" An accord was struck, deals were made. "You might find this offensive, but there's a local temple up by the pine forests, off the north road. Go up there, they want you to tend the property." Sam, degraded to nothing more than a housekeeper again. He felt bitter bile swell his throat, but on task he agreed and headed off.


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Ascending the steps, an old man sat outside the tiled roof building, a thin pipe in his hands, wisps of smoke mingling with the foggy air that descended around the cool stone promenade. The small building rose up imposingly. The Halfling approached the man who rose a hand and gestured him to step back. "Try again. How do you enter this place?" His common was heavily accented, but it was clear, direct, and sharp. Sam stood straight, stepped back to the entryway, and then proceeded to walk in once more. The old man tapped a stick on the ground, "You have failed twice now. If you fail a third time, I will dash you, and you will not return. Step outside and either learn to come in correctly or leave. You offend spirits here." Furious at this, he stormed out of the gate and stood outside. In his fury he looked around for some indication on how he should enter. What had he missed? The man patiently walked to the gate and stood before him, the stick in his hand held steadily while the other held his pipe, taking a solemn puff from the clay utensil. In his confusion, Sam stammered, letting his anger bubble outward, "Tell me what you expect of me!" The man, the symbol of patience, waited for his seething to subside, before answering very calmly, "I expect you to have perception. I expect you to look with your eyes before you step. Are you doing those things, or do you simply make a motion that makes sense?" Gesturing with the stick, a few stacks of sandals stood outside the gate. The old man's staff came down and clicked to the stone. Sam looked and saw he was only wearing socks. It suddenly made sense, and he blushed in his embarrassment, his head turned away. His boots were removed and he stepped out of them, placing them aside. He stepped into the square of the shrine again, and the man spoke gently, "You come to our home and seek our way, you must show us you seek and don't just say you seek. If you wish to learn our way, you will learn as children learn. As you are but a child, even as a man. Does this make sense?"


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"Do it again." Sam had lost count of how many times he had swept the shrine this day. He had spent hours doing it. Sweat clung to his face, soaked through his tunic, he had even drawn it free of himself so the cool air would caress his aching muscles. The broom was impossible to hold, his hands were raw, but he fought through it and continued. "Why do you ask me to do this over and over again?!" He said, his anger finally bubbling over. The old man stopped him, and pointed to the gate, "You will not speak in this way, if that is how you will act, you will leave. Is that clear?" He grimaced and inclined his head, humility finally bubbling over, "Please do not send me off. I need to learn. I just, I don't understand." The old man nodded, "And you have walked through the gate again, this time respecting the shrine within. In all things, put back to that humility, remember what you had to do. You had to ask, and when you sought an answer the right way, you were taught. You do this again and again for a reason. Your arms are not strong. Your back is not strong. Your body is weak as you have used other bodies for your work. You were not a farmer, your slaves were farmers. You are not a swordsman, your slaves were swordsmen. Your guards were swordsmen. Your killers will be swordsmen. You will sweep until your arms ache, you will lift until they burn. You will be molded like steel heated golden as the rising sun, and you will be hammered into shape. Now, sweep again, full strokes. Use your hips and your body. Step, and push. Go. Again." He said, walking around Sam. His stave moved and brushed leaves into the Hin's path, who took a deep breath, and began to sweep again. He put his hips into the motion, both arms reaping the leaves with the broom, slowly, steadily, as motion and repetition began to hammer him on the first steps of this journey.


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Months had passed. The Halfling had carried over his shoulders a long, stout pole, and water buckets dangled from each end. His body, corded muscle and dexterous build, ran quickly up the shrine steps. Sweat poured off his body as he came into the square, and knelt down, to bring the water to the small holding cistern beside the shrine. The water was poured in, and slowly filled the cistern. More trips would have to be made, but he felt a hand rest on his shoulder, "Sifu." He said gently, turning to face him and bowing. The old man returned the gesture. "You have done well today, Sam. Come with me. It's time for you to develop and grow further in this art. I have a gift for you." The old man lead Sam up a set of steps that terminated in a hillside. The hillside rose up under the gnarled twists of a tended tree. The soft groundcover crunched under steps as the old man walked up to the tree, and gestured to two lengths of wood resting against it. They were freshly made of oak, lacquered, and of equal dimensions. "Pick one. The other, I will use. Your lessons begin today. You are strong enough now to begin with what we call the Bokken. You will learn forms, stances, and I will teach you the way of the Karami-Waza. You are what makes the blade dangerous, you are the weapon. Is this understood?" The Halfling inclined his head, stepping over to select the bokken. He collected it, and the old man showed him how with his handiness, it should be sheathed on the left, and the curve upraised. "You wear it like this. You will carry it with you. You are now in service, and your bokken is a tool of justice. You are bound to this code of honor. Let us begin."


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In martial arts, there is a concept, the concept of the three worlds of perception. These three worlds are known as being within the mud, upon the earth, and in the heavens. Be he hero of villain, he finally opened up his eyes to see all was cloudy


"Again!" HO! The voices echoed around the courtyard. Ten men, all locals save for one Hin, stood in rows of two each, five across, and mimicked the motion of the old man. Their repetition was crisp. Their stance was solid. Each moved the same way, each moved from form to form. "Graceful crane!" HWAH! The men moved in unison, their legs forcing downward, and their bodies lept. before landing nimbly on the balls of their feet, the weapon swept back in form, poised to sweep and strike with the landing. The old man tapped his staff, "Again!" HWAH! The men struggled to leap, but they did so, their bodies fighting pain and endurance of this stance and their repeated use of their bodies to such an effort. "Good! Striking Serpent!" HO! From Graceful Crane, they stepped forward, legs bent and squatting low. Their bokken held overhead, poised back close to the chest and rear shoulder, poised to lunge and jab like the strike of a snake. The old man nodded, stepping around Sam. His staff lashed out and clapped his thigh with a hard SWACK! and the Halfling sagged under his bodyweight, holding his stance but correcting it through the pain. "Better! Again! Striking Serpent!" HO! The clap of feet to the cobble promenade resounded with the bark of their battlecry, they got into stance in unison and the man made a correction to another human with a CRACK! of his staff.



"Excellent work, students. Gather around. You will now be paired off for sparring. We will be increasing the difficulty today. You will not be wearing your geta, nor tabi. I've spread sharp flint around the arena. You will need to work around this to succeed. If you disable your opponent, you are to join the fight with the next nearest pair, pick the stronger of the two opponents, then defeat them both. The last standing shall be declared the best of my pupils." He gestured to the field, and students began to assemble around. Sam looked at the sharp stones, then across the field at his others. Posturing himself, his bokken was raised and set on his shoulder. He favored this stance, having learned it in his training to develop greater overhead power, which helped given so many strikes came high down to him, he could meet and glance blades, or duck under horizontal strikes and open his opponent for Karami-Waza. The field as the Sifu's hand fell became a scene of chaos. Pain, clattering of wood and rattan. Bamboo and flesh. Pained cries as students stepped. Some tried to step around, some tried to brush the stones aside, to find some were buried. The Sifu in this was hard. Students began to fall, some from their injuries. Of the ten, within the first five minutes, three of them had fallen. Seven remained. One member, a son of the shogunate, had seemed to step on these stones without affect. Sam suspected trickery and felt it when a kick twirled him around, moving to tumble to cushion the blow; the bottom of his soles were enchanted with stone skin, which abrased the side of his left cheek. His polearm sought to come down, Sam bent forward and brought his sword across his back, causing the polearm to glance off of the weapon, striking the ground. He lifted his foot up and sought to bring it down in a crescent for the hin, who grasped a sharp stone with his toes, and pushed off his other leg, kicking up and backwards.



CRACK

Quick thinking and application of the Karami-Waza caused his upward kick to strike the ankle of the shogunate's son, he cried out as the sharp stone lacerated his achilles tendon; clerics would need to be called later for that one. Falling to the ground, Sam rotated fully through his motion, and back-kicked at the side of his jaw, causing him to Fall. As he did so, a polearm swung around and there was first a bright flash, and then stars. Everything fell silent.


Five hours later, Sam slowly woke up on a pallate in the shrine, where the students had been sleeping. Beside him sat one of the other students, a commoner from a neighboring fishing village, too small to be seen on the map. "Hey, you're finally awake!" Blinking, Sam grimaced and slowly sat up. He felt sick to his stomach but managed to keep it down. "You were trying to pass the border into the world of the dead. I'm kidding. You slept pretty good though! You'll be okay. Sifu saw to you. He wants to talk to you. We gave him his evening tea but he is still up. Can you stand?" Sam nodded slowly and rose to his feet, staggering with soreness from the stones towards the Sifu's side of the temple proper. The sound of cicadas echoed in the summer night as the Hin knelt by the door-frame, his presence announced, though he suspected Sifu knew he was there already. "Come in, Sam."


"You made me very proud in there at the spar. You figured out what I intended to teach by using your whole body to manage the battlefield. These stances we teach you, they are a part of what makes you able over others. Your body will do amazing things when exerting itself the right way. You taught Akimitsu a valuable lesson, not to underestimate those who are small, and not to rely on his trickery." Sam straightened up, and went wide eyed, "You, knew he had cheated, Sifu?" The old man laughed, and shook his head, "Of course I did. I remember when he developed that trick here while under my tutelage. It was not something I taught him, but he is as we call a Majutsu-shi, a sorcerer. He has magic in his blood and it is a gift of his lineage. It is said, the Shogunate came from Dragons, a long time ago. In a far off place."


"You have been here nearly for a year, as it stands, and while that does not seem long, you are a peerless student, Samhain. Resistant at first, but when you learned humility, you learned how to learn, and you absorbed like a sponge. You now deserve to wield Soen'na." Sam looked surprised, "You, knew what my sword was named?" The old man laughed as he did so many times before, as if the very question was absurd. He stroked his long beard and tossed it aside. "You will find there are very few around here who do not know the Kagami lineage and that it was severed. I have something to show you." He stood, and reached a hand to help Sam up. The halfling rose up and accepted his hand. The two walked up that hill, where Sifu had first given him his Bokken. The old man gently walked around the tree this time, to the other side, and beckoned Sam to follow him. The halfling went wide-eyed as he looked at a simple trio of stone headstones.


Here lies Takana "Richard" Kagami
Great hero of the People of Wa, Born of the Province of Tukushima
He lived the love of his people
Last of his name.
A rising sun in life
A shadow in death.
*The dates are too worn away to read.*

"Tanaka, it is said, built this shrine when he was scarcely older than you, and taught people his swordplay here. He left his sword with the two people he cared about as family, when he had no others left. He never took a wife and never adopted children that we know of."


Here lies the memory of Denin "Grin" Baniknet
Nothing could shake his smile. Nothing.
Closest to a brother I ever had.
Here lies the memory of Pennyroyal Baniknet
She sang songs that shook the heavens.
Closest to a sister I've ever been gifted.

"However, did he ever talk about Grin and Wu-Wei. And when he mentioned Grin last, he mentioned he had a son that had his near-black eyes, and his mother's smile. A little hin child that never left Thay where he was safe. I wonder who that boy was, Samhain?" The Halfling for the first time in a long time had tears, and choked them back to hold himself disciplined and together. He turned and bowed at the waist gently, "Sifu, thank you so much for showing me this." The old man gently gestured to Sam to be still. A loud noise was heard, fury, and yelling from the courtyard. "What is all that commotion? Sam, come with me, lets go see."


"You!" The man in his flowing yukata, bearing the noble symbols of the Uwaji Castle across the lapels. The man, roughly the same age as Samhain, snarled down at him in his vitriol, and let it pour out of his mouth like acid, a string of Wanese epithets were spoken from the man. He looked then to the Sifu and continued his tirade. The Sifu was still, and calm, like placid water in a winter pond. "You allowed this gaijin to break my son's leg! You allowed him to cut his tendon like a blade!" The Sifu stepped forward, holding a single hand up, "YOUR son, decided to use magic when he should have relied on his body, not his blood or his 'Station.' like you are now." The Samurai wheeled back and the fury on his face was evident. "You will both pay for this villainy. How dare you!" He stormed away, knocking down a stand of weapons as he left the shrine. Two bushi followed the man out, leaving the Sifu and Sam. The old man turned and saw Sam already lift the fallen rack of weapons, his expression dour, teeth gritting through the hole in his cheek. "The soul of Wa is forgetting Justice and replacing it with Pride." The old man said quietly. He looked to the Hin and helped him lift the last of the training spears. The Hin turned his attention up to the old man, "Those who learn the path of the Kensai, the combination of Karami-Waza, and the Bladeform or Strikeform of their choice, they were heralded from our ancient heroes. There was a time, when it would be respected that a Kensai received a wound from another, the skill of one respecting the other," The old man walked around him, following him back to the barracks, where he and the other students were staying. "Sam, you must expect things will be harder for you now, now that Akimitsu and his noble Samurai father have their eyes on you. They do not let their "opinion" on offenses go unanswered. It is possible, he may challenge you to a duel. If he does at the Palace, you may not draw weapons there, as all of their Samurai and Bushi will draw on you and execute you then and there, as it is a spiritual crime to draw a weapon on the palace grounds. You will need to rely on Karami-Waza. Of this, I have no doubt in you. You are nearly ready. I am proud to call you Kensai among my pupils."


The Hin had trouble sleeping that night, before parting from the Sifu, he bowed low in supplication, before retiring to his pallet bed. One bed aside his own was empty, Akimitsu. He wondered if he went too far? He questioned his actions. Slowly, he laid down and his eyes closed.


Kocchi wo miro, Kensai


His eyes shot open. It was dark, save an ambient glow he didn't remember. He slowly sat up and didn't feel the mattress behind him anymore. Instead, it was a stone slab, in a hall of stone walls and ceiling overhead. Arches made up the building, keystones holding the ceiling up overhead in great slabs of limestone. The scent of death was strong here, and only candles illuminated the limits of the room. His eyes turned to look in the darkness for the source of the voice, the words not known to him. He looked at his hands, and they were covered in burial wrappings. He looked at his body, and swallowed hard in dread as it washed over him. A figure in gilded purple robes slowly melted in from the darkness, a slender hand reached out with a gentle tak on the granite slab. The fingers tapped on the surface. Sam looked. Those fingers had no flesh, they were clean, polished and oiled white bleached bone. His eyes cast up to the red eyes of the figure staring down at him, in a circlet of golden metal that shone.


Good morning. I see you are appreciating my handiwork~


The Halfling reached and touched his own stomach, feeling the eviscerated void where his intestines would have been. His mouth opened, dust falling from his lips as the critical dryness of his preservation became apparent. The figure'd grimace of death shone with those embers for eyes, looking down on the Halfling.


You listen so well when I give you my signs. You really do please me in this. They do say a Samurai is made in service to their Lord. I am your Lord. Perhaps some day you will be worth naming as my Samurai? A curious thing, isn't it? A little Halfling from Thay, walking a path set out for you in a nation leagues on leagues away. Your path was written in Jergal's scrolls and ended a long time ago, but Jergal and I, we do not see, eye to eye. I have decided to steal your fate for my own purposes. Your time in Wa is nearly to an end, just like you were nearly at an end chained to that old oak tree, crying the name Matilda as you wept.


Rage. Rage bubbled. He felt his anger burn in his chest where his heart should be. He felt the burn in an urn to the side of the stone pallate. The figure leaned back as if the heat of it was palpable. To bring up that name, this patron went so far as to speak of his final moments like they were a fond memory. The sensation of tears burning were sensed, but not really there. He rose, withered body standing off of the stone and sagging under the control no longer of muscles but of the negative energy that bound this form. He staggered, and fought to force his will through this, and approach the Vaunted. A chuckle. A chortle. A laugh. A booming raucous of laughter that bounced off the walls within the tomb as the purple-robed archlich stood before the sagging form of the lesser mummy.


There it is. There is your fire. Just as I called it from you. Just as I demand. Oh, you even think this is an act of defiance, like you are resisting? I adore you, Samhain. Come here, here's a little gift for you because you amuse me so.


The tomb shifted, another granite slab was there. In perfection, lifeless alabaster, eyes closed and despoiled not, laid the body of his beloved wife Matilda, in the most beautiful garb. Was it a wedding dress? Or was it a burial shawl? Sam couldn't tell the difference. The bandages were gone and his skin was full and lively again. His stomach no longer missing but his heart in his throat. He wept, hot tears this time streamed down his face, and in this dream--or was it a nightmare?--he reached and grasped her into his strong arms. Her eyes opened, pale and tinted from death. She was cold, but she moved. Her arms wrapped around him, and he sobbed bitterly into her arms. "Gods, Matilda. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry." The figure moved, and sat on the Stone Slab behind him, where he had rose in the burial wrappings. She embraced him, and he her. She comforted him, "It's not your fault, Sam. I know you feel like it is. Sometimes, the world is just full of monsters. It's not your fault you became one too." The Halfling man continued to weep into her arms, before the sound of his patron filled every fiber of his being again.


There are many gifts for you, as you serve. This is one. You will soon wake up, but enjoy this while you can. I am pleased with you. Challenges come soon, look for my signs. You know them already, my little monster. My little chosen creation.


"You cannot do this!" A shrill voice he knew woke him in a cold sweat. The beds were all empty, save for his own. Sam slowly rose to a sit, and saw the early sun cresting the hills out the door. He stepped out, tying his hakama pants as Sifu was arguing with some Bushi, men at arms. "Orders of the Shogun. You are to disperse and the land of the shrine is forfeit." Those two dark eyes widened in surprise as he heard those words. The old man became animated, his staff in hand as the young warriors shoved him back, "You know not what you do, we are agents of the Shogun, if you don't leave peacefully you will be placed under arrest!" His bokken, and his sword, were tools of justice. He did not want them to set a hand on Sifu, and the other students were aghast at the treatment their teacher received. Sam stepped in, the bokken drawn from his hip, and smashing aside the weapon of one of the Bushi, a spear. He looked in surprise and tried to turn his weapon, only to be met with the bokken across the side of his face, and to stagger away in a daze. The other turned in and tried to cannon-kick at Sam. He ducked down under the leg then stood up, lifting his leg with his shoulders and stepping away, causing him to go off balance and trip over the Halfling. Falling hard, he rolled onto his shoulder, to stare at the tip of the bokken leveled in the stance of the Striking Serpent. Sam was prepared to strike this bushi, but he held up a hand and yielded. "You will take your fellow and you will leave this shrine, at once." The man staggered to his feet, collecting his dazed companion and fleeing the scene. The old man recovered himself, "Sam, they, they're going to come b-back! The Samurai must have painted a scenario for the Shogun that would make him decide to revoke our land!" The Hin sheathed the weapon at his hip and adjusted his Hakama, then drew over a short Kimono favored for the young. The black garment and leggings rested around his body loosely before being bound with a belt.


"No, Sifu. I am going to deal with this. They will not come back." Neither might he.


The morning streets of Uwaji as he passed over the Whispering Bridge off the financial sector of the city were clear of most, save young professionals of Wa, making their way to their merchant houses, to their stalls, to their daily lives. The halfling, who hadn't made much of a name for himself, walked more comfortably among them now, having spent over a year with them, learning their ways, imprinting their lives on himself. In this, several cycles of Thayans had come and went, and while his training absorbed most of his time, he approached the embassy building and slowly entered. A man at reception sat up. "I need to speak with the Ambassador to Thay, is he available?" The clerk carefully checked a tablet and then a few parchments, nodding, "He will see you in a few minutes. Please wait out here." Sam walked and sat on a squat, low stool. He settled his weight down onto the wooden chair and looked up as the Clerk disappeared behind a curtain, and headed deeper into the wood-frame structure. The size of it dwarfing other manors in the area, but spartan, simple, and with red banners laying on the bare walls to accent the paper sheathing. The sound of the curtain's ruffle caught his attention and brought him back, the clerk beckoned him with his hand, "The Ambassador will see you now."


Paper dividers rose to either side of him, doors slid shut, with the flicker of candles behind them in the rooms, and hushed whispers. A few men in red armor watched the hin and stepped aside, moving as he walked down the hallway before the clerk gestured to the right. Entering the office was a reminder of western society. A pair of high-back chairs and a great desk made of mahogany laid cluttered with paperwork. The Ambassador looked to Sam and gestured to the seat. "Been some time since you've been to see me, Mister Banicknet. What brings you here today?" The Halfling lifted himself into the seat and settled into it. "The last time I came here, you asked me to learn under a man at the shrine just outside of the city. I have, I have worked hard, dutifully, diligently. An incident is brewing. A local Samurai serving under the Shogun of Uwaji has become angry with me. His son and I sparred, and I injured his leg and tendon." The man nodded, and opened his hands, "Why did this happen?" He explained, "It was automatic, the attack he was using was best defended against by the technique I employed, it was as I was taught. He agreed to this, so did his Father, August personage he is." He said, respectfully, "However, they are now vindictively holding it against my Sifu. As a citizen of Thay, and a part of this mission, I am concerned that an incident is brewing. I wished to head to the palace to converse with the Samurai serving under the Shogun and see if there was another way this could be resolved. I am concerned me doing so will jeopardize our position. I wanted to seek your council on the matter and see if you could do anything to help?"


"Actually, we would like you to go and confront him. Thay is an empire of law and those in positions of privilege should not abuse it so flagrantly. There is subtlety to the ruling class that this particular Samurai, we are told, is lacking. You were hired as a swordsman, even though your depth of knowledge was minimal, your strength and pluck were undeniable. None here are better equipped to handle this confrontation than you."


Sam leaned back. As the man talked to him, his hands spread and the pattern of the ring on his right hand became apparently. The ring was made of silver and had a particular shape. "I want to be clear, that you were invited to train there by the Sifu and that the Samurai should not practice such blatant favoritism, the Shogunate wants the expertise of our Red Wizards in their courts and if they want that." He said, thumbing the ring and letting it rotate, revealing the grimace of a skull with ruby red eyes glint, "then they're going to have to accept the humbleness they very much intent to espouse. You will either succeed or fail, he is a Samurai after all. You'll head to the palace alone and confront him." Sam slowly rose up from the chair, the clap of his geta touching the mats across the floor paused as he turned and nodded his head, "Thank you, Ambassador. Glory to Thay." The man exchanged nods with Sam, and the Halfling left, stepping back into the street and looking up on the palace looming in the distance.


The Gates of the palace rose up high, the Hin standing in black hakama and kimono wrapped around his shoulders. The two Bushi at the gate regarded him coolly before lifting their spears, and standing aside. "You've been expected. Head to the square." The Castle of Uwaji was beautiful, seat of the Shogunate of Wa. A city in and of itself, it loomed around him, larger than life. People swept around him, then aside. A pagoda opened up before him, with a garden at the front, crested with a pond and the fall of flower petals from the tree, carefully managed and grown over the surface. Four men sat around a table, their board game set before them. Black and white stones were set at different intersections of the board. They wore finely embroidered Kimono around their shoulders. At their hips sat two sheathed blades, one crescent blade that reminded him in length of Soen'na and one smaller, as a short blade beneath it. These men were Samurai in service to the Shogun. One looked up from their game and regarded the Hin with his bokken sheathed at his hip. His curious expression was plain, and rising from the game board in the middle of the garden, he walked alongside the edge of the pond to come up to the walking path where Sam was standing."Chīsana-gaijin, are you lost?" Sam inclined his head politely, bowing then at the waist but keeping his eyes on the Samurai, "I seek a conversation with the father of Akimitsu. Can you please implore him to grant me an audience?" The Samurai looked to the others as they stood from the game, stepping around. Politely the Samurai that approached Sam knelt down to put himself on the Halfling's level; he was taken aback by the gesture, "I will relay this message, please come with me." Rising up, he walked with purpose to the edge of the garden. Sam was quick in his steps and easy to follow the man as their geta clapped to the stone walking path. Wooden steps were ascended to a broad porch. The Samurai lead Sam down this wooden porch and passed by a few openings, before he knelt down by an open doorway. He moved his hand and gestured with a palm for Sam to do the same. "Jito-Sama. The Thayan who trains with your son has come. He seeks your audience?" A grunt from within, "Kite!" The other rose up, and directed Sam to step inside.


The Halfling stepped around the corner, the sparse interior had a few racks on the wall, hanging on the wooden structure all was built from. Tatami mats graced the floor, which softened the step over the hardwood planks used elsewhere throughout the manor house. A pair of fans flanked the seat which the man he had seen earlier was knelt atop. His expression was dour. This man gestured to the pad adjacent to his own, across from the short table. Sam sank to his knees and rested on his heels, hands laying on his thighs as he lowered to his position. He bowed at the waist in this knelt posture and rose back to the upright pose. "Thank you for seeing me, Father of Akimitsu." The older Jito looked down his nose at the small man, sitting rigidly, "Have you come to apologize for injuring my son?" Sam shook his head, honestly, "No, Samurai. I am not here to apologize for my sparring match against your son. I have come here to appeal to your sense of justice." The man's scowl only grew as he placed his hands onto the table, "You come into my home, refuse to apologize for the injury you have done to my child, and then dare appeal to me? What is the meaning of this?!" The Halfling was as placid as the pondwater outside. Movement from without was heard, as the Samurai rose from their game in the middle of the garden. They stood to look past the railing around the porch, through the open doorway. Sam splayed his hands and continued to speak, "Your Son has magic, and used it in a sparring match where it had no place. He was defeated fairly to the conditions of the match. If he had done this to me, you would not be knelt before our Sifu prostrating the unfairness of injury to me, or any other. You are abusing your station and that is wrong. To represent the Shogunate in this way is dishonorable."


CRASH!


Sam had tumbled through the air as splinters of wood and torn rice paper had fell around him, clinging to his hakama and his torn kimono. Slamming onto the ground, he tumbled and got control of himself, geta grinding into the soft ground as he slowed down. The Samurai lept down from the edge of the porch and started to stalk towards the Hin. Sam got up onto his knee, then onto both feet. A thin line of red fell from the corner of his lips, it accented the silence as others watched. The Samurai who the Halfling saw first stood dumbfounded, a few Bushi walked to the entrance to the garden, and stood. Were these new warriors there to prevent his escape, or to prevent others from coming in and interfering? It was impossible to know. Sam's hands slowly rose up as he stared at this mountain of a man, the Jito. The next exchange was brutal and quick. A hand grasped his wrist and tried to wrench him forward. He rotated his arm and pushed his thumb under the forearm of the Jito, this father of Akimitsu, before stabbing the knife edge of his fingers up to break his grasp. The bottom of his sandal came forward in a hard kick, which Sam ducked deep under. His right forearm came up and pushed up at the underside of the leg. The bunching of his Kimono told him that an opposing hand belonging to the Jito had grasped the garment as he moved. He pulled under the leg and pushed with his body weight to continue it's forward momentum. The Jito stumbled, but his grip did not yield on the Kimono. Fabric tore as he yanked up, and nearly rocked to his knees. His posture was awkward, but the Jito yanked the Hin down to the ground, and grappled with him. His fists were as large as his head, and the feeling of them impacting left Sam's vision a star field. One two, one two, did blow after blow land on his head and face. Laying on his back in a complete daze, the Samurai rose up and shook his hands off while leering at the unconscious looking Hin, "Don't you dare question my honor again, whelp," he spat out, after a string of words in Wanese left his mouth in vitriol. The Hin was spinning mentally to even understand what happened, let alone what was said.


Well look at you, a crumpled little toy on the floor. Get up, Sam.


The command was given, and though he don't know what fell power pulled him back from the void of thought, his small figure rose. The Jito heard the sound of the Halfling shuffling to his feet, the sound of fluid rolling free, the splatter of red to the cobblestones. Hin blood was shed on the land of Wa. The Samurai slowly turned around and looked in surprise as the tiny form heaved deep breaths, ragged, and heavy. Those dark eyes glared like pits from behind the disheveled appearance of his hair. The Samurai turned and began to stalk towards Sam again. He stepped in and struck the Hin in the face with his fist. The Halfling staggered back two steps, his size would not allow him to absorb such a blow without obvious reaction. Yet as he spat onto the ground beside him, the Jito looked on in awe he straightened back up, heaving deep breaths still. The Samurai
Sam spoke with was impressed; the Jito, father of Akimitsu, did not expect this from the foreigner to their lands. Sitting on the balcony of the Palace of Prosperity, a robed figure watched down at the scene which he could see unfolding.


"I am the fine line of life and death, the only justice which is real. The only justice that matters where men in their vaunted seats of power wield it as a club to batter those under them." The Halfling spoke out of his cheek, blood pouring out of this opening in his face, mouth not moving as he spoke through it. The Samurai stepped in and sought to punch the Halfling again. He rocked his heels back and bent away from the strike, pounding his own fist up into the exposed side of the Jito. Wind flew from his lips, spittle launched in surprise as the attack landed. He hit me! He, actually hit me! The man stepped back and gripped his floating rib, coughing roughly as the Halfling lumbered forward, walking in a stagger like a wraith. The Samurai tried to strike again, but this time Sam's posture changed into the stance of the unyielding bear. The Halfling's kiai rose from his throat in a choked bark, and two small fists struck his abdominal, causing the wall of muscle to crumple under the stress of the blow. Karami-Waza, the Hin turned and kicked the side of his knee, causing the Jito to buckle under his weight. Sam's leg came back in, and he kicked upward, hopping vertically. The chin of the Samurai bucked back as he felt his rear supporting leg give out from the stunning blow to his jaw. Sam landed, and turned, outside leg arcing up and the wooden geta clapped across his chin once more. Light left the eyes of the Jito for a moment as he felt rattled from the dire impact. The Samurai fell to the side and laid down on his back, blinking at the sky as a tooth was coughed out of his mouth. The Halfling staggered as awareness of his own injuries came back to him. The other two Samurai serving under the Jito sought to step in, so did a bushi, but the Samurai Sam spoke to initially barked to them, "Stand down! This was honorable combat. Do not disrespect our Jito, Yudai-sama!" A hush fell over the circle, and the bushi parted immediately with a gasp. A regal figure in a long black kimono with a wide hat laid over by a drapery of silk spoke to those assembled; it was the Shogun, casting his scrutinizing gaze on the injured Halfling, "That is enough, let him pass, but only after I speak with him."


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Immediately, the entire courtyard fell to a knee and bowed their heads, in unison speaking, "Nagahide-Sama!" The man rose his hand and silenced them. The Halfling had barely the sense to stand, casting his gaze up to the Shogun. The man stepped to him, and steadied him with his hands. The Halfling moved, and the others gasped. He rose his hand again, to still them. "You're okay. You're still standing. Can you hear me?" Sam blinked up to the figure, steadying himself with the hand he just tried to grapple with. He swallowed hard, and realized with a bit more clarity what happened. Sam realized who he was speaking to, and tried to kneel down to the Shogun. Seeing what was about to happen, the Shogun laid his other hand down and held Sam up, so he didn't kneel, "No, no. It is not in this you will kneel. You came to address grievance, and you were met with violence. We let our perception of self importance and honor cloud our justice and reason. I am sorry for this. Yoskue?" The Samurai that spoke to Sam, and led him, rose his head, "Hai, oyakata-sama?" "You will be taking the place of Yudai, I am displeased with his service. Take him to the temple to be treated for his injury. It's a shame they cannot treat his hubris. Your second duty as Jito is to send four bushi of your choosing back to see the Sifu on the hill. Tell him his land is safe and will not be taken by Akimitsu nor his father. You may not select these two, however, as I have use of them too." It was at this point, Sam dangled in the Shogun's grasp; he could not stay conscious and collapsed into his hands. The Shogun stood up and brought the Halfling to his shoulder, carrying him. "oyakata-sama, p-please, let us take this burden?" The bushi--one that the Shogun had referenced--said, hoping to garner favor with his lord. "No, I will do as a ruler does, I will take care of the people who reasonably expect to be safe in my home." He looked to this bushi and then gave an order, "You will fetch my personal physician, and you," he gestured to the other bushi beside the first, "You will send word personally to the Thayan embassy that we wish to extend our condolences for this incident and we are rectifying it immediately." The warriors looked to each other, and then went to the tasks they were ordered. The Shogun turned and began to walk back towards the palace, followed by Samurai that waited outside the situation for their Lord.


Recovery came through the form of both magic and medicine. Most of his injuries, thankfully, were superficial given the two men fought unarmed. His jaw had to be set back as it dislocated during the fighting. His knuckles and left arm were bound, the arm slung to address his elbow and wrist. Slowly, his eyes opened and he breathed in the scent of orange blossoms. "Good morning, Sam." A familiar voice spoke to him, and his eyes glanced towards the form of Yoskue, the new Jito, stayed knelt beside his bed. Sitting up, the Hin groaned in protest, blinking out the daze of sleep before turning his attention to the man. "The Shogun wishes to extend his apologies, he could not see you today, and asked me to observe until you had awoken again. All has been set right. Yudai-s-- Yudai, has left the palace in disgrace, with his son. Are you well enough to travel?" Sam slowly pulled his legs over the edge of the bed and rose, nodding to Yoskue twice. "I will walk with you back to the Shrine, Sifu is expecting you." Guided by the new Jito, Sam is walked from the palace, through the town and over the Whispering bridge, to finally come to the road just leading outside of Uwaji, and up the foothills into the mountains, pine forests rising up all around. He and the Jito walked together and joined at the old, mossy gate of the Shrine. The old man, Sifu, stood there and smiled to them both. "Sam, you really did this as you said. You bring great honor on this shrine. Jito Yoskue, will you come in for tea?"


The tatami mats were warm, from tiles in the room that were heated by boiling water poured in a snaking trough that went under them, from a copper tube that was resting over the fire. Steam rose from it, and as enough water poured in, it fell forward with a clack, and spilled the water into a drain that ran under the stone tiles. The Sifu knelt on a pad before the table and poured three cups for tea, setting the pot down in case they wished for more. Normally, a ceremony might be chosen, but knowing the Jito was now so busy, the Sifu simply prepared for him the tea immediately. Each sipping from their cups, the Sifu spoke.


"I am told the physicians saw to your injuries, Sam. You may be hurt, but you must continue your training." The Jito rose both thin eyebrows, casting his almond eyes up to the old man, "Sifu, do you need any warriors here beyond your students to keep watch over the shrine? I could surely spare a bushi or two?" The old man considered, as the Halfling sat in silence, contemplating. "Yes, yet that would not be a bad idea, please?" The Jito inclined his head before looking to Sam, and asking, "I wanted to tell you, your application of Karami-Waza was excellent. I naturally could not say anything when the former Jito was there, as I did not wish his wrath, but you have learned well under Sifu." The old man leaned forward, "Oh, he used what I taught him in the fight?" The man nodded, "He was a living weapon, though nearly dashed, he rose again as if posessed, and kept fighting. I've never seen a man so injured keep battling like Sam did. He stood as a Samurai. You would look good in karuta-gane." Sam looked confused, and the Sifu piped in, "He is not Samurai, Jito-sama, though it is a high compliment that you would say such a thing. Aside, his training is nearly complete and the Embassy to Thay is seeking to change the retainers here with relief. He should perhaps be heading home in but a month?" The Halfling looked up in surprise, "What, already? What of my training?" The Sifu shook his head, "Sam, what you have learned here are simply the basics, your technique will grow as you gain experience out in the world. What I have taught you is sufficient to begin you on that journey. What you grow into learning from here will be the life-path for you."


The three conversed before Yoskue had risen to leave, bowing to them all. He took another long look at Sam and inclined his head, before leaving. The Halfling sat in contemplation before the Sifu called to him, "Come on, Sam, we must continue your training. Take this salve and massage it into your injured arm, it should free up your movement. Drink this concoction as well. It will help you knit back together what has broken." Between this potion the Sifu had either stored ore brewed, and the salve, his body felt like it was mending. The sling was untied and he flexed his arm, moving it. The old man walked with sam, and called him to join him up at the hillside for training. However, as night was falling, a strange orange glow persisted past the twilight sunset. The smell of smoke was heavy on the air, that is when Sam looked and saw part of Uwaji glowing red and orange like tiny embers. The city was on fire! The old man looked in horror, and Sam went wide eyed. The embassy, the Ambassador, and the people in that part of town, everything he had worked for going up in smoke! He ran, ran as fast as his feet could take him, down the hillside. His Sifu called, and Sam looked up to him from the bottom of the ravine, "Take Soen'na!" The weapon and scabbard sailed into the air, and the Halfling grasped it with a clatter. His footsteps carried him in a full-tilt run towards the glowing city as the scabbard was sheathed onto the belt around his black, torn Kimono.


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He ran, he ran as hard as he could. The fields around him were a blur as the forest disappeared from his field of view. The glowing city was rising up ahead. Figures on the road turned and looked in his direction. A pang touched the back of Sam's thoughts; he was in great danger. "Would you look at that, it's the gaijin. Kill him." Two other men turned, and weapons began to be revealed. Straight blades roughly the length of a shortsword were drawn, glinting in the firelight. These ruffians, they were wearing cloth masks, and had the symbols of dragons on their leggings and tunics, tight to their bodies. Sam did not recognize them. They advanced, and bore down on him. The Halfling crouched low and slid with the sandals on his feet across the dry, impacted dirt road. Blades flicked out and the snound of snkt responded. The blade flicked out of its scabbard and Soen'na bit deep. The splash of red across the dirt was answered as the other two shapes bore down. Sam pushed off his back leg and rolled forward, ducking between the two as they turned on him. On his feet, he began to run towards the city gates. Bushi who guarded the gate were fighting more of these men, and across the wall a figure in all violet ran from two other bushi. He cast his hand down and flames licked up the walls, causing the warriors to shriek in surprise and throw themselves off the battlements. A whisper of wind caused Sam to duck his head down as a knife went sailing past, the other men who were following had nearly closed the distance, one cursing as his missed knife sailed past. The hin turned into the burning city and ran.


The door to the Embassy burst open as men charged in, but one shrieked in surprise as the tip of a sword exited his chest. He coughed out blood and felt the blade draw from him. Sam looked at the other warriors who turned to face him, and they bore down with their blades. Deflection and strike, guide off balance and end rightly. Exchange after exchange, cut after cut, wounds appeared on the Hin through all of this battling, but he made his way inside the burning building, "Out! Out now!" He snarled to the Ambassador. He pulled himself up and charged out of the building, heading for the entrance as Sam helped him and some of the other Thayans coming to arms. Him and the men stepped out into the street and melee broke out between them and the dark figures. The difference in style was staggering, the brutality of Thayan combat and the finesse of the fighters of Wa that were involved in this attack was stark. What killed more of these men on either side was just the lack of expectation, the lack of understanding what the other was going to do. He barked to the others, "Get the Ambassador to safety, I have to follow the Wu Jen!" The men remaining nodded and attended to the Ambassador, fleeing for the port towards the south end of the city.


Sam followed the walls and saw them as the Castle loomed up ahead. His eyes widened and he ran after them. Dust kicked up from the road as he clapped along, before bounding upward with the help of the Graceful Crane stance. His legs sprung into action and he lifted upward, before landing on the roof in a crouch. Stone tiles clacked under him as he ran parallel to the wall. The man in purple robes faced him, and he smiled wickedly. Those eyes. "Akimitsu!" Sam snarled, ducking towards the wall and diving off. A ball of fire drove into the roof tiles cast from his hands and bellowed out with verbal components. The halfling rolled onto the top of the wall and managed to get to his knee, smoke lifting from the singes of his tattered black Kimono. Drawing a straight blade, the Wu Jen charged forward, Akimitsu bore down on the Halfling on his knees, but the edge met stone with a spark as Sam rolled backwards, tumbling. His geta clapped to the stone floor beneath him. He rose, and charged forward. Fire lept from the Wu Jen's fingers in an utterance and washed over the Hin. Searing pain raged up him as his run was not slowed enough from the sorcerer's fire. The tip of his blade drove up into the stomach of his foe and Akimitsu held a shocked expression. Sam drove the weapon upward and then dragged it to the right, before ripping it out. Red splashed the stone as his former opponent laid down onto the walkway.


With the creator of fire slain, a sound of great pain welled up from a throat, across the walls to the other side of the broad street. A great figure in white howled his fury at the Hin. Fire licked at his clothes, smoldering cloth flickered around his little body as the man began to run across the wall towards the Palace. Sam charged from the fallen Wu Jen and kept pace with the huge figure. It had to be Yudai, "How dare you! You took everything from me, even my son!" The flicker of drawn steel as he ran was seen. Sam carried the bloodied blade as he charged, body bent low as he tore across the cobblestone wall. The walls curved to surround the palace, and the towering Yudai threw his scabbard aside to oblivion, before leaping down from the wall. "I'll kill you! I'll kill you all!" His scream was not to the palace, but to the heavens itself. Sam dove from the wall opposing Yudai and tumbled onto the promenade below. The two began to run towards the palace, side by side. Yudai swung his blade down in an arc, and Sam tilted his own to glance the edge free as they charged. His own then swung across for the former Jito's legs, but it was met with a hard block sweeping forward. The man had so much power in one arm that he could match Sam's own frame blow for blow with two. Ching! Clang! The two blades kissed in arcs as they danced their dance of death. Flashes in the firelight as the Palace loomed closer and closer. The two runners crossed, Yudai driving his sword down to cut Sam across the back, meeting the blade put onto his shoulder and angled back to slow it in the stance of the maiden, before he turned and faced him, weapon held low at his side. The two weapons met again, and Soen'na and an unnamed blade held and bit into each-others edges, held as the two ran.


On the balcony overhead, the visage of the august personage, the Shogun, stood and watched these two men charging, locked in mortal combat. He rose a tea cup to his lips with both hands, sipping from it. He set it down and rested peacefully on the edge of the railing, looking down and appreciating the battle. His bushi were busy fighting the fires in the city of Uwaji. To think, this is the day the city burned; at least Matasuuri Nagahide did not play a viola while his people suffered. Fires were gradually going out as no more were cast from that Wu Jen, yet here again was that brave gaijin fighting a battle that was not his. He turned from the railing, letting this battle play out, as he would have to deal with the result after regardless.


"There's no way out, is there?" The Halfling snarled, his dark eyes locked with violent intent on Yudai. The bear of a man glared back down on the Hin, his own weapon bore down on him, trying to cut through his blade, the blade of their hero, for taking his son away. "You can keep running, you can run straight into hell for all I care!" The man bellowed. The two forced themselves together and with corded musculature, repelled as their blades cut against each other. The two fell back paces away from one another. Sam's weapon rested on his shoulder in the Stance of the Maiden, a western swordsman's position but familiar and comfortable from using Tanaka's blade in this way for so long. Yudai stood in sha no kamae, with his stance wide and his blade swept low and to his side. The two stared at each other and waited. This was a battle in itself, the two gauging and judging where the strikes would land. Every step they took, every muscle moved, could spell life or death. Sam had a glint in his eye, realizing he had nothing to lose, as he had died already all those years ago on the oak tree in Pirador. Slowly, his stance rose up, and he stood to his full height. The weapon rose from his shoulder and he swept it around in a circle, before standing straight up and down. His legs planted like the roots of a tree, and his body prepared; he assumed in no kamae. The sound of fires, the sound of people screaming. The sounds of children weeping for their fathers and mothers, the sound of bedlam outside the walls, and the sound of peace with a whirling wind between them. Yudai moved first, lurching forward. Each warrior took three steps, each warrior whipped their weapon back, and in a flash of light reflected off of these blades, the two lept past each other, and sliced for one another. The sound of geta clattering to the cobbles as both landed on their feet. The splash of blood on the ground between them, as a fine crimson line dribbled from the blades held in the air beside themselves. Slowly, Sam fell onto his knee, and a blossom of red spilled to the floor. Soen'na clattered to the ground, and Yudai grinned. He turned, but realized his legs didn't turn with him. His upper body teetered with sudden muscle weakness, and his frame fell to the ground. Soon after, so did his legs.


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Hello again, little one. Fancy meeting you here.


He laid on a stone slab, a shawl wrapped around the entirety of his body. He didn't fight it, and spoke gently, "Is it time to go home yet?"


Goodness, no. You've still got so much to do! Or, at least I do through you. Your wound was grievous but they're tending to you.


His eyes shot open, and the sound of birds, and the smell of smoke wafting through the air. A woman knelt by him, and was gently dabbing his forehead with a wet compress, cold. The Halfling slowly turned his eyes on her, she looked away as the hole in his cheek revealed itselt when he turned his head to look at her. He stared at her for a long moment, and tried to sit up. She coaxed him to stop, and kept treating his injuries. A shuffle at the doorway turned him to cast his eyes over, at the door knelt Jito Yoskue, "Samhain," he said gently. "The Shogun requests an audience with you. When you are well enough to receive him." The Hin nodded, "I'm ready when she allows me to be." The two exchanged words in Wanese, and the woman bowed her head, rising and stepping out of the room. Yoskue stepped in, and knelt beside his bed. "You were very brave. No-one expected Yudai or his son Akimitsu to turn against Uwaji like this. It seems from what we found, they had been plotting this for years, and this was just the catalyst that set the whole plan in motion." Blinking with surprise, the Hin groaned in pain before rising up and limping to join the Jito. The palace moved around him in whispers, and men turned to face. A kiai rose from the men and they stood at attention. Bushi knelt down, Samurai knelt down, and finally Yoskue too. The Shogun rose from his seat at the top of the stairs and walked down, carrying a scabbard in his hands and a blade with it, sheathed. Sam recognized this sword immediately, and felt his side. Soen'na was missing. The Shogun offered it down to him, and the Hin gracefully accepted it. "You, last night, stood and rose to service for my people, for my country, and for me. Uwaji burned and you could have simply climbed aboard your ship and left, and Thay would be just as strong as it was before the lives we lost and the city fall to ruin. You however saw the cause, the Wu Jen Akimitsu, son of Yudai, my former Jito. In this you were in service to a Lord, in service to me, and thus you shall be recognized. I name you in your honor 'Samurai.' Though I am aware that you must return to Thay, I through this release you from service with your Honor. You are 'Ronin' in the eyes of Uwaji, an honor that was held by the wrinkled hands that held that blade before you, may Tanaka Kagami rest in peace."


Sam stared dumbfounded, and gently pushed the scabbard back into his belt, letting Soen'na rest in its home. The Shogun gently stepped across this flat promenade and reached to a curtain along the side of the stairs. The silks pulled back and behind he revealed armor of light wood splints and rattan. "This is karuta-gane intended for my children, when I bring some into this world. While you were unconscious, we measured you, and we find that it fits you well. It is black as the stag beetle, lacquered to a shine, and made light and free so you may move as Sifu taught you, and Tanaka Kagami did before him." The Shogun lifted the Kabuto helmet and brought it to Sam, resting it in his hands. "Wear these in good health, take them with you as sign of your station. You are always welcome in my court, Samhain of Thay. You served Wa, Uwaji, and your ancestors with honor today." Sam watched in amazement, before bowing at the waist. A bushi rose and joined, bowing to the Shogun and to Sam, before walking to assist him in donning the karuta-gane. Eventually, as the armor came across his frame, the Hin stood at his full height, dark eyes looking up at the Shogun, and the others in the court, before bowing first to the Shogun, then to the others.


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The ship left the port of Uwaji, a strong wind bringing it up and around the southern coast before it sailed for the Celestial Sea, looking for passage through the sand bars and shoals to sail west and back towards the mainland of Kara Tur. Sam stood in the karuta-gane, a letter in his hands in two copies, one for the Autharch of Pirador to know of the events that happened and the commendation from the Shogunate of War, and one for Thaymount.

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saadow
7:13:05 pm GMT 10/09/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140

On his return to Thay:

The Pariah


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"You will now tell me what happened to my latest apprentice." The imposing figure in red stood among his colleagues. A man held by bindings of thick, black conjuration. His body was limp, lashed, and damaged. His dazed expression, eyes alight with enchantment, turned to the figure, choking out words he tried to resist speaking just by the nature of the spell inflicted on him, "We was, taking on the mission. Yer boy, he stepped forward and, went to cast s-something. Crumpled like wet paper. Bolt through his head. W-we couldn't find the source, an, the Orc Half-Breed idiot was gone." Pleased, the wizard twitched one of his fingers. The black, inky length curled around his head, and twisted harshly with a slow and powerful crack. The man gurgled from his throat, and crumpled as life slowly left him, with the severing of his spinal cord from the harsh twist of his neck. Stepping down, the others among him watched amused. One of five of lesser station was taking notes, another spoke boldly, "Should have sent me, I wouldn't be fodder for your necromancy, Master, the slave would have been." Gritting his teeth, he turned his attention to his apprentice, and wove his hands in annoyance. His vitriolic intonations caused the apprentice to freeze, trying to croak out a counterspelling, before the sound of something wet peeling was audible. The components for 'Flensing' flared to life, and the apprentice died shrieking, as his flesh pulled off in a long strip, forming a pile of it and his body on the ground, fighting to hold his life force, and blood, in.


"Let that be a lesson to all of you. You are mine to do as I please with."


"Hear ye, Hear ye!" A herald called at the corner of the arena square in Bezantur, "The Office of the Autharch has new bounties available to peruse!" The nature of bounties in the Tharch of Pirador were curious at best, some bounties were simply a matter of formality; this was one as such. Without evidence, the office of the guard really could not bother to put more money to the recovery of this mercenary, so they provided a threadbare sketch of a heavy-set Half-Orc man and his tusky face. The poster proclaimed this was "Gunnak Lurd" and that he was wanted for association with the death of a Red Wizard's apprentice. This of course was covered by thousand, literally thousands, of other posters which were worth more for bounty and designed to catch the eye better. It was well known that bounties could be a fast track to someone making the money they needed for years of good, clean, and free living. Danger, of course, was present, but the value of some bounties differed drastically. Usually, the live bounties paid the best naturally, and typically bounties that just needed proof of death were the least valuable. However, one thing the Tharch had discovered was that travel was expensive. Hunters were less willing to risk themselves if they had to pay for their own transportation to the far flung places across the world.



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It just so happened that the same time this happened, that these new waves of bounties were posted around the Tharch, that a vessel pulled into port. Bezantur was abuzz as the city always was, disembarking from the vessel was the Ambassador to Wa, and his contingent of guards and mercenaries. A halfling slowly came down the gang-way, holding onto a rope railing tied taut. The click of foreign sandals to the cobblestone streets resounded as the beetle-shell black karuta-gane and kabuto-wearing Hin stepped onto the jetty. Long had he been away from home, seeing the filth of the city and the familiarity of all these sights. The distant look of the slave market and men carried in gangs of chain towards the blocks. The sensation of a hand clapping his llamelar shoulder guard caused him to cast his gaze up, the Ambassador leaving the hand there on his armor, "Samhain, brilliant work out there. You really helped us cement our place in Wa, when it would have made much more sense to run. How are your injuries?" The Hin rotated his shoulder and tested his arms, nodding up to the man, "I will live. I should check into the local tavern, get a room for the night until I figure out when we're headed back to Wa." The Ambassador nodded, "I will head to the office of the Autharch if you need me. Keep in touch, your sword arm has been a real benefit." Walking off towards the town hall, Sam passed by several temples on his way towards the seedier side of town. A few coppers paid for ale and a room for the night. And an escape from the leers and curiosity of the locals in his strange dress.



There you are my Samurai. Ronin in name by the Shogun of Wa. You are Samurai as you were named, however, because you know who your lord is and never stopped serving. You have pleased me, Banicknet. You followed the signs, even the most innocuous ones. Tomorrow, you will go to the seat of Pirador, the Town Hall of Bezantur. You will find my sign and you will know my will. I have made use of death to make your path to my liking. What you do with it is to be seen. I will be watching!


The sleep he had was restless, he was woken up by the constant sensation of someone beside him in bed. He'd turn and there was nothing there, no-one. Though the moment he shut his eyes, he could smell the brief scent of daisies and wildflowers like Terry used to pick in their fields and bring home to Matilda, who put them in her hair. The next morning he awoke with a stir, the smell of fresh baked brown bread and fried eggs laying on the stool-turned-nightstand by the ratty mattress used by countless others. He rose to eat, turning his head to accommodate the hole in his cheek. Finishing what was given to him, he walked down the old stairs, which clicked under his geta sandals. Over his shoulder he carried a pack that held the armor he wore and the helmet. Turning his damaged face so the left side aimed to the innkeeper, he asked him politely, "How much is owed for the breakfast?" The man looked up at him and shook his head, "You were tossing and turning all night, man like you armed up as you are, figured you'd seen something bad. Just think of it as thanks for not tearing up my room, but, do you think you could move on in a day or so? No offense, but I don't want you scaring my guests like that again." Frowning, the Hin didn't argue with the man, paying him the copper promised for the room before walking out into the Bezantur morning in his hakama pants and short kimono. The streets of the city of a thousand temples were quiet in the morning, it was still early enough to be dark. Walking out, he stepped across a puddle in the cobblestones, before seeing a bleached skeleton lifting bricks, working with another in concert. A knee-wall was being constructed at the town hall, surrounding a sitting area outside with two stone benches, and a little grass planted in the removed cobbles, used elsewhere in the tiny park.


Even at this early hour the door to the town hall, the office of the Autharch, was open and accessible. Though there weren't many here, the lonely desk at reception--where over a year ago he stood and accepted a sell-sword position to defend the Ambassador to Wa--was manned by a single man in iron armor with red trim. "Sir, it's barely past midnight according to my water clock; what are you doing up at the office of the Autharch so late, or early?" The Halfling approached the table and inclined his head, "Excuse me, I'm aware it's far too early, I apologize for that. I wasn't able to sleep, and I wanted to get an opportunity to look at the jobs available to plan my next steps. I'll need to set myself with consistent income, so I can find a place to stay for a spell. I've got to hold out until the ambassador returns to Wa." The man rose his eyebrows, trying not to stare at the right side of the Halfling's face, "Well, no law against that I suppose. Though, you will have to come back later for when the clerk arrives, I can't authorize these. My position here is part of the night watch for the town hall. However, these are the newest bounties. Take a look." The night watchman stood up from his desk and walked over to a board, pulling out a candle to illuminate the wall better. The bulletin board was positively covered in posters, layers on layers of posters which obscured one another. Even this layer itself was composed of several large names, wanted for high crimes by Thaymount in the thousands of ten thousands of crowns. "These ones," the night watchman began, "are the ones the Red Wizards themselves call on for handling. Still something they wouldn't bother managing themselves, such is beneath them, but important enough to provide boons and coin directly from their own coffers."


Sam brushed his fingers across his chin, reading each of the bounties one over another. The documents were made all but gilded, to draw the utmost attraction to them. Some of them named Red Wizards or even more prodigiously, the Zulkirs themselves, as the benefactors the pursuant could expect to work for. As he was looking over all of these, Sam noticed that not a single one actually stood out, not that they couldn't, but he was so used to the signs being blatant that he took a step back to look at the bigger picture of them all. The guard stepped back around, leaving the candle for Sam to read by, before returning to a log book and writing something down. As he did this, the door opened. The two skeletons from earlier had opened the door. The watchman looked up from his work as the two came walking in, carrying one of the stone benches between them, slowly, shakily. One in the back strained with the stone, there was a click, and a clatter to the floor. Loud enough to distract him, Sam looked down to see a finger from the skeleton move on the floor, bending and trying to grip and move. Curiosity burned in the Hin as he bent down low, and scooped this bending and twitching finger into his palm. "Oh, don't mind them." The guard said, looking back from his work, "They drop parts all the time." The finger twitched and moved, before stretching straight out and staying that way. The movement was strange, unexpected, and it brought Sam to look up from his thoughts, towards the direction it pointed by chance. Sam had to brush aside a poster and revealed the face of a Half-Orc, and the wording on the document itself written plainly below the graphic, without the use of exciting words or phrases, or even a specific name to whom called for this bounty.


Wanted: Dead
"Gunnak Lurd."
Desertion and Suspicion of Murder
Accused of responsibility for the death of a Red Wizard's Apprentice
Bounty: 500 Gold coins
Travel Costs covered, last seen on the Isle of Thain
Deliver evidence of demise to the Office of the Autharch, Pirador, Thay

"This one, I know you can't record or authorize my interest in this, but, where is this place, this "Thain?" The guard scoffed visibly, shaking his head, "I'm neither a navigator nor a cartographer, I couldn't tell you that. It's obscure, I know that much. That bounty is hardly worth anything, why would you take it?" He looked at the skeleton finger in his hands, it twitched up at him, 'Was it waving to me?' he thought to himself. Laying the finger on the desktop, he looked to the Guardsman and nods, "I'm a little less practical than most, I really do believe some things happen for a reason, call it, "Faith in fate." The guardsman looked up to the Hin with a dubious expression, than shakes his head, "Only in the city of a thousand temples. Well, why don't you keep that poster, bring it to the office in a few hours when the Clerk is awake. I suspect you'll want to get release from the Ambassador if you want to take such a significant cut in your pay like that." He scrunched up his face, before flicking the skeleton knuckle off his desk and to the floor off to the side. Sam watched it with an involuntary twitch, before dragging the poster off of the bulletin board.


A few hours later, and a pint to ease his nerves about all of this, the Hin returned to the office of the Autharch. The clerk at the desk nodded, this was not a face he remembered; did the last one retire, or did the ever-changing undercurrents in Bezantur shift once more before Sam could realize it? The man looked up, and glanced at the logbook, "Ah, you must be the Halfling the Night Watch said to expect to show up. Said you have a bounty you're interested in signing up for?" Sam stepped up towards the counter just like he did earlier, though this time he wore his karuta-gane, and his kabuto helmet, "Yes, though I must see the Ambassador to Wa first before I accept this bounty, I need a writ of dismissal. Is the Ambassador available?" The clerk turned to his book and flipped a page to the left, running his finger down the columns on the paper before tapping it with a slender nail, "Actually, looking at the time, yes. Head back down the hallway, the offices of the ambassadors can be found there. Please keep your voice low to not be a disruption." The Hin was guided to the hallway, which he stepped down, followed only by the thunderous echoes of a loud clack with each step down the stone hallway. Coming to the door, he pushed it open, knocking on the frame and making eye-contact with a receptionist nearby. They waved him in, but gestured him to be quiet. Outside the door, he slipped off his geta, and stepped in more softly. Approaching the desk, he explained in a hushed whisper why he was here. The receptionist directed him around and behind a short partition, and lead him to a side room. Inside, he folded his arms and waited.



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In a few minutes, the man in red robes with a small beret came in, the feather sticking out the side gave his appearance pomp and flourish, sweeping sleeves whispered around the door before closing it, "Aye, Sam. Good to see you again. Bet you're chomping at the bit to get back to Wa, aren't you?" The Hin nodded, "That is true, however, I need to be given a writ of dismissal. I'm aware that this is unusual, however, I am given to my concordance, it's what guided me to even take the job in the first place. I've need to take on a new task by these outside forces." The man looked incredulous at first, but his thumb brushed the skull ring on his finger. He rose his eyebrows and shook his head once more. Taking out a small parchment, he dipped a quill into it, not even bothering to sit before drafting the document, "You will be missed, are you expecting permanent leave or do you want to return to your station?" The Hin rested both palms on the desktop, looking at the writ, "I am aware this is sudden, and surely you will find another swordsman, but, I would like to return to Wa once this is all said and done. Doing this in service to the embassy would be ideal. Would this be amicable?" The ambassador furrowed his brows, scoffing, "Of course. You had turned a situation around and made an impression on the Shogunate, that value can't be denied. If your current task takes you back here, just send word to us at the embassy if we're not in the Tharch. It may take long, but I'll leave notice with the offices here that if you return and must wait, you're trustworthy for tasks. Thank you for coming to me for the writ. Is there anything else you'll need, Sam?" The Hin looked up and extended a hand to the man, who reached and took it, giving a firm grasp. "Thank you again, there's nothing else I need, though, before I go, I've noticed your ring, both the day you sent me to my training and now here again. Can you explain it?"



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The man looked at the ring as it glinted, he smiled, and shook his head, "No, now isn't the time for that. You make it back from this mission and I will explain this ring and its history to you. Suffice to say, I think I understand enough about you from your asking." The ambassador moved his hand and began to sign the writ, making a line beneath, he gestured for Sam to do the same. Taking up the quill and giving it a little more ink, he signed his name in flowing script beneath it. The two bid each other farewell, "Mister Banicknet, I know from your file that you've come from a rather plain background. Suffice to say, it seems someone has designs for you. I wish you luck in that, and that perhaps we are so fortunate that you join us again in the east."


The rest of the day was as much of a blur as the past on the old farmstead, and the difficulty in sleeping had caught up to him. Approaching the Clerk once more, he had the writ in hand. The man looked then at the bounty that Samhain had selected and looked at him incredulously, "Are you positive you want this one? I mean, it really isn't valuable. You could probably take one of the others and earn three times as much, and just be outside the city walls. I don't even know why the Autharch made these so-" A voice from nearby chimed in, "It's because the wizard wasn't interested in paying, that's just the coffers from the city paying out for the most basic value. There was no formal investigation and there's actually no evidence to his wrongdoing in this. It's literally just throwing a knife and seeing if it sticks. We got nothing on him except where he went and that he abandoned his post. The fine for that is even more than five hundred pieces, so really it's just to satisfy the 'law' on the matter of what happened in the face of lacking evidence." The Guard in ornate dress came to the counter. "Sergeant Weyland. A pleasure sir." He looked over the Halfling, who inclined his head in a polite nod in response, "Thank you for the information sir, but I'll still take it. I suppose, it might as well serve a purpose taking it off the board for other posters to be seen." The Clerk then nodded to the Sergeant, who turned to the others, "Let me go get the paperwork then, gather your belongings and head to the docks. You've a long journey ahead from Thay to Thain. A lot of overland travel, but we've got it covered."


Papers were signed, agreements were made, payment was given to a ships captain, and with his few belongings and final affairs in order, the Halfling wearing a katana on his hip, and his strange foreign armor, waited on the docks once more. The ship was boarded, and in his hands he had a poster bearing the barely-legible visage of a half-orc, somewhere far flung across the world, on a distant Island called "Thain." Reading on the subject was limited, except an older work that explained two brothers of divine power, Andarus and Zentarus, and their struggle. It was something he busied himself with reading on his way over sea and then land, then finally sea again. It took months of travel to finally arrive at an auspicious coastal town called Webster's Landing. The stranger disembarked with armor from a far away land, the end of his time in Thay and the beginning of a new chapter, on the Island of Thain.


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saadow
10:24:39 pm GMT 10/22/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140


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A Farewell

We'll see you on the other side


A cold sweat shone across his brow as those dark, cold eyes looked around in the darkness of the room with fear. A hand rested on his shoulder and he could see her eyes looking over the edge of the covers at him with concern. The Hin man reached over and gently laid his small palm on her cheek, thumb brushing softly, before he rose from the bed, and slowly walked out. The evening floor of the Trade and Tackel had a few wayward of the Kressian countryside that stayed here, safer than trying to take the road back to Steinkreis or Webster's Landing, one direction offering the occasional shambling dead, the other offering the occasional presence of goblins or worse, depending on the folk coming through. Stepping through the door that passed to the north side of the building, the air in the early morning was cold, breath showed in deep exhales as he let the chill of impending winter come upon him.



You know, I never extended my condolences for your family properly, did I?


Tension filled his neck and his teeth grit through the hole in his cheek. He listened, looking out into the dark. He had wandered, slowly stepping through the tall grasses, and finding in the trees an old place where heroes of a bygone era were laid to rest. The resting place of Kintaro drew his eyes first, to the scrapings on the old tree, flanked by other memorials. The Hin was not here alone. A sensation made him look down to his shoulder, what he could have sworn was a boney grasp on his thin shoulder, fingers tightening and holding there for a long moment, and the familiarity of that sound. That voice, which taunted or mocked, which directed and condemned. What gave its demands and cared little for the in between, seemed to care a lot more for it right in this instance.



You know who I am, of course. So surely you've got to wonder, "Why? Why do you care?" And that's a good question. I really shouldn't. That's not my problem. They aren't mine, though you are, and they mattered to you. You remember my dogma though, let nothing stand in the way of you finding how to preserve life, even natural life. You did your best, it wasn't enough. So this mirror, then? Second chance for you, Ronin?


Madmen could speak to the air for hours, Sam would indulge his insanity a moment, even if he knew this voice was real, that was just what a madman would say, "Yes, Master. It really does feel like a second chance to actually save them. And yes, I miss them. I've missed them every day since the day you found me, made me yours." The sensation of that hand leaving was felt, and the ronin turned to look in the direction of the shape. A vaunted figure, barely a whisp of smoke, looked down from on high in a skull masque staring down on the Halfling. He looked up to him and slowly bent knee, shifting down before the figure before that skeletal hand rose up and beckoned him off of his knees.


Up, Banicknet. Good boy. You are to take that creature with you, the one you've favored. She is strong. Meet the singer in the demesne, and the necromancer.


The road north was quiet in the dark before dawn. Usually, the stirring of fire beetles rousing from their cave is enough to harry an adventurer to action, yet all was still and quiet in their cave, perhaps by nature, or perhaps by force. The two, the odd couple, walked together towards the Necropolis. "You seem distracted, are you okay love?" Her voice cut his thoughts, and laid them bare. He blinked, and looked up to her, "I'm sorry?" She gave him a knowing, if not sad smile; she understood just how much weighed on his thoughts. What father wouldn't be so plagued at the thought of their daughter being sold? That was a reality in Thay, it could happen to anyone of the lower caste. It was just by good fortune that it seemed Halflings were often overlooked, appreciated perhaps in a moment for their cooking or hospitality and then left to the smokey whisps of forgetfulness. Hin were known to be lucky, and that was luck in Thay, to be forgotten.



The gate lowered and the Hin stood aside, the half-orc woman beside him smiled down, squeezed his shoulder, and stepped down into the darkness. He soon followed, closing the gate behind them. The stone floor echoed the click of his sandals when he stepped around the pillar, to the door set into the south wall. Entering, they found the ghostly form of an elven man no longer among the living. His welcome rang out almost musically, to which the Ronin bowed politely, and only found a seat when the woman beside him had. As it had been the way of things, others began to arrive. First was the necromancer, Morton, whose mysterious way had piqued the curiosity of the Halfling more than once. Then Flannia, a gnomish woman in red-toned armor, and another half orc woman who had hair vibrant as the sun, by the name of Dorina. So the motley crew were joined by Lily, the Doomguide, and all together were settled about the stone table and chairs in the middle. So distracted by his thoughts, Sam asked, "How shall we get there?" Mors was kind enough to remind him that they were going to enter through the Fugue plane as they had planned. Together, one by one, each of these figures rose from their seats. Another figure, covered with dust from the tomb which revealed him, was the Celestial Ramiel, who was there long enough to see the yawning darkness swallow them all, and deposit them within the familiar cold embrace of the Plane of Shadows.



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Within the shadows
do the darkened shades now rise;
where snows forgot sun.


Traversal of the Plane of Shadows took distances that were great and made them considerably less vast. Dangerous as the leech of Void into the darkness, hard eyes peered with distrust at every moving mote of blackness, knowing very well what could come. The Ronin walked with his friends around him, it was hard to imagine friends with his outlook, and the danger he put himself in. That said, congruent purpose and those with it made strange bedfellows, and so the disfigured Halfling walked as the shadowy visage of the Moribund Bog rose ahead. Life sucked through this thin gap where the veil of shadow kissed the prime, and their forms stepped from deep shadow, unnatural shadow. As soon as they arrived through, shades poured out from outcroppings where light did not touch and they stormed the party; this was their peril and their death. Soft peat from the bog crushed underfoot as they strode towards the Ridgeshield, closer and closer did each step draw the acrid air into their lungs. It was a reminder he would need to seek out Arakhor and find her guidance on what he needed, for the project of the sword he envisioned as a physical prayer and meditation to Velsharoon. Thought focused on breath as the threshold into the wild growth arose. Set upon by the wild creatures here, Sam switched to the use of open hand, and insured that those he struck were done so to subdue. While not all of his companions may do this, he had no business controlling them; he did his part as per his respect and honor demanded. The rise of earth came up over writhing tendrils of plants that bit at the self, as a cave loomed ahead. Together, they descended into the darkness.



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Beneath verdant wood,
numerous as falling leaves,
rests abyssal taint



The companions flooded the cavern, looking on as dark shapes in the oppressive warmth of the cave washed over them all, the stale air bit the nose in a way all together different than the acrid fume of the Poisonwood, the deathly medium that which heralded life, the fine line Velsharoon so adored. This place, however, where the abyss crawled and pawed, gnashing of teeth on bones did these shadowy mastiff's bray. Their challenge in their howls, as fear washed over them all. Sam in singular purpose drove ahead, "I'm coming Terry, don't give up." His strikes came down on the shapes, battering them into submission, freeing them of their manifest forms, and casting them away. What rose before them was an imposing gate, that demanded sacrifice. The price in blood was paid and the way was opened; a gate leading into a puzzling place of ice and fire, of the screams of damnation and the taint of rift pouring through. They charged, together, as friends, as companions, all trying to find the path through this dire place, that took them to the land where souls were judged, the land of Gatekeepers and the Wall of Souls Lost; the Fugue. Together they rose a mighty raucous against many foes, against giants, and spiders, and abyssal horrors of the rift. Weapons gnashed, teeth bared. The monster threw all it had against them, and with soul and sword put forward, the ripping weapon, the Blade of the Warrior-Poet, sang through the air and crashed strike after strike. Their efforts together felled the beast, but it warned; they were not finished yet, and that time would show it the victor. That was not this day, and the portal loomed ahead. Sam did not wait, he drove through, the oppressive fog of the Fugue laying around him



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Endless graying waste,
A father's love shall guide them;
Seasons of the heart.



A momentary sense of loss came across him, a memory of all that happened, the tug of regrets that a soul should never have here, for their own judgement. Yet this fleshling was still alive, perhaps more alive today than he had been in a long time. Dark brown eyes looked on his friends, who watched back at him expectantly. His hands unfurled the Mobile. The old jute twine frayed a little as it ran to a stick in the middle, tied with a knot. Hanging off of one side was a little, faded fabric ball, and the other, a little stitched bearla, that hung by a rope under it's arms. As if the ball was calling out, "Don't worry! You're not going to fall! I have you, little bear! Just hang on a little longer! The mobile tipped and wobbled in his hands, the toy that belonged to Terry when she was just a babe, that was handed down to her little sister Yonah when she was born. The farm didn't have a lot of toys, and Sam focused on this one. He remembered when he made it, when his hands shook with excitement at having enough jute to twirl the thread into a cord. He looked on and saw her little arms reach up for it. Tears fell down his face, he remembered his little girl before she was despoiled, before she was ruined by cruel men. His focus was unwavering, and locked onto the wobbling toy. it pulled him, it dragged him through this place, across the planes in the infinite distance. The friends followed, like one would follow a bloodhound on the trail. Crunch of geta's to the dry ground, parched from never experiencing any of the rain all of this fog should elicit the thought of. It was here he was surprised by a hand that came into his own, he looked up and he saw Hugdish there beside him. Her big fingers squeezed his little hand, just a reminder he wasn't here alone.



Their onward march came on the hills and over while, marching into the distance until just a wrinkle in the air showed, a passage of energy that rose from a cliff in the rise. Sam, Morton, and Mors together stepped around and found a passage leading into the ground, a dark and yawning opening into some other part, far flung, of the fugue plane. The mobile tugged towards the cave, so Sam dipped his head and began to climb in, the others too, stepping into the darkness that seemed to lose form. It seemed to take forever, yet only was an instant before steps carried them through a gap in the trees, and their eyes settled on a village of shadowy darkness and a tinge of red in the sky around them. "These places, they reflect the power within. Do not let them touch you," a voice from the group had said. Sam looked out at a spirit that drifted forward, it dwindled towards Dorina and asked immediately, "Are you my mother?" She shook her head. The two had a brief exchange where finally it was interrupted by Lily, "Are you so sure?" In this the spirit finally drifted off away from them, treating them all as though they were never even present in the first place. Stepping past the lost soul, the party together approached a fiery pulpit, where a skeletal priest spoke over shadows. They spoke of the coming of the Age of Shadows, he preached that with a bartering that the Mayor was making, the town of Ombrix would rise to the forefront, they would swell into the prime and wreak a great havoc on the mortal realm. Sam used every trick he had, trying to persuade, trying to intimidate, trying to even lie to get the priests hand to tip to where the mayor could be found



I'm not giving up, Terry. I'm going to find you.


Tick tock, Banicknet. Every moment you spend here brings you that much closer to me, and it's too early for you to really -matter- to me here. You'd be useless! Don't mess this up.

Not like the first time.


The seeds of doubt were planted.



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Spirit of cruelty,
Lord of the Forsaken Tomb;
Why do you hate me?


The group together drifted through the shadowy township, buildings passing them by. His anger was mounting, agitation rising in the back of his throat. Where are they? Where is Terry? He darted his eyes around and tried to use the Mobile again, but it was still; it could not help him here. A voice from behind rose up, "Look, that building there, it's got a flag on it. Maybe that is the town hall?" Together they approached. Sam looked up at the door and grit his teeth, the sound of it echoing out of the hole in his cheek. The others behind him, he reached up and pushed the door open. Within, two skeletal guards had begun to accost them. The quick thinking of Morton the Necromancer had managed to by chance say just the right things to give them pause, and by even greater chance, to say a code word. It was a recitation about the Age of Shadows, about this great conflict to come. Believing they were willing sacrifices to this Age of Shadows, the Skeletons let the party within, and they strode up into a shadowed stone hall. Pews ranged up the way towards the landing where the Shade Mayor of Ombrix stood before a Fiend, wreathed in fire.



Sam looked on and saw a little Hin spirit sitting on a bench, manacles around her wrists and ankles. Slowly, he stepped up between the rows of pews and looked down to her. Terry could look up and see the face of her father looking down to her with a tender affection only a Father could have.



"Don't worry, Terry. Papa's here."



The guards stepped up around him, skeletal forms rising up on all sides of them, weapons pointed not at him, but at her. "Get away from the Mayor's prize!" A rage welled up in his eyes, the dark-brown eyes were cold and malicious, and his teeth were bared. There was the sound of a click at his hip, the Tsuba was pushed with his thumb, causing the blade to glint in the gloomy hall. A flash of the blade in the air and the weapon was in hand, held vertically to his side while his other hand grasped the bottom of the hilt, holding it in no kamae. His voice was laced with vicious intentions, "It is most unwise, to tell a father that his daughter is a prize."

Morton called out from the back, "Sam, don't do that, You don't know where her soul might be bound yet!" Those dark eyes snapped out and looked among the guards. Gritting his teeth furiously, he slid the weapon home. It was in time for the Mayor to look over, "Oh, it would appear we have guests!" Sam stood up tall as he looked to the Mayor, the Devil asking what the meaning of this interruption was. The mayor corrected him that the deal was not complete yet and they were waiting on the others to be collected. Sam's heart lept into his throat, Matilda and Yonah, little Yonah, too small to even know how to move as a spirit. He choked up, but discipline held the Ronin in place.

You really believe I hate you, don't you? Hate requires concern, and you're not worth being concerned about, Halfling.


Sam never expected to make it this far. Even with his God's powers, he never believed he'd be able to make it here, just that he had to. It was necessary. A father doesn't leave their children behind, the power of unconditional love, even from the wicked. He swallowed hard and stepped forward, straightening out, "That is just the matter, Lord Mayor. I have come to make an offer on your prize. And I do not need to wait for the others, I will simply make you an offer based on this one alone."



Look at you, you don't even know what to offer. You imbecile! What are you going to offer the shadow, your sword? Leave it to you to charge in and not know what to do. Let me give you a hint, you utter fool. My GIFTS, you moron! What can you call up that looks like a shadow! Gods, I've had apprentices a quarter your age with more intelligence!


Sam got it, he understood what his patron was telling him. Distracted, he looked back up to the Mayor, looking on expectantly, the Devil looking at the Mayor and asked, "Why does this one disrupt us?" The Ronin replied, "Why, because I can offer more than you can, Devil. You may walk with the Hells, but I walk with Velsharoon. If the shades want power to bring about the Age of Shadow, what can you offer them that my patron could not? Empowerment? Forms on forms to inhabit and swell outward into the prime" For the price of the little girl." The Devil's eyes bulged and he snarled in fury, "We had a DEAL, Shade!" The Mayor shrugged, and gestures, "I signed nothing and your contract required the whole famly, until the others were here, it just so happens, did it not? It seems I got a better offer." The devil strode forward, leering down at Sam as he gazed up at him. Terry watched up at her Father, remembering what happened that night in Pirador Thay, on the Fourth of Alturiak.



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Alturiak fourth,
The snow biting bitterly;
as did iron chains


"Daddy!" I don't know why I yelled, he was screaming for me to run. Mommy, why aren't you moving? What are those men doing to Yonah? I was so scared, they were so big, and they held his whole head in their hands. Daddy's face was all red, he was crying, he was scratching the man's arm with his fingernails. He yelled at me to run again, and I started to cry. I tried to get away, but the house was small, I ran for my room. I heard the men yelling about grabbing me. They were saying such mean words. Daddy never used words like that. I didn't even know what they meant, but you can tell when someone is mean. They do mean things. I was climbing on my bed and reaching for the window. I'm almost there, Daddy, I can go and get help from Roland, maybe he's home! Ouch! Something hurts, something hurts really bad! I hear something rip, it's cold. I hear daddy, he's yelling, he's begging them to stop. I'm so sleepy, it hurts, but I can't keep going. I'm sorry daddy.



"Mommy, why isn't he moving?" I wasn't sure about my voice, it seemed really quiet and little and far away. Everything felt so heavy, but mommy held my hand. I felt pretty safe! I have a really bad boo boo on my belly, mommy's looks a lot worse, but she found some cloth and was able to pull it around so I couldn't see it anymore. Yonah too. We're standing out here in the snow, and we see Daddy. Daddy looks really badly hurt, and he's not moving. He's just staring at the house. The bad men took him and they tied him to the tree with some chains. They hit him and kicked him a lot. Mommy said we had to wait for him, that he'd be there soon, but he was sitting right there! I didn't understand why he couldn't come too. I tried to hug him and tell him I made it just like he told me too! He'd be so proud of me, I was scared but I knew he'd save us. My daddy is the strongest man in the whole world! I saw this scary man, he was dressed up like a skeleton! He had this funny little crown on his head and robes. He told us to go, said Daddy couldn't come with us yet. Mommy was scared, she didn't say it, but I could tell. We ran into the woods, as far and as fast as we could! Mommy and I took turns carrying Yonah. It was funny, I remember running being tiring, but now this was fun, it was like I was gliding!



We were in a foggy place that was so gray after stepping off of a boat, everything is so scary here. I've seen people like us, grabbed and pulled away right before our eyes. It was so bad, I really wish Daddy was here. Mommy looked to me and brushed my hand with her thumb, "Don't worry, he'll be here soon. We just, we need to get away. Come on, Terry, we have to go fast!" I held Yonah and I ran, I ran and I ran, and I ran as fast as I could. We came out into a clearing of some trees and the sky was red. There were scary shadows, that looked like the things I'd see in my closet or under my bed! Mommy looked frightened. Where was daddy? Daddy we really need you, but I don't know when you're coming back. Please come back? I gave Yonah to Mommy and I ran, I ran as fast as I could. I told her to run just like Daddy told me to! They chased me for a long time, I didn't get tired anymore, but eventually so many were there I couldn't get away. I felt them grab me, it was so cold. Daddy. Please come soon?



"Daddy, you came back!"



Sam stood before the devil staring down at him, his dark eyes looked over at his little girl, and he shuffled his posture to put himself between her and the Devil. Focusing on the outsider looming above, Sam had held the sheathed weapons at his side, "This thing is so puny, what power can it possibly offer?" Lily jabbed at it, "You have no power yourself, look at you, using that cheap visage of fire wreathing you like that!" The tension was thick, it could be cut with a knife. No matter what, I'm gonna save her. "Well, if you have all this power, why don't you simply strike me down?" Sam said, his visage a deadly calm, "And you'll be back to your deal in no time." The devil bought into this goading, and he bore down to attack with his sharpened pike.



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Tale of soul and sword,
ancient history retold;
cut now, Banicknet!




The fiend barreled forward, his pike wielded like a battering ram, seeking to smash it down into the Hin. He ducked down and his fingers wrapped around the silvery blade of the Elven Crescent Blade. The weapon of Zeraphil, the borrowed elven blade, ripped out from the saya as Sam attempted the technique of iaijatu. The weapon arced from the sheath and the devil managed to plant his pike down, stopping the weapon fast with its sheer size alone. The creatures eyes went wide as Sam held the weapon in clash, keeping his eyes up on the Devil, "Foolish one, you know not what you hold." The Devil battered the Hin away with a stroke of his weapon and bore down with his wings. As the gust of wind came, the weapon in his hands stroked up, flashing through the air and cutting the gale to either side, slowing him and disallowing the wind to push him a single step further. His Hakama and torn Kimono rested around his body, muscles clenched in tension as he spoke from the heart.


"Blade of Zeraphil
Warrior elven poet
fell as Autumn leaves"

"Do you know what my favorite story about Zeraphil is?" The devil said, circling a bit around Sam as he looked for an opening. "I'm afraid you're going to have to enlighten me." His friends were on the side, looking on. Dorina was picking a conflict with the guards, though their discipline did not yield readily to her ministrations; all were locked on this battle in the center of the town hall. "The one where Lord Azuul slew him, like this!" An opening was made, Sam had made sure to keep Terry behind himself so the Devil would not strike her. It knew that, and it took advantage of that. The pike lunged towards not Sam, but his daughter. His dark eyes flared and he pushed himself in the way, trying to glance the weapon but there was no time. The sound of flesh and silk tearing was gut-wrenching. Hugdish screamed, "Sam!" A cough and a splash of red fell to the floor right in front of Terry. She called to him, "D-daddy?" A stain of red circled around the pike as it impaled him. Crimson fell from the hole in his cheek and from the corner of his mouth. Pain wracked him, but she was safe. I'm gonna save you. No matter what. I'm still your dad. I'm not a good man anymore. It's too far gone for that, but I love you so much. I can't give up. I have to keep going for you.


"That's enough, mortal. You'll only prolong your suffering if you keep going." The Mayor called out. Dorina tried to cast healing over him, but his wounds were grievous, it would take more to keep him going than that. He grinned through his pain, and gripped the Devil's weapon, he tried in vain with one last pull to bear down with the weapon of the Warrior-Poet to strike the devil, even if it was his last strike, he wanted to leave the Devil with a parting goodnight kiss.


"I failed once before
Velsharoon witness me please
I go with honor."

The devil scoff'd at this, his hand striking the weapon aside and out of his hand. The glinting silvery blade flickered through the air before it buried into the shadowy stone, tip first, with a bright peal of metal. It bobbed in the wall, as Sam sagged on the weapon. Around him, his friends swelled forward to fight. His awareness was fading, and his eyes rolled back as he sank onto his knees. That familiar feeling of being helpless, tied to that tree in Pirador came back to him again. Blood dribbled from his mouth and down his front as he couldn't find the strength to stand anymore. "Remember, that letter, to Wa," he begged to his friends as he began to slip away. The sound of fighting echoed around him as his awareness dimmed. Morton called out, "Keep it distracted!" The sound of his rusty maile as he slid across the floor, trying to hold Sam up, "Dorina! He's dying!" Hugdish and Lily stepped in, fighting off the Demon with Fist and Blade in a display of efficient violence. The howled in fury at the rules, both of them scoffed at the very notion. The Lathandrite came and pushed her healing power into him, and suddenly the sensation of sunshine in this dark place filled him. Warmth on his face. He felt air fill his aching body, sharpness come back to his eyes.


The battle raged on, and Sam realized that it had to be him. He had to land the killing blow. He dragged himself to his feet, he began to run as hard as he could push his body! His geta were clacking to the shadowy cobbles beneath him. His hand ripped to the Ancestral Kagami Blade, Soen'na: The Estranged. Beautiful Tamahagane steel, folded again and again as the weapon drew from the saya. With a beautiful etched pattern of Damascus from the different qualities of the metal, and a gorgeous waving hamon line caught the light, the weapon was brandished and poised to lunge forward. His foot planted to the back of Hugdish's calf, and he vaulted himself over while pulling on her cloak. He screamed in kiai, and drove the tip forward for the Devil's eye. The head pushed back with the sudden force of him planting both feet onto it's collarbone, gripping the blade for dear life. Sam then yanked the weapon out and tore it free, causing a fatal slice to it's borrowed form in the fugue. "W-what? Im-Impossible!" The devil faded from view.



"Impressive. Most Impressive. That was certainly not expected." The Mayor watched as Sam staggered to his feet, using the tip of the Kagami blade to rise back to his feet. He flicked devil viscera off of the blade and dragged the spine against the crook of his elbow, cleaning it, before sheathing it at his hip. "Thank you." He said, looking as Lilly said about the power of Friendship. It did not escape him the only reason he was alive was because his friends were here with him. He bowed his head in thanks to them. "It seems you have a rare gift indeed, and powerful companions. You said you would trade power for the soul of the little girl?" Sam stepped towards the blade stuck in the wall, planting his geta to the stone and his arms trembling, he dislodged it and sheathed the undamaged blade into it's home at his hip. "I am prepared to make good on my offer, the resources I have through Velsharoon. I am blessed with the power to call shadows and bring them forward. I could call you into the world, and give that to you." The Shadow Mayor inclined his head, "You'll swear on your soul by it?" "Without hesitation. I swear on my soul that from now forward, the Shadows I call through the Riftshadow Summoning." Sam continued, "This is the gift of Velsharoon I give unto you. In exchange for this one." He nodded then he knelt down before his daughter, and she rushed up to him. She was awe struck, to see her father again, after that fateful night in the farmhouse. The Mayor spoke again, "Swear also that whatsoever power those whom you call gain in your world, they shall bring it back here, to me." The Hin turned his head and nodded, this was agreeable, "I so swear it, on my name, Samhain Banicknet."



The little halfling girl ran up to her father as her shackles fell to nothing, she stared up to his face, "You came back."



"Of course I came back, I'd fight the hells for you, Yonah, and Mommy." He looked at her, and praised her bravery, he heard how she ran to get away from the shades. He heard how they were stuck, they couldn't move on. The hardness in Sam's brown eyes left, and for the first time in a long time, they were soft, the eyes of a farmer on the outskirts of Bezantur. "I think mommy knows I'm safe now. We figured out you can only go somewhere you really need to go." The little Hin girl said, as his friends gushed over her adorable nature. Just as he remembered her all those years ago. Sam felt tears begin to come, but she was safe now. They were tears of joy. Morton however, he saw the terrible wound to her belly, he knew. He looked on with sympathy. Sam choked out, "Well, then it's really important we get you back to Mommy and Yonah so you can go where you need to go, huh?" She shook her head, "There's no time, I need to go now. But I feel like we can." She came in to hug him, and he tried to wrap his arms around her, but he found he only wrapped his arms around himself, and was left with the smell of her hair in his nose. He wept, but he knew she was at peace, and so was Matilda, and Yonah. In his heart, he bid them farewell. Someday, he may see them again.



Well look at that, Sam. Not only did you save them but you're still alive. Seems you're not completely useless after all. Keep it up.

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saadow
3:44:13 pm GMT 10/31/20
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140
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The Proletariat

"Woah there, steady that line." The Harbormaster stepped onto the Jetty and approached his Foreman while taking out a ledger, "Which one is this?" The Foreman turned from his laborers and took out the manifest. "This one is the Jeweled Lady, coming in from the west. Transfer over land first. Shipment originated from the Moonshaes." The Harbormaster looked at that with a measure of curiosity. Several crates were lowered from the ship, a prybar was used to open them up. Stuffed with hay around it at the top was a lock box, with a folded letter at the top. The Harbormaster reached in and pulled the letter out, opening it up and reading the instructions. The wax seal he popped was made with a black wax, filled with flecks of metal so it glinted in the light just so. A depression was filled with white wax which made the appearance of a skull in the inky black. "Office of the Autharch. Interesting, I'll take it over myself. You have the rest?" The Foreman nodded, turning back to his men and directing them to move the next crate onto the platform, and to get the other men on the counterweight to help lift it off the deck of the ship. Walking with the chest under arm, the Harbormaster carried the heavy chest under his arm. At the front doors, a guard stepped up, in his red and black iron plate. "What do ya have there, Bertrand," the guard asked, "who is it for?" The Harbormaster nodded, "It's addressed to the clerk, who is on today?" The guard opened the door for him, "Nielson! You've got a delivery!" A squirrely young man had sat behind the counter, turning up a bifocal pair of spectacles, peering through the upper pair of lenses at the two. "A p-package? B-bring it in, will you?" The Harbormaster Bertrand carried up the box and set it on the counter, as well as the letter, "Sorry for opening the letter but without direct address on the outside, I thought it might be a manifest." The young man shook his head, "D-D-Don't worry about it. Show m-me the letter?"



To whom it may concern, Office of the Autharch;

My name is Samhain Banicknet, I was hired by the Office of the Autharch to bounty on the death of one "Gunnak Lurd." The sum total of this contract was 500 gold coins, plus transportation costs. It is my regret to inform you that I am unwilling to complete this objective. I have included a sum total of ten thousand gold coins, five hundred of which are designated to pay the bounty of this man, and the remaining to cover the costs of transportation, and abate retribution. It is my intention that justice is done in all things, even this, thus I am hopeful that this compensation will satisfy the office of the Autharch.

In Service,
Banicknet

The men stood in stunned silence, the clerk opened the box and saw the coins within. Nielson, Bertrand, and the guards looked together at each other. There was no hiding this. Had they examined the box earlier, they might have considered running with this kind of money. "That's twenty times the value of the bounty." Bertrand shook his head, the clerk moved and took down the poster. The bounty for Gunnak Lurd had been satisfied, as far as the office of the Autharch was concerned. What actually occured to that apprentice on the battlefield was not known, perhaps it would never be known? Just another day in Thay, a transaction for a transaction, and the Empire kept spinning like it was the center of the great wheel, as it might believe itself to be.



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Meanwhile, back on Thain


Sam sat by the fire in the crossroads, beside him, the warm body of the woman incidentally to become his lover. He was in a measure of peace, though perhaps unsettled. He had just put a significant effort into the exorcism of a spirit, and the awkward social exchange that came from truth to his nature. Sam was not a hero, he never truly felt that way. He knew this when he killed those five men in Laprerdar who were responsible for the death of his family. He knew this with the laughing of the Vaunted in his mind with each sleepless night. He knew that he would not, could not know peace. He knew he would not know kindness as he once did. To him, that man died chained to that old oak tree. He learned something he did not know, however; he learned that he was wrong. These recently past events told him that perhaps there was a little piece of that man who fought to live on. The spirit of the farmer was found in the moments of his lover's smile. He was found in the time he said goodbye to his daughters and his wife, when he had the chance to finally do so. He was alive in these moments where he live in the memory of what life used to be, like cooking this little two slices of preserved salt-pork, the scent of the ale-braised meat rising around the fire, with a hint of kitchen pepper. This man lived on in moments of sharing and drinking with the Dwarves of Hammersong, as they traveled the land of Thain seeking to do what they do best: live vicariously. A wave of exhaustion fell over him, and together they had gone beneath the Tradehouse to rest, carrying with them the cooked pork slices, roasted bell-pepper, and fried sticks of turnip. Together they ate in peace, and then found warmth for their exteriors under wooly covers and a peaceful rest, after a meal together got them warmth for their insides.



Good morning. I see you are up bright and early?


Cold metal pressed to his back as he gritted his jaw, looking up at a light in the ceiling, stone circle opening up to the bright shining light that one might mistake for the Sun, but really, it was just a crystal suspended from the ceiling, so bright it starburst into his eyes. He slowly glanced down and looked at his body on the table. His chest cavity was open, displaying the terrible mess within his body. Organs wounded by arrow punctures that "healed" in knots from the use of potions, flesh scarred and stitched, masses growing and pulsing off of everything. His eyes cast towards the tools beside the table, embalming fluids in a vat just above the table, bubbling in their sickly off-yellow with the scent of formaldehyde kissing the air.



I still haven't decided what to do with your corpse yet. Do you have any opinions on the matter so I can pointedly ignore them?


"Would you please use a part of me to make the sword I'm making to honor you?" His voice rose meekly, eyes pained as the sensation of what happened to his body in this place, in this imagined space, began to wash over him. The experience of this became very real, and though he was not dead, he did not feel alive in this moment. Somewhere between. He reached to touch his insides. Breath did not come, though his diaphragm flexed and pushed. He reached in and his cold fingers touched the muscle of the heart, to the left of where his sternum would be. The muscle twitched, fighting to live. It was then melting in through the deep shadow around the lit table that a figure loomed over the edge into the light, and set skeletal hands as that skulled face loomed over him. The small circlet shifted on the bone exterior as the shape looked down into his eyes.



Why do you listen? I treat you exactly like the garbage you are and yet you keep coming back, like a beaten dog or something. Should I start saying 'good boy' or just, hit you harder? Will it even matter? Most curious.


"You ask why I listen. I ask why you chose me if I am so useless to you?"



Boredom, Ronin! I spend my entire existence pouring over mysteries yet everything is in my direct control. Except for you! You I just so happened to find when I was looking out at a certain day, at a certain time, at a certain place. Though, I admire your pluck; not many find a successful career in questioning their Deities. Do remember that, before you actually become a worm as I so call you.


The two locked eyes for a time, that skeletal hand reached in and prodded the heart too, which made Sam twitch on the table. He winced. The figure tapped his fingers on the table, floating away from the edge to walk around the table, towards the embalming tools. Sam laid there as a hook rose up into his boney fingers. He bent over the Hin body and stared at it with an impassionate glance. "Why did you laugh, when I had rebuked that spirit?" The skull tilted just so and leaned down a little closer, touching that hook briefly to the side of the Halfling's nose.



You ask so many questions, but I have you here for now, so I'll indulge; it was amusement, Banicknet. I would have never thought to see you use a symbol like that and despoil it to focus my will through it. And, of course, when you told that spirit to bend knee, I was perhaps a smidgen proud. You see, it's not all about what I find abating to my boredom. Sometimes you really do surprise me. I look forward to watching what you do. For example, your notes in your journal about Andarus and Zentarus, very fascinating. Your efforts with that blade? Amusing. You are putting so much -thought- into something so far removed from my sphere of influence, but putting it there by the nature of what you're making it from. And, your ruminations on what to do after it is made? I'm deeply fascinated to see if your theory will work. Do weapons really have souls, I wonder?


You certainly fight like they do.


Sam felt the implement at his nostril, and closed his eyes to remove his focus on the feelings that came next. The skull whispered into his ear while it did this work, humming along peacefully as it took to this grim work on the "corpse" laying on the table



Just remember, you are a means to an end, Banicknet; my ends. You are the foundation, you're my hands in this. Unlike my necromancers, my clerics, you only know a piece of the mystery. I rather like that. You with that little piece of the mystery have revealed new curiosities, like the Shades of Ombrix, or this potential ritual you are seeking out. We are perhaps very different. In fact, we may perhaps be too different, but that is the best part of you; we may mix like oil and water, but those who would stand against me? They expect what I am; they don't expect you. Keep doing as you're doing. Trust me.


You will know if I am displeased.


Laughter, booming laughter echoing in his head, vicious laughter echoing in the little bedroom. This laughter startling him to awareness. Sam sat up with a jolt in a cold sweat, his chest heaving. He set his hands on his head, feeling his skull. He groped his chest, scarred but still closed. He touched his cheek, the hole still there. In this, he felt arms around him and nearly jumped, but he knew these arms. The halfling breathed heavily in his initial panic, but gradually began to relax. He laid back down into the bedding and settled into those arms. He let his eyes close again, though he tried--no, fought--not to sleep. It would be a losing battle in his exhaustion, but that gave way to warmth under the covers and up against her there, letting himself settle into an uneasy rest for a second time.



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Morning came at last, the smell of bitter tea filling his nose as he sat by the fire. With his family put at rest, and the spirit exorcised from the Hin woman he offered to help, the Halfling settled by the campfire and sipped from the cup of his mess kit, letting the warmth fill him up. He had much he had to focus on, his blade required a few more physical components, so the next step would be to find them. One pair that eluded him so far was the spacers for the Tsuba, or the guard. He wanted to find something perfect for this purpose, something of bone or ivory, that would channel the energy of these other once-living parts along the weapon. A possibility to use a cursed coin came up, and another could he find it, but the Kralshaman spoke wisdom: curses were a dangerous thing to play with, and not at all something to take lightly. A curse could perhaps ruin the fine design he had planned in the grand scheme of this weapon's birth; and in turn, he took that wisdom to heart and decided better on that. Sam further desired an opportunity to work with the Dwarves of Hammersong, to see if any among them were crafters of bone that could take a dense piece and carve it into a secure, sturdy guard. He had been collecting goods to give them as a sign of good will, and to return a weapon belonging to one of their own, in an interest in helping to bridge that gap. Though he had served them, he had helped recover the remains of a fallen guard, and he had helped fight the Duergar below, perhaps he'd have the opportunity to make this connection with them in the coming days? Further, perhaps the Dwarves he traveled with would know a fellow that could help? It was worth asking.



Next, he had to take the fang he procured from the great beast in the spirit realm and seek out Teron Dian, who agreed to make the collar of the blade, this collar could be sized to insure material could be removed, were Ars to need that done so. Then, he had to find Morton, and discuss with him the idea he had for his ritual, to get his ideas on the process and if he though that was in alignment with their designs; he was not interested in subjugating the dead but to leverage a willing spirit, perhaps even the spirit of the blade itself, to manifest forward. He also needed to see him for a few other reasons, such as the matter of the eye, a matter of a crystal, and some questions he had about that most curious arm. Finally, there was the matter of the Saya; he had designs of seeking out material from the Poisonwood to produce it, as the poison itself was perhaps the finest example of what walks the fine line of life and death, once made by the Necromancer to try and kill those within, they thrived and grew to become a part of this death-dealing serum, now life imbuing for them. You did not walk up to a being, even one as great as a forest, and simply ask for their flesh without expecting to pay your own pound for it; the price had to be agreeable for them both, and he'd have to figure out how to evaluate that worth. That was another question for Ars.



Suffice to say, Sam had been very busy. Much had been planned, several actions reaching out into the future based on how they could progress or act on the information that came available. He rose from the fire and finished his tea, hanging the mess cup off of his belongings, before stalking north to make his way towards the lair in the north. The Hin knew he was the very bottom rung of a great ladder, that he carried much on his shoulders among the proletariat of adventurers. There were questions worth asking, information worth seeking out, and so he'd make to do just that.

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saadow
11:22:13 pm GMT 01/19/21
saadow Registered Member #23976 Joined: 1:31:54 am GMT 11/30/15
Posts: 140
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Wounded Body, Wounded Pride, Wounded Soul

There had been a great deal of quiet in his life, peace was settling in. He was where he was supposed to be, the effort of his moving meditation had been steadily moving forward. The Hin was serving, amicably in his opinion, though still forced by the will of this patron; he stopped thinking about that and just kept to action. Things did not go smoothly, but they went steadily, and that was sufficient. Efforts rose and fell. His grand schemes fell back and away. After the tournament the Iron City had placed on, the Hin had taken a wide breadth around and away from them. Even lingering not in the Drakamyre, lest he was seeking wisdom on Karistad, or the knight who fell fighting Felkhorn. Though there were old bones there, bones that surely could serve his project, he didn't want to go near. To go near was to flirt with the darkness that resides behind its iron walls, and he knows better; the only thing that could be offered would be his ruination, and so he kept away, dealing with hopefully infernals that were not serving under the blanket of Azuul, and if he had to, it was not done for long or ended as swiftly as pragmatic. No, better was his agreement with the Shades of Ombrix, who served loyally and faithfully when called upon. He returned that loyalty with his own, calling them first when he could.


What came next was the move into the Tauerglond. His lover, Hugdish, had taken the task of being the hostage for the ongoing negotiations between the Poisonwood and the Hellshire. Sam and Her, they had become a stable association, first seen as friends in the deepest recesses of the Island, yet that grew. Sam never forgot the recollection of the spirit called on by the Asabi; how long would it be until the terrible fate fell them? Could they be strong enough? Sam was unsure, but as long as she made it through unscathed, the rest didn't matter. Word had reached him that the Kralshaman was interested in including Sam in less; Sam helped make the decision for him and disenclaved himself largely from undertakings of the Tribe, instead, focusing on his time in the Necropolis, tending to the dead in the way only those who followed the Ghost and the Rusted-Armored man could. What time he could take south was spent more in the caves surrounding the Ridgeshield, and the Demons within. Though he was not to associate with the Iron City, it was not of interest to associate with the Demons either; either as outsiders cared only for their own interests and neither of them settled with the more, somatic interests of the Ronin.


By availing himself, a critical component of the build of his sword was offered by the Fey Changling, Arakhor, the wood needed for his Saya. Next, to find a carver who could scribe the living history of the Poisonwood, and how it turned the poison from death into life, and the split of the Ashwood. This sword, would celebrate the fine line of Life and Death across the Island of Thain.



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Vision of the Sword

The power of imagination is strong, and the vision of the sword has manifested. Those with this power are known as those of the Sign of the One, in a far away place removed from the prime to a place immemorial, run by a dire woman, the Lady of Pain, keeping order in the city of endless doors with a fist of iron, and a heart of steel. It was this sword that was imagined by a warrior, who sought to serve a God that chose him to serve, and not the other way around. How could a mortal speak their devotion to the path a God has chosen? By following the Way they followed, but this was not possible for the Warrior, who was chosen by a Man-Made-God, ascended of his own volition and power of will. Thus the warrior had to improvise. This Lord of the Forsaken Tomb, this man once a foe of Szass Tam, now with no peers ever in his art save the eldest of the mages or Mystra herself, how could this warrior appease? He imagined a weapon that lived a life of unlife. The blade that walked the fine line of life and death that it itself could cause.


In this, he saw with clear vision a blade of thirty inches of length. The weapon itself was made from the Tooth of an ancient predator, so vast it cared little for the padding feet of mankind, and lived long and ripe until it was gone at the hands of those same men. This was the bicusped of an ancient Archerox, sharp and deadly, curved like the crescent moon, and available to strike life from its mortal coil as it did in the mouth of the vast beast. This tooth was made a blade collar out of another tooth, of an ancient beast within the lost temple at the center of the Wastes, taken from the Asabi who called them forth to waken the creature. This tooth will be shaved, and the collar shall fit over the honed blade, the gap in the center caused by the administration of venom up it, like a living syringe. The blade collar is bored open a hole, and living in this space is a preserved Gottseye, that peers outward and moves with false life, and real intelligence, seeing the world alongside the wielder.


The tsuba--or guard, as it is known--is a disk made of crystalized bone, that is carved with the skill of dwarven artisans. It is carved with a relief that speaks of the ancient history of Rugar Greathammer, and his rise to life, and fall to death, a tragedy in three acts to embody through the story the three laws of the Dwarven People, and that those who offend are sentenced to death. Next came the spacers between the tsuba and the hilt, this hilt decoration was carved by scrimshaw artists of the lands of Steinkreis, of Websters Landing. It speaks of the history of life and death of the king Khamphfer, it speaks of his grace and leadership in a bloodline that lasted two cities, with sharp edges that bite the hand so the name will never be forgotten as the blade lives its unlife into battle, feeding pain and passion back to the blade.


Next we come to the hilt itself, of two handle scales, that were pinned to the bone blade using the teeth of Bodak, three of them, for the rule of three. The scales for either side are made from wood from the sunken fort, speaking of the matter of life and death between the forces of the Watch and the forces of Steinkreis. The hilt is then wrapped with the underbelly flesh, dried and cured, of Galmul the reptillian horror. This is then wrapped with cloth blessed on the Grey Iron mountains where the Bagnorn Live. While not scribed or carved, the bandages fight the ever encroaching path of Death, which Velsharoon favors the prolonging of life, natural or otherwise. The end cap on the bottom of the hilt is made of magically fused bone coins from the City of Shadows, speaking of the life and death of shades and the great mystery of the lost city. Finally, the eye growing weary, it seeks its home sheathed in a saya of the wood of poisonwood, a living testament of a weapon a necromancer in their folly had made to kill a people who refused to die, and used that very poison to live even stronger than before. This poison kisses the blade and tells the tale of Uultak's failure to end the lives of the people of Talyrenne and Syann.


It was then that this blade, this creation, needed to have the breath of life within it. Or so it would when it shall exist. To this, the warrior surmised to turn to the greatest creation of unlife that the island had ever seen; the Dark Pact. This Dark Pact, he had learned, was between the Lord and the Lady, and the Faceless One, He-Of-The-Void. This power which was used to darken the land and taint it with death was a power that has since remained untouched, but the greatest mystery of the path of Life and Death was to apply this and the knowledge within to breathe life and willing faculty to the blade, to give it's beautiful existence meaning beyond its creation, to give it the power to find its own meaning, to give it's own will, and to express itself in the majesty of the fine line of life and death, as each cut and slice sought to make poetry of the viscera it cleaved. This was to be a weapon that would speak of the greatest generation of the last generation, among the magna opera of the hands of Ars, the hands that wrought the Queen's sword on this world. With her guidance, as she had offered long past, the Hin would seek this man out, that he had unknowingly stood but five paces from, seeking Hugdish within the Tauerglond.



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The Lost Wolf


Speaking of, it was when he found her that much had been brought up to speed. Sam had been recovering from injuries again, where he had come to learn from his lover that a curious case--of a Wolf in their decision--had been taken, kidnapped by the hostilities of the Iron City. Still recovering from fighting off the Hellknight, the Ronin knew just how utterly futile any approach to anything with the Iron City was. Wisdom dictated that there was no better maker of deals for their own benefits than Devils, and those that served them for their own ends were in no way to be trusted or believed. To find out now that those who served the city were taking the wolf that he had befriended and named, Sam let his true colors shine through. Would if he could, but he vehemently responded that he would not be doing -anything- in regard to that damned city and their decisions.


Sam became painfully aware that he had his own life and concerns to be worried about, and there was nothing they of the City could offer him that he would find valuable enough, that didn't come with a price he could afford to pay. He directed Hugdish to do as much, to stay away from them, to the point he knew she didn't appreciate--or so he believed--his assertion. The obvious thing was that this was now a weak point for him. Sam knew she could fend for herself, but an enemy prepared to deal with you is one that will kill you; or use what you are weak with against you. This required mental preparation; ultimately if it means his own life at the end of the day he had to be prepared for that. That wasn't what he wanted, and would he find that strength of one kind, or would he find the strength of another kind? Like the kind of a father who sought to save his daughter from a shadowy part of the fugue plane?


When it came to matters involving Devils, there was no victory, just survival. So what would happen? What would he do? His patron was silent. In both a time where it would have been appreciated to have guidance yet also appreciated to not be mocked and berated, he became increasingly aware that ultimately he was weak; he had no means to overcome that to stand at a better position. Without the means to better use his body, the Hin was now at a crossroads. Was his patron finally tired of not getting what he put into his servant? Was that why things were silent? At least the Shades of Ombrix were still loyal, for now. Yet not all was well.


Eyes deep underground, in a place far removed, watched with disdain for what, or who, was served. To show this, he saw this wayward child wandering stone halls, and left imagery of the Onyx. It was what he used in his fell proceedings to animate the dead, which he had done in the past for his "master." A lap dog that he could not tolerate? No, it was the master he hated; how interesting! It came to divine awareness that he knew his message was received and heard clear when the Halfling Ronin left a Kikkiana's Whisper on the ground and fled, to not hear more of this clear message. Uttering to a mephit, he sent it away. The little elemental retrieved the rock, bringing it "home" in short order.


So you haven't forgotten me or my mother. You haven't forgotten the rites that you failed to do with the death of your loved ones, because you were too busy dying yourself, weren't you? It's fine. I haven't given up on you yet. I'm patient, and you--in spite of your best efforts--might have a long life ahead of you yet. One thing's for sure; you ain't what you think you are. I see what happened to the people of that shire, long before your time. So many lost, still lost. And so many powers influencing in all directions, especially the divine. I know just what to do until things change with you;

I will have to send the Hound.

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