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Darkwave Tales Action, Adventure, and Intrigue in Golarion

1Feb/110

As the Wheel Turns

Veshon gently removes a clear vial of blueish liquid capped by a wax seal from his belt pouch. Removing the seal, he hands the potion to Nestha. Gratefully Nestha accepts the vial and sips the fluid, sighing with relief as the healing magic in the potion courses through her battered body.

"What did I miss?" Kedloss asks from the nearby stairwell, eyeing the pair with some concern. Nestha starts to answer but is immediately interrupted by the much more diplomatic Veshon.

"A large swarm of bats attacked just after you fled, probably disturbed by the sound. Nestha had an ingenious idea and coated much of the swarm, and herself, with burning oil. To extinguish her flames she ran to the flooded rooms, one of which apparently has some kind of lightning trap. She proved to be too tough to die, even after all that."

Kedloss' face reddens with shame and he slumps down on the stairs..

"I'm so sorry Nes. I saw something in that damnable mirror pool, and I couldn't help myself. It's my fault." Kedloss berates himself.

"No, it's not, don't be an idiot." Nestha says, the anger that had been building suddenly vanishing, "You said so yourself, you couldn't help yourself. The pool was trapped with magic."

"Let's get your bow and go back to the store room. Nes needs to rest after that close call." Veshon recommends, rising to his feet.

"Bull, I am fine, let's keep going." Nestha states unequivocally. Her emphatic remark seems to snap Kedloss out of his self-recriminating state and he and Veshon share a glance.

"Oh don't you dare..." Nestha begins, temper rising. Kedloss hods up a hand to her.

"We'll go on, as you want, but you need to tell us, honestly, if you are not feeling able."

"You just had a close call, Nes. Real close." adds Veshon. Facing the combined front Nestha can only nod.

"Fine. Let's get the bow and figure out how to get around the lightning trap. The floor tells us the way to get through the gate the bats flew through is in that direction."

Together the trio returns to the reflecting pool. The smell of burnt fur is almost overpowering, smoldering bat corpses litter the ground. The swarm itself has dissipated, the creatures having flown off to some unknown destination. Kedloss retrieves his dropped bow from the portal near the ensorcelled mirror pool as he enters the room. Trying not to gag, he crosses the length of the chamber to the iron gate barring passage on the far side.

"Well, guess we need... " he begins, trailing off as he looks behind him. A confused Veshon stands nearby, looking at him, but Nestha is nowhere to be seen. Suddenly the sharp crackle of electricity echoes from the route to the circular room.

"Nes!" both me call out, rushing back towards the sound of the lightning. They find Nestha waiting for them on the opposite side of the chamber, a smoldering, rotting backpack in her grasp.

"Come on, I figured a way through. Just stay far enough away, even from the hallway I felt the jolt," she says, nonchalantly. Turning, Nestha carefully lobs the pack into the trapped room, the pack landing with a sodden sploosh, but no electricity.

Nestha hastens into the room, picking up the pack as she passes. "Hurry," she calls to the others. Kedloss rolls his eyes and rushes after his reckless companion. A short hallway heads to the right on the other side of the charged room, Kedloss and Veshon catch a glimpse of their companion as she carefully makes her way through the knee-deep water and out of their sight. As Veshon enters the far hallway, Nestha calls out suddenly, "Skeletons!"

Nestha strikes at one of the monstrosities with her shield as it rises, to no avail. The walking dead claw at the wilder, two of them finding purchase in her flesh. Recovering from her over-balanced attack, Nestha dodges the skeleton's fumbling attacks and watches more of the bones rise from the water. Calling out, Veshon channels divine energy of his faith, destroying most of the skeletons in a pulse of bright light.

"Nes, back up and duck!" Kedloss calls out to his companion. Lashing out at the skeleton facing her, but missing, Nestha complies, ducking in the water in a defensive stance. Kedloss' bow twangs once from the corridor, the arrow glancing off the skeleton. Unfazed by either failed attack, or by the destruction of it's companions, the skeleton presses the attack on Nestha, it's claws once more furrowing her skin. A second skeleton joins the first, but fails to connect with it's strike. Another pulse of energy slams into the skeletons, destroying them both.

Nestha spies a wheel on the far side of the chamber and sloshes through the flooded room towards it. With a sudden cry that is cut short she vanishes beneath the water. Thrusting his bow into Veshon's fumbling grasp, Kedloss hurries over to there Nestha disappeared and finds a drop-off. Nestha claws the water, trying to regain the surface, but her lack of experience works against her and she sinks further into the pit. Kedloss dives in after her, and with his help Nestha breaks the surface, gasping and choking.

"I really need to learn to swim," coughs the wilder. Smiling to himself, Kedloss retrieves his bow from Veshon and the trio carefully make their way across a narrow, and hidden, bridge to the far side. Despite it's age, the wheel and chains are in remarkably good condition. The wheel turns easily under the coaxing of the adventurers, ominous clanking echoing through the chambers and walls as they turn.

2Dec/100

Screams and Agony

With another shared glance and shrug the men do as they are ordered. Gingerly stepping over the oozing piles of zombie flesh, the pair enter the room and begin their investigation. The room is roughly L-shaped, dominated by three free-standing walls. Shelves for the interment of the dead are built into these walls as well as the structural walls, all of them ominously devoid of remains.

The zombies themselves nag at Veshon's mind, something about them does not quite fit.

"What's that?" Kedloss asks, gesturing to a small lump in one corner. Cautiously approaching, the indistinct shape becomes more defined as the light draws nearer. It is a backpack, mouldering and mostly rotten.

"Huh," remarks Kedloss, gingerly moving the top flap aside with his blade. Veshon's eyes widen.

"I'll be back, I need to check the corpses," he says hurridly, rushing back to the zombie remains. Kedloss looks questioningly at the retreating priest. With a mental shrug he gingerly picks up the rotten pack and follows his friend.

Kedloss finds Veshon kneeling beside the zombie corpses, doing his best not to gag as he examines the bodies. Movement down the hallway tells them that Nestha is returning.

"These zombies were created a few months ago. Look at the clothing, and the pack. Remember our friend by the lake?" Veshon asks, standing as Nestha rounds the corner, "Same clothes, same gear. If you look in the pack I would bet there are newly minted coins in there."

His curiosity piqued, Kedloss looks through the mouldering pack. From the old container he withdraws a potion, a note, and a small sack. Through the loose seams on the bag the glint of gold shines in the magical light. Kedloss hands the potion and note to the freshly scrubbed Nestha and reaches into the bag. Dramatically he withdraws his hand, fist clenched around the coins. As he turns over and opens his hand five freshly minted gold coins shine at the trio.

"Well, looks like we found some of his pals after all," Kedloss remarks, dumping the coins into his pouch with the rest.

"Veshon, what do you make of this?" Nestha asks, handing him the note Kedloss removed from the pack. Veshon examines the note, a handbill not unlike those you might find on a tavern bulletin board.

He shakes his head, "Doesn't look familiar, no places I know. We'll ask around the town once we're done in here."

The three friends continue on deeper into the crypt. The chamber which held the zombies had a second doorway, this one opening up into a long, narrow chamber. A shallow reflecting pool divides the chamber, it's water cloudy and stagnant. Ruined murals line the walls, their subjects lost to deterioration and destruction. The room stretches on into the darkness, it's far wall outside the reach of the group's illumination.

Nestha cautiously enters the room, catching a brief glimpse of herself in the cloudy pool. Veshon follows close behind while Kedloss maintains a rearguard.

"There's the gate," says Nestha as the magical illumination reveals a large iron portcullis. Kedloss' attention is drawn to the pool, to his remarkably clear reflection on it's surface. To his horror his reflection rots before his eyes, then turns to his friends. Unable to tear his eyes off the scene he watches as his rotten form savages and murders Nestha and Veshon. With an inarticulate scream he tears himself away from the pool and runs as fast as he can, his bow clattering to the floor.

Nestha and Veshon look back at where Kedloss stood, shocked by his abrupt departure. Their shock is short-lived, however, as thousands of bats pour through the bars of the gate. Drawn by the light toward the pair, the bats swarm around them, biting and scratching.

"Veshon, light a tindertwig!" Nestha shouts over the sound of the beating, leathery wings. In a display of remarkable clarity of thought, Nestha ignores her growing number of bleeding wounds and pulls a pair of oil flasks from her small pack. Stuffing a wick in each of the flasks, she holds the pair out for Veshon to light.

The wicks catch fast and burn bright as Nestha stands and Veshon retreats to the doorway. With her friend safely out of the way, the wilder hurls the flasks of oil at the ceiling. The impact shatters the fragile vessels, spraying burning oil everywhere. Nestha cries out in pain as the burning fuel covers her and, half-blind, she runs from the room, back toward the flooded chambers.

Veshon follows, calling out to Nestha to let him heal her wounds, but she is beyond rational thought. Dashing into the water, she rounds a corner at the end of the short hall where the water is deeper. Nestha collapses into the water, extinguishing the oil-fed flames scorching her. The relief is short-lived, however. A powerful jolt of electricity surges through Nestha, throwing her out into the hallway and knocking her unconscious.

Veshon followed Nestha as she dashed past him, rounding the corner just in time to see her fall beneath the shallow water. Sloshing through the water as quickly as he could, Veshon grabs a hold of his unconscious companion and drags her out into the circular room. Laying her carefully on the ground he makes a gut-wrenching discovery. Nestha has stopped breathing.

Frantic, Veshon calls upon the power of his deity, channeling healing power into Nestha's still form. he wracks his mind for anything that might help, something he's seen, heard, or read that would save her. A faint memory nags from the back of his mind, something that a traveling battle priest had told him long ago. Carefully he tilts her head back and opens her mouth. Placing his mouth on hers he fills her lungs with his own breath. After three breaths he casts his final spell of health on his prostrate friend.

"Come on, Nes, breathe." he pleads before sharing his breath with her again.

Suddenly Nestha coughs violently, her lungs once again working on their own. Veshon helps Nestha to a sitting position.

29Nov/100

The Lower Level

Descending the stairs deeper into the tomb, Nestha leads her friends down the ancient stone steps. The air grows even more musty as they descend, condensed moisture causing the walls to shimmer in the adventurer's light. The stairs open up into a circular chamber, passageways leading from each of the cardinal directions, the stairway being the northern egress. Dripping water echoes from the east while the stench of rot, and the intermittent moan, emanate from the west. In the center of the room sits a small stone pedestal.

The floor itself bears an inscription, written in the common tongue and spiraling out from the center pedestal. It reads: "To the south you might take your ease, to rest and reflect on Kassen's deeds. To the east lies the wheel to open the gate. To the west is the resting place of Kassen, hero of the Fangwood.

Quietly the trio investigate the room, Veshon examining the inscription, and Kedloss checking out the west while Nesta checks out the east. After a minute or so the three gather around the pedestal.

"There's a definite threat to the west, vague shuffling and some moaning. My money would be on zombies. Skeletons clatter, and from what we've seen they don't stink like that," states Kedloss quietly.

"The east is flooded. The ceiling is leaking all over, and the water seems to get deeper in both directions. No sounds other than the dripping water," Nestha reports.

"Well, according to the message there's a rest area south. I didn't hear anything from that direction. West is where Kassen's tomb is, east is a wheel to open a gate of some kind. My guess is we'll need to get wet before we can go much further," Veshon says, thinking out loud.

Kedloss nods, "I would rather eliminate the known threats before we do much investigating. However, let's see what this rest area is, and if it would make a good safe place for us first. Then I say we check out the source of the stench."

The other two readily agree and, with Nestha once more leading the way, the small group ventures through the southern tunnel. A sharp bend leads them east almost immediately and their light reveals a short hallway ending in a small room. A silver fountain dominates the far wall of the room, crystal clear water bubbling invitingly in it's basin. Above the fountain lies an inscription reading: "Kassen's legacy lives on with his people, drink and be refreshed."

Nestha looks back to Veshon as she stands beside the fountain. Knowing that look he immediately begins his chant, calling upon his divine connection to reveal to him magical qualities all around. After a minute of concentration during which Nestha and Kedloss are still and silent Veshon nods.

"It is magical alright. Not overpoweringly so though. I don't see anything malicious either."

Nestha cups a hand and drinks from the fountain. Suddenly she gasps, "Oh!"

"What is it Nes?" asks Kedloss, concerned.

"Wow, it works. I feel better than I have since that shadow attacked me." Nestha responds, awed.

"That was reckless, Nes. You shouldn't have done that." Kedloss scolds her. The berating, however, is softened by his obvious relief that nothing bad happened. Nestha just grins.

"Come on. Let's go see what's making such a stink."

Quickly and quietly Nestha leads the way down the short western hallway. The damp stone corridor doglegs abruptly to the north and stench increases dramatically. The magical light illuminates the entrance to a room, a free-standing wall dominates the view. Shelves built into the wall, obviously resting places for those interred here, lie ominously empty. Nestha turns to inform her companions when movement inside, near the wall catches her eye.

The walking corpse, a bloated and decaying thing, begins shuffling toward the wilder. Acting quickly Nestha fortifies her body with her mind, fueling the power with her quickening excitement. Not a moment too soon. The zombie lashes out at Nestha, who has positioned herself in the hallway between the corpses and her companions. The attack goes wide, but the confrontation has attracted the attention of other walking corpses in the room. Veshon bestows greated battle prowess upon Nestha, a gift from their mutual deity.

"Nes, Duck," instructs Kedloss. Nestha obeys the curt instruction a moment before an arrow buries itself deep in the animate corpse. Nestha follows Kedloss' attack with a vicious upward strike, disemboweling the zombie with her dagger. The zombie erupts, covering Nestha with vile bile. A second zombie steps over the remains of it's fallen brother and swings at Nestha, barely missing the agile woman. A second zombie rounds the freestanding wall to threaten from the other side.

"Oh Iron Lord with boundless might, strike these creatures from our sight!" intones Veshon, channeling the power of Gorum. Rotten flesh sizzles as the beams of holy light strike and burn the zombies. Veshon hurriedly swaps places with Kedloss, giving the archer a better vantage point for his bow in the cramped quarters. Kedloss takes advantage of this better position, firing over Nestha's shoulder and lodging an arrow in the zombie to her side. The zombie explodes as the other had, once again showering Nestha with ooze.

With an almost feral growl, Nestha eviscerates the remaining zombie before her, and once more she is showered with foul-smelling goo. A fourth zombie rounds the corner as Nestha scrapes some of the stuff off of her, it's swinging fist wide of it's mark. Kedloss waits, having no bead on the latest walking corpse. Veshon touches Nestha, somewhat reluctantly, granting her Gorum's boon of Strength once more. Nestha guts her final, disease-ridden opponent. As with the others it explodes, spraying the wilder with filth.

Dripping with zombie fluids, Nestha turns to face her companions.

"Why is it whenever we face something that's going to explode or otherwise spray goo everywhere I'm the only one that gets covered?"

Nestha's otherwise calm appearance is marred by an agitated tick in her cheek. Kedloss and Veshon glance at each other briefly.

"It means you are doing your job admirably, shielding the less skilled and adept of us and permitting us to assist you in the victory," Veshon responds diplomatically. Nestha rolls her eyes and stomps past the others, back towards the circular room.

"Look around, see if you can find anything in there. Scream if you need me. I'm going to wash this.... stuff.... off."

25Nov/100

Traps, Traps, and More Traps

"Nothing on the other side," he calls out, pulling the door open. Noxious smoke billows out of the open doorway, crawling along the ceiling as it expands into the room.

"Gah!" gags Kedloss, "That's vile!"

"Stay low," Nestha advises her companion, "Look, there's still a fire burning in there."

Keeping her own advice, Nestha stays low as she enters the smoky hallway. Following a left-hand bend, she finds herself in a large room. Between four columns supporting the ceiling burns a fire, flames licking at the barely discernable human forms feeding the fire.

"Bad way to go," remarks Nestha, shaking her head

"Yes, it is," comes the quiet response from over he shoulder. Turning in surprise, Nestha finds herself fade to face with a living shadow. The creature lashes out at her with black talons, passing through her shield and catching her on the shoulder. She gasps in shock at the chill touch, her strength sapped by the attack.

Kedloss is the first to react, firing an arrow between both of his companions and into the shadow. He releases his mental hold, imparting additional force to the arrow as it strikes the monster. The shadow growls, obviously affected by the arrow, but not as much as it should have been.

Seeing the effect of the arrow, Nestha screams at the beast, releasing her mental focus in the form of a bolt of force. The bolt strikes the shadow with obvious effect. With a hiss the shadow returns it's attentions to Nestha, raking her across the chest with it's talons. Nestha cries out at the touch, her strength sapped by the attack.

Bringing his symbol to bear on the undead monster, Veshon calls out to Gorum, sending a blast of light through the room. Again the shadow hisses, but it's hiss is cut short by another arrow from Kedloss's bow. The arrow passes through the shadow, causing it to boil away into oblivion with a final, fading hiss.

"You alright, Nes?" asks Kedloss, concerned. Nestha nods her head.

"I think so, I just feel so weak now."

Veshon looks around the room and firepit carefully.

"Now what have we here?" he asks, picking a scorched key off the ground. Taking another look at the fire, he chants quietly. Nestha takes a moment to recenter herself and Kedloss, rubbing his eyes in the smoke, goes to see what Veshon's found himself.

"There," the priest says, pointing to a point in the fire, "The blade in there is radiating magic. Ked, get Nes out of this smoke, I'm going to get the blade and I will be along. There doesn't seem to be any point in staying here.

Kedloss nods and escorts Nestha out of the smoky room. Using his sword, Veshon carefully fishes the scorching hot dagger out of the flames. Coughing in the smoke, he hastens out of the room to join the others.

"Here, Nestha, you may find more use for this than I," Veshon says as he emerges from the smoke-filled hall. He hands her the dagger, cooler now but still warm to the touch and undamaged by the flames. She looks at him quizzically.

"Yes, it's enchanted. Looks to have belonged to one of the villagers."

Nestha tucks the dagger into her waist sash with a nod and walks stiffly over to the stairs. Kedloss and Veshon look to each other with concern and intercept her.

"Maybe we should rest a bit. You seem a bit worn after that bout, Nes," Kedloss urges.

"No, I am fine, just a little tired. We need to keep going if we are going to find Dimira."

"Alright, if you insist," Kedloss responds dubiously. Nestha leads the small group up the stairs. To their surprise the stairs immediately begin descending at the top.

"Odd," remarks Veshon as they descend. The trio emerges in a large room split into two levels. The upper level transitions to the lower by way of a pair of staircases, one on each side of the room. On a raised platform in the lower area stands a wooden statue holding two shields. The nearer of the shields is engraved with the word 'Hope'.

"Gorum, open my eyes to the mystery," intones Veshon. He gazes about the room, eyes flashing eerily in the magical light.

"The statue is definitely magic," he reports.

"Trap?" asks Kedloss.

"Trap," Nestha agrees.

"There's a door up here, on the other side of the room. We'll see where that leads. I would rather not deal with a magic trap if i can avoid it," Kedloss states flatly. Putting action to word, he strides across the room to the upper door. As he pauses to listen at the door, Nestha and Veshon catch up.

"Nothing on the other side," he says, pushing the door open. A long hallway stretches before the trio, statues armed with sharp metal swords lining the length of the corridor. Nestha laughs.

"Another trap. Look at the last few," she points out. The last for statues have had their swords carefully wrapped with leather, rendering the blades ineffective against intruders.

"I've an idea on how this works. Hold these," Nestha thrusts her shield and spear into Kedloss' surprised grasp.

With an impressive display of acrobatic tumbling, Nestha dashes down the statue-lined hallway. A third of the way down, the trap is sprung causing all of the statues to suddenly pivot. Swords slash through the air between the statues. Nestha dodges one easily, but the other catches her off balance, slashing her back viciously.

Nestha's energetic tumble comes to a halt at the far end of the hall in front of a wooden door. Seeing the statues remain in their attack position, Kedloss and Veshon gingerly pick their way through the sharp blades without harm.

"No movement on the other side of the door," Nestha reports, opening the door. At the center of the room is a large pool of water fed by a fountain on the wall above it. A weeping stone maiden holds the body of Kassen in her arms. Kassen's head has been broken off and is nowhere to be seen. As Nestha steps into the room a voice booms from the darkness, saying, "Magic is the Key." The voice fades once again into the darkness.

"Ominous," grins Kedloss, obviously trying to make light of the situation.

"So what does it mean?" asks Nestha, venturing to the edge of the pool.

"Simple, whatever the quandry is, magic is the solution," Veshon says then begins chanting. Once again his eyes gain an eerie glow as he peers about the room. Slowly he walks over to the pool and peers into the water.

"Something magical down there. Guess that's what we need."

"Hope so, because we're not going through this door without solving this," says Kedloss, standing by one of the two closed doors.

"The other door over there opens up into the foyer," he informs the others, indicating the other closed door.

"Time for a swim then." Veshon removes his pack and armor with Nestha's assistance. Placing an enchantment of illumination on his dagger, Veshon takes some deep breaths in preparation for the dive.

Diving into the cold, deep pool, Veshon wastes no time swimming the 40 feet to the bottom of the pool. The dagger's light shows a staggering number of keys lining the bottom of the pool. Hundreds of keys of various sizes and shapes hide the solitary key necessary, but with his magically augmented sight Veshon quickly isolates and retrieves the magical key.

Although his descent was nearly effortless, the return trip proves to be much more difficult. Clawing frantically at the water, Veshon rapidly runs short on breath. Suddenly a sword blade flashes past, trailing a rope. Grabbing onto the rope, Veshon finds himself being hauled out of the water by Kedloss.

"Thought you could use a hand down there," Kedloss quips to a panting, dripping Veshon. Unable to vocalize, Veshon gives his friend a weak clap on the arm. It takes a couple of minutes, but Veshon recovers his strength enough to stand.

"Ok, if we are going to continue we are going to need to rest and recover. Nestha looks like she's on her last leg, and I feel the same way after that swim."

The others agree, somewhat reluctantly, and after helping Veshon back into his armor and equipment they carefully make their way back to Roldare's supply room.

Kedloss knocks 3 times as requested and is greeted by a familiar sight. The front end of a crossbow peeks out from the door as it opens a crack.

22Nov/100

Friendly Fire

"Well... I hope there's another way to unlock the door, or another route out of this forsaken place," she sighs. With a wary glance down the right-hand corridor, Nestha leads the small group down the dogleg route, towards the wailing. The short hallway intersects another heading off to the right and terminating with a closed door. The main path likewise is barred by a wooden door, the source of the mournful wailing definitely coming from that area. Cracked and broken bones lie strewn about the floor.

Approaching cautiously, Nestha attempts to open the door only to find it locked. Her attempt also causes the wailing to cease. Faint scrambling sounds reach her ears, as though something were moving about on the other side of the door. Placing her ear to the door makes it much easier to hear the movement, followed by a faint but familiar click. Jerking her head away from the door quickly, Nestha just manages to avoid the head of a crossbow quarrel as it explodes from the door.

"Away, angry bones! Away! I'm not defenseless, go away!" shouts the voice from the other side of the door. The companions look to each other curiously.

"Hello? We are not 'angry bones', we are a company from the Battle Academy. We were sent to help you." Nestha speaks calmly and soothingly through the barricade.

"The voice of death! Walking bones do not speak, only the voice speaks. It speaks with tricks. Voice tricks! Go away voice, there is nobody here, go away!"

Keeping her voice as gentle as possible, Nestha responds, "I am not this voice of death, my name is Nestha. I am a student at the Academy and a follower of Gorum. What is your name?"

Shuffling movement echoes through the door and the voice speaks again, much closer.

"The voice is not female, is it? No, the speaking dead was not. It's a trick, do not give your name. Your name is power! But..." Silence descends.

"Hello?" calls Nestha. The sound of things being moved comes from behind the door. Presently the door lock rattles and releases, the door opening a crack. The business end of a crossbow presents itself, it's holder peering out the crack at the same time.

"You don't look like walking bones, but you could be a trick. The dead voice is tricky. How do I know you are not a trick of the dead voice?"

"If I were a trick of the dead voice, or a friend of the walking dead, would I be traveling with a Battlepriest of Gorum?" Nestha asks, gesturing to Veshon. Veshon takes hold of his holy symbol and with a quiet whisper causes it to glow brightly. The presentation obviously impresses the frightened madman behind the door as he opens the portal wider. A small storeroom is presented, a makeshift barricade has been constructed but moved out of the way of the door.

"Oh thank Gorum you have arrived," he jabbers, gesturing wildly with his crossbow, " The bones are angry, oh, very angry and the speaking bones took Dimira. My poor sister, you need to find her. The bones took her you see, they took her alive. I heard her screams as they carried her off. The stalking bones in ancient mail ordered the others to carry her off. Oh she screamed, how she screamed. But I couldn't do anything. Nothing at all..." the broken man sits down hard, sobbing.

Nestha crouches beside the distraught man.

"We will find your sister and get you both out of here, I promise. Can you help us? Can you tell us anything about this place, or about what happened?"

"Roldare. My name is Roldare. You will find Dimira? You will find my poor sister?" an expression of anguished hope contorts Roldare's countenance. As though Nestha's gentle nod grants him magical strength, Roldare suddenly stands.

"Here, take my crossbow. It's a good bow," he thrusts the crossbow into Nestha's surprised grasp. She barely catches the weapon before it falls to the ground.

"Oh, keys, you will need the keys. And the shields. Definitely the keys and the shields. You can swim, right? Good," Roldare rambles on without waiting for a response. He rushes over to one of the crates in the store room, rooting through the contents. Bemused, Veshon takes the masterful crossbow from Nestha, leaving his own serviceable weapon just inside the door.

Roldare hurries back with a parcel clutched in his hands. "Take these, they will help. Nestha gently takes the parcel from Roldare. A pair of potion vials glint in the magical light as she opens the package.

"Go, go find Dimira. Oh, sleep here if you need, it's safe, the voice of death and walking bones cannot get through the door. Knock three times and I will let you in." Roldare closes the door and scraping noises echo as he rebuilds his makeshift barricade.

"You seem to get hit alot more than I, Nes," he grins when she offers him one of the vials.

Sticking her tongue out at her bemused companions, Nestha hands one of the potions to Veshon and keeps one herself at Kedloss' insistence.

Kedloss, still chucking to himself, begins opening the doorway when a faint sound from the other side, like the clacking of sticks on stone, catches his attention.

"Something is moving around in there," he informs the others before concentrating briefly on his weapon. A dim shimmering coats the bow briefly before evaporating. Thus prepared, Kedloss takes position slightly back from the doorway, motioning Veshon to open it.

Veshon carefully opens the door wide enough to peer inside.

"Big bug," he whispers, then pushes the door open wide. Taking advantage of the surprise, Nestha dashes in, empowering her touch with the force of a sledgehammer. In a dazzling display of acrobatics, Nesha executes a twisting back handspring, vaulting off the enormous beetle occupying the small room. Her touch slams into the beetle who can't seem to decide from which side the attack came. No sooner than she had regained her balance and brought her shield to bear then an errant arrow from Kedloss' bow buries itself in the wooden barrier. Nestha's consternation short-lived as she is forced to duck Veshon's greatsword when it too deflects off the apparently impervious carapace.

"What the hell! Hit the beetle, not me!" Nestha cries, venting her frustrations on the giant beetle. Another sledgehammer-like touch batters the insect. Obviously aggravated by Nestha's painful strikes, the beetle lets loose a spray of acid at the surprised wilder, catching her full on with the blast.

Kedloss looses another arrow, this time striking true. The beetle churrs in agony briefly before Nestha, spear in hand, ends the vermin's suffering.

Nestha glares at her companions.

"Are you trying to kill me, or was that mere coincidence?" she asks, her words as acidic as the fluid dripping off of the rest of her.

"Believe it or not, Nes, it was coincidence. Even though you can drive me completely insane, I kinda like having you around," Kedloss assures the irritated wilder soothingly. She scowls at Kedloss, scraping acidic goo from her armor.

"Here, Nes, this will help curb the sting of your burns," Veshon pauses for a moment, "and hopefully your tongue," he adds with a grin. Nestha's dark scowl shifts to the priest as he chants, but her expression softens as the healing power flows through her.

Finding nothing of interest on the half-eaten corpse the beetle was guarding, Kedloss turns his attentions to the room's exits. A flight of stone stairs at the opposite corner from the door they entered ascends into darkness, the light from his magically illuminated arrow showing an upper level at the top. Near the stairs, on the southern wall a doorway beckons. Kedloss listens carefully at the door as Veshon tends to Nestha's wounds.

18Nov/100

Into the Hero’s Tomb

"Uh, guys? You might want to see this," Nestha calls out from the entrance. She strikes sunrod and peers through the partially open wooden doors as the other two come to her call. Inside the doors a grand foyer stretches into darkness. A grisly sight lingers at the edge of the light, two corpses and a number of skeletons lie on the ground between two staircases. A gentle toss carries the sunrod into the center of the room, illuminating the foyer and the gruesome battlefield within. Nestha creeps in, spear and shield at the ready, stepping over a skeleton laying just inside the doorway.

"Nes, stop. Something's not right," Veshon implores, stepping through the door to view the scene. As if on queue, six skeletons rise to their feet. Veshon swings at the skeleton rising in front of him, the blade skittering across the bones.

"Damn, use blunt weapons!" he calls out. Nestha hauls in her spear, already lashing out at a skeleton rising in front of her, instead the manages to reverse her attack with a spin and flourish now leading with her shield. The wooden guard piece strikes the skeleton violently, sending pieces of it scattering and halting it's rise. Whirling around and allowing her emotions to flow over her, she reaches out and touches the skeleton in front of Veshon. The power of her touch shatters the skeleton, bits of bone flying about. The remaining skeletons swarm in, three of them clawing and striking at Nestha, a single skeleton attacking Kedloss. Managing to deflect or avoid most of the strikes, one of the attacks slips under her guard, the broken scimitar slashing across her ribs. Kedloss dodges his attacker easily. He responds by drawing his sword and attempting, unsuccessfully, to bash the skeleton with the flat of the blade.

"Come on, Veshon, make with the light show already!" Kedloss growls.

Veshon chuckles and obliges his companion, holding his holy symbol aloft and channeling the power of his god through it. The skeletons appear to wince at the burning beams of light, but are none the worse for wear from it.

Nestha swings her shield at the skeletons before her, but over-extends herself. One of the broken scimitars and a claw find purchase, the former cutting a deep path through leather and flesh, the latter barely raising a weal. One of the skeleton's claws finds Kedloss as well, leaving a deep scratch on his arm. With a angry roar, Kedloss slams the pommel of his shortsword into the skull before him, shattering it completely. The animated bones clatter to the floor. Veshon once again invokes the power of his deity, this time the light burns more fiercely. Two of the skeletons drop, overcome by the holy might of Gorum. With a shout, Nestha brings her shield down hard on the remaining skeleton, releasing the energy built up in it. The skeleton explodes under the force of the impact, showering the room with bone shards.

Once more Veshon invokes the power of Gorum, this time the shining light heals the wounds inflicted by the skeletons.

"Well, you're getting better at that, Veshon. I think," comments Kedloss, rubbing his arm, "Thanks."

Nestha, after taking a moment to refocus her thoughts, pokes around the room. She discovers a couple backpacks with some odd contents, a thick pillow, two quivers of blunted arrows, a waterskin, some rations, and a couple smokesticks.

"Not exactly what I would bring to plunder a tomb. What were these people up to?" she asks.

"I don't know the answer to that, but i do know these two," Veshon responds, studying the corpses, "Garol and Vark. Close friends of the Kassen mayor, and definitely not tomb robbers."

A faint wailing sound drifts through the room, drawing everyone's attention to the door in the south-eastern corner. The companions look at each other and Nestha tosses the blunt arrows to Kedloss, quickly packing up the rations, waterskin, and smokesticks. She also retrieves her sunrod while Veshon causes her shield, his sword, and Kedloss' quiver of arrows to glow brightly. Thusly prepared, the crew cautiously opens the door.

The wailing is louder, but echoes weirdly through the hallways that branch out in all directions ahead.

"A maze?" says Nestha, leading the way. Carefully, she moves along the wall to peer east, finding a long hallway with many branches running north and south. Veshon looks along the northern way, finding a similar sight.

"Strange place. Be careful." he says, slowly working his way along the passage. Nestha tosses her sunrod down the hallway, allowing it's illumination to become a point of reference.

"Hold!" Nestha, Kedloss, and Veshon call out, all at once. They look at each other through a north-south hall in surprise. Nestha prods the ground ahead of her with the butt of her spear. The ground beneath her feet gives way as the trap door swings down, depositing her roughly on a bed of pillows in the bottom of a pit.

"Hey! I figured out why they brought all those pillows," Nestha calls from in her pit. Veshon prods the pit in front of him with his sword, slipping down into the pit and landing on the piled up pillows.

"Oof!" he exclaims, then hauls himself to his feet, "Well, that's clever. I'm beginning to see what's going on here. I think the Battle Master recruited the town to prepare the tomb for us, but things seem to have gone wrong. Here, Ked, help me up." Veshon tosses the end of his rope to Kedloss, who helps the cleric out of the pit. Nestha tosses her spear, shield, and pack out of the pit opposite where she fell from, then leaps high, hauling herself out easily.

"Well, now we know what not to do," she comments, looking around. She spots a wooden door to the south and carefully inspects it. The wailing is definitely coming from somewhere on the other side of the barrier, but the door is locked.

"I found the way out, but it's locked. No keyhole, there's gotta be a trick to opening it. See if you guys can find anything, I'll keep looking here." She continues to search the area around the door for a way to open it when she hears the unmistakable sound of Veshon falling into a padded pit.

"Gah!" the cleric calls out intelligently, "Ok, missed that one. Can I get a little help here?"

Abandoning the search around the door for a moment, Nestha starts down the maze towards the sound of Veshon's voice, but a slight difference in the floor ahead of her causes her to stop. With a grin she takes a running leap, bounding to the center of the trap and leaping to the opposite side before it can open and drop her into the pit below. Moving a bit to her right she finds herself looking down a short hallway at Kedloss, the pit holding Veshon gaping right in front of her. With her spear, she helps haul Veshon out of his pit.

"It's actually a pretty simple design here. 11 short hallways split and connected by 5 lateral hallways. Rather clever actually," Kedloss observes, "There's a lever over here, trap doors surrounding it of course. I'm going to take a look at it." Leaving Nestha to assist Veshon, Kedloss makes his way around a couple hidden pit traps he notices and soon finds himself in front of a small lever set into the floor.

Meanwhile Veshon notices another lever himself, inconveniently located across the open pit that he recently occupied. Nestha returns to her search near the locked doorway, poking, prodding, and examining the stonework in the nearby area. Veshon heads around to an intersecting hallway, looking for a way over to the lever.

Click, Veshon hears the now familiar sound of a trap door giving way beneath his feet. Leaping with uncharacteristic agility, he manages to clear the pit before it swallows him this time. Looking down into the pit that nearly got him he notices something different. A small leather bag sits on the pillows at the bottom of the pit.

"Nestha, need your help again," he calls out to his companion.

"Find another pit and need me to haul you out again?" she response with amusement in her voice.

"Ha ha. Yes and no. Found the pit, but it didn't get me. There's something down in it, though, maybe you can fetch it," Veshon retorts. Nestha soon arrives at the pit and with a shrug she lowers herself down to fetch the sack. Opening the small bag she chuckles.

"Looks like it's a clue left by the townsfolk to help us figure this out," she says, hauling herself out of the pit with little difficulty. Once back on her feet she reads the scrap of paper.

"Three to open, but be quick, for the door will only open for those who work together." she reads in an voice intended to be both ominous and condescending. Kedloss laughs at her antics.

"There are three levers, I saw one earlier, near the first traps we found, and just saw another by Veshon, then the one you say you found, Ked," Nestha ponders. Anticipating her next request, Veshon hurries over to the lever that was his destination. Nestha hurries back to the lever she saw earlier, dumping the three coins that accompanied the note into her belt pouch.

"Alright," she calls out once in position, "On three. One, two, three!" Nestha, Kedloss, and Veshon pull their levers. Heeding the note's warning, Nestha immediately makes a running leap over the open pit trap between herself and the door. Scrambling around the corner, she slams into the unlocked doorway, forcing it open.

"We're through!" she calls back to the others, elated. Ahead, illuminated by her glowing shield, the corridor splits to her left and right, the left-hand branch doglegging immediately south. The intensity of the wailing increases, obviously coming from that side. Kedloss and Veshon soon join her, retrieving her sunrod in the process. Distracted by the wailing, they allow the door to close with an audible click. Nesha closes her eyes, a pained expression on her face.

15Nov/100

The Gray Lake

Weary from their unusually eventful day, the young adventurers sleep well, keeping a watchman awake and the fire fed through the night. The morning dawns crisp and cool, a thin layer of dew coating everything. With the last watch, Veshon cooks breakfast and once the others are awake he retires to his contemplation.

Well fed and refreshed, the three companions set out. They soon run across a wide stream with a well-defined trail running alongside. It is easy going on the trail and soon the stream joins Gray Lake. It is easy to see where the lake gets it's name. A brisk breeze blows out of the ravine the adventurers just left, whipping the waters of the lake into a blue-gray frenzy of waves.

The trio travel silently along the trail in single file, Nestha leading the way. The events of the previous day, their first day away from the safety of the Academy, has affected each of the companions and each struggle to cope with the situation in their own way. Still, every rustle in the brush or call of a waterbird causes the young adventurers to jump, ready to defend themselves. An uneasy silence reigned among the three novice adventurers, none quite sure of themselves but all trusting in the others to help them should they need.

As they approach the end of the lake, Nestha signals a halt.

"Something near the water," she reports, pointing the object out to her companions. They watch for a minute, but when it does not move they cautiously approach.

"A corpse, and an old one at that," states Kedloss as they near. A closer inspection confirms this.

"Well, he wasn't from Kassen, his clothes look to be from one of the bigger cities," Vashon informs the others, "He's been dead a while, two, three months maybe."

"Huh, what have we here?" Kedloss asks, pulling on the corpse's belt. The rotten leather breaks easily and he removes a pouch and scabbard from the corpse. Handing the pouch to Vashon, Kedloss pulls the short sword from it's ruined scabbard.

"Oh, very nice," he says, swinging the well-craft sword through a few training maneuvers. He removes his own sword from his scabbard and tucks it into his pack, replacing it with his new-found toy.

"Well, whomever he was, he wasn't poor," Vashon shows the contents of the pouch to the others. The newly minted coins glitter in the overcast light. The cleric tucks the pouch away in his own pouch.

The small group continue south on the trail, the sky growing darker and ever more threatening. As they pass through an arm of the forest, this one full of ancient, gnarled trees, a cold rain begins to fall. Soon the trio are soaked. As they twist and turn their way along the winding trail they suddenly find themselves looking out over a broad, twisting valley, the far side hidden in the downpour. A quick look at the map confirms that this is the ravine they have been looking for, and their destination is on the other side. The only way down from here is a steep, muddy slope dotted with thorny brush and twisted trees. Kedloss pulls the hemp rope from his pack.

"Glad I thought to bring this along," he comments, looping it around a tree. Slowly and methodically the group descend the steep hill. Nestha and Kedloss have no problem at all navigating the steep, slick terrain. Vashon, however, slips and slides all over. If not for the rope, he surely would have taken the quick way down. After a long, tense hour navigating the steep terrain, all three arrive at the bottom none the worse for wear.

Peering through the rain across the valley, the companions can barely make out a symmetrical opening set into the hillside. Approaching cautiously, the archway comes into sharper focus. The arch and the doors further in appear unadorned save for the keystone which is etched with a stylized flame. So dominant is the archway, and so pervasive the rain, nobody notices the dead animals until nearly upon them.

Three ponies and a pair of horses lie slaughtered, still tied to posts driven into the ground. Their hides are covered by gouges and furrows, claw marks or dull weapons, it is difficult to tell.

"Come on! Let's get out of this rain!" pleads Nestha, hurrying under the cover of the tomb entrance.

1Nov/100

Into the Wilds

"Since none of us is, shall we say nature-minded, I think we should proceed slowly," Nestha recommends, picking her way nimbly down the faint trail, "We need to find a good-sized stream and follow it to a lake."

"This trail 'should' take us to the stream. It's been a long time since I've been anywhere but between the town and Academy" Veshon replies, his heavy, tromping march a sharp contrast to the footfalls of his more nimble companions.

"Ah, that's right, you got to play acolyte in the temple in town. I'd forgotten about that," Kedloss remarks, "Well, if we stick to the trail it should go somewhere, right?"

Nestha laughs, "How very optomistic of you, Ked."

The trio traipses through the woods for a few hours, occasionally traveling in silence, other times engaging in their traditional banter. Suddenly Nestha, who is leading the way stops with a low hiss, shield and spear immediately coming to bear before her. The other two stop, Kedloss with his bow at the ready, Veshon likewise with his crossbow. Nestha motions for the others to wait and vanishes into the bushes just off the trail. As a precaution, Kedloss draws from his inner power source imbues his bow with additional power. Suddenly Nestha cries out, her cry echoed by a much deeper, more gutteral one. Without hesitation Kedloss and Veshon rush after their companion.

Nestha unleashes a blast of force into one of the orcs encamped in the shade of a large tree, catching it in the side as it rises. Kedloss comes crashing through the brush into the small clearing and looses an arrow almost instinctively, the shaft burying itself deep in a second orc's chest, sending it staggering back a couple steps. The other two orcs charge Nestha and Kedloss, one landing a massive strike on Nestha and the other missing Kedloss. The third orc with the arrow protruding from it's chest stalks over towards Kedloss, murder in it's bloodshot eyes. Right behind Kedloss, Veshon comes crashing through the underbrush and, upon seeing the situation, chants.

"Lord in Iron, God of Might; Bless your children in their fight!"

Immediately the three adventurers feel their spirits bouyed by Gorum.

Adopting a defensive stance, Nestha allows her emotions to run free as she reaches inside her inner power source. Her hand fairly glows with energy as she reaches out and touches the orc. Her mere touch blasts the orc like a sledgehammer. Kedloss withdraws from the orc facing him a step, drawing an arrow and firing it at the orc point-blank. The arrow streaks unerringly toward it's target, lodging deep in the orc's chest. The pig-faced creatures counter-attack. Nestha barely dodges a vicious swing from the orc before her, Kedloss is not so lucky. His first victim catches up to him and delivers a glancing blow, but enough to cause damage. Thankfully he keeps his focus on the battle and dodges the other orc's wild swing. Foregoing his crossbow for his sword, Veshon lays into the orc that struck Kedloss, removing it's head and arm in the process.

Nestha stabs the orc facing her with her spear causing another grievous wound to the creature, which refuses to die. Kedloss steps back once more and empowers his arrow further before sending it streaking into his remaining opponent. The orc's chest fairly explodes with the tremendous energy striking it, throwing the creature to the ground, lifeless. The remaining orc takes a feeble swing at Nestha before collapsing at her feet, dead.

Breathing heavily, the three friends look at each other as the realization of their accomplishment sinks in. They had just killed three evil forest monsters, unaided! Their years of training has proven it's value! Kedloss lets out a cry of victory, cut short as he winces from the blow he took from the orc.

"Not to worry, I'll have you both patched up in no time," Veshon assures his comrades. Praying to Gorum, Veshon channels his patron's divine energy. The soothing radiance surrounds the trio, healing their wounds. Seeing Nesha still injured, Veshon repeats the prayer. When the radiance fades, only scratches and shallow scrapes remain from the once brutal cuts.

A quick search of the porcine humanoid's camp turns up a pittance, a mostly empty pouch with but a few silver and copper coins.

"If they were raiders, they were inept," remarks Kedloss disgustedly, "I thought adventurers found gold under every rock and wenches in every bed." Nestha rolls her eyes at her companion and stalks away. Kedloss grins at Veshon who can only shake his head.

Stopping only occasionally to rest, the trio continue on along the trail. As the shadows deepened and the light filtering through the trees began to fade, Nestha locates a decent, well protected campsite overlooking the first of their landmarks, Gray Lake. The low hill stands above the trees, providing the young adventurers with a spectacular and commanding view of the area before them. Below them but very near, the Gray Lake offers a very distinct point of reference. A small copse on it's north-east shore clearly indicates their turn to the south. Looking in that direction the land rises for a time before seeming to vanish. The three agree that that point is where they would find the gorge, their first destination. A fire is quickly built and the three friends huddle close to the warmth and security the flickering flames provide against the fading twilight. A wolf howl in the distance startles the trio, but a second, much closer, puts them on edge.

Nerves lead to a discussion of security and watches, but with that detail decided quickly contemplative silence descends on the camp. That silence is shattered not an hour later.

"Wolves!" shouts Kedloss, leaping to his feet at the snarling lupines bound into the firelight. Bow already in hand, he quickly fires off a shot at the attacking pack. The arrow clips one of the wolves in the shoulder, drawing blood but doing nothing to dissuade the charging beast. Nestha scrambles to her feet, bringing weapon and shield to bear and allowing her fear and excitement to enhance her power. Her hand glows with barely suppressed power as she waits for the wolves to close. Starving, the wolves charge in, focusing their initial attack on Veshon, who is struggling to rise. The cleric manages to evade two sets of teeth, but the third grabs ahold of an arm. Though the bite doesn't do much damage, the wolf manages to pull Veshon to the ground. Nestha strikes at one of the wolves as it rushes past her, but nearly fumbles her spear into the fire.

Worried that he might strike his friend with an arrow, Kedloss drops his weapon and draws a short sword. Pausing for a moment to imbue it with additional power, he closes on the wolf pack surrounding Veshon. Nestha reaches out toward one of the pack, her touch striking the wolf's flank with the force of a sledgehammer. The wolf yelps and growls at the woman and snaps at her while it's companions attack the prone half-elf. Veshon manages, barely, to keep the fangs away from his flesh. The hot saliva of the maddened wolves coats the cleric's vambraces. Managing to fumble his dagger from the sheath, Veshon slashes wildly at the attacking wolves, slashing one across it's gaunt ribs.

Kedloss strikes the wolf wounded by Nestha's attack, piercing the beast's lungs and dropping it to the ground. Nestha circles behind a second wolf and thrusts her speer deeply into the gray mass of fur. The wolf yelps and leaps away, but in doing so presents the wilder with an opening. Lashing out with her spear, Nestha catches the animal in the chest as it attempts to flee. The wolf succumbs to it's wounds and collapses. The remaining wolf continues it's mad assault on the cleric. It evades the prone man's wild swing and dashes in, biting down viciously on his momentarily exposed neck. Veshon cries out in pain and flails at the wolf clamped on his throat, succeeding only in losing his dagger.

Desperately lunging at the beast mauling his friend, Kedloss connects, driving the blade of his short sword into the wolf and the wolf collapses atop Vashon, dying.

Working quickly, Nestha and Kedloss pry the dying wolf off of their friend. Veshon grips his ruined throat with one hand and his holy symbol with the other, filling the small clearing with healing power. Nestha stands over the wolf that so recently had her friend's throat in it's powerful jaws, healed by the cleric's channeled power and struggling to get to it's feet. With a twinge of regret she plunges her spear down into the creature, releasing the pent up energy held within the weapon. With a mute explosion, the spear tears apart the flesh surrounding it, causing massive hemorrhaging. With a final spasm the wolf dies. A second wolf makes it to it's feet with a growl and backs away from the humanoids. Watching it carefully, Kedloss picks up his bow and the wolf limps back into the woods.

Still shaken by the ferocity of the attack, Veshon calls on the benevolence of his god to finish healing his wound, leaving only a pair of puncture marks as evidence of the close encounter.

25Oct/100

Beginnings

Dawn breaks silently over the work yard and training pits of the Ironwrought Battle Academy, a soundless summons for the dozens of warriors-in-training to assemble in the central courtyard. The drone of chatter spills from the barracks doors as they open, spilling students into the courtyard and breaking the silence. From within the stone temple of Gorum, god of battle and patron of the academy, a gong sounds signaling the beginning of the day's matters.

Armed and armored, the dozen students quickly array themselves before the temple, and stand at attention as the gong sounds once more from within the temple proper. An air of anticipation fills the small courtyard as the five teachers file slowly out of the temple, each methodically bringing a weapon against shield in time with their march. Lead by a heavily armored and scarred priest named Gustav the small procession arrays itself on the top step of the temple entrance, facing the students below.

Gustav, known as the Battle Master, steps forward, descending a single step but growing much larger to the eyes of all in attendance and commanding complete attention by his mere presence. Raising his hands he signals the teachers to cease; a sudden, absolute silence descends on the courtyard.

Everyone knew that today would be the final test for three of the students, the first three students to attend the academy. Nestha, Kedloss, and Veshon, the first row in the small column of students, fairly quiver with excitement. None know anything about their tests, the normally affable instructors were tight-lipped when the subject was brought up. The crushing silence pressed heavily on the students but these three found the experience particularly excruciating.

"Nestha, Kedloss, Veshon. Step forward," commands the Battle Master, his booming voice shattering the tense silence. The three students comply promptly and precisely, drawing a nod from the Battle Master. A heavily armored paladin, first among the teachers, strides down the steps to the students. Halting before the trio, he delivers to Veshon a rolled piece of paper tied with a red string before returning to his position.

"You each follow the Lord in Iron in your own way, and have proven to us that you are ready to advance to the next stage of your training. You should know, also, that life in the world beyond these walls is not always as cut and dry as you might like. You do not always have orders or instructions to follow, and so you must choose your own path, and sometimes your own destination." Gustav pauses, surveying the students before him, "That roll contains the location of your test, it is up to you to determine what to do with it. Go now and prepare. I will meet you at the gate when you are ready to depart. The rest of you, fall out to your warm-ups. Dismissed." With that final command the Battle Master turns and vanishes back into the temple. The teachers and students scatter to their warm-ups, leaving the three graduates alone without a word.

Veshon unrolls the map and the others peer at it with him. It is a map depicting the area, with the Academy clearly marked and an X located at the bottom of the map, apparently on the opposite side of a ravine.

Kedloss breaks the silence, "Looks like we have a bit of a journey ahead of us. Best to travel light and fast, I think. I'll fetch some rope to bring along, looks like we'll need it." The other two nod their agreement and the trio split up, Nestha heading to the women's barracks, the other two towards the men's. A scant 20 minutes finds them together once more, this time packed for the task ahead. Or so they hope. As one they head to the main gate, where Battle Master Gustav awaits them.

Gustav smiles warmly at the trio of students, his first, best, and brightest. With great ceremony he hands each a small package. "Some items to help you along the way. Also, a blessing from Gorum. Make the Lord in Iron proud." The Battle Master steps back, chanting, and a feeling of vigor and enhanced acuity fills the young students.

"We will return, victorious, Battle Master," Veshon promises, saluting his superior.

Turning from the wood and stone complex that has been their home for years, the trio of companions begins down the path, away from the Academy and into the unknown.