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 Episode 2 of Prehistory - 1118-10-12 -  
 Darnakurians Doom 
At the heart of what is now the Coldwood, a great and majestic elven city once stood. Crafted from living woods, marble, silver, and even ice, the City of the Summer Stars was home to perhaps 2,000 gray elves. They were an introverted, studious, mystical people, and they sought no dominion outside their homelands. The spells and lore known to them is virtually beyond comprehension in the Flanaess now. By a wave of her hand, Queen Sharafere could make winds ripple through all the endless miles of the great forest, and summon unicorns, treants, and the beasts and birds of the forest to her glittering palace.

The demise of this race is a dreadful tragedy which few alive today know of. Those who know the tale do not speak of it. Mordenkainen, Philidor, Gywdiesin, Calendryen of the Vesve, Immonara, and the Silverbow Sages of the Lendore Isles are among that rare few, and perhaps one or two other mortals.

The City of the Summer Stars received emissaries from the Ur-Flannae. Those necromancers and wizards spoke honeyed words, but Sharafere saw the lust for magical power in their hearts and sent them away. In their rage and desire to possess the magic of the elves, the Ur-Flannae brought their own magic to assault the city. Fire and acid rained down from the skies. Fiends stalked the forests. Bulettes, xorn, and other monsters erupted from the very earth to strike at the foundations of the city.

Sharafere knew the city could hold against this assault, but the forest around was screaming its agony at the defoliation and slaughter which covered thousands of square miles. The undead and monsters of the invaders seemed countless in number; the elves slew thousands and still the Ur-Flannae mounted wave after wave of attack.

Sharafere's eldest son, Darnakurian, could take no more. A peerless enchanter, he called on many sources of power, even across the planes. From corners of the void dark voices came to him, seducing him with the promise of supreme power--power which could destroy the Ur-Flannae and save the city and the forest. Darnakurian grew gaunt and sleepless, barely ceasing his work to memorize more spells he needed in his race against time. Finally, he crafted the appalling sword the elves named Hunger. Marching to the throne room, he presented it in triumph to his mother as the instrument by which the elves could triumph and banish their evil foes.

Sharafere was appalled. The weapon's evil was apparent to her, hidden beneath the waves of magical power which emanated from it. She ordered him to destroy the malign sword, at which Darnakurian was aghast. Driven half-mad with bitter anger at what was happening to the forest and frustration at the thought that his endless work was valueless in his mother's eyes, he raised the sword and slew her in the Palace of the Heavens. Looking down at her body, the enormity of his crime came over him and the elf-prince was plunged into madness, his mind broken. He fled into the forest and came upon a conclave of necromancers. Then his doom came upon him in earnest.

Darnakurian slew thousands in a matter of hours. The circle of destruction his sword emanated cut a great swathe of horrific deaths before him as he charged the Ur-Flannae and drove them in terror from the forest. Finally, the elf-prince took himself back to the city. So weak was he by now that the sword controlled him utterly, and it drove him to slay his own people in the hundreds. Every gray elf alive in the City of Summer Stars either fled, never to return, or perished in that single day.

The Sentinels

At the heart of the Coldwood the old City of the Summer Stars has simply disappeared. The magic of the elves has faded, and the city with it. Some say that its ruins can be found within the Fading Grounds, but the portal to it within the Coldwood is unknown. All of the city is gone from Oerth--save Darnakurian's own keep. The elves named this Bitterness, a word with a more intense double meaning than in the Common tongue. It refers both to the dreadful tragedy of the prince, and also to the intensely bitter chill which gives the Coldwood its name. The Coldwood generally has temperatures below zero, but within five miles of Bitterness the temperature is virtually unbearable, all vegetation is frozen into stark, leafless forms--killed by the black permafrost which covers everything here. Spells such as control temperature 10' radius and magical items such as boots of the north are powerless to negate this bitter chill, or to protect characters from its effects.

No living man has ever entered Bitterness. Within it, Darnakurian's form is still alive--in some sense. A powerful temporal stasis spell, crafted by the last of the great gray elf wizards before they fled the city, imprisons him inside. He still holds Hunger on his lap as he sits frozen, staring out blindly into the great marbled hall of his home.

No living man (or other sentient creature) is going to get anywhere near Bitterness if the guardians who prowl the margins of the Coldwood have their way. These gray elves are known as the Sentinels. There are 20 of them around the Coldwood, each a fighter/mage of great power (20+ levels split between their two classes). They have special magical defenses, with base 80% magic resistance and complete immunity to illusions and disabling spells such as hold, charm, domination and the like. They possess formidable magical items, with many holding rings of human control to keep potential intruders at bay. Some of these Sentinels are gray elves from the old city itself, which brings them close to the limit of their years. When a Sentinel grows old, and the time comes for him to pass from the world, another takes his place, usually sent by the Silverbow Sages of Lendore.

The Sentinels warn intruders not to enter the Coldwood, telling them of the dangers. Monsters such as remorhaz and white puddings prowl the intensely cold

permafrost area. Elementals, golems formed of ice as hard as steel, and many still more dangerous magical guardians stalk the wood. Great necrophidii (4-10 HD) are the most numerous. The Sentinels invariably know when anyone approaches within a mile of the Coldwood, and they can teleport instantly to any point on its margins to ward off such folk. Great owls spy the margins and talk to the Sentinels, but the frozen spider's webs around the Coldwood are also said to be a magical detection system alerting them to visitors.

The Sentinels do not speak of themselves, nor exactly what the Coldwood contains. They say simply that great evil and danger lurk within, and that the magical stasis containing that evil must not be disturbed. They will not permit entry. Their own enchantments make it impossible for any to enter the wood by planar travel, teleporting and other magical means. If need be, the Sentinels will fight to prevent any entering. They prefer to use disabling spells such as charm, domination, hold, wall of force and their magical rings, but if there is no alternative, they will not hesitate to use lethal attacks by spell, device, or weapon. If a Sentinel is seriously endangered, he will flee using his teleport ability. However, in a short time other Sentinels will arrive to join the fray.

Credits: Carl Sargent, Copyright (R) 1995 TSR, Inc. All Rights Reserved
 Episode 2 of The Scourge of the Underdark - 1113-01-21 -  
 The History of Tempus of Agravelenon 
Chosen One and High Priest of Agravelenon, Tempus has been an integral part of the Scourge since the Underdark. Through marriage, the birth of his son, and exile from his homeland, he strives to bring the message of his god to the people in harsh times.

Tempus led the party with his Oerthly brother, Tanamier for a number of years. The two share a bond that goes beyond mortal comprehension, empowered by deities making themselves know in the Flanaess only now.

He has faced seemingly every danger the world has to offer, and still maintains a steadfast faith in Agravelenon, God of Warriors and Destruction. From fledgling warrior/cleric, Tempus has amassed a circle of friends that command the most powerful magiks in the world. From political powers to mysterious mages, from criminals and vagabonds to his royal allies, Tempus is indeed powerful, even without the aid of his deity.

He has faced every danger the world has from his days investigating the City of the Glass Pool, Tempus has strived to bring goodness and peace to the world in which he lives. Lonely, hard and dedicated, Tempus found comfort in the company of Tanamier, a fledgling wizard who also commanded similar priestly abilities. Tempus and Tanamier, joined by Dhel and S'Thiss, a renegade Dark Elf, found a common purpose together and so began a tale that has woven itself through the taverns of the entire Flanaess.

In their adventures, others such as Brother Griften and Kith Forrester joined Tempus, banding together and forming the most powerful force of good, The Scourge of the Underdark and to this day, tales snake their way into every conversation about the heroic band of adventurers. Their exploits help to shape the world in which good battles evil in every town, and their example brings hope to the hearts of those who have nothing to call their own.

Of all that Tempus, Chosen of Agravelenon has accomplished, one things stands atop them all as the defining achievement of his life... the rescue and retribution of his long-lost love, Tamarina.

For centuries, these two entwined souls have endured amidst chaos in the hope of finding everlasting peace and contentment once again. From the mists of Ravenloft and with the help of the rest of The Scourge, Tempus vanquished the ancient vampire Strahd with a powerful swing of his mighty Sunblade. From that point on, Tempus & Tamarina finally knew the love and peace they had sought for so many years.

And since then, their lives have grown more and more complete. With the birth of their first child, Tempus has found the inner peace he did not know before. Their life together in Rel Mord is fraught with the danger that Tempus welcomes, and the priesthood of Agravelenon draws more and more followers each month.

Here is a picture of the magical lockets bestowed upon Tempus & Tamarina by the mysterious Shadow Mage as a wedding gift. It allows for an apparent empathic link between those that share the two lockets across miles, across planes and through the trying times that the couple will endure. Surely there is something else to the motivations that this enigmatic figure has shown such generosity...

If there is one thing that Tempus may boast, if not the undying love his wife holds for him when he is away, it is the undying loyalty his companions have for the priest warrior.
 Episode 13 of The Scourge of the Underdark - 1993-12-12 -  
 The Marriage of Tempus & Tamarina 
The day had finally come for Tempus, Son of Aggravelenon. The mighty priest had faced orc warlords, vampire-necromancers, fiends, the Lords of Doom, and even the Black One of the Vale, but none of these threats, yea, even all of them put together, inspired as much fear as the ordeal he was going to go through today.

Today, he was getting married.

Had it been but a simple ceremony, he could have faced it easily. The ceremony was far from being simple, however. King Archbold had declared the day a national holiday, so that anyone who was invited could attend. Special dispensation had been given to Tanamier to return from the Almorian front to attend the wedding of his priest-brother, and as many members of the original Scourge of the Underdark were also invited to attend. Some could not, however, and it was of these that Tempus thought of now.

Dhel, Prannik, Gorath, Caelynn, Tarax, Cyndr, Elric, Sylhm, Erronion... how many people had entered his life only to have violence claim them soon afterwards? He had to admit to himself that irrevocable death had come close many times to claiming him as well. How could he, in all honesty, make a vow of lifelong commitment when that life might be cut short by a marauding fiend the very next day? His life would constantly be in danger; the power of Agravelenon's Son must not be held in check, and his role as foremost priest of the warrior-god was far too important to give up. Yet, his love for Tamarina was also strong, surviving several lifetimes until the destruction of Strahd von Zarovich revealed their true identities to each other, a fact Tempus was still uncomfortable with.

There was also his unborn child to think of. Inkaneesta had been very forceful on that point, and he could not really disagree. Not that he wanted to. The image of a proud, strapping lad fighting alongside him against the undead forces of Duke Szeffrin was not unpleasant. What was unpleasant, however, was the idea that one of the Duke's demons would be responsible for the death of that son. Surely his lifestyle would contribute to his son or daughter desiring all the perils and dangers that come with the life of an adventurer.

In other words, Tempus was afraid his life would change.

He just didn't know if it was for the better or worse.

The Gifted One wandered the halls of his magically constructed fortress, reflecting as he always did that if he had had to design and construct it himself, it would never have been erected. Fortunately, the Deck of Many Things had taken care of that. A new thought came to him now: I can't even get a temple to my god raised because I spend my time 'adventuring'; how am I going to raise a son?

It was still a few hours before dawn when Tempus wandered into the kitchen for some warm ale. He continued to ponder his situation as the tepid liquid went down his throat. A conversation he had with Ambrose Gregor of Geoff came to mind. The paladin had spoken with him about his own family situation, having to leave behind his family to fight for their safety and freedom, with his wife and children uncertain of his fate. Hadn't it been difficult to concentrate on the task at hand with the welfare of his family constantly on his mind? No, Ambrose had replied. Knowing I was fighting for my family made me fight all the harder. Just don't tell His Grace Owen...

It made a weird sort of sense, Tempus had to admit.

Maybe it's just the suit I have to wear that I'm reacting to, thought the hero.


He turned to leave the kitchens when a voice called to him from the shadows. It was familiar in many ways, yet he could not place it. Was it someone he had met many years ago, or just months? He couldn't be sure...

"Hello, my brother," whispered the voice, with just a hint of menace.

Tempus was confused. "Tanamier?" he responded. The warrior-mage general was the only one who referred to him that way, and yet this voice didn't sound like Tanamier's...

"No. Not Tanamier. Someone much closer to you than a mere theological connection. Do you not recognize me? Of course not. Why should you? When you stole the only thing that mattered to me and flaunted it in my face, you didn't recognize what you were doing to me then, so why should you now?"

"I'm sorry, but I'm not following you. I don't know what you're talking about. Who are you?"

A pair of red eyes glowed in response. "I am your brother, Sergei." The figure emerged from the shadows and revealed it self to be Strahd, the vampire lord defeated by the Scourge all those months ago. "Come, let us lock in brotherly embrace!" shouted the creature as it leapt at Tempus.

The warrior-priest dodged beneath one of the heavy oaken tables and rolled to the other side, coming up with a butcher's knife in his hand for defense. Strahd laughed mockingly and leapt at Tempus again. The priest swung the knife truly, but it merely passed through the dread vampire while the evil creature's fist slammed into the side of his head, sending him sprawling across the floor.

Tempus was stunned from the blow, but was also weakened by the incredible link the vampire had with the Negative Material Plane. The resultant energy loss had left him almost five years older than he had been. Summoning his courage, he called upon his deity to grant him the power to destroy the night creature, and turned to face it, arms outstretched, ready to release the power as he had done so many times in the past.


Strahd chuckled in a low voice. "No one is going to help you this time, Sergei. Your accursed blade is nowhere to be found, and your god has abandoned you! The Powers That Be rarely look well upon infanticide!"

"NO!" cried Tempus. "I did what I had to do! They were about to free a terribly evil artifact! They had to be stopped at any cost!"

Strahd paused. "Any cost? The life of an innocent child? What a father you will make!" With that, the vampire threw a cutting knife where it hit Tempus in the shoulder, causing blood to gush from the wound.

I should have been able to dodge that! He's right! I killed a child! A little girl! How could I do that!?

"Because you are selfish, Sergei. You always have been. How did you amass so much power so quickly? Have you never wondered? Because you do it at the expense of others, Sergei. Who knows how many of your adventuring companions would be alive today had you thought better of your actions? If you had been more generous with dweomered items? If you had bothered to put others before yourself? You couldn't even save Tatyanna. You were too busy in revelry with others to be with her. You bring destruction and death through your actions wherever you go, and now Death has demanded your soul as payment!"

The vampire leapt at Tempus again, and this time he could not dodge. The vampire-lord gripped him by the throat with both hands, sucking his life-energy out with his very touch. Tempus tugged at the creature's hands, but could not break its grip.

"How could you proceed with this, thinking it was fair? That you were perhaps owed this? I was the one who had the responsibilities! I was the one who sacrificed! I was the one who did everything! You! You were a pretty boy who had everything handed to him on a silver platter and a golden spoon in your mouth!" the vampire raged. "How can you claim you love her? You have no ability to appreciate what that means!"

"That's not true!" screamed Tempus. "I've seen death! I've seen tragedy! Sadness! I know exactly what I have, and I won't let you take it away from me!" He broke free from Strahd's grip and backed away to the wall, but felt several cold hands hold him fast with unnatural strength.

Strahd composed himself. "Yes, you have seen sadness and death," he said with unnatural calm.

"One should always bear witness to the fruits of one's acts of destruction. Allow me to introduce you to the people who hold you as we speak. The one to your right is Thaddeus Fronticliff, and to your left is his wife, Marta. The small child is his eldest son, Luke, while the hardly formed child gripping your ankle is their unborn child that Marta was pregnant with at the time of their demise."

Tempus struggled uselessly against the hold of the zombies. "I don't understand! I killed no such people!"

Strahd smiled, fully revealing his fangs. "Ahhh, but you did. Through your actions they, and scores like them, were summarily executed and raised in their current forms. Or had you forgotten the slave farm that was killed in retaliation for what you had done? They had plans in life, Sergei, not unlike those you naively dream of regarding yourself, Tatyanna, and the bastard child she carries. They had their plans cut short; what makes you deserving of yours?"

Tears formed in Tempus' eyes. "We had no idea that would happen. We were trying to free a country; how could we predict that?"

"I didn't know? That is the summation of your defense? Ahhhh, Sergei, I truly expected better. And Tatyanna certainly deserves better than the dullard you've become. I am truly the better man now. If the playing field were equal, I'm certain she would choose me."

Terror surged within Tempus' heart. "What do you mean 'equal playing field?'"

"I think you know, Sergei. Fear not, in respect for the brotherly love we shared all those lifetimes ago, I shall be gentle."

Tempus screamed, for he knew what was coming, but the zombies still held him fast. Strahd bent over his shoulder wound and pressed his mouth against it. Tempus wailed in rage and frustration, but could do nothing as Strahd drank deeply of his blood. Memories flooded his brain, of striking the killing blow against the shadow dragon, the battle against the Grand Savant of the Aboleth, and blasting Strahd with his Sunblade. Finally, the memory of Tamarina, recognizing her at last for who she was, the lost love of his life that he had been chasing through countless incarnations, and the love that resulted in his unborn child, mere days away from entering the world he had fought so hard to right.

"NO!" he screamed. "I've beaten you once, and by the gods, I'll do it again!" He threw the zombies aside effortlessly and punched Strahd across the face, surprising the vampire.

"You arrogant, strutting fool! Did you really think I would let you enjoy this day? She's mine! I cannot die until she dies with me! There is nothing you can do about that!" Strahd paused. "And soon you will be in no position to resist me. The change is already occurring within you; I will squash your will completely when you are my vampiric minion."

"No, you won't Strahd," responded Tempus. "You really don't know what you're dealing with here. I am no longer your weaker, younger brother, as in previous lifetimes. I am Tempus, Son of Aggravelenon the Aggressor, and the most powerful Gifted One of the world! My god has not abandoned me! He stands by me through my failures because his Chosen One has always sought to redeem himself, and there is no better redemption than annihilating evil!"

Tempus gave a mighty yell as he extended his right hand and called down the power of his god. A magnificent bolt of flame roared down and completely incinerated the vampire, leaving nothing but ashes in a small pile.

"My Lord Tempus, what is it?! Are you under attack?" asked J'afrock as he burst into Tempus' bedchamber, battle axe in hand.

Tempus looked around him. He lay in his bed, sheets tussled and twisted, soaked with his sweat. A dream, he thought. It made sense. He had been apprehensive about the nightmares Tamarina had been receiving, so it was only logical that Strahd, the one he supposed was sending those nightmares, appeared in his dream. And of course, there were other reasons.

"I'm all right, my friend and loyal servant," said Tempus. "I was merely having one last battle before embarking upon the greatest decision of my life."

J'afrock cocked an eyebrow. "With whom were you battling?"

"Myself. It seems I had unresolved issues with my past that needed dealing with."

"And have you dealt with them?"

"I believe so."

J'afrock took on a serious look. "That is good. One cannot escape one's past. Indeed, that is rarely the wise thing to do, since it would prevent one from learning from one's experiences. But it is good that you do not let the past hold sway over you."

Tempus smiled. His half-orc companion always managed to surprise him. While many who had adventured with J'afrock respected his great strength and battle prowess, it was a very few that managed to benefit from his unique wisdom. Tempus felt privileged to be amongst that select few. Of course, this was one area where J'afrock was something of an expert, since his own past included being genetically engineered by the Scarlet Brotherhood as well as being right-hand man for the despot of the Pomarj, Turrosh Mak. "Will you be returning to sleep then?" asked J'afrock.

"No, I don't think so. The wedding is only eight hours away, and I still have to properly attire myself," said Tempus, gazing apprehensively at his wedding costume laid over his dresser. J'afrock looked in the same direction with the same expression. "Eight hours? We may not have enough time..."

Tempus smiled for the first time that day...

Tempus was not smiling as he waited by the altar.

Tanamier stood next to him, looking equally uncomfortable. The half-elf had shaved for the occasion (probably at the insistence of Inkaneesta, thought Tempus), and seemed to also be having trouble with his wedding outfit.

"That's what we get for spending our time running around in plate armor," whispered Tempus. "We can't even dress like normal, civilized people without difficulty."

Tanamier was about to respond, but a quick glare from Inkaneesta silenced him faster than any spell. He therefore merely nodded his head in agreement.

Tempus smirked and looked around the church. King Archbold had certainly not wasted any money setting up the celebration. It used to be a temple to Heironeous, but was now decorated with symbols of Agravelenon, Parthen, and Hierophylia. There was a mass of people gathered, many of whom Tempus didn't really know, at least by name. After all the invitations had been returned, Archbold had let it be known that any leftover space would be open to the public. Tempus had saved many lives, and so many were anxious to see their hero get married.

And they're all looking at me, thought the priest as he waited for his bride-to-be to walk through the golden doors. I bet they're saying that I look much shorter up close, or that my muscles don't quite bulge like the bards sing, and 'Where's that electrical energy that's supposed to be crackling all about him?' Sorry to disappoint you all, but underneath all the legends and lore, I'm really just an ordinary man who finds himself in extraordinary situations. This train of thought led him back to a conversation he had with his elven vassal, Tiemel, only a few hours ago...

He had gone to visit Tiemel in his chambers in order to finalize certain aspects of the wedding reception that the elven warrrior had declared himself the chief of. Tiemel had gotten a bit of a fan following himself; normally beautiful by elven standards, the Deck of Many Things had greatly increased his natural charisma and he had begun giving swordsmanship lessons in Rel Mord. More than one comely female had stopped by to gaze appreciatively at the shirtless swashbuckler as he fought and defeated a dozen warriors in mock duel under a hot sun. While Tiemel claimed it was all beneath his notice, Tempus was sure there would be more than one elven tune to which his vassal could show off to tonight.

"Ah! My lord, so good of you to come. I was just opening a package sent to me by that dear, adorable undergnome holy woman you introduced me to," said Tiemel as Tempus walked through his door.

Tempus nodded and looked around cautiously.

The elf smiled. "Don't worry, I'm quite alone this morning. Really, the way you all exaggerate so much..."

"Well, there was that time when I went to fetch you at your fencing arena and you were..."

"I was doing my exercises, as I had specifically told you. Now, if we're quite done with that, let's see what Her Holy Priestess sent me."

Tiemel opened the elaborately wrapped package to behold a beautifully crafted set of armour. Supple, light, and obviously made to fit the form of himself, Tiemel held the suit up against him. It was a blend of subtle, yet powerful colors, like a sky at sunset.

"Isn't it excellent, my lord? What a superb job she's done! I couldn't have asked for better!"

Tempus examined the armour. "Is this the hide of that cloud dragon you defeated?"

"The very same."

Tempus smiled at his friend. "You know, you're really the only one I know who could engage a cloud dragon in its own element and win. At least, you're the only one I know who's crazy enough."

Tiemel winked mischievously at his lord. "When you find yourself in a crazy situation, sometimes crazy is the only appropriate response on one's part."

"What do you mean?"

Tiemel sat on the edge of his bed and looked directly at Tempus, completely serious now. "What I mean is, we make it a point to place ourselves in situations that are, quite frankly, insane. Is it sane to willingly enter an undead-filled cavern system so that we can purposely engage a bunch of wizards who can literally turn off our souls of with a mere gesture? To engage a demonic being from Gehenna who can sever limbs with single swipes of its blade? Of course not! And yet, no one has to convince us to do these things; we volunteer! This is the very essence of defying reason. And yet we do it. Because we have to. We are mortals who seek out unjust extraordinary situations and then do what we have to do."

Tempus smiled. "Which is go insane."


"I see. Well, it's not exactly like receiving guidance from the Holy Canon in Veluna, but your words have helped a little bit, and for that I thank you. Will you be wearing your armour this evening?"

"It is attractive enough, isn't it?"

"Yes. In fact, I was thinking that we could all do the same, since I believe we should be at our most comfortable."

Tiemel silenced him with a glare. "You are joking, aren't you? Your wisdom may be above reproach in theological and warfare matters, my lord, but you are quite the dullard when it comes to wedding etiquette, if I may say so."

So I'm discovering, thought Tempus as he left the room.

Obviously, I should have spoken to Tanamier instead of Tiemel, thought Tempus as he again watched Tanamier struggling with his collar.

"How am I supposed to say anything when I can hardly breathe!" whispered Tanamier in a harsh voice to his priest-brother.

"Don't look at me, I didn't choose these outfits," replied the groom-to-be. "I'm not exactly breathing easy myself, you know."

"What I know is that the last time I felt this way, we had engaged the Necromancers of Skahlehn in their Greyhawk stronghold and that bastard Andrade Mirrius had us all suffocating in exactly this fashion!"


"In fact, I think the material component was this exact brand of collar..." "Are you allowed to say 'bastard' in a temple?" whispered Tempus, trying to calm his friend.

Tanamier shrugged. "I'm the highest ranking priest of Parthen in the Flanaess, to my knowledge. Who's going to discipline me?"

"Me, for one," said Inkaneesta in a tight voice through smiling teeth. "The two of you are causing a spectacle. If you can keep your composure in the Cursed Caverns of Sorrow, you can do it through a wedding ceremony."

I don't know, thought Tempus. Right now, destroying undead sounds a lot easier than getting through this thing. Tempus looked at Inkaneesta and Tanamier, who were trying to avoid eye contact. Still, it's got to be harder for them. He thought back to a scene he had witnessed mere hours ago...

While he had been waiting to greet him when he arrived from the Almorian front, Tempus hadn't really gotten a chance to speak with Tanamier at length. He desperately needed to do so now, before events left them too busy. However, as he approached Tanamier's quarters, he heard another voice from within. Feeling sheepish, he stayed outside and listened.

"It remains very difficult," said a bone-weary Tanamier as he unpacked his belongings. "Duke Szeffrin organizes a few raids to test us, but it's so hard to anticipate, since the raiding groups invariably contain demons who can teleport far behind our lines and disrupt things. I really think the only thing keeping Szeffrin from sweeping into Nyrond is our lack of resources. We're just not worth it."

"They call him the 'Iron Duke'. They say his skin is as difficult to penetrate as a golem's of the same name. Is it true?" spoke Inkaneesta. Tanamier shrugged. "Who can say? None have engaged him to test the theory, though I would dearly love to take a crack at it."

Inkaneesta went pale. "You would? They also say that, in addition to being the finest military mind ever produced by the Great Kingdom, he has killed over a thousand men in personal combat. Would you still rush forward to meet him?"

Tanamier had not yet looked up. "Yes, I would."

"I suppose that would keep you from your other responsibilities. How comforting to know that engaging the animus-duke is preferable to dealing with me."

"Now what is that supposed to mean?" said Tanamier, finally making eye contact.

"It means that you have been avoiding me for close to a year now. That ever since you brought me back from the icy lands I used to call home, you've taught me how to consciously control my gifts and that's it."

"That's not true at all! We've seen each other on many occasions, and I'm not avoiding you."

"I hardly call bringing in fallen comrades to have their life-force restored 'seeing each other!' I've been very useful to the lot of you, haven't I? Any time there's a serious injury, bring them to Inkaneesta! Well, there's a person beneath the magic, which I believe you all have forgotten!"

Tanamier cast his eyes downward. "I haven't forgotten," he whispered.

"Oh, no? When His Majesty asked you to go to the Almorian Front to take charge of his forces there, you didn't even consult me! You just packed as quickly as you could and off you went! I suppose I should feel lucky that you bothered to say goodbye to me. Did you think I'd have no opinion on the matter? Or is it that my opinion doesn't matter? I've seen how you all look at Tempus with pity in your eyes. 'We won't be able to count on him anymore,' you say, and you lament him being 'tied down' to Tamarina. Well, let me tell you something: Tempus is about to become the richest man of all of you, and I can guarantee you his fighting spirit will be even more powerful, not less so."

Tanamier was still looking down. "That's not true. I'm very aware of how lucky he is."

Inkaneesta's face softened, along with her voice. "You could be that lucky too, you know. I love you. I've loved you from the moment I touched your soul to bring you back to me after the battle with the ice dragon. Every time you're off to a new battle, I'm afraid something will happen to you and send you to a place that I won't be able to bring you back from."

Inkaneesta fought back her tears; her barbarian heritage still made her reluctant to show her emotions, no matter how powerful. "It's just that it's so difficult. Heirophylia represents love and marriage, and I'm her foremost priestess: single and in love with someone who doesn't return it."

Tanamier made a noise like a groan. When he looked up, his eyes were misted over. "No. You can't possibly think that. Cast a spell. Look into my heart. Surely your goddess allows you to do so. See for yourself my true feelings for you."

"Then why? Why the distance?"

Tanamier got up and walked over to Inkaneesta. He took her hand and knelt down before her. "I know it can be difficult. I know how hard it is to do things that go against the grain of your Power. Your not being married..."

"To you."

Tanamier smiled. "`To me' cannot be easy. But Parthen is the Knight Protector, and I am his foremost priest on Oerth. It's my sworn duty to fulfill that role, and anything that causes me to waver from that has to be... well..."

Inkaneesta looked away. "Avoided?"

"Taken into careful consideration, at any rate. You know how our clerical powers work. A waver in faith by not doing the actions prescribed by our god can mean a lack of ability. The more faith we have, the better our spellcasting ability. That's why you've been able to become so powerful so quickly; once you found out just who this mysterious Power was that was behind your gifts, your faith was like a meteor. The same applies to me. If I waver, though, it could mean hundreds of deaths. That's why I went without hesitation to the Almorian front: where else would Parthen's Knight Protector go?" He hesitated. "Still, that's not even the real reason."

"Really, what is?" replied Inkaneesta, her voice quivering with choked back tears.

Tanamier gripped her lightly by the shoulders and turned her gently around to face him. He looked her full in her emerald eyes with his own blue orbs and brushed away a rogue tear that had begun streaming down her face. "You've had the dream, haven't you? Don't answer, I know you have. You know how painful it was for Parthen to abandon Hierophylia that day, don't you? I carry my god's pain in my heart, and it becomes an open wound every time I see you. I know it's the same for you. I know it. It's like there's this impenetrable cloud of melancholy and sadness that surrounds us and corrupts every interaction we have. But, as bad as that is, how incredibly painful, it would be so much the worse if I, Tanamier, would have to do that to you. I couldn't live. I would sooner face Szeffrin's endless hordes then inflict that kind of pain upon you Inkaneesta."

Inkaneesta managed a small smile. "You may just get your wish," she said, crying openly now.

Tanamier grinned in return. "The dream is clearly a warning. We have to learn from the mistake our gods made. There has to be a time when our faiths are not at odds with each other; at any other time we risk our marriage becoming a failure. I couldn't bear it, not when I love you so much. I could fail at anything else, but to fail that..."

"I understand. I really think I do. And maybe that's why, in spite of my unmarriedness, Hierophylia has still seen fit to grant my prayers. Moreover, maybe it means there may yet be a time for us."

"I know it. I know it. And when it comes, not even Szeffrin's endless hordes will keep me from your side."

Tempus left before he intruded upon the inevitable embrace.

Isn't that even more reason to not get married? thought Tempus. After all, if Parthen's faith requires action on the part of his priests, Aggravelenon's certainly does that and then some. And at least Inkaneesta is a priestess in her own right; Tamarina is... ordinary. Well, no. Far from ordinary, but not gifted with power like we are. Is what I'm doing fair to her? Will she be married only to be made a widow? Maybe it's not too late. Maybe I can get out of here right now. He turned and saw Riyan looking straight at him. The half-elven ranger seemed to be reading his mind and his face read 'Be strong!'. He remembered his companion's words from before...

Tempus had been circulating the grounds outside when he came upon Tiemel arbitrating an archery contest between Larian Erroshel and his ranger brother, Riyan.

"Well struck, Larian!" said Tiemel as the priest of Correlon Larethian struck his sixth consecutive bullseye. "My dear Riyan, I think you're going to have a hard time keeping up. After all, Holy Larian's god is the maker of the bow, and we both know you can't beat the gods," said Tiemel as he winked at Tempus.

Tempus smiled. He took a great bow from the rack and fit an arrow to the string. After a brief moment of concentration, he let the arrow fly. It sped towards the target and promptly split Larian's arrow right down the middle.

"You're right," he said, smiling and winking at Larian. "You can't."

Riyan shook the warrior-priest's hand. "Well shot, Tempus. Every time I think I've got you figured out, you surprise me. Is there anything you can't do?"

Tempus laughed. "Go through with this afternoon, maybe!" After the laughter had quieted down, he continued, "But seriously, I'm beginning to wonder if I even have a right to do this. I can't give up being who I am: a priest of a warrior-god. Wherever there's conflict, I have to be there. Doesn't sound like I'll be giving Tamarina much of a home life, does it?"

"On the other hand, that will cause conflict, and then your god will order you home!" said Tiemel, to the laughter of his three companions. "The alternative is," he continued, "to retire and live out the rest of your days at home."

Tempus was stunned. "I... I hadn't thought of that."

"And you shouldn't," said Riyan forcefully. "Larian, why don't you continue this contest with Tiemel while Tempus and I have a little chat."

Larian looked serious, knowing exactly what his brother was going to do. "Certainly. Tiemel, prepare for a trouncing."

Riyan nodded and walked off to the gardens with Tempus.

"Before I joined your struggle against the Lords of Doom, I was part of the scouting contingent for Duke Owen's Free Geoffite Army," began Riyan. "I was also very much in love with a girl named Zina. She was a simple farming girl, brought up with strong family values and a heart of gold. We were planning on getting married as you are now, and we faced the same issues. I decided that I had to choose between being in the military and being a husband; I saw the two as being in conflict somehow. When the Lords of Doom began their offensive, my scouting team didn't give us the advance warning we needed and this allowed the bugbear shock troops to get within our defenses where they inflicted mass casualties... my fiance was one of them."

"But, surely you don't blame yourself. After all, you're only one man; who's to say you would have made a difference..."

Riyan nodded, staring off in the distance. "On the other hand, who's to say I wouldn't have? The point is, I refused to be true to myself, and tragedy followed. This isn't to say that the same will happen to you, but Tamarina loves you for who you are, so why become someone else?"

"You don't think I could last as a homebody?"

Riyan grinned. "No offense, Tempus, but I think you'd go stir crazy doing anything other than what you do. Tamarina would probably hurry you off to battle herself before long. Besides, when you hit sixty human years you won't be able to trounce around in plate armour any more, so you'd better get your fun now."

"I suppose you have a point," said Tempus with a smile.

Be true to myself.

Sounds easy enough.

So... what's the truth?

Is the truth that I shoulder some of the greatest responsibility for restoring Good to the Flanaess and that nothing stands in my way, or is the truth that I have loved this woman since gods-know-when and that nothing stands in the way of that? How can I know? How can...

The doors opened.

And Tempus knew.

He knew this more certainly and clearly than anything else in the universe. All doubts and uncertainties fled him at the very instant that the doors at the end of the aisle opened and he saw his bride-to-be.

Only one thought remained:

This is the most beautiful woman in the world coming to me to become my wife.

Tamarina started down the aisle with King Archbold of Nyrond on her left. She was draped in white and silver and gold, with golden faerie dust glittering and floating in her wake, much to the annoyance of the king who was, it went without saying, no longer used to such things. The dress was a gift from Ghiselinn, Royal Archmage in semi-retirement, who now stared with unabashed awe along with everyone else at the pair who walked down the aisle to meet Inkaneesta, Tanamier, and Tempus.

Nirifel Mendarin, the bard who had taken to recording the adventures of the Scourge for posterity, had begun playing the harpsichord as soon as Tamarina began her approach. The beautiful sounds of the instrument echoed and rebounded crystal-clearly throughout the temple, surely the result of a spell the bard had cast beforehand. However, when the time came for Duke Owen's daughter, Rhianna, to begin singing, she suffered a massive coughing fit. Tears formed in the young girl's eyes as she struggled to regain her composure. Just then, a fit-looking elderly man stepped forward and comforted the young princess, putting her aside. He then began singing an incredibly ancient Flan song of marriage approach. Nirifel was astonished, but quickly adapted her playing to accommodate that of the singer who was captivating everyone with his powerful, commanding, yet entrancing voice. Needless to say, everyone had looks of surprise on their faces, but the beauty of the music and song caused them to forget and simply concentrate on the moment at hand. Tamarina and King Archbold continued their approach to the three Gifted Ones. Tempus had decided early on he would maintain a solemn, serious look but found he could not suppress the smile coming to his face as his beloved approached. She smiled in return and then looked at Inkaneesta, who gave her a smile and nod of approval.

Archbold took his arm out from under Tamarina's and placed her hand into Tempus'. He then beamed a smile at the two of them and took his seat in the front. Tanamier stepped forward and wrapped a silken sash around the lovers' hands, then stepped back. Inkaneesta addressed the crowd:

"Friends, relatives, countrymen, guests, and those looking for hope: Welcome. You are truly blessed this day to witness the union of souls between Tempus, Son of Agravelenon, and Tamarina Gregor, not simply because one should always consider oneself lucky to witness a union of love, but because through this ceremony, you are truly in the presence of the gods once again.

"Yes, it is true. In the past year, you have seen and heard of miraculous doings: the injured are healed, the dead rise, the blind can see and the demons are cast out. These miracles have been excellent in restoring your faith after the past few years, but it is only now, in this relatively small moment of peace, that you will truly see the work of the gods before you: Two people will make a vow of eternal loyalty, fidelity, and love to each other in this public place and in front of the gods after centuries of unsuccessfully pursuing each other. This is the true miracle of the gods; not a wound that stops bleeding, but a merging of two spirits in unselfish love. It is an action of the gods, done proactively, and not in reaction to some calamity. We cannot simply look to the gods only in our hours of need, but also in our hours of joy and happiness, for look what they can do! Death has tried many times to claim the two of them, and yet here they stand! United in their love and devotion to each other; and my friends, that is more powerful than any demon or undead horror that has ever walked the face of Oerth."

The old man who had taken up Rhianna's singing duties stood and openly applauded Inkaneesta's words, completely uncaring that he was the only one doing so. "My dear," he began, "you have put into words the secret magical formula that is the key to our existence in such dark times. You would all do well to listen!" he said, addressing the crowd at large.

"Our time of darkness has not yet passed completely, and yea, will not pass unless we remember this young woman's words spoken here today. For the greatest tragedy Evil can accomplish is to make us forget how to love." He then turned to the wedding couple and said, "Tempus, you've had your doubts, and no on can blame you, considering what life throws at you on a daily basis, but consider this: You are about to become more powerful than any being you've yet encountered, through the love this young woman has for you. Tamarina, you are about to accept a certain responsibility yourself, for what concerns Tempus now concerns you.

You are the secret power behind this man; you must always remember this role and do what you can to aid and help him, for he will need your strength and resilience more than his good sword-arm. Finally, I thank the both of you, for providing hope and faith to a world sorely lacking both." He then turned with a flourish and headed out the great double doors, leaving everyone in the temple astonished. Ventrius went to look and came back with a perplexed face.

"Well?" demanded King Archbold.

Ventrius was flushed. "He met up with another man who was rather... peculiar."

"Peculiar how?" asked Prince Sewarndt.

"He was dressed all in blue and had... blue skin."

"Blue skin?" asked Sewarndt.

"Yes," replied Ventrius. "Then they began skipping along the cobblestones until they... just faded out of sight."

"How odd," muttered Ghiselinn.

"Odd, perhaps," said Tanamier. "But it was clearly a blessing of some sort, and we should take it as such." He looked at his priest-brother and smiled. "And perhaps we should get on with the ceremony as well."

Tempus smiled first and Tanamier and then at Tamarina, which caused his smile to widen. "Yes, we should..."

The ceremony had continued without further interruption. Princess Rhianna redeemed herself by singing the exiting song, another ancient Flan tune, better than she had ever sung any song before. As the wedding couple exited, the wizards in attendance conjured flowers of all kinds to rain down in an incredible display of colour. There were masses of people waiting as they left the temple and a wild cheer went up as soon as the crowds caught sight of the wedding couple. People good-naturedly crowded around Tempus and Tamarina, giving them their blessings and well-wishes, and provided a sort of escort back to the royal palace where the wedding reception awaited them.

Tempus looked around the great hall at all the people gathered; it was almost a biography of his life since he became Aggravelenon's Son: King Archbold and his sons Llynwerd and Sewarndt; Archmage Ghiselinn; the Grey Seer; Darafeyen, the Rockseer elf wizard; Carmeneren, the svirfneblin priestess; the old wizard Tauster and his former apprentice, Jelenneth; Stephen Van Richten, the vampire hunter; King Lolgoff of the Ice Barbarians and his entourage; Prince Melf Brightblade and his bladesinger lieutenant, Tinthalas Kaiyne; Kieran Jalucian of the Guild of Wizardry in Greyhawk with his (rumoured) paramour Jallarzi Sallavarian of the Circle of Eight; Tigran Gellner of the City Watch of the same city; Griffith Adarian, the melancholy druid; the Archmages Bigby, Otto, and Drawmij; and his former adventuring companions Akira Jetai-Ryi, S'thiss the dark elf, and the paladin Sir Graymore. So many people whose lives he had touched in some manner; he mentally relived the scenarios in which he had met them as the first course of the meal was served. And he was sure he would meet many more before his adventures were through.

He scanned the hall again. Field General Younard was speaking with Tanamier and Inkaneesta; the old man had a real liking for Tanamier, which was lucky, since technically Tanamier had replaced him as commander of the troops at the Almorian front, though only technically, since Archbold and Royal General Basmajeen gave the orders there. Younard had been aware of the incompetence of these latter two since the beginning of the wars, but could not bring himself to act against his king. With the arrival of Tanamier, his spirit seemed rekindled; Tanamier knew that Younard wanted to participate in at least one last great military campaign before he retired.

Prince Melf Brightflame was speaking with Gelleflair Entrell, an elven war wizard known throughout Nyrond as something of a sage due to the many contacts he has. Tempus had earlier tried to speak to the prince, but the subject of Caelynn Silverleaf came up and the prince rather coldly informed Tempus that that was a subject he no longer spoke about. Whether this was because he still held Caelynn in contempt or was feeling responsible for the bladesinger's apparent suicide, Tempus couldn't be sure.

Tempus was sure that the Archmage Drawmij was feeling guilty about the death of the beautiful dark elf, Tyslin San. The handsome wizard sat alone in the corner, drinking Celene honeynectar, while his companion Otto was still perusing the sweetmeat table. Drawmij had attended the wedding out of courtesy, but little else. Never a social person to begin with, this party could not be going well for the archmage, though he showed a reluctance to leave, as people who are depressed are wont to do.

Otto had stacked his plate high with all sorts of edibles, and was now speaking with the much more reclusive and puritanical Bigby. Otto, while having never met any of the Scourge like his two colleagues, had come anyway for three reasons: 1) He never missed a good party; 2) Archbold rather liked the idea of having three powerful mages he could court under friendly circumstances; and 3) He intended to speak with Tanamier and Younard. It was a well-known secret that Otto was a native of Almor, and that he had barely escaped with his life when Szeffrin and his massive army were cementing their hold on the land. Otto, having employed adventurers before like many of his colleagues in the Circle of Five, clearly wanted the Scourge to strike out at some of Szeffrin's important citadels, such as Millenium, or even Onyxgate or Bloodcrystal.

Prince Sewarndt was chatting by the fireplace with Ghiselinn and his lord, Duke Arnon Oberend of Hendrenn Halgood. Sewarndt was a former apprentice of Ghiselinn, and Ghiselinn now resided in Oberend's city, feeling too powerless to continue to advise Archbold. It was known around court that this had caused some tension between the two wizards, and that the prince would periodically try to get Ghiselinn to reverse his decision, since the king now relied almost solely upon The Grey Seer, to the discomfort of both his sons. Ghiselinn, however, while remaining polite, would always turn his former student down.

Akira, S'thiss and Sir Graymore were speaking with Jelenneth and her former tutor, Tauster. Tempus reflected that this young woman was the reason that the Scourge of the Underdark had come together in the first place, and that they consequently owed her much. She was an extremely powerful wizard now, though appeared to be handling it poorly, since she often complained of headaches and ni.phpares, and would sometimes awaken somewhere without knowing how she got there. Tauster assured her it was a result of trafficking with the creatures of the planes for information, but the three heroes seemed unsure. There seemed to be some sort of bond between Jelenneth and Graymore, perhaps because they both lost their fathers, thought Tempus. Graymore had never found his father in the passages of the Underdark, and Jelenneth's father was dead, slain by whomever was now masquerading as Darius Carman.

The dancing and festivities continued long into the night, dominated by elven music (big surprise considering who's in charge, thought Tempus) and speeches and political conversation. It truly bespoke Nyrond's poor state of affairs to see King Archbold courting Duke Owen of Geoff for aid; the Duke had just recently regained partial control of his lands, and was in no position to offer help anywhere. Still, he listened politely.

When the last song ended, Tiemel went over to the orchestra to give them whispered instructions. Clumsily at first, though picking it up as they went along, the musicians began to play a strange but beautiful tune. Tempus could only presume it was another elven tune, and since it was a slow dance, took Tamarina's hand at started for the dance floor. But then he noticed that Tiemel, who had obviously requested the music, was not yet dancing, but waited with Princess Rhianna (who had been his partner for several dances), for something to happen. Likewise with Prince Melf, who had his arm around the waist of Darafeyen. The music was both haunting and uplifting, but seemed to be missing something, and a feeling of anticipation had settled down upon the crowd. Tempus looked to where Tiemel was gazing. Drawmij was still in his dark corner, his wineglass still in his hand, staring at the tablecloth. He seemed to recognize the song and locked eyes with Tiemel. Tempus thought for a horrible moment that he would disintegrate Tiemel on the spot. Instead, the mage got up from his seat and reached deeply into his magical bag. He withdrew a beautiful, ornate, and very old elven harp. He stood by the orchestra and began playing. At first, it was so light and delicate that it seemed he was not, in fact, playing. As the song went on though, it became more pronounced. The missing element from the song was now present, and Tempus knew he had never heard anything so beautiful. He began dancing with Tamarina, and other couples now joined the dancefloor. Before dancing with the fiery redhead Rhianna, Tiemel nodded once at Drawmij, who flickered his eyes in return. The elven warrior had now apologized for his behaviour in their last encounter in a fashion most elven. Tempus shook his head, knowing he would never understand elves completely.

Tempus spied Ventrius speaking with the druid of Greyhawk, Griffith Adarian. They had met Adarian when hunting the Necromancers of Skahlehn in Greyhawk City; he was melancholy then, and seemed worse now. Ventrius on the other hand, was now a strapping young man, full of confidence and energy. Which he would need, if he were to take the forests of the Duchy of Ulek back from the Shadow Circle and their drow "allies." Why they were speaking elven, Tempus couldn't guess. Perhaps Ventrius had been spending too much time with his new allies, Legolaas and Arthua.

Having purposely been given the heaviest oak table, King Lolglof and his entourage were doing their best to drain Nyrond's ale supply all on their own. Rowdy and carousing, Tempus couldn't suppress a smile when looking upon them. Wild and chaotic, they still possessed a strange sense of honour, and that was what brought them here today, since Inkaneesta had been one of their own, and they would not miss her performing this holy ceremony. Only a matter of time before Archbold gets around to them, thought Tempus as an arm-wrestling contest at the barbarians' table was about to spill out of control.

It had seemed the party would never end, but like all good things it had to. Tempus was on the balcony, staring out at the rising sun when his wife came to join him. "Reconsidering, my beloved?" she asked.

Tempus took her into his arms and, considering his inner struggles preceding this event, replied with much conviction, "No." He kissed her full on the lips, a kiss that would have lasted forever, had there not been a violent interruption.

"Ohhhh," said Tamarina, grimacing. "It would seem our son or daughter is annoyed that he or she missed out on the festivities. That was a mighty kick."

"Indeed," said Tempus as he placed his hand on his wife's rounded belly, smiling. "It is a fine warrior you have got in there," he said proudly. "My progeny will surely eclipse even Agravelenon's Son in deeds of daring and valour."

"Yes, he will," said a familiar voice. Melting out of the shadows was a figure dressed in deepest black, providing the illusion of a disembodied head and hands. Blondish and youthful-looking with delicate hands, the Shadow-Mage stepped forward to the newlyweds. "My sincerest congratulations to you both. You have come a long way to get to this point."

Tempus instinctively took a defensive position in front of Tamarina. "What is it you want?" "Only to provide you with my own wedding gift, mighty Tempus. Do not worry, I am not offended that I was not invited; I did not leave you an address to send the invitation. Nevertheless, I have a gift to bestow to you. Through your association with the monk Griften, you are aware of the powers of the mind."

"Griften is no longer amongst us," interrupted Tempus.

"But he is amongst others, whose company is much less enjoyable. Nevertheless, you are aware of how, through these gifts, one mind may speak to another. My dear, this is for you," the Shadow-Mage said as he handed a small box wrapped in reflective black paper to Tamarina. He then turned to Tempus and gave him a similar package. Exchanging glances, the newlywed couple opened them gingerly, with the mysterious wizard smiling at them both. Inside each package was half a locket, carved out of onyx and polished expertly. The form was that of half a heart. They both looked to the Shadow-Mage.

"Put them on," he instructed.

Not sensing any malice from the sorceror, Tempus and Tamarina did as instructed. Instantly, Tamarina's face magically appeared upon Tempus' locket, and the reverse happened for Tamarina. A slight wave of dizziness swept over both of them, but when it passed, every thought the one had, the other received. It was a closeness and intimacy like they had never felt before. Moreover, the memories and emotions they had felt throughout all their past lives were now accessible; the feeling was almost overwhelming.

Looking up with his eyes wet, Tempus whispered, "Thank you."

"It is my pleasure," he responded simply. He had turned to go, but Tamarina called out to him.

"Wait! You said 'he'. We're about to have a boy?! How do you know?"

The Shadow-Mage smiled. "Yes, you are going to have a son. I would explain how I know, but I sense the arrival of one whose presence I would find... uncomfortable, so I must take my leave. Farewell." With that, he disappeared into the shadows again, though he was gone and not merely hiding, Tempus was sure.

"I don't understand. Who is coming?" asked Tamarina of her husband. As if to answer her question, a bright flash of pale blue light erupted upon the balcony, opening what Tempus recognized as a gate. Through it stepped the astral deva, Callimar. As always, Tempus felt humbled in the presence of the beautiful bronze-skinned, white-haired aasimon, who now glided down upon the balcony with his feathery wings, to land next to Tempus and Tamrina. When he spoke, it was as he always did, full of charisma and very persuasive.

"The immortal god is proud of his mortal son. It bespeaks well of thee, Tempus, to have done so great a deed as you have done today. Agravelenon could not have chosen better for his first, and most powerful, Gifted One. On my own, I am proud and pleased to have made your acquaintance, mortal. The joining of two souls such as you have done today is something even we aasimon cannot do and therefore recognize the value of. As my own gift to thee, I am once more in your service for three tasks. As before, you have merely to chant the summoning mantra thrice, and I will battle on your side as before.

Fare thee well." With that, the angelic being soared off towards the coming sunrise.

Tamarina was in utter shock at the encounter, with tears flowing unnoticed down her face, her mouth agape and her eyes fixed upon the sunrise to where Callimar had flown.

Tempus surmised that she may have stayed that way forever, but then something even more pressing happened.

Tamarina gave a sudden cry of pain and doubled over, grasping at her husband's doublet with the strength of a strom giant. "Tempus! It's coming! It's coming!"

Tempus knelt down beside her, confused. "What?! What is it, beloved?"

"You can read my thoughts, you dolt! It's our son! I'm going to give birth to our son!"

"You're entering labour?" said Tempus, incredulously.

"Yes!! Now get me some help!"

Panicked, Tempus began chanting, "Come Callimar, for our need is great..."

"NO!" cried Tamarina. "Run and get Inkaneesta, you fool! Unless you want your son born on a stone balcony!"

Nodding foolishly, Tempus ran through the halls to Inkaneesta's chamber. Without knocking, he burst in, surprising both Inkaneesta and Tanamier.

"Inkaneesta! I need your help, Tamarina is... Tanamier? Well, well, brother, when did this.."

"Tempus! What about Tamarina? Is she all right?"

Tempus was shocked back into reality. "Tamarina! She's giving birth! On the balcony!" Inkaneesta grabbed her holy symbol and started out the door. Glaring at Tempus, Tanamier did likewise, leaving Agravelenon's son standing alone, dumbfounded in the bedchamber.

"My son is about to be born. My son..."

Laughing with hysteria that only the happiest of people have, Tempus ran to join his wife and friends.

The End
 Episode 1 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1113-01-31 -  
 The History of Talen Silverblade 
Talen is a bladesinger, the elite elven warriors. However, his training as a bladesinger serves another purpose as well. Talen, is one of the few elves who has felt all his life he is destined to become one of the mysterious Sentinels of the Coldwood. Due to the release of Darnakurian and Hunger, he has now been robbed of this 'destiny'. He now finds himself taking on the role of adventurer alongside the other members of The Scourge.

Talen is quiet, reserved and very serious. At times, his calm demeanour is somewhat disconcerting and sometimes leads one to believe that he is uncaring. This is not the case. He is not quick to anger and, in fact, has only lost his temper once in recent memory. He is not quick to make friends but his loyalty to those he calls friend knows no bounds.

Talen has been training all his life. From an early age, when he first took up the longsword and learned to wield it according to the beautiful yet deadly bladesong, where he has learned to recognize and manipulate the flow of magic around him. To recent years, where he began his training as a Sentinel, Talen has trained to be the best and, one of the best he has become. It is a testament to his dedication and perseverance that he has accomplished so much at so young an age. Few elves have been given the honor of donning the mantle of "Sentinel" so early in their lives. A fact, of which he is proud, yet humble.

Talen's destiny (as he sees it) to become a Sentinel, like his father and grandfather before him, is what drives him. He feels honored to be allowed to follow in their footsteps. Unfortunately, the release of Darnakurian and Hunger by Tryiok has prevented him from joining the ranks of the Sentinels. He has taken it upon himself to rectify the matter - a lofty goal indeed. While confidant in his abilities, he sometimes wonders whether he has made the right choice in pursuing the matter. He then thinks of the consequences of allowing Hunger to return to Darnakurian's grasp and knows what must be done. While not officially a Sentinel, he has adopted most of the traits of those he has met. He truly believes it is only a matter of time.

Talen stands somewhat tall for an elf (5'8") and weighs 160 lbs. Every male in his family that he remembers (father and grandfather) has been tall and so he associates it with his "Sentinel heritage". Due to the intense training he has undergone, he possesses a remarkably muscular frame. His long black hair falls to mid back and is usually tied back in a ponytail. Talen dresses simply, wearing monastic robes (common to all Sentinels) of deep purple coloring with golden runes adorning the borders (I hate to make this analogy but they look like Jedi robes, that's the way I picture it). Strapped to his side is his longsword. His hand can usually be found resting on the hilt, ready to draw it at a moment's notice.

Upon closer inspection, it can be seen that Talen wears some type of armor beneath his robes. In fact, it is suit of enchanted elven chain presented to him by his mentor's on the Lendore Isles. He was also presented with a ring of warmth to help him overcome the extreme temperatures within the Coldwood. The longsword found at his side, while simple, is extremely well kept. As they say, "A bladesinger's weapon is an extension of himself..."

Perhaps the most striking of Talen's features are his eyes. They are violet in color and are well contrasted by his dark hair and milky skin. Violet eyes are rare, even among elves. It is said that those with violet eyes are born to a special purpose. Only time will tell if this true or not.

Talen bears the mark of his bladesinger faction on his left shoulder. It is a tattoo of a Black Panther, which represents the graceful yet deadly manner in which his faction wields its weapon of choice - the longsword. The tattoo is quite unremarkable, until Talen begins practicing his deadly dance. At this point, the creature seems to take on a life of its own - shifting and moving in accordance with its bearer's motions. Perhaps it is a trick of the light or perhaps magic? No one truly knows except for the bladesingers themselves and they do not offer any explanation.

Whenever Talen gets the opportunity, he practices the bladesong through its many "dances" and the required meditations. Its rhythmic, deceptive and entrancing motions awe those bearing witness to the movements of the "dance". Its precisely choreographed motions belie its effective and deadly nature. It seems like there is a dance for every occasion one would encounter on the field of battle and Talen moves from one to next seamlessly. One loses sight of the longsword when observing the hypnotic bladesong; it seems to be an extension of the wielders being rather than just merely a weapon.

Talen also studies the stars. It is a pastime acquired from his father. Talen can be seen to stare into space for hours on end. He finds astrology relaxing and informative. "Sometimes the stars reveal things which otherwise would remain hidden. Nature never lies..." his father used to say. Talen will speak openly and enthusiastically with any that show an interest in the stars. Unfortunately, such souls are few and far between.

The only place Talen can truly call home in his mother's residence within the elven community of the Grandwood, although, he has not returned to visit in many years. Mostly, because he has been training in the Lendore Isles.

Talen does not have many people he would call friend. His isolation as a result of his training has led him to become somewhat of a loner. However, his travels with the Scourge are quickly changing this. While there are not many he would call a true friend, as of yet, he counts most of them as allies. Including the dark elf S'Thiss but excluding Khaal Wraath. He also has allies amongst the bladesingers of the Grandwood with whom he trained.

Perhaps the closest person in his life, other than his mother, would be Elraniel Tesmaries, the elven trainer in Greyhawk City. After passing the tests at the Moon Arch of Sehanine, Talen had learned many things and also had many questions. He was sent to Greyhawk City to help him come to terms with what he had learned. Talen spent some time with Elraniel before departing for Lendore. He considers him to be a surrogate father. He has the utmost respect for him and would call him a true friend.

Right now, Talen is embroiled in the Tharizdun Gambit along with other members of the Scourge. He knows the importance of stopping the dark god's return and has consequently put his quest aside for the moment. He has undertaken the task of returning Hunger to the Coldwood. In truth, Talen doesn't know if this is truly possible. For the magic which kept Darnakurian and Hunger bound for centuries has been shattered, and it was the most powerful wizards of the legendary "City of the Summer Stars" created the binding spell. Are there mages powerful enough to restore such a powerful enchantment? Regardless, Talen has his mission and it will be accomplished. He will take his place among the Sentinels and perhaps, become one of the greatest of their number!

The Scourge's recent discovery of a tome detailing the destruction of the City of Summer Stars by the Ur-Flannae is now in his possession. Although he has not had the opportunity to study the tome, Talen believes it may contain some very important information regarding the magical corruption of the land. Should he discover what type of evil magic has been used to corrupt the land, perhaps it can be reversed and the legendary City of the Summer Stars can be resurrected.

Talen was born to a family of bladesingers in the Grandwood. He was an only child. At an early age, his father was called to take the mantle of a Sentinel and consequently had to leave. His mother, a lieutenant in the bladesinger regiment, then raised Talen. Talen was thus enrolled to the bladesinger academy at a very young age. In a sense, he was adopted by many of the bladesingers as a "little brother", and they taught him well. Talen learned the intricacies of the bladesong, how to grasp and manipulate the magic that existed in all things around him and of his elven ancestry. Talen studied extremely hard, always practicing, always wanting to learn more. His resolve and thirst for knowledge impressed many of the bladesingers and he rose through the ranks rapidly. He was even given command of his own small party. His mother could not have been more proud.

One day, while on patrol, Talen began to feel a strange "calling" in his head. It spoke of death and rebirth... he was frightened and attempted to ignore it. However, the urge became stronger and stronger until Talen could no longer fight it. With a scream, he fainted from the exertion.

Talen awoke to find his mother by his side. Apparently his patrol had found him in the middle of the Grandwood, unconscious and returned him to the city. He hurriedly attempted to explain what had happened but his mother just quieted him and pointed to the corner. Standing up from the table nearby was a figure Talen did not recognize. An aging elf, he was introduced as Elraniel Tesmaries. Talen sat with Elraniel for many hours and they discussed what he had experienced. Elraniel explained that the "calling" Talen had felt was indeed a call to "die", but not in the literal sense of the word. It was to be associated with the death of his old life to be reborn into a new one, that of a sentinel. Talen was awed and honored. He was also happy because he could finally be reunited with his father, who had been gone for so long. Elraniel explained that Talen must journey to the Moonarch of Sehanine and undergo the tests and then join him in Greyhawk City.

Talen did as he was told, bidding his old life a fond farewell and travelling to the Moonarch of Sehanine. He underwent the three tests given by avatars of the elven pantheon. The whole process was awe inspiring to say the least. The tests judged his very being and left him tired and disoriented... but he passed. And those that tested him were impressed. However, while many tests give definite answers, these tests just led to more questions. And so, Talen journeyed to Greyhawk City to meet Elraniel once again.

Talen spent many months with Elraniel, who helped come to terms with what he learned during the testing. Although confused when he first arrived, upon his departure, Talen was a new man, more confident, wise and intelligent. He truly understood what it meant to be an elf. He was now ready to begin his training as a Sentinel. For this, Elraniel informed him, would take place at the mysterious Lendore Isles.

Upon arrival at the Lendore Isles, Talen could not believe the beauty that surrounded him at every turn. It was by far the most beautiful place he had ever seen; perhaps it even matched the beauty and serenity of the legendary City of the Summer Stars! His training began almost immediately. It was hard and enduring but Talen still flourished despite the extreme conditions. His mentors and the sages of the Lendore Isles were truly impressed that one so young could display the courage and fortitude necessary for the training and exceed even their expectations, they were pleased. For unbeknownst to him, the Sages of Lendore had already foreseen the release of Darnakurian and Hunger, the fall of the Sentinels and the cataclysm that would follow, and so, Talen's destiny was revealed to them. He would be one of the key figures in final confrontation with Darnakurian. With that accomplished, he would be there to pick up the pieces of those Sentinels that remained and lead them into a new era.

With his training complete, Talen left the Lendore Isles to join his brothers in the Coldwood. However, what he discovered when he arrived would shock him. Upon entering the Coldwood, he was not greeted by a Sentinel, as was customary. He continued on, toward Bitterness only to find signs of a great battle throughout the forest. Upon arrival at the keep, he discovered a funeral pyre and three Sentinels standing guard. As he approached and explained who he was, the expression of sadness upon the faces of the guardians only deepened and tears began to flow. They recounted the story of the battle against Tryiok and the aid of the Scourge. Of how Darnakurian and Hunger had been released and how Tryiok had captured the sword but it was taken away by the Scourge before he could properly wield it. They explained how many Sentinels died in battle and of how some of those that survived took their own life out grief for allowing both Darnakurian and Hunger to escape. They and a few others remained because the Scourge had promised to return both to the Coldwood. Talen too, began to cry. His calling had been denied. For how can one become a Sentinel with nothing to guard? It was at that point that Talen vowed that he would seek out Darnakurian and Hunger and return them to the Coldwood, thereby restoring the Sentinel's purpose and saving those that yet lived. On Lendore, the Sages smiled for they knew he walked the path of destiny.

Talen left the Coldwood to seek out Darnakurian and Hunger. His path would lead him to the Scourge and the beginning of his quest...
 Episode 2 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2008-10-20 -  
 The History of Cyndr of the Summer Stars 
It was a cold afternoon. The crimson and golden leaves fell from the heavy arms of the trees with a rhythm only the wind could count. The birds that covered the skies were fewer now, some having decided to head elsewhere, in search of food and more suitable weather. Cyndr sat in his rocking chair, knife in hand, witling away the unnecessary chunks of what would be a fantastic ivory sculpture. It didn't look right now, Cyndr thought. The arms were out of proportion. Perhaps if the legs were longer...

Cyndr's hand fell from the sculpture as he heard the faint sound of footsteps approaching from the distance. From his porch, Cyndr could see twenty paces into the dense forest through which the dirt path emerged. The figure that rounded the bend in the path was on foot. "Strange," Cyndr thought, "it's quite a walk from the nearest village. He must have left his horse further down the path." The figure, clad entirely in black approached the house. It said nothing to Cyndr, its soft, velvety robes swirled around the obvious frail shoulders as it walked to stand some distance from him.

Cyndr yelled to the stranger, "Hello, hooded one," but the stranger said nothing. Cyndr stepped down into the yard and asked again, "Who goes there?" but received no response.

Without a word, the figure raised its arms, and from the cold ground emerged a rack of dirt-covered bone, a skeleton, standing upright and attentive. Struck with fear, Cyndr turned to run. But right behind him, another skeleton stood in his path, arms raised, walking slowly towards him. Cyndr had heard of things like this before. He gripped his knife tighter in his palm, and swung at the skeleton. Missing, the skeleton struck him in the back, dropping Cyndr to his knees. Without so much as a sword to help him, Cyndr slashed and struck at the skeletons who stared through him with their empty, glowing red eyes.

It was over quickly. Cyndr was beaten. Having smashed two of the skeletons, he lost count of how many more rose up out of the ground to join the assault. As he lay there, staring up at the crimson sky, Cyndr watched the skeletons draw back, pulling away from delivering their last blow. His vision was fogged and blood was stinging his eyes, but Cyndr watched as the figure in black approached. The figure bent down to look at Cyndr's face and whispered words into his ear in a deep whisper.

"You are the last, Cyndr. And now I finish what was started so long ago." With that, the figure reached forward and placed his hand on Cyndr's bloody tunic, right above his chest. Immense pain filled Cyndr's body as the figure mumbled incoherent words to the dying elf. Cyndr could feel himself losing his strength, he felt himself being drained of his life force.

All that Cyndr knew was that this mysterious figure emerged from the forest and was trying to kill him, but he could do nothing but stare into the sky. The pain coursed through his veins, his vision became more and more blurred. "Why?" Cyndr thought, but no words left his blood-stained lips. "What did I do?" Cyndr felt, but no thoughts came to his throbbing head. No sound came from the figure shrouded in black, nothing but the pain...

Cyndr stood on a vast plain. Grass, as high as Cyndr's knee swayed in the warm, gentle breeze that wafted over him like a blanket. The air was warm, but no sun shone in the late fall sky. In fact, no moon cast its light, either. There were no sounds of animals, no chirping of birds in the sky. Nothing but the sound of the wind rustling the long stalks of grass around him.

Cyndr looked down at himself, clothed in the most brilliant of white tunics he had ever seen, but no blood stained it. His temples did not hurt, and his muscles were not sore from his battle. "What is going on?" Cyndr thought to himself.

In the distance, he heard a faint voice, a yell, or a scream; he could not tell. Carried on the wind, it came from behind him. When he turned, all he saw were more of the rolling hills that surrounded him. But then, as he listened, he heard it again. Cyndr walked cautiously in the direction of the sound, and as he walked further, he heard more of them. Not screams this time, but yells; cries of laughter and joy.

As he reached the summit of the first hill, Cyndr came upon a startling sight. Below him, among a huge valley of rolling hills and blooming flowers, children ran around each other, playing, jumping and seemingly completely oblivious to their isolation. Cyndr stood and watched as boys and girls laughed and played at games Cyndr had long since forgotten. Among the sounds of joy that rose to meet his ears, he distinctly heard his name called out from below.


Shaken, Cyndr ignored the call and continued to watch the children, now wary of their parents' possible presence nearby. But there it was again. "Cyndr! Come over here!" Cyndr looked over the circles of so many children in the valley. They were far away, but along a ring of dancing children, Cyndr saw a small girl walk out of the ringlet and stare up at him. "Cyndr, come down here!"

He did not know what to expect. Cautiously, he walked down the steep embankment into the valley, towards the young girl who beckoned to him. How did she know him? He did not know. How he arrived in this strange place? He did not know that either. He decided he would ask this little girl where her parents were and if there was someone he could talk to.

The little girl was sitting in the grass, and as Cyndr approached, she patted her hand on the ground motioning him to sit. She was a small child, maybe 6 human years old. Her dark brown hair hung loosely around her petite shoulders, and a small tussle of hair curled in front of her deep, brown eyes. She wore a similar tunic to Cyndr's as did many of the children nearby. Hers was dirty though, her cuffs and knees were discoloured as if she had been playing in the dirt.

"Are you okay?" came the small voice from girl sitting across from him.

"I am fine, little one. What is this place?" Cyndr asked. His sitting position made him feel uncomfortable, but he did not want to stand and intimidate the girl.

"This place is beautiful, isn't it?" The girl asked as she smiled and looked around her. Her smile seemed to calm Cyndr, and he watched her in mild admiration.

"A child's life is so simple," Cyndr thought to himself. "Not a care in the world, your whole life stretched before you." His envy of her became apparent to him, though he was still considered very young among the elves of his kind.

"It's not as easy as you think, to be young like us." said the girl as she returned her attention to Cyndr. Startled at her response, Cyndr immediately looked around him and instinctively grabbed for a sword that he did not have at his side.

"Why did you say that to me?" Cyndr demanded, his tone now stern and authoritative. "'Cause that's what you asked me, silly." came the girl's reply. "I know lots of stuff that you don't know Cyndr. You came here for a reason. You're here because you're you. You're safe from that bad guy 'cause you're supposed to live for a long, long time. I've been waiting and waiting and waiting, and I don't like to wait" The girl stopped then, and stared at Cyndr. She stared at him so hard, she almost stared through him. Cyndr thought that if he could feel her stare it would really hurt.

"You must tell me where I can find your parents," Cyndr said, now his look of menace turned to puzzlement and confusion. What was this girl talking about? "Tell me what you know. You must tell me what you know."

The girl's face took on a serious visage. Her brows furrowed, the smile on her cheeks faded and disappeared completely. Her stare was diverted to her hands, her arms and to the tunic she wore. "Cyndr, I brought you here." The girl's voice now did not flutter like before. Now the voice was stern, serious. "Perhaps an explanation. Countless generations ago your ancestors lived in the most beautiful city ever known to your world. They were a very powerful people, and were completely content to live by themselves in what they called The City of the Summer Stars."

I know this story," Cyndr interrupted. "My father taught me of my long heritage. I know who I am." His look of puzzlement continued and he quieted himself again.

"Then you know of the Ur-Flannae." The small girl continued. "Well, the Ur-Flannae posed a very real threat to the Flanaess before, and still today they struggle to regain the grip they once had. There are those of their ancestors who have not forgotten this legacy, and like you, wish to recapture the glory and power held ages ago."

Cyndr, realizing that this child was offering more than an explanation, asked: "Who are you and what do you want with me?" His expression turned from curiosity back to insistence, and he stood up on the grassy hill in front of the small girl.

Cyndr, I am what you cannot possibly imagine. I existed when your race was created, and I will exist after your race and all those you know are gone forever. I have watched civilizations come and go, and I have witnessed the beginning and the end of entire planets. I have never been looked upon by your world, but you may now know me..... as Kralana..

"Then you're a god?! Cyndr asked, his mouth unconsciously open. "But the gods have abandoned us!?

"This, I cannot comment on, Cyndr. Conjecture has reduced the real facts to little more than bedtime stories for you to console yourselves with. You need know only that we have watched you for a very long time. Points in your history have never been influenced by us, but now we must make ourselves known."

"Why do you only reveal yourself to the world now?" Cyndr asked.

"Because now is the time when you need us most, Cyndr."

"Then there are more of you? Are all of these children gods and goddesses?!" Cyndr turned his head as he spoke and squinted in the light to get a better look at the children who continued to dance and play throughout his conversation. "Why do you choose to appear to me as a child if you have watched us for so long?"

"What you see is the birth of a new pantheon, Cyndr. The trees are still saplings, the stars have yet to reach us, for I am yet unknown to those of Oerth, so I appear to you as a child, as we all do. This is done to signify the birth of a new era. This is the beginning of a new age in the history of Oerth, and the wrongs will be righted. But you must be my first."

The girl smiled an angelic smile. Her words sunk deeply into Cyndr's chest and he struggled for air. The warm breeze brought welcome relief to him as he slowly digested all of the things this girl bombarded him with.

The little one continued, "You have had your first taste of what lies before you now. Your life will forever be changed, grey elf. You will be safe from now on. I will take care of you and keep you safe. I am very protective of my possessions." The look on this girl's face turned almost to a scowl, and then lifted from her again.

"You see from now on, you belong to me. Whoever you were before, whatever you knew, that life is gone. Those you knew, you will continue to know. That which you could do, you may still perform. You will not be different except in purpose and ability. You will learn faster than you ever have before, you will be more powerful than anyone you know, both in mind and in spirit. I give you new life Cyndr of the Summer Stars, as MY CHOSEN!"

And with that, the small girl in front of Cyndr clapped her hands together and a brilliant ray of light burst forth from the ashen sky and immersed Cyndr in golden radiance. He squinted in the light, and covered his eyes with his hand to look again at the girl who stared at him intently. "Do you understand?" she inquired.

Cyndr didn't know what to say. This whole time, he thought he was brought here by someone else. He had just been told that everything he knew would change, and that he was eternally in the service of a small girl?! "Why me?" is all that he could muster in a sheepish tone.

"Because you are the last. You are the last of the Elves of the Summer Stars, and you have something that no other grey elf on Oerth has, Cyndr. You have a secret ability that not even I can show you how to use. You have powers quelling inside you right now. You do not know how to focus them properly, and that is why I will employ your services."

"Truthfully, Cyndr. You are the one who may best be able to aid me in my battle against evil. I am everything of light, justice and retribution. I am the embodiment of virtue, goodness and truth. However, there are those who oppose me in my endeavors, and they must be dealt with. Many serve my purposes, though they know it not. Many have sacrificed, though they did not choose to. And there will be more. My army of light will reign victorious over the forces of darkness that plague the land, but you must be the first to take the stand."

Cyndr stood there, amidst the warm breeze, his brilliant tunic reflecting the glow that immersed him as he stood, beguiled.

"If you do not find these things reason enough to lead my army, know this. Years ago you thought yourself unfortunate to lose your father to the tumultuous seas of the Sea Barons. You in fact were not that fortunate. Your father was stolen from you, Cyndr, stolen not by nature or accident, but by the murderous beings who stalk the land under the palm of my nemesis: Skahlen, God of the Undead."

Cyndr stood motionless as the girl finished her sentence. Her stare was meaningful, laced with seriousness, tinged with hate upon utterance of her last words. Cyndr felt weak, his head hurt from the sunlight, his stomach was unsettled by the barrage of news this little one brought to him. Not even now, amidst the flowers and trees, under the endless sky, before a goddess did he know what was happening. It all seemed a dream now, but a dream from which he could not wake.

But in this dream, Cyndr knew what he felt. Rage. Rage at those who would dare take the only thing Cyndr had in his life away from him. His father. Hatred, like a hatred he had never felt before quelled up within him and burned at his temples. He thought of the figure that approached him at his home. He thought of the last time he saw his father before his life was taken from him. He thought of the countless nights he had spent with his father, learning as much as he could about his ancient past, and those responsible for his present.

And he wanted revenge. A personal vendetta had been established in the blink of an eye. And so, too did rage and anger burn within Cyndr with as much intensity as the light he stood in. He would vanquish the Ur-Flannae from this plane. They would come to fear the light. They would fear Kralana and her chosen.

Then something happened. All his life, Cyndr had thought little of the long term issues. He cared nothing for planning, organization, and laws. But as quickly as darkness shies away from the light, Cyndr knew that his life now, was not his own. Without a word, he lowered his head to the little girl. He knelt in the tall grass that still swayed around him and said, "I am yours, Kralana. I will lead your army and destroy those that would defy the might of your hand."

The little girl stepped towards Cyndr; he kept his head lowered as though looking at the girl now would be disrespectful. The girl place one hand on Cyndr's head, and another on the breast of his tunic. Softly, amidst the whisper of the wind and the murmur of the grass around them, the girl leaned towards Cyndr and said, "Then together we may begin the era of light."

There was a brilliant light. Cyndr's eyes were closed, but the light shone directly into his eyes, directly into his soul. It was white light, brilliant, pure and divine. And as the light in his head faded and ceased, Cyndr opened his eyes, but the little girl and the rest of the children were gone.
 Episode 4 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1111-11-07 -  
 The History of Kaelis Goldenchord 
Aranakaelistaminaral Antha'tal was born in the heart of the elven community; Celene, city of the sun. The mother of "Kaelis" is Aleesta, a beautiful and enchanting language instructor at one of Celene's academies and Kaelis' stepfather is Bretolas, one of Celene's most celebrated artists and sculptors.

In the year 555CY, trade ambassadors from many different countries were slowly approaching an agreement that would establish a bold new trade route that could be used to connect eastern and western markets; introducing bloated western supply with untapped eastern demand. The trade route would be a joint effort from almost a dozen small and large governments, but would have to be built very close to Celene and its surrounding territory. The elves' renowned reclusive nature and protection of their lands proved to be the final sticking point in the negotiations. So after years of revision and planning, an entourage of foreign trade ambassadors were invited to Celene to address once and for all the issues facing the development of the trade route. It would stretch as far north as Blackmoor, and as far to the south as Keoland, and the elves stood to gain much in exchange for just a few concessions.

The group of ambassadors was by far the largest and most diverse group to be granted solace inside Celene for many years. Some of the ambassadors would be the first to enter the elven city in decades and from Veluna and Bissel to The Gran March and Nyrond, all were there to state the concerns of their respective governments. Even the ambassador from the Theocracy of the Pale was given a voice in the Elven Assembly for this special occasion. All were heard, and during the few short weeks of negotiation, a pact was made and the trade route was finally approved. However, much happened on the sidelines during this historic event.

During his stay in Celene, it was the ambassador from Furyondy that one day took notice of Aleesta as he toured one of the elven academies. He was a tall, broad shouldered man who looked as exotic to Aleesta as she did to him with the elves' otherworldly grace. Their hushed and torrid-paced affair ended the morning after the treaties had been signed, and he left Celene with the other ambassadors.

Kaelis' stepfather, Bretolas, is one of the most successful artists in Celene. A sculptor and painter, he was most famous for his spectacular still-life portraits. His reputation and renown grew from his ability to simulate "motion without motion" in his paintings, and was highly sought after for his art. Bretolas travelled extensively, commissioned far and wide to immortalize dignitaries of ruling houses. It was during one such commission that these trade negotiations in Celene were completed, and when he returned, a guilt-ridden Aleesta confessed all to her life mate. Outraged, Bretolas immediately disowned his unborn child.

Aleesta's infidelity sent ripples through the close-knit social circles on Celene, and the aristocratic name of the Anthatal family has fallen since. Puritans looked down upon Bretolas and Aleesta, and division threatened the family from within. True to her heart, Aleesta raised and cared for Kaelis just as she had for her other child, though Bretolas would have no part in it. Kaelis was born into a family as the youngest of four children, a large family by elven standards. Karanthaist and Risalthaist are twins, twenty years Kaelis' seniors. Throughout their childhood, the twins' gifts and interests parted early, Karanthaist with his blades and Risalthaist with his books. While Karanthaist strove to wield his sword as one of the famed Bladesingers of Celene, he was much too young and lacked the social standing to be drafted early into their order. Frustration plagued his training and he became rash and bitter, only to later be accepted with no knowledge of his sponsor. Risalthaist, however, did not share the strength and vigour of his twin. Frail and analytical, Risalthaist had dreams of his own, but they involved wielding the powerful magic of his elven ancestors. His lust for fame and notoriety were looked on poorly by his tutors at the college of magical arts in Celene but he would not be deterred, and his determination served him well. There was a cynical and overconfident way in which Risalthaist dealt with those around him. It made many at the academy uneasy, but his talent could not be denied.

Kaelis' sister Eilhana has always been the nicest to Kaelis during his childhood. More than five decades older than Kaelis, Eilhana always saw both sides of her younger brother's arguments and managed to settle them with ease and understanding. It was little surprise when she told the family that she would pursue a political career in the High Courts of Celene.

As Kaelis grew, it became increasingly obvious he was very different from his brothers. His human blood saw him grow far faster than his pure elven syblings, and this only exaggerated their differences. Aleesta insisted that Kaelis be raised in the elven tradition and learn to live his life as an elf, and not embrace the human side of him which has been the cause for his family's fall from grace. She remained indignant that Kaelis be treated no differently than her other children, and that he be given every advantage they had been. Kaelis immersed himself in study; arts, magic, archery and the elven culture could do nothing to satiate his unending thirst for new sights and new sounds. As he grew into a young adult, Kaelis' love for art and his staggering vocal talent could not be denied. He learned much about art from the father that hated him, and in the time Kaelis spent alone, his voice grew and grew to rival those of the performing artists in the Grand Theatre of Celene.

However, no song that he could sing, no apology that he could utter would erase the prejudice and hatred he endured day after day. Aleesta was always at his side, reassuring the troubled half-elf that he must stay and do what he loved, that Kaelis should ignore those uncultured and intolerant. One of Aleesta's truest of friends, Erryn Silverleaf was life-mate to a well-spoken and influential politician in the Celene cabinet, Jaenys. She supported Aleesta and comforted her many evenings by the fire when Aleesta's sorrow and regret seemed overwhelming.

Kaelis loved his elven heritage, and knew little if anything of the human impulses he experienced and fought with the discipline and logic taught him in Celene. However, the mystery of his father plagued him whenever he shut his eyes, and his one comfort amidst the torment that only young adults can understand was his music. He was taught to sing by a kindly music composer who called himself Axiom, a venerable High Elf who held audience with the Queen herself for special occasions. Axiom would entertain special guests at the request of the royal court, and took Kaelis as a pupil at the request of Eryyn Silverleaf, much to Kaelis' delight.

There was little that Kaelis did not enjoy. His life as a burgeoning singer and the beauty he was surrounded by shielded him from the harsh reality that he must one day leave his beloved city. The art, the music, the peace and complacency he enjoyed within its confines would no longer be his to cherish. After much thought, his adventurous nature and desire for the knowledge that Celene could not offer forced Kaelis to bid farewell to the family that both loved and hated him with a promise to return one day.

Kaelis had to find his real father. It was as strong a feeling as the music that coursed in his veins. Kaelis tried to envision him in his mind as his mother had described him, but it would never be enough. He had to meet him, to speak with him, to learn what he knew. And so, with both reluctance and excitement, Kaelis left Celene.

Eventually Kaelis' search led him to Greyhawk City, a place of wonder and intrigue. Kaelis found he was welcomed with open and unquestioning arms in this grand city. Elves, half-elves and humans mingled as one, gnomes and Halflings dotted the crowds that hustled everywhere in the midday markets. Truly, this was living! What stories they must have, what beautiful music had they heard in their travels? Immersing himself quickly in the day-to-day of Greyhawk City, it wasn't long before Kaelis had learned that many of the ambassadors that took part in the negotiations almost twenty years ago had done so at the request of an elf hailing from Celene! Kaelis couldn't believe it; this elf was none other than the famed Captain of the Knights of Luna, Prince Melf Brightflame!

Kaelis had never met the renowned defender of Celene, but he was encouraged nonetheless. It was well known that Prince Melf rarely visited his homeland, championing elfdom in the lands far and wide. If Kaelis was to find and speak with Melf, what better a city to center his search from than Greyhawk? Kaelis revelled in the night life and teeming crowds that poured into the taverns and galleries of the city, and in no time Kaelis was playing several nights a week at a wonderful hall in the up-scale west end of the city. The unending influx of travellers from countries Kaelis had never heard of provided him with stories and tales, songs and poems enough to entertain for hours. It was a joy Kaelis had never known in Celene. He was becoming truly happy.

Soon, Kaelis' continued success began to earn him a reputation about town. He found himself being fought over as local promoters and small travelling companies competed for his services. His reviews and reputation continued to get better and better, and Kaelis was soon the "reason" for travellers coming to Greyhawk. Still, Kaelis' inquiries turned up nothing about Prince Melf, and letters home to his mother and siblings were of no help in his search.

One evening, during a performance at a small theatre in Greyhawk, Kaelis noticed in the balcony a group of elves. Richly dressed and a regal looking company, Kaelis' heart began to quicken at the thought that his search was over. Kaelis sang with all the passion, pain and promise he could muster, and brought the motley crowd to its feet in applause and praise. After the performance, Kaelis was approached by one of the tall elves, cloaked in a fine silver cloak. His long golden hair was finely braided and he had a beautiful scabbard at his waist. He introduced himself as Tinthalas Kaiyne, and told Kaelis that his inquiries had not gone unnoticed. Tinthalas led Kaelis to a small chalet where Prince Melf was waiting to speak with him.

While Melf was unable to be of much help in recalling details from decades past, Kaelis was more than happy to entertain the weary and travel-fatigued band of Bladesingers. The evening flew by, and Melf extended to Kaelis an offer to join their company for a short time. Kaelis couldn't imagine his luck, and gratefully accepted Melf's offer. Kaelis intrigued Melf, and the feeling was mutual. A lover of music, Melf kept Kaelis on with his Knights and the two soon became unlikely friends. Kaelis wondered at the delicate fury of the Knights of Luna, and sang what were to become some of his favourite ballads about the fierce beauty they wielded.

However, all was not song and camaraderie in the year that Kaelis spent travelling with the Knights of Luna. Melf was a driven and unrelenting leader and Kaelis was called on several times to adopt a more militant role in their travels. Kaelis was dragged through an uneasy introduction to a supporting role in the Knights of Luna, and after a year had passed, on the side of a well-worn road in the cold rain, Melf knighted Kaelis as a Knight of Luna.

Kaelis' dreams were slowly coming true.
 Episode 7 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1113-01-24 -  
 The History of Tiemel Drixxen 
He grew up in a simple elven town.

His mother died while giving birth to him.

Was raised by his loving father, who died when Tiemel was still a young man.

Tiemel wasn't one to be very religious. He knew of the elven gods, but felt he didn't need to worship them to better himself.

He had a fascination with sword play and studied many fighting styles through books. He looked upon it as more of an art, a form of expression, than a means of defending oneself. It was more of a hobby and a form of conditioning, and had never dreamt to raise his sword to an opponent.

He would be seen at the break of dawn practicing his different fighting styles before he would go off to the bakery where he earned his pay, delivering goods.

During one of deliveries, Tiemel was approached by Avourel, one of his long-timne customers on his delivery route, and was asked about his morning workout regiments. Tiemel explained to him his fascination w/the fighting styles.

Avourel then asked if Tiemel would mind if he could take him under his wing and teach him more than all the books on swordsmanship that Tiemel could ever imagine, in exchange for nothing. Tiemel agreed.

He would live there for the next 15 years living a peaceful existence, in harmony w/the elven town, and absorbing as much as he could from his former customer, now teacher and friend, Avourel.

One morning, during his morning regiment w/Avourel, Tiemel received his first vision.

From that point forward, he would continue to receive them randomly for the next year. Some of the visions would show a large human warrior who would introduce itself as Agravelenon, the god of war. And sometimes it was a small but powerful group who were feared by their opponents but his visions would focus on one of them specifically. His vision would tell him that this group was the scourge, and that he must follow the ways of Agravelenon. However, other than the making Tiemel a follower of Agravelenon, the intent to why he was receiving these visions was not clear.

Tiemel had shared his visions w/Avourel, who instructed him to pursue the scourge, and see what these visions are about. Upon doing this, Avourel informed Tiemel that he would be leaving, and that he had things of his own to take care of.

For the next year, Tiemel struggled w/his dilemma to stay in his home town to continue to live his comfortable existence, or to venture off to unknown places he has never been to, to discover the reasons why his newly found human god has asked him to follow him, and to seek this group called the scourge.

All that Tiemel has known all his life is kindness, and although he has heard of terrible things happening in faraway places, he had never witnessed anything of its kind.
 Episode 8 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1113-01-17 -  
 The History of Riyan Erroshel 
Riyan's most prized possession is his Cloak of Elvenkind given to him by his mother. This cloak blends into the background making Riyan seem to continuously appear and disappear with every step. The cloak varies between shades of gray, brown and green.

Riyan's childhood was particularly uneventful considering the company he keeps now. Like many other children it was spent playing around with his brother Larian and causing mischief. The only notable thing occurred when Riyan and Larian were extremely young and is clouded in the mists of memory than Riyan cannot seem to firmly grasp. Their mother, an elven ranger, had taken them into the forest. They were met by other figures who seemed to be friends of his mother. In some ceremony, which neither Larian nor Riyan remember, a strange symbolic tattoo was placed on their chest above their heart. The true meaning of the symbol was never known to Riyan and unfortunately his mother was killed before she could tell them what it represents. In addition, it seems somewhat curious to Riyan that he has never again seen his mother associate with those present during the ceremony.

Once Riyan reached the age of sixteen he began training with his mother and brother to learn the ways of the forest. His mother intended for them to follow in her footsteps and become guardians of the forest, forever entrusted with the protection of their way of life; their home. However, only Riyan remained at his mothers side. Larian, having become very much intrigued with his elven heritage decided to leave home shortly after Riyan began his training. It would be years before they would see each other again.

During this time Riyan's knowledge grew as did his abilities. Soon his abilities and prowess increased and was welcomed to join the forest protectors amidst the ranks of the Free Geoffite army led by Duke Owen. He also met and fell in love with a girl named Zina.
Then came the Lords of Doom.

The Lords of Doom began their offensive destroying the forest. In one of the attacks BOTH Riyan's fiancee and mother were killed. Riyan's scout team did not arrive back in time to stop the massive casualties. Contemplation simply led to unspeakable grief and questions quickly arose as to the nature of their assailants.

The troop was comprised mainly of bugbears.

However, they were led by a small group of orcish mercenaries who were very well trained in the strategic planning of small military strikes. Riyan managed to get to his mother's side just as she was felled by one of these mercenaries. He barely managed to fight off the orc just as reinforcements arrived. He did manage to leave a deep wound below the creatures right eye. The visage of the grimacing orc stayed locked on Riyan as he was slowly dragged from the forray by another surprisingly loyal orc. The face drifts into Riyan's dreams to this day...

Once the main reinforcements had arrived, Riyan took his scout troop and managed to track the perpetrators to their encampment. They alerted the army, waited for reinforcements and set up an ambush. Another massive battle ensued which left many of the invaders dead. However, despite the best efforts of Riyan and his companions two of the orcish mercenaries managed to escape. Among the gruesome bodies of the dead, Riyan did not find his mother's killer. Riyan has vowed to hunt them down and kill them and his path was clear.

During the battles against the Lords of Doom, Riyan led many scouting parties and has fought many battles, mainly against orcs in hopes finding the mercenaries. His service with the Geoffite army ended when his long-lost brother, Larian returned and asked him to join him in his band of companions, loosely known now as The Scourge of the Underdark. He did so with great enthusiasm, clasping his brother's strong grip in his own.

And so begins the tale...
 Episode 9 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1111-11-10 -  
 The History of J"afrock Kore 
A being should be judged on his actions. Your past offers no excuse to be cowardly and evil. All beings must be brave and embrace life's challenged freely, with conviction and honour. Let no being stand in your way of glorious and righteous deeds in the name of your god. Let the chaos of battle wash over and when it is over, look around. If the carnage of the battlefield assaults your senses; the salt from the blood so heavy in the air that you taste it on your tongue, the faint moans of opponents and the cries of victory of allies, then rejoice, for victory is yours and you have brought honour to your god. Should you see grassy plains and a tranquil landscape, pray that you have fought bravely, because you are surely dead, and Agravelenon cares not for cowards.

I was created, not born. Evil science is my father and dark magic my mother. I was never meant to be. My brother Turrosh, created with me, should have been stronger, faster and more cunning. But the dread experiments of the Scarlet Brotherhood were too good. Two beings lay there, where only one should. My Orcish birthright is apparent, yet my other half is not only human, but a mess of elf and dwarf as well.

Turrosh always resented me, as if I had stolen the power that was rightfully his. The Scarlet Brotherhood sent me to one of their forgotten monks, to be trained, while Turrosh learned from the most deadly of the Brothers.

Our hatred of the Brotherhood bonded us, as much as our blood.

After our escape, the freedom was overwhelming. Turrosh and J'afrock Mak, brothers in arms. Nothing in the Pomarj could stand against us. Tribes united behind us? Hmmph. OK Turrosh? They fell beneath his savage and cunning charisma. I never fit in. Battle was empty, the goals meaningless. There was no glory, only slaughter and pillage.

Deneb Kore changed that. He strengthened my soul. He told me of Agravelenon. He taught me the Urgrosh. I owe him everything. Why his dwarven brethern cast him out I will never know. I will restore his name?.. our name. Our clan be sung of again, in warrior halls, beneath the mountains. Honour will be restored, just as I have avenged his death. I only hope that Turrosh was not involved?

I will seek out others like myself. Outcasts, that have yet to find meaning and purpose. I will lead them to it and much more. But for now, Agravelenon has sent me down a path. While I question the agenda of those around me, it will not deter me from helping my companions accomplish our goals.

Tiemel, we are brothers. We share the same love of battle and glorious exploits in the name of Agravelenon. I cannot fathom your carefree attitude. It matters little, for we are brothers and I would lay down my life for you, as I know you would for me.

Talen, I know you not. You fight well and bravely, and that is all that matters for now. If you are at my back, I will will trust that it is well guarded. You are quiet and dour for an Elf. Do you carry a shameful legacy as I do? Do you seek to become more than you are? Perhaps we will have a greater kinship than I would expect.

S'Thiss, you are an enigma, the only original member of the Scourge. To have seen Agravelenon and Parthen reveal themselves to the chosen must have been tremendous. I envy that. Your Drow heritage is no worse than my own. We have both grown beyond it, and that must be respected. What higher power do you revere? Lose yourself in glorious battle, S'Thiss. Perhaps this will quell the demons inside you.

Khaal Wraath: You are a coward. The way out is clear, you only have to travel it. Power without direction, violence without purpose is unacceptable. Honour must temper all action. You are without honour, to serve one such as Karoolk. If not for Tiemel, you would not be here. I will reserve further judgement until I see you in battle. This will reveal all.

Azier, you are a child, or seem to be. Do you have power beneath that vulnerable exterior? What is you master's true agenda?

Callimar, you are the personification of honour. Your steadfastness and resolve is admirable. You do not seem to revel in the adrenaline of battle. Maybe your lawful nature prevents it.
 Episode 11 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2003-06-28 -  
 The Citadel of Serenity 
Griften's main residence is now the Citadel of Serenity, nestled deep
within the Oytwood Forest. During one of his adventures, acting seemingly
as if controlled by some external force, Griften subjected himself to the
magic of the Deck of Many Things. The result was that Griften
immediately became aware of this large structure where none stood before.
As if masons and stoneworkers had just completed it, the citadel was
furnished and boasted all the functionality and comforts expected in a keep
of its size. Griften immediately travelled there to investigate, and when
it was confirmed, he immediately sent word to the Temple of the Yellow Rose
that they now had a stronghold in the west to continue their
works. The
Brotherhood realized the importance of expanding their influence westward
and sent a contingent of studying monks and psions to study there with
comforts enough to support those who would donate their lives to the search
for enlightenment and spirituality.

Since that day, Griften remains keeper and absentee master of the tower.
Now populated with a host of monks, psions and staff, the Citadel has
changed now from an echoing, empty stronghold to a bastion of learning,
training and security in a forest fraught with dangers in a region where
political turmoil still persists.

The Oytwood Forest

The Oytwood is a small forest compared to the Grandwood and the
Hornwood, and lies almost entirely in the Duchy of Geoff. The Oytwood itself stands naked against the flat, barren
terrain of the March, solitary against the sweeping winds and small against
the Hellfurnaces that loom overhead. The forest is sparsely decorated with
groves of fruit trees and small rolling hills. Cold, quick rivers and
streams snake their way from the northern edges of the forest, and
disappear to underground springs just south of the forest's southern
border. Because of
Geoff's unique geography, the Oytwood is plagued constantly by early
morning fog, and frequent rain and thunderstorms. It is home to the Grey Elves
and the Weeping Council which guides them, and they still defend the forest and its borders vigorously against
the slowly diminishing bands of marauding giants who wander its borders. Diplomatic efforts with the Grey Elves have earned The Brotherhood of the Yellow Rose an alliance with the Grey Elves of the Oytwood; based largely on their mutual concern with the Giant occuption
of Geoff.

As it turns out, the elves have shared with Griften and the Brotherhood
leadership that when the Citadel of Serenity was conjured into existence,
it did so right in the heart of the forest; an almost geometric perfect
center to the oddly-shaped forest borders. The elves and the seat of their
Weeping Council remain north of the Citadel, and advised Griften of the
small series of caves that the Citadel and its fortifications was conjured
over. These caves were abandoned long ago and have never served any
practical purpose, but their location underneath the Citadel does hold some
curiosity with Griften.

The Citadel

The Citadel is several stories high and hundreds of feet in diameter with a secure outer wall almost three
stories high; a large structure by most measures, but smaller than fortifications like Blazebane on the Almorian border. There is a central tower, several stories taller than the
rest of the residence, and it is in the top floor that Griften has his
personal residence. Comfortable furnishings but not ornate, a large library
but not vast, and many windows that look out over the forest below. When
not with his companions, Griften spends many hours here; a rare place of quiet and peace for the troubled monk.

While the Temple of the Yellow Rose enjoys some natural protection
nestled high in the Raker mountains in the East, the Oytwood forest offers
little natural protection and the Grey Elves of the forest do not protect
the Citadel any more than they do the rest of the forest.
Griften visits often his Citadel, although much of his time is spent
away on ambassadorial trips with the Brotherhood. "The Scourge" has gone
through many metamorphoses, but Griften keeps in contact with his old
friends as often as he can. Griften's mental powers allow him great
mobility and allow him to travel back and forth between the many important
factions he is in constant communication with.

The Brotherhood, realizing the importance of having a presence in the west, have stationed many of the order at the Citadel, ensuring that those stationed there continue their study of body and mind.

The Construct at that time was cylindrical in shape, perhaps only two
stone's throws in diameter. With five different floors, the CItadel was
suitable sfor study, reisendnec and training of the monk sna psions tha
tlive there. Griften, of course, taught those who required training, and
resisded there himself ofr a time. Of course, his advventures and quest to
bring peace and order to the Flannaess requires his abasence much of th
etime, but his resolved that the Citadel remain protected inspried those
who thought less of expanding the reach of the Brotherhood.

the Brotherhood began fortifying the structure, enlarging it to accommodate
more monks, guarding it against attackers, etc. The walls were dotted with
windows, the grounds decorated with statues & beds of flowers and the
Citadel's entrance made grand and inviting, so that all might feel

Protections & Precautions

The forest is not so dense as to impede movement through it. Characters
have the same movement rate in the forest as they would without, but the
forest is notinnocent of impeding its visitors' progress. The forest is
inhabited by many; animals, humans perhaps, and a league of others. its
magic protections are the result of the druidic contingent within the
forest, seldon seem and seldom heard. The forest possesses a strange array
ofmagiks, all designed to discourage evil-doers and dissuade adenture
seekers. Those who enter the forest are unkonwingly under the effects of a
Lose the Path spell.

This ensures that those trying to find the Citadel cannot find it unless
the monks of the Brotherhood or the druidic order within the forest aid
them. (thought none can claim to have met any of the druids). To ensure
this proeection, the Grand Master of Flowers suggested that other druidic /
priestly spells be employed to assure the discouragement of the travelers
without causing them any harm. Thus, the forest is designed to look exactly
as every poart of it; wherever the wanderes look.

Within the Citadel, the residing monks have the use of a magical items to
aid in discerning the identity and intent of those who wander into teh
forest. As they watch the wanderess, they may choose to aid them or not. If
aided, an emisssary from the Citadel may go out to the forest to meet them,
and lean them in, or to help them if help is necessary. otherwise, it is
unliekly that any contact would be made. If however, the wanderes are able
to get close to the Citadel without the aid of the order, there are certain
safebuardsin place to dissuade them further, or to lead them in should that
be their desire.

(hallucinatory forest & programmed illusion & mirage arcana) When
anyone comes within 200 yeards of the Citadel, a combination spell of
Pogrammed Illusion an dPermanent Illusion comes into effect. The illusion
only activates once they come within this radius, and when they do, the
observant traveller will se ea man dressed in black robes resting on a rock
ahead on teh path. (no doubt at this point, the traveleres are fed up with
the same scenery, and this is a welcome sight!)

The Man sitting on the rock is the Master of Dragons, Brother Griften
Insaith of the Yllow Rose, sitting in the sunshine, smoking a piipe. (the
obliging wizard thought this was a hilarious touch... griften doesn't
smoke). As the traveleres approach, the illusion stands, bows depely to
them and tells them that they approach the Citadel of Serenity, a place of
peace, contemplation and wonder. Griften encourages them to approach if
they mean wellk, and dissuades them if they mean harm to those withing. Of
course, he cannot answer questions, buut he doe thell them if they require
audience with the Master of the Tower, they shoujld request it of the monks
that live inside.

Afte rthis, the illusion of Brother Griften wihes them well in their
journy, whatever it might be, and walks off the path into th forest where
he probmtply and obviously fades into nothingness.

After the metting with the illusion of Brother Griften, the adventurers are
perstered no more by the effects of the forest. They may proceed unhindered
to the Citadel, though they know not where it actually is.

Soon they will come to a clearing in the woods, a break in the monotonous
paths and trees. Unfortunately, before those who gaze upon it appears to be
a great swamp. The forest opens up to a gamping swamp, dire with putrid
water and decaying, dead tress. If however they vernture into teh swamp,
they will quikcly find they ai face stand on an open plaoin, and not amidst
the mucky swamp they thought they would be.

(mirage arcana & hallucinatory terrain) -

As the adventurers venture into the
swamp, they will quicly each individually realize that is is a vast, open
plain, and can proceed more easily. Onc etheir resolve in reachign the
Citadel is obviou, (they've entered the swamp), the Mirage Arcana will
cease, and the Citadel will phase into view, looming over the adventrers
who hopefully stand awestruck before it. If elation sweeeps their rands, it
is soon to be taken away because as they approach the Citadel, they will
get no close, and it will seem to them that they always remain the same
distance away... another common misconception.

(distance distortion)

Those wishing still to approach may, and the effects will wear off as they
come to th dhe door of the Citadel at last. A tall, dark coloured door,
unlocked and standing as tall as two men bars the entrance, but do not
dissuade anyone from entering.

The citadel was molded into a small fort, a surrounding wall offering
privacy and defense wee any ever necessary, with turrets and lookouts
surrounding it. The walls were dotted with windows, the Citadel;'s entrance
being obvious and welcoming as none are denied access.

The inside of the Citadel is very plain and aesthetic, fitting to a place
of such discipline and study. As visitors open the great entrance doors to
the Citadel, no one welcomes them. None come to greet them, no one offers
them aid, and there is nothing visible but an empty hall, what was
originally the Citadel as it came to exist in the Oytwood Forest. This hall
was the entranceway and main floor of the original five-floor Citadel,
before the fortification orders from the Brotherhood.

To the left of the hallway as visitors enter the foyer rests a large tome
atop a simple wooden dais. The book lies open, and across the pages are
scrawled a number of signatures; it appears very much like a simple
guestbook, and a beautiful quill and jar of ink sit on the dais. If a
simple Detect Magic spell is used, the book radiates faint alteration
magic. If visitors enter and do nothing but waltz into the sanctuary, the
Vacancy spell that shrouds the Citadel will remain in effect. If however,
the visitor(s) pay attention to the tome as they enter, all this can be

The book is not magical of course, but an important part of a Contingency
spell. Once a visitor signs the book and places the quill back in the ink,
the Contingency spell triggers the Vacancy spell to discontinue, and the
citadel will literally 'come to life'. The bare halls become lined with
benches and paintings, tapestries adorn the walls and torches light up the
hallways. Smells of cooking wafts towards the entrance, and sounds of
meditative chant and the clash of training drift down the long corridors.
It is only after the visitors sign the guestbook that monks living here
will approach the visitors and welcome them, unless given other
instructions (by Brother Griften).

Filled with training rooms, study halls, libraries and small chapels, the
Citadel itself is rather plain and ordinary. Now that it has been
fortified, there are many more monks that have taken residence here,
anxious to be part of the Brotherhood's movement westward, preferring the
forest atmosphere to the harsh mountain range that surrounds The Temple of
the Yellow Rose.

Psions arrive seldom, there are only seven resididng there now, but many of
the monks have been give this gift.

The means by which the inhabitants of the Citadel may know of hte preseence
of those withing the forest is accomplished by the use of the Orb of Seeing
prestned to the Brothrhood. It is one of a piar, in fact that is ubed with
the spell Wizard Eye. Thus the monks are able to sense and observe those in
the forest and may choose to go to them if necessary. The other Orb of
Seeeing was give as afift to the Grand Master of Flowers, and is kept for
all to use in the Temple of the Yellow Rose, in the crystalmists.

The torches that burn on teh walls burn forever, imbued with Cantrip to
burn with a pale blue light, illuminating as much of the citadel as would a
regular torch. Monks may use these at night to twalk amogng the halls of
the Citadel, never in fear of them extinguishing and unafraid of the heat,
for thes torhes bear none. The monks refer to this effect as Coldfire.

In the middle of the construct lies now it's central tower, 7 stories in
height stop which is Griften's privaste residence, luxiourious and lavish
in comparison to the accomodations of the other monks and psions. Roughly
50 yards in diamter, the circular tower houses little else than Griften's
changmbers. A long, winding staircase curls its way up the inner walls of
the tower, the only entrance to this residence. This is because there is
not entrance to the residence itself. There is no door, and the windows are
magical blocks of stone. For this is not how Griften enters or leaves his
rooms; simply the manner by which it was constructed by his fellows monks
of the brotherhood.

While the Grandmaster of Flowers realized that the Citadel must be
protected, it was recognized that he could not always rely on the order ot
make every decision with his apporoval. The Grand master has been pleased
with Griften, and subsequently has treated him well. Magikcs surrounding
the Citadel and the Oytwood are not only favours to the Grand Master, but
favours for Griften as well, from mages of significatn power and influence,
and a druidic order that Griften know not of wihting the Oytwood

Griften's residence does not have any windows, but where windows should be
thestone blocks have been enchanted to act as windows. Tall, elegant
windows, that offer a sweeping view of the forest and its beautiful
sunsets. As strong as stone themselves, they off Griften a unique
characteristsic used not for protection, but for pleasure (Glassee).

Thus, Griften is able to see outwards, but no one is aware, or able to see
into the resience, offering excellent privacy and anonymity. Unfortunatley,
the residence is not lived in most of the time, the monks of teh
Brotherhood respect Griften's pprivacy. The residence is finely furnished,
as it's real purpose is not tonly to act as refuge for the Master of
Dragons, but also for entertaining of a more private nature. As Griften's
influence in the Flanaess continues to grow, so too does the need for
privacy. Those with whom Griften now associates appreciate methods such as
these; and enjoy the comforts provided here.

Couches of finest velvet circle the ornate fireplace, which is kept
constantly burning. A vast array of books line the walls of the main room,
stretched from floor to eiling, on subjects as varied as the animals on
Oerth. Baskets of fruit remain constantly replenished, and freshly cooked
bread is supplied from the bakery in the Citadel below.

Candles light the room, a chandelier hangs steadily from the tall,
cathedral ceiling and scented flowers lighten up the room with their sdent
and beauty. The room is kept immactulately cleanr, and this is not
accomplished through any of Griften's means...
(unseen servant)

Thus griften need not worry about bringing guests into a messy entertaining
room, or not beign able to offer them a glass of wine and som food. often
Griften and guests relax in their foretress of solitude for hours,
discussing important mattrers or simply watching the flames lick the
fireplace, reminiscingi and enjoying each other's company.

The residence is cloaked in a veil of protective magic, so that no one may
simply watch it's inhabitants with teh uses of Crystal balls or scrying
magic. the room has been covered in a nondetection spell, so that these
magiks are ineffective.

With the aid of the magic bestowed upon his residence, Griften can safely
and worrilessly bring guests to and from his entertaining qarters. But
without doors and windows (of a typical manner), griften's guests must rely
on the extradimensional means of tranportation that griften himself must
use to gain access. When griften wants to bring a guest or he hmiself
withes to enter, he simply uses the psion abilities grante dhim to Tleeport
or Wormhomel inside the residence. There, 2 other guests may stay
comfortably with their own beds and rooms, ejoying the comfort and
solitude, but only for a short time. those idividuals with the means to
return later via their own magics are politely asked to refrain from doing
so by Grifte, as this is his personal sanctuary. and he has gone to great
pains to keep it as such.

Griften's Closest Followers



Ventrius, Druid
Psychic Monk/Warrior

All of the above trainees and acolytes reside with him in the Citadel of
Serenity. There they refine their skills and strive to reach new levels of
understanding and discipline. They use their talents and gifts with and
against one another to learn more about what they each can do, and how they
might use their talents with others to better all of mankind.

Much of the training is done by other monks of the Yellow Rose;
instructors of the various arts reside in the Citadel as well, but those
listed here are the ones that Griften has either taken special interest in,
or have shown the most potential in their trainings with the Master of the
 Episode 16 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1114-10-12 -  
 The Wind Brings Change 
It was a brisk autumn afternoon. Cyndr looked up into the sky and watched as the cream-colored clouds rolled over one another in the wind. The crimson flames that danced in front of him were fanned by the cold breeze and tossed sparks up into the air. He could smell that it was almost time. Almost time for the first delicate flakes to fall from the pregnant clouds he stared up at. He had seen enough seasons come and go to know that this winter would be especially frigid. He knew that this winter would be very different. He knew now that his life could never be the same. The yellow tipped tongues of flame licked and danced on the final embers of Cyndr's home. It had been just yesterday when he had been in the forest, collecting logs to fuel the fires that would warm his home during the coming season. Today, he stared at the charred remnants of the home he and his father had built. But it didn't seem that he built it that long ago...

"There was no where else to look. Cyndr and his father walked in silence, further and further from the city's walls. Nothing was said between the two; Cyndr knew that expression on his father's face. Insulted. Rejected, but still proud. This was a look that he would never forget and would come to understand more fully in the years to come. It had been many times that Cyndr and his father had taken this walk. Angry, heads held aloft in defiance of those who would shun their kind. Those that feared strangers would not allow them into their homes and cities now. So Cyndr and his father were forced to wander, without hope, without a place to call their own. Alone in a great world of confusion and conflict.

Even now that the wars were over, their kind were not welcomed everywhere in the Flanaess. With nowhere else to turn, Cyndr and his father settled in a beautiful glade north of Rel Astra, on the southern brink of the Grandwood. There they found peace, tranquility, and the privacy so coveted by their kind. This house had stood for more years than he could count now, and in an instant he had watched his life change. From being a peaceful artisan and scholar, Cyndr now found the peace and contentment in his heart vanish as though the wind blowing his silver hair stole it from him. The memories of long, quiet nights by his fire nagged at him. The love of his study of those ancient cultures before him made his heart heavy.

These thoughts seemed irresponsible to Cyndr now that his life had changed. His goal now was to right the wrongs done him; the loss of his home, the disruption of his peaceful lifestyle, and now most importantly of all: to assume the unlikely role of avenger.
 Episode 17 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2008-10-21 -  
 Those Who Would Know 
It had been a long journey. Long and lonely, but now Cyndr found himself on the eastern coast of The Great Kingdom at the gates of Winetha... finally.

Predictably, a crowd of guards with question after question for the strange visitor to the small wharf town. "Hold, stranger. What do you want?" came the first of the questions from a burly, unshaven guard. Cyndr looked at him disdainfully, knowing full well the answer did not matter. His father and he had been through this enough times that it was all too apparent that conversation was futile.

"I travel from the south, as an emissary from Rel Astra."

Cyndr looked at the guard hard enough to stare through him. Without a reply, the guard motioned for some of his companions to join the inquiry, and looked back at Cyndr.

"We don't get many of your type here, elf. Rel Astra doesn't send emissaries, they send spies and assassins. You wouldn't know about any of that, would you?"

The guards that had now joined the throng nodded in silent agreement with the inquisitor's implication. "I am here to speak with the head of the guard contingent. I have news that will be of interest to him." Cyndr thought that this might sway a man of apparent aggression and suspicion into allowing him to enter the city. Simple-minded infantrymen were always on the lookout for goblin patrols and raiding parties. Perhaps this would be his advantage. "Well why don't you tell me what the message is, and I'll tell him for you. Your likes ain't wanted 'round here, elf." The guard's tone was becoming more harsh, as if conversation tired him and he wanted to get it over with quickly. "I'm afraid that I cannot allow you to relay this type of message." Came Cyndr's reply. "The sensitivity of this issue requires the utmost of secrecy and discretion. I'm sure that you are aware of the importance in handling delicate issues of city security." Cyndr switched modes and tried to appeal to this man's sense of importance. If urgency couldn't work, then maybe flattery would. Cyndr cringed at the thought of what he just did. "Let him in." The voice came from behind the guards, a good twenty paces behind the city gates. The guards turned and watched the few people that had gathered to the small commotion at the gate part as a hooded figure passed slowly between them. The figure could not be identified, his robe and hood concealed all appearance but for the thin frame that supported the dark-coloured robe that rested on the man's shoulders. Immediately, one of the guards reached forward and slid back the huge deadbolt and swung the gate open. The other guard stepped back to allow Cyndr to step through. The figure approached the gate and motioned with a bound hand to the guard who had opened it. The guard reluctantly approached, and the figure spoke to him briefly. The guard returned to Cyndr and the remaining contingent, and said, "You may enter our city and please accept our apologies. I'm sure you understand our concern in this matter. Your host awaits." He stared at Cyndr with raised eyebrows and head almost bowed. Quickly trying to hide his surprise, Cyndr nodded to the guard and raised his chin slightly; an infantile indulgence after having been slighted, despite having no idea who this person was. He brushed past the guards and approached the gate where the robed figure waited in front of a few interested onlookers. "My thanks." Cyndr bowed curtly and tried to peek quickly under the hood, but it was no use. Hoping for an introduction, Cyndr was disappointed that none came. "I heard of your arrival and thought it pertinent to ensure your safe entry. I hope my attentions are not too awkward; I have spent some time in this city, and understand those around us." Gesturing slightly to the few interested parties behind them. "Do not be alarmed of the attention, they fear what they do not understand." The voice was young, but deep and serious. "I appreciate your intervention, but to whom do I owe my thanks?" Cyndr was through beating around the bush. "Come with me," was the reply. "We have much to discuss, you and I, grey elf." And with that, the figure turned, and walked back into the crowd from whence he had come. There was no sound among the mob of people, and they stepped aside as the figure melted back through them. Cyndr rushed to catch up, leading his horse at a trot. No one said a word to the elf, and the only sound he heard was the clink of the city gates as they closed behind him. They walked in silence through the city streets. Cyndr caught sight of a huge marketplace and could hear the many sounds coming from that direction, but the robed figure led him away from the commotion. The city was built between huge ragged cliffs and the smell of the sea air rose in a fine mist through the streets. They had not walked far before they passed a guard contingent and into a large, fortress that seemed to grow right out of the cliff face. The floor was dusty, the walls were not adorned with wonderful tapestries. The entire building looked as though it were just now being furnished, or it was slowly being abandoned. The state of recovery from a terrible war, Cyndr thought quietly to himself. He came here to have questions answered about his father, and it seemed as though this man might be of some use in that respect.

Who is he? Cyndr thought as he continued to follow in silence. The robed figure continued down a series of twists and turns, finally arriving at a large set of double wooden doors. With a soft push the doors swung open easily, revealing a large room, lined with books and filled with the soft odor of dried flowers and candles. "Please, come inside." The voice was more relaxed now, less serious but just as placid. Cyndr stepped into the room, and the heat from a warm hearth washed over his chilled skin. Surveying the room carefully, it was clear his host was either well read or wanted to make it look that way; the books that lined his walls were thicker and more obscurely-titled han most books Cyndr had read from the great library in Rel Astra. The room even had glass windows revealing a grand view of the harbor, below. "Please sit, Cyndr. Make yourself at home, and drink this, it will warm you quickly." Cyndr's host turned slightly, looking back at thei double doors, and Cyndr was amazed to see them slowly close on their own! A spell caster! Cyndr thought. "Now I know why the people gave him such a wide berth. He must live here. But how does he know my name?" His mind raced. "Please let me apologize first for the theatrics. A guilty pleasure I must guiltily admit I indulge from time to time, but it is important that I keep a low profile even in this city. When I spoke earlier of the people's fear of what they do not understand, I spoke of us both, you see. Few here in Winetha know who I am, so long as I do not disturb them, they are content to leave me be. I enjoy the privacy afforded me here." The figure remained hooded and motionless, standing in front of a seated Cyndr. It made Cyndr very uncomfortable. Cyndr spoke up, "Then you understand my anxious to learn the identity of my mysterious but gracious host, and how it is that you know me." Cyndr said politely. "Of course. You came to my attention most recently. Your role in the defense of that small caravan on the road to Rel Astra did not go unnoticed, I'm told you single-handedly dispensed with a handful of the hobgoblin raiders." He paused a moment, clearly looking from the darkness of his hood at Cyndr for some kind of reaction. Cyndr gave none, so he continued. "A friend of mine was in that caravan, returning from the city on a small errand at my request. You saved his life, but disappeared too quickly for him to thank you. He would like me to extend those thanks now." The figure bowed deeply, and Cyndr gave in, nodding politely from his chair. Cyndr would not be distracted however, one mystery solved with another still lingering.

Finally, standing tall again as before, Cyndr's host finally pulled back his hood and let it rest on his shoulders to reveal a mess of brown curly hair, a chiseled jaw and a wizened but youthful, human. Cyndr was almost disappointed.

What struck Cyndr however, was the reflection of the torches in this man's strange, steel-colored eyes. They held fast on Cyndr, and he spoke again: "I am Griften of the Yellow Rose, and you have our thanks."
 Episode 18 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2001-04-02 -  
 An Unlikely Hero 
Khaal Wraath was pouring over the tomes in his library when his studies were disturbed by a messenger imp.

"The Master demands your presence, stripling."

The young warlock glared at the tiny devil, his eyes inscrutable behind his mask but the menace was unmistakable.

"Do not think for a moment that I have not memorized the ritual to bring you under my power, little baatezu," whispered Khaal Wraath. "Things will not always be as they are, and while devils may be immortal, warlocks are also long-lived and our memories are just as long."

The imp sneered at Khaal Wraath as it glided by, but it also cowed away from him... it knew the warlock was right.

Khaal Wraath was annoyed that his master had summoned him now. He felt he was on the verge of a new discovery, one that would free him from his current pact... and then the inner conflict began anew:

Did he not have great power as a result of his Infernal Pact? Did he not have the power to crush his enemies?

As chief lieutenant to Karoolck and one of the commanders of the Battle-Mages of Rauxes his influence reached beyond that of most mortals.

And yet, he was not free... he was not free to be the man he wanted to be! Perhaps he would end up completely evil and corrupt, but if that would be his fate he was determined that it would be by choice, his choice, not Karoolck's not Baalzebul's... no one's but his.

"Ah, attend to me, my young apprentice," croaked Karoolck as Khaal Wraath entered the room. The young magic-user had been so lost in thought that he had arrived at his master's quarters before he even realized it. His foul mood was worsened by Karoolck obviously detecting his presence; Khaal Wraath always tried to practice arriving and leaving undetected wherever he went yet his master was never fooled.

But one day he would be... and Khaal Wraath felt a fleeting yet powerful moment of joy at the thought.

"I have a mission for you, Khaal Wraath," began Karoolck, using Khaal Wraath's Infernal name, a name Khaal Wraath hated and which Karoolck knew he hated. "The Overking's Fomorian allies find themselves under siege by their Fey-born foes. We are to come to their assistance; the Overking plans to use them as shock troops when he crushes Nyrond once and for all at autumn's end." Khaal Wraath nodded nodded mutely at the statement. He knew that the Overking's madness would come up with a different scheme in a matter of weeks and he would forget all about the Fomorians, just as he knew that Karoolck must have his own plans for the evil Fey giants.

"It would seem that the Fomorians have raided an Eladrin city in the Feywild and kidnapped several of their elders. The Eladrin plan to wage war with them to revenge themselves for the affront. This will be in vain; our Fomorian allies are not responsible. I have been in communion with the dark powers serving our infernal lord; they assure me it is one of the eladrin's own responsible for the crime. The culprit hides deep in the Underdark of the Feywild, hatching schemes that may one day interfere with our own."

Our Plans? thought Khaal Wraath. Your own, you mean, you old buzzard.

"You will journey to the Feywild and annihilate those responsible and bring proof back to the eladrin who were wronged. This will put the Fomorians further in our debt... one I shall call due soon," whispered Karoolck.

"It shall be as you command, Master," replied Khaal Wraath, a plan of his own already forming in his mind.

"One more thing, Khaal Wraath," added Karoolck before the young warlock could leave. "The portal to the Underdark in the Feywild is found within the Lenore Isles, a longtime bastion of Eladrin culture and lore." Khaal Wraath's eyes widened beneath his mask. "Understandably, they may have reservations allowing one such as yourself access to their community... unless you were in more... respectable... company." He turned away from Khaal Wraath, disappearing into the shadows, leaving only his sneering voice offering one last piece of advice "Perhaps some connections to your... former life... will prove useful here, should you construct the proper lies."

Standing alone in the darkness of his Master's quarters, Khaal Wraath was seized by an idea. The Feywild! The Fey have been known to create magical pacts with mortals... perhaps they will be receptive to one who wishes to defect...? It would certainly be a first step in ridding myself of Karoolck's yoke... there must be something in the Feywild to facilitate this! All right then, 'Master' I will do as you ask... and you will regret it. But first, I need to look up some old 'friends'...

For the second time in one day, Khaal Wraath smiled, a rare occasion indeed...
 Episode 19 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2015-02-14 -  
 She Sustains Me 
... and life might have continued like that for Sephiroth for some time. I do believe that his formative years in Rauxes were the most difficult for him...

Excuse me. Who am I you ask? I am she that would know Sephiroth almost as well as he knew himself, I would understand, only later, that I knew him too well. I am Dalia Tamplain, Combat Mage of Rauxes’ Great Imperial Army.

I came to know my beloved Sephiroth when he was a young man, perhaps too young for a woman like myself. He was absoloutely mesmerizing, and an equal to him I shall never find� but we’re getting ahead of ourselves...

I pen this account, because of the nature of the relationship that he and I share. It is unlike any I’ve ever had or will ever find again, so intricate and delicate our dance, so dangerous and exciting our lives. I wish to remember all that he has shared with me, for I am surely blessed to know the one man who searches endlessly to answer all his questions, but holds the key to all of mine. I should begin with how I met he who has possessed me; body, mind & soul. He is present in every breath I take, and every thought I have, so completely does he mystify and excite me.

When I met Sephiroth, he had seen only twenty summers. Young, beautiful in the way that completely grips and holds you, such were his features. Delicate, yet strong in shape, his eyes piercing and bright, as with a light of their own, their bluish green depths could hold me still, seemingly forever, so lost was I in them. He was taller than anyone I had ever known, rising a full foot over me, and similarly over the other mages. He was not skinny, as many who can boast his height are, but sinewy, if I may call him that. He walked with a gait that was both graceful and quiet, but powerful and purposeful. So quickly would he cross the courtyard below my window, that a second glance would prove too late.

The first time that I saw Sephiroth was at my presentation. As was tradition amongst the Combat Mages’ contingent, new initiates were ‘displayed’ before all on the fields outside Rauxes. This was to provide an opportunity for each mage to ‘size up’ their competition, for competition is fierce among our number, and to provide an example of who General Aranek and the Master of Mages deemed worthy additions to our ranks.

It was quite the first impression.

The day was hot. It had been two months since the snow had finally left the great plains, and what trade dared forage across the barren expanse would soon start arriving in our city. I had come to Rauxes under the insistence of my family, whose resources had been directed towards my schooling at the insistence of my father. It seemed that everyone close to the family recognized my ‘apparent skill’ and were all very supportive in furthering my pursuit of ‘the art’. I am daughter to a local aristocrat; my family reaches back further than I was taught to recollect, and the prestige that accompanies my name is well known across the Great Kingdom.

He spends much of his time in his schoolings, to the relief of fellow mages who are uncomfortable in his presence�
Years of solitude have ensured that he had no friends and less interest in making some.
Only ~20 women call themselves Combat Mages of the contingent of ~100
During training one morning, Dalia is introduced to their ranks on the fields outside Rauxes, and she sees Sephiroth, off to the side, not participating, but takes special note of him.
She is alluring, and beautiful, and attracts the attentions of many of the Combat Mages in attendance
***********Switch to her point of view****************
This man is intriguing, “What does he hide?”
His beauty is drawing, but no one calls him friend, and everyone grants him a wide berth� what is it about him?
She pursues him, despite the warnings of others, and hears all the terrible rumours that abound, but instead of warding her away, they draw her closer.
Then one evening, at a ball, she corners him on a balcony and introduces herself. She asks the questions that Sephiroth has many times asked himself, and makes a very lasting impression. His mysteriousness draws her closer still, and through continued pursuit, gains his interest, and they become intimate�
Talk about the bliss he lives through now, the desire, but the inability to recognize it for what it is; never having known that attachment before makes Sephiroth feel vulnerable and out of control, and it is a feeling he does not like. So, to avoid this insecurity, he avoids her� to no avail.
She reached up to wipe a tear, half frozen, from her cheek, and then stopped walking in order to dislodge a bit of mud that had oozed its way into her shoe. And as she did so, she became intensely aware of the silence that surrounded here. No other footsteps sounded in the night, though the road on all sides of her had been heavily trod. No birds sang, no insects chattered, no children cried in the distance. Nothing. It was as if the whole world had died, suddenly, -- as if she were the only creature left on Erna, and this section of road the last spot where life might exist, in the whole of creation.
Then a sound behind her made her start suddenly. Almost silent, a mere hint of movements, but set against he night’s backdrop of utter soundlessness it had the power of a scream. She whirled about, staring back the way she had come.

At a man.

“Forgive me.” His voice was smooth, his carriage elegant. He bowed, soft brown hair catching the moonlight as he moved. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“You didn’t,” she lied. Another bit of mud was trickling coldly into her shoe, but she didn’t want t o take her eyes from him to dislodge it; she shifted her weight a bit, and almost fell as a result. Gods, was she that unsteady? She didn’t dare look as afraid as she felt. The Hunter was attracted to fear. “It just seemed so... quiet.”

“The night can be like that.” He walked toward her slowly, casually, his languid grace mesmeric in the moonlight. A tall man, lean, with delicate features, arresting eyes. Unadorned, save for a thin gold band that held back his hair from his face, the latter cut shoulder-length in a style several years out of date. His eyes were pale grey flecked with silver, and in the moonlight they flashed like diamonds. She sensed a cold amusement lurking just beneath the surface. “Forgive me,” he repeated, “but a young woman out alone? It seemed unusual. Are you all right?”
It occurred to her that she hadn’t heard him approach, that in the midst of all this sticky mud she should have had some warning � but then his eyes caught hers, held hers, and suddenly she couldn’t remember why that bothered her.

“Yes,” she stammered. “That is � I think so.” She felt breathless, as if she had been running instead of walking. She tried to step back, but her body shouldn’t obey. What kind of Working had he used to bind her?

But though he came close � too close � it was only to touch her chin with the tip of a well-manicured finger, turning her face up toward him. “So fragile,” he murmured. “So fine. And alone in the night. Not wise. Would you like an escort?”

She whispered it. “Please.”

He offered his arm. After a moment, she took it. An antiquated gesture, straight out of the Revival period. Her hand shook slightly as it came to rest on the wool of his sleeve. No warmth came from the arm beneath, or any other part of him; he was cold � he radiated cold � like the night itself. Just as she, despite her best intentions, radiated fear.

There is little that the two do not share. Sephiroth finds in Dalia that which he thought he would never find. The confident who he can tell his puzzlement to, the one he can complain to about the pain the sun causes him.
They are truly inseparable, and Dalia begins to experience the poor treatment Sephiroth has always known because of her association with him.
As time goes by, Dalia is presented with the offer to give up all that she has learned in Rauxes and discontinue the life she leads to assume her life before. Or, she may never again see her family and devote herself wholly to Ivid’s rule.
She weighs her love for Sephiroth primarily, coupled with the secondary lust for power, and decides to forsake her family forever.
She does not tell Sephiroth this, and keeps it secret inside of her, never telling General Aranek that she stayed for Sephiroth, and not her art.
 Episode 21 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2014-12-04 -  
 A Warning 
Khaal Wraath blinked.

It was still dark. The moon outside shone its silver light through the small window of his bedchamber, and the sounds of the night mingled with the crackle of the fire dwindling in the adjoining room. He was rested now, very rarely did he sleep the entire evening anyway. He stood, arms folded across his chest against the cold, stone wall with the small flicker of his desk candles blinking in the darkness. The candle sagged and bent like an old man. No bed stood here, Khaal Wraath could never sleep lying down; an uneasiness filled him when he asked himself why.

His eyes hurt; today his studies were taxing. Khaal Wraath found today the first of the breakthroughs in reading magic that would help him to grasp concepts of even greater power; the second time he had noticed a significant change in his understanding of his arcane art. He pursued his studies with renewed vigor today, he would rise in the ranks after his displays, this he knew. Aranek would be pleased, no doubt. With a faint smile, he chuckled at the thought.

There was a particular incantation that intrigued him; its simplicity and its tenacity. He had studied it long and hard all week, and was anxious to put it into practice, but he could not do it alone... he must plan this carefully. It was only through the intervention of his teacher that he was able to learn this spell, one he was sure no other Combat Mage in Rauxes knew.

After dressing, Khaal Wraath fastened his full-length robe, and pulled his hood over his bleach-white hair, tucking his long hair over his shoulder. With a quick verse, Khaal Wraath stepped to the window of his tower chamber and lowered himself to the cold, wet ground below, straightening his collar as he strutted off into the night...

"A moment there!" came a hurried cry from a familiar voice. Khaal Wraath spun around, and the short, stocky figure of his commander, General Aranek, swaggered out of the foyer of the tavern. The warm, yellow glow of the tavern torches washed over his shoulders, and if it weren't for his familiar silhouette, Khaal Wraath might have mistaken him for a foolish bandit or drunken guard.

Lucky I didn't.

"What are you doing out this late at night without an escort?!" Aranek demanded of Khaal Wraath. "You know what the streets are like when the sun no longer hangs in the sky! If I were to ask the guards on duty, I'd bet I found you made no such request, eh? I'll bet you snuck out of your room again and are going to be melancholy somewhere else!"

This was easily what tired Khaal Wraath most about his position in the ranks of the Combat Mages of Rauxes. It was commonly thought that he was the favourite pupil of the Imperial Court Mage. A mage of power and position that ruled Rauxes with an iron fist and a tenacious temper, The Master of Mages almost never showed himself, and rumours abounded as to what he busied himself with. But Khaal Wraath and he were almost tutor and pupil, and had spent much of Khaal Wraath's lifetime in lesson, and Khaal Wraath fairly attributed some of his success to his teacher's tutelage and expertise.

It was because of this that Khaal Wraath was always watched. He and no one else had THAT privilege. Unfortunately for him, Aranek was placed in charge of this responsibility, one that he took very seriously due to the nature of who made its request. Leader and primary Combat Mage himself, Aranek still cowered at the idea of his superior being displeased and wisely took his duties very seriously.

The general approached Khaal Wraath, and it was easy to tell that he was taking his steps carefully. Khaal Wraath stood at attention, never once making eye contact. He didn't have to. The spirits floated through the air to Khaal Wraath as though he was in the tavern himself.

I wonder how drunk the old man is now.

He knew that their training general had a habit of indulging too often, but no one would dare make mention of it, or even think it in his presence. As well as being a formidable mage, he would demonstrate his skill with his favourite mace if one the Combat Mages were to have a loose tongue.

He certainly has earned himself a wide berth. I wonder if my teacher knows about Aranek's methods of combat training... maybe I...

"Why is it that you only come outside during training and at night?" Aranek asked. "I've never asked you that, have I?"

He looked Aranek deep in his eyes. Khaal Wraath knew that Aranek felt uneasy around him. If there was one person in Rauxes who knew as much about Khaal Wraath as his teacher did, it was probably Aranek. Provided with almost any information he wanted, Aranek could blackmail, barter or boss any of his sub-servients around without an ounce of guilt and less effort. But Khaal Wraath knew by the way he acted that he didn't know everything. Khaal Wraath could see the fear in his eyes,... or was it awe...?

Khaal Wraath knew when he cast his spells during training that everyone wondered what was happening. They obviously knew that Khaal Wraath never ate anything, and demanded only the finest of red wines. He knew that he was widely whispered about, and that no matter how he tried, that he could never feel at home here. Never had.

In fact, Khaal Wraath was surprised at how quickly he had snapped back into the old habit of standing at attention after so much time. It had been weeks since he had attended any formal training sessions, and had heard nothing from Aranek or the lieutenant. It wasn't for any good reason but the fact that he didn't really want to go. Never had Khaal Wraath seen Aranek's anger directed towards him.

Come to think of it, Aranek's never even raised his voice to me...

"Are you afraid of the sun?" Aranek's voice snapped Khaal Wraath out of his daydream. "Or do you fear the commoners who roam this horrific town? I watch, you Khaal Wraath. I watch you closely," his pudgy hand was waved high in the air at Khaal Wraath at this point, barely reaching his chin, but it did not diminish the weight of the message. "And I don't like you. You're sketchy, and you're quiet. You don't talk to anyone unless you have to, and you do weird things. I don't like you for who you are, but I respect your relationship with The Master of Mages."

At this, Khaal Wraath notably raised his eyebrows.

"Oh yes, I know about you and him, I know about your lessons and your time together..." He crossed his arms as though having played an excellent poker hand.

"And what do you know?" Khaal Wraath asked. This was too tempting.

Time to test the waters...

"I know why he favours you,... and I know of your plans." Aranek faltered somewhat upon utterance of that last part.

What plans is he talking about? Khaal Wraath wondered. We have no plans. Wait a minute... "Then you know why I leave every night, don't you?" Khaal Wraath wondered if he could lie as easily as when he was a boy.

Aranek obviously was startled at this. His arms came limp to his sides, and he nodded unknowingly. "Of course." He lied. "And I don't like it." His finger adopted its scolding motion again. "If I had my way with you... and I don't... you'd be sorting books and scrolls day and night!"

"And goodnight to you, as well, general." Khaal Wraath wanted to bring this to a close as soon as possible. He was always amazed at how boldly he could talk to the general without any hint of a reprimand. It was almost as if he held a higher rank than the others. No complaints. Thought Khaal Wraath. But why... The thought lingered as he turned to leave.

Aranek stood there, his mug of ale almost empty, with a small smile of his own on his face. And Khaal Wraath could have sworn he heard Aranek mumble under his breath.

"Two more days. Then things will be different. Two more days..."

And then Khaal Wraath faded into the shadows of the night.
 Episode 22 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2015-01-25 -  
 The Test 

Sephiroth, Dalia and Spartan are all commissioned to go to town
“X” to interview and interrogate a rumoured endowed child in
the magical arts.

Karoolk meets with Sephiroth before he leaves to tell him that he will
be watching him very closely, as this is his first excursion from

The three went and spoke with the child of aristocratic descent (House
of xxxxx) and learned that the rumours were greatly exaggerated.

During their stay, Dalia is tormented by nightmares about her choice in
life <giving up her family for Sephiroth> and confesses what she did,
but justifies it to him, pleading that he understand her decision.

The following day, the three are separated in the midday crowd, and
when Dalia and Spartan do not return that evening, Sephiroth becomes

He is notified in a mysterious manner where he can find them, and goes
to the warehouse on the edge of town to confront the kidnappers in the

During the confrontation, the kidnappers kill Spartan, and warn that
Dalia is next if Sephiroth does not agree to their terms. <money,
information, and service>

Dalia has been terribly tortured; she is weak, beaten and violated in
the most vile of ways.  This sickens Sephiroth and sets him into
action.  He commands the shadows to stay back where they have been
lurking, and in a brilliant flash, spins and slices Dalia’s head
clean from her shoulders, leaving her captor stunned, but unhurt.

Sephiroth had remembered what Karoolk told him and decided to show
these men of will what a will really was.  They are all stunned at
what they’ve seen, and while staring at her body, Sephiroth tells
them he would rather see her dead than live another day after this betrayal
of his soul.

He wills the Shadows to attack the men, draining their strength from

Just as they are about to die, he uses Vampiric Touch on them to finish
them off, and uses Death Recall to mourn his beloved Dalia.  To fully
understand what she saw when he killed her.  Once finished, he dispels
the shadows and casts a Fire
Aura on himself.  Sephiroth immolates the entire place,
detonating fireball after fireball in the warehouse until it is reduced to
ash, destroying his beloved Dalia with it.

Sephiroth walks calmy out of the inferno, a passive and careless
look on his face as the entire quarter catches fire.  Screams arise
from buildings all around him, but he pays it no mention as he purposefully
walks in and out of the fires, protected and simply enjoying the havoc he
alone has wrought.  A man who has nothing is a man who loves

Upon returning to Rauxes, Sephiroth tells Karoolk all that transpired
and Karoolk tells Sephiroth that he was not watching, and cared little for
what happened to Dalia and Spartan.

Sephiroth is stung by this callousness, but comes to the realization
that his loss is the affirmation of his eternal damnation; mind, body and
 Episode 23 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1111-11-08 -  
 The End of His Charge 
Kaelis looked around the room one last time. It looked naked and lonesome now, all his things packed way, the candles extinguished, everything tidily put back in place as it was when he arrived. It was a shame he had to go, he would miss this place. The amazing things he'd seen in such a short time would be fuel enough for a hundred songs... if he hadn't been sworn to secrecy... Kaelis grumbled at the thought. Still, he would remember all his life... it was an honour, actually. So, it was hard to whine about little details. His distant but warm host had been so gracious, so accommodating, careful to take care of everything in these last short weeks, leaving Kaelis wanting for nothing, leaving nothing to chance.

Kaelis lifted his Haversack over his shoulder, his quiver over the other. With a regretful sigh, he closed the huge oak door behind him and looked either way down the black marble hall. So dreary! He could never remember which way; "This darn citadel keeps changing!" he swore under his breath, but he knew it was half frustration, half excitement. This place was a bloody playground!

A few minutes and many twists and turns later, Kaelis found his host in one of the libraries, which Kaelis swore wasn't where it was a few days before. Kaelis looked on as he stood, stooped over a huge marble dais ten feet wide, arms planted supporting his weight. With his head bowed, he stared at one of the dozens of books and scrolls scattered in front of him. The room was warm, a hundred candles and torches were lit; some hanging outwards from the pillars on the second floor, some only small candles pouring their wax onto the marble workbench he studied at.

"Have you gathered your things?" he asked without looking up at Kaelis.

"Yes, I'm all ready to go, thanks. I left the room just as when I arrived, but I didn't bring much in the first place."

Mordenkainen looked up at Kaelis. "And you were able to find all that you needed after I left you in the store room?" His gaze was honest but stern; that was one of the things that Kaelis noticed about Mordenkainen... he was always stern.

"Yes, thank you very much. You were more than generous. I didn't have use for some of those things, and I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store. I think I won out in the trade, however. I'll have to find a nice trinket for you back in Greyhawk!" Kaelis shifted his bag and tried a little smile to see if he could evoke a crack in the vaneer of his host.

No luck.

"Don't worry about that," Mordenkainen stood upright. He was a tall man, always richly dressed and regal in his posture. His goatee did give him a bit of a devious look, but Kaelis knew if he could grow one like that, he probably would have. "It is the least I could do for your services, I feel as though I've come out the winner in our little arrangement."

Kaelis immediately thought of the last weeks of his charge to Mordenkainen, specifically about the Council Mordenkainen hosted with Philidor. Kaelis still remembered how thick in the air the tension was; he could think of no story or retelling of a more influential gathering in all of his travels! All were invited to a secret location to discuss the coming of the Dark One. Kaelis let loose an unconscious shiver. His friends were there: Griften, J'afrock (Kaelis chuckled as the monologue played out in his head; J'afrock hates me he thought with a giggle. Even Tiemel and Talen, all brought by the strange and enigmatic Archmage Philidor. What a cast! The heads of the church of Banaalikron, the foul Karoolck and his charge Khaal Wraath, the princes from the Great Kingdom... oh, to be able to tell that story! But Mordenkainen had been quite clear on that point. Kaelis' role was clearly defined and he was strictly forbidden to recount the story until a time of Mordenkainen's choosing.

"Even trade, though." Kaelis thought to himself.

Mordenkainen walked around to stand in front of Kaelis. "Then it is home for you? Back to Greyhawk City and the noise and scuffle you've missed these last weeks?" he chuckled.

Kaelis looked up at his host, "Yes, thank you. I've enjoyed myself wonderfully, but I do miss the noise and commotion of the big city. There is much on my mind, and I've been somewhat remiss of my responsibilities. Is that all you require of me?" Part of Kaelis wanted him to leave, but the other part wanted to stay. Yes, it was lonely in Mordenkainen's Citadel, with no contact at all with anyone that wasn't summoned or being talked to through a Crystal Ball. Despite how different it was than Kaelis' life in Greyhawk, he knew as soon as he left, he'd miss it.

Mordenkainen nodded once. "Yes, thank you. You have proven most useful, and..." he paused and looked down, then quickly up again. "Far too seldom do I play the host, and more often than not, the circumstances are not... pleasant." He curled a corner of his mouth to emphasize his point. Kaelis swallowed hard.

"I took the liberty of sending word ahead of you, that things might be prepared. It has been some weeks since you've been home, and I had a feeling that things might not be quite as you left them."

"Thank you, I appreciate it. You know, you really should have a way for your guests to contact others outside of your Citadel." It was Kaelis' turn to try another grin at Mordenkainen. Yes, he was kinda' scary, but he did have a sense of humour, Kaelis would find it!

"I'll give that some thought." Kaelis could have sword he saw the corner of his mouth turn upwards! "Now, if you're ready?" Mordenkainen stepped back and looked Kaelis over quickly.

Kaelis shifted nervously, "Ready when you are." He couldn't help but squint a bit.

"Your villa in Greyhawk City then? As I remember it?" Kaelis nodded. "Then farewell, Kaelis. Until our next meeting..." Mordenkainen turned back to his marble workbench of books and scrolls, and with a casual gesture, snapped his fingers.

Kaelis was gone.

The next thing Kaelis knew, he was back in his living room. "Back!" he quickly exclaimed. Kaelis turned around a few times, taking in the familiar décor of his entertainment room. His instruments, his paintings, his comfortable chair. "Back!" Kaelis tossed his things onto one of the plush, leather chairs in the room and walked quickly to open the doors. They let out a familiar squeak as he opened them wide, and in came a waft of air that Kaelis had missed all too much.

Ah, the familiar smell of the city. The dusty, dry city air mingled with the light scent of the sweet spices that always drifted into the western district from the Market Square. The earthy, cold smell of the cobblestone walkways after a morning of rain. "Ah, this is home!" Kaelis was almost giddy with delight.

"Okay, enough procrastination." He said to himself. Kaelis found that in the weeks he'd been away, he'd taken to talking to himself a bit. It made sense, considering it was pretty much just him and Mordenkainen cooped up in his Citadel for weeks, but Kaelis wondered if he'd not gone a little crazy lately. He listened quickly for anyone in the house; but realized that all things had been taken care of already, and everyone had long since left.

"I wonder if Mordenkainen disguised who he was when he told them I was coming." Kaelis chuckled to himself. "Probably not." Kaelis walked down the corridor to the front foyer and saw a stack of letters on the stand by the door. Shuffling quickly through them, Kaelis looked for something worth reading. "Invitation from Bardic Guild, invitation from Aston, invitation from Dunnel Theatre, performance, performance, commission..." there was much work for Kaelis to catch up on! "... performance, another invitation, blah, blah... Ah! A letter from Celene." It had been months since he had last heard from his mother, and to think he had nothing to write in a reply; his last weeks would have to remain secret indefinitely!

Kaelis tore into the envelope with much earnest. The letter had arrived some days earlier, and was light-hearted and packed with news of the family. Aleesta never failed to include all the details, despite how one-sided familial efforts to keep in touch really were. Stories of his brothers and they're studies, and word that his sister Eilhana had been sent on her first trip as aid to the Ambassador to Ulek! She was meeting with her first great successes in the Great Assembly of Celene.

Kaelis thought of his home. For a long while, he had been feeling a growing sense of urgency to dip back into his old life. Not to visit, not really to send word, just to "catch up" it seemed. It was a strange, hollow feeling that he had ignored in large part, but now it seemed to grow a little with this letter.

Kaelis folded the letter and threw it on the table with the rest of the mail; they would have to wait. He climbed the dark mahogany stairs and unbuckled the sword at his side, laying it against the wall outside his room. He walked in, and slowly took inventory, ensuring that everything was as he remembered it.

"Damn, Mordenkainen is good."

From within the pocket of his jacket, Kaelis took out a steel scroll case. He uncapped it and slid out the scroll within. Tossing the case on his bed, he unrolled the scroll and held it up to the light that streamed in through one of the big windows in his room.

Kaelis breathed deeply and thought to himself, "Hope you're listening..."

Focusing his eyes, Kaelis began to read the arcane symbols etched on the parchment. The words seemed incoherent and unfamiliar, but Kaelis knew what he was doing. As he read the words, they smoked slightly and disappeared from the parchment, sign that Kaelis had cast the spell properly. He cleared his throat and spoke clearly into the empty room:

Lord Melf. It is I, Kaelis, your friend and humble Knight of Luna. I travel to Celene to put to rest the rumour that deceit thrives there. I await word from you at my villa in Greyhawk City."/p>

Kaelis let out a deep breath and crumpled the used parchment in his hand. Turning to his notary desk, "Ok. Time to do some RSVPs." He said under his breath.

But then there was a quick and staccato rapping at his door...but who would know he was home so quickly?

Kaelis' ears perked up. Was that the door? Wow, not a moment's rest! Kaelis dropped his quill back in the flask of ink and walked down the stairs. Any excuse not to return "thank you, but no" RSVPs was a good excuse to him.

Kaelis swung around one of the pillars as he reached the bottom of the stairs, a child-like habit he'd grown to enjoy after he purchased the house. Reaching for the huge iron latch on his door, Kaelis gave it a heave and pulled it open.

"Good afternoon," he said as the midday sun streamed in and washed over him.

A beautiful woman with flaming red hair wearing red silk garments stood there in the morning sun with a wild look in her green eyes. "Hi. I'm Ember. I'm an assassin, and I'm here to kill you."

Without a second's hesitation, the strange woman drops back from the door and with an outstretched hand, dumps a huge fireball in the foyer of Kaelis' villa. Kaelis dropped as soon as he recognized what she was going to do, dodging the effects of the blast. Unfortunately, the house didn't, and is now in flames. Already the smoke is thick. Through the haze and the doorway, Kaelis could make out her take to the air, laughing at the pyrotechnics display.

Kaelis coughs as smoke fills the room. Still in shock, he dives into the living room where he threw his gear. Grabbing his Haversack, Kaelis glances up to see the fire tear down the hallway of his home. Imagining the first few notes of a familiar tune, Kaelis fastens his pack and reaches for his quiver...
 Episode 24 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2014-12-04 -  
 The Dark Future 
Once... he remembered a twinge of remorse... for those that died by his hand. Or was it uncertainty? There was a time that the look of terror and pain on their faces gave him pause. Call it what you want, but it was no longer there. Guilt, remorse, regret, even pity... all that he might have once felt during those last moments... it was gone, replaced by nothing. They meant even less to him now, barely an afterthought in the grand scheme, and far too many; too many to count and too many to bother with considerations of atonement.

Besides... to whom would he atone?

In retrospect, now, there was little to regret. Those he'd known, those he'd killed, those he'd disappointed. They were all gone now, with nothing left lingering in the air but his memories of them. Offering simply the assurance that it would all continue, making it painfully obvious that his eternal questions would never fully be answered. Never would they be offered. He would never know. That his endless searching, his persistence and unquenchable curiosity only left more still to be learned.

And this quieted Khaal Wraath.

He shivered in the bitter cold of the night air. The new winter wind swept through the streets of the city and tossed the last leaves from the trees and sent them spiralling in circles around Khaal Wraath's feet. The crimsons and blazing oranges that fascinated his gaze had now turned to their dull greys and browns; their life carried away with the warm seasons from this accursed city.

A longing filled him to see them in their glorious brilliance, clustered in the thousands, filling the now barren trees' branches again; a sight he had mostly taken for granted,... until this night. He found himself, gazing, strangely, at the most mundane of things; the last leaves in the trees, the grasses left blowing in the night air. The lightning bugs that busied themselves about the shoreline now all caught his attention as if for the first time. When once all that occupied his mind was the pursuit of his loved studies, Khaal Wraath now found himself wandering the streets he'd know for years... aimlessly.

What do I do with myself now? How do I act as though nothing has happened? With my question answered, I still have a thousand more, and no one to give them to me... No one in the world...

His life had been laid out in front of him. All the questions, all the mystery, snatched away in an instant. But was it all true? A nightmare, for sure, but was it really his waking nightmare? The speculation, the bias, the suspicion and jealousy all paled now and seemed trivial compared to the weight of the knowledge he carried with him. Khaal Wraath felt old and tired. No one now could hear his plea. No one now could share this knowledge.

I am truly alone.

Quietly, coldly, he wrapped his cloak collar around himself more tightly, as though to ward away the night itself. Its seething blackness, its endless canvas had always welcomed him, as though it were his time to enjoy all that he could not during his work. And tonight, the first night of the rest of his life, he was to understand for the first time the meaning of its welcoming embrace...
 Episode 25 of The Ministry of the Blade - 1111-11-05 -  
 A Tempting Offer 
It had been another profitable evening.

Willip. What a name for a town! The performance this evening had been at a new theatre that Anton Phize had financed in this small harbour town. Anton was a man I had met in Greyhawk, a huge portly man with that always smelled of spice and had a deafening laugh that could compete with my singing voice. We had become friends, I guess I could say, if 'friends' meant we depended on each other for business. But, he asked if I would come to Willip and celebrate the opening of this new theatre, so it was the least I could do. Besides, I still loved to travel, and the crowd showed their approval with fine silver. I had been one of four performers that night, but I decided to forget their names after I had seen them perform. To my delight Anton let me perform last, an honour afforded me few times before, and a wonderful opportunity to leave a lasting impression.

My evening in Willip had been tiring, but not exhausting. In my travels recently, I had heard about some of the unfortunate travellers caught in some of the 'less than reputable' areas of this trading town. Known predominantly for its harbour dock life, Willip boasted the highest population of any settlement in Greater Furyondy, but certainly not the finest, nor the most culturally enlightened in my opinion.

However, in this town was an almost palpable sense of poverty and oppression. Not by the city guard or by King Belvor's decree, but by the ever-present threat of Iuz's troops in the lands to the east. The raids and killings, the theft and weekly promise of another violent incident on defenseless border towns and villages not only focussed royal funds towards thwarting this evil, but it robbed Furyondians of their hopes and dreams for a better life; it seemed a weight on everyone's shoulders; emphasized tonight by the threatening rain clouds overhead.

In fact, news of terrors to the east flew to Willip's local taverns with lightning speed; I had been here three nights and the gossip and panic spread like wildfire each time a patron with too much ale in his blood voiced his irrational fears that Willip would be overrun by morning.

No matter how small the town, even in dismal and dreary towns like Willip, the inhabitants sought relief in the music, dancing and drink every evening. This was where everyone could forget their worries; this was where I could really shine. I took it on as my responsibility to remind them that there was always hope, that there were still beautiful places in the world that were protected and prosperous. I regaled the crowds with stories of those who had gone on to great success and happiness from origins such as theirs, and they loved me for it. Immaterial perhaps, but it was all I could do.

And it was with this thought that I buttoned my cloak against the cool harbour breeze and set off into the night, towards the area where no lights shone in the streets, where I would find those I meant to help...

I wandered the streets for more than an hour. I had no idea what time it was, only that my feet were cold from the damp puddles that dotted the dirt streets. With a quick inventory of my belt pouches, I could tell I had handed out well more than my earnings tonight.

Maybe a few hundred silver, near as I can tell...

Even in the night, and under the cover of the magical invisibility I relied upon so heavily for protection, there were predators. Melf had taught me that. It was Melf's Ring of Invisibility I wore. I touched the ring assuredly as I rounded another corner, but became suddenly aware that my steps were becoming heavier. I was tired, but it wasn't fatigue. It was a definite sluggishness that I was not normally accustomed to, unless my evening had been one enjoying the spirits. The night air, too, seemed to chill my lungs a little too much, and I could feel every breath becoming more and more laboured as I drew myself along.

I must be getting sick...

The night air was growing colder, and the darkness seemed to close more tightly around me. By this I mean that it became heavier and more oppressive; even with the sight my elven mother had granted me in birth, things became blurred and obscured in the distance.

Maybe I'm more tired than I thought...

But I knew that notion was as false as the idea that I would be okay. The lamps that I knew were in the distance I could barely see, and a cold sweat dotted my brow. Perhaps that old woman who was coughing so heavily... or maybe there was something in that garbage-filled alleyway that might have been contagious... could it have been something in the crowd tonight?

It became obvious much too late that delirium had set in, and the last thing I saw was the cobblestone rushing forward to meet me as I collapsed against a lantern post, in the cold, wet street.

When I awoke, I was surrounded by brilliant lights and the sweet smell of incense. I could tell because the smell was thick in this room, and I needed to open my mouth to fill my lungs with the delicious scent. My eyes couldn't quite open, but it was only the piercing light that kept them closed. I wanted to open them; I felt as though I was waking from a deep, deep slumber filled with nothing but silence and darkness. No dreams lingered at the back of my mind and very quickly I realized that I didn't know where I was waking up.

When finally I did manage to open my eyes, I stared up at a high, cathedral-style ceiling, with murals and tiles spread across it like the floors of the Celene High Council Hall. When I turned my head, I saw beds and cots like the one I lay upon scattered about the room. A great hall even, that shone with the sun that streamed through the many windows that lined the walls high above me.

A church. I realized. I'm in a church.

But which one? And why? I tried to raise my head, but a pain jabbed in the back of my skull, so I lay my head back down. Quickly, a woman approached me with a look on her face of both concern and thanks. She wore soft white robes that reached down to her ankles, and she spoke very softly to me, in soothing tones and asked for another woman dressed similarly to bring water and food. I would quickly learn through my bouts of consciousness and delirium that I had 'the sickness'.

Over the next few days, a handful of attendants continued to fuss over me, despite my best efforts to leave the temple and my sick bed. I was so weak that I could scarce lift my head from my pillow, but I was able to glean from the conversations of those who attended me, I was supposed to be very thankful. I even remember Anton Phize being there briefly, but it was as blurry as any of the last few days had been.

For what do I have to be thankful for?

It was explained to me that I had come down with a disease that had arrived in Willip via the dock-workers that frequent the harbour city. It had claimed several dozen already, but the priests and priestesses were working tirelessly to warn the inhabitants of the city to come to them at the first sign of symptoms that they were only now beginning to recognize.

One thing amazed and continued to bewilder the priests and priestesses as they watched me day to day. I could speak with them, very naturally, despite my weakness of body, and allow them any information they wished. In fact, I become quite popular with those who worked on the sick, they would come to me during their times of relaxation, and listen to my stories. I tried, as weak as I was to entertain them, but without the grandiose gesturing and dancing that I loved.

In fact, as weak as I seemed to be physically, I was tempted on occasion simply to burst out in song, to hum a tune to lighten the mood of the place, or to whistle to myself to pass my waking hours. I couldn't help it sometimes, so monotonus the prayers and moans of those around me. It seemed this only amazed the priests and priestesses even more.

Everyone who had this disease had not only lost their voices, but the ability to speak altogether... permanently.

The disease attacked the lungs first it seemed and then there was a loss of the ability to speak. The clerics' ability to remove diseases from the patients was invaluable, but the disease took hold and progressed so quickly, there was little that could be done after a very short period of time. Most people didn't know what was happening to them until it was too late.

And this, of course, was the mystery.

So I suffered, it seemed, all the symptoms of the disease, but it did not take hold of my ability to speak, sing, or have any adverse effects on me that would not cease in time. And it was for this that I was to be thankful. So very thankful. But curious...

Days had passed, and I wished I had control of all my faculties. I was gaining my strength back, but as I grew stronger, the room and the beds became more crowded. Daily, more individuals were ushered in to see the clerics or to lay beside another, to wait, to listen for the news, be it good or bad.

I was anxious to leave, but was told to remain for the afternoon, that I might speak with the priestess who was responsible for my recovery. All this time, I thought I had recovered myself, that it was my mixed heritage or my will brought me back into health. This, of course, was quite a shock to me. Apparently, this priestess was anxious to see me, and had left Willip as ambassador to both Chendyl and Greyhawk in the hopes of drawing aid from the churches there to help with the administering of aid and the containment of this potential epidemic.

Thankfully, the deaths seemed to be slowing, but more than 50 survivors had lost their powers of speech... for good.

After some hours of waiting, a woman entered the temple, cloaked in travelling garb and ushered in by several guards other women wearing similar cloaks. The woman who I had been attended by approached her, and with a curtly bow, spoke briefly in her ear and pointed in my direction. The travelling priestess approached me with a purposeful stride, and introduced herself promptly.

"Hello, special one. I am Gwyneth. Heirophylia smiles on you this day." She was middle aged, very obviously human with her rounded face and dimpled chin. Her hair was pulled back, but it hung down around her neck and across a white robe. Around her neck she wore a golden medallion which I immediately recognized as the symbol of Heirophylia. She was young to me in years, but wore the creases and lines on her face to show her concern and responsibility.

I immediately liked her.

She brought me to a chamber outside the main hall, where simple furnishings dotted the stone-floored room. She removed her cloaks and garments, and revealed a pale blue robe of similar style to those women and men outside, but the different colour had to have some significance...

"Please, Kaelis. Sit. Make yourself comfortable." Still standing herself, she motioned to a chair behind me. She sat herself behind a desk, from which she removed a pile of parchment, and began absent-mindedly glancing over one at a time. After looking through only several of them, she impatiently set them at the corner of the desk and looked at me with her beautiful green eyes.

"You look well, and rested." She smiled at me. Too late I realized what she meant.

"Yes, thank you milady." I used my most formal tone in addressing this woman. "And from what I understand, I have you to thank for it."

"Thanks are not necessary, Kaelis, but I now have some questions for you that you have most assuredly been asked by the others of my order already." I knew she was going to ask about my voice, but I feigned ignorance respectably.

"Forgive me, madam. I do not."

"I mean, of course, your voice and it's state since your having contracted the disease which has Willip in its grasp." She eyed me carefully, and sat patiently, awaiting my answer. There was a way in which she held herself, as though she were anxious for something, but needed to approach it properly. For some reason, I had the impression she needed something of me, but I could not guess what I might possibly offer her.

"Unfortunately, I have little insight to offer either you or your order, Mistress Gwyneth."

"Gwyneth will be fine."

"I have little recollection altogether of how I found myself under the care of your associates, and less still of why I seem unaffected by this terrible illness in the same way that so many have been injured. In truth, I count myself very lucky indeed to be able to speak with you now."

"And rightly so." She pushed back her chair and stood, straightening her robe as she did so. The small flames in the room caught her medallion and shone rays of light off it as she walked around the desk towards me. "But I assure, you Kaelis, that it is more than sheer luck that you sit here with me now, enjoying your voice as so many have in the past. You are a sign, Kaelis. You are a sign from She who empowers me that you are the one for whom I've been looking for some time. Heirophylia Herself has sent you to me. She has sent you to Willip. There is much for you to do yet before you leave."

My surprise could not have been more apparent. Her pleasant tone, her entrancing stride would have cowed another into hypnosis and wonderment, but I almost jumped as she approached me.

Could this be? Could she really be saying this to me? As if this is all part of her goddess' plan! What does she want me to do? I don't even know of this goddess! She wants me to help her somehow? What is going on here?!?!

I was in shock. She had in one simple sentence propositioned me to become what I pitied in others. Passive. Humble. Conservative and subservient. My mind raced with the implications of what she said to me, but I realized I had thought much and said nothing.

"What?" was all that came out. Recovering, "forgive me, milady, but you presume too much. My trip here was a long time in the coming. I had plans to arrive months before but was delayed in Chendyl. It is simple coincidence that you and I have met, and little more." I considered what I said to be quite bold, for I knew nothing of this woman. Her demeanour and her posture were both those of a woman who was tired. Tired of something she would never stop doing. Tired of giving without believing.

"Yes, Kaelis. You have been saved from the loss of your beautiful voice so that it could be used as a tool for Heirophylia's ministry. You know better than anyone I've met how to read people; it's what you do."

I was aghast. What was she saying? I must have opened my mouth in suspicion.

"Oh yes, Kaelis. I know you. I've heard much about you, and have spoken with many who also know you. I've spoken with those you entertained nights ago at the Bardic College. I've spoken with the priests and priestesses all over Furyondy that have watched you at my request. I even had words with the vagabond who brought you to our door. Yes, you owe your life to more than just Heirophylia. Oh yes, I know you much better than you know me. And you are the one person who can help me."

"Help you with what?" I knew my polite and respectful demeanour had crumbled away with my surprise. But still I refused to become indignant. "I hail from Celene, Gwyneth. I know not of your goddess, nor of her agenda. However, what I do know is that I do not play a part in that agenda. I fear that you might have misplaced your hope, or your anxiousness, for I cannot help you. I play at life. I take very little seriously, and my simple regimens pale in comparison to the sacrifices that you and those of your order base their lives on. I look at each day as an opportunity to meet new people, and have not the complacent and passive mentality that my elven brethren are renowned for in the Flanaess."

I could not have put it more simply. However, there was a light in her eye that I knew meant she heard little of my rebuttal.

"Let me put it to you," she said. Her patience was admirable, for I had been as blunt as I dare with a woman of impressive social stature and one who demanded much respect in matters of faith. But she continued, "there was a time that I was so enamoured with my ministry that I thought of nothing else. The doctrine, the rules by which I lived were set in stone, and upon that basis I led my life. I have spent years aspiring to become the embodiment of Heirophylia's teachings, and have served many this way. But with my years of learning so too came the realization that those who Heirophylia tries to reach do not remain set in stone. The hopes, dreams, and lifestyles of all people change. And they have. Much of our order is static, and will not change. It is a great source of pride for my superiors, but fills my heart with woe." She furrowed her eyebrows at having said this, but pushed on.

"I do not disagree with how things continue to be done, but year after year we lose the faithful, one by one. The crisis here, in Willip, right now is a perfect example! How many will lose their faith because they thought Heirophylia would not help them keep their loved ones? How many will no longer be able to sing her praises because they've no voice to sing with!?!? It is these people that Heirophylia wants most to reach, but they need to want to come back to us. To Her. A new era must be ushered in, and it is I who wish to bring it to the people." She looked at me intently, her hands gripping the armrest of her chair so her knuckles appeared whiter than her pale, freckled skin. "Is this hurtful pride that I feel? No. It is the desire to further show the people that Heirophylia understands their plights, whatever they may be! In all forms, in all people. I need to show them that She understands and sympathizes! THAT is my mission." Her knuckles relaxed and she composed herself, smoothing again her robe on her lap. "And I need you..."

I was stupefied. In all my years of travel, I had never entered a place of human worship. It would have been almost blasphemy to The True Creator that I feign worship of another god. The anxiousness that the other clerics witnessed in me during these past days was a mix of shame for being so helpless and repulsion at that same helplessness in the hands of a human god!

"You know not what you ask of me. You wish for me to administer prayer and guidance to the masses?!? You wish for me to become a minister of the faith and call Heirophylia my saviour in life?!? I assure you, Gwyneth, you misunderstand the messages from your goddess! For I am one of Corellon's children. I bleed His blood, and breathe the same air that He once breathed Himself! I praise Him for all that He has provided me with and thank him for his guidance in my times of strife." I shifted in my seat and then stood, looking down upon her, aware of her displeasure, but disappointed in myself at the sight of her understanding.

"Do you doubt that Heirophylia is the reason you speak to me now?" She was losing her wide-eyed expression of forgiveness now, a look I did not enjoy. "You know that She has healed you for Her purposes! She brings you from the door of death and the horror of life without Her; to the light and grace she sheds on me, and you have the audacity to deny her influence in your salvation?!" She stood to face me, and to my surprise, rose taller than me by inches.

"Your life as one of Her chosen would not be without the comforts that you enjoy now, Kaelis." She grew quiet and pleasant again in the blink of an eye. "I speak of you and I, with our cloaks wrapped around us, delivering the stories and hope that Heirophylia promises to those that need Her word the most! It would be the life of travel and discovery that you enjoy now, but with the light of goodness always on your shoulders. The night life, the freedom to go where you wish when you wish would still be yours. And I would accompany you, as a sign that She can work the miracles people have come to expect. It would be wonderful. We would worship on the road. We would spread Her word to those that would listen, and they would listen to you, Kaelis! You are the one!"

I didn't know what to tell her. I had absoloutely no desire to aid this woman. Her insistence that it was Heirophylia who saved my voice was not at all compelling, and I did not know how to tell this woman about the shame she and her order had laid upon my heart.

"My good lady, I know your story. I sympathize with your plight, but I cannot do this. I would resent your goddess for all the time I was with you, because I would know every day that I did it for you and not for Her. I would speak to the masses of what I had seen, but not what I had felt. For I feel nothing. I am thankful for all that you and your acolytes have done, and should there be a need for me to aid you in the future, I will do it with pleasure and thanks. But what you ask of me now I cannot do with you." I was desperate that she understand me. I was still tired, and I could not bear the weight of this request. "I implore you, Gwyneth. Make no more attempts at winning me to your cause. Please."

She sank back into her chair. No longer was her gaze fixed on me, but the stone floor that was cool under me. She reached to the medallion that still glinted with the torchlight, and sat, pondering, staring, hating me; I had no idea. I could not bear the moments that passed. I could not move, nor could I talk. I stood, motionless, awaiting some sign that I could leave, unhindered and owing nothing to her or her goddess.

And she gave it. Quietly, standing and facing me in all her understanding, she reached forward and ever-so slightly brushed the back of her hand against my cheek. My stubble had grown in a week as much as a human's would in a day, but she could feel it. So could I.

"You are a mystery, Kaelis Goldenchord. For your moral compass does not direct you anywhere. It leads you nowhere, and for that I am sad. You will never know the direction that will inspire you to take up the worthy cause. You will never know the loyalty we feel to She that provides for us everything. You will never know..."

"Thank you milady, but I do know. I know that my path is not your path, nor could it ever be. I know that you are righteous, and giving and understanding. I know that you will find whoever it is that you seek, and I know that you have not found that person yet, not in me."

I tilted my head towards her hand, and stepped back slightly, offering myself just enough room to bow curtly to her. "Again, peaceful Gwyneth. I offer you my thanks, and I would hope that you would extend that sentiment to those who cared so lovingly for me. I would take my leave of you now, and will be of no more trouble to you. My thanks and best wishes in your ministry."

I bowed again, out of politeness more than respect. I remember now the gaze she cast towards me as I turned to leave. Sorrow, patience and a longing that I only realized days afterwards. She wanted me for more than my gifts. She wanted me as her companion, to offer her a taste of the life she forfeited so many years ago, but could never know again. Her station in life was set, and nothing, not even the longing in her heart could make her change. Her will was too strong. And I knew when I left her that I could never accept that offer in the future. I knew when I left that it was because I would never know that dedication or understanding. That tolerance or accepting nature, without question or complaint.

And then I knew I left for the right reason...
 Episode 26 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2014-12-04 -  
It had been a dull day. The drills had been especially tiresome and mundane, and there had been no wind to cool the sun-baked plain they stood on.

What an impressive row they make. Thought Khaal Wraath. And what a formidable foe we are. What havoc we wreak. What destruction we lay to land and town. Truly, we are the pride of the Great Kingdom.

Khaal Wraath stood with his arms extended, head tilted slightly to the wind trying to catch whatever breeze might grace the open plain. From here, hundreds of yards from the city walls, the tall spire of Karoolk's tower could be seen, spiraling into the clear sky, threatening to pierce what clouds might wander by. It's black, polished stone was a wonder in the sunlight, reflecting the light in a circle of radiance that almost made it look inviting.

There was a day when Khaal Wraath had walked that long, twisted path up to its great wooden doors. The path no one would walk if not requested to do so by the Master of Mages. But he had walked it at his request, he had shivered at the shrivelled bushes and dead trees decorating the gardens with their twisted limbs. There had been no end to the questions from the others when he returned, but he dismissed them as he was told he should.

I want to go back... He thought.

A sudden, earth-shattering explosion rocked the ground, and Khaal Wraath spun, and saw Dellaren, one of the younger wizards detonate a Fireball in the distance. Dellaren was young, younger than Khaal Wraath, but he worked very, very hard. He was inducted into the ranks of the Combat Mages under the immediate supervision and insistence of Aranek. The first son of another Naelax family, he considered himself the first of the 'next wave' of sorcerers to lead the Combat Mages to the glory and dominance in the Flanaess they once knew.

Perhaps that's why Aranek favours him like he does... Khaal Wraath mumbled under his breath.

And despite his obvious 'lack of the gift' as was widely whispered, Aranek always seemed to support Dellaren and rarely reprimanded him for clear errors in the art. Still, Dellaren was to be admired for his steadfast resolution that he would indeed one day step into Aranek's role, but there were surely a number of Khaal Wraath's colleagues who all would like to claim that title.

The sun was almost unbearable today. Khaal Wraath detested these drills, conducted on the open plains that would never again host grass or tree or flower. These hills were the desolate wasteland the Combat Mages of Rauxes had used since Khaal Wraath's youth, and undoubtedly before that to test their destructive art. And through it all, Khaal Wraath choked and coughed, shielding his eyes and squinting against the accursed sun that hated him so...

To what end must I endure this discomfort... Khaal Wraath could not think in this heat. His cloak was pulled tightly around him, but his chosen black could not accompany him on the plain, so he had pulled tightly around him a cloak of light grey. The hypocrites that surrounded him in their white robes sickened him and made him despise them more for their comfort.

But everyone on the plain knew that Khaal Wraath attended these drills solely for the purpose of bragging, to size them up and to remind them of his 'chosen' status. All knew he was not required to endure these drills as the others were. Long ago excused from them by Aranek's only superior, Khaal Wraath made a habit of watching his competitors toil to prove their worth, and considered it an opportunity to size up those who were rising quickly in the art.

They bored him terribly, the struggling, the fumbling; all things that Khaal Wraath knew in his much younger years. He was the youngest mage is Rauxes; cause for more resentment, but it was only through making those mistakes himself that he could have come to wield this power, this standing...

But what really caught Khaal Wraath's interest was the art that few were allowed to practice.


There were no Combat Mages in Rauxes that practised the 'dark art'. It was forbidden. Necromantic spells were allowed to be incorporated into the Combat Mages' spell books only under the direct supervision and with the written permission of General Aranek or his superior. For what reason, few of the mages knew, but Khaal Wraath knew. He knew because he asked the man who made the rule...

And then, as if to command Khaal Wraath's attention directly, an icy wind swept over the sun-baked plain. Shaking his head, Khaal Wraath looked back to the long, slender line of mages and saw Dellaren waving his arms frantically in the air. A great cloud had gathered high in the air, and rain poured down from it, scattering dust and mud as it slammed into the ground in front of the contingent of mages.

Khaal Wraath quickly realized that Dellaren had successfully cast an Ice Storm, but in this unforgiving heat it quickly turned to rain and mud on the barren plain. Applause erupted from the chorus line of Combat Mages as Dellaren bowed graciously to accept their applause. Even among those who strove to conquer others, the accomplishments of a fellow mage did not go unnoticed. This was Dellaren's first successful casting of a spell in the fourth circle.


Khaal Wraath turned to return to the cover of the shadows of Rauxes.
 Episode 27 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2014-12-04 -  
 Summon the Master 
The boys expression showed little interest. His eyes were already glazed over and his mind was obviously elsewhere. He was bigger than the others, at least those that had served Khaal Wraath in the past. Fledgling squires, fleeing the unpredictable streets of Rauxes for the abuse and mistreatment promised them in the employ of the officers' barracks.


Khaal Wraath glanced over the boy again.

He doesn't even look like he knows who I am. Perfect.

Khaal Wraath's casting trademarks, obvious to his colleagues but mysterious to strangers quickly took effect, the light of the candle on the desk faded and fluttered, but he kept his narrowing eyes locked on the boy.

"Agen arentilas cuthalian..." The words curled off his lips, and the boy snapped out of his dream to fix his eyes on Khaal Wraath. A thin, raspy whisper startled the boy from across the room, its piercing, cynical tone cutting through the thick silence of the shadow-filled chamber.

"Deliver this message..." the voice began, growing louder, " the Imperial Court Mage's tower messenger and tell him..." The boy was frantically searching the room for the source of he who spoke to him.

"Hello?" the boy asked into the darkness. "Who's there?" his curiosity pleased Khaal Wraath almost too much for him to concentrate. The voice continued...

"...tell him that Khaal Wraath wishes audience with the Master of Mages immediately..." The boy snapped his head toward Khaal Wraath with a startled look on his face.

"The... Master... of... Mages?" His face showed shocked amazement and terrible fear. "You wish to speak with him? Is that where I have to go?" The boy straightened his back to compose himself. He seemed more uncomfortable now, the warmth of the hearth and the many candles did little to stop the shiver that wracked him, and he seemed small and frightened in Khaal Wraath's midst. He had obviously lost that dreamy look in his eye when The Master of Mages was mentioned, and rightly so, thought Khaal Wraath.

"Is there a problem...?" the mysterious voice whispered. Khaal Wraath glared purposefully at the boy as the haunting voice started again from the depths of his study. The boy seemed panicked now, who was this who requested to see the Master of Mages? Would he be punished if he failed in delivering this message? But the boy stepped further into the room to look for who was telling him what to do. Khaal Wraath remained motionless, watching the boy carefully as the voice he commanded continued, "Because if you have difficulty with these instructions, your incompetence can be very easily communicated to your superiors."

"No,... no problem sir. The message,... of course, right away." The boy straightened his tunic. "I'll go right away."

Mention of the Master of Mages always got a similar response from these minions. Rumours circulated through the contingent and thusy through the city that the Master of Mages was in fact Ivid's personal aid, but few people ever saw him, and even delivering a message to his tower was startling, especially to a boy. A thin smile escaped Khaal Wraath's lips; sometimes, fear can be entertaining...

Slowly backing towards the door from whence he came in, the boy bowed awkwardly and turned to the door to escape, his eyes wide with apprehension of his task. With a thought, Khaal Wraath willed himself to the doorway and let a moment linger at his portal; framing him against an awful backdrop of flame and darkness. Startled, the boy recoiled from Khaal Wraath, his fear now focused on the form of the tall, imposing figure who just teleported right before his very eyes! An impenetrable mask of uncaring, Khaal Wraath reached down and grabbed the boy by his collar, lifting him again to his feet, but keeping hold of his tunic. Leaning down from his great height, Khaal Wraath continued now with his own voice, "Heed my instructions, boy... do well and you will be rewarded with further service... do poorly and you will wish you stayed in the squalor of Rauxes." Placing a small, sealed scroll in the breast pocket of the still horrified boy, Khaal Wraath finished, " go...".

Satisfied that his point was made, Khaal Wraath released the boy, raising his arm in a grandiose fashion to allow the boy to scamper past, half-stumbling as he reached for the bolt on the chamber door. Khaal Wraath sighed in silent contentment as the page's frantic footsteps could be heard sprinting down the hallway...
 Episode 29 of The Ministry of the Blade - 2015-01-28 -  
 Stalking His Prey 
It wasn't the music that bothered him. It wasn't even the smell of this place.

It was the laughter.

The tavern around him was buzzing with cheers and song, the patrons as loud as ever with their jovial celebration of the new season ahead.

It was true, Sephiroth thought. There was reason to celebrate. The harvest had been especially good, and the city had forgotten its somber tone for a little while. But the lights were much brighter on the other side of the tavern. The sound wafted over to him on ale-tainted air, and the boisterous noise began to wear on his nerves.

Sephiroth sat, his robe wrapped tightly around him. His hood lay back and his stark white hair fell in front of his face, hiding his critical gaze. It was warm in the tavern, the heat from the nearby fire in his alcove swept through the air and coated everything with the smell of burning wood. Sephiroth's table stood alone against the back wall of the small tavern, the light of the fire and torches around the room could not penetrate its cover, and he sat in suspended silence as those around him wasted the night away.

The goblet in his hand was still cold to the touch; Sephiroth's grip did nothing to warm the glass or the drink in it. With every sip, he savored the sweet red wine; the only drink he would stomach. It seemed to calm him, for Sephiroth could nurse a glass for hours, simply holding it on the tip of his tongue, watching those around him.

He was viewed as a regular now, his glass was kept full and no one bothered him anymore. There were only a few places that he would go now, chosen carefully. Chosen simply for their numbers, he thought. Maybe for their atmosphere, but he knew that wasn't what attracted him. It was the people. Oblivious to the world around them, naive in their merriment and completely helpless in their drunken stupors.

That was definitely it. The helplessness.

Sephiroth told no one that he frequented these establishments. For some time, he suffered a strange sense of shame for something that seemed very natural to him. He could not stop himself, and no longer was he content to practice his art during training. No longer would he adhere so stringently to the rules so strictly enforced to the others.

No longer.

And as though on cue, one of the inebriated patrons smashed down his glass on Sephiroth's table, letting the warm ale splash from his mug onto Sephiroth's robe and hand.

"What are you looking at!?!" the drunken man roared.

Composed, quietly, Sephiroth rose to examine the damage to his robe. The man's foul breath rained down on Sephiroth in his chair, but when he stood to look the man over, Sephiroth had to look down to meet his gaze. "I beg your pardon?" Sephiroth asked politely.

"I said, what the hell are you looking at?!?" the man yelled louder than before, oblivious to the number of onlookers now. He poked Sephiroth's shoulder upon utterance of the last syllable, and it made Sephiroth almost fall back into his seat. Sephiroth knew this man had not full control of his faculties, and that he was simply in a riotous mood. He took little offense to the intrusion at his table, but was very conscious of the onlookers' intense gaze. The man was several inches shorter than Sephiroth, but he was powerfully built and had large, calloused hands. He was dressed rather well for a man in this tavern, but it must have been a night of celebration. Sure enough, with a quick glance over his shoulder, Sephiroth could see three individuals whispering intensely to one another as they held each other back.

Anxious to end this uncomfortable confrontation, Sephiroth searched quickly for the proper syllable to start the incantation... "Bunalle inispazin damos..." the words curled off Sephiroth's lips. He placed his hand on the man's shoulder, and despite the man's quick reaction to move, they were too close for him to back away. Sephiroth knew it was over when he looked into the man's glazed eyes. The big man immediately let out an exasperated sigh, his eyes clouded over, and his shoulders slumped as though exhausted. With just as much subtlety, Sephiroth nudged the man's shoulder backwards ever so slightly, and the man slumped backwards into a chair as though completely exhausted, panting heavily and flushed in the face. A hushed silence wafted over those that were paying attention, and one of the tavern's whores rushed to his side to see if he had passed out.

A quick brush of his hand along his robe, and Sephiroth straightened his back, regaining his composure. He looked carefully at the crown who all stood now, staring and whispering quietly to each other.

Time to leave.

He tossed several coins on the table where he was sitting, and stepped over the man's extended legs as hushed whispers filled the room. Those individuals who stood between Sephiroth and the door politely stepped aside, and with a flick of Sephiroth's wrist, the bartender scrambled to grab the gold piece as it spun towards him across the bar. Sephiroth turned to the assembly, glancing quickly over the group before he ducked under the archway and left the tavern.

The night was warm, the new seasons always brought irregular warm spells across the plains, and Sephiroth breathed a lungful of the spring air, but it did nothing to quell the feelings inside of him. Restlessness, tension, and anticipation all stirred in his soul.

Tonight will be particularly enjoyable.

Sephiroth walked into the night. The darkness curled around him and welcomed him; into the shadows and alleys that invited none and held the promise of death for many. The city streets were almost empty at this time of night. The 'patrols that did not sleep' as he had heard them referred to came here seldom; there were few residences and fewer still taverns. No people, no trouble. So it was with a contented sigh that Sephiroth opened the door of an abandoned building and ascended the set of stairs he had walked many times before. The words he spoke at the bottom of the stairs ensured that no light was necessary; the moon would not shine tonight, and Sephiroth did not wish to attract attention in his darkness.

The rock edifice that shaped the stairway was cold in the night air, and Sephiroth brushed his hand against it as he ascended to the upper level of the old house. The thick, wooden beams still creaked as he entered, worn and bleached from the elements that rained down in the night and blazed through the tattered roof in the day. It was a large house, probably belonging to some aristocratic family a decade ago, but it had long since been abandoned, too close to the Imperial Palace and too expensive to maintain with the decline in city trade.

The wind swept through the open windows and curled Sephiroth's robe around his ankles, a warm breeze; a spring breeze.

This new season brings renewed life to this City of Unlife, but soon will come the reality of Rauxes. My reality. Soon this wind will bring the summer warmth I will never feel... soon will come the sun that hates me so... soon my life will be the same.

The words lingered heavily in Sephiroth's mind. With age came new understanding in his art. With age came recognition among the Combat Mages that he was "Chosen of the Master". His studies were as always; his ambition drove him forward, unwavering, but there was always a shortcoming. He would never share the lives of the other mages, he would never be an accepted member of their ranks. No matter how learned he became, he was different still.
In the evening Sephiroth would wander the halls of the Combat Mages' barracks, quietly, alone. He did so every evening without fail, he reveled in the quiet, he longed for the solitude that spared him the glances and the snickers. As the Combat Mages of Rauxes grew up, learned their art, fought and died, he would remain unaffected, unchanged. He would forever be protected, exempted, and revered. Never joining the excursions outside The Great Kingdom, never to know what matters the more powerful mages attended to. Always the secrecy, always...

The emptiness he knew in life was constant as the sun, the accursed sun. The alienation he would never solve in his casting ate at him; it gnawed at him and was the constant reminder it seemed, of his differences. The price for his power was a hole that years ago had opened up inside of him, black, empty and deep.

To find comfort in that emptiness was a hope cast aside long ago; the fantasy of it being filled the dream he could never dream. A moment of utter contentment never passed over him; the ambition and loneliness would see to that. His studies postponed the inevitable feeling, and he knew of only one way to fill it. He had to know what it was like to feel the way "they" felt. How "they" lived.