The Dragon Between

Xentril's Late Night Musings

Seated on a log by the coals of the fire, Xentril glanced over each of her sleeping companions as she kept the watch. Balestrider’s laborers were dim, blanket-covered lumps huddled around the second, larger pit of coals, watched over by Lorak. The lord himself and her warriors were closeby and she could hear their breathing. Having so many companions again made her nervous, but she had to admit to herself being somewhat comforted by their sleep noises. The bard even sounded musical in her sleep, her soft whistling snores seeming to play the melody that accompanied the rhythmic sounds of Cuinas’ breathing. Viktor muttered for a moment in a language she did not know, then rolled over and quieted.

She returned her watch to the night, as her hands moved over the edge of her axe, freshly honed. That knick had taken most of her watch to smooth out. Damned Troll bones are tough on the blade.

Lorak slide onto the log across from her and shook Viktor’s arm, waking him for the second watch. As he moved to wake Cuinas, Xentril halted him with a quick gesture.

“Let the girl sleep a while longer, I’ll take half her watch. She is not used to this life and is sleeping poorly. We will need her rested tomorrow.”

Lorak grunted, then took over the space as Viktor vacated it. The pale Karnathi nodded silently to her and left to watch over the laborers. He moved with a lethal grace that she admired, even having just been woken from a restless sleep.

We are still working out how to fight together, but we are becoming an effective warband. Each have our own strengths and are learning to use them together with a brutal efficiency. And each warrior’s strength complements another’s weakness. All my companions could be worthy of their own inner dragon – the dark protector, the intuit seer, the silent guide, and the teller of tales.

She still thought like a leader sometimes, though she knew she was unfit for the honor. She was a mindless killer now, dishonored and unable to control her rage. Her life was spoken for by the dragon below, unless she could somehow redeem herself. But her shame was so great, the lives she had taken could never be replaced. The only way she knew to redeem her honor, to reclaim her place among her clan, was to die in battle. For she was a kinslayer.

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A letter from a Princess

Teriant D’Medani

I hope this letter finds you well. As per our usual procedure, please ensure that my father receives the enclosed note as soon as it is safe for you to send it to him. Peace and luck be with you, and I bid you good watching.

-Princess

Father,
I hope this finds you well and happy. Xentril and I have joined an expedition to a island that promises treasure and mysteries. The group I have joined is led by a minor lord of little consequence. Two former allies are surprisingly around me again, the Karnathi officer and the dirgesinger. I confess to feeling rather safe, so you need not worry. All around me my companions bristle with all manner of sharp and painful implements.

I am sending this letter from an island to which you have recommended some of your friends. Precautions as necessary I will take perchance I meet any of them.

I look forward to your correspondence, though I will be unreachable by normal means for a least a few weeks and perhaps for months. So do not fret if this is my last letter for a while. Do let me know when you will be back in Wroat, it has been too long since we have spent time together. I am certain to have some grand tales of my adventures to tell you. I send you, as always, my deep love and respect.

Good watching,

C.

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Cuinas's Journal (Lhazzar through the Underdark)

Cuinas’s Private Journal (most recent entry first)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The last battle before we (finally!) reached the surface was difficult. I was trying to be brave and helpful, but somehow I messed up again. Sier is ready to pull her hair out. I AM trying. I admit (to myself) that I am out of my depth. I need a day or two of intense meditation. I need a hot bath and a glass of wine. Neither of those things are going to happen any time soon, and my frustration is reaching levels I have not felt previously. It feel like all of my skills (and I am not boasting when I say they are considerable) are completely, utterly useless here. Was it a mistake for me to come? I think perhaps it was. Here I am though, on some island forsaken and abandoned by all sane, civilized folk. Trapped, the horrors of the underdark behind me and an unknown wilderness which promises to be no less terrible stretching before me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have prayed more in the last two days than in my entire life. To everyone I can think of. What have I gotten myself into? This place is oppressive, and it is only with supreme effort can I keep myself from panicking. I can’t talk to Xentril about it with so many others near. She, as usual, is only fearful of doing harm to the group. Every day is a battle with some new horrifying thing that I have until now only read about and researched. It is all very well and good to be told that the habitat for this monster is this and the normal mode of attack for a beholderkin is that, but to face one, it’s terrible visage hiding a terrible intelligence is something else entirely.

I can see myself being brattish. I know I am a pain, from the shared looks of Viktor and Sier, but right now, I feel as if it is either that or cowering and jumping at every sound. My watches are horrible. When most others are sleeping I can almost hear the terrors surrounding us in the dark. They whisper into my mind, and I have had to construct new barriers to keep them out. My sleeping hours are not much better. I wake with starts, and nightmares flood my dreams. I dream of my mother, and instead of comforting me as in the past, I feel a great wave of disappointment coming from her.

Hurry us to the surface, Lorak, out of this awful, vile belly of the world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I can think of at least a score of individuals my father has helped put into this prison we travel toward. I am comforted by the fact that it is highly unlikely we will be anywhere near them, but still, it becomes a thought in my mind. The voyage there, though not long, has been exhilarating. Not often have I had the chance to go oceanbound.

The Karnatthi captain is irritating me somewhat. He dislikes me, and has no idea why I have been brought along. As if he expects me to apologize for not having a veritable armory of weapon skills. I am not sorry. Carrying a bristle of weapons around everywhere is tiresome. Sier is coming along, I amuse her I think. The mind staggers at how differently we have been brought up.

I am a bit nervous about the Underdark. Having never been, I’m not sure how I will handle it. Lorak seems pretty certain that he can guide us through safely… or, as I think his exact words were, “As safe as one can go through the Underdark.” I try to treat him with as much politeness as possible in respect for his house, but sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me and I pester him with questions.

I am going to send a letter to Father to let him know my whereabouts before we descend into the earth and begin the quest in earnest. It has been too long since I have written to him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Mortifying. Last night Xentril and I attempted one our games in a local dockside tavern. Met an unusually astute ruffian, who clearly saw straight through our act. That’s never happened before. He was terribly rude as well, and provided us with misinformation. I should have known!

I am still not convinced that those guardsmen supervising the unloading of that vessel were on the up and up, but I just couldn’t bring myself to engage with them on the chance that they were doing their just duty.

In any case, it appears that I had gotten too used to the folks in the small towns that Xentril and I have been traveling through lately. I will have to start paying closer attention to everyone. Xentril seems a bit concerned about the number of people we are taking with us on this adventure. She is afraid of what she might do, clearly. I am hopeful that she is getting better.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So much for not knowing anyone. Who knew I’d run into two individuals who not only know who I am, but know some things about me I’d rather not broadcast. Hobgoblin dirgesinger. I remember her well. Calm, collected and intensely sure of herself. She treats me a bit like a child, which is frustrating but it can’t be helped I suppose, I am twenty years her junior. The Karnatthi Paladin remains as aloof as I recall him.

Balestrider surely flouts traditional lordly habits in choosing his employees. It’s as if he choose the most widely diverse group he could think of. He seems to not know a great deal about what we’ll be facing or even what the reward might be. I’m being kind really, he is abysmally unprepared.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Today we met with Lord Thorin Balestrider. A minor lord to be sure. I expected him to have all the silly personality traits that noble younger sons generally do. He seems to have escaped some of the more annoying ones though. Certainly he is very boring, but he proposes to hire us for some sort of treasure seeking. I am almost entirely certain he is hiring me because I travel with the brutefisted, battle ready dragonborn. No matter, we apparently come as a pair. It’s the strangest thing our friendship, and sometimes I wonder if it is beneficial to either of us. We tend to encourage each other’s bad habits sometimes and we are learning new ones from each other. I think mother would be appalled at my recent behavior, but honestly, this is the first time in my life I’ve ever had any freedom at all. It’s not as if anyone out here in the principalities knows who I am anyway. Learning that ritual to hide my dragonmark was one of my wiser moments.

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Suspire

“But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate.”
— Bob Dylan/Jimi Hendrix/B4, “All Along the Watchtower”

The crumbling steps of the ancient temple are slick under Viktor’s boots, awash in ichor, blood, and crushed vegetation. All around him the battle roils, Lorak and Xentril standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him against the beasts on all sides. As he fends off blow after blow with his shield, parrying strike after strike with his sword, Lorak tumbles swiftly to one side, and Xentril utters a high-pitched roar as she flails madly, froth spilling from the corners of her jaws. Viktor bares his teeth in frustration, then the breath is knocked from him by an errant strike from the enraged dragonborn’s weapons.

‘How quickly the fortunes of battle can change, like the seas under sour weather.’ The brief epigram from his history lessons flits through his mind. I never much cared for sailing, anyway…

A deeper-pitched roar from twin throats echoes just overhead, drowning out Xentril’s cries, the furious squeals of the monstrous wild razorbacks, the clangs of steel on steel. The blazing sun is blotted out by the two-headed silhouette looming above, and he raises his shield on pure instinct.

But not fast enough.

Easily the size of a small tree, the Ettin’s club collides with Viktor, crushing him to the ground in a single, agonizing blow. His vision flares white and his ears ring. As he collapses to the stone, still feebly trying to ward off another blow with his shield, the Ettin’s twin heads glare at him in stupid, murderous cruelty, and twin gap-toothed grins leer down at him as the giant deals him another massive clout, smashing his shield aside, denting his armor, and jolting his head to one side. Only the wolf-shape of the helm prevents the blow from twisting his head far enough to snap his neck.

His senses reel, vision whiting out, then fading to grey and a dull black, while his ears keen and whine over the faint sounds of battle. For a brief, absurd moment, he can smell the fragrance from the exotic blooms that decorate the vines enshrouding the ruin, before the Ettin’s stink overpowers that, then similarly fades.

All is quiet, peaceful, and Viktor drifts, barely aware.

A distant, deep thrumming resounds, overpowering the remnants of his senses, and he strains toward it. It is slow, but steady, reassuring in its regularity, like tides on Scions Sound, like wind in the Rekkenwood pines, like Rekkenmark Academy drums, like the breath of a sleeping lover.

Like the sound of a vast, slow heartbeat.

Viktor’s eyes open and he jolts back to consciousness, heart hammering fiercely, defiantly in his chest, driven as much by his own will as Sier Dhakaan’s war chants.

“The blood is the life…” he whispers to himself, hoarsely. He shakes his head, staggering upright. The Ettin turns to him again, and with all the force his arm and his faith can muster, he returns the monstrosity’s attack in kind. His blade flares with divine fire, and the ettin’s twin voices turn to pained screams as it falls. Unlike the Karrnathi, the giant stays where it falls, blood pouring from its mortal wounds.

The hot metallic reek fills Viktor’s senses, trickling from his injuries, dripping from his weapons and armor, spilling down the steps of the temple from both sides’ combatants, but he pushes back the thirst, keeping his attention on the battle remaining.

And if I should fall, I know that I shall rise, for the Blood is the Life.

Viktor bares his teeth, fangs flashing, as he raises his sword, giving voice to his own defiant roars, and rejoins the fight.

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Dragonborn on Fire
And she likes it

::singing::
There once was a big, scaley, strange lady
That liked to jump in fires and get hit by big blades.
She ran to the fray with a zeal that was crazed,
And jumped into the fire cause I think she was raged.

Oh, Dragon-like lady, oh, Dragon-like lady,
I think somethin bad happened, bein a Dragon and a Lady.
Oh, Dragon-like lady, oh, Dragon-Like lady,
Keep killin those Trolls and I won’t give a damn.
::repeats::

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The Shape of Things to Come?

[SivMail v6.7]
[Provost Anton Ciphas, Religious and Philosophical History, Morgrave University (aciphas@moru.siv.mes)]
[23 Olarune, 1874 YK]

O Anton Ciphas: your LyranAir travel reservation dates
O Your Xendrik.mrc order has shipped…
O Re: ‘Saint Viktor of Tanarath’ [Images/Documents Attached] . . . . . . . .

[Sent: 22 Olarune, 1874 YK]
[Sender: Laureate Karin Oller (Koller@moru.siv.mes)]
[Subject: Re: ‘Saint Viktor of Tanarath’]
[Images/Documents Attached]

Provost Ciphas,

Enclosed is a full update on my studies regarding Viktor of Tanarath. I know you initially disapproved of my decision to devote my time to such a controversial subject, considering both my possible ancestral connections, and the ever-changing opinions on the Faith of the Blood Divine. However, so far the stories have continued to match quite closely with the historical artifacts we have uncovered in Karrnath and elsewhere.

Viktor’s own journals, fragmented and aged as they are, still are well-kept as can be by the Faith, and they were all too happy to allow me a chance to examine them—carefully—once I provided the scrolls that documented the possibility of my blood relation to his sister. (I just hope they don’t plan on making me some sort of religious figure.) The years after the Mourning and the end of the War of Kingdoms were quite tumultuous, especially for him. The Emerald Claw cult apparently figured rather strongly in his travels; he apparently managed to make quite a few enemies from them, and it’s a wonder any of his relatives survived at all once they found out who and where they were.

The stories regarding the entity known then as Belashyrra, Lord of Eyes, seem to pan out as well. Saint Viktor’s early journals mention encountering a handful of Cultists in the area formerly known as the Shadow Marches, and that brief event attracted a lot of obvious attention from a Daelkyr well-known for curiosity, observation, and attention. If sainthood requires miracles, I’d say it’s a miracle he managed to thwart Belashyrra’s minions so effectively.

The less-clear bits of history are still being sorted out by the new team of undergraduates working with me, although it seems there’s more evidence unearthed to support his connection to Kaius the Third of Karrnath. Viktor was more than a vampiric lay-priest of his religion; he was a well-trained and experienced officer in the Karrnathi army, and very devoted to his homeland. His conflict with the Emerald Claw seemed to be the lead to discovering the truth about Kaius III, and his own decision to improve the Blood Divine (formerly known as the Blood of Vol) from within.

Some of the tales told are less clear, and we’re still trying to sort fact from myth: the stories of his interaction, and conflict (some argue for consorting instead) with the Dracolich Vol herself; the reweaving of what was then known as the Mark of Death (although the adherents to the Divine argued with me that it should be known as the Mark of LIFE and Death, or the Mark of Blood, or a host of other names); and his own eventual final fate (since he seems to have disappeared at some point, or perhaps the records just haven’t yet been uncovered. Who knows? The stories of his ascension may be true).

You’ll find a full report enclosed in the attached document file to add to the collection of data assembled so far. I’ve also taken the liberty of including an image taken at the Tanarath Chantry of the Blood Divine; one of the original inspirations for this research project, in fact. If even half of the imagery is based in truth, it’s a definite piece of evidence to support all my research.

Regards,
Karin Oller, Laureate, RPH, MU

{The attached image depicts a tall, intricate stained-glass window, flanked by ornate candelabra set with dozens of deep red candles, every one lit. The window itself depicts a host of adversarial figures clawing upward from the bottom and sides. To the left, a man in green armor and a half-helm wielding a morningstar; to the right, a darker, scaly-skinned beautiful elven woman with a near-corpse-like visage, bearing a pair of black leathery wings; and from below, a shadowy male silhouette with multiple tendril-like limbs, and a multitude of various eyes. Smaller guardian types stand in the open field, including a taller, crowned figure flanked by knights. Above this scene is the prime subject: A powerful man encased in armor, with a short beard and long dark hair. His face is set in a challenging expression, and his mouth is open to reveal fangs. One hand grips a sword which blazes with scarlet flames; the other, holding a wolf-head helm, bears what appears to be some sort of Dragonmark. The figure’s head is wreathed in a halo, and he is borne aloft by a pair of white wings, marked in black and crimson. An etched brass banner is set into the stone below the backlit vista of the stained-glass window, with the words: “The Blood Angel, Saint Viktor of Tanarath”.}

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A Letter to Home

To my family,

I hope that my letter finds you well, though it may be some time before you see this, when I can find either a trustworthy courier or a Sivis message house.

My travels continue to keep me far from our beloved homeland, and these days it seems that strangers and even former enemies can become allies in times of need or convenience. Currently, I am making my way to the Lhazaar isles with a contingent of guards, and a few other… specially-trained people, on another assignment with the Blademarks. Most of those at my side are plain enough, but I will be honest and say it is strange to fight side-by-side with not only one of the Hobgoblin peoples, but a dragon-born, from Q’barra, I think. Despite all the tales, neither of them appear to dine on the living flesh of babes, or wear the skins of men and women for their clothing——though the Khoravar woman who is of our company is a surprise: rather boisterous, sometimes blustering, and even foul-mouthed for one of her kind. Even more surprising is her claim as a Medani diplomat, considering her disposition…

Thus far, we have had our fair share of skirmishes, no doubt due to our choice of path; we undertook passage through Khyber, briefly, and the bizarre creatures that crawl there like worms in an apple are dangerous indeed. Yet, my faith has carried me this far, and back to the surface of the world I have emerged.

There is still much yet I have to tell of my travels, even before now… and perhaps someday, I may be able to tell you those tales, of the end of the Last War and the times since. I hope to return to visit soon, rather than sending only short messages and Kundarak bank-markers. Until then, you are in my thoughts, and my prayers, for we are all bound together by the Divinity Within. Be well, dear sister, honored father, beloved mother.

~ Viktor

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