Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The Long Game: The Windle's Landing Massacre

Alvyn, Kalgar, and Tong were on their way to Admiral Draksha, Sora's commander. Sora claimed that the admiral was interested in meeting Kalgar as she too believed there was something deeply troubling about Aes and its military developing superweapons.

The party had just defended Sora's outpost from a monstrosity created by the now-dead Iron Dragon, but their defense came at the cost of the outpost itself.

With many things weighing on them, the party set sail for the admiral.

Dallas Kasaboski

Sora's ship escorted them through the heavy fog toward the admiral's ship. Suddenly the fog parted, revealing 3 escort ships and the admiral's ship, named The Old Way.

Kalgar recognized this type of ship as one that was retired decades before he was even born. They first started production of these ships nearly 200 years ago and, despite being in great shape, the ship looked like it might have been developed way back then.

It was large, not streamlined like the Angrimich Shivi ships, reinforced with steel, painted mostly charcoal grey, and featured a huge ramming spike off its bow. The ship had been upgraded, the cannons had been refitted. It practically dwarfed the Shockrosia.

Kalgar stood near the prow of his ship, overlooking the scene. Sora's ship was already docking alongside The Old Way and he could tell by looking at her crew that they were nervous. They were all wearing their best and acting out their orders in a very stiff, regimented way.

And no wonder, Admiral Draksha was a big deal, with a long-standing reputation in the Aesian Navy. The admiral's crew made Sora's crew look like fresh soldiers. Everything they did appeared easy, professional, exact. Everyone was working efficiently.

Kalgar noted all this, hands behind his back, dragonhide cloak flapping in the wind. He looked to his crew, the ragtag riff-raff from several countries. They appeared wild, but thanks to Kalgar's iron will, and constant training exercises, the crew had successfully fielded storms of all kinds, and formed a strong, familial bond. Kalgar was proud of his crew, even if they didn't appear as regimented as the admiral's.

Tong, noting the tension in the air, walked over to Kalgar and said, "I fear a bowstring too taut will not produce a single note." He was worried for Kalgar, for the crew, but he trusted his friend.

With a nod toward Dwight, Kalgar's lieutenant, the crew made ready to accept The Old Way's gangplank. Sora boarded Kalgar's ship, and he nodded to her, and then to Alvyn and Tong. Suddenly he unfurled his wings, leapt into the air, and landed on The Old Way beside two started, but composed, sailors.

Tong leaned toward Alvyn, "Kalgar will be in the centre of these military heroics, let's make certain he plays the role of the hero and not the role of the fool."

"Okay." Alvyn responded, not sure what to say to that.

The admiral was standing on her ship, watching the entire proceeding. She was old, a bronze dragonborn with fading scales, wearing an old-style uniform. It featured a sleeveless vest, charcoal grey. She stared at Kalgar.

Kalgar waited for his friends to arrive.

Tong, Alvyn, and Sora follow closely behind. Alvyn's attitude was very relaxed, not one to conform to this parade. He munched on a giant apple, chewing loudly, his pointy gnome teeth just eviscerating it.

Kalgar took several purposeful steps toward her.

"Admiral Draksha, I am Kalgar Drakeswynd. These are my comrades, Alvyn Semanine-"
Alvyn munched loudly.
"-and Tong si Gong." The monk gave a solemn bow.

"Before we begin, I would like to explain the change in protocol, and recent events. As you may or may not know, there was an incident at the outpost, captained by...Captain Sora here."

Kalgar paused, not used to speaking so much.

"My ship and crew have sailed all over the world, and see some fantastic, and terrible things. While we were investigating the Iron Tower, in Ferrum, we realized someone had been experimenting. They were ripping creatures apart, and stitching them back together in horrible abominations. We did what good we could, then we got out of there, but what we didn't know is that, somehow, one of those creatures infested one of my crew. It ripped itself from his chest, killing him. While investigating this, we discovered a new, horrible species, some predator, some creature we had never seen before, and it was infesting the outpost."

Alvyn cut him off, stepped forward and said, "Long story short, I blew up your outpost myself to keep them from hurting your crew, your people, any longer." 

Tong gasped.

Without even looking down at Alvyn, the admiral tilted her head toward some members of her crew. Two guards immediately grab Alvyn, who doesn't resist.

Tong stepped forward, "Wait! I implore you! It was an accident. What Kalgar said is completely true, the creatures themselves, the infestation were the cause of this, our actions were palliative at best. If only I had, we could, shown you the ghastly horrors that had infected the outpost, then you'd believe us!"

"But if we had shown you," Alvyn interjected, "they would have eaten your entire crew alive, and gone on to destroy your entire navy, so I'm thinking, what, feast in my honour?"

"Alvyn! This is not the time for that!" Tong continued, "I am a man of Ioun, what I say to you is completely true, I am a disciple of truth!"

The admiral did not respond, except for tilting her head. The two guards led Alvyn away.

Tong looked at Kalgar with pleading eyes.

Kalgar closes his eyes, and made a very disappointing gesture. Just before Alvyn disappeared below-deck, he made a thumbs-up gesture. 

"I'm going to have to ask you to pardon my comrades' behaviour. They are an extremely passionate, excitable people. Regardless of exactly who destroyed the outpost, what they're saying is correct. These creatures, and you can ask Captain Sora, these creatures were dangerous. And the three of us," Here Kalgar nodded to Alvyn and Tong, "we have experience hunting monsters of this kind. What happened to the outpost was extremely unfortunate, and it is a shame that my return here to start to fix things was met with the outpost's destruction. But we did save the remaining lives, including my crew, Captain Sora's, and possibly those on the nearby isles. In less time that it took to even figure out where the creature had been, it seemed to grow to a horrible infestation that posed a great threat." 

"If what Captain Sora says is true, we have much to discuss concerning my fate and the fate of this nation. I would rather have started this on strong footing, but I'm going to have to ask for your patience, and your leniency, while we discuss everything here."

Kalgar stopped. Breathing deep. He was in unknown waters and had to sail with caution.

"But change brings a cost, and well, it's dangerous," Kalgar sighed, massaging his scalp. "It has been some time since I've been back here, in Aes, and in my time in the rest of Cyfandir, I have seen horrible things. I have seen dangers that are the nightmares of the most experienced soldier, and before any judgement is passed on recent events, I think you should realize that. I think you should talk to us, look at our ship, and think about this. But any way that you seek judgement, I was responsible for the actions of my ship and crew, and I would do the same thing again, I stand by what I've done, in the past, and now."

The admiral remained silent. A long moment of silence hung in the air. After some time, she tilted her head, gesturing them to follow her. 

As they began walking, Sora leaned toward Kalgar, "She didn't say anything, and you gave her all that? You told her everything! It was all unprompted, you just came up here and started saying things."

"It was her outpost, wasn't it?" Kalgar looked at her. "I am not ashamed by what I've done, and people need to know what happened."

Sora shook her head, "She didn't ask you to explain, you just started talking about monsters, and outposts."

"I have been charged with many crimes, and I'm not carrying the weight of them anymore...besides, did you want to take the blame?"

Inside the admiral's quarters, Tong was impressed by the spartan nature of it. A bed, a desk, some charts, it was very simple, and reminded him of his days in the temple of Canitia. 

Standing behind her desk, the admiral said, "Kalgar Drakeswynd, Captain Sora claims that the reports of your treason are incomplete. Explain."

"Well, what do the reports claim?" Kalgar asked.

No response. Kalgar got the impression that she was evaluating him, testing him based both on what he said, and what he chose to say.

True to form, Kalgar was entirely honest with her, choosing to lay all of his cards on the table.

"A few years into my second tour of duty, I started noticing a chance with the way we were acting, and the way we were fighting, the way our military was arranging itself. I wasn't sure what it was, I was quite young. I had done a tour already, but I was still following orders. After not too long, our crew witnessed what I have come to call a superweapon. It was a device that destroyed an entire island, easily. There were also rumours that I've come to learn about, concerning the Dragon's Waste and the destruction of the eastern coastline. I felt that my country was moving in a different way than I had been raised. We had been raised with the Aesian tenants of strength and honour, always presenting ourselves completely, before destroying our enemies. We started moving toward efficiency, which I have no problem with, but then we started moving toward these weapons. I tried to change the minds of my crew, my captain, but they were just following orders. I knew that if I stayed, I would not be living true to myself, I would not be following what I felt Aes truly stood for. I did not want to act this way, I did not want to hurt my country, I did not want to destroy innocents with these uncontrollable weapons. So I did the only thing I thought I could do. I left. In order to try to close the weapon, so they would not hunt me down, and also so they would move on, I faked my own death. I left my ship, my home, and I have been trying to make sense of that ever since. I understand, fully, that abandoning the navy is one of the greatest crimes of our country, and I understand that I have been charged with treason, but I believe that the higher-ups have committed treason by steering my country in this direction, and I will not stand for that. I have spent the last three years learning about myself, and the world, and I tell you these weapons are uncontrollable. They will kill innocents. And I will not hold to that. It is my hope to come back to Aes to try to make things right. Regardless of being called back, I am here to make some sort of positive change. And I believe that is all you need to know."

Silence ensued. Then, the admiral nodded and said, "Then, let us begin."

She pulled out maps, charts, and ledgers and put them on her desk. She motions to everyone to sit down, and she does so herself. Seeing that the admiral is getting down to business, and not the business of arresting Kalgar, he noticeably relaxes. Tong relaxes as well, but does not sit down.

"I intend to test the waters with you, Kalgar Drakeswynd. I will grant you three ships from my command, but I will not officially support you, and will claim blackmail if questioned. If you can prove to me that you have the strength and will to win battles, the wisdom to choose the right fights, as well as the force of personality to sway others to your side, I will give you my public support. Now, before I share my advice, tell me of your strategy and final objective."

"What is meant by this? A garmental mutiny? Are we to insinuate the topple of this government?" Tong asked, looking incredibly pensive. The admiral does not answer him, or even acknowledge him.

"The first thing, is that the superweapon program has to be exposed, or at the very least, shut down. It is the main issue that I have with the military power of Aes. The way I see it, I have three problems: my charge of treason, the superweapon program, and the third is the direction of this country that would support this program. I believe that if we can destroy and possibly expose this program, than that might take away the support and power of the people using it. So, in light of this country's love of efficiency, I think if I took down the superweapon program, that might ease my other two problems. To do so, we're going to need to find the location of the superweapons, understand their development, and destroy them. I'm still working on plans to that end, I have not tested the waters of Aes in some time, I'm not sure if revealing the details of the program to the people would be wise."

"It may be the only way to get significant support, due to your charge of treason." the admiral answered.

"Excellent. I hate secrets, I hate lies." Kalgar smiled, the first time in quite a long time.

"So, expose the program, destroy it, gain public support, and remove/change the direction of the power of Aes."

The admiral shook her head slightly, "Sabotaging the program will not be enough, as long as the Grand Admiral is in power, he'll simply order it to be continued. There is a way to challenge his authority, but it is dangerous. It has only been done a handful of times in the history of our country."

Kalgar tilted his head, "Do you mean the Law of Challenge? The old law?"

"Yes. Specifically the challenge is known as The Rising Tide. The difficulty is that in order to prove the challenger's conviction, the challenge must be made face-to-face, and more importantly, the Grand Admiral decides how the challenge will be resolved. The dispute must be resolved between the challenger and challenged, or their seconds, directly. The dispute has to be resolved with witnesses, namely his left and right wing of the Navy, and the leader of the Angrimich Shivi. And the challenger must immediately accept the contest as proposed by the challenged or the challenge is immediately defeated."

"The next problem is that in order to issue this challenge, you must find the Capitol, which is also the headquarters of the Angrimich Shivi, those in charge of arresting you." The admiral sat back in her chair.
"Well then, stage 2 of the plan would be drawing them out, find out where the Capitol is." Kalgar said.

Then admiral then suggested that Kalgar would need at least 1 of 3 things: a large enough force to storm the Capitol directly, enough support with the Angrimich Shivi to prevent them from arresting you when you get to the Capitol, or somehow doing something to draw the Grand Admiral out of the Capitol, which she believed was impossible. 

"Do you know Deepwatch Base?" She asked Kalgar.

Recalling his lessons in the Aesian Navy, he remembered. Deepwatch base is on the north-western waters, situated just before the descent of the continental drop off before the large ocean. It was mostly responsible for fending off the large ocean monsters that may make their way toward the nation, and warn the rest of the military should there be any threats from there.

That is the official story. However, Admiral Draksha had been keeping an eye on it and had noticed that it has too many local patrols for an outpost and it receives far too many shipments to be a normal outpost. She believed it to be a base of operations for the superweapon program. Unfortunately,since she was not attached to the program directly, she didn't know more.

Kalgar scratched his jaw and said, "Captain Sora has told me, and it is obvious by your ship and crew, that you respect the old ways. But I would like to hear from you why you are doing this."

Without hesitation she responded, "The superweapon program is an affront to the honour of our soldiers, Kord's dictates, and the strength of our country. The Grand Admiral is responsible for its creation and therefore should be removed from his station."

"Agreed." Kalgar said. "So, it is now time to discuss the ships and crew with which I must begin and also, my man in your hold."

Cutting away to Alvyn. As he was being dragged down to the brig, he saw shackles on the wall. As soon as he saw this, Alvyn struck. Fiercely strong, surprising for one so little, Alvyn wrenched himself free of the grasp of his guards, used a potion of darkness to make it impossible to see in the area, and tried to jump out a porthole. Just then, a leg flew out of the darkness, aimed at Alvyn's head. He backflipped and, midair, pulled an arrow bolt from his jacket, threw it at the floor, and it immediately filled the doorway with sticky webs, slowing down the assailant.

Just before he jumped out the porthole, he felt a tiny pain in the back of his neck. Reaching him, he removed an arrow and felt the effects of Sleep trying to overtake him.

"That's MY trick!" Alvyn shrugged it off, and pocketed the bolt.
Hanging on the side of the ship, he made his way to the engine room, rigged up an explosive, and began climbing toward the admiral's quarters. 

Alvyn had spent much of his early life doing exactly this, his skill set oddly trained for exactly this purpose, and it felt good to be at it again.

Appearing right outside the admiral's quarters, he looked in. Kalgar looked up and raised both eyes.

Just then, there was a knock at the door. In walked an officer of the Angrimich Shivi, the one who had attacked Alvyn, looking incredibly angry. He was holding a sword, covered in sticky webs, and on his wrist appeared to be a dart-launcher.

"Alvyn, why must you be like this? Always the eternal trickster!" Tong exclaimed.

"Because I was afraid they were going to hurt my good buddy! So basically, I need you people to tell me if you are trouble so we can get out of here in less than two minutes."

Tong paced, "First of all, I was here as his bodyguard and I think you should have-what?! Two minutes!"

The admiral stood up, turned to Alvyn, and closed the porthole window.

With a muffled voice, Alvyn could be heard, "For the record, I'm willing to tell you where the explosive is, just don't hurt my friend."

The admiral sat back down and stared at Kalgar.

"So you see what I'm working with."

"Admiral Draksha, I believe-" Tong began.

"Tong. Not right now. Alvyn, I appreciate it, we're fine. Please come on board and disable what you've set up."

"...but you're not under duress while you say that, right?"

Tong's mistform was practically waving in agitation "Alvyn! Just do it!"

"Fiiiine." Alvyn climbed in the window, taking off his gloves, belt, bag, and dropped them. Holding out his hands, he asked, "Where did you get the dart thing?"

The guard kicked aside his things, walked over to him and said, "That showmanship is going to get your killed, two minutes is way too long for that kind of threat."

"I know, but I was worried they'd be too slow to respond. Don't feel bad, big guy, you've got a mean swing."

The guard smiled, then took Alvyn away to the brig.

"So, those ships?" Kalgar asked.

The admiral pulled out three folders, crew manifests for the ships she was giving to Kalgar. On the folders could be clearly seen the names, The Rogue Wind, The Bilge Rat, and The Aquamarine. The ships are average, but the crews are exceptional. The crew will do anything you command, efficiency. And I will bestow upon you the rank of Commodore, to aid you." She handed him an officer's pin, to note his station.

"If you successfully publicize the superweapon program, then I will offer you my public support, and will authorize protests against the program. The more of these protests that you can inspire, the more Angrimich Shivi will be drawn out, and the fewer soldiers you will face in the Capitol. When you are ready, I will give you the location of the Capitol."

Kalgar rose, and saluted the admiral. It was a serious gesture, full of emotion. Kalgar had not done this in over three years. He had turned away from Aes, but now, after all this time, he saw a chance. He brought his right hand over his heart, appearing to stab it, and his left arm behind his back, as though to reinforce it. The meaning of the gesture was more than respect, it signified that the saluter rather stab himself through the heart, than betray those he saluted.

"This is the second time in years that I have met another Aesian who truly understood the heart of this country. Thank you."

The admiral saluted back with extreme precision.

Kalgar turned, and left, the others following quickly.

The Angrimich Shivi officer who had been dealing with Alvyn, was standing outside the door. He saluted Kalgar. "Commodore Drakeswynd. I am Commodore Dirgere." Upon closer inspection, he looked like an incredibly average human. His features did not stand out in any way, except for a small tattoo of a dagger on his neck. Kalgar felt almost aggressively bored when he looked at Dirgere, in fact it was so strong that Kalgar wondered if it was a magical effect.

In a dry monotone, Dirgere told Kalgar that he had heard things, relevant to Kalgar. "You are five days off of your deadline to turn yourself in. Until then, the Angrimich Shivi will not be looking that hard for you, but after that point, you will have to be careful. There have also been people looking for you, your party. One group has been looking in all the old Angrimich Shivi locations, questioning guards, looking for the location of Alvyn. Always wearing a hood, one report suggested this questioner had horns, so possibly a tiefling."

The party thought of Tribulus, from the Doomguard.

"Another questioner has been more rash, and appeared to be a mercenary, possibly from The Brass Company. Finally, one person has been looking for Victor Whitehelm. This female, some sort of young, bald monk, has been apparently ripping information out of people's heads, responsible for several dozen murders, looking for the location of Victor Whitehelm. Rumour has it that she can walk on water, and when she speaks, several voices sound at once. She has been spotted in the northern waters, kind of on your way to Deepwatch Base, making her way south."

Tong became agitated and nervous.

"So be careful! Oh, also, collect your gnome." Commodore Dirgere saluted.

Kalgar looked at him, and then walked toward the hold.

"Hey guys!" Alvyn was manacled.

Around the cell, there were ten guards with hands on their swords, guarding the cell.

"Release him." Kalgar said. 

And they did.

Alvyn rubbed his wrists, "Ugh, I hate that, really uncomfortable. And hey, you there, get a steak for that eye, you'll feel better!"

As they walked away, Tong said, "Alvyn, have you ever heard the parable of the Canitian child with the mind of a child and the body of a man?"

"I'm not wearing pants, are you aware of that?" Alvyn stood there, confidently.

The party made it above deck, Alvyn collected his things, and everyone walked down the gangplank to the Shockrosia.

When they got aboard ship, Kalgar stopped Alvyn, put a big, meaty hand down on his shoulder and said, "Thanks."


Kalgar strolled past him, Sora greeted him with a case. It was a case of flares, complete with a list of codes of communicating with different combination of flares. There was also a set of flags for the same purpose.

"Dwight! Take this, study it, report back to me when you can answer any question about it."
"Haymitch! Report on ship's status, how and what are the dwarves doing, and what is BallistApe doing?"

"BallistApe is fine, doing ape things. The dwarves are saying something about requiring more materials to do, something? I'm not sure, I don't understand exactly."

"Tell them to report to my quarters in an hour. Dismissed."

About an hour later, Kalgar looked around for Tong, wanting to tell him to come to his quarters. It was time to make plans. But Tong wasn't on deck.

A short look later, and Alvyn and Kalgar found Tong in a bathroom below decks.

"What'cha doing?" Alvyn asked.
"Cleansing." Tong replied, as he was shaving his head.
"Just don't clog up the drains." the gnome quipped.
"It's ethereal. Nothing to worry about." the human answered.
"I hate you." Alvyn answered.
"Hurry up!" Kalgar said, and left.

When they all reconvened in Kalgar's quarters, he filled them in on the other ships, their plans, and asked for their thoughts.

"Well, do you have a plan?" Alvyn asked.
"I've never been there, but I have some ideas." Kalgar answered.
Tong stepped forward and said, "Whatever you need to do, I will aid you, I am with you. Many trials have we traversed, and you have been a beacon in my own darkness, and I hope to be the same for you."

"Thank you, Tong."

"Does he seem more melodramatic to you?" Alvyn asked, cracking his knuckles.
"Yes, but I think I know why." Kalgar said, informing them of the information Commodore Dirgere had given him regarding the monk looking for Victor Whitehelm.

"...but with any luck, we can take care of that on the way." Kalgar concluded.
"Doesn't matter anyway, she'll never find Whitehelm, because he's dead." Alvyn said.

Tong gave a look to Alvyn of loving friendship, and deepening trust. Alvyn smiled a shark-like smile, with his dark, totally black eyes.

"What do you think, Alvyn?" Kalgar asked, looking comfortable in his chair.
"I think it's a terrible plan and we're all going to die. We'll come up with a better plan on the way. I'm in."

"Good. What about the Brass Company?"
"What about them?" Alvyn retorted.

"Hmph, well, what should we do about them?"
"If they were hired, they should have a record of who hired them, right? We may have some contacts that can help us out here."

Finally, Kalgar looked to Sora, "Well, I don't know about most of what you're talking about, but Draksha is on the level. I'm not too happy that she's holding back her support, but at least she's supporting the cause."

"Agreed. Now, concerning this other monk thing, we may likely run into her soon-"
"Why?" Alvyn asked. "Who cares? Why waste resources on her? She's looking for a dead man."
"She is a stalker in my past, and I am part of her design. We should tread lightly."

Here, Tong reminded the party of the history of The Edge of Sanity. A cursed blade, made by a devil, the Edge had been given to many over the eons. It struck to make the bearer's desires come true, but also destroyed their mind and soul in the process. Tong si Gong, formally Victor Whitehelm, had wished to become invulnerable and, in doing so, ended up slaughtering most of the military of the nation of Albus. Tong reminded his friends of the moment when they were all pulled into Tong's mind, there to see countless dead cursing him. Most had been victims, but some, had been former Edge-bearers. Perhaps this monk was one of them, and perhaps she was upset that Tong had destroyed the sword.

As they thought about that, there was a knock at the door. Kalgar called in the dwarves.

He then asked, "So, when will this ship fly again?"

"That depends. Do you want it to explode?"

Kalgar sighed. "No, how long until it will fly without exploding?"

The dwarves responded that they needed some things, including time. Some easy things included copper, squidweed, a strong, rubbery seaweed. Some of the tricky bits include azure-behir-eye gems that can store a lot of power safely.

Kalgar looked to Alvyn, "Does that make sense?"
"Yeah." the gnome agreed, nodding.

"Fine. All of you but two are going to be responsible for improving the ship. Two of you will be overseeing defenses for the ship. We have other ships, with engineers and allies, and we are going to work together to improve all of our defenses. Dismissed."

He called Dwight in. Kalgar quizzed him on the use of the flare and flag system. Dwight did his homework, and answered every question correctly.

"Good. Signal the other captains, instruct them to report to me within the hour. Dismissed."

Tong left the meeting without saying much; something was weighing on his mind. He walked over to an area near the bow. There were people rushing everywhere, eager to follow Kalgar's orders, but the crew had learned to give Tong some space when he wished it.

Tong si Gong knelt down and began to meditate. As his concentration deepened, his physical body faded away and disappeared, while plumes of ethereal mist shrouded the area in which he knelt. Entering the Idolywn, Tong wandered, looking for his master. The Idolywn is an unusual place, where time and space function completely independently of other planes. One moment, you're in the present, the next, the past, over there a future that will not ever come to pass. Still, Tong's training and ascension into an Idolywn Mist Knight left him able to traverse this space with ease.

But, he still could not find Ting Tang Wong Gong, his master.

Off in the "distance", Tong could hear voices from his past, haunting who he once was. Assuming a different stance, he began hearing other voices, not those of former masters or from his past, but of novitiates, calling for help. Leaping down from the Idolywn to the Reverie, Tong found a little girl.

"Oh, I have this test! School is so stressful! Ioun! Please help me!"

Sitting across from her mind, Tong leaned in and said, "Ah, but the true test is what happens when the pencil is put down."

Tong leapt awake!

And was splashed with a bucket of water. Alvyn could be heard chuckling off in the distance.

Shaking his head, Tong released that he had gained knowledge and wisdom from the Reverie. Changing an old stance, he came up with a new one, a large, massive hit, which he will call...a Big Hit!

On another part of the ship, Alvyn had been running tests on crewmates blood, looking for signs of the alien creatures from before, and also trying to better understand Tong and Kalgar. If the rumours of a rampant monk were true, perhaps understanding Tong could help better capture or eliminate her.

Alvyn side-stepped up to Kalgar and pricked him with a tiny needle. With reflexes neither of them knew he had, Kalgar reached down, grabbed Alvyn, and said, "Wait."

Reaching into his bag, Kalgar pulled a hand-ax, and made a cut on his palm.

"That...entirely unnecessary. Thank...thank you Kalgar."

Kalgar nodded. Since the Iron Tower, the idea of needles was not too appealing to Kalgar. Plus, spilling blood was a serious matter for Kalgar and he wanted to have control over it. He would lose blood because he chose to, it would not be taken from him unbeknownst, even by a friend.

Kalgar then climbed the Crow's Nest, dismissing the sailor who was there. Kneeling, squeezing his bloody palm, the dragonborn reached out to the waters of Aes. He had been away for some time and, the few times he had been back, he had not been able to stay, or affect change. Now, however, he was coming back to make a difference. Kalgar thought long about the waters of Aes, how they had been changing, and how he could change them back. His heart told him it was the right thing to do, but he knew that he needed the people on his side, otherwise, his quest would be in vain.

He knew that he would succeed but, if he didn't, it would make for one hell of a story.

Clouds and storms formed and merged and split above the ship.

Meanwhile, Tong had again found Alvyn.

"Alvyn, I was always bald."

"You...you had hair, I saw it!"

"These locks shall never see the light of day. You were right in saying that Victor Whitehelm is dead and, with it, the distinguishing feature of my bloodline. I have no family. I have no past. I am bald."

"Well, you got us, we're family, better than family!"

Keeping the ship away from populated areas and known ship lanes, the Shockrosia reached Windle's Landing after a few days, located at the southern edge of Emerald City, so named for its kelp forests growing in the shallow waters.

Windle's Landing is a training academy for wind and storm mages. With the sheer amount of arcane users in the small area, there were some unusual physical phenomena. Small pockets of reality were twisted, turned, connected in non-linear ways. These pockets were small, and mostly harmless, and the locals had grown accustomed to navigating around them. At a distance, the crew of the Shockrosia felt static in the air.

The architecture here was more bunker-like, with all the buildings made of stone, simply made. Kalgar related that it was because of the mages. Accidents happened, and buildings often needed to be maintained and repaired. All over, robed figures wandered to and fro.

Our party was searching for special gems, if you recall. Alvyn had explained earlier that a special type of stone was needed to help make the Shockrosia fly again, as these stones absorbed and limited the amount of magical energy from surging through the ship.

Given the approaching deadline of the Angomich Shivi call for Kalgar, our party was heavily disguised. Alvyn used a silver solution to coat Kalgar's scales, changing his colour, and donned a ragged, brown cloak.

Alvyn provided Tong with a cloak, as well as a flask. If you knew anything about Tong si Gong, you knew he didn't eat or drink. The flask was a front.

Alvyn, himself, was dressed as a child, wearing a scarf and a rice paddy hat.

The air of this port smelled very different from the other Aesian places they had been. It was even different to Kalgar, who spent most of his time in military harbours. Instead of the tar, black powder, fish smells, here the air was full of static, the smell of cinnamon, and other smells not easily identified.

Entering the marketplace, there were booths everywhere. As our adventurers watched, they could see where these reality-bending pockets were located. Some were obvious, with direct effects, some were only seen by the people interacting around them.

In one corner, a commoner was running a shell game and his table was actually placed inside one of these pockets, where time seemed to run slightly faster, causing the gamblers to have a more difficult time keeping up with the shell.

In several booths nearby, mages were selling wands, and their booths were pushed really close together. It seems that the static electricity in the nearby pocket was good for keeping wands from rolling around and all the competing mages were competing for the most pocket-space.

Across the way, another vendor, pushing a cart, was moving around chasing a moving pocket, for some unknown reason.

Alvyn was impressed with the variety of magical wares. The remoteness of the island was appealing to vendors from all over Cyfandir, and there were many different shops. Styles from Aurum, selling animal parts, Adamantina, displaying lab gear, Ruber merchants displaying minerals, a vendor from Himes fetured recipes made by frostgiants, from the jungled lands of Aerugo there were enchanted necklaces and trinkets, and the one that caught Alvyn's eye, a Cupro booth, selling gems and precious stones.

Walking over to the booth, Alvyn tugged on Tong's robes.

"What is it, SON?"
"Ask him what the blue jewels are in the centre."

"Wage-slave! What are these blue gems here?"

"Ah, you have a discerning eye! These are blue-eyed Behir sapphires."
"Fascinating, where do they come from? Wait! I don't care! I'm going to buy some!"

Another tug of the robes. Some whispering, seemingly between father and son.

"My son here has a peculiar lust for ornate jewels, do you mind if I just bend these to his delicate, dear boy face?"

"I do mind actually, I'll hold them if you don't mind."

As soon as the gems are held close to Alvyn's face, he reaches into his jacket, grabs a few tools, and googles, to inspect the stones more closely.

"Such an industrious child, he likes them!" Tong continues the charade. "We want a dozen or so."

"Ah yes, very good, very good! I only have a few here, but my assistant shall go to the warehouse for more. Should be back in 15 minutes."

"Very good. We'll loiter here."

"And that will be at the low, low price of 250 gold pieces each."

"Excellent!" Tong said, not really the value of money.

Another tug at the robes. "This is not excellent!"

Kalgar looks across the stalls, seemingly without interest.

Alvyn reached into his jacket, and pulls out several hundreds gold pieces worth of platinum, shoving the rest into his clothes. Before he even placed them on the counter, the merchant increased his asking price.

Alvyn made a show of putting his money away so as to say that he will not be offering more.

"Ah, you drive a hard bargain, child! How about this?" The merchant counters with a fairer price.


"My assistant should be back with your sapphires in ten minutes. Feel free to browse more of our wares!"

Alvyn passed a note to the merchant, asking for the gems to be delivered to the Shockrosia.

Meanwhile, down the market, Kalgar noticed someone mention the name, "Whitehelm."

Looking around, Kalgar noticed a robed figure asking questions to a random, Aesian merchant. The merchant was shaking his head, seemingly confused. There were people everywhere, no safe avenue, no place to divert the attention of the robed figure without calling for trouble.

Kalgar nudged Alvyn, who looked up, saw what Kalgar saw, and shook his head.

Tong noticed, saw the same thing and became very agitated.

Alvyn grabbed Tong by the robes, "Are you here? I need you here!"

"Yes." Tong said seriously.

"Good. Focus up!"

Alvyn began sneaking his way toward the robed figure, while Tong and Kalgar split off to keep their distance, but ready to run in if needed.

The merchant was sweating, and seemed very uncomfortable.

"No...I don't...I don't know anything, what are you doing?"

Alvyn tugged at the robed figure.

When the figure turned, the merchant jumped back. The figure turned toward Alvyn. It was a woman, young, with a burned face, and a overwhelming feeling of despair washed over Alvyn. Whatever he was about to say was forgotten.

Her eyes were glowing. Red, familiar, reminding him of Votharxes, the devil who had created The Edge of Sanity and cursed Tong.

Trying to shake things off, Alvyn was caught off-guard. He reached into his bag and grabbed a flare, readying it in case he somehow lost the ability to speak.

"I heard you were looking for my buddy."

She said, "You know Whitehelm!" in a voice that was not entirely one.

"Yeah, he's dead."

"No. Not yet." several voices emerged at once.

"What's...what's your beef?" Alvyn stammered, trying his best.

She leaned down toward him, and said, "Where is he?!"

"I told you, he's dead!"

As she stared at him, Alvyn could feel his resolve cracking. The pressure was building. He didn't want to tell her, but he felt like he may very soon.

"The body that once contained Victor Whitehelm is nearby."

She continued to stare. "Where. Is. Whitehelm!"

Alvyn felt a burning sensation building from inside of him. "I can't tell you...but I can show you."
Alvyn lit the emergency flare.

Down the street, Tong si Gong whipped off his robe and yelled, "Witch! Why do you hunt that which is no more?!"

Alvyn pitched in, "That's what I've been saying!"

The female monk turned toward Tong and as her eyes glowed brighter, she yelled in a discordant voice, "WHITEHELM!" Her cloak burned off of her body.

Tong recognized her. She was a student, he had seen her before, in the Reverie.

With a mix of emotions, overshadowed by the pang of failure, Tong si Gong whipped a warbead at her bead, "Get down, mortal!"

Kalgar yelled over to some nearby officers, who had been patrolling the area. "You better get these people out of here! We have a dangerous situation here!"

Then he charged at the woman. He drew his katana in mid-charge, using his wings to guide him, and slammed into her. She took damage and didn't even notice.

Suddenly, Alvyn and Kalgar felt immense despair; somehow emanating from the woman.

She drew a sword from her back. It was The Edge of Sanity!

Then she drew another one!

The party had seen this sword up close for far too long. It looked like a simple blade but was one of the most powerful objects they had ever seen. It was nearly unstoppable and yet they had done so, once, at a great cost. And now this fiend had two of them!

"Karesse," Tong said, remembering his student's name, "I know you can hear me. Whatever happened to you, whatever force has gripped you. I know you can break free! Remember your training! I've heard that sword you grip now, I don't know how you've come to them, from what foul depth of hatred of pain you are forced to course through your damaged soul. What is your purpose? Is Votharxes alive? What are you doing here? I killed you!" Tong was losing his control.

"I don't think Karesse is home right now, but if you'd like to leave a message, you can do it with your corpse!" Alvyn yelled, trying to snap Tong out of it.

It didn't work. Tong began yelling at the woman.

"Kill me! Do it! I'm the one you want! I'm your goal! If you wish me to be a treasure to the Nine Hells then so be but leave these mortals be!"

Trying to draw her attention, Kalgar raised his sword and attempted to use Dragonfear. It did not work. The woman continued her attack on Tong si Gong.

"Edge's of Sanity!" Tong spit out, "They can't be felled by any weapon!" That was part of its power, and its curse.

"You will pay for ignoring me! Let's see your cursed power face the strength of Kord!" Kalgar brought his sword to bear.

She didn't bother dodging, and didn't flinch as the sword swiped at her neck. She was bleeding, but uncaring.

Alvyn popped his Goggles of Aura-Sight, taking a closer look. Her aura was nasty, full of several souls. To his relief, he saw through the illusion; those were not really Edges of Sanity. Drawing a vial of Fey Step, he smashed it into the ground, disappearing and appearing on a nearby cart, out of her reach.

Looking down, Alvyn realized that none of the people around him seemed very concerned. They just seemed sad.

"I know you are sad, but you need to run away!", then to his comrades, "They're not The Edge of Sanity!" He directed Tong to make his next attack!

Tong shifted, preparing a stance. The woman followed, walking straight toward an innocent bystander. Without changing direction, she walked right through the person, turning them to ash, instantly.

"Stop this! STOP IT NOW!" Tong had tears in his eyes.

She swung her blades at him. He was unable to block them, but he slowed them down. All around her, lightning struck her body, fueled by Kord's blessing.

The people around them begin crying, some have begun looking at their hands, confused.

Tong teleported away, trying to regroup.

Kalgar unfurled his wings, leapt into the air, and crashing with thunder and lightning, got behind her and grabbed her arms.

Bringing his rifle to bear, Alvyn pelted her with several bolts. He hopped down from the cart, dragging the nearest merchant with him. "Go!"

Then he grabbed Tong, "Get your head in the game! I need TONG SI GONG!"

The merchant Alvyn had grabbed took a couple of steps, fell to his knees, and began crying.

The commoners around the woman instantly turned to ash.

The woman pulled herself out of Kalgar's grasp. She didn't even struggle. No matter how much Kalgar tried to hold on, she escaped, walked through stalls, carts, and walls, toward Tong.

She swung her swords, once again Kord's lightning struck her, trying to punish her for ignoring Kalgar's challenge.

Ignoring Kord's might, she spun at Tong, cutting three deep burns across Tong's body. He dropped to the ground, becoming corporeal again, dropping unconscious. As he did so, Tong suddenly felt that everything he ever did was pointless. No point in running from his past. No point in anything, really.

She was growing stronger, her strength seemingly fed by the despair of the people around her.

Kalgar had an idea. He would cut her strength. He raised his wings, and his sword, and he yelled into the sky. Lightning roared overhead. "There is no fight or flight! There is ONLY FLIGHT!"

The nearby people momentarily were shaken out of their grief. They stumbled away, pulling others with them. It was working!

"Tong! Back on your feet!" Alvyn's inspiring words cut through Tong's semi-conscious state. His eyes snap open, and Alvyn threw him over his shoulder, dragging him back away from the woman. Laying him down, Alvyn turned and fired a freezing bolt. It cut into her leg, and should have hampered her, but it instantly melted.

She walked through a nearby bunker, its stone walls melting in her way, and starting to crumble. She passed by more innocent people, who burned right in front of her.

She began screaming and swinging her swords furiously at Tong. He fell again.

Kalgar pushed through the carnage, reached down to Tong and healed him with Lay on Hands, the power of Kord. Tong could feel Kalgar's anger, adrenaline, and determination. It renewed him.

Alvyn snuck in, and using a scalpel, sliced off a piece of her skin. He wanted a sample.

The possessed woman slammed Kalgar out of her way, and attacked Tong.

Alvyn dragged him back and dropped a potion of Fey Step to him. Tong drank it, and teleported away. Shouting, "All is lost!" Tong ran toward the harbour.

"We've checked her strength! Now let's go!" Alvyn yelled at Kalgar. "More Aesians are going to die if you stay here with your god-damned pride!"

Kalgar looked around. The carnage was everywhere. This was not a fight. This was a massacre. So unnecessary, so brutal.

Nodding, Kalgar stood up, moving between the woman and Alvyn, preparing to leave. She swung her sword at him.

"On your left!" Alvyn cried out. Kalgar heard, and redirected the attack. Flipping the katana over in his hand, he stabbed her through the kidney.

"Back to the ship!" Alvyn and Kalgar took off. The gnome lit a flare.

On the docks, the dwarves could be seen loading a crate of supplies onto the ship.

"Forget the crate! Get on the ship!"

"Mount the cannons!" Kalgar ordered.

Tong grabbed several of the Shockrosia crew and got the cannons ready.

Kalgar ran, trying to keep ahead of the woman. He prayed to Melora, and Kord. To Melora, goddess of nature, and the sea, he apologized for this monstrosity. This woman, whatever she was, was not natural, and her actions were aberrant, she needed to be destroyed. To Kord, god of storms and battle, he prayed for the strength to make things right.

His sword alighted in flame and as he swung it, he brought it down across her chest. Immediately, her aura flared up, and Kalgar felt intense heat. She shifted, walked through the next wall, out into the open.

And there, sitting on the ship, was Tong si Gong, with a cannon of the Shockrosia ready.

He fired, and a cannonball slammed into what remained of the building. A plume of black smoke erupted around the building.


And out walked the woman. Her shoulder was misaligned, her skin was gone. Alvyn, Kalgar, and the rest of the crew stood there with jaws agape.

Tong shifted to the next cannon and fired again.

She dropped to her knee and then stood again.

"Die! DIE! DIE VICTOR DIE!" He fired one last time.

She rose. Again. Her arm was hanging off, so was her jaw. She trudged forward.

The rigging on the Shockrosia started to smoke; the aura was starting to affect the crew.

Alvyn summoned his short sword, sidestepped forward, tried to grab her wrist and disarm her. However, the heat from her aura brought him short.

The people on the dock burn to ash. She sidesteps Alvyn, begins to hover, and moved past Kalgar.

Rising above the water, the guard rail of the Shockrosia caught fire. She raised her swords, intent on killing Tong.

Dropping to his knee, Kalgar prayed. The clouds parted, and a single ray of sunlight shines through. Draining her of her strength, she landed on the guard rail, looks at Tong, and said, "This is not over!"

Falling backwards, she landed in the water. Tong leapt in after her, and bringing her to the shore, looked at Alvyn and Kalgar. Please help her. His eyes seemed to say.

Kalgar looked at him, "Why should we help her?"

Tong summoned the Codex Caduceus, tapped her head, and a spiritual river appeared, carrying her soul, what was left of it, away.

Alvyn, Kalgar, and Tong looked around them. Windle's Landing had been devastated. Twenty-five people had been killed and dozens more were seriously wounded. Kalgar shook his head. He returned to Aes to make a difference, to help his country, but with this, and the destroyed outpost, it seemed their past was determined to catch up with them and ruin everything.

They wouldn't be seen as triumphant heroes, but villains, monsters whose very presence destroyed all those around them.

With heavy hearts, our adventurers boarded the ship.

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