Athos: The Return

Session LVIII: The Tower
Chapter 58: The Tower

“It was at this time that the last noble warriors fighting against the scourge of Nox had made landfall on the shores of Thrashkar, under the ever darkened sky of the full and vile eclipse. The children of Athos had reached the doors of the profane citadel, and bid entry, knowing only of the 20 score and 4 sorcerers whom have taken vigil in the cursed erection. They would know not the challenge, the horror, nor the sheer darkness of the magic that would await them.”
Excerpt from “Heartbleeder”, Biography of Lenore Uruhua

From the sea, we could see the rough stonework of the acursed tower near the shore of Thrashkar. We had known only the most basics: more of Nox’s tainted Spirit magic, being manipulated by sorcerers; lots and lots of sorcerers. Our most reliable source told us a dozen dozen mages, harnessing Spirit Fuel to keep the sun hidden, and Athos’ light from all his worthy children. We rode the ship ashore and made our way in the perpetual twilight to the doors of the spire. We found our way inside, the subtle surges of power that we could barely feel in the air as we stalked our way towards the tower, we could now taste. My teeth rang with the sheer force of energy surrounding us. We scaled the stairs of solid marble carved into the walls of the tower, and rose to the first platform.

It was here we found the first 11 sorcerers, and where we obtained more grim news; that our deeds are not going unnoticed. Ten of them were conducting a ritual in a circle, a circle circumscribed on the ground by that occult symbol we have seen before. And in the center of this ritual was a sorcerer in obvious command of the floor. The dark figure, an aged man, threw back his hood, his eyes seeking out and knowing only Simon. “The Storm Who Walks!” He screeched. Somehow, the news of Simon’s schism from The Storm is now widely known, though none seem to doubt his power in his own right. We waged war against the followers of Nox, and all fell before our spear, sword, and spell. Thus, with one wave vanquished, we ascended to the second floor.

We rose to the second floor of the tower, and were unsurprised to find another wave of dark mages. A quick count revealed 20 lesser ritual mages again in circle around the profane symbol set in the floor, and a singular ritual leader dead center. It was a pitched battle we waged, and the situation looked dire for Simon near the end. He was struck, and wounded badly; I heard his roar of pain as sharp in the cold damp air of the tower as I felt his mind cloud with anguish. I turned towards him, as we all did, and watched electric fire blaze forth from his limbs and body, a sorcerous maelstrom of power that burned many of the remaining mages to cinders. With the majority now vanquished, we made quick work of the remainder, and took the stairs to the next platform.

Much as the first two floors, we found, again, more sorcerers. Once we crested the doorway, we bore witness to a new throng of dark mages carrying out their evil ritual. The sorcerer leading the incantation at the center called out to his compatriots upon our arrival, evidently having witnessed, or felt through arcane channels, more likely, that Simon Bloom was still a force of magic and to be dealt with last. As if they would have even the chance to wound him. 41 sorcerers now graced us with their tainted presence, and we pulled out all the stops to rain fury upon them. They fell without incident, each one fighting hard but in vain, until the last of them was slain. We took stock of our weapons, Oberon tended wounds, and went up the last flight to end this dark spell.

We wound our way up the staircase, taking pause to look out the embrasures on the way, to see with great pride the fading eclipse. The sun was still covered, and the clouds still obscured most of the sky, but here and there, more of the holy light of our Father shown down to his abandoned firmament. We took small satisfaction, let it warm our bodies and clear our minds, and strode confidently to the top floor.

It wasn’t until we reached the final floor did we feel the tower shake, as if the ground was quacking beneath us. A quick assessment by Simon revealed that the tower was likely intertwined with the magic holding the world in perpetual eclipse, thus, once we ended the ritual the tower would also fall. Armed with this knowledge, we opened the doors to face the last of the sorcerers; 71 of them awaited us.

It was a bloody, fierce battle. Anatolious smote many with quick spell and sword work, and we saw with object horror how the ritual leader of this floor would drain the life from his cohorts to fuel his own damaged body. At last, the common mages were struck down, and we watched with satisfaction as Anatolious ran his blade through the dark sorcerers neck. He faltered, and though he gushed dark blood with every breath and word, he swore out at us; “I can hold it! I can-” Gurgling words drowned by the soul fire that consumed his corpse before he fell. The tower, growing more and more unstable by the second began to fall away beneath our feet. Simon vanished into mist and drove through an arrow loop, Oberon quickly flying on his hazy heels. Anatolious ran headlong for the door, keen on making it to ground level before the buildings eminent collapse. I turned on my heels for the same embrasure that Oberon flew through, and I teleported myself outside, and graciously took a slow fairy flight to the ground. We landed a fair distance away, in time to watch Anatolious leap from the shattered door and roll clear of the crumbling tower. We rose, battered and bloody, but alive, and warming quickly in the open, uncovered sun. It was beautiful to behold the unbridled light of our sun, and we shared a moment of quiet peace.

We turned to face the rolling greenery of Thrashkar, and saw the growing, dark masses of two armies, both on straight courses, set to intersect at our feet.

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Session LVII: Departures
Chapter 57: Departures

In an instant, Araris was gone. Melted into the shadow and running through the cracks in the floor below the dust, below the stone, below the feet of a dozen demigods stamping about in hopeless search for their silver-tongued sibling. Ricard Carreon, King of the House-by-the-Shore, Horror of the Elandiressian Tail, sat drinking red vint wine, head in hands and viciously reflecting on the laziness of bricklayers and slaves. Anatolius, whose boots left soot where they strode and whose hair smelled of Sulphur where it swayed, tightened his fist and looked down through the open crenellation in the tower onto the moonlit bay. The tall ships of Ricard Carreon’s navy were alight with fire as scores of soldiers were awoken to the now blaring horns resounding from all sides of the citadel. High above, the ring of the Sun bled and whipped the sky beyond the black void of the eclipse.

Turning to face Simon Bloom, who knew walls and fortifications with second nature, Anatolius spoke, “There is no more we can do here. You see as well as I that he is gone. These walls, though high and well-fortified can do little against the magic that steals the Sun and causes famine, war, and supernatural-holocaust? We have a ship, and destiny awaits well north at the node which has caused this disease upon our Earth. Let us not pause, instead we will pursue our enemy before he may turn upon us. There are greater deeds that call to us.”

Overhearing this, Vinsanthius, whose eyes had been cast down, scanning within, returned forward and raised to peer into his Brother’s soul. “What is left of you, Anatolius? Has that proximity to flame conflagrated any humanity below that Athos-bred skin? Below that mantle, does the steam raise the heat of your blood too high?” Quickly, Anatolius stepped forward.

“Have you seen within, Vinsanthius?”

“Rather, I have seen without.”

“Sense?”

“Fear.”

“Then you have passed.” And with those words, Anatolius turned to his remaining comrades. “Have you too passed? Jin, who bore the light of Our Father though it left you seared, has darkness stolen away inside of you? Lysidia, has this endless torrent of tears caused your fist to rust? Jorah, has that cavity in your chest emptied of vigour? If I know my ancient blood, well-masked behind the false visage of youth, then I too know yours. And my blood boils and cries out to me, ‘Anatolius!, Fool! This is the end-of-times and the world is to collapse! Lest you should deny it.’. Lest, I do. And I shall not. And you?” Finished, Anatolius paused a moment to lock eyes with Vinsanthius, then quickly turned and departed.

Oberon, exasperated at once with his Brother’s dramatics, flew to the golden table in the centre of the room and stood on a powder box of lapis lazuli and pearl. Looking around at the weary faces of his family, he spoke gently, but with words that could bolster cities, “Do not fret, children of Athos. These trials are not unfamiliar to us. Have we not used our shimmering weapons to clash with darkness before? Have we not before dethroned Kings and Emperors as well as demigods? Though there be one God, we too are gifted with powers derived of his. Are these great gifts, which uplifted us from the first civilizations of this Earth doomed to pass with all that is beneficent? No, for that is why we have resolved to be here. To have raised the Golden Shores that held our Conclave, to have abolished the wars of Athos, and to have conquered our passions so fully in committing to our universal laws, was that not without hardship and astounding loss? This is not unfamiliar to us. We are capable of survival and righting the wrongs that we, through our blood, are eternally tied to.” With these soft words, Oberon wished his brothers and sisters safety and luck, floating through the window and far out into the darkness, headlong.

Staying behind, Simon Bloom paused and began to walk away when Vinsanthius spoke suddenly. “Where will you go? Where behind do you leave us? To death? To the sea of stars that Athos once promised us? Or food for falcons?”

“None of these things, Brother, is to befall you.”

“Then What?”

“No; when.” In the silence of the hazy, stone chamber, Simon Bloom bit his lip and then spoke. “Go from here. Recall the old days when at the height of the End, we spread far and wide with our armies and servants. In the deep reaches of this Earth we would coordinate with great care and hidden means, striking individually and with such force? Like that we must again. Take off and take care. These walls are matter, and matter, as fact, can always be annihilated. Keep your intangible soul well and reflect. Within you now is power beyond power. Why? What? You ask the wrong questions. Reflect, wise-brother and recall that one morning the Sun will again be golden and your blade will shimmer in the light of Our Father. But only you can draw the sword from its sheathe. Only one may dawn the Eversteel gauntlet. Only one contains the light that made the Sun from Athos. But without one another, there is no light from Athos, no hand to hold the sword, and no chance at Dawn. We shall meet again.”

Again, all the Earth was silent. To the North, greater destinies awaited. With no time to spend and the murky black seas before them, the party borne in the final Conclave set out once again. The horns blaring from the high towers lasted well into the horizon.

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Session LVI: The Trial of Araris
Chapter 56: The Trial of Araris

Excerpt from the script-like journal of Simon Bloom

Several demigods sat around a table, Ricard Carreon at the head and Araris as the center of attention. There were two thoughts between all of them: 1) “No fucking way can they get away with this” and 2) “No fucking way can we get away with this”

“This is absurd! You can’t just accuse me of treason. I have been Vinsathius’ right hand since Nox’s first defeat. The “Spirited Demigods” can’t just claim this insanity to be truth, it’s barbaric…and truthfully, sad.” Words flowed from Araris; truthful words flowed from his silver tongue, but no demigod was safe from doubt anymore. Nox and Neckolaj had lived past death, Oberon had brought back those fallen, and Simon Bloom had gone a whole evening without putting a unicorn’s horn on anyone’s head. Now was the age of doubt.

“We can prove it, we have spies and we have power.” -Valenae
“Rest your tongue Valenae, I will recount the tale.” Anatolius interrupted. “We were informed by The Collector and confirmed by a Noxarii turn-cloak. Araris has been a spy for Nox all along. Immediately we sailed here, despite our recent shortcomings with Ricard here.” said Anatolius. Ricard scowled at the three demigods who knew what they did and were very, very sorry about it. “I’ll recount the events from our arrival,” said Anatolius as he told this story:

“‘Dear brother Ricon, I know it is far too quick since our last meeting, but I wanted to speak with you on the matter we…’ Ricard interrupted me: ‘It is ok Anatolius, I understand what you did and why you did it. To be truthful I would have done the same if I was acting in the interest of the Realm of Athos. I forgive you and wish to look past our misunderstandings.’” Anatolius recounted.

Ricard Carrion glared at Anatolius, “You have a very selective memory Anatolius.”
“You didn’t even apologize.” said Uruhua. Anatolius and Simon shared an angry glare at her.

“Let’s get on with this,” Simon Bloom interrupted. “I have evidence of Arararisisis betrayal.” No one laughed, but the Labyrinth whispered, “hehe Arararisis. 3000 years and I finally make a joke out of his name.” again no one laugh. “Anyway, after Ricard Carrion humbly let us back into his kingdom I followed Araris…”

“With my mastery of the arcane I invisibly followed Araris back to his room. I masterfully phased through his wall and flew in the air; watching him write a letter to Nox. Now I couldn’t exactly see what he was writing, but I knew that he was relaying to Nox that we had arrived and that we had ‘news.’ Little did Araris know that I was in the room or that I was so masterful with magic that I whispered ‘Masterful’ after he left with the note never the wiser that I had snuck into his room and watched him write the very note I knew he would write because I’m so mast…”

“Shut up Simon! By Athos, shut the fuck up!” Vinsanthius was upset. “None of this makes any sense. Araris has been on our side since we first took down Nox, where do you get off calling him out?”

“Yeah!” replied the Silver Tongue.

“Sit down Vinsathius, as far as I’m concerned your word means as much as the ‘Spirited Demigod’. And Simon I swear if you make one more bad joke I will kick you out of my kingdom again!” Simon shut his mouth at Ricard’s request.

“Calm yourself King Carrion.” Oberon spoke. “Uruhua kept us all in contact while Simon invaded Araris’ privacy. After Araris left his room I caught up to him at the messenger bird tower. We spoke briefly, but once Araris left I interrogated the bird with which Araris entrusted this note to.” Oberon slid a note down the table. “As all birds are, this one was simple. I gave it a cracker and told it that it was given the wrong letter. ‘No way’ said the bird, ‘Yes way” said I.”

Everyone read the letter that Araris had written to Nox, everyone read it and no one knew who to doubt. Araris caught everyone’s attention and said, “This is insane, you can’t present a piece of paper with “my handwriting” on it and expect everyone to suddenly believe you. Vinsanthius, I think it’s time the ‘Spirited Demigods’ answered for the crimes they’ve committed and slander they’ve spread!”

“Wait!” interrupted Jorah! His dark eyes glared at the paper Oberon had passed around. “I know a forgery when I see one…” everyone was tense, no one could meet another’s eyes, Simon Bloom wanted to make a joke really bad. “And this is no forgery. I believe the ‘Spirited Demigods.’”

“No matter how much I hate them;” The ‘Spirited Demigods took their turn to glare, this time at Ricard Carrion, “so do I. Araris you are under the custody of my kingdom now.”
Before Vinsanthius could raise a complaint Araris, outed and betrayed, ran for the exit. A wall of ice blocked his path and The Labyrinth, without concern nor eye contact said “I have to know something before you go ‘Demigod.’” he spat the word at Araris. “Are birds really that stupid, Oberon?”

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Session LV: Caught at Last
Chapter 55: Caught at Last

From the scholarly text “On The Coming of the Third Age”

“Where did he go? Find him!” Anatolius cursed, furious that the Assassin had disappeared before their eyes. Behind him, the crimson dragon coughed up blood, barely able to let out his swears at the abandoning assassin. The demigods ignored the crimson dragon, beaten as he was he could barely speak, let alone attempt an escape. Anatolius snapped his fingers, and a cloud of blue flame emerged from his palm, revealing a small imp inside. “Find him.” The imp nodded at Anatolius’ order, and disappeared to seek the assassin that had been sent after them. Once the imp had left, cold eyes turned on the dragon. Battered and bruised, they moved towards the shining items atop the pedestals in the room. Deeming them best for Anatolius and Simon, the two began to garb themselves in their winnings. Through the blood in his mouth, the dragon gave out cry. “My collection!” All eyes turned on him. It had been suspected, but with his cry now confirmed that the crimson dragon was in fact The Collector. Now, the questions came.
Preview
The Collector lay defeated, his ally gone. “Wait, wait!” The once mighty now beaten, “I am worth more to you alive than dead.” The demigods stared down at him, fire burning in Anatolius’ eyes. But Oberon spoke calmly. “What can you tell us?” Beaten and now alone, the Collector broke quickly, willing to say whatever he could to save his own life. “I am badly wounded, I won’t last long. Heal me and I swear I’ll share my secrets with you.” The party gathered, and after Oberon had restored his allies he turned to the dragon, and granted him strength enough that his life was not at risk. But Oberon did not restore all the Collector’s strength, lest he turn on them once more.

“Thank you, there is no need for any more violence.” His breath regained, the Collector moved to face the demigods. “I have valuable information. Grant me my life and all the secrets I’ve collected are yours.” The demigods nodded, and the deal was struck. “I know where the eclipse is cast, how Nox uses it to spread fear and cause chaos.” Simon sighed, “Tell us something we don’t know.” The Collector started leaking, fast. But everything he had to say was old news to the demigods. Every ‘secret’ he spilled had been learned by them already. It seemed that the Collector was not as connected as it seemed. Anatolius grew tired. “Alright slime, we granted you your life for secrets, now tell us something useful or I’ll end your life myself.” Shocked at this, the dragon reared back. But then he told them something they wished hadn’t been true. A painful reveal. “I have been in communication with Araris and it was he who brought me your stone brothers.” Silence fell. “Araris? Traitor? You lie!” But something about what the dragon said rang true. “It was he who brought you together to search for Warren, was it not? He who put you on the path to follow Nox’s plan. He has been ally to Nox for years.”

Their brother a traitor. They’d learned everything they needed to know. “You may have bargained for you life, but you’ll never see your collection again.” Anatolius’ hands flared with blue flame, and the vengeful demigod pushed his searing palms into the eyes of the great dragon. He screamed in pain, as his newly healed eyes melted against the fury of the Azure Inferno. They left then, destroying the entrance to the museum as they did and leaving the Collector in a tomb with his collection. They returned to their fortress, silent and furious – prepared to stop the traitor from wrecking havoc on their weakened siblings.

Arriving in Titan’s Hold was swift, and with their ship already packed they prepared to leave right away. No time could be wasted, Araris threatened their family while he stayed with them at Riccard Carreon’s. What evil did he have planned? Every life was in danger near the snake. The demigods barely spoke to their guards and staff in Titan’s Hold, minds focused on the task ahead. Within moments of entering the fortress they were upon their ship, final preparations made. “Let loose the line, we head to Riccard Carreon’s!” Anatolius gave the order, but before it could be carried out a guard rushed into the harbor. “My Lords, urgent news!”

“What is it?” Oberon called back, “We have no time to waste.” The guard gave a deep bow, and shocked all of them with his next words. “My Lords, we have a Shadar-Kai general of Nox’s army at our gates.” Uruhua’s face flashed a grin “Captured?” she asked. “No, defected. He claims to have come to speak with you and offers valuable information on his master. We have left him outside the gates with several guards, but he is unarmed and gave us no resistance. What do you wish to do with him?”

The demigods discussed. This could be critical information, brought to them at great risk – or it could be a trap. The potential reward outweighed the risk however, and the party deemed they could hold off the ship for a few minutes while they heard the Shadar-Kai’s words. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”

A few moments passed, then two Titan’s Hold guardsmen entered the harbor, escorting a short, scar-faced Shadar-Kai. The man bowed before the party and spoke. “Hello, I am D’Reth, Third Commander to His Grace Nox’s Shadar-Kai. I have come here so that I might speak with you, Children of Athos.” The demigods nodded, and D’Reth continued. “For years I have followed Nox’s commands, his every word sacred. After the battle here, I watched thousands of my soldiers drown in the icy waters, and more fall dead on this very ground. I come here to offer you valuable information, for a price.” Simon snorted, “Of course for a price. What is it you ask of us?” D’Reth nodded, “In exchange for three crucial pieces of information, each with great value to you, I ask for your word to cease the slaughter of Shadar-Kai.” The demigods looked among themselves. The Shadar-Kai race had been created by Nox, and every one that they had seen worshiped him and attacked them on sight. What D’Reth was asking was huge. “What guarantee do we have that your information is of use to us? To swear off of killing any Shadar-Kai may be our death. You ask a great favor for a race that poses a serious threat to us.” D’Reth nodded again, as if expecting their response. “If my information was not valuable, would I have risked everything to come here and bring it to you? I am confident that I can turn the tide in your favor with this, and hence bring myself and my people to victory and safety. I know you see my people as a threat, and indeed we are. But you must be willing to forgive us and turn a blind eye to our actions if you are to win this war.” Uruhua shook her head, “You claim to speak for your people but are alone here. We could grant forgiveness to you, but how can you ask us to ignore a people that would kill us on sight if they could?” D’Reth’s face grew cold. He shook slightly, allowing himself to break an inner wall in his mind. “They know not what they do. You must understand, to we Shadar-Kai…” D’Reth took in a deep breath. “Nox is God to us. Our creator, more than any leader ever could be. Every word he speaks is divine, and my people worship him. Of course they fight you, for it is His will, His command. My people do not deserve death for following their Creator, but he must be stopped and you are the only ones who can do it. Defeat him and give my people a chance to choose.”

D’Reth made a valid point. The Shadar-Kai were blinded by Nox’s presence, but at the same time to refuse to kill any – even in the heat of battle- could be a serious threat. “D’Reth, we can acquiesce to death at a minimum, but cannot swear off it entirely. We will let as many Shadar-Kai leave wounded but alive as possible. Now tell us, what information have you brought?” D’Reth nodded. “I accept, oh gracious lords. Here is what I have to tell you. First, there is a traitor in your midst. Araris, Wordsmith has spoken with Nox on several occasions. He shares your location and plans with Nox at every chance he gets.” The party nodded gravely. “Valuable indeed, but something that we recently learned.” Valenae looked back to D’Reth. “Hopefully the other information you have will be more valuable.” D’Reth nodded gravely, realizing his fate and the fate of his people was held in these next words. “The eclipse, I know how and where it is being maintained.” The party’s eyes lit up at this, and D’Reth continued. “On Grashnak there is a tower where twelve dozen sorcerers cast day and night the spell to block the sun and cause fear and despair to fill the land.” A look of shock, and then, “Twelve dozen? One hundred and forty four?” Simon looked baffled at D’Reth. “Indeed, such a powerful spell requires great resources. But this is not the last or the greatest information I have to offer. Again I must be certain that you will keep your word, and ask that you grant me sanctuary here until Nox is stuck down.” Anatolius nodded back, “We have given our word, Shadar-Kai. Tell us what secrets you hold.” D’Reth breathed in deep, focusing on his next words carefully. “Nox…chose you. You have been following a plan of his since you first left The Conclave together. It was Araris who ‘randomly’ selected each of you when you first left to seek your brother Warren.” Simon shook his head, “Not all of us, some of us volunteered.” D’Reth nodded in agreement, “Yes, but if any had volunteered outside of you they would’ve been called away on other business, and had you not asked for this mission then you were to be forced, as indeed some of you were.” The demigods looked amongst each other. “But why us?” Oberon asked. “Why would he choose us?” The Collector had hinted at this, but held no other answers. D’Reth was different. “Each of you for a particular reason, to teach the other demigods what happens if they were to stand against Nox. Oberon, to prove that there is no light that he cannot snuff. Simon Bloom, to show that no knowledge is greater than his own. Valenae to show that none would realize his return to power and try to stop him. Vondal to prove that every shield would crack beneath him. Random, to prove that his power is absolute and cannot be escaped. Uruhua, to show what happens to those who leave his side. Finally Anatolius, to defeat those who stood strongest against him with fury, to prove once and for all that he is Chosen, and his rise cannot be stopped. He hoped that by killing the seven of you, it would intimidate the rest of the demigods into complacency.”

Shock. Chosen all along? They had been following some cursed plan of Nox since the start" Impossible to believe and yet… “Why not kill us then and be done with it? He has had several chances but still we’re playing catch-up with him.” Again, D’Reth had answers for them. “You’ve been finding and destroying The Great Urns, or at least been there for their destruction. You must stop this, for it is exactly what Nox wants. He’s been leaving you alive to continue destroying them for him.” Anger welled inside of the demigods. Manipulated thus far? Nox would pay. “Thank you, D’Reth. We must see now to our sibling who are with the traitor. You have safety here, we will stand by our word. When we return we may speak again.” D’Reth bowed, and will fire on their heels the demigods boarded their ship to Elandir. More than ever, their brothers and sisters had to hear what they now knew. Araris would pay.

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Session LIV: Lost & Found
Chapter 54: Lost & Found

Rearing it’s snout, the crimson dragon rattled it’s calcified tongue between its fangs and from its jowls washed the room over in flame. The party fell back from the onslaught as the servant of night’s flame razed the room further with each terrible clatter of scale against the earthen mass now pouring through the fissures in the stone. Anatolius, charging forward, slashed at the beast, running his blade through the crenellations between the layers of dragon scale. As the dragon whipped towards him, Anatolius swiftly leaned back and, bending his knee, flew on his armour over the course rock and lifting his sword to the dragon caught its skin and slid below the mammoth beast’s tail all the while driving himself around the flank. Such might, however, could not defeat the shadow lurking in the distance.

As if the air itself, a blade broke the silence and drove itself across Anatolius’ face. The room froze and, like a phasing horror, two red stars flickered into the room and slowly formed into the steel mask below the ragged black hood of new enemy.

Against the ground, his leather boots, wrapped and buckled around his muscular legs, shimmered in the dragon’s flame as he slid his feet into a defencive stance, kicking up dust. A frayed and worn cape reached below his shoulders and gently swayed as his steel mask ventilated with a loud, pressurised wheeze.

“I am going to kill you, Anatolius.”

“Not if we get you first!” Simon Bloom shouted these words as the dragon reared for another strike.

“No matter. You will all die soon enough anyways.” And in the burst of dragonfyre, he disappeared into the growing shadow of the red torrent.

Anatolius wrapped his knuckles tighter around the hilt of the Dawnblade, tightening each of his moves, tweaking every motion to run like clockwork. Recalling the words of his ethereal father, Anatolius shuttered his eyes, filled his lungs with the hot, ashen atmosphere surrounding him and locked himself into his mind. In the silent void, he heard, “So be it, my fading star of the breaking dawn, if you cannot learn to control the conflagration in your soul, then you must immolate yourself. From nothing, you must build everything.” So began the dance of the blue inferno.

The resonant ring of resplendent azure burst forth from the fire god an ovoid epiphany, piercing the darkness with the chime of tiny bells, brushing the warm, maroon flames aside and chilling the room with dark flames. Though it did not reveal the dark entity lurking within the shadows. A blade edged out and struck Anatolius from the ether, cutting deep into him. A poison rushing through his veins, constricting and loosing his arteries, expanding and contracting like yet solid metal. That terrible mask edged through the blue aura and evacuated steam through its vents, settling into a fleeting dew on Anatolius’ throat.

“I am an infinite die. And I choose my rolls. Now die.”

The battle raged. Splitting the party across the expansive basement of lost treasure. Back to back now, Anatolius, bleeding faster than his life replenished, and Simon Bloom heaving heavy breaths as the dragon burned away the sweet air, prepared for the assassin to plunge from the darkness and strike his target. They broke, striking at creatures and twirling between fire, flesh, and blood, in order to once again rattle their armour against one another as the Assassin began to trade blows from every side. A mask and then fire and then nothing but the feint running glow of those vacant red eyes. Simon Bloom, throwing a vortex of swirling blades, caught the movement of the assassin, but in a fleeting second he jumped, flashed his cape, and vanished. The blades fell clanking to the ground and against Anatolius’ back, Simon flinched. An audible movement of lips.

“You don’t think-?”

The assassin’s blade ran through the darkness, once again briefly separating the demigods, though several parries deflected the oncoming flourish before dissipating as the demigods came together.

“Couldn’t be.”

Anatolius rushed forward. No. He though. Impossible.

As the blade thrust inward, the masked assassin looked into the dying eyes of the blue inferno and spoke.

“Even the strongest of you cannot overcome the infinite night.”

Anatolius gripped the sword with his shattered gloves, revealing his wooden fingers, magically twisting as if flesh and slowly tried to pull the blade from his torso. The assassin held firm, observing. Then, taking his fill of death, pulled the sword and with the speed of sound slashed Anatolius who began to fall.

Ah. I see.

The crown of flames burned out like shooting stars over a plain. The long trail, falling off, as Anatolius’ head slid from its mount and rolled a short distance. The shock and horror from Valenae as she charged forward in a fit of fratricidal rage from the Collector Dragon, hardly capable of walking from her miraculous onslaught. Oberon flew quickly to his fallen brother, putting aside all his rage, all his loathing, his duty overwhelmed him. The assassin looked down for a moment at the slowly immolating corpse, turning to ash before the corruption of time would bloat its face and body, and stepped once again into the shadow.

A flash of light. The ringing of deep bells and all the silence reserved in heaven. The assassin across the room fell from Shadow and paused to watch.

In the infinite void, a knocking, the sound of a door creaking all the return of all the pain, sorrow, and joy of life filled the body of the decayed demigod and a golden beam pulled together all the ash, all the dust, blood, and being of Anatolius into one shape. His head and body one, deep runes of the oldest sysitarean sutured shut the wound that toppled the demigod.

Dawn

The assassin shifted back in horror. Then dashed towards the wall and launched into the shadow. The Collector reared its diminished head and shouted.

“DO NOT ABANDON ME! HE SAID HE WOULD PROTECT ME! DON’T YOU DARE! WORM! FILTH!”

It was not to be heard. The battle was over, the dragon defeated, the assassin gone. The demigod, lost and pulled back. Such darkness over so little. What can truly be gained from such a world?

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Session LIII: Mourning
Chapter 53: Mourning

From the journal of Thanduil, The Star Maker

It’s been four days now since I died. We stood marching with our allies to stand against an army before they could strike at us. Our information solid, confirmed by Anatolius. They watched our backs as the army of The Oncoming Storm followed us to our enemy. Simon Bloom beside us as well. I was speaking to him of the newfound power, the ‘Spirit Fuel.’ Truly incredible, that a power so great as this was able to hide underground for so long. How was Nox involved in this? My attention was turned to Marik, waving and beckoning we demigods forward to him. Simon & I started to walk towards him, when suddenly a bolt of lightning struck my brother. He vanished, and the trouble started.

First, confusion. We looked around, empty stares on our faces and the faces of the frost creatures between us. Marik urged that we join him, and quickly. I started to push forward and then… something changed. I heard a scream. Behind me, I looked blankly as my sister Ywex had a blade emerge from her chest, a frost titan with a vicious grin behind him. Marik’s cry “They are against us, fight!” was the last thing I heard in that life.

The next thing I remember is Oberon waking me up. Anatolius, Simon Bloom, and Valanae beside him. “What..where am I? The fight! The Storm is…” Oberon nodded, “Yes, he is against you. Rest now Thanduil. We are returning to Titan’s Hold now.” I took his advice, and later learned that he had brought me back from death, and watched as he followed suit on Ywex. Merkis was not as lucky.

When we made it back to Titan’s Hold, there was such pain in the eyes of demigods. Vinsanthius seemed to take the lead. “You KNEW! You KNEW that you would strike out against the Storm, turn our ally against us, and let his armies attack us from all sides.” Anatolius tried to defend himself. “We had to free Simon’s mind, we had to. And Marik was supposed to warn you!.” All eyes turned to Marik, who looked down. “I was too late.”

Bickering, anger. And pain more than anything. I had been retunred to life, but others were not so lucky. Merkis, Dyneas, Yalala, Ranth, Broderock, and Kraven Solur. All our brothers, sisters now dead. I knew Vinsanthius still harbored unjust anger from when they were accused of destroying The Conclave. Now, righteous in his cause all that anger came to light. He convinced Ricard Carreon, Araris, Lysidia. Jin and Jorah to join him and leave for Ricard’s home. The rest of us chose to stay. My life is in Oberon’s hands – how could I not?

They spoke to us of their plans. I think of my brothers and sisters now as “they.” This power has made them so different from us, it’s hard to recognize them as they once were. They go now to face The Collector, a strange figure in the lands not too far. They hope that he can lead them to clues of Nox’s location & plan. I hope they succeed. I wish that things hadn’t come to this… but now there’s nowhere to go but forward.

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Session LII: Rebirth
Chapter 52: Rebirth

An excerpt from the newly freed journal of Simon Bloom

“I am the greatest threat to the Storm!” Anatolius said raising his sword signaling the final moment for the Oncoming Storm. From across the battlefield, past Oberon and Valenae, I saw Anatolius’ blue flames thirst for the life of one of Athos’ first creations. Time slowed for all except me and the Storm. Snowflakes stopped in the air, lighting bolts from miles away held their place, the destructive blue flames were bright, but still. Though I’ve never know the Storm to have a solid body or a face, I could tell that he turned to face me.

“Thunder, my herlod, clearly I do not have much time left. Listen to me, you must not let the Urns be destroyed. They will open the doors to Athos just as Nox believes, but nothing good can come from that.” The Storm said to me.

“I need more details! Tell me what you know!” I pleaded.

“I’m sorry Thunder, but I am forbidden to speak on such matters.” The Storm said.

“By Athos?”

“I am forbidden.” The Storm replied.

“Athos be damned!… If you can’t give us information, then call off the Titans, help us!” I asked my master one last time.

“Fuck you.” said the Storm. I guess we’re equals now.

I calmed down for our final moment. “I wish I could say it’s been fun Big Stormy, but…”

“I know. You put your faith in some strong friends, Simon Bloom. Goodbye.” He said with true sincerity.

“Goodbye, The Oncoming Storm.” My last words as Thunder, Herold of the Storm.

Anatolius’s sword sliced through the clouds of thunder, lighting, and all manner of destructive forces, but it was the blue flames that engulfed the Oncoming Storm. They devoured the deity of destruction as if they were conscious of the fact it was the most powerful and primal thing they had consumed yet. The flames died out in an instant and the Oncoming Storm was gone.

A bolt of lightning struck me to my core. I could feel my body absorbing it’s pure electric force as my mind cleared of all control. The Oncoming Storm’s grip on my soul was cleansed in this surge of power, but my body only became more attuned to the forces of thunder and lighting. Rebirth. Simon Bloom died when I was last struck by this force, and now Thunder has died in the very same way. I feel my consciousness slip and I think, “Whoever I am when I awake, I will definitely be strong enough to take responsibility for The Oncoming Storm’s and my actions.”

My eyes open and I see my siblings staring at me. “Don’t Destroy the Urns!” I scream. Big Stormy’s last request ringing in my ears. I tell them of my final conversation with the Storm, while Oberon checks to see if my body is well. I can tell it is; I feel my body and mind are fully connected once again and it’s more wonderful than I realized for the first 3,000 years of my life.

It’s not like I ever had to ask permission to breathe during my time under the Oncoming Storm’s power, but the first breath I take feels freeing. Like it’s the first decision I’ve made for myself in years. Looking into the eyes of Anatolius, Oberon, and Valenae I can see the trust they once held for me resurging; that is when I realized the arc of The Oncoming Storm had come to an end.

I sense it happen before the others see. A planar door opens, one I could never feel before, and the figure of featurelessness appeared in front of us. The Planesbeing spoke:

Hail Demigods. The Oncoming Storm is no more. A debt now lies between us. Ah Builder of the Maze, I believe I have something that belongs to you.

In my mind I feel a door open and memories of our deal with the Planesbeing rush back to me. I look over every event since then in an instant and realize how I have been manipulated. “Fuck!” I yell. “Why didn’t you guys just attack the Storm right then?” Everyone glares at me, but before we can get into an argument the Planesbeing interrupts.

I have no care for demigod squabbles. You have killed my brother as I asked and now I wish to close the debt between us. What is it you desire? No I cannot speak on the Urns, Young Burning Warrior. I am forbidden.

He responds before we finish our thoughts. It’s like listening to a one sided conversation, but knowing what the other side was supposed to say. With my memories of our first meeting so new in my head I immediately notice that Planesbeing is speaking with us much less than last time. He sees the universe so separate from us, it’s difficult to tell if he is focused on a greater issue somewhere else or just wishes to cease talking with us…Thinking with us? The Planesbeing smiles down at me, or at least smiles as much as his lack of a face can. I think I made him laugh. He quickly turns to Oberon though.

Is that what you wish of me, Life Bringer? Shall I thank you for killing my brother by taking you to your siblings fighting the Storm’s Titans?

His names for us seem cryptic, like there are meanings behind them hint at some things even we are not aware of. But we are all too focused on the wish Oberon has thought of to think on our cryptic names. To be honest Oberon’s wish would be truly helpful, but I have no idea how our siblings are fighting now or what the plan was. Being left out of the loop has really put a toll on my understanding of the situation. I also realize that I cannot be the one to make the wish, I did not defeat the Oncoming Storm after all. Not to mention that I have already received a gift from the Planesbeing, I can use the planar doors. A consensus seems to have been made though as the Planesbeing once again speaks before we can even open our mouths.

No, I suppose you wish to use my power for something greater. Perhaps save it for a fight, save it for when you need help killing a sibling. I shall take my leave then. I thank you for taking revenge upon my brother, but I know it is not my thanks you seek.

He turns and I can feel him opening another planar door. To him it’s as easy as opening a door; as closing or opening a memory. Before I can even think of I speak to him:

“Planesbeing, did I absorb the Oncoming Storm?”

He turns his head:
The Oncoming Storm is no more, but you hold the last of his power. You possess the last remnant of my brother.

“Fine, then I will take full responsibility for his actions. I will right his wrongs. I will free the Rippling Earth from the cage the Oncoming Storm’s crimes created.” Anatolius and Valenae looked shocked, unsure of how to respond, but Oberon turned to me.

“I will help you in that quest Simon. Once Nox is defeated.” He sounded please, as if he was talking to his brother again and not a husk without a name.

Planesbeing spoke into our minds once again:
If freeing my brother is what you want to do then I will not hold you back, Stormbeing.

On that name his head turned to me and though featureless, his face was off putting. In an instant he was gone and we began the march towards our siblings. It was wishful thinking to believe that no siblings had been killed, so none of said anything about it. It was obvious when we reached the battlefield. Giant Storm and Frost Titans lay everywhere. It was the largest graveyard I had ever seen, no battle before could have ever taken up so much space with so few troops. It tooks us time to search through the corpses of dead Titans in order to find any fallen demigods. Storm clouds adamantly hung in the sky, like the last signature of a deities actions.

Thanduil, the Star-Maker, 32nd child of Athos; Ywex, The Elf, 72nd child of Athos; Merkis, Raincaller, 29th child of Athos. These three siblings we found dead. No one else was around, no one to tell us how they died or their final moments. The images of their dead bodies will haunt me every time I think on the Storm.

“I can bring them back.” Oberon’s steady voice spoke. “I can bring back the dead, as long as I can reach their souls before they vanish from this world that is. The question is, who should be revived.”

We looked at him with shocked faces. Belief does not enter into this matter, no one has ever been brought back from the dead; it was always assumed that Nox and Nekolaj had simply never died. Trust though, our trust in Oberon, that mattered. There were no questions of how, no questions of when he learned this ability, we trust Oberon.

“Thanduil. He created the Urn Compass, as wrong as it may be to say so he can give us the most help in this war against Nox.” Anatolius said, his voice shook a little. This was a heavy subject to speak of. Valenae and I could only nod our heads. Our voices were lost as if any more words would steal what life was needed to give to Thanduil. Oberon flew over Thanduil, he looked up the the sky. For a moment Oberon’s light was the brightest it had ever been, then it slowly faded. Thunder and lightning blasted to the ground miles and miles away from us; it seemed to be a part of the ritual, a reaction, but none of us are certain of it. Thanduil took his first new breath. Rebirth.

We explained to him what had happened, at least as much as we knew. Oberon didn’t speak much on his new found ability other than that he could not do it twice in one day. Oberon had just done the impossible, he had brought someone back from true death. We marched toward Titan’s Hold, one person more in our line and two bodies carried. The next day Oberon did it again. We chose Ywex this time, for no reason other than a choice needed to be made. The next day we made it to Titan’s Hold. The outside had held up against the Titan’s attack, but the inside had clearly become a battlefield. Vinsanthius hated us. He hated how we had left them to fight the titans alone, how we had let them kill our siblings. He was right though and I plan to take responsibility for it all. Oberon tried to bring Merkis back to life in front of everyone, but it was too late. Too much time had passed and Merkis’ soul must had left our realm completely. We explained how Oberon had brought Thanduil and Ywex back to life, but I don’t think they truly believed us. It was impossible after all.

Five more brothers died in battle and had already been buried. Dyneas, The Fury of Summer, 5th child of Athos. Yalala, The Saviour of the Rock, 25th child of Athos. Ranth, The Laughter, 42nd child of Athos. Broderock, The Iron Chef, 53rd child of Athos. Kraven Solur, The One Man Army, 41st child of Athos. I do not wish to speak on their deaths, especially not of my old friend Kraven Solur. It is just too difficult, but I will take responsibility.

Freedom is sweet, truly. I feel guilty though to feel so free when so many of my siblings had died because of me. For me. Nox’s eclipse was stapled to the sky as it has been for over a year now. I know all of my siblings are looking to the sky tonight and thinking the same thing: “I will stop Nox.” Maybe once he is dead the realm will experience rebirth too.

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Session LI: The Greatest Threat to the Storm
Session 51: The Greatest Threat to the Storm

Excerpted from the journals of Oberon

As we approached the Gates of Sleet, we could clearly see our nemesis, The Oncoming Storm, brooding over his keep, as he was some years ago when we encountered him first. Seemingly blacker and more powerful than ever, Big Stormy awaited us as the next test of our abilities, and hopefully not the last. Most important, however, was reclaiming our Brother Simon from the clutches of his meteorological overlord.

The Storm clearly noticed and recognized us as we drew closer. The thunderclaps became louder, the heat lightning more frequent and powerful. Clearly, this primordial being wasn’t too happy to see us. We heard a voice boom from the dark billowing clouds,

“Frail Sons and Daughters of ”/wikis/athos" class=“wiki-page-link”>Athos, how disappointed I am in you. I have guaranteed you safe passage through my mountains, imbued your Brother with powers beyond any of your comprehension, and even fought alongside you to protect your home. This; this is how you repay me for my kindness? For the lives of my titans? Somehow, I always suspected that you would turn against me. Truly, I should have squashed you when I found you, weak, powerless. Now, I must destroy the monsters I helped create. You will suffer the repercussions of my mistake."

Immediately, we could see Simon Bloom appear before our eyes, right in front of the gate before we stood. We could see him fighting the suggestions of the Storm harder than ever, but it was no use against the dominating grasp of the being. Soon, Simon’s eyes began to roll back into his head. His hair stood on end as he rose up from the ground, seemingly channeling a great amount of electricity. As our brother became completely engulfed in the elemental madness, we could see him mouth two final words – “I’m Sorry.”

Simon began careening lightning and fire all across the battlefield, taking shots mostly at me. Big Stormy had obviously been watching us in combat, he knew how to exploit all of our weaknesses. I was taking shots left and right from Simon and Stormy himself, healing myself and others, expending most of my power early on. We realized quickly that we couldn’t afford to waste more than a couple of minutes taking down the Storm, or else I would run dry and we would be helpless to their double team.

Valenae was able to attract the attention of Stormy while Anatolius, efficient as ever, took shots at him. Since Anatolius was the only one of the three of us who could really cause The Storm some pain, we relied on his abilities heavily. Thankfully, our dearest Brother got some well placed shots on the Storm, and we were able to take him down without having to harm Simon.

Anatolius’s killing blow was a devastating bolt of blue flame, directed straight into the primordial’s viscous core. In a downpour of black rain, the massive clouds of the Storm disintegrated, falling to the ground and becoming one with the earth from which it was created. In an instant, one of the oldest beings in the realm became nothing more than the water that flows through the River Tarvyn.

We knew then, it was finally over.

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Session L: Under the Eye of the Storm
Chapter 50: Under the Eye of the Storm

From the scholarly text “On The Coming of the Third Age”

When historians look back on the past, their ability to see both what was intended as well as the outcome desired grants them a unique view. The plot by Anatolius, Oberon, and Valenae to free their brother Simon from the control of The Oncoming Storm is one of the most fascinating to look at from a historical perspective. What they desired, what they got, and the price paid.

Deed the First: Foundation

“By allowing the Storm to think that he is at risk, he will open up his defenses. We convince him that he must attack first, and by sending his army out we will be able to strike. The three of us sneak in, confront him, and destroy him. We must be careful to heed the Planesbeing’s warning, and not allow Simon to fall unconscious during the battle. To do so would mean his life, and likely ours as well. This is how we will save our brother.” Anatolius laid down his plans before his brother and sister. The conversation felt small, quiet. A voice was missing, an opinion unheard. Valenae’s quiet tongue spoke little, she made her acceptance known through nods and gazes. Oberon asked the occasional question, but the bickering the often occurred between the brothers was silent here. Simon Bloom’s salvation was of the utmost importance. “These plans must not stray past the three of us. We shall inform Uruhua as well, and I will tell Marik what he needs to know. Otherwise, speak nothing of this. A single whisper out of place and the Storm’s army will overwhelm us. Everything is on the line.”

The first step was to leave a note. A bag in the snows, with tale of troops moving towards the Storm to strike him down and avenge those killed by his forces. Anatolius wrote the letter himself, careful to change his writing style to hide his telltale flourishes. In the dark of the night, he moved out to leave the bag in the snows. Near the edge of the mountains of the Tartarean Stretch, the demigod laid down the bag in the snow. “And now we wait.”

The next few days were tense. During conversation with the other demigods, those ‘in the know’ were careful of every word. Although they trusted their siblings for the most part, they couldn’t risk Simon hearing what they planned to do. His ears belonged to the Storm, and anything that he heard would be used against them, regardless of Simon’s wishes. Every morning they would check with the scouts to hear if anything had been reported the night before, and when nothing had been heard they spent the day worrying, waiting. On the eighth day, Anatolius called the party together. “Nothing has come of our first step yet. We must try something new. A bag in the snow may not have been enough. We need a dead messenger.” Now, the quiet voices spoke up. “We cannot kill one of our own. These soldier stood by us during the battle and risked their lives. They deserve better than to be killed in their sleep and have their bodies desecrated.” Oberon’s love for mortals was clear here, and Valenae supported him. “We can’t kill somebody here, and we’re not going to take out an innocent.” Anatolius smiled, and spoke to ease his siblings. “We don’t need to kill anything with a soul, we have the power of the Urn of Creation within us. I suggest that I form a being, and that you smother it immediately once I pass out from the action. We can then use that body to hide the note on.” The action was decided upon, and Anatolius focused his energy into his creation. The primordial ooze of Spirit Fuel began to form before the Azure Inferno, and as his eyes rolled up into his head the ooze formed a human male, clad in basic travelling clothes with a satchel slung across his shoulder. Anatolius crumpled to the floor, unconscious. The newly formed man look around for a moment, and was immediately grabbed from behind by Valenae in a choke hold. He resisted for a moment, but was no match for Valenae’s unnatural strength. They had their corpse.

When he awoke, Anatolius hid the letter of troop movements on the body, and set out to hide it in the snow once more. He spoke but once to the corpse, “Somebody better find you.”

Deed the Second: Inception

When they awoke in two days time, they knew their plan had become to succeed. A scout came to the demigods, Simon included, with the letter. “My lords, this was found on a dead messenger near the mountains.” Simon Bloom rose to take the note, and read it aloud. “The Church means to strike the Storm, destroy the mountains and come for us next. They claim that without him, we would be crushed. Surrounded on both side by their forces, this might be right.” Oberon played his part perfectly, and after a moment’s hesitation he spoke. “Gather our siblings.”

The children of Athos met in the throne room. This time, Uruhua spoke aloud to inform the demigods of what they had ‘found.’ A murmur passed quickly through the crowd. “We must stop this.” Vinsanthius stood, and spoke. “We owe much to the Storm, without him and his troops we may not have survived the assault here. It was thanks to him and Riccard Carreon that we stand here now. The Storm is one of ours, we will not stand by and watch him perish.” Now playing his part, Anatolius disagreed. “You don’t know the Storm like we do. You have seen but one side of the coin, while we have seen both. While his actions to protect Titan’s Hold were generous indeed, it does not make him level with us. We should hope that he and the Church destroy each other, so that we are rid of two enemies at once.” Dissent broke out. Most of the demigods sided with Vinsanthius, citing the sacrifices that the Storm had made. Simon Bloom, of course, among them. After much debate, a consensus was made. “We have the movement of these troops. Let us send our armies to meet with Big Stormy’s, and together we can crush their forces before they know what’s hit them.” Simon’s plan was well received, and applause broke out. The Storm made his agreement known through Simon, and they moved to proceed.

Deed the Third: Action

“Marik, I need to speak with you. There’s something I need you to do.” Anatolius pulled him aside, and spoke to his brother with Oberon and Valenae. “Marik, the plan to work with the Storm is folly. The army that he seeks to counter does not exist, it is a fiction created by us. The real threat is the Storm, and we seek to destroy him and free Simon. We need you to pull together the demigods when you arrive at the ‘battlefield’ and let them know everything.” Marik’s confused look said everything. Why the secrecy? Why the lies? Anatolius told him that it was necessary in order to keep the Storm unaware of the plan. Eventually Marik accepted Anatolius’ plan, and agreed to act on it after the two armies merged and reached where the false army should be.

The day came. Through Simon, the Storm was made aware of the troops moving out from Titan’s Hold towards the approaching army. The Oncoming Storm sent his army as well to meet with the army of the demigods. Simon was left in charge of the Storm’s troops within the demigod army, and Anatolius, Oberon, and Valenae took the rear of the army. Uruhua remained behind at Titan’s Hold in order to keep the fortress safe. Once the armies had begun to move, there was no going back. Two days into the travel, Anatolius made his move. “Let’s go.” The three held behind and watched the army move forward without them, then stealthily made their way into the mountains, towards the Gate of Sleet. “We’re going to free you Simon, no matter what.”

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Session XLIX: The Infinite Sea
Chapter 49: The Infinite Sea

A thick, churning smoke mellowly drifted across the ship’s brow, hovering just over the chipped wooden planks where Anatolius looked over at the line of ships around the island. A once ancient temple at the crux of the hill was still burning, bellowing out ash, smoke, and flame such as a volcano, pouring out death in steady streams.

“Ride the waves out to the ship. Meet them in the centre. Ready fire and sword, run parallel until we discern a motive.” Anatolius spoke, looked out onto the salt waves bringing foam high up on the ship’s prow. Below, the shadow of some creature swam below and disappeared under the ship. Simon Bloom looked to the demigod and then sighed, speaking.

“At least flag them first.” The helmsman obeyed and, tossing aside the wheel to his comrade, mounted the rope ladder leading to the crows nest, towering like a monolith in the pale light of the moon still hovering silently above, whispering ephemeral threats in its hallow call. Anatolius heard it often in his head, rattling softly inside his skull.

The signal of the opposing ship brought much joy to the men. The Isle of Bloom still held. Though this worried Anatolius. Thicker than even the smoke, it was the sense of desperation that stayed longest upon his tongue. Trapped, besieged. How long? How many remain? These men, this reformed mercenary army of Corvasian barbarians, pirates, and mercenaries. And here, the planet’s greatest weapons drive by to reclaim their belongings. Or do they yet remain hostages in this newest temper? Caution.

Upon the shore, the faces of homunculi and the Bloom family met the demigods’ tired eyes with an almost somnambulatory gaze. In that moment, Anatolius drew his eyes to the ancestral Bloom and noticed how truly tired his comrade appeared. The sparks in his eyes. Are they even his? What whispers rack his head? Anatolius recalled the sorrowful movements of his brother more and more of late. He looked into the sea more often, holding books open to the same page for hours. His hair stands on end inexplicably and grows still and sharp as steel needles. Mine own brother.

The Family Bloom surrendered with unheard words to Simon Bloom and offered us all that remained. Their pirate army reformed, the situation grew endlessly worse. The Shadar-Kai had spread through and gained enough footholds on the Cisplatinian continent to launch attacks both inland and across the frigid point of Cachaca into the Corvasian. They held the reins on their allies well. Anatolius briefly smiled. It seems, even without gold, their’s something to a Bloom.

On the trip home Anatolius stood on the balcony at the ship’s stern from the Captain’s quarters, awaiting Oberon, Vaelaenae, and Uruhua. When they arrived he turned to them briefly and spoke.

“I think it is time we free our brother.” And returned his eyes onto the rushing ocean.

Oberon looked around and, much to the shock of his brother, whispered. “I think your words have merit.” With that, Valynae and Uruhua looked to their pixie brother and assented.

“I have a plan…”

Anatolius’ words held just a moment, lingering fresh.

Oberon again spoke, much closer to his demeanour, “Well, what’re we in for this time?”

TO Draw out the Storm:

Act 1: A bag in the snow, false movements of an invisible army from the West after the Storm. Spies in the Hold.
When the Storm confronts us through Bloom, he admit to it. Therefore positively confirming him and preparing him for the misdirection. Push him and Bloom closer.
Act 2: A body in the hold, here lies a dead man, upon his body, a note. His planes. Simon finds him first. The plot thickens, army nearly confirmed. The Storm Empties his fortress to prepare for attack.
Herein, the catch. How far need we go to convince the Storm to empty his fortress for us to sweep in and attack from the diversion? How many men? Demigods? Can we reach the citadel without conflict?

Can we save Simon Bloom?

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