Terrors in Travel, and Renewing Friendships

As the last cries of triumph echoed across the vast, uncaring south seas, a blindingly brilliant orb, almost casting the sun itself in shadow, appeared between the Foremast and Mainmast. A form descended, as if from a chariot, and rested his foot on the roof of the Foodfend Hall.

‘Ja’Deir!’ Captain Xerx’ses called from the Helm. The form spun to face the erstwhile seafaring Minotaur WarWizard. ‘Ja’Deir, yoo cammme back to us! Yoo have joined the fight again, master Ashada!’

The form resolved into that of an average-looking Ashada – the humanoid rodent race from the mysterious Lands of the Damned – as the ball of light dissolved. ‘CrISIS! My Dear Friends! It has been too long!’ Tears streaked down his face as he telekinetically tore Xerx’ses from the Helm, and the group’s Land Leader and Priest, Indaris, from his position at the base of the Aft Mast, and the short Kobold mystic nearby, and wrapped them in a warm embrace. ‘The Nurturer, Apis the Grand Matron, came to me and told me I could return to CrIsis! See? I have my ring back!’ The squirrel held up his hand to show the gleaming silver band on his right ring finger, the Torch of Isis almost shining as if from internal light.

‘Hrmmm, well, if he has a rrrinng, I have no qualms, may the light bless him!’ growled a canine voice from the foredeck.

Ja’Deir looked at his hand and saw a CrIsis ring there. ‘It has been long indeed, it seems. I only know three of you!’ Xerx’ses returned to the helm, and Ja’Deir looked to Indaris, the land leader.

‘My furry friend, these are the current members of CrIsis, in order of seniority: Xerx’ses; Me; Asher; then Burlap, a Hobgoblin Ludacris mage; and Raulf, a Wolfen Palladin of Ra’s Order. They are of great valor, and solid men each.

‘Ah, then I would like to perform the ‘Fireside Chat’ with them, if there doesn’t seem to be any press?’ Ja’Deir could barely make out the sails of a Black Ship on the horizon.

‘Oh, no. We slew many a fel beast summoned by the dastardly deevil, Ratel, not three hours past, and due in part to a working known as ‘Id Barrier’ by Asher, the ship that had been advancing on us turned away. We are safe in Isis’ holy arms for now.’

‘You mean Apis’ Embrace, don’t you? It is she that guards her children like chicks under a hen’s wings. She is the great Nurturer after all.’ Ja’Deir retorted, a wry smile on his lips. He and the Father Indaris used to spar often on the differences and similarities of Apis and Isis. In both minds they had each won every fight, but that is how it is sometimes between the two sects.

The group made their way below decks to Ja’Deir’s new quarters, and sat in a circle on the floor. Ja’Deir explained his last six months, and CrIsis told him of their exploits since he left. So much had happened, what with an entire group of villains the opposite CrIsis, trying to foil them at every turn!

‘Now, I would like to perform a Mind Meld, if that is ok, Raulf?’ Ja’Deir asked the Palladin after they had all been caught up.

‘What is this Meldinng of the Minnds of which you speak?’ Raulf asked.

‘You and I will meet psychicly, and we will know everything of one another, past and present. It is a way to bind us all together as a family. Though, you must know there are no secrets that will be kept.’ The Master Psionic explained.

‘Ah, yes. I have hearrrd of such a thinng. It is ok, as lonng as you arre prreparred to keep my secrrets frrom annyonne but those to whomm I have enntrrusted themm to.’

‘I am going to meld with Burlap as well, so he will know everything of you. Is it still ok?’

‘Yes. He is of CrrIsis. I Trrust himm.’

Ja’Deir could see the inborn distrust in the Wolfen’s eyes, though he didn’t know what caused it. Either way, he’d know soon enough. He cleared his head, like closing dressers and closets, and moving furniture out of the center of a room, preparing the space for the foreign intellect that was about to arrive. ‘Now, look into my eyes, and don’t look away, no matter the horrors or joys that you witness.’ He looked into the Wolfen’s eyes, and opened the psychic doorway into his mind.

He got memory after memory in a rush that took 23 years. The older memories denoted by the telltale haze or dim light, common in those without Perfect Memory. As the sojourning gaze neared its close, Ja’Deir knew of the distrust that Raulf felt toward all around him, and knew of its root. He knew the soldier’s mission, and would help him accomplish it.

The gaze broke, and the Wolfen heaved once, but nothing came. Ja’Deir had done this with many people, and those that aren’t psionically gifted could never handle the disorienting effect that Mind Melding had on a person’s psyche, though this Wolfen is very strong willed – he only dry-heaved once! After the episode, he straightened, face back to its easy, almost lazy confidence, at once relaxed and ready to spring into action. Though it seemed natural, Ja’Deir knew it was only after years of training that he had acquired it.

‘Bun..um.. Burlap, right? That’s a strange name, but I hear that all Ludicrous Mages are strange, so it fits.’

‘Ha ha! Yes, it fits, fur face! I’m the strangest, most prolific, and beautiful one o’ these bags of barf, and I betcha I’d beatcha in any game!’ The Hob’s face cracked in a grin that seemed to be on almost permanently. The Mind Meld hit Ja’Deir like a sledge hammer to the temples, and he could feel a familiar sense of filth start to creep into his mind. When they broke the bond, Ja’Deir did the mental meditation techniques that Malkin taught him to forego slipping back into his compulsions. He had scrubbed away his fur for the last time several weeks ago, and would NOT go back!

‘What an… interesting mind you have, master Mage. I must rest so that I can process the day’s events. I love you all, and I am sorry to cut our meetings short. I hope you understand!’ The Squirrel said, collapsing into his hammock suspended between the walls in the corner opposite the door. CrIsis bade him a good night, and the door latch -thunked- shut behind them. He vaguely realized he forgot to do his evening Mudras and Mantras as he drifted off to sleep.

0oOo0

The next morning dawned as every dawn breaks on Rogtilda: the morning conversation from Roggan, which is only heard near the main mast or the helm but is felt in vibrations throughout the vessel; the caw of sea birds that follow the ship, hoping for scraps thrown overboard; the fresh smell of the ocean, nothing like the stench that hovers over ports and docks. Ja’Deir made his way to the chapel in the front of the ship, once he’d passed a wet cloth over himself and checking his scars in the washboard mirror.

The Chapel was a grand cathedral compared to the haphazard hodgepodge of wooden and clay statues it had been when Ja’Deir left CrIsis and Rogtilda, over six months prior. It brought tears to his eyes as he surveyed its beauty. Each god lovingly displayed with an etched metal placard, the statues inlaid with gold, silver, and precious stones. He set his pack down on the ground next to the bulkhead at the entrance to the claustrophobic chapel.

Rin! ‘o’ṃ baishira mantaya sowaka. All hail the Vajra, the diamond thunderbolt, of glory and sacrifice, o’ṃ…’ The Ashada’s arms and legs moved from Rin to Pyo, but before he could utter her mantra he felt the boat shudder and a great mewling whoop from somewhere above him. Xerx’ses had received word from his… Father? Or teacher? Ja’Deir wasn’t sure which. He restarted from Rin, and wasn’t disturbed to the end.

-The meditation allowed him to search the memories gathered from the previous day, and he realized that he had already helped Raulf in his task. He ran to the main deck, saying the requisite pleasantries to the crew as he approached the Foredeck. In an excited whisper, he said, ‘I know that Burlap is not the one for whom you seek. You can accept him into the confidence.’

‘Thannk you. I distrrust the crrew mmorre thann the orrdainned mminnisterrs of CrrIsis, though, so help me find any spy that might be.’-

0oOo0

The voyage passed swiftly, according to the Captain Wizard. All Ja’Deir knew was that he could feel the wind’s hand at their back, and the gliding was perfect.

While in the gap between the Floenry Islands and a large peninsula of the mainland, lovingly referred to as the Straights of Hell by Xerx’ses, the ship was set upon by a greater water elemental! Everything that Ja’Deir could do seemed to amount to nothing. He prepared himself mentally and physically to jump overboard to perform Retsu’s Strike, or Catatonic Strike, on the monster, but Roggan left the waters and took to the skies! To… The… Skies! The unnatural weight of the elemental out of the water’s natural buoyancy was too much for it, and it released the ship.

The afternoon passed with Ja’Deir and Roggan flying circles around each other. Ja’Deir has to say, the majesty of creation is something awesome to behold. He performed his evening Mudras and Mantras on the roof of the foodfend hall as normal; but with the view of the open sea, golden light turning the ocean into a molten metal sheet in a forger’s fire, and the purple haze along one section of horizon pinpointing an oceanic storm brewing somewhere to the south, and the clouds above them, so close to the ship, and casting a reflected sheen from the setting sun… it was a wholly different experience. He felt closer to the gods and their power than he had ever felt, outside of Xarys or a Pyramid of Osiris.

0oOo0

CrIsis reached the Timiro Kingdom at last! Xerx’ses sent a pigeon to the King, to notify him they were closing in to save his kingdom. Asher and Ja’Deir had been discussing distances, looking at a map that Father Indaris had of his homeland, and were worried. From their estimations, it would take almost a month to walk from any port except 1, and it would take half a month from the closest one. They brought their concerns up to the Land Leader, and he showed them the legend where it was clearly printed that they could make it within range in a week, and dawdle besides.

Their concerns eased, they joined in on the discussion with the group, as to where they should bring in port. It was reminded of the group that they should port in Marmana. Bishop Rose Nodeki gave a map to Greldarr and suggested he go to that port, and port with the Sami Clan, as they were friends to the Cause. Chosen almost at random, the gods eased Rogtilda into the Sami’s docks, and all in CrIsis sighed in relief as those on the docks cried in joy for CrIsis’ return.

Their welcome was a joyous occasion, rife with food and dance. CrIsis seemed to enjoy it, though there seemed to be a pallor over their countenances – Their true reasons for coming to Timiro seeping into their bones, now that they were mere days away from the fight of their lives.

Ja’Deir eased their burdens as much as he could, singing an Ashadan Hymn of reinvigoration and trust. The only two that seemed unaffected by the Hymn were Asher and Burlap.

0oOo0

The next morning, CrIsis left for Aracho in a gift from the Samis. It took until Lunch to arrive in Aracho. The team went about, preparing for the fight, but not preparing for the voyage.

They ended up in an Alchemist’s shop, purchasing items for the fight. Ja’Deir piped up, when there seemed to be a lull in the bartering, ‘I would like to buy a Ring of Fleet Feet, but I do not have the going rate, which an acquaintance quoted to me earlier. Now, I could try to intimidate you, and you could try to intimidate me, but we’re both civilized people, are we not? You are a business man that seems to have no regard for The Champions of the Churches of Light or Dark, selling to any who has money. Our books are sold worldwide, and Aracho is a large city, which has foreign and local traffic. Our readers are those that both cheer for our success and root for our demise. If I proclaim your alchemist’s shop as a neutral site, welcome to either side, and that your wares are of good quality, would I be able to purchase the ring for twenty thousand in Eastern Gold Coins?’

After laughing at the figure, the Alchemist bargained, ‘I’ll sell it to you for twenty-five thousand Eastern, and I’ll even refund five thousand, if you survive and write about me in your books.’

Xerx’ses later asked him about a spell to Negate Magical effects, prompted by Raulf. Unsure of how intelligent a minotaur wizard could be, and how long it would take to teach the spell, the Alchemist said it could take as little as six days, but up to several weeks. They brokered a deal, and spent the next week in the back of the shop, studying the arcane. Ja’Deir stayed at the shop the entire time, not wanting to leave his friend completely alone, though not sure how his presence at the front of the shop would help.

Indaris lead the group to gather the rest of the supplies, and they embarked for his parents’ farmhouse. Apis provided, and allowed for her children to buy a wagon and an old horse team for less than a wagon would normally cost alone. And so they set out of Aracho.

0oOo0

Halfway through their Journey, CrIsis ran into a crisis of supply. Though they had plenty of Milk and Bread, those that are preparing for a fight cannot support themselves on those alone. In the morning, they started to track and trap, and gather and prepare as much as they could, as they were only a day away from the fight of their lives.

No sooner had they started off on the days travels than those on the wagon’s driving bench and those with psionic and magical premonitions were made aware of a sudden and imminent danger that would befall them. Ja’Deir started to chitter loudly, calling warning to all those in CrIsis, and the assailants appeared from the bushes and shadows around them. CrIsis exited the wagon, and the battle started in earnest, not 3 heartbeats later.

Ja’Deir had taken to dividing his time by his heartbeats counted while at rest. He realized that with combat situations, the simple hour and hour divisions that the scholars at the Library of Bletherad had calculated weren’t sufficient. From his experience, battle was much more frenetic than that, and usually ended long before a single division, referred to by them as a minute. The word stemming from ancient Dwarvish meaning ‘extremely small.’ He realized while meditating that he usually had 60 heartbeats per ‘minute’ while calm, but that number could reach up to 100 heartbeats per ‘minute’ while he was training swordplay or playing with the children. So, with such easily measured numbers, why not divide time as such? It’s much more accurate and demonstrative to say the battle was finished in less than twenty beats, than to say the battle took less than a minute. One could mean anything, whereas you know that the other took a third of a minute, and that it could happen fully two more times before a minute had passed.

The first shots were fired by the mysterious assailants, and CrIsis was murmuring ‘ReSet’ under their breath. As the first salvo landed, Zizean stepped from the bushes, and Darksong with his gruesome blade graft came swooping down from the skies astride a gryphon. CrIsis broke in six directions and nearly destroyed them both, before they were forced to flee. The entire exchange took less than a dozen beats. Ja’Deir tried his hardest to take one of the two alive, so as to gain some sort of advantage over them, but the magical and physical onslaught was too much for them, and they escaped (barely) with their lives.

The dregs were cleaned, some paltry gaggle of gruntish ghouls, and as the last one screamed its unintelligible death cries, the scions of Light heard the foreboding beating of wings in the distance, closing fast. It seems they didn’t have a day’s travel after all…
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>>Excerpt from his journal written from the 16th of Algor to the 14th of February in the 4th year of CrIsis.. Entry by Ja’Deir, Ashada Mind Mage, disciple of Apis.<< >>Picture credits in order:Fineartamerica.com with Paul Phillips;
HD 4 Desktop;
Fine Art America with Lindy Spencer;
Fine Art America with George Astametakis;
Fine Art America;
AND Grzegorz Rutkowski.

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