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Daughter of Krypta II: Blood of Krypta
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TaleSpinner



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 PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2005 9:07 pm    Post subject: Daughter of Krypta II: Blood of Krypta Reply with quote Back to top

Prologue

It did not take them long to realise that they were being hunted. The past day had been a blurred nightmare for Kilan as he struggled to keep up with his aged mentor. Kilan's mentor, an old ranger, never broke a stride as he cut through the undergrowth, tangled brambles and thorn-spiked bushes reluctantly yielding way to the expert forester. Kilan's mentor always instructed him to think of the wilds as one whole living being, a sprawling entity that treated its guests according to how it felt about them. Kilan now reasoned that they must have truly earned the ire of the wilds for the undergrowth seemed to reach out to them to drag them down as they passed. It had been like that since they had left that.. place. That ghastly place.

Kilan shut his eyes to dismiss the memory, and was rewarded by hitting his head on a low-hanging branch. "Keep sharp, lad," came his mentor's voice from ahead, as Kilan ducked under the offending branch while swearing under his breath. Looking up, his eyes met the gaze of his mentor who was looking back the way they had come. He knew what his mentor was thinking.

"How did they keep up with us?" he managed to say between gasps.

His mentor did not reply. His eyes narrowed as if he had spied something in the dark trees behind them. Kilan turned to look and saw nothing. Without saying a word, the aged ranger unstrapped the long bundle he carried behind him next to his longbow. "Not they, lad," he said as he laid the bundle on the ground. He swung his own longbow around into his hands in one fluid motion. "It. There's only one following us."

"Only one?" repeated Kilan, suddenly feeling hopeful. "Then we outnumber it! We can-"

A grunt from his mentor interrupted him. "No, lad. You must take the artifact yourself and get it back to safety. I'll stay here to buy you time." Kilan began to protest, but his mentor silenced him with a shake of his head. "Too many lives have been spent retrieving this artifact, lad. If we both fall, many more fill follow if this falls into the wrong hands. After I deal with it, I will meet you later. Now go!"

Unable to find anything to say, Kilan's jumbled thoughts eventually flowed into the strict obedience that years of training with his mentor had taught him. He hefted the long bundle over his shoulder, strapped it securely behind his back and after one last look at his mentor, he turned and continued through the unfriendly wilds.

Kilan's mentor scanned the darkness ahead of him. Warriors taught a maxim in their guilds, which was "Know your foe". Rangers taught a similar maxim, which was "Know your prey". They considered their maxim the more difficult one to follow; warriors mostly dealt with humanoid foes with two hands, two feet and a limited potential of what their foe could physically do. Rangers faced creatures with possibly more than two feet, hands, fangs, claws, sometimes wings, occasionally scaled or thick furred hides and an almost unlimited number of ways each of these could be used to bring your life to an abrupt end. To rangers, there was simply no contest over whose profession was more hazardous.

The problem about that maxim was that here, they were the prey. The thing that was hunting them had been doing a remarkably good job at it; the group had numbered eight when they had left the Necrolyte King's tomb. Since then, members of the group had been picked off one-by-one, with almost surgical precision. Grasping his longbow firmly, the old ranger knew that when the time came, he would have only one shot to stake his claim for survival.

A flare in the darkness caught his eye. The old ranger lifted his bow and fired, just as a blinding flash of light overwhelmed him, knocking him onto his back. Blinking away the dazzling specks of light from his vision, the old ranger glimpsed a dark figure stand over him and immediately saw the first mistake he had made about the hunter.

It was a huntress.

Any further thought was quickly extinguished as the huntress raised a weapon and brought it down hard.
 
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TaleSpinner



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 PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2005 9:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

The huntress stared impassively at the body of the old ranger before her. She then shifted her gaze upwards, towards the direction where that younger ranger had gone.

"You have done well," came a rasping voice behind her. The huntress frowned and turned to face her employer. She did not appreciate being snuck up to, especially by a creature like the one before her. Wrapped in an old, tattered priestess robe and standing in the darkness of the trees, the liche seemed to be a form of darkness in itself.

The huntress lowered her weapon, but did not keep it. She looked down again, this time to a feathered shaft sticking out from her shoulder, its point protruding behind her. The old ranger's arrow had narrowly missed her head. Reaching up with her other hand, she snapped the shaft and pulled the point all the way through, barely grimacing at the pain. Dropping the broken arrow pieces, she looked back at the liche. "What are your orders, favoured One?"

The liche smiled. Rotting lips parted to reveal black-stained teeth. "You have accomplished your task remarkably well. With the haste that young ranger is making, the Ivory Staff will soon be brought to exactly where we want it."
 
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TaleSpinner



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 PostPosted: Mon Aug 22, 2005 9:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

Chapter 1

Everyone is guilty of something. This is a view adopted by a well-known Daurosian faction that boasts of having the best and most highly sought-after law enforcement paladins and fighting monks in the whole of Ardania. Ironically, it is also the view held by most of the citizens of Centuria, the largest city of vice and crime in Ardania. The difference was that with the Centurians, it was completely true.

The man sweeping the streets could be guilty of being an informant for the largest, most powerful rogues' guild in the city, selling his spyings and secrets to the highest bidder, not necessarily to his patron guild. Or he could be guilty of possessing and intaking Dragon-eye Elfweed, an illegal, highly addictive (and occasionally fatal) drug during his time off.

In Tomas's case, the street sweeper he had questioned was guilty of both. The small packet of Dragon-eye he had traded with the sweeper was worth many, many times its weight in gold. But so was the information that Tomas had received in exchange.

And so later that night, Tomas found himself walking casually among the large wooden crates in an unmarked warehouse next to the city harbour. A lot of trade goods went through Centuria's harbour. It was a well-known fact that a number of those goods went under a different label to escape the scrutiny of the Sovereign's Customs officers in other cities. But with the sheer volume of moving crates, locating them was like finding a needle in a strangleweed stack.

Unless one knew what he was looking for.

Tomas emerged from the shadow of two towering crates and into the flickering light of nearby torches. Those torches were being held by a couple of large, heavy-set men. Next to them, three other men stood around, one of them inspecting a list.

"Evening, Malvon," said Tomas casually, his hands in his tunic pockets.

Immediately, the man reading the list snapped his head up, shock registering in his scarred face. The two other men with him drew out crossbows while the two holding the torches moved menacingly towards Tomas, their torches held out like clubs.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, boys," remarked Tomas as he watched the two thugs approach him. "Otherwise your guild master will not be too happy about what will happen next."

"Tomas." Malvon spat out the name as if it were acid. "It has been a long time." The Centurian Rogue's Guild master was a medium-built man with pale hair. Due to a rare skin condition, his skin was constantly covered with dry flakes. Tomas heard it once commented that the man looked like he was shredding his skin like a snake. Given the nature of the man, and the way he could move in a knife-fight, it was not the only attribute he shared with the scaly reptiles.

It was in one such knife-fight where Malvon received his long scar along the side of his face; a knife-fight with Tomas himself. The man had twisted in an almost impossible angle, receiving a disfiguring cut on the face instead of what Tomas had intended, which was a more fatal cut on the throat. Tomas could still remember that fight even after fifteen years. Now, looking at the way Malvon glared at him, it was obvious that Malvon could as well.

Seeing that the two thugs were not slowing their advance, Tomas took one hand out from his pocket and held it up. There was a hissing noise and like magic, one of the wooden crates behind him exploded into splinters, its contents shattering as they hit the ground. Small vials of purplish liquid smashed and spilt on the warehouse floor.

Malvon's eyes seemed like they could not bulge any further but they did. "Stop!" he barked at his two men. The two torch-wielding thugs did, glaring at Tomas who stood no more than six feet away.

Tomas gave them a small nod. "Good. Now that I have your attention, Malvon, there are a few things we can discuss."

"There is nothing I need to discuss with you, Tomas," growled Malvon. "Apart from the order you want me to remove your fingers."

Tomas gave Malvon a grim smile. "Still charmingly brutal, I see. Unfortunately, you are right. It is in your best interest to ensure that I do not discuss anything. Particularly to the White Orchid guild over how you're short changing their perculiad shipment. Secreting away a crate or two for yourself and replacing them with fakes? I think they would find it very distressing, especially since they've paid you a hefty sum to ensure that the shipment arrives at their destination in perfect condition."

Everyone is guilty of something. In Centuria, Tomas knew that the trick was to find what it was and use it as leverage.
 
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 PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2005 10:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

Compared to the rest of the old structures in Necroselleum, the Temple of Krypta's library was a more recent addition. The city walls had been constructed back during the horrific Necrolyte wars, as well as the old palace, the barracks and the Temple of Krypta itself. It was only during the years of uneasy peace after the wars that the library extension was made to the already-huge temple, along with the rest of the surrounding buildings that would eventually form the Convent. At the present day, the library possessed an impressive number of old scrolls, books, archives, parchments, letters, chronicles and gospels, more than enough to rival even the Royal Library in the Sovereign's city of Valmorgen.

But for now, the only possession of the library that Lydith cared about was its view from the roof. The library extension of the Temple rose a full fifty feet from the ground, giving a roof-top observer an almost uninhibited view of the city and even a glimpse over the city walls. On a good day, Lydith could even see the peaks of the distant mountains over the walls.

The library roof had become one of Lydith's favourite places in the Convent of Krypta. Finding places of solitude where she could simply sit and think seemed to be an in-grown habit in her. Back in Thistlewood, her childhood village, the Big Oak had been one such place of solitude. Lydith once mused to herself over no matter how much things changed in her life, some things still remained the same. Her surroundings, for example, were different. The Convent of Krypta was definately a completely different environment compared to Thistlewood. Her maroon Acolyte's dress was different, and so were her daily chores. Even the times she woke up and retired to bed had changed.

Yet at the same time, some things were still the same. Back in Thistlewood, Lydith was a lonesome child with very few, but close, friends. Here, it was the same; aside from Karyn, there were few others whom Lydith could consider friends. And, of course, her need to retire to places of solitude was still the same.

Aside from the splendid view, the roof of the library also offered one additional benefit. It allowed Lydith to see the comings and goings of anyone from the Temple gates. Most of the time, these were worshippers of Krypta, priestesses and sometimes temple servants although the latter normally used their own servant's gate located near to the servant's quarters of the Convent. Today, however, Lydith spied one unusual visitor to the Temple; a man dressed in royal blue robes with gold trimmings, the uniform of an official for the Sovereign. A royal messenger, perhaps? she thought. Or an over-dressed royal scribe?

"Lydith!? Lydith! Where are you?"

Lydith snapped out of her musings and leaned over to look down at the balcony directly below her. Karyn stood at the balcony and spotted her immediately. "I thought you'd be up here again! You're mad, you know, climbing up there on your own! One day, you're going to end up as messy splat on the library steps!"

Lydith grinned down at her. "Well, I would bring you up here with me if someone wasn't so afraid of heights! And spiders. And mice. And anyone speaking to her in a stern voice."

Karyn snorted in reply. "At least I don't sit around on the roof all day like a skinny gargoyle!" She winced up at Lydith, the sun in her face. "Come down, Lydith, or we'll be late. Sister Fallowmoon has requested all new Acolytes to meet her at the vaults at once." She brightened up at a thought. "Maybe she wants to give us a special tour of the vaults! We've never been allowed in there!"

Lydith made her way towards the roof edge above the balcony. "Most likely she has a special chore for us, like cleaning out the vault. I must say, being an Acolyte seems to give us the priviledge of more chores, not less."

Despite her saying it, Lydith knew that that was not strictly true. After being in the Convent for over a year, Lydith, Karyn and several other Initiates had been promoted to the position of Acolytes. Traditionally, this meant that they were to start on their formal training as priestesses. This also meant that they were exempt from certain chores, in order to give them more time to study the Ways of Krypta. Lydith, for one, was glad never to have to clean the temple furnaces again.

Lydith jumped down next to Karyn who glanced critically at Lydith's Acolyte robe. "You've already scraped it above your knees," she accused.

Lydith shrugged. "It keeps getting in the way when I climb up. I think I still prefer my old shorter robe."

"Huh, if you wore that any longer, it would have eventually fallen into pieces when you sneeze. Come on, better not to keep Sister Fallowmoon waiting. You know how seriously she takes everything."


Last edited by TaleSpinner on Wed Aug 24, 2005 12:15 am; edited 1 time in total
 
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 PostPosted: Tue Aug 23, 2005 10:33 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

"The Sovereign cannot be serious."

Sister Shadowlife's incredulous statement echoed Daedra's thought. The Royal Messenger stood firmly in front of the three priestesses inside the Convent Mother's darkwood study. Given his audience, Daedra was impressed by the man's resolve. There were not many who could stand so steadily in the presense of the Convent Mother, and Sister Shadowlife, one of the most legendary priestesses in present day Ardania, and Daedra who had no small reputation herself. He is either has nerves of steel, thought Daedra. Or brains of lead. Given that Royal Messengers were normally chosen among the elite of the Sovereign's Royal Guard, Daedra gave the former opinion the benefit of the doubt.

The Royal Messenger gave Sister Shadowlife a critical look. "My message comes directly from the Soveriegn himself. This is a very serious situation, sister. The matters of the Sovereign should always take precedence over any petty religious disagreements you might have."

Brains of lead, then.

Before Sister Shadowlife fire back with a scalding reply, the Convent Mother leaned forward from her polished desk to speak. "I am certain that the Sovereign has taken into account all of our 'petty religious disagreements' as you say, messenger. You may inform His Majesty that we will make the suitable preparations for his request."

Regardless of the metallic constitution of his brain, the Royal Messenger understood the hint that he was being dismissed and saluted smartly at the Convent Mother. Turning a rigid back, the man strode out of the small study. Aunt Daedra followed him up to the study door and closed it behind him.

Sister Shadowlife's face was livid. However, she still remembered whose presence she was in and spoke with forced formality. "Please excuse my blatant ness, dread mother. But I cannot believe that even the Sovereign can understand the magnitude of what he is requesting."

The Convent Mother leaned back on her chair. "The Sovereign sees things as they are, Sister Shadowlife. He sees two cities, both with armed forces, and has mustered them to his cause to face a threat. Still, the Sovereign is no fool. Of course he understands the implications of his request. If not him, then his advisors would. The situation must be dire for him to make such a decision."

Aunt Daedra returned to the study desk. "But a joint campaign with the Daurosians against a goblin horde? It is unheard of in all of history."

The Convent Mother inclined her head. "Remember, Sister Daedra, that history is written by mere men. Men with prejudices and ideals. Men who would not consider it a bane if history omitted certain events."

"Are you saying that there was a time once when the forces of Krypta and Dauros worked together?" asked Sister Shadowlife, doubt outlining her question.

"Saying little saves you from making rash statements, Sister Shadowlife," replied the Convent Mother firmly. The other two priestesses instinctively knew that this was all the Convent Mother would say on the matter.

Aunt Daedra thought over the brief interview. "Saying little seems to have given the Sovereign's messenger the impression that we will accept the Sovereign's request."

The Convent Mother nodded. "Yes, Sister Daedra. I am pleased you, for one, picked that up."

Sister Shadowlife frowned. "I beg your pardon, Convent Mother?"

"We never made any commitments to support the Sovereign's request, Sister Shadowlife."

"But we said-"

"We said that we would make the suitable preparations for his request," enlightened the Convent Mother.

Sister Shadowlife nodded, finally understanding. "So, are we going to side with the Sovereign's campaign against the goblin horde?"

The Convent Mother looked up at her. "The followers of Krypta never take anyone's side, Sister Shadowlife. Only our own."
 
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 PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

Chapter 2

Kievan silently swore to himself as he tried to hold the crossbow steady. The young rogue hung precariously over the edge of the warehouse roof by means of an impromptu rope harness, his feet placed on an open upper window ledge to give him more support. He pointed a dark, varnished crossbow through the window into the warehouse, its sights trained on Tomas who stood some distance below, talking to the Centurian rogues.

Not for the first time, Kievan was convinced that Tomas had placed entirely too much trust on the young rogue's marksmanship. When Tomas had given that first hand signal, he had almost hit Tomas's upheld hand instead of the crate behind him. With the exploding bolts that this crossbow fired, there might have been a very armless Tomas down below.

Tomas had explained to him that it was only a matter of time before the Centurian rogues figured out what was happening. The gamble was that Tomas could find out what he wanted before the rogues did. Already, Kivan could see one of the crossbow-wielding rogues subtlely scanning around to see what had caused that wooden crate to explode.

"He'd better know what he's doing," he muttered to himself as he waited for the next signal.


Last edited by TaleSpinner on Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:32 pm; edited 1 time in total
 
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 PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

"Is this what this is all about, Tomas? Are you working for the White Orchids now?" growled Malvon menacingly.

Tomas shook his head. "No, my interests lie towards another group that is more.. involved with death?"

Malvon snorted. "Those corpse-loving priestesses? Hah! They and their undead can rot in the Abyss for all I care! The only thing am I am grateful of is that their request to track down that village wench somehow drove you out from whatever rock you were hiding under. I have waited a long time to meet you, Taker."

"I'm not here for re-acquaintances," replied Tomas drily. "I need to know where I can find these priestesses."

"Pah! I don't have to tell you anything!" spat Malvon.

"Well, that's too bad then," said Tomas as he started to lift his hand again.

"Wait!" Malvon licked his lips as he thought. "Do you really want to do this, Tomas? Cause a guild war between us and the White Orchids?"

Tomas had his hand held halfway up. "Believe me, Malvon. You have no idea how little I care about guild wars or smuggled goods anymore. Now, tell me where I can find them, or you'll be shipping splinters to the Orchids."

Malvon spoke slowly, his eyes on Tomas's hand. "Finding them is impossible. They keep that secret too close among themselves. But the group of them that left here headed west towards the mountains."

Tomas shook his head. "That's not enough, Malvon. Where in the mountains were they head-"

One of the crossbow-wielding rogues suddenly pointed upwards to where Kievan was stationed. "He's only got one man up there, guildmaster!"

Time's up, thought Tomas as he gave the signal and scrambled for cover.

From his perch on his upper-level window, Kievan fired again. But instead of shooting at another wooden crate of smuggled perculiad, the young rogue had taken careful aim at a nodescript sack hanging from the rafters. A pig's bladder sack he and Tomas had filled with elven firewine.

There was more than one reason why the elves called it "firewine".

The sack exploded, spewing its flaming contents all over the warehouse. Crates everywhere caught fire as the dry wood ignited. A shower of flames rained over the rogues below who were hastily slapping their clothes to extinguish the small fires on them.

"You and you!" roared the guildmaster at his two heavy-set men. "Get those crates out of here! You know the ones! If you damage any of the goods inside, I'll have your hides! And the rest of you! Find that son of a varg! I want him alive!"
 
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 PostPosted: Wed Aug 24, 2005 4:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

The two thugs commissioned by Malvon to carry the precious crates out of the warehouse barely had time to do a lot of things that night.

They barely had time to get all the crates out from the burning warehouse.

They barely had time to stand up after carefully placing one of the crates on the ground before the top lid lifted open and smashed them both on the head.

They barely had time to recover from their daze to see the dark figure with an orange-rimmed hood dashing down the dark harbour side.

They barely had time to mumble any excuses before Malvon stormed off, cursing loudly about being surrounded by imbeciles.
 
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 PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2005 11:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

The Temple Vaults were located below the Temple itself and were generally restricted to only fully ordained priestesses. There were many fabulous tales about the treasures stored in the Vaults, vast wealth accumulated from centuries of Temple donations and acquisitions. These ranged from jeweled chests of egg-sized gems, to spectacular golden statues, to carelessly strewn heaps of gold, and so on.

The priestesses staunchly denied all these rumours, insisting that the Vaults were used to store their religious paraphernalia that they seldom used. These ranged from ceremonial gowns, to incense burners, to prayer mats, and so on.

However, no one (those who were not priestesses anyway) dared to verify the authenticity of the tales of wonderous treasures, because along with them were horrific tales of hedious defences at the Vaults to keep intruders out. These ranged from unresting undead Vault guardians, to pits of flesh-eating insects, to incorporeal spectres that stepped out from the walls to suck out your very soul, and so on.

The priestesses also denied these rumours, although the Convent Mother (tired from hearing these wild tales) once openly invited anyone curious enough to come and see for themselves. Not surprisingly, no one would.

After staying at the Convent for just over a year, Lydith's experience with the Vaults was similar to all other Initiates in the Convent. They could see the entrance of the Vaults, which was a vast, intricately carved bronze door that had only a single key hole in its centre, but they have never been permitted to enter it. Lydith and Karyn arrived at that door, breathless after running down several flights of stairs from the library roof. All the other Acolytes were already there, and the priestess Sister Fallowmoon gave them a very stern look.

"Lydith. Karyn." Sister Fallowmoon addressed them as they skidded to a halt in front of her. "Being punctual is an attribute that should have been ingrained in you when you were Initiates. It was hoped that when you were made into Acolytes that you will act like one."

"Apologies, Sister Fallowmoon," the two girls intoned meekly, respectfully bowing their heads.

Sister Fallowmoon turned her gaze to the rest of the Acolytes, as if surveying whether or not they were worthy of entering the Vaults. The gaunt priestess was one of the many instructional priestesses of the Convent of Krypta, devoted to infuse the Ways of Krypta into the many young girls who have chosen Her Path. Sister Fallowmoon was the head priestess of all Acolytes in the Convent. She was also reknown for her ever somber attitude; priestesses were generally serious-natured, but Lydith had never seen the priestess even smile. Just barely a month ago, the priestess had heard from the Convent cooks that there was some small pilfering going on from the kitchen larders. Sister Fallowmoon had gathered all Acolytes and Initiates into the Temple's Sanctuary for a three hour lecture on the despicability of stealing and gluttonny. Lydith had almost fallen asleep on Karyn's shoulder by the time the lecture was over.

Apparently the Acolytes were found satisfactory, for Sister Fallowmoon produced a bronze key from her robes and inserted it into the key hole. She briskly unlocked the door and pushed the entrance to the Temple Vaults open. Some of the Acolytes were practically standing tip toe to see into the dark entryway, and they jumped back guiltily when Sister Fallowmoon turned around suddenly.

"You will all enter in twos. Do not touch anything. Do not enter any room unless I allow you to." She ran through a list of "do"s and "don't"s although Lydith thought that there seemed to be less "do"s and more "don't"s. Karyn, of course, immediately took Lydith as her partner as they both formed the line to enter the Vaults. Finally, Sister Fallowmoon turned and strode through the entryway, a nervous line of Acolytes following her.

Beyond the entryway was a short, dark corridor. This led into a large, circular chamber with more doorways leading out from it. At the other side of the chamber was another dark corridor. Here, Sister Fallowmoon stopped and waited for the rest of the Acolytes to file into the circular room.

"This is the first antechamber," she announced. "From here, the corridor behind me leads to the second antechamber with more rooms of the Vaults. For today, we'll survey the rooms that this antechamber accesses. Stay with in your twos and remember not to touch anything."

Karyn was already heading off to one of the doorways before the gaunt priestess had finished speaking, yanking Lydith along. "Come on!" she said excitedly as she led them to the first doorway. Upon entering the room, Karyn's enthusiam ebbed slightly. "Candle-sticks," she said in a somewhat disappointed tone of one who listened to too many fabulous rumours. Lydith peered into the room and confirmed that the room contained a long row of brass standing candle-sticks which were quite intricately designed. Next to these were other brass implements, such as ceremonial chalices, staffs, bookstands and so on. A stacked pile of rugs dominated one corner of the room. It was obvious that none of these had been used in quite a while. "Probably like not in the past century," muttered Karyn when Lydith mentioned this.

They spent some time looking through the items. Lydith noted with interest that some of them were ceremonial relics that were no longer used because their ceremonies were either too obscure, or were banned in this present day and age. The Temple of Krypta had a colourful past of bloody rituals that were discontinued after the Necrolyte Wars by the Ardanian lords. Despite Karyn's initial reaction, she too became fascinated by these. She had seen diagrams of some of them in the Temple library. "Look at this one," she said to Lydith. "I think this used to be the bowl that collected the blood from the left hand of the priestess performing the ritual, to be mingled with the blood from the..." Lydith listened half-attentively at her friend's running commentary.

It was some time before Sister Fallowmoon called everyone back to the circular chamber. As the Acolytes gathered, they could see that (like magic) several buckets and rags now occupied the middle of the chamber. "Now that you've all taken a look at the vault rooms," the gaunt priestess began, to the dismay of Karyn who whispered that they've only seen one room, "You can all take a bucket and rag each and start cleaning the implements in the rooms. These are holy, sacred items that can only be touched by holy, sacred followers of Krypta. I am pleased to say that as Acolytes, you now number among these. I will be coming around to check on your progress."
 
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 PostPosted: Mon Aug 29, 2005 11:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

"I don't believe this!" said Karyn hotly as she dumped her bucket down unceremoniously among the ceremonial candle-sticks.

"Careful, you're getting water all over the floor!" said Lydith as she put her bucket down as well.

"Then I'll use my holy, sacred rag to wipe the holy, sacred floor and wring it in the holy, sacred bucket," muttered Karyn sarcastically. She placed her rag next to her bucket and began to fiercely pull off her ring. Karyn's gold ring had been a gift from her parents and she took care that she removed it before doing any labourous work.

A shadow fell over them both. "Barely a month as Acolytes and you both have already forgotten how to use a rag, I see."

They both looked up to see another Acolyte standing over them. Karyn groaned inwardly. "Hello, Paulyn," greeted Lydith evenly. Lydith again mused to herself how similar things were between her past and present life. In Thistlewood, she had been a regular target for the town's gang of bullies led by the tax-collector's daughter Sharielle. Here, she always seemed to find herself in the path of an Acolyte named Paulyn who was a gang all by herself.

Paulyn had been an Acolyte for about a year longer than Karyn and Lydith. No one really spent much time with her, mainly because of her sharp tongue and sharper temper. It was said that she was the daughter of a wizard who was well-known for his research into strange, rare creatures. It was joked that he should spend some time studying his own daughter. Paulyn kept to herself, and seemed to take personal pleasure fashioning and throwing cutting remarks at others.

"So Lydith," she smirked. "It seems that even favouritism from the priestesses does not exempt you from certain chores."

Lydith sighed. It had all began since the day she arrived back to the Temple from her unannounced journey to the caverns of Shovrah-Ukran in what she had thought was an attempt to rescue her Aunt Daedra. When she had gotten back, she had been immediately escorted to her room. To her surprise and joy, she found Aunt Daedra there waiting for her. After their joyful reunion, Lydith related all that had happened to her to Aunt Daedra, starting from the time she had first discovered that she could "listen" to the undead. With tearful eyes, she recalled that terrible instant in the caverns where she found that her mother had been turned into a horrifying liche.

"It was her body, but it wasn't her," Lydith said tearfully while Aunt Daedra wrapped a consoling arm around her. "It was like something else was inside of her body, using it like its own."

Aunt Daedra then began to relate her story. She and the Convent Mother had known about Lydith's mother's ability to "speak" to the undead. But the Convent Mother had not been entirely convinced that the ability might have manifested itself in Lydith. When Lydith had revealed that she "heard" the undead baker speak in the Sanctuary, the Convent Mother had ordered Lydith be placed under careful observation to rule out the possibility that she had known about her own mother's ability herself and was merely trying to mimic it. Further, the Convent Mother was surprised that the ability had manifested itself so early in Lydith; her own mother's ability never revealed itself until after she had become a fully-fledged priestess.

Sister Mortimia, the priestess who betrayed them to the Inner Sect, had been one of the priestesses given the task of observing Lydith. It was conceivable now that the priestess might have informed the Inner Sect about the early signs of Lydith's ability, and given the liche access to the Temple so that the creature could weave visions of Aunt Daedra being in danger in Lydith's dreams.

"The Inner Sect is a danger to us all," said Aunt Daedra firmly. "Your mother knew that as well, which is why she left you and your father to accompany me. We thought that we could stop them, and we did in a way, but your mother was lost to us then. Now, they have re-emerged. They must be stopped at all costs."

"What about the Sovereign?" asked Lydith. "Does he know about the Inner Sect?"

Aunt Daedra shook her head. "No. But the Sovereign can do little to help us in this matter. The Inner Sect has been very careful over whom they confront, and so far, none of their activities have been visibly against the Sovereign's rule. We cannot approach the Sovereign with only hearsay on what we know about the Inner Sect. We need more concrete evidence over its existance, and its intentions. With time, we will have them."

Lydith shook her head, feeling helpless. "And what about me? What should I do?"

"You are safest here, child. With Sister Mortimia gone, the Inner Sect has lost their presence in this place. And here, Krypta can guide you to harness your abilities, as She did for your mother. I will be here as well, and I swear by your mother's departed soul that I will never let anything harm you, child."

They had gone to see the Convent Mother after that who confirmed much of what Aunt Daedra had already told her. The Convent Mother gave her strict orders to stay in the Temple and under the eyes of the priestesses at all times. She was also not to reveal her abilities to anyone, nor speak of the Inner Sect or what had happened to her at the caverns. Lydith only gave a mute nod as a reply.

The rest of the Initiates and Acolytes in the Convent were astounded that Lydith was not expelled from the Temple. Rumours and speculations were conjured, many of which revolved around Lydith being a "favourite Initiate" of the Convent Mother. The months after that had been ghastly, with the other Initiates shunning her like the Ratman's plague. But Lydith kept her word and told no one of her experiences, although the other Initiates and Acolytes noticed that she either avoided any undead skeletons of the priestesses, or stared at them as if hearing something that no one else could.

The only person whom Lydith confided the truth with was Karyn. The spectacled girl was horrified to hear about the fate of Lydith's mother and had promised to look into all she could about the Inner Sect from the vast Temple library.

Paulyn held another bucket in one hand and a bundle of rags in the other. She seemed to take it as her personal duty to mock Lydith whenever she could. "I thought I'd better come and see that you two actually do some work. Not that Lydith will get into trouble if she didn't do any."

"Are you here to make silly remarks, or are you here to clean things?" demanded Karyn, clearly irritated.

The three of them proceeded to wipe down the brass candle-sticks, and then the range of implements piled in the room. Paulyn surprisingly held her tongue throughout the time, much to Lydith and Karyn's relief. It was only after almost cleaning a third of the room when Karyn uncovered a strange object lying beneath a stack of old prayer mats and called the other two to come and see.

"What do you think it is?" asked Lydith as they examined it. It was a lead cylinder-shaped block which stood about a foot and a half in height and a foot in diameter. Kryptian runes decorated its sides, none of which any of them could read.

Karyn frowned as she pushed her spectacles up. "I've never seen anything like this in the books on worship implements."

"It could be a container," said Paulyn suddenly, much to their surprise. She pointed at the edge near the top of the block. "Look, there are hinges. It's hard to see because they look like part of the engravings."

"What are you girls doing?" came Sister Fallowmoon's voice from behind, making them all jump. The three of them spun around as Sister Fallowmoon loomed up.

"We,.. um.. we," stammered Karyn.

Sister Fallowmoon did not seem interested in an answer. "We have to leave for the evening prayers. Pack up your rags, and do not leave any water marks on the floor." She stalked out from the room as silently as she had entered it. The three girls stared at each other and then did as the priestess had commanded. As they left the room, Lydith spotted Karyn stealing a backward glance at the mysterious metal container in the room. And because she was curious herself, she did the same.
 
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 PostPosted: Wed Aug 31, 2005 12:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

The warriors of discord were playing pig ball in the yard again. The traditional dwarven game was normally played by two teams of eight dwarves all riding on trained boars as mounts, with each player wielding a short club that was curved and weighted on one end, and of course a hardened pig-skin ball.

The discords had none of these. In place of the missing gear, the warriors of discord had taken anything they could get their hands on. As mounts, they were using benches, dining room chairs, broomsticks, and in some cases, each other. The game had started with two teams, but was rapidly degenerating into a brawl of four or five teams chasing either a metal soup toureen, a rusty helmet or a dead cat, depending on which the team insisted was the ball.

Sir Gameth IronEdge sighed as he watched their antics for a moment before continuing to polish his armour. The aged warrior was one of the few sane warriors left in the warrior's guild, although staying on made his own sanity questionable. Ever since the cultists' temple to Fervus had been built in Necroselleum, more and more warriors of discord (warrior followers of Fervus who have undertaken the Rite of Transformation that gives them superhuman strength, but unfortunately drives them mad as well) have joined with the city's warrior's guild. And they could not be turned away; the brutish, insane warriors have been considered honorary members of the guild ever since the war with the serpents.

One by one, Gameth's old warrior comrades left the guild for guilds in other cities. More than a few of them had asked Gameth to join them, perhaps even go on a quest for the Sovereign, anything to leave the internless asylum the guild had now become. But Gameth remained. His reasons were simple. The guild was his home. He had grown up in the guild house for the most part of his youth, occasionally leaving to be part of some campaign for the city or Sovereign, but he had always returned. Leaving the guild for good was akin to cutting his own sword arm off. Besides, there were other reasons as well. Gameth found himself hard pressed to leave some people he had grown close to in Necroselleum.

He was thinking about one of these people when a different commotion caught his attention. His name was being loudly proclaimed down the hall.

"I'm Gameth IronEdge!" "Here's Gameth!" "Don't know any Gameths, but I had a rock once named Skeve."

The voices were coming closer. Gameth poked his head out of his room door and caught sight of Aunt Daedra walking down the hall towards his room. The unamused priestess was being hounded by several warriors of discord who were unsuccessfully trying to give her directions to find Gameth.

Immediately, the aged warrior sprung into action. He kicked some of his used clothes under his bunk, cleared his wooden desk, rolled up his blanket and straightened his tunic. "Over here, Daedra!" called Gameth when he poked his head out again.

When the priestess arrived at his door, Gameth gave some measured threats at her milling escorts which sent them fleeing down the hall, one of them sobbing profusely. As the last of them dissappeared, Gameth found Aunt Daedra giving him an appraising look.

"It's a hard task finding you in this guild," she commented as she entered his room. "I was introduced to several Gameths, one of which was a practice dummy."

"Well, I value my privacy," said Gameth mildly.

A warrior of discord marched into the room unannounced, lay himself down on Gameth's wooden bunk and promptly fell asleep.

"Indeed," Aunt Daedra said unperturbed.

Gameth tried to ignore the loud snores as he firmly held his gaze on Aunt Daedra. "Have a seat, Daedra. So how can I help you?"

"I bring some news, as well as a formal request from the city governor and Convent Mother," said Aunt Daedra as she sat down on a chair next to the desk. She told Gameth about the Sovereign's request to fight the goblins and their allies-to-be for this campaign.

"Paladins and monks fighting along side priestesses?" Gameth shook his head. "I'm appalled."

Aunt Daedra smiled. "Not yet you are." She then informed him of the request from the governor and Convent Mother.

Gameth's mouth dropped open in shock. "What? They cannot be serious! Me, lead the Warriors guild into this campaign!? Have they not seen the current state of the guild, or its latest members!? I assumed that the Sovereign only required priestesses from the Temple!"

Aunt Daedra nodded. "Yes, but consider this. An army cannot simply consist of those who wield magic only. There has to be warriors who can protect them by more mundane means."

"But how about the paladins and the monks? They're more than capable of handling close combat and they.." Here Gameth faltered as he realised what he was saying.

"They are followers of Dauros who we cannot rely upon to protect our priestesses," finished Aunt Daedra for him. "We need our own warriors, Gameth. We cannot trust what the Dausorians will do. The Sovereign can have his little mix-matched army. But we have to protect our own backs, even from our supposed allies."

"And you want these to protect your backs?" asked Gameth sceptically, gesturing at the snoring form on his bed.

"With you leading them, we are confident that they will be a force to be reckoned with," said Aunt Daedra.

"The discords are each a force to be reckoned with," replied Gameth dryly. "It's only getting them to reckon in the right direction which is the problem."
 
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 PostPosted: Wed Aug 31, 2005 7:32 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

Chapter 3

Kievan made his way up the stairs from the noisy tavern room to the guest rooms above the inn. Reaching the door of the room he and Tomas had rented, the young thief glanced carefully behind him before he unlocked the door to let himself in, closing the door as soon as he got into the room.

"You should always check the room first before entering it, boy," remarked Tomas who was lounging on the room's sole chair.

Kievan swore as he turned to face him. "Ye gods, Tomas, you're fast. I came here as quickly as I could and you still got here before me." He unslung the black crossbow he carried on his back and presented it to Tomas. "Here, you can have this back."

Tomas took back the crossbow and gave it a quick check. Kievan watched him as he re-cocked the loading mechanism. "That's quite a fine weapon you have there, Tomas," he said. "Loads quickly and fires very smoothly. Is it dwarven?"

Tomas smiled at some memory. "No," he replied. "It's gnomish."

"Gnomes? Those little ditch rats that run around smelly construction sites?" exclaimed Kievan. "They built this?"

"Not exactly," said Tomas. "One of them did. But he's gone now." He looked down at the crossbow again. "The exploding bolts are my own addition though."

Kievan sensed Tomas's unwillingness to talk about the mysterious maker of his crossbow, so he asked another question. "So what's the plan now?"

"We go to the mountains."

Kievan snorted. "And what? Ask around if anyone has seen a group of suspicious-looking priestesses?"

"I wish I could oblige you with a better idea, boy, but that's all we have at the moment," said Tomas flatly. "Tomorrow, we leave early and head for the mountains."
 
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 PostPosted: Wed Aug 31, 2005 7:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

"They are headed towards the mountains," insisted Malvon to the shadowy figure in front of him. The Guildmaster stood under a dim lantern light that failed to illuminate the rest of the room.

The shadowy figure lifted a long-stemmed pipe into the dark recesses of its hooded face and blew out a thin stream of blue-coloured smoke. When the figure spoke, it was in a female voice. "How unfortunate that the Taker's re-appearance came with such disasterous circumstances. We are not at all pleased by the loss of our entire perculiad shipment, guildmaster." The light tone of her voice held only the slightest hint of suspicion.

"That son of a varg is a walking menace," Malvon declared, seemingly oblivious of the speaker's tone. "He must be hunted down and killed at once."

The shadowy figure seemed to consider this. "Yes, of course," she replied finally.

"I am glad that you agree," said Malvon as he turned to leave. "I will organise a bounty and a group of men to track him."

"We will send a few of our own to assist you in your hunt for the Taker, of course," said the figure suddenly.

Malvon stopped mid-turn. "Assist? I, uh, hardly think that that is necess-"

"Oh, but think of how much more efficient this will be with our wizards assisting you," said the figure as she leaned forward into the light. Long, silvery hair framed a beautiful pale face with blue eyes that was off-set by a cold smile. "Why, a few Far-seeing spells would greatly reduce the time taken to locate him. No one escapes the White Orchids, guildmaster. Not even the famed Taker."
 
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 PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2005 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

The first of them began to arrive at Necroselleum that morning. The city guards at the gates first mistook them for homeless settlers or gypsies. Only after some of them were questioned did the truth emerge.

By mid-afternoon, more than five hundred of them made their way slowly up the road that led to the main gates of the city. Their many wagons began to clog up the road, making outward traffic from the city near impossible. Families with their possessions, traders with their goods, farmers with their livestock, they all progressed their way into Necroselleum. When the current number of guards proved insufficient to manage the tide, the city guard officers began to call on off-duty guards to help.

Fleeing their homes, the newcomers all bore the same grim tidings.

The goblin horde was coming.
 
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 PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2005 8:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Back to top

"The entire marketplace had to be closed to make room for them," informed Judith to Lydith as they both sat in the room which Judith and Karyn shared. "The merchants were furious and they sent a heavily worded complaint to the governor via their Union." The Acolyte was Karyn's roommate and officially (at least among the Initiates and Acolytes) the source of inofficial news and gossip, both from inside and outside the Temple. Her uncanny ability to ferret out news and spread it was the stuff of legends among the Initiates and Acolytes. Currently, she was savoring her role as a dispenser of thrilling news to an equally thrilled audience of two - Lydith and Karyn. Or at least, Lydith, as Karyn seemed more pre-occupied over pulling out things from her closet in search for something.

"Where did they all come from?" asked Lydith, as captivated an audience as Judith could wish for.

"Oaksfyod," replied Judith, naming a nearby farming settlement. "After some of their outskirt farms were razed by the goblins, the entire settlement decided to pack up and leave. Necroselleum is the closest walled city in the region, so they made their way here."

"I don't recall Oaksfyod having so many people," called Karyn from her closet, apparently still part of the listening audience despite her endeavors in her closet.

Judith looked momentarily apprehensive that her facts were being questioned. "They're not all from Oaksfyod. When the neighbouring settlements heard about the raids, they too packed up and left. There's word that there'll be more of them arriving tomorrow."

"Where are all of them going to stay?" asked Lydith, shaking her head in bewilderment. "The city is full enough as it is."

"Oh, the governor will probably have to get the guards to stop them from entering the city and get them to settle outside the walls," speculated Judith off-handedly, as if this was something city governors did every day.

A muttered curse from Karyn turned both their heads. Almost half of Karyn's belongings were piled on her bed, with more to be added from the looks of her progress. "What is that girl doing?" asked Judith to Lydith who shrugged.

Lydith noticed a small, leather-bound book among Karyn's possessions and picked it up. "What's this book?" she asked while examining it.

Immediately, Karyn reached out from her closet and firmly took the book away from Lydith's unresisting hands. "It's a diary," said Karyn defensively after a while.

"A diary? You never told me that you were keeping a diary," said Judith looking rather cross that she was not privy to the fact.

"I've only just started to," said Karyn, glancing down at the book. "My father sent me this two weeks ago. Said that it helps him keep his scattered thoughts in one place, so perhaps I might benefit from one too."

"What do you write in it?" asked Lydith curiously.

"Oh, this and that. Ideas and things," replied Karyn evasively before adding, "Like how incredibly nosy my friends are."

Judith rolled her eyes while Lydith giggled. "Just as a nosy friend," said Judith archly. "What are you doing emptying out your closet like that?"

"It's my ring," said Karyn, wringing her hands in frustration. "I can't find it."

"Your golden ring?" asked Lydith in surprise. "You never lose that."

"Well, I just did," replied Karyn pointedly. "Now stop sitting there like a couple of gossiping fishwives and help me-" she suddenly stopped as her eyes grew wide.

"What is it?" asked Lydith, slightly alarmed.

"Oh, by Krypta's blood," moaned Karyn as she sank down on her bed. "I know where it is. I took it off this afternoon to clean the Vaults. I think it's still in there!"
 
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