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Mira bent over and gently blew upon the dusty cover of the leather-bound book, its silver hinges and clasp blackish gray with deep layers of tarnish. Velvety cloth fibers, their color faded to a dull brown, veiled the tome like the dusty cobwebs found shrouding the corners of the abandoned sections of the mines she had played in as a child. She wondered how the volume could have come to be hidden here under the lectern of the amphitheater. Sitting back on her booted heels, she gently lifted it out of the shattered remains of the ironwood box that once stored it, feeling the weight of this long lost thing. Her hands tingled, as if touching magic or history itself, and with a grin she chided herself for such flights of fanciful thought. Father would certainly not have approved of bringing magic into the house, but then, it was her home now, and her find, and enjoy it she would.

Glancing over at where Berengor was overseeing the renovations, she pondered her course of action. Her impulse was to rush home and examine the book that very moment, but the master craftsman wasn't known for his patience with anything that might cause a delay in the flow of work, and the Council was putting a lot of pressure on him and the work crews to complete the repairs to Kharad-Delving's Gathering Chambers. Slipping the small book under her cloak and securely between her broad leather belt and the small of her back, she reluctantly returned to removing the broken stones and bits of wood with hands that shook with excitement.

The hours remaining on her shift passed like decades as Mira impatiently awaited the end of her workday. Finally the bell rang, and she leapt up as speedy as a bolt from a readied crossbow and hurried home, up the twisting passageways of the Delving to a small croft carved out of the stone in the eastern section of the caves.

Discarding Granner's well-patched, brown woolen cloak over the back of one of the wooden chairs by the worn but scrupulously clean table, she carefully withdrew the ancient book and laid it down. Tucking one thick black braid back behind her ear, she examined the artifact carefully. It was not large; perhaps the span of her fingers when extended widely, and only a small amount taller than the length of her rough, callused hand. Though father had always teased her for her mannish limbs, ill sized compared to her mother's delicacy, her hands were strong and capable. It had been an easy choice to pick a work team with Berengor's building crew, rather than labor in the mushroom caves or sew with the chatty wives of the miners. Besides, women weren't allowed to work in the mines; else she might have swung a pick right beside her father.

Scurrying to the iron bound chest in which she stored her few treasures, she grabbed and deftly lit one of the two expensive tallow candles she had kept for a certain special occasion. She deliberately paid no attention to the neatly folded linens and gown that waited there for the day she would be betrothed, hand made by her beloved mother before her death. The items had waited for years and likely would wait much longer. Shaking her head to rid herself of such thoughts, she brought the candle to the table, setting it in a slender candlestick of brass her father had given her as a birthday gift. It was a beautiful representation of the great dragon of the Eastern Desert, and the bright mirror shine of the curving wings reflected the light directly on whatever was placed before it. The flame's pure, radiant glow provided much clearer illumination than the smoky tin lanterns filled with fish oil sold within the Delving. Any import from the elven cities was expensive; each moment of light was a day's pay.

Mira sat down and carefully, cautiously, lifted the ornate latch that held the book closed. It was tight and rigid with age, but with a whispered prayer, she pried it open without causing any damage. The workmanship of the latch was beautiful, even to her jaded dwarven eyes. Hints of tiny traceries and patterns in the metal could be seen here and there as well as small protrusions that appeared to be gems crusted over with soil. Her heart warmed as she thought of bringing the book back to its original beauty. Unable to resist, she poked at the grime covering one jewel on the clasp. To her delight, the oily dirt peeled away to reveal a tourmaline the same multi-hued shade as her own eyes. With no small amount of self-restraint, she mentally set aside the task of restoration until she had explored the book itself a bit more.

Opening the cover, she noted the weight of its construction. A light tap upon its surface revealed the presence of wood beneath the leather cover. The hide itself was still quite fine, even as ancient as it was, and a deep pattern within the leather was still clear. She traced its surface with one cautious fingertip. The texture was not one she was familiar with. It seemed almost serpentine, but was far larger in scale than any snake she'd ever seen. Papered in dark vellum, the title page bore a strange, slanting script, penned in a almost glowing green ink.

"Memories of the Crossing and Beyond."

Mira's heart leapt in her chest and with trembling hands and held breath, she turned the page and began to read.

"I watched as the prince lifted agonized eyes to meet the gaze of his Liege. Mutely, he shook his head in disbelieving, unconscious refusal.
King Mourngrum's voice was as cold as the stones of the royal chamber. "For your crime of betrayal, I can no longer permit you the graces of this Hall. But for your royal blood, brother, I would have your head roll upon these marbled floors. Instead, I deny you all aspects of the life our home has given you. On the morrow, you and yours will depart Dwarvenhold, never to return."
There were only stifled sobs from Princess Wynna, her face blotched and red from weeping. A handkerchief died a wracking death, torn to shreds in her nervous fingers. Her dark hair formed a cloud around her head, like the mists that shrouded the mountaintop at night.
Poor Thurnhelm tried to meet her eyes, as if a single glimpse would suffice to balm his soul until they might meet again in Tynian's hallowed halls in the afterlife. But she would not grant him that mercy; forbidden it by her father.
He shuffled forward a half step, but was halted by the instant bristling of the royal guards and the weapons they leveled to block his progress. I reached out to him, as he pled, trying to stay any further conversation that would simply anger the king, but Thurnhelm would not be silenced.
"Brother... I beg you....." His voice was like that of a lost, shattered soul, not the battle hardened warrior I knew him to be.
The king's face was like the stones of the mountain itself. "Speak not. I will hear no more words from your lips. This family has no son named Thurnhelm. Get ye gone."

Mira blinked, astounded. This was nothing like the history books told! She had always been taught that the great migration was based solely on trade matters and growth of Dwarvenhold, not the casting out of a brother for the forbidden love he held for a niece!

Like most Delving girls, she had day dreamed of the perfect sweetheart who would one day sweep her off her feet. As the years had passed and her friends married off one by one, she'd come to realize that romance and mystery and passion were not likely to be in her destiny. Even reading of it, though, swept her up into its tumultuous grasp, and she could almost imagine herself as the heartbroken heroine, unlike the mask of reasonable, soft-spoken, hardworking citizen she had to wear to keep food on the table and stone overhead.

She scanned the next several pages quickly, skipping over the less interesting details of bandit attacks and the unfriendly humans of Ofcol, the tales unpleasantly close to those she had heard one of the guardsman's wives whisper as the terrified little thing tried to hide yet another a black eye. Mira snorted as she enjoyed a moment of pity for any man who tried such tricks with her. Though such things were forbidden by tradition, she wished she could be more like the silent and deadly Sinome, Queen Berethil's personal bodyguard, and train with sword and knife. Somehow, a pick and trowel just didn't hold the same degree of excitement.

"A ragged cry rose up from the head of the pack train. As one, we lifted our heads wearily to search out the messenger. There. The youngster trotted up, breathless. "Milord.... j' 'head...few ... miles...."
Thurnhelm was impatient. "Catch your breath. I can't understand a word you say."
The lad gulped down a few breaths, calming his voice. "Milord... we have breached the forest - the plains lie beyond just as we were told... we found traces of halfling folk on the far east edge of the wood, as well, sir. And sir.... Mountains! We could just see them at the edge of the plains!"
The prince nodded, accepting this news quietly. I could not keep silent, and, like many of the others, cast my helm into the sky with a great cry of rejoicing.
We were almost home..."

Mira smiled as she imagined the joy the first sight of the beauty of the mountain must have brought. As one of the few Delvers who had traveled back to Dwarvenhold on a recent Crafthall trading caravan, she personally felt that Kharad-Delving was the more beautiful of the two. Eager for more excitement, she flipped forward a few more pages…

"It was near midnight when the knock came. Standing guard inside his door, I peered through the barred window. Wynna's huge blue-green eyes stared back at me, shrouded slightly by the cowl of her cloak. I will admit I was dumbfounded to see her there. What risks she must have faced, not to mention the wrath of her father, to come all this way! And what might have happened to her in the intervening span of years?
Hurriedly, I opened the portal and ushered the princess inside. The poor thing trembled, whether from fear, weariness, or nervousness, I could not tell. The richly embroidered gowns I had seen her wearing last had been exchanged for plain and sturdy brown wool, heavily stained and torn around the hems. It appeared her journey had been nearly as eventful as our own that decade ago.
"Thurnhelm…" His name escaped her lips in a tone that was half prayer, half plea. The expression on my face silenced anything further she might have said. It had been years since Thurnhelm had finally succumbed to the pressure of his ministers and taken a wife. Though it was not a love match, an heir had been secured.
I directed Wynna towards the king's study, glancing nervously over one shoulder at the royal bedchamber where the Lady Hlafa lay sleepless, likely staring up at the gilt painted ceiling. Thurnhelm was deeply engrossed in the latest dispatches, and did not look up as we entered. Yet, he must have sensed something, for he suddenly took in a sharp breath, his eyes closing, his head tilting back to more fully experience the perfume he had detected.
"Wyn…." He closed his eyes, wrapped in grief, thinking the scent simply a trick of memory.
"My Lord…" I cleared my throat slightly.
His eyes opened with a near-audible snap and his face… I cannot describe it. It came aglow, like the emergence of molten gold from within a forge. He leapt from his chair, crossing the study in two strides, and caught her up. They were weeping, shaking, trembling, and covering one another with kisses. I examined the bookshelves to give them some slight sense of privacy for such a moment."

Sighing happily, Mira dabbed away a tear that threatened to spill out and onto the ancient vellum. It was beautiful to read of such a romantic love. It was like something out of a fae tale. Eagerly, she turned the next gilt-edged page with a near reverence.

"A lump the size of the sapphire in Thurnhelm's royal signet stuck in my throat as I watched them reunite. It was a joyful yet terrible moment; there were undeniable matters of state to be considered. Hlafa could not be set aside; she had supported her loveless husband and done all the duties that could be asked of a wife or Queen, and done them to the best of her simple heart.
As if my thoughts had summoned her, I watched in horror as she emerged from the royal bedchamber, a shawl wrapped around her slumped shoulders, her feet bare upon the flagstones. Her mouth formed a perfect O of shock, and her eyes trembled with tears as bright as diamonds. Yet she was a Queen even in this moment. By the time she crossed the corridor, she had straightened, dashed the tears from her eyes, and gathered her dignity and courage.
"You would be Wynna, then?" It was more statement than question.
The two lovers nodded as one, as if conjoined. Hlafa's eyes closed in a slow blink, and I could almost see the wheels of her mind turning. When they opened, there was no trace of moisture. Dropping into a low, deep curtsey, she spoke once more in a voice of icy calm.
"My Lord. I am your queen. I am your wife. The mother of your Heir. But I am not, nor have I ever been, your love. Find what joy you can, and grant me the mercy of the same. All I ask is discretion."
Thurnhelm looked like a minotaur struck between the horns, poleaxed, stunned. "Hlafa…"
She curtseyed again, and exited the study, her back ramrod straight. The doors of the bedchamber closed softly, and I think only my ears caught the soft sob from behind their thickness."

Mira flipped forward a few pages, anxious to learn of the resolution to this situation, remembering something terrible from her school lessons… She worried at her lower lip like a cave-rat absentmindedly gnaws a bone as she read on.

"The babe was healthy and beautiful, and Wynna was as radiant a mother as can be imagined. I knelt beside her, and taking her sweat-dampened hand in my own, swore my oath to her. In Thurnhelm's absence, I would ward and guard the mother and child as I had warded and guarded the King. His death only a week before during a cave-in while inspecting the mines had nearly broken three hearts: Wynna's, Hlafa's, and my own. I had served him for nearly all his life, and held the protection of his family as my own last sacred duty. I had failed Thurnhelm, but would not fail his daughter.
I froze as one flailing wee little hand came in contact with my own where it clasped Wynna's. The tiny fingers curled around mine with surprising strength. She had her father's broad hands, the hands of a warrior or a smith.
Wynna glanced over at me where I sat imprisoned by the babe's grasp. Her smile was both wonderful and terrible, touched with joy and deep sorrow. The babe was all she could ever have of him. They had enjoyed but a year of reunion before his death; their tomorrows together would never come, and the love they had shared would have to last a lifetime for her and the child."

Something caught in Mira's throat at these simple words of loyalty. She ached, as if her body was wracked in a fever, for that sense of place and belonging and responsibility. With a bitter sigh, she continued reading. The next page was blank, but the one that followed after continued the tale in someone else's unsteady, unskilled handwriting.

"The fallen King's Shadow, Gilad, and the Lady Wynna, were found dead in her home, victims of the fever that has decimated the Delving this winter. The child was not expected to survive, but has clung to life for the last tenday. Queen Hlafa has ordered the girl placed in fosterage among the miners, suspecting but having no proof of its true parentage. I cannot destroy this book as I have been bid, but instead, will conceal it for future generations to know the truth. With the King's firstborn taken by the fever, this child, and not Hlafa, is the true heir. May Tynian forgive me, that I did not try and take the throne and hold it for her."

Mira sat blinking, stunned. A princess raised among the miners! Who could have imagined such a thing? Such things were far beyond her station, but even the slight brush of such greatness was almost dizzying. She gently caressed the vellum page, overwhelmed to have shared such events, even through just the reading of them. Wistfully, she closed the book, stroking it lightly, unconsciously mimicking the way her mother had stroked her hair in times of trouble, in an attempt to soothe her fiery daughter.

Resolving to give the book into the priest's hands the next day, she wrapped it up in one of her few extra shirts, and sought her troubled rest, filled with dreams of lost princesses, birthrights gone astray, and the tragic love of kings.



The low hoot of an owl was enough to nearly make cry out, but he bit his lip hard to silence any sound. It wouldn't do to give the other lads cause to think him a coward. The lantern in his hand swung wildly in his grasp, casting strange shadows upon the ground, and a light cold sweat broke out over the youngster's body, soaking his homespun.

His toes involuntarily clenched against the hard packed soil, readying for flight at a moment's notice. A sharp twig poked his heel, but he barely noticed it. The laugher of his mates on the other side of the wall was a distant prod to force him to take another step along the cobbled path, but the strange sounds coming from the Sanitorium made that step hesitant.

The nearby outlines of a tomb stood out in stark contrast against the moon and star lit sky, the gargoyles and crenellations along its top making it look like a painting he'd once seen of Baron Marel's castle. Cracks marred its walls, and moss and other vines crept up the columns that held up the roof. It looked like the perfect home for every horrible creature imaginable: spooky, desolate, and as cold as death. Fortunately, it was not his destination.

Continuing along the path, he passed the spot where the flower seller's cart usually rested, deep ruts pressed into the earth. Here and there, fallen petals of several varieties scattered the ground like those cast before a bride on her holy day. But there were no weddings here, no joyful events to be certain.

Clutching his thin blanket closer, he stumbled down the indistinct path, pausing here and there to painstakingly cipher out the names on the stones. His quest took him deeper and deeper into the graveyard to its oldest section. There he found his goal, tucked off in one corner and bare of flowers or the marks of kneeling relatives come to visit. Dark evergreen trees seemed to loom around it, rising up like prison bars. He traced the deeply carved words that marked the grave, trembling at the wrath that must have caused them to be put into place.

Swallowing hard, he spread the thin, ragged quilt atop the large slab that ran the length of the grave. It took all of his courage to lay his head down upon the marker stone. Then he remembered something, and snatched from his belt-pouch a vial of holy water he'd dipped from the font in the chapel. Leaping to his feet, he drizzled the liquid in a circle around the grave. A small amount was left in the bottle afterwards, and after a moment of thought, he drank it. It couldn't hurt anything, or so he reasoned.

Settling down once more, he wrapped himself mummy-tight in the blanket and stared up at the sky. The bet was that he couldn't last the night; he'd show them! The earth was icy and hard from the first frost, but he swore he could hear the movement of the worms as they gnawed upon the corpse buried only a few feet below. Shivering and fearful, he started counting the stars to distract himself, but the dark shadow of a raven flying overhead made him loose count.

Despite his fear, the cold and exhaustion took their toll, and Jethro slid into sleep.

He came to in a small, cheery room, lit by a fireplace. It looked like one of the rooms in the Adventurer's Inn to the distant north, atop the Mountain of Knowledge. A tall, scarred elf with skin as black as night and hair the color of molten silver was sitting across the table, a sardonic smile twisting his lips. The Drow leaned forward, and glared intently at him with eyes the color of rare emeralds.

"So. What are you doing using me for a mattress, hmm?"

Jethro nearly fainted, and his answer was little more than an incoherent babble. "uh… I… uh… they… uh… I.. um… said.. um… I.. uh… couldn't… you see… uh…. You're… You're DEAD!"

The elf laughed, a rich, resonant sound filled with personality. "Indeed I am. Do you know who I am, then?"

Jethro nodded violently, answering, "Welverin Do'Urden… one of only a few mortals ever buried by the gods in unholy ground, so your spirit couldn't ever return."

Grief crossed the elf's features, and he nodded. "I did more than bring down the wrath of the High Ones. Are there no tales of my valor and glory left? What of my family line?"

Jethro shook his head mutely. Welverin's shade snorted inelegantly, crossed one leg, and leaned back in his chair. He folded his arms across his chest, and one long finger tapped against the opposite arm in a gesture of indecision. The fire cast long shadows over his face, accentuating its thinness and dark tone. The thin lips pursed a moment, and then the Drow nodded.

"Very well. I shall show you. I am more than simply the despoiled. I was a hero once. A father. A loyal servant." He made a strange, twisting gesture with one hand, and the room faded from view.

It felt like Jethro was adrift in a void of nothingness. All was dark, and there were no scents, no comforting blanket to curl up under, only the whispering voice.

"I was not always so bitter. I was once quite innocent, much like yourself. Saruman ripped that from me, when he slew me. I think he was the first. I was … young." The voice's tone slid from reminiscent to self-scornful. "But I learned quickly, mastering many skills and growing more and more bold. I fell many times, but it is more important that I always picked myself back up, and was never undetermined to go on."

"Im those days, the gods were arrogant, believing themselves above us, while walking among us, a constant interaction. Only one had the integrity and strength I respected: Kalten. It was the banner of the Rose I flew, and I shouted his name as my battle cry."

Images began to flow through Jethro's mind; the tall spire-like trees of Loth-Llorien, and the enraged elf driving off the Ebon horde, yelling at the top of his lungs. Some times the madcap charges into battle resulted in death, but as the elf grew older, wiser, and took on new paths of learning, more often than not, the engagement resulted in victory.

"I learned the way of the woods, then magecraft, then sleight of hand and thievery. I made many friends, walked with the heroes of the ages. But the world changed the day I met her…Twinklefire… the love of my life."

"Though it nearly broke my heart to do so, I left Kalten and joined my beloved on the Path of Virtue. Under JohnPaul, we grew together as man and wife. It was one of the happiest times of my life, surpassed only when my son, Dinin, was born. I watched as friends reached the pinnacle of achievement, and stood by them in those battles, shoulder to shoulder, blade to blade. I was the Starless Night… I was shield brother to Lancelot, hunting those of evil, and being pursued as relentlessly by them."

The Drow's lips curved in a rueful smirk. "I have been the death of some who later became immortal themselves - Khore, for one - but he got his revenge when Ivan slew me, providing the Ebon fanatic with a neat inventory list of my belongings. I have battled beside Tokugawa Lorna, Baconbits, Viceroy, Vecna, Sohcatoa, Shrike… names that have gone into legend. I fought and fell and fought yet again to vanquish Scar, the pet demon of Madman, with the valiant aid of my friends Asia, Kaern, and Foolkiller. Do not look solely upon my grave for words of my deeds, for they can be found within the room of records as well."

"But I also did things I cannot be proud of. I spoke often and ill of many, and my voice was raised in mockery of even the gods themselves. But those unsavory acts are not my sole legacy…. They cannot be. I have slain dragons, bested the executioner, reached the pinnacle of my skills, sired children, and loved with all my heart. I have accomplished tasks practically unimaginable, such as slaying half the beasts of the entire world in a frenzy of battle. I have spent more time rescuing the fallen, recovering artifacts, and laying down enchantments than I can easily remember. Do not reduce me to the words on a gravestone. Remember me as a whole person, not a boogeyman to scare children with."

The voice at last fell silent, and darkness washed over Jethro like the incoming tide.

Something brushed across his face, waking him with a start. It was only a leaf; nothing to fear. Jethro blinked owlishly up at the early dawn sky, shaken from his dreams but filled with wonder. Raising himself up on his elbows, he gazed around the graveyard at all the other stones, and wondered what stories they might have to tell…





It all began in N'Kai. Even simply the name conjures up visions of the inky fluid that is the Darkwater, snaking through endless tunnels filled with howling winds, or of shamans bare of all save the tattoos and sigils that mark their devotion. There, the mortal body is overwhelmed as every sense is pummeled. The scent of incense carried upon the breeze, the echoing splash as a monstrously huge eel slides through the water slapping its tail, the coolness of the air cascading down from the hurricane above; all of these are part and parcel of the experience known as N'Kai.

But it is my spirit that drinks the most deeply within those hallowed halls. It was here that I first willingly laid down my life for Lord Thaygar, casting myself with sacred devotion upon the fangs of the Dhole, its acid bite stripping away all thought or sense until I was reborn in mortal flesh. Here, my self, my being, changed from that of a terrified, half-mad, patricidal runaway to the Ebon Bard, blessed by the praise of the First Prophet in his holiest of holies. That day began a Path that would lead to Ascension and Triat renewal, bringing the praise of the Three to the Realm once more… and now to the full Restoration of the Three, with Weaver, Wyrm, and Wyld all given representation. Would that Thaygar had seen this day. Perhaps he did, in the visions spawned by the ebon fires that shrouded his hand and illuminated his temple.

Time and time again, I have returned to N'Kai and ritually bathed in the ice-covered waters of Lake Hali, purifying myself and casting off the burdens upon my heart and soul. To this day, I wander its black shores when troubled, and bring each and every Chosen here on a rite of passage, that they might know its thundering glory. The great Serpent that sleeps below has bathed my faithful in its tears, blessing them, and the shamans have imparted what wisdom they will in binding that which must be bound, in growth for Mastery, and for the sacred bonds of marriage.

It is my heart of hearts, the great Mystery that cannot be fully understood, yet captures us, childlike with wonder, at the hints of things unimaginable. It is home.




[Exits: east]
This room is rather spartan except for the strange glyphs and wards drawn upon the portal,
floors, walls and ceilings. The mystic runes seem to be made to imprison a summoned creature
and contain them here indefinitely.

My makers knew not what they wrought. Ignorant fools; that their goal was met was all that mattered. The spells of entrapment and binding functioned perfectly within the boundaries of the chamber as planned. They did not think to wonder at the ease with which the lines of power were laid.

Eagerly, I waited until the last glyph was inscribed; every surface was bound, and I became one with my home, born at last. It was that moment my thirst began. Greater than that of any addict of the halfling's leaf or that of the crazed vampires of Sanguinna, I ache for that which fulfills me - souls. Their butterfly caress as they escape pain filled mortal flesh is to me as exquisite and delectable as the finest wine is to a snobbish Cillidellian connoisseur.

Murderers think me a tool, or a means an easy mark. It is I that use them, for without their clumsy efforts, I would starve. None have seen my glyphs and sigils brighten, pulse, and grow as I devour that brief, fleeing morsel before spirit rejoins newborn flesh in some distant, filthy holy place anathema to my kind.

I have drunk deeply of puritans, sinners, amazons, whores, paladins, priests, witches and even a queen. I remember each perfectly, like it was but a moment ago. Every emotion adds its own piquant flavor, but it is the sour tang of betrayal I love best.

Footsteps, stealthy and soft, grow steadily closer and a cloaked figure slips within my boundaries, locking the door with the sole key held by the head researcher that caused me to be built. Whispered spells cloak the intruder with protections, and his weapons rise, held at the ready as he waits for the moment his mage-friend will sorcerously drag prey into my enclosing web-like embrace… and my thirst surges. It is I who am the spider, and they merely unwitting servants who supply me with flies.

With a loud crash of thunder and the scent of brimstone, a portal opens. Friend reveals themselves to be foe, the two cohorts turn upon the third, and I eagerly await the feast to come…


The next two stories I flat out dislike. Tiax was saying he'd hoped they would receive 20 entries, I was on a 15 minute break at work, and it was 45 minutes before the contest deadline. The Temple was written in exactly 10 minutes thirty seconds. It was never proofed, other than a quick spell check. The Destruction of Tier Sh'Halen was actually the first story I started writing for the contest, but it didn't flow, I wasn't happy with it, and it wasn't going anywhere. I'd only gotten as far as Brother John's section, before discarding it and starting "The Ride". I finished the other sections in about 4 minutes.. and am vastly displeased with them and the ending...

If my stones could speak, I would whisper of the ancient days, when Sirak and his Nashites rampaged across my pristine surfaces, when Lord Nayr strode accompanied by Ygg along my corridors. I would speak of the countless battles that have raged down my avenues, epic challenges between good and evil, and the lifeblood that have stained my white marble tiles. I would remember the Ebon Hand, the Watchers, and those wrapped in Mystery… I would describe the stride of the Eldest Evil, the invisible presence of the Arch Lich, and the joyous bouncing tread of the beloved Lady Syla. I would bring back to life the days in which the world was Adventurous, when Assassins walked in shadows, when Roses were more than simply for scent.

If my stones could speak, I would remember the long corridors and disappeared temples, the delicate touch of cat's paws upon my surfaces, avatars of immortals long gone. I would remind you of the weddings I have witnessed, the births, the deaths.

If my stones could speak, I would relate the many tales I have heard in the amphitheater, the great songs and wondrous stories of bygone days.

If my stones could speak, they would blush to relate the goings on within the baths…

But I cannot speak. I am but a place that calls to mind both safety and risk, refuge and rumble.

I am the Temple Grounds, and I will remain until the day Tynian destroys the world…



The Destruction of Tier Sh'Halen

It was the month of the Testing by the Fates... and trouble was coming.

John once more studied the heavens, reading the signs visible there. The clouds shaped like a serpent that arced and writhed across the sky... the lack of birds, save for the black carrion crows... and that odd, greenish cast on the underbelly of the clouds that piled up so menacingly to the east. All were portents that could be read by any child of the island. Ill was coming.

As the Voice of Vengeance for the people of Tier, it was his task to stand not only as judge, but also as punisher for misdeeds. The voices within him that guided him in his judicial duties were silent; the cause of this malignancy was beyond his vision to see. Perhaps it was a punishment from the gods themselves. The Three knew there had been troubles aplenty with the newest of the Elders.

Mordath was a castaway, flung up upon the pale sandy shores of the island when his ship had been torn apart by the chaotic winds of the Tempest. If the truth were told, John did not like or trust the man. It had nothing to do with Mordath's preferences in the bedroom, though they were unusual; John didn't care what the man did, so long as everyone was consenting. But there was something about the way Mordath prayed, and let his wealth buy the support and agreement of others that made the Voice's hackles rise.

John continued his walk along the beaches, muttering as he nearly twisted his ankle on one of the more treacherous stretches of the north-western beach. The shoreline was jagged, the stones pounded since the world was born by the icy currents that flowed from beneath the Gla-Shorn glacier. It was here that Mordath had been found, stripped of all belongings save for the clothes upon his back and a pouch of jewels and gold on his belt. Nalatha had found him on one of her morning treks around the island's perimeter, and half dragged, half carried him to the Holy House.

As he stood upon the spot, a deep sense of foreboding overcame him, and he shuddered involuntarily, wracked to his core. Casting another glance upward at the sky, he wrapped his thick woolen cloak about him tightly and hurried back to the house of worship.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Hragge smiled at the Voice as John hurried by, but the powerfully built, god-touched warrior did not pause. Murmuring a plea to the Starry-Eyed for John's peace of mind, Hragge returned to his careful calligraphy. As the librarian and chronicler, it was his duty and pleasure to preserve the history of Tier and provide educational material for the village. Besides… a witch from the distant lands to the north had fortold his future in her tarot cards: He would live beyond the ending of his home. He could think of no other place than Tier he could call home. Thus… whatever was coming, he would survive. What, then, could he worry about?

*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Mordath smiled up at the purplish-green clouds that swirled in such horrifically unique shapes above the island. He was tired of this silly little place, and more than once, it had been the target of a vitriolic curse muttered under his breath. He recognized the strange, energy-filled stillness for what it was, and chuckled darkly. There would be no escape, so why not make his last hours pleasurable? After all, there were the delights of young Kira to attend to…

*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Darl'Shinai gestured for another drink, waiting for the storm to strike. He, like Mordath, recognized the coming storm for what it was, but unlike Hragge, was truly immortal. It did not matter how many times he was struck down, he would rise again… The span between rebirth was simply a momentary inconvenience.

*-*-*-*-*-*-*

Jennie, Bethie, Davy and Stevie hurried for the schoolyard. There was an examination today, to see if they'd been playing or paying attention. Under his breath, Stevie muttered a plea to the gods that something, anything, delay the test…

*-*-*-*-*-*-*

It was the month of the Testing by the Fates... and the death of Tier Sh'Halen arrived in the form of a howling, screaming wind that tore apart the sky itself, writhed down in a cyclonic twisting mass that ripped up the land. Just beneath the city, the earth shifted, its foundations having been eaten away by sea and serpent. The ground moaned, the buildings shifted, then slid into the open maw that opened up beneath them…

Of those mortal, only Hragge survived to carve a tombstone warning adventurers away from the horrible destruction that is all that remains of Tier's glory…

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