In the Shadow of the Tyrant

The Tyrant's Return - Fereydoun


Tyrant, buddy, friend. Welcome back. I know I owe you a favor for that nasty business a few centuries ago, and here I am to pay you back. No need to worry, I know I’m not the most trustworthy person but, hey, my help can’t hurt right? Look, to show willing, I’ve made you a little dossier on each of those adventurers you’ve had your eye on. You probably know most of this already, but I figure that even you can’t be everywhere at once. You can’t, can you? Anyway, I’ve been watching these guys for a while and, let me tell you, they’re really entertaining. Without further ado!

Hannah Köhler

Köhler’s the leader of this merry little band and, in case you hadn’t noticed, she’s a fairy. One of those Sidhe you made back when you were ruling here, actually. Man, is that ironic. Your own creation, rising up against you and all that. Aren’t they supposed to not have souls? Doesn’t matter, since she obviously does. Weird.

Anyway, Köhler doesn’t seem like much, and if I know you it’s going to be all about how you can swat her at any time and all that drivel, but you probably shouldn’t just write her off. I don’t have to remind you about what she did to that storm giant zombie you were so proud of, do I? Not even mentioning how much damage she managed to do to you in that last fight. Damage, to you! Boy, that was hilarious.

I did some research, and nothing so far has really been able to take her out. I mean, I know that she’s like a bug and really easy to ignore, but it’s still impressive. At least a little. Right? Even Hannibal’s lightning just seemed to faze her a little bit. She makes friends easily too, lots of allies. Not the biggest threat to you, nah, but the little fairy’s something to watch out for.


Let me tell you, the paperwork for this broad is a mess. Her records all say Rinfanfannal, and her friends call her “Riwen”, which must be short for it. Weird name for a woman, though. Doesn’t suit her, yeah? Lacks elegance. Anyway, Rifnafnaffle here is going to be a pretty big problem. I don’t have to tell you she got Medegyl somewhere, and you know what’s going to happen if you lock swords with her in battle. ZAP! BOOM! That’d only be the beginning!

That whole bit aside, Riwen’s been a real pain in the metaphorical side of whatever it is she ends up fighting. From what I can gather, trying to hit her is like trying to punch the wind, and that sword of her stings. Well, of course it does, it’s Medegyl, but she’s doing some magic of some sort to make it hurt even worse. In a few cases, she’s just blown the opposition straight into pink mist. Entertaining to watch. Bad for us.

Doesn’t seem like she’d be very able to deal with the more subtle magics, though. I know that isn’t quite your specialty, you being the more giant-impressive-castle kind of mage, so I’d suggest getting some support and, maybe, just maybe, try to take her out before she gets any more powerful. I know you love to watch the little heroes run around and adventure and fight your minions, but y’know, I could take care of her at any time. Just say the word.

Kham Bloody Tsenkyo

Now just look at this guy. Hero of the freakin’ day. Kham Tsenkyo, singlehandedly saving the Golden Fist. Sacrificing himself to rescue his comrades. Makes me sick.

In all seriousness, though, Kham Tsenkyo’s powerful and clever and all that, but he’s a Wizard. Now I don’t want you to get a big head or anything, Mister Tyrant, but seems to me that any mage, no matter how accomplished, is going to have a hard time dealing with your whole millenia of magical research thing. He’s probably the least of your worries right now. Just give him a good feeblemind or something and that’ll be that.

His familiar is pretty cool though. Swell guy.

Nyrik Albanir

If there’s anybody I hate more than Kham Tsenkyo in this little report of mine, it’s this Nyrik prick. Second chances, rainbows, and bunnies galore. Just keep him away from me, he’d probably try to make me atone for my sins or something. It’d be really annoying.

This Nyrik, he’s another problem. This here’s a man who’s made a career out of kicking evil’s collective ass. Andronikos is proof enough of that, and Hannibal, and pretty much every other thing this guy has smited into the ground. Now, I know that you’re sensitive about your alignment, but you’ve got to know that you detect as evil now. Heck, you’ve got friends like me, and that’s proof enough. Bottom line, watch out for him.

I’d recommend getting him assassinated by Aysu if he becomes more of a threat. She’s still stubbornly neutral and all that, unless she’s taken a plunge recently. That neutral broad and two swords in Nyrik’s chest ought to be enough to shut him up.

Elowyn Eberhardt

Elowyn Eberhardt, a broad who’s so Freystadtian she’s even got the whole “dt” business at the end of her own name. Now she may not seem like she’s really worthy of your attention. I mean, her whole bit is her skill with that fancy sword, and it’s just another Kham scenario. How is she going to best you, with your thousands of years of expertise?

What makes Elowyn interesting though, is that, far as I can tell, she downright hates the rest of her squad. You may have noticed that those adventurers are pretty far and away from what you’d expect from Freystadt, and miss Eberhardt is as Freystadt as you can get. Yeah, doesn’t mix well.

So I propose, we use this against them. Use that monstrous machine they call a bureaucracy to get her on our side. With enough official papers or orders from the right places, she could be our mole, assassin, personal entertainment, whatever the heck we wanted, yeah? Think about it, and I’ll make it happen.

Reginald Thornebottom

Reginald Thornebottom. I can’t find anything on Reginald Thornebottom. He isn’t in the records, nobody knows that name, and heck, Thornebottom? Who does he think he’s kidding with a name like that? The way I see it though, that doesn’t matter too much.

We saw him fighting those lumberjack twits, and then Hannibal after that, among other things, and, just like Elowyn, it’s the skill at arms thing. Nobody who just focuses on a weapon is going to really threaten you, and we can’t find any information on it, so why worry?

I like his hair though. Unique. It’s a wonder they let him get away with that in the military.

So there you have it, little nifty dossiers on all your most fearsome enemies. I know I’m supposed to be working on that Saran country up North, but I couldn’t help myself, these guys are just a total hoot.

Things are going to get interesting from here, so I’ll be in touch. I talked to the Princess the other day, and let me tell you, she is excited to get started. The whole converting and saving people bit is kind of scary though, even to me. I pity the poor sods she gets her hands on.

This should be the last report, other than Endovelicus. Can he even write? I bet he’s going to try. Don’t judge him too harshly, he means well. Who am I kidding? He’s got horrible horrible intentions. That’s what I like about him. Stand-up guy. I’ll stop rambling and let you get back to the whole Tyrant business now. You know where to find me if you need me.

The Third Scion,

The Tyrant's Return - Sariel

“Everyone! My beloved subjects! Thank you for coming!”


“I’m sure news has reached you all already. The Hero KARZAK is finally calling in the favor our people owe him! He prefers to be called Tyrant now, and he’s making an explosive return to dominate his home plane! Isn’t it fantastic? Isn’t it wonderful?”


“But! Our hero is not that humble! Our hero is far more gracious! He has promised us all the bodies we can carry! All the converts we can transform! All he asks is that we help him destroy a few troublesome cities, and their inhabitants will be ours for the taking. This is hardly such a chore as returning a favor! Nay! This is a blessing from the Demagogues themselves!”


“Though the enemies we will now face are merely mortals, we mustn’t grow complacent, my subjects! Remember that our purpose is far from wanton destruction! Nay! We must instead elevate these poor humans to a higher plane! To our level of existence! This is our holy duty, assigned by the Demagogues. Remember in kind! While we may convert any number of our enemies’ mindless herd, it is the leaders, those powerful individuals, who will be the greatest addition to our cause! Focus your efforts upon these, for glory!”


“Now, my beautiful, loyal subjects! I must ask you to raise up in arms with me! We shall descend upon this world, and bring our gospel to the land of Freystadt! Brothers! Sisters! Together we will elevate these poor, stricken creatures! We shall awaken them to a beautiful new reality! Do I have your support?!”


The Tyrant's Return - Aysu


Firstly, allow me to welcome you back to your home plane. According to my understanding, it has been well over 2000 years since your departure, and both the geography and the political climate have changed significantly in that time. The purpose of this report is to familiarize your Lordship with the current situation, as well as the threats represented by the orders established in your time away.

The land over which your castle now presides is known as “Altun-Ha”. It is a barbaric land, ruled over by little more than warring tribes of Orcs and Humans, with a significant Hobgoblin presence in the Western jungles. Some of the Orcish warlords may object to your new dominion, but so long as they remain scattered and disorganized, they represent no threat to your Lordship or your forces.

To the Northwest of your Lordship’s holdings is a relatively powerful Mageocracy known as Saran. It is an old country established shortly after your departure in honor of the hero Kaiten. Saran is in a period of political turmoil, and as such currently poses little threat. It does, however, boast a large collection of powerful Wizards, and, if allowed to organize itself, could prove to be a significant obstacle in the future. I believe that Fereydoun has requested Saran as a personal target, and I encourage that his request be granted. His manipulative skills, however distasteful, would be instrumental in ensuring that the major powers of Saran do not have opportunity to unite against you.

Directly north of the castle is a country called Livadeia, which was established prior to your departure from this plane. Dedicated to the goddess Pharasma, they were dedicated solely to hunting down and destroying undead, specifically your Lordship’s undead minions. Their ancient hunters destroyed many important undead assets in ages past, but my scouts have reported that recent centuries have seen a significant shift away from military focus. Their current leader, Valerius Sanna is beloved by his people, but holds little power. It is my belief that Livadeia can be safely dismissed as a threat to your Lordship’s rule.

The country directly East of Altun Ha, known as Shizamu, has been thrown into chaos by your Lordship’s return and thus, likewise, can be dismissed as a threat. Several houses, families, and factions are currently vying for power in the turmoil created by the collapse of Shizamu’s economy, and only the Monkhbat sect is actively interested in opposing your Lordship’s power. A group of ambitious half-giants in the Western part of the country has taken the opportunity to form their own faction, calling themselves the Hyakuman-doji. Though disorganized, they are powerful, and could prove to be a useful tool if properly manipulated.

Our largest threat is located directly South of your Lordship’s holdings, the country of Freystadt. I understand that this is the country used to test the world for your Lordship’s return, and your Lordship already has a deep understanding of the threat they pose, but in order to cover all possibilities I will continue with the report. Freystadt is the most organized and militaristic of the five countries, and is easily the greatest military threat. General Endovelicus has been preparing for the inevitable clash with the country, and combined with the troops we will be able to gather from Blightmoor, as well as the possible aid of the Hyakuman-doji, there should be no obstacles to crushing them with superior forces and numbers.

Another concern is the high number of powerful individuals in Freystadt. Their leader, one Sigismund Dreher, holds great status both politically and on the battlefield, and should not be underestimated. His personal guard, the First Knightly Order of the Lindwurm, likewise are each individually powerful enough to present a threat. Aside from these, the group of adventurers that defeated Hannibal Woden are an unpredictable and potentially very dangerous element. I highly recommend dealing with them as soon as possible, before they become powerful enough to significantly impact the coming battles.

In conclusion, my recommendation to your Lordship is to leave Saran to Fereydoun, ignore Livadeia and Shizamu, and focus our efforts on the destruction of Freystadt. General Endovelicus has reported that his forces will be prepared to attack within the month, after which Princess Sariel will commence her own plan. I would like to request that my own forces be separated from hers. The obvious problems aside, I find her… simple eagerness to be rather unsettling. We await your further orders.

Glory to the Tyrant,
Aysu Khoroushi, the Blade of God

Vehelith's Resignation

Greetings, my lord. I hope this missive finds you well.

I also hope you enjoyed being called “my lord” just then, because that is the last time you’re ever going to be addressed as such by me, in writing, speech, semaphore or any other form of communication. You see, you and I are done, done, done, and I take great delight in saying I’ll never again enter into a contract with a foul hellspawn like you. I thought the Abyss was filled with idiots, but that was before I blundered into employment with your sort and realized that even the most idiotic pitborn looks like a seasoned archmage compared to a devil.

Have you heard from Sessraeseth lately? Of course not; he’s dead. I, of course, betrayed him (which you should have expected, you great ignoramus,) but I assure you that even if I HAD followed his commands like a loyal little tin soldier, his enemies still would have effortlessly obliterated him. From Day One, Sessraeseth’s plan was nothing short of risibly incompetent, and the fact that you thought your underling’s effort would somehow pave the way for a glorious conquest of the Material Plane only proves how deluded you are. You’re not even fit to rule over your pathetic little gutter in Hell.

Your “trusted” lieutenant, Sessraeseth, was one of the most indolent hellspawn I’ve ever had the misfortune of knowing. He took the form of an imbecile named “Karl the Dull” and posed as a Shizamu Thieves Guild contact in order to deceive a handful of adventurers into fulfilling small, meaningless tasks for him. This was ostensibly because he wanted to gain their trust and confidence, except that one of his marks was literally a paladin of Sarenrae, and rather than tread lightly around him Sessraeseth completely forgot his purpose and took childish enjoyment in goading what I must reiterate was literally a paladin.

Finally he asked them to invade the Tyrant’s Catacombs, but the blithering idiot forgot to tell them to retrieve the tyrant’s artifact, so they merely wandered around aimlessly. Moreover, Sessraeseth wasted so much time ordering his “team” on meaningless tasks that by the time they got to the catacomb, two parties from Freystadt and Saran had also gotten word of the artifact and sought to gain it. In the ensuing chaos, the artifact disappeared, one of his pawns was slain (Tabirra, the daughter of one of your consorts; more on that in a moment,) and the other two predictably abandoned him, since he gave them no reason to come back.

Oh, and by the way, it should go without saying that a Greater Gilded Devil could have simply teleported into the catacombs himself, quashed any living resistance, and taken the artifact, but of course he had to persuade a paladin into that quagmire because he was an arrogant jackass. Though even if he had done so, I’m sure he would have found an inventive way to botch the entire operation.

So with his operation having failed so magnificently, does he cut his losses and return to you for his punishment? Of course not. He silently declares war on the paladin and his companion (two people who, I will remind you, had absolutely nothing to do with anything) and places himself in enormous amounts of infernal debt in order to lease swarms of parasitic lemures, which he used to inhabit every corpse he could find on the premises for use in some (devious, I suppose, in his infantile mind) ambush against the paladin’s party. This whole process, by the way, took months, months in which the paladin and his companions simply grew stronger and better-equipped.

If it was strictly necessary to kill them (it wasn’t,) it would have been considerably cheaper and faster simply to summon a couple of piscodaemons to assassinate them before they returned to Freystadt, but Sessraeseth completely ignored my advice. In fact, he ignored me entirely, even though I was on the clock the entire time. The only order he gave me for months was to try to charm the paladin away and covertly take his life, but this plan was obviously disastrous because succubi cannot charm paladins. I have many dead sisters because they refused to heed this wisdom. All Sessraeseth’s order managed to do was get me pursued by Alena Winther’s goons. I barely escaped intact.

When Sessraeseth was finally ready to put his absurd operation into motion, I pointed out that even his possessed thralls were insufficient to defeat the now-empowered party, prompting him to have me hire out mercenaries to augment our forces. I settled on Namaka’s Infinite Shrikes—independent contractors I’ve had a lot of success with on other jobs. Namaka was incredulous when I told her what her mission was, but we put our heads together and managed to crop out as much of the ridiculousness from Sessraeseth’s plan as he would allow us.

We were based out of Pixie’s Tower in Hustler’s Fen—a frustratingly isolated location—with the Waters of Renewal the tower was built to protect hidden tantalizingly underground. Sessraeseth completely ignored it. He had no idea what they were; to him, the tower was nothing but a fortification. His new plan was to use Freya’s Phial, a magical artifact in the possession of an ensouled sidhe, to planeshift into Elysium where the artifact was waiting, seize it and planeshift out. Again, the blood of any good, red-blooded creature with chaos in their heart would have sufficed for that planeshift, but Sessraeseth wanted the blood of Riwen, the seasoned and deadly warrior in Nyrik’s company. I could not convince him otherwise.

Taking hostages to lure Nyrik and his companions was no challenge—I took advantage of the possessed elf to lower their defenses and convince him to go running into our trap, then had the elf teleport back to Pixie’s Tower. Taking the sidhe and her phial was remarkably simple, as well; though a powerful druid, all it takes is for a winged imp to grab her out of the air and she becomes completely helpless. I also decided the ghoran was a complicating factor, so I commanded the enthralled corpse of Tabirra to assassinate her and return to us with her body.

This left only the Paladin Nyrik, weakened with an encounter with a vampire, Kham the wizard, who serendipitously came to us feebleminded from the same encounter, some giant warrior oaf named Tighenarch, and Riwen. I suggested he simply send in all our firepower at once and overwhelm them, but what he said next nearly threw me into a rage. Not only did he refuse to exploit the situation, he gave Namaka two Potions of Heal and ordered her to go out there and give them to Nyrik and Kham! They happily drank down the potions, restoring them to full capability, and they nearly beat Namaka to death before I ordered an enthralled gnome-magi to come to her rescue.

Since Sessraeseth only enabled me to unleash two Living Spells and a handful of worthless bugbears, Nyrik and his companions emerged nearly unscathed, though there was an amusing moment where Kham had no choice but to cast Cone of Cold on the Chilling Fog wound up empowering it dramatically. It was quickly beaten into oblivion by the strong oaf, though, and after Kham ascertained where in the world he was and what he was doing, they proceeded on to Pixie’s tower.

It was during this period of being utterly flabbergasted at your servant’s incompetence that I snapped and decided to betray him. You should have expected it—every self-respecting demon betrays a devil eventually, it’s one of the most satisfying experiences in this universe. And Sessraeseth made it so, very, very easy, by ignoring me so often, and by leading me directly to the instrument of my emancipation.

As you know, a fiend of my kind, without a material body, can only exist on the material plane with the patronage of a fiendlord. That’d be you. What you may not know is that if one accepts a body, freely given by a mortal who willfully agrees to place their demonseed at its core, the Material Plane accepts them as one of its own, and they can function independently. The Waters of Renewal, which Sessraeseth doesn’t understand and which he blundered directly into my grasp, completely restore any corpse into living perfection, drawing its soul into it from any plane if it still exists. It would be the instrument of my independence, so long as a mortal chose it to be so.

So I appeared before Nyrik’s party (in the form of the Priestess of Abadar from before, not that he recognized it) and made him a bargain. If he promised to give me a mortal body, I would call off the Shrikes, whose contract belonged to me, not to your lapdog. For obvious reasons, they didn’t trust me—I half expected them to kill me. Instead, Nyrik allowed that if I’d bond my existence to an agreement to stop doing evil, he would fulfill my wishes. The decision between continuing to do evil, and remaining a slave to you colossal imbeciles, or giving it up and being a free demon was surprisingly easy to make. I consented to the agreement. (I didn’t want to risk the death of the Shrikes, anyway. I’m actually fond of them, for whatever reason.) They did wish to know who my master was, but of course I was geassed not to tell. Not that it mattered.

Afterwards, I called off the remaining Shrike footsoldiers, and watched as the paladin and his friends proceeded through the fen towards Sessraeseth’s operating base. They were attacked by our mummies and our swamplight lynxes, but they effortlessly slew the mummies and trapped the lynxes in bramble because they couldn’t bear to kill them. Then they proceeded on, rowing to the center of Hustler’s Fen on a boat we rented from a swamp man named Zebediah.

When they reached the lake around Pixie’s Tower, Sessraeseth appeared before them in the guise of Karl the Dull and gleefully taunted them. I think he expected Nyrik and Kham to be horrified they were being antagonized by their one-time taskmaster, but he made the mistake of believing that during that time he did anything to warrant even a single iota of their fear or respect. On the contrary, and to my great amusement, Nyrik seemed confused Karl had ostensibly accomplished something requiring effort, and Kham seemed greatly disappointed and angered that the man who was harassing them would be Karl of all people. Sessraeseth was greatly ruffled about his revelation only making his opponents angrier and more determined to slay him, and hid on the rooftop waiting for the party to be attacked by the rest of the Shrikes.

They were meant to be attacked by Siria and Polaria, but on my directive the two lovers quickly pretended to be mortally wounded and provided them with a few potions of Cure Serious Wounds. Then they briskly made their way up the tower to fight Karl.

What followed was the most pathetic display I’ve ever seen. Nyrik, Riwen and Tighenarch walked right up Sessraeseth, who was standing with his ill-gotten collective of possessed thralls, and the three warriors slashed him to bits before he even got a chance to swing on them. The lemures, their contract visibly having ended, fled the corpses they were inhabiting and returned to Hell. Namaka simply sat on a crennellation, enjoying the sight and drinking heavily. And thus ends the illustrious career of your star lieutenant. What a waste of time and contracts.

Namaka freed all the captives, including the news reporters and that strange bulbous orc, and the elf slowly came to his senses after the lemures exited his body. Then Namaka remained behind, to observe them making good on their promise to me. Ironically, from the four corpses they had available, they ultimately chose Tabirra, your concubine’s daughter, as my vessel!

I handed them my demonseed and they dropped it into the Waters of Renewal, dissolving it into its magics, then they lowered Tabirra’s body into the waters, allowing me to claim it as my own. It also summoned Tabirra herself out of Purgatory, but the Waters effortlessly absorbed her soul into my own, empowering me with her knowledge and memories. I feel… different, now. I suppose now I am both a succubus and a mortal, a unique and perfect creature, just as I deserve. Even the body is perfect. Tabirra herself was quite homely in life, much like her mother (and I hope you tell her as much) but since my inhabitation it has fittingly become a flawless paragon of beauty. Such a wonderful reversal of fortune, and I owe it all to your ineptitude!

Nyrik told me I should travel to Livadeia, and I found his suggestion… Compelling. I should like to have him as my own, but I fear I will have difficulty convincing his like to be a lover. As a footnote, he and his party were teleported back to Freystadt City, and the sprites and pixies that usually inhabit the tower spilled back in as soon as they saw that the sidhe, the object of their disgust, had left. Unfortunately, the Waters of Renewal won’t be back for another forty years or so.

I believe I owe the goddess Sarenrae a debt for accepting my turn from evil and granting me my freedom. Perhaps it’s merely the influence of my new mortal soul, but I find her way of thinking… Agreeable. Here in Livadeia, I’ve offered my services at her temple as a secretary, contractor and accountant, and in return I have been granted her protections for the immediate future. You will never get your hands on me.

Goodbye, Raefaelyintok. You were a good bedmate, but truly abhorrent in every other aspect of your existence. You will never see me again.

P.S. You know that artifact you were trying to get? It doesn’t really do anything.

P. P. S. You remember all those infernal debts Sessraeseth racked up on this boondoggle? If I’m not mistaken, with him dead, all those debts pass over to you. Have fun!

Riwen's Training, Part I: "I Lim Nehtar"
"Stupid, slow elf!"

Rirosorchalwen was tired of studying magic all day.
“Booooored!”1, she groaned, closing the book in front of her. She tilted her head and placed a finger to her lips, considering her options.
“Hmmmmmm.” Maybe I can just go play for a little bit…, she thought. She was supposed to study for a while longer, so of course she’d have to go out through her room’s window if she didn’t want to be discovered by her parents. She was tall for her age, but still had to stand on a chair to get started out the low window. With one leg over, the rest would have been easy—had the door to her room not suddenly opened. Uh-oh.
Wearing his usual white robe and a knowing smile, her father held the door with one hand, standing to the side as he called to her. “Riwen, sorry to interrupt your studies, but there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
Clearly in a compromising position, this was not the scolding she was expecting. She hopped down from the window and followed her father to the common room. She hoped this wasn’t going to turn into one of those times when not getting into trouble felt worse than an actual scolding. Despite their strictness, Rirosorchalwen had to admit her parents were fair. Still, not getting caught was usually preferred.
Walking behind him, she thought about how big her father seemed. Despite his relatively thin stature, the tall, scholarly-looking man with his black hair pulled into a ponytail, projected an air of confidence and wisdom. He always knew what to do and say, she thought. When she wasn’t worried about getting into trouble, she fantasized about growing up to be like him, one day.

As they arrived in the common room, Rirosorchalwen still wasn’t sure she wasn’t in trouble. However, upon taking notice of the “guest” awaiting them, she immediately forgot about what punishments might await her. The short, green-skinned creature clad in dark leather was humanoid, but unlike anything she had seen—at least with her own eyes. “Gross!”, she inadvertently blurted out, more out of fascination than anything else. From her story books, she thought it must be some kind of goblin, but he was nearly twice as tall (although just as filthy as expected).
Sitting not ten feet away from the creature, nearly finished sewing the blue silk dress she had been working on since earlier in the week, sat her closest friend and the woman she most admired. Without even raising her head, she chided her daughter, “Now, now, Riwen, is that any way to greet a guest?” The white-haired elf was as universally adored within the community as her husband, but there was something frightening about the way she spoke now, despite her calm and pleasant, almost intoxicating, voice. As if reading her daughter’s mind regarding the creature’s identity, she continued, “Mr. Assassin here is a hobgoblin visiting on behalf of the Hammerbeards, our dwarven friends.”
Wait, that didn’t sound right—first of all, ‘Mr. Assassin’ could not be a real name, because no one has a name that cool. She also remembered from her story books that goblins don’t get along with dwarves or elves. What was it doing here?

Looking more closely at their guest, Rirosorchalwen noticed that he actually seemed a bit on-edge, like he was in trouble. What a weird guy, she thought. Her father walked over to the fidgeting “Mr. Assassin” and placed a hand on his shoulder. The hobgoblin immediately straightened, as if frozen in place. That’s right. And Mr. Assassin has agreed to help with your training before going back home to his people." Then, turning to look at their guest directly, “Isn’t that right?”

“Er… ah, y-yes, this one… agreed… to help”, his deep voice doing little to mask his anxiety. Rirosorchalwen wondered what he had done. Maybe it had something to do with why he was visiting the Hammerbeards. In her storybooks, goblins of all types only tried to kill dwarves—or worse—and the dwarves often killed them back, in greater numbers. Maybe this one was special. “Umm… what kind of training is he supposed to help with?”, she asked.

“Go on, tell her what she’s to learn.”, said her father, giving their guest a slight nudge. Nearly jumping out of his skin, the hobgoblin struggled to quickly regain some composure. هذا واحد سيتم تدريس قزم الشباب للتحرك بسرعة وبشكل حاذق., he responded, trudging toward the door, as if part of some arrangement Rirosorchalwen had yet to to be informed of. What was that!? She looked to her parents for clarification, but none was given.

In an even voice, sweet as honey, Rirosorchalwen’s mother addressed her and the guest, Now, go play with your new teacher for a while, Riwen. And do take good care of her, Mr. Assassin—I dread to imagine what might befall anyone who allows our dear little daughter to come to any harm." Rirosorchalwen still wasn’t sure what was happening, but decided it best not to question her mother and followed the hobgoblin, now moving more quickly, out the door. As she left, she looked back at her parents, still wondering when someone would explain what was going on. Instead, her mother continued sewing, uninterrupted, and her father flashed her a warm smile, offering a slight wave.

1 Translated from Elven

Months later…

“Stupid! Slow! Stuuupid elf still too slow!”2

Each day, in addition to her regular studies, Rirosorchalwen chased her “teacher” through the forest, ducking beneath branches and through bushes, hopping over rocks, roots, and other pitfalls. Teacher? More like tormenter!, she cursed the hobgoblin as he hopped effortlessly around, under, or over each obstacle more quickly than she thought she ever could. Over the past few months, she often wondered if there really was any point to this “training”.

“Hurry, stupid! Catch this one!”, he yelled back to her, playfully hopping backwards over a gnarled root half his height. She had gotten used to the insults by now. Not that she didn’t still want to beat him senseless when she caught him. Show off.

Having all but mastered “conversational Goblin”, it would be another month before Rirosorchalwen could finally keep up with Brak—“Mr. Assassin’s” actual name—and another month before she considered that she might eventually move nimbly enough at his speed to catch him.

2 Translated from Goblin

Finally, after almost a year of chasing, taunting, stubbing her toes on rocks, and bumping her head on branches, caught he was. As she began to suspect in the final weeks, catching her teacher meant the end of his training. In the end, Rirosorchalwen found that not only had she learned a great deal about agile movement, but also terrain navigation and various makeshift traps(Brak was very proud of each one of those), thanks to this rude, smelly creature whom, by now, she almost thought of as a friend. Despite growing closer, Brak seemed greatly pleased to finally be relieved of his duties and was neither seen nor heard from again.
Rirosorchalwen still thought of him sometimes, mostly when running through the trees sparked memories of her childhood. Knowing what she now knew of goblins and their kin, he was probably dead since long ago. She hoped, for his sake, that was not the case. Whatever his fate may have been, she’d never forget his final words to her as she waved him farewell, “It is still stupid elf. At least now it is stupid, fast elf.” He turned away with a grin. A jump, flip, and leap later, he was gone.

Kaleelog 1

Cycle 134, 9th Indiction – 2 Summer 16

Someone told me that keeping a journal might help make me less nervous, so I’m starting one today. Today is also the day I give up adventuring. I’ve decided. No more zombies or things with teeth or crazy people for me.

No sooner had I gotten out of Saren and left those psyocopaths behind, than I suddenly woke up in Freystadt with a huge man I’ve never seen before punching me repeatedly in the face. When I finally regained consciousness, with a huge headache I might add, everyone was trying to tell me I had been possessed. Of all the things to happen. I’m glad Steinogg is okay at least.

Anyway, that was the last straw. If I had a boss, I’d be putting in my resignation. No more adventuring for me. I’m going to go get a nice, cozy desk job in Freystadt City. Something dealing with books or paperwork – they don’t fight back.

Is this good for my first journal entry? It seems a bit short, but it’s not like I’ve read anyone else’s diary. I’ll write more after I look around town tomorrow.

Cycle 134, 9th Indiction – 2 Summer 17

Getting a job was way easier than I thought. I don’t even have to sing, it’s great. They offered me a place up in the big lock they call the Aegis Vault around here, pushing papers. The people in there seem a bit stuck up, but it sure beats getting chased all over the place by Shelyn knows what.

I start work later today, they’re giving me a uniform and everything. I’ll be staying at an inn for a little while, until I can rent a room somewhere or something, but the pay here is good. It looks like I can finally relax a bit. Surely in a city so big and organized as Freystadt, nothing else will happen to me.

Oh no, oh no, oh no. Something just happened, and I’m still confused, but I know it can’t be good. I was at my shiny new desk, looking through the inprocessing paperwork, and some huge armored man just swung down from the ceiling and tackled me. I couldn’t stop it, and before I could react he pinned something shiny to my blouse and jumped out the window.

Nobody here says they saw anything, but now they’re all calling me Lieutenant and acting all respectful. These things on my uniform do look kind of like rank. Did I just get drafted into the military? I thought writing this might help me calm down, but I’m still scared.

They came and gave me my orders a few minutes ago. My orders! They called me “Lieutenant Kaleel”, too! I didn’t sign up for this. I wanted a desk job, just a simple, quiet desk job. Worse, I’m getting deployed to Fort Mϋllrose straightaway. They said they’d even teleport me there tomorrow.

I don’t know much about Freystadt, but isn’t Fort Mϋllrose like, on the front lines? Come to think of it, I’m not even a citizen. How did I end up in this situation? I don’t think there’s anything I can do, though. Everyone around here is very stern. It seems like there haven’t been any major battles for a while, so that’s a relief. I hope my new squad is nice. There’s no way they can be worse that those crazy people I worked with in Saren.

Cycle 134, 9th Indiction – 2 Summer 18

They weren’t lying about teleporting me to the Fort. I got here early this morning – is getting a teleport spell in Freystadt really that easy? Anyway though, my new squadmates are insane. I met them a few minutes ago, and now I’m writing this in my new quarters that they showed me to.

Their – our – leader seems to be that half-elf woman with the glasses and the brown hair all up in a strict bun. I think she was a Major, I don’t really know Freystadt ranks, and she was the only one in uniform. As soon as I teleported in she started berating me about my uniform, saying my rank was crooked and my clothes were wrinkled. Like I wrote before, she was the only other person in uniform. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to do, I’m wearing the same uniform as I was yesterday – it’s the only one I’ve got.

They didn’t issue me anything, anyway, just told me where to put my things. My things that are all back in Freystadt City. The only thing I had on me was my lute, because I get shaky if it isn’t nearby.

The others aren’t any better. The dark-haired girl kept telling me to shut up every time I spoke. Somehow she knows my name already. She and the pale guy were glaring daggers at me the whole time, too. It was more than a bit intimidating. There’s another Elf in the squad, though, and he was nice to me, if a bit odd. The others seemed to stay away from him, too. Maybe we can be friends.

Shelyn save me, the Major is banging on the door. I’ll write more later.

It’s been half a day since I last wrote, and I still have no idea what this squad actually does. Major Kaspersen has been giving me orders, but they’re all things like doing the squad’s laundry and making her tea. Everyone else just seems to wander around the fort.

What’s more, I saw a.. a thing watching me while I was doing the laundry, and it’s disturbing to think about how long it might have been following me. It looks like a girl, but it’s got these horrible solid blue eyes and antennae and a tail. Nobody else has said anything, so I think I’m the only one who can see it. Rinfanfannal keeps looking over his shoulder and jumping at shadows though, maybe he can see it too. I’m terrified that if I look behind me right now, it’ll be watching me from the doorway.

Maybe I should mention something to the Major, but she probably wouldn’t take me seriously. I tried talking to Captain Hasek too, but she just keeps telling me to shut up and that nobody likes me. The only other one is the pale guy they all call " Thilo ". I tried introducing myself and he just said something I didn’t understand, but which made my teeth ring for hours. It was incredibly uncomfortable.

Dinner is coming up soon, I’ll play my lute and see if I can get on better terms with any of them. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, and I don’t want my only friend to be Rinfanfannal.

Dinner was a disaster. I think everyone hates me more now, and I’m lucky to have escaped with my life. I was tuning my lute while everyone else got their food, even though Captain Hasek kept glaring at me every time I plucked the string. I pulled one of them too tight, and hit a real nasty off-note. It’s usually just annoying, but as soon as Rinfanfannal heard that, his eyes crossed, he screamed, and threw over the table. Food was everywhere.

It took three of us to hold him down until the ‘incident’ had passed. He was struggling and yelling one moment, and the next moment he was suddenly sleeping like a baby. Major Kaspersen said it happens sometimes, and ordered me never to tune my lute near Rinfanfannal again. She also ordered me never to tune it near her or Captain Hasek again, because they find it, and me, annoying. That hurt what little self-esteem I have left.

The first day is finally over, though. I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight. Squadmates aside, I think these barracks are haunted. Shelyn protect me, I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into.

Madness! Insanity in Stromberg?
The Golden Herald - Issue #46

I’m sure all of our Freystadtian readers are familiar with Stromberg. It’s a large fishing town on the South coast, well-known for its almost constant rains. Having heard rumors of something unnatural happening, my team and I arrived in Stromberg at the end of last week, just in time to see the end of a most extraordinary incident.

At first it seemed like interviewing the townspeople would be an exercise in futility. No-one seemed to have much memory of the past few weeks, and many people complained of a “red mist” or “crimson fog” that seemed to cloud their minds for that time. However, after a great deal of research and legwork, I was able to piece together what happened.

Everything started about two weeks ago, when the mining company responsible for excavating the sea caves just east of Stromberg uncovered a large natural cavern deep underneath the town. For reasons none of them could adequately explain, the miners deduced that this hollow was filled with great riches, and immediately reported to the mine’s head surveyor, Reto Brodbeck.

Brodbeck himself declined my requests for an interview, but from his workers I was able to glean that Reto wasted no time in gathering up the leaders of the town for a semi-ceremonial opening of this cavern. In this case, this included the head priest, Isiodore Bach, the candy-monger Grommet Sugarbud Jellystar, and Luther Leonhardt, who was present in place of the town’s renowned researcher Atlas Mason. Although the workers claimed that Brodbeck gathered the town’s leaders, the fact that he did not attempt to include the mayor speaks a wealth about the political situation in Stromberg.

Later, at the opening of the cavern, all of the aforementioned were present, as well as Emilia Stumpf, the mayor’s daughter, who had, by her own account, followed them out of boredom. After Brodbeck had driven open the crevice leading to the supposed riches, however, the party was med with a cloud of thick, red mist that, for lack of a better word, ‘infected’ them, transforming all present into something similar to the common Vampire.

Once the town’s leaders were infected, things escalated quickly. Now under the control of a mysterious ‘being’ from beneath Stromberg, the team set about organizing a systematic offering of the townspeople as sacrifices to the ‘Bleeding Skull’. Each night, a red mist would drop over the houses and, unaware of their actions, the victims would file into the chapel at the center of Stromberg, to be offered by Isiodore Bach to the Bleeding Skull for sacrifice.

According to some more harrowing reports I received later, this ‘sacrifice’ involved the victim’s blood being drawn out of their eyes and into a ceremonial skull prepared for the purpose. Unsurprisingly, it was described as a very painful and draining experience, with those who experienced it appearing pale and weak for days afterward.

This system of domination and sacrifice was the status quo for approximately a week, those orchestrating it aware of their actions but unable to resist the Skull’s influence. A few days ago, however, help arrived in the form of Major Hannah Köhler and her self-proclaimed ‘Unicorn Brigade’, the very same elite squad that is currently the talk of Freystadt.

We’ve featured the Unicorn Brigade (an inaccurate name, as the team is officially a Squad under Freystadt military organization, but Major Köhler insisted) many times in this publication, but this was the first time we were able to meet with its members. Upon learning they were still in town, I sought out each individual and requested an interview to further determine exactly what happened in the few days before our arrival.

The first member of Köhler’s squad that agreed to an interview with me was Captain Rirorsorchalwen, a pretty Elven woman who serves as one of the team’s front-line fighters, as well as a magic consultant. When asked about the ‘Bleeding Skull’, the being responsible for infecting the townspeople, she replied that it was a “Scarlet Walker”, an evil-being from another Plane that feeds on its victim’s blood. The Captain also assured us that her squad defeated the monster, and there don’t appear to be any more of them.

Rirorsorchalwen also mentioned, however, that while the majority of those town leaders infected by the Walker made a full recovery afterwards, one of them, namely Luther Leonhardt, was still a ‘vampire’ and still at large. She also mentioned that he had a large amount of îr, the Elven word for sexual promiscuity, and cautioned women of the area, especially young women, to be cautious if approached by him.

Next, I was able to speak with Warrant Officer Nyrik, the very same Nyrik who has become something of a celebrity recently in Freystadt City. In person he was just as described – tall, chiseled, and devilishly handsome – but Nyrik had a much more disturbing tale to tell of events.

Upon their arrival at Stromberg, Major Köhler’s squad first staged an assault on the chapel during one of its sacrificial ceremonies, successfully shattering the skull fetish responsible for draining the townspeople’s blood. During this, however, Nyrik tells a harrowing description of the vampires’ retaliation, and how he was, by his own account, “pinned down” and repeatedly “violated” by Luther himself. Exactly what brought on this brutal experience was unknown, but Nyrik seemed emotionally scarred by the event, and was noticeably pale throughout the interview.

Although we asked Nyrik if he had any comments for his fans, he once again displayed that humble kindness that’s making the women of Fryestadt swoon, claiming: “I’m only a traveling Paladin, I like to help out whenever I can.”

After we met with Nyrik, I tried to get an interview with his partner. Warrant Officer Commsenko, previously thought to be named Tenskyo, was unable to speak with me after being afflicted with a condition Major Köhler could only describe as “poobrain”. His pet toad, Milton, however, was willing to speak on his behalf.

“Well missy, it’s a nasty business, that’s certain.” Milton said in his deep, boisterous bass, little wings flapping as he hovered in front of me, “Folks wakin’ up in the middle of the night and havin’ their blood sucked out by a big ol’ skull, spider demons… Gives me the willies!”

When asked about his master’s condition, Milton referenced the aforementioned Scarlet Walker, and said that it did some “dark magic” that transformed Commsenko’s brain into the equivalent of “tapioca pudding”.

“I expect we’ll get him patched up sooner or later but until then it’s ol’ Milton in the driver’s seat!” he added, wiggling his tiny toad fingers in what he surely considered a ‘magicky’ way.

Finally, Major Hannah Köhler herself agreed to answer a few of my questions, and I met with the somewhat infamous Sidhe for the first time. The tiny Major confirmed what I had been told before regarding the events of the past few days, and included that all of the individuals that her Unicorn Brigade rescued from the Walker’s lair were unharmed and recovering. She did have a specific message for Luther Leonhardt, the one missing victim, wishing to tell him: “You need to come back, you slacker, you have a job to do.”

When I asked about her view on her subordinates’ performance during this incident, Major Köhler lauded the members of her squad, stating: “All members of the Unicorn Brigade conducted their duties with the integrity and dedication the Freystadt Army demands.”

We attempted to secure interviews with the last two members, Captain Gilbert Barkwin and Lieutenant Elowyn Eberhardt, but the former was nowhere to be found, and the Lieutenant declined to comment.

While Köhler and her ‘Unicorn Brigade’ undeniably saved the town, however, there is a darker side to this tale that lies with the fate of Stromberg’s beloved priest Isiodore Bach. Isiodore is the only one of the original victims to remain deceased, and several townspeople admit to having seen the disturbing circumstances surrounding his death. That is, this squad of ‘heroes’ surrounding the elderly Bach and mercilessly beating him to death as he tried to escape.

When questioned about this, each member of the squad denied the event ever occurred, with many of them professing not to remember any such thing, but Major Köhler instead claiming that the witnesses were in an altered state of mind and could not be trusted. While the townspeople were indeed under an outside influence, it is the discrepancies between accounts which deeply disturbs us at the Golden Herald.

Although the Major insists that they are taking measures to fully restore Isiodore Bach and return him to work in Stromberg, is it really that simple? What really happened in that chapel? Will the Scarlet Walker’s influence have any effect on the normal methods of resurrection? Can Bach really be “restored”? We’ll report again next issue with these answers and more.

Star Investigative Journalist,
Kira Appleton

Teppac's Story

Teppac-Karn gazed solemnly at the stonework before him. Rivulets of magma flowed slowly through canals embedded in the rock, bathing the reception chamber in warm red light. He could feel the eyes of the guards on him, and his hands twisted nervously, clasped behind his back in a military posture.

“Teppac-Karn! You may enter the presence of King Agamemnon.”

The booming voice cut through Teppac’s reverie. He strode forward with all the confidence he could muster, past the guards with their burning eyes, and into the expansive throne room. Agamemnon sat slently, the massive, ever-burning fireball behind his throne casting dark shadows across the king’s features.

Garnon-Hast, of course, was already there.

His eyes glimmering with contempt, the other Giant barked a laugh. “So the traitor finally shows his face! Ha!”

Before Teppac-Karn could respond, Agamemnon waved one ponderous arm, and the court fell into silence. The many guards lined against the platform’s edges snapped to attention, and the Fire Nymphs ceased their frolicking in the pools of lava that surrounded the throne.

“Teppac-Karn,” his thunderous voice echoed through the chasm, “Garnon-Hast.”

The two Fire Giants dropped to one knee with a sudden clang of metal.

“The time has come for us to reclaim this land.”

A murmur ran through the Nymphs at that, cut off by a sharp wave of Agamemnon’s gauntlet.

“A path has opened to the Open Spaces. Teppac-Karn, on the basis of your past failings, you shall be the one to scout the world outside, and determine whether the Nemesis still rules.”

Teppac-Karn could not see his companion’s face, but he knew that Garnon-Hast was grinning.

“Garnon-Hast, you shall accompany him.”

There was a sharp retort of metal on stone as Garnon’s hand slammed to the ground in surprise.

“My Lord, you cannot mean to-”

Agamemnon’s fiery beard flared with sudden fury.

“My word is final, Garnon-Hast. Do not think that your petty bickering has gone unnoticed. Consider this a chance to avoid my fury.”

Garnon’s figure sagged in resignation.

“Yes, my lord.”

“Your mission is to attack a Human settlement. Kill as many as you are able. See if you draw the Nemesis’ ire. If you do not return, then we shall know that our time has not yet come.” the corners of the Flame King’s mouth twitched into a small smile, “You leave immediately.”

“Yes, my lord!” the two Fire Giants barked in unison.

The sun shone down upon Teppac-Karn, a single dot of fire in an otherwise disturbingly open sky. Their passage was accompanied by a constant clanking, as the Ettins they had captured rattled and beat at their chains. Brutal, stupid beasts. Power, but no control. Was this what Giantkind had come to in the Open Spaces?

“So, how far d’you think before we run into some Humans?” Teppac asked, glancing over at his silent companion. They had been following this road for days now, and Garnon-Hast’s mood had not improved.

“You will not speak to me, traitor,” the other Giant spat back, “It’s because of you I’m in this mess.”

Teppac-Karn raised his hands in placation, “Whoa, whoa. I didn’t mean no harm. So you don’t want to talk. Got it. Got it.”

They walked in silence for several minutes before Teppac spoke again.

“What do you think about this whole ‘sky’ thi-”

“Teppac-Karn!” the other shouted, “You test my patience. Another word from you, and, regulations be damned, I will cut out your tongue.”

Teppac opened his mouth again, thought better of it, and shut it. The two trudged onward in silence, followed by the shambling Ettins.

As they crested the next hill, the lowlands stretching below them, Teppac-Karn spied a group of smaller figures traveling along the road in the opposite direction and rapidly approaching. He raised a gauntleted fist and pointed.

“I see them, Teppac-Karn,” Garnon-Hast said through gritted teeth, “You talk to them, find out where a nearby settlement is. This isn’t worth my time.”

Teppac shrugged and started onward again, and soon the two groups were standing across from each other, each eying the others warily. They seemed to be all humans, as far as Teppac-Karn could tell. One of them looked like a tree, but trees don’t walk around or carry weapons, so that must be a Human too.

After a brief discussion in a language neither of the Giants understood, one of them stepped forward. A shorter Human, wearing blue cloth and with skin baked to a deep ground. Or maybe made of dirt. If Humans could be trees, why not dirt?

Garnon-Hast nudged him, and Teppac-Karn snapped out of his reverie. He waved his arms expansively, in as dramatic a gesture as he could muster, and boomed:

“Bow, Humans, before the heralds of King Agamemnon the Hewer!”

This failed to have the desired effect. The dark-skinned Human merely watched him curiously, then spoke to his companion, a muscular man with radiant skin and golden hair. Teppac-Karn held the pose awkwardly, waiting for them to finish.

The dark-skinned man turned back to him, addressing Teppac in accented Giant.

“Who is King Agamemnon?”

“King of the Fire Giants! Trapped within his molten palace for centuries, he now sends us, his advance guard, to reclaim the lands that were once ours!” Teppac-Karn thought he could hear Garnon-Hast sigh wearily next to him, as he finished with another expansive gesture.

“Ahurm! Can you all hear me all right?”

Teppac looked around with a start. The voice had seemingly sounded from within his own skull. It was a rough, jovial voice, and reminded him somehow of his father. He prepared a response, but was interrupted again by the person talking in his head.

“Well, seems ta me like only Kham here speaks Giant, so I’ll do some translating. Just act like I wasn’t here, eh?”

“Reclaim your lands? These lands belong to Freystadt and its people.” This was from Kham’s muscular companion, who spoke with a low, melodic voice. Teppac-Karn winced as the more boisterous voice translated the words inside his head.

“People? Hah! You consider Humans people?” Garnon-Hast spat the words, the first he had spoken since encountering the others.

“Hahah! Humans! People! As if!” Teppac-Karn chuckled and nudged his fellow in the ribs, but Garnon was obviously not amused.

There was some more discussion from the other group, which the invisible voice chose not to translate, then Kham turned back to them.

“I think we’re going to defeat you now,” he said, casually.

Garnon smiled humorlessly and hefted his axe, as Teppac-Karn broke the chains binding the Ettins. He couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at the murder in his companion’s eyes. Just as Teppac readied his own axe, however, Kham lifted a hand.

“One more question,” he said, calmly.

Teppac hesitated. “Okay,” he replied, “Last one.”

“Weren’t all the true Giants wiped out by Nemesis?”

Teppac nodded, “All those on the surface, indeed. We have spent ages below ground, building our strength to defeat Nemesis!”

“Nemesis has been dead for thousands of years.”

Teppac paused. Could it be true? It was hard to keep the relief from his face. He turned to Garnon-Hast, just as the other roared a battle challenge and charged.

No sooner had Garnon initiated combat, than Kham waved his hands and muttered an incantation. Suddenly, a piercing rain of frozen hail erupted around them. The finger-sized shards of jagged ice stung and steamed as they ripped at his flesh. A rushing, slashing sound echoed from his left, and Teppac-Karn was vaguely aware of Garnon falling to the ground with a mighty thud, unmoving.

Teppac flailed with his axe, only to have it torn from his grasp as a smaller, dark-haired Human maneuvered a thin sword through his grasp. He turned, hail tearing at his face and shoulders, to face Kham’s companion, the golden-haired man stepping forward, raising his greatsword for a mighty swing.

“Parlay!” Teppac-Karn shouted, throwing his hands up, “Parlay!”

The blonde man faltered, overbalancing himself in an attempt to stop his swing. With a wave of his hand, the hail vanished, and Kham stepped through.

“Don’t make any more moves against us,” he said.

“Okay! Okay!” Teppac hesitated, as the clanking of chains and sounds of heavy breathing carried past him, “I, uh. I can’t stop the Ettins.”

Lost in Time and Space: Chapter 1
Written by thealgaehydra

A high-pitched buzzing filled Kohler’s ears. For what could have been a couple of minutes or a couple of years a bright stream of every color imaginable and unimaginable both had streaked past her like a rainbow tunnel with too many layers. Despite all the brightness the blackness she knew lay beyond seemed oppressively wide and endless; an agoraphobic’s nightmare.

All manner of sounds had drifted in and out of Kohler’s ears for the past seconds or centuries so at first the high-pitched buzzing went unnoticed. Instead she thought. She’d been doing a lot of that lately, and despite the indeterminate length of ‘lately,’ she’d gotten a lot of thinking in. Not many of the thoughts were terribly profound – she wondered how Alena was doing and she thought about how the Blightmoor wasn’t as bad as people say. She weighed the pros and cons of getting Obsidian shaved for the summer. A few of the thoughts, though, seemed heavy like lead in her sidhe-sized mind, and when she thought them the tunnel of colorful lights seemed to stop passing by so quickly and the blackness of the beyond peeked through. She thought about Binyamin. She thought about Lieutenant Hannah Kohler the elf. She wondered if she would ever get that sleepover.

That damn, incessant buzzing still hadn’t gone away. Now a sound like hissing paper filled her ears in place of the buzzing, and then far away came a gruff voice. This having been the first voice she’d heard in the past week or millenia, Kohler perked up. “Hello?” she called into the colorful blackness. Her voice seemed smaller than usual here. “Is someone there?”

“Miss Kohler!”

The voice was much louder that time, distinct but still distorted by electrified lute strings strung over the back of a wet cat. A pair of sharp, staccato beeps preceded absolute, perfect silence, and a gruff, jovial voice came to her as clear as her own thoughts.

“Miss Kohler! Can you hear me? It’s Milton!”

“Milton?” she called back, still shouting aloud. “What the heck are you doing here? Where are you? I can’t see you.”

“I’m still with the others. Where the heck are you?”

“I dunno. Boy, am I glad to hear a friendly voice. It’s been crazy out here, just flying through colors and hearing all this space. What happened? Is everyone okay? Am I okay?”

There was a short pause on the other end of the connection, then Milton’s voice returned, slightly distorted. “You turned into a gem. Kham said somethin’ about a bad draw on the Harrow deck.”

“Oh.” Kohler thought for a moment. “Is it at least a pretty gem?”

“Loveliest red I ever saw.”

Kohler wondered if she was satisfied with that, but only long enough to forget and ask another question. “Where the heck am I?”

“Lost in time and space, I reckon,” Milton replied, “Took me a darn sight to track you down. They don’t make trans-dimensional telepathic transceivers like they used to; I’ve been tellin’ ol’ Kham to invest in one of those new-fangled crystal balls but I guess Cap’n Riwen says it isn’t in the budget.”

“You lost me,” Kohler said flatly.

“No, we’ve still got you. You’re in Kham’s pocket.”

“Whoa,” Kohler breathed. Her connection with Milton started to fade, covered up by soft, warm tones of fuzzy blankets and fat, friendly dogs that slobber too much. A whole new expanse opened up before her, the tunnel of blackness and color coalescing into something that, if she squinted, started to take the shape of the entire universe. Or at least, an entire universe. It all seemed so big despite how small it appeared beneath her, surrounded by and taking shape within all the colors of creation. Then the expanse of that universe yawned open and swallowed her up, and for one terrible second she was hurtling through what passed for the edge of reality. She became aware of the need for oxygen the same way a blind man becomes aware of an oncoming train, and just as suddenly she was staring some of the weirdest-looking people she’d ever seen in her life directly in the face.

Too startled to say anything, a badger-faced boy and his pretty, fox-tailed friend stared at Kohler, agape. Undeterred, Kohler flitted up to them, arms wide, grinning, and started to speak. She’d just noticed how nice it felt to have the warm sun shining down on her lilac skin when it went away. The badger-faced boy and his friend were gone. The universe was gone. The colors was gone. Even the blackness was gone. Nothing isn’t black, Kohler thought. I always imagined it as black.

“Miss Kohler?” Milton’s voice was distant again, but audible. “I’m getting a better fix on you. Stand by.”

She did her best to stand by despite her feet not touching anything. She wasn’t sure she even had feet or that the concept of feet meant much in her current predicament. She certainly wasn’t going to be doing any standing, regardless. “I was somewhere far away,” she said. Milton grunted back, distracted. “There was a pretty girl with a big fluffy fox tail like Obsidian’s, but a different color. She looked cool. I wonder what her name was? I bet we’d have been good friends. They were on an island, with a mountain. It smelled different than any place I’ve ever been.”

“Ah — gee, Miss Kohler, I’d love to talk, but Kham’s friends are getting put to sleep by Moor Hags and throwing their things around. I’ve gotta go help ’em out.” Milton sounded a little exhasperated.

“Oh… okay.” Kohler sulked a little. Moor hags! While she was lost in time and space! The other guys always got to have all the fun…

Timeworn Missive
My Lord Tyrant,

I am well aware that you observed the entirety of the events leading up to the rescue staged by those ‘heroes’ of Freystadt. However, as you have instructed me, I hereby create a written record of the battles with them. Does this serve a greater purpose, or is it merely for your amusement?

The beginning of our plan was executed flawlessly. With the artifacts of your design, we were easily able to divert the younger members of the squad – those ones that interest you – to the designated ambush point, while the two more powerful were sent far to the South. Despite the rather… ‘intensive’ training we granted them, however, the two lumberjacks used to assault them failed to kill a single member of their team.

Elowyn, the newest addition to their little band, proved to be more of a threat than anticipated. She held the one called Beck in single combat, while the rest of them killed Jack, the stronger of the two. As expected, the other lumberjack goons, whom the twins insisted would be able to hold their own in combat, were entirely useless when the fighting began. One of them spent the entire conflict entangled in a Wizard’s spell, before being knocked off the platform by a rolling log. Pitiful.

Regardless, this outcome was within our expectations, and served well to gauge their current capabilities. Beck, the more skilled of the two twins, was recovered, and I am sure we can make good use of his brother’s body. Such a brute loses little by becoming a mindless thrall.

After defeating the lumberjack twins, the ‘heroes’ proceeded west into Blightmoor. As you commanded, we ensured that they were unmolested by any denizens thereof until their arrival at Tyrant’s Redoubt. Though it did have a certain theatrical flare, I question the wisdom of simply allowing them inside the castle. Not that I mean to doubt you, lord Tyrant. You could smite them at any time, yet we spend so much time on elaborate preparations.

But I digress. Their ‘friend’, whom Andronikos had captured before, was positioned within, complete with the ‘enhancements’ that were granted to him. His squad of combat-trained Wight soldiers should have been a match for their team, but it seems yet again I have underestimated them. The Elf who bears your sword, Rirosorchalwen, holds great power. Crushing a skilled Wight Defender in a single blow is no small accomplishment.

As you are aware, emotions do not come easily to me after my ascension. However, even I felt a spark of amusement at watching their ally El-Mofty roughly choke Elowyn and repeatedly pummel her. Their ‘commander’ exacerbated the problem by placing an Aqueous Orb on the two. I question the judgment of Freystadt’s leadership – placing a Sidhe in charge of anything seems a foolish proposition. The team’s Wizard, however, is another who may prove dangerous given time. His Black Tentacles spell removed even El-Mofty from his grapple and incapacitated the two Wight Archers. The interrogators tell me the Elf was called ‘clever wrestler’ in his youth. How foolish.

Their defeat of the Wights, while impressive, was not unexpected. Andronikos had requested a personal battle with them, should they succeed. I believe that even after his own ascension, he clings to that petty concept of ‘honor’. Regardless, granting him a battle would in no way hinder our plans, though I took the liberty of adding two of your Shades to the conflict, in order to confound their spellcasters.

As the Knight requested, their battle was held on an island created specifically for the purpose, suspended magically over the endless storm that circles Tyrant’s Redoubt. This battle should have been a simple victory for Andronikos, but none of us anticipated the sheer power that their Paladin displayed. One from Freystadt does not simply come across a sword of that caliber, and I regret not detecting it before the battle. I sense the influence of that one in the East, only he would have access to such a weapon.

I digress again. The clarity of death does little to keep my thoughts from wandering. Elowyn displayed surprising skill again by disarming Andronikos’ prized greatsword. The Knight retrieved it in an overly-dramatic fashion, I believe. At the same time, it seems their archer, the ‘tree’ was able to dispatch the Shades with some help from the other melee fighters. At some point in the confusion, their commander simply disintegrated. This was none of my doing. Was she really such a threat that you felt it necessary to step in?

After Andronikos returned, he initiated a one-on-one battle with the other team’s champion, the Human named Nyrik. It was a close battle but, astonishingly, the Knight was defeated. The joy he must have felt to die in combat once again. It sickens me.

As you directed, we shifted the castle after the fight, leaving them to crash to the ground on a now rapidly descending rock. I doubt that this finished them, however. They prove to be quite tenacious. El-Mofty’s body was left behind. After all these years, you still insist on rewarding your enemies. Do you hope that, perhaps, they will become powerful enough to challenge you? Such a thing is impossible, I need not remind you. But, who am I to question the will of the Tyrant?

This loathsome task is done. Let it thusly be recorded.

By the Tyrant’s will,
Hannibal Woden

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