Footsteps of the Fallen

The Gilded Talon
...and so it begins

I snap my fingers loudly in front of Flynn’s face. “Flynn, Flynn! Focus!” I say, shaking my head as he turns back to me with a puzzled look on his face. “Huh, wha?” He says, sipping his frosty mug of beer. “Flynn, you can look at barmaids any other time you are here, let’s just focus on what we came here to discuss, alright?” “Yes of course Adora, I do apologize,” he says, smiling. Arching an eyebrow I smile back, slighty. “Riiight…anyway, what were you saying again about the Imperium?”

For several hours, Flynn and I discussed the increasing presence of the Imperium in Alluvia at our usual tavern hang out. I had known Flynn for several years, as I was once assigned to accompany his father on various foreign political trips across the land. Though Flynn was a pompus ass most of the time, he entertained me and we got along pretty well.

For a few months now we had been gathering members together to form a group that would investigate rumors and Imperium incidents around the land. I had sent a letter a few months back to my friend Adahy in Astalor seeking his assistance in scouting the land. As a fellow druid and student of my mothers, I trusted in his expertise of the wilderness. I knew the land well, being a nature lover and protector myself, but Adahy was an expert. Plus, it would be nice to have a friend come along with us.

Flynn was telling me about a rogue he knew through means I did not really care to know, though he told me in detail anyway. “Lets just say she is good at what she does,” he said. “Well, she had better be trustworthy as well,” I added.

Our group was coming along nicely. Several other skilled individuals were on board as well and soon we would all head out to meet Adahy in Astalor.

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The Gilded Blade
...find the blue sash

We were an unlikely group. At least from my perspective. A mish mosh of elves and humans. But we fought well together and that was important.

Having made it to Astalor and back, with many things in between, most important of which was the stone we sent out to investigate, we now stand outside a stable in Aeroglyph waiting for Ama to negotiate a price for some horses.

I look over at Corian who appears a tad impatient. He is rather conceited and snobbish, so I don’t mind that he is annoyed at the moment.

Ama has been in there for awhile “negotiating.” I glance at Flynn and raise a questioning eyebrow. He just shrugs and flashes me a smile. I shake my head and begin to walk towards the stables.

Just then Ama walks out with the stable master following behind, grinning. His beard is atrocious. This man seriously needs to shave.

With no aparent bargain worked out, my companions pay for their horses and we gear up for our next mission. I had decided to stay with the group, after speaking with my commanding officer about the adventures. I did leave out the part where we would become mercenaries assigned to assassinate political leaders, but since he didn’t really ask…

I send a few messages to Adahy in Astalor and we head off for our newly assigned mission… to find the one with the blue sash and bring him back alive…mostly.

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The Fall

Tears streamed down my cheeks, the salty beads of liquid fell silently as I watched my beloved city, Aeroglyph, come under attack and crash into the pristine lake under it. Hundreds of my Runeguard sisters were dead, along with Darius and Onyx. I looked over, my ears still deafened and ringing by the blast of magic, and saw Flynn screaming. Time seemed to be moving slowly. I blinked, hoping this was a dream. It wasn’t.

Rage built up inside me and the tears poured from my eyes. I stood in silence as my companions and I watched the dust settle. Everything inside me told me to run, to go to them, to help my friends and heal the wounded. I felt like I was going to be sick and my stomach churned. I took a step forward and I felt something soft under my fingertips. I looked down and saw Torque pushing his head against my hand. My muscles slowly relaxed and I took a slow, deep breath. I softly stroked Torques head and looked down into his eyes. My mother used to tell me that animals eyes cannot lie. As I looked at Torque I saw a sliver of compassion…and then mostly hunger. I smiled. He is a beast after all.

I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked over at the rest of the group. Corian and Procopios were rounding up the horses to head out for our mission. I walked up to Flynn and put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it tightly. He didn’t look at me, but I knew his face was filled with grief.

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A Gilded Blade I Am

Vanian Tel’Sor

4 Week, 7th Day

I met a group recently, in the woods. I wouldn’t have known it at the time, however, I was out of my mind with thirst and hunger. I had recently escaped Trendeau’s fort with most of my gear, a small miracle in and of itself. There was no gold or food though, and a blade and armor is little good lost in the forest. As no woodsman, I was closer to death than I care to admit, for I may have seen a raven.

They came upon me invisibly, and despite my stupor, I had the will to draw blade and meet death with grim ardor. I stood, stumbling and turning rapidly, calling the the invisible woman to reveal herself. She seemed to take me at my word that I would slay her, for she relented and turned visible, but I do not think I could have slain a newborn at that moment. My skin was inflamed and infected from the dirty grass-beds I had been collapsing on. I have heard of shelter tree’s from rangers, but could not find them, and so had to make due with uncomfortable sticks, and nosing beasts.

The Gilded Blade, they called themselves. They offered me food, and water, and made me a salve to ease the burn. I was grateful. They tried to cure my condition, but to no avail. My own magic had failed, but I had hoped, on some level, others could help. I gave up that hope, in that moment, no normal magic can erase these scars from my flesh, just as no magic can wipe my sins from my soul.

I found they travel back to him, to my torturer, and so I accompany them with promise of spell and sword, and they accepted. A Gilded Blade I am, however puerile the name. It was probably Flynn who decided it. Nonetheless, fate has conspired to give me a chance to seek my vengeance, on a child or not. I am not certain whether I should bless or curse the name Arakaxx for giving it to me. We shall see in time.

We traveled to some small town near the encampment, just on this side of the border. There were Imperium soldiers walking the streets, buying wares and speaking with citizenry. I started planning the the assault with Corian, but the others balked at the thought of a fight in the streets. They insisted on speaking with the mayor regarding their seemingly willing occupation by The Imperium. Corian and I awaited their return while watching the men patrol about. As if this was their town. As if this was their country.

Flynn and Adora returned, and wove a tale of forced occupation. That they would only resist occupation, if they had the means to do so. If only someone would come and help them, come fight on their behalf, they would be happy to stop sympathizing. Traitors, every one of them that was not, in some way, resisting the occupation. Whether stockpiling weapons, poisoning soldiers, providing false information, anything. Many of these cowards, however, were content to live and let live, allow their homes to be used as a staging point for an invasion. Treason.

I tired of their pandering, and gave way to the soft road. We left to the woods for two weeks as we slowly assaulted Camp Spider, the prison I had known for three months. It was too strong for a frontal assault, and so we picked off soldiers in small groups. They came to travel in groups after their men did not return, but it is impossible to have men in groups at all times. Weeks went by as we carefully fought our war with the boy.

They started killing the townspeople, saying that they would take one of theirs for each Imperium man who died to our attacks. Some of the group seemed ready to back away from our plan, and so I spoke as one does to a recruit that has not known the life of the blade. A man who still fears to take life. No threat of theirs can rid themselves of the responsibility for every death that occurred. Ama, the Imperium dogs, the townspeople. Every one was on their hands, for invading our land and sovereignty for no just cause but conquest and conquer. All the blood that is spilt shall be drunk from their cups, and if I have my way, those cups shall runneth over.

Finally we faced the boy and his crossbowmen in battle. He is deadly close, and so knows fear from those with ranged weapons. As any child, he leans on others to balance his weakness, and never strays far from them. The battle was intense and furious. None among us but I and Bevidere, I fear, had the stomach to attack him, and danced around his glaive, out of reach. The boy had his men focus their fire on me, and so as much as I disdained it, I was forced to defense behind my stout shield, magic curing those bolts that slipped through.

There was a blinding light then, like the sun itself had joined the battle and on our side, for all the Imperium men were blinded. Others had reservations, but I did not. I charged the boy, all his skill and all his potions were as dust now. I struck true, and The Gilded Blade, emboldened by it, joined the attack. He was disarmed and laid low, and the others meant to tie him up to take to Aeroglyph. I did not, and pierced my magical blade through his neck, even as I whispered as a lover does, in his ear and for him alone. He laughed and collapsed, but the moment was mine. I did not care that he lived, somehow, for I had taken what was mine. The others would have questioned or berated me, I could see in their eyes, but they thought me mad with vengeance. If this is true, for as I still feel the draw of violence, then it is hardly over; for I have never been so mad as I am now.

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The Second Fire

Vanian Tel’Sor

(Before meeting the Gilded Blade)

His breathing was deafening, after a while, ragged all the time. It hurt to draw in, but each time it was harder to let it go. He remembered the last time, and how the air was impossible to find. Elusive. He wondered when it would be over, but realized he couldn’t tell five minutes from five hours right now. Might as well be forever.

The room itself, was dark as hell when the door wasn’t open. There used to be a light under the door, but when the boy had noticed it, he’d had them place a block of wood in front the door, to cut it out. And it did just that, now he couldn’t see for a damn. Didn’t help with the time.

Footsteps. Always the footsteps, but he’d come to recognize them. Always loud, the plate boots never came off with this one. It was him, again. As they neared he worked to stabilize his breath. It was hard. The steps stopped outside the room, and her heard a soft cork pop, and the noisy drink of a man who wasn’t thirsty. The prick would drink something like that, for something like this.

The light was blinding. He would have thought it burned his eyes, but he knew the difference now. The wood cracked it was opened so hard. Those boots were so hard. When he squinted at the boy, through the light, it looked like some creature, coming into his cell. Perhaps it was.

“I’m getting tired,” the boy said, “of coming in here.” This was a lie, he knew. He said it every time. “Just tell me what you know, and this can all be over. I’ll cut you loose with a horse and a dagger, to wander your way back to your doomed city. It’s the least I can do as a man.”

“Half a league, half a league,” he muttered, as incoherently as he could manage.

“Not this shit again.” The boy moved, so quick, and kicked him so hard in the stomach his chair fell backwards. He gasped at the pain of feeling the floor on his back. It was worse than the boot. “You can’t keep this up much longer. It’s going to kill you. That’s not so good for you, but I could give a shit less. You know what I want,” he grabed the back of the chair, lifting him back up, “so just give it to me.”

“Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.” The boy growled and hit him in the face. His strength, a result of the potion, was so jarring his head rang out loud. “’Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns’ he said.” It barely sounded like words as the boy continued to slug on him, moving around the body, like he was trained. One place, too many times, stopped hurting. “Into the valley of Death, Rode the six hundred…Half a league, half a league…”

The boy stepped back, breathing hard. “Alright, fuck this, you can have it if you want it.” His mantra cut short, involuntarily, and the boy noticed. He smiled, the son of a bitch. Taking out one of those bottles he always carried, like the one he drank, he popped the cork and started emptying it on him. He started crying, he couldn’t help it, and he hated how much amusement the boy got from that. “We’ll talk again tomorrow,” he said, stepping away. “After they’ve put you out again. He could see the man outside the door with a bucket of water and a spell on his lips. It wouldn’t come for a while, though, too long.

The boy backed out of the room, and not even looking, tossed a lit tinder-twig on his lap. He lost rational thought as he screamed, a second time, and the flames crawled across his burnt skin.

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The Fall

3 Week, 4th Day, Spring.

The boy lived, though terribly wounded. The other Blades wanted to take him back to the high city to be questioned. It was part of their contract with the Order of the New Dawn. They were not members themselves, just hired hands. Mercenaries, of a sort. He wouldn’t have believed they were members even if they had said so. The Order was built of men more heroic than these. Men who’s spines were forged of steel, and tested against the heat of hell. Men who’s convictions were more important than their lives, and who’s morals could not be compromised. There were men like those of the order, and then there were men like himself. He would work their means, yes, but not with the light they brought. He would do what it took, however stained his hands might get.

It is worth noting that the town rose against The Imperium in the last moments, tearing the crossbowmen from their steeds and breaking them upon the ground. I am glad to see it, but wonder if their conviction will hold. We were joined more permanently by Bedivere, a large man of the town. I suspected his training in war was not formal, but he was naturally inclined. He is not bright, but he is brave, and seeks to do good. He reminds me of stories I have heard of Darius, in his early years, and it is a comforting thought. Not all great men are graced with intelligence, and I hope that Bedivere shall deliver himself to my aspirations.

We set forth on horseback, trailing the boy in a wagon of sorts. We did come across a desperate mage, a Zellicar Z Erricus, losing ground to an enraged and four armed beast. After driving the thing off, we came to his acquaintance, and traveled to a nearby inn. It was magical, and hidden from the world by magic so as to protect the traveling wizards who frequented it. An interesting place, but of little consequence. Onward to Aeroglyph.

We beat the heaviest snows, but just barely. Their Order handler, Vence, agreed to sign me on to their contract at half pay, which I felt was reasonable. What followed was a long, and relatively uneventful winter. There is little work for men like us to be done in Aeroglyph, for the rune-guard keep things exceptionally safe. Gangs and criminals and the like are subtle or quickly dispatched by the powerful force.

Having gotten to know, over the months, the members of The Gilded Blade, I think it worth noting my analysis of them. It is as follows:

Flynn is a coward of the worst kind. He lives by his skill at the blade, and is quite talented at it. Yet in spite of this, he has no bravery in him. There is nothing of a hero, or of a man. He talks too much, usually to girls, so as to hide his fear that he is not the man that he should be. He is helpful in fights due his great skill, until he judges things dangerous. Then he backpedals, figuring a way to stay outside the heaviest fighting. And he does so not with the shameless approach of a coward, but trying to stay from notice or observation. He will do fine with the Blades, until the moment we need him the most. Then, I fear, he will save himself at any cost.

Corian is everything I expect of an elf, knowing little of them but stories. He is a hard man, strengthened by years of difficulty. Decades or centuries in fact, it is difficult to know with his kind. How must they see the world, when they must live within it for so long? He is reliable and unshakable, if somewhat too practical. I do not understand his cause or his motives, except to continue living and fighting, but I am not overly concerned with them. I feel this way because I can trust him to do right by both himself and by me. His skill with a bow is as amazing as they say in the stories the elves are, and he knows arcane magic as I understand most of his people do. It is to them as farming is to us.

Adora is a rune-guard, and so graced by an ancient magic our people have come to be known for, and to rely on. The affinity for such magic is rare, and impossible in men. I respect her for the duty she has shown her country and the kindness she shows in her words and actions. Kindness is the right word for her, but I fear it is too strong a trait. I fear she is too soft for this life, and will not do well with the choices that are made by those such as us. Where I might normally be incensed at such a person, I will do what I can can to shield her from those choices, when it is possible.

Ama is dead. From what I knew of her, as callous as it sounds, the world is not much poorer for it. Her tales were all a sexual nature, she seemed ruled by it. At every opportunity she would trade not her given profession but the oldest one. It is no impressive feat to lay upon ones back, or to lure a rutting pig of a man to climb atop one. Perhaps there was more to the woman, or perhaps she had good cause for her attitude, but I never knew of it before she fell to the Imperium.

Larule is ridiculous. I do not know any other way to say it. I asked her once if perhaps her goddess was not just a divinity of physical strength of arms, but strength of will, and she handily dismissed it. It was meant as literally as it sounded, her goddess praised strength of arm alone. There is no depth to her, that I can see, she is all bluster. Still, I will not discount the favor of her goddess out of hand. The gods are wise and powerful, and do not hand their grace for simple cause. There are moments, aside from her boisterous shouts, a beautiful wisdom seeps through. I shall be patient and respect the choices of the divine, in hopes that she takes those moments and makes them as she praises, strong.
Adahay is not a man or a beast, but something between. Men live as men must, with civilization and organization. We build with the fire of industry, we study as magi in towers, and most of all we live together. Beasts live alone, in the wilderness, survival first and foremost in their what little they have of minds. There is a majesty and beauty to nature that can often be as terrible as it is amazing, and I would not fault the lion for eating the lamb, for that is it’s nature. Adahay, however, is a man who wishes he was a beast. He can reason and argue like a man, but all pointed at suggested men are nothing but beasts, despite conflicting with how society itself has formed. His actions, the mutilation of those fallen men, were as vile a thing as I have seen, and yet he saw no fault in it. “Why waste perfectly good intestines when I could make bags and clothes out of them?” I saw no interest in making the point with him, he is too far gone to come back, and so saw him banished from The Blades. We have no need of such a creature as he is, not man and not beast, but a monster.

In all, we are as many groups of legend started, young and mismatched. The tales of Ominix and Darius are filled with early disagreements, and some even suggest that Ominix once despised Darius as a simple fool. Only with time did he see the man was not simple, he was pure, and that is a thing worth being in this wretched world. Perhaps it even helped him change from the angry and brilliant young man he was, utterly obsessed with magic as he was. Perhaps I am even wrong about them, perhaps it is me that is flawed. I am certainly not perfect, and in fact quite far from it. Only time will tell, for Arakaxx rarely tells his secrets.

Our time in Aeroglyph was long, but it passed. Vence informed us that the boy knew of a weapons stockpile, hidden to the southeast. If we could destroy it, it would affect their ability to field an army in that section of the country. We accepted of course, it was a good mission, and one suited to our temperament, after being trapped by the snows in the safest city in the world. Before leaving we met with a young enchanter. He is a nobleman, and a good kingsman at that, and wishes to seek his duty to his country with us. After a long discussion where we questioned facets of his magic and approach (amusingly long if you consider how quickly we accepted Bevidere), he was inducted into The Blades.

We set forth, in good spirits, but it was not to last. Behind our leaving, not more than a mile, an army appeared by way of powerful magic. It was The Imperium, and they were mounting a full scale invasion. With the city born aloft by magic, I knew something was to be, and it was. Worm-like magi appeared in their army and began a cast of such intricacy that, even as a versed bard capable of many kinds of arcane magic, I suspect I will never grasp.

The Order of the New Dawn came then, in full force. It was a sight to behold, nothing short of the legends and the epics. Such glory is not fated long for this world, nor could it last and be what it is. Alone, the three of them held an entire army at bay. It was…I cannot describe it, except to say that I will never, in this life, see it’s like again.

Then came death, a spell meant to destroy Aeroglyph but turned to his purpose by Ominix the White Star. The armies were as dust, and the greatest city in the world came crashing down to earth, figuratively and literally. Never before has it fallen, and it is my fear it will not rise again, but that is only known by Arakaxx. We ride, now, against a force that spans four countries and has leveled our shining capital. I will not fear them, however, for all great times in history come of these kinds of years, these kinds of quests, and these kinds of wars. The cups will run over.

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A Tavern Tussle!
Sometimes "subtlety" isn't in the cards...

As Flynn poured the last of the ale down the wenches throat (an amount he was sure would put her out for at least a few hours) he prepared to head downstairs and rejoin his companions. What waited for him downstairs was a rousing tavern brawl the likes of which he’d only heard of in adventurers tales. Chaos and confusion took over as Imperium troops flooded from every opening and fell nearly as quickly. The Imperium clearly did know know who they were up against, he thought, perhaps too confident in his own abilities.

In the wake of the brawl, Vanian quickly located a soldier who was under a sleep spell, after waking him and interrogating him, Vanian and Flynn managed to secure the location of the weapon’s cache, the target of their present mission from the Order. While the men were interrogating this lone soldier, Corian slunk around making sure the enemies were dead. Upon seeing the interrogation come to an end, he planned to execute the survivor in a similar matter, Vanian protested however, the two began to argue the proper course of action, should they let him live? he only gave up the cache’s location under duress, he had not in fact, surrendered to them.

Flynn’s mind raced a mile a minute, he knew that before long more Imperium would likely swarm them and they were in no condition to last another round of fighting. Flynn was not a soldier, he had never been one, he was as oblivious to the ways of war as he was to the ways of the law, he hastily weighed his options, on the one hand, the soldier was harmless now, and had given them vital information. On the other hand, he was Imperium, he was an enemy of his home and in Flynn’s eyes, no less evil than those who caused the fall of Aeroglyph. If they let him live, it may be honorable, but it does not futher their mission or hasten the defeat of the Imperium, and it leaves a loose end.

He gritted his teeth, this was not for himself, this was for Aeroglyph and all of the people who died under the Imperium’s evil magic. He struck quickly and put down the helpless soldier while the two bickered. The deed was done, he took no joy in it, and he was sure the rest of the group might question his actions, but the time for talking was over, escape was now their only option.

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A tigers thoughts
...he always listened to Adora

Though hesitant, Torque began to attack the evil creature that threatened Adora and her human companions. Instinct told him this was not a good idea but he always listened to Adora. The human hit him hard and he went down, his body twisted in agony after the blow crushed him. His vision faded and he drifted off into unconsciousness. When he opened his eyes, he saw Adora pouring some strange tasting liquid down his throat. He gagged a little but allowed her to pour the entire contents into his mouth. When she was finished he laid there a moment while she stroked his fur softly. He stood and shook off the effects of the pain he had just felt.

She had healed him, like she had done many times before when he was hurt. She scratched him behind the ears and said something he didn’t understand but he knew by now she meant that she was sorry she had asked him to do that, and assured him she wouldn’t put him in that situation again. He hadn’t liked attacking something he knew could kill him and was relieved that he may not have to do it again.

Lately he and Adora had been killing many human creatures. She had asked him before they first left Aeroglyph if he would join her and if he felt like it was a good idea. He wasn’t sure what she meant by “good idea” but he did tell her he would follow her wherever she went. He was bound to her and would do what she asked. He had been by her side for years now and would continue to be as long as she needed him.

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A Morning Prayer...

“Ellena, when I asked you if you might be able to guide my strength to crush those Imperium bastards, I didn’t think you’d guide me into a battle of wits. Politics are for dwarves like my brother, not me,” Ortan said to the empty room.
Ortan rubbed his eyes, finally deciding it was time to wake up. As he sat up his head throbbed slightly. He had just woken from a night of drinking, which happened to be every night. His long black beard was a mess, same with his hair. He ran his hands through both briefly, smoothing them out for the most part. Laying on the bed next to him was Earthbreaker, his family heirloom, a massive headed great hammer. On the ground, his armor lay in an unceremonious pile. Priorities.
After a few stretches, Ortan began fumbling through the sheets of the bed until he found what he was looking for. A large silver flask. On the face of it there was an ornate engraving of a great hammer resembling Earthbreaker. This flask, had become his holy symbol. Granted, Ellena is not the Goddess of any sort of alcohol, but that didn’t matter to Ortan. It wasn’t the alcohol that focused his divine energies, it was the engraving. That great silver hammer.
Finding his symbol of prayer, he sat on the floor and began his morning prayer.
“Thank you Ellena for showing me your strength. Thank you for lettin’ a drunken dwarf be healed by that strength. Most of all, thank you for showin’ me where to use my strengths. When I left Stonedeep I was lost, but then you found me.”
Ortan then stopped, removed the cap from the flask, and took a quick drink.
“And one for you…” he said, and took another drink, “you beautiful lass, you.”
After screwing the cap back on he resumed his prayer, “Let me see if I can do this right… May my I prove stronger then my foes. May my hands heal those in pain. May your light guide my way. Please allow me to resist the attacks of my enemies, and my allies to resist the draws of death. With your sight I shall see that which is unseen. With your blessing I shall strike down my foe. May you also bless the stone, for it calls to a humble dwarf like me. I shall not show fear in the face of my enemies, and with your strength I shall bring their doom. Please head my call when I need your strength to restore my allies, for many battles may ail us. Please protect us from forces that may do us harm too. Amen…or something. Is that what Brother Silas always said? Oh well, you get the point.
“Ellena, I’ve been following your lead for a while now. You’ve always led me true, for that I’m thankful. When I asked to help crush those Imperium bastards I was told to wait. When I was sent to Aeroglyph and found the Gilded Blade instead, I took that as a sign. With their help we can stop these bastards from doing here what they did to Brundicor….and Dad…and…Mom. We will make them pay for the evil they have spread. I have to ask, is this political crap doing us any good? I mean, I don’t really get any of it. Just make the strongest the king and be done with it. Then we can be back to fighting the Imperium rather than each other. Oh well, you must have your reasons for bringing me into this. I think I hear Flynn flirting with some woman out there. I just hope he’s not wearing those bright pink pants again. By the way, Ellena, please don’t judge him too bad, he is a good person…I think.”
Ortan sat up from the floor and began donning his armor. Today was going to be a busy day.

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Fallen Icons

Loyalty my myself or loyalty to my country. Women who I have known my whole life, grown up with, and respected or my own beliefs as to what is right. Maybe if I had listened to my mother and never joined the Runeguard, this would never be a choice I’d have to make. However, the decision is in the here and now…my stomach churned…

After the wave of nausea passes, I watch as my fellow Runeguards haul Vanian off the jail cells below. It didn’t feel right, using my authority to have my friend hauled off to jail, but I wasn’t exactly myself right now either. My brain was fighting with my heart and internally I was a mess.

The secret message I had received from Yasanna felt like a tiny virus infecting my mind and played with my emotions. Sharing it with my companions felt wrong but I had done it anyway. Now we were back at the door steps of the Oder of the New Dawn and I was about to share my secret with another…I just prayed this decision would be a wise one…

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