Chapter II: The Twins

(No maps provided for this chapter)

Journey Towards Light

      Captain Blackwing steps away from Warsch and walks back towards the controls of the ship.

     "Avast, ye Hammers! The Redmaw, the terror of the skies!" He flips a few switches, then pulls back on a throttle. The engines of the ship roar with terrible power, and in an instant, takes off faster than anything Captain McHagay could've dreamed of.

     The party prepares to go below deck to get out of the fierce winds blowing through them. Blackwing takes notice of this, and presses a blue button near the wheel. A blue bubble pops up, encasing the deck of the ship, creating a vacuum that neither wind nor object can penetrate.

     "This here ship is the finest technology devoloped in Zeus, yar! A shield, which I've so far tested against ballistae - no effect! We are safer than the Bugbear city of Hruggek!" Blackwing boasts.

     Warsch is most amazed at his old friend's progress. "How did you find yourself such a fine vessel, Captain?"

     The Kenku looks down his beak at Warsch. "I won it in a bet, if I can be honest. Forged a few land deeds, and bet them against this drunkard captain! Good thing I pervailed, yar! Be a mess otherwise."

     Spider crosses her legs, and turns towards the captain with crossed arms. "The captain wasn't a human by any chance, was he? Strong nordic accent?"

     Blackwing tilts his head at the cloaked woman. "No! I won this honestly from a lizard! Called himself Nihlus! Bet it in a game of cards, yar. Beat him by one ace to his king! Had this ship for a good year, I have! Shortly after I've heard of your fine deeds!"

     The party turns their attention to Selene, who is sitting still, her body unmoving in the slightest bit, still like a statue. Alethra waves her hands in front of the angel, who immediately grabs onto her wrist with a powerful, cold grip.

     "What is it, Alethra?" Selene speaks.

     "Alethra gasps, pulling her wrist free. "Just wondering if you were awake. What's on your mind?"

     The angel remains still. "I worry of my sister. The demon's found me in mere seconds. I have fear that something has already found her."

     Captain Blackwing kaws, much so like a real bird, putting Crow Lord to shame. "I've done some time in this land, and have heard much! I remember coming across a pride of druids, I think that's the word. Anyways, they told me of a specific yearly ritual they must perform, something about granting the SunStone the power of nature, to grow and heal those caught in it's branches. Before the land turns gray, they told me. The land has yet to turn gray, so it must be close!"

     Selene tilts her head, baffled in a way that no angel could. "What do you mean, bird?"

     Kree! I mean the druids could be with her! Protecting her! Such would be our luck!"

     Selene sinks back into her seat, her body going still once more. Stormdrake turns towards her, getting her attention. "Selene, I have a question- a request, if you would. Our good friend Warsch, an Aasimar as you know, is part angel. However, we cannot identify what kind of angel he is descended from. Could you help us?"

     Selene turns towards Warsch with curiousity. "Yes, I have these memories from Crow Lord. You burn with orange energy? I want you to show me."

     Warsch stands up from his seat next to Tharyn, and stands in the middle of the ship. He pulls his arms back, lowering his body into a defensive stance. With great energy coursing through him, he begins to shout meditatively, but contrary to the way Spider does. Several episodes later, Orange tendrils of energy burst from his back, his eyes flare up, and his body glows orange. Great heat radiates off of him, and Selene's face forms into a frown.

     "I have seen this form. I know what it is, and have fought against one much like you. The Solar, or Arch-Angels as some call them, command a greater amount of energy compared to what the Deva can. Normal Deva have two types of powers: Light and Darkness. But Solars channel a power very near to a God. Few actually exist, only twenty-four are known to Crow Lord: one for each god of good and purity. That is who your father was, Warsch. Your power, although not nearly as developed, is one of a Solar."

     Warsch exits out of his angelic state, his mouth hanging open. "A... Solar? But no one has every seen one, or at least recorded seeing one since the dawn of time. Why would one show itself to my mother?"

     Selene sits still, her head barely moving as she speaks. "Perhaps it is fate. They are usually restrained from acting.They're very powerful, and not to be taken lightly. Their presence usually brings great destruction."

     Everyone turns towards her, anxious to hear her tale. "It was a Solar and his cronies who trapped me in that large crystal you found me in. My sister and I were always hunted, both by heaven and the hells. Eventually, we joined up with a band of tribals, who were cut down by the angels. Not very nice. I killed many angels that day, eventually facing off against a Solar. Both his weapons and abilities were great, much on par to mine. If not for his many servants, it was an even fight."

     Warsch speaks, his voice stuttering with awe at the being before him. "If your powers are equal to a Solar, what does that make you? And if you are this strong, can you teach me? My progress has been slow, and I've barely-"

     Selene snaps. "NO! Whatever you are becoming or want to become, it is wrong! The heavens don't share their gifts, not without some twisted plan behind it all! So for whatever reason you were born... it is not good. The more powerful you become, the sooner they will trap you and use you for their 'divine' mission! Don't become a pawn, Warsch."

     Tharyn defends Warsch. "If he is a target, like you say, then it is very likely that he will be defenseless against this threat. We cannot hope to defend him, Selene. I mean, sure... we have a particular set of skills. But against a Solar? Even the Demon Princes fear them! You were punished by them - a reason you have not shared with us honestly, I feel."

     Selene shakes her head. "I know only of darkness. I cannot heal the sick, I do not resurrect the dead with good results. My powers break the light. If Warsch were to have a spark of dark inside of him, maybe I could. but there's not a trace of it. However, I'll make you all a deal: Help me free my sister, and I'll put in a favor with her. She is an angel of the light, and MIGHT be able to teach you a few things. But Warsch... you are neither light nor dark. We may not be able to show you anything.

     Warsch sits back down Tharyn's hand repositioning on top of his. He looks over at her, her smile bringing some faith back into him. Stormdrake sees this and shouts.

     "Aha! I knew it! You two are an item! Admit it!" Warsch and Tharyn's hands seperate in embarassment, their faces red. "You spend a full year together, bickering and arguing over good and evil, the natures of both. But all of that was just... a distraction! Tell me this: While you two were travelling, did you ever once embrance each other?"

     Warsch coughs. Tharyn looks at the floor, her mouth agape and thoughts flooding through her head. Eventually, Warsch nods his head. "Yeah, you could say something like that. Quite a story, that one is."

     Stormdrake spews a quick spark from his nostrils, the clouds above them thundering with his anger and hidden hurtfulness at secrets well hidden.

     "Start from the beginning"

The Witch and The Crusader

     The story is told entirely by Tharyn, whose memory of such things are perfect to a fault.

     Shortly after the party split, Tharyn and Warsch went off on their own. With a dark mind and darker intentions, Tharyn followed the Paladin around with the intentions of misguiding him from his holy quest, whatever that was. The best way to distract him was with 'the fight between good and evil,' as Tharyn liked to put it. Eventually, the two headed to Dal'Krosh, where the two sought out rumors of a Ghost. They headed north from the city gates, following the rumors to the great dead tree where they ambushed the green hag previously. The two sat in the darkness, the pale moon illuminating their surroundings. Tharyn looked up to the moon with an ancient calling in her blood to admire it. Scholars have been curious at their longing for the moon, but no historical records or physical evidence could ever be found.

     Tharyn gazes at it, her mouth agape. Warsch looks over at her, bored of the long wait for the ghost to show up. He looks at her, a humored smile quickly appearing on his lips.

     "Your tongue's going to dry out if you keep doing that, Tharyn. And then you're going to complain about it for the next hour, even after you drink up all of our canteens." Warsch says, his white eyes piercing through the moonlight.

     Tharyn closes her mouth, her tongue dry like Warsch said. But her entire throat is dry also, knowing what she must do to Warsch. If the paladin were to ever discover her true nature, what evils she visited upon her family, he would smite her. But a nagging sensation gnaws at her stomach. Anxiety, or perhaps regret? She turns to the paladin, sticking out her dry tongue.

     As she does, and he smiles, an apparition of a child appears, although he does not move.

     Warsch rises, gripping holy chains, ready to smite the ghost if necessary. "Child... can you hear me?" he speaks.

     The ghost floats in the air, but turns it's entire body towards Warsch. "Finally, I can hear! The others... they couldn't understand! I couldn't talk... and they screamed and ran away."

     Warsh smiles at the ghost-boy. "How long have you been here, boy?"

     A single spectral tear rolls down the boy's cheeck. "What seems like forever, and I miss my mommy and I JUST WANNA GO HOOOOME!"

     Tharyn tries to distract the ghost. "Child... do you know how you died?"

     The child panics. "I dont'- I can't remember! A pair of eyes, peering into mine! I tried to run, but I froze. Then... I came here, unable to move!"

     Warsch leans towards Tharyn, whispering in her ear. "Petrification, or perhaps frozen?"

     Tharyn slaps Warsch on the back. "Ghost-boy, could you take us to where you died?"

     I cannot! If we go, then you too will perish, just like the others who could listen!"

     Warsch stammers. "W-What others?"

     The child tilts his whole body, as if ashamed and looking at the dirt. "Your not the first who could see me. I dragged a few to a cave, where me and a few other kids were playing after we ran from home. We wanted to be bandits, but the cave was full of statues. Little did we know, those statues were people!"

     Stormdrake interrupts the story. "Can you guys just get to the exciting part? Skip to the ending!"

     Tharyn raises her middle finger at Stormdrake. "No. You wanted the fully story, so that's what you get."

     Anyways, the two persuaded the ghost-boy to take them to the cave, where they battled and fought against a Basilisk. Tharyn never thought to tell Warsch about the Basilisk's curse, assuming that he would surely meet his doom in the cave, and no one would be any wiser to assume her intentions. However, upon entering the caves, Tharyn saw the form of the basilisk entering among the shadows. The magic of it's cursed eyes only had a limited range; something Tharyn could work with. Warsch had no means of ranged attacks, and charged in against better instinct.

     As much as Tharyn had wanted it to happen, seeing Warsch turn to stone caused the pit in her stomach to well up with anger. She raged against the Basilisk, shooting out it's eyes with bones and summoning the skeletal remains around her to mold around her flesh like an exoskeleton.

     Although Tharyn lacks in strength, her magical manipulation of bones causes it to swing faster and cut deeper than any trained warrior with a steel sword. Blinded, the basilisk beserked, flailing around and smashing many of the stone statues and smacking Tharyn with it's tail, but thanks to the bone armor, Tharyn got up with slight bruises forming on her body.

     With the grace of an elven sorcerer, Tharyn summoned a large bone spear in her hands and began cutting at the basilisk, slicing clean through it's front leg and running up on top of the monster. When she stood at the base of the creature's skull, Tharyn planted the long spear into it's brain with precision and power, killing the beast instantly.

     As the beast lay motionless, Tharyn looked over at Warsch, waiting for his pretrification to end. However, the death of a basilisk does not revert it's curse. Tharyn wept for the first time in her life, but quickly returned to her senses. She began tearing apart the beast, identifying the properties of every organ and how the creature feeds on statues.

     It took several days, and Tharyn's curse turned into a statue every so often, but when she awoke it back to research. Eventually, Tharyn located the creature's stomach, learning a few things about it's special stomach acid, which undoes petrification. Tharyn filled a bowl with the creature's stomach fluids, and poured its contents all over Warsch. As she stood back, hoping it would undo him, the paladin was reverted from his curse.

     Tharyn smiled, true happiness flooding her brain. A sensation she has never felt before, but was quickly lost the moment Warsch opened his mouth.

     "We shall avenge you... Tharyn? Tharyn! The basilisk is slain!"

     Tharyn slaps herself on the cheek, then looks over at the paladin, waiting for him to figure out what happened.

     "Tharyn! The basilisk has already been slain! But the statues, nearby... They remain as stone! OH MY GOD!"

     "OH MY GOD!" mocks Tharyn with a deep voice. "Warsch, the curse ends when we douse them in the beast's stomach fluid. Which is why you are covered in goop. Because you were petrified."

     "OH MY GOD!" Screams Warsch. "But I have returned to normal? Tharyn... you brought me back?"

     Tharyn smiles. She doesn't understand why she did it, or why it feels good to help him. Warsch begins filling up bowls with the creature's stomach fluids, reawakening people from their stone prisons. Many of them can not be brought back, and the horror of the many lives lost hit the victims hard. Tharyn looks down to the ground in shame, her face concealed by darkness to Warsch. Warsch speaks up to the group of survivors.

     Everyone! Remember who you came with, and of those who are not here anymore. The broken statues are your friends and family. We cannot bring them back. The only thing left to do is to provide them a proper burial and leave their souls to rest. I will draw a ritual common to my faith: The Circle of Deliverance. Those who died within the circle will have their bodies burned in silver flame; their souls will ascend to the heavens to be delivered for judgement and find peace. Help me gather the rest of the people in here."

     Warsch pulls out a silver chalk from his belt. He begins to draw a giant circle on the ground, along with several runes that Tharyn cannot understand.

     "Warsch, what do those runes mean?" She asks.

     Warsch points to last rune he completed. "There are seven runes to draw on the circle; each one depicts a pillar of creation. This rune here *he points to a symbol that looks like an equals sign, but has a mighty cross drawn over it* stands for 'Who is equal to God?' The other six are 'God is my Strength', 'It is God who heals', 'God is my light', 'Intercessor of God', and finally 'Blessed by God.' There's an eight rune, which we draw in the middle. 'God's Exaltation.'"

     Tharyn crosses her arms. "The Silver Flame is not God, I take it?"

     Warsch responds quickly, almost too quickly. "The Gods we know and worship are not responsible for creation, and instead were created by the ruler of the heavens to watch over creation"

     Tharyn nods her head. As Warsch finishes the eighth rune in the middle, the victims of the basilisk begin piling their dead into the large circle. Once drawn, the circle remains on the ground for several hours, allowing it to be used multiple times. After three incantations from Warsch, the dead are finally put to rest.

     Warsch then sets fire to the basilisk, which begins to burn a sickly green. Tharyn sees several eggs in the corner of the cave, and walks over to them before leaving. "I could mix some decent potions with these..." She thinks. "or perhaps a decent omelette." Tharyn smiles to her self. She grabs each egg, and smashes each one in her grip. As she crushes each egg, a frenzy taking over her, Warsch runs up to her, wrapping his arms around her. "Tharyn, stop!"

     Tharyn flails in his arms, screaming. "We cannot allow another to live! They're monsters!"

     Warsch and Tharyn look over to the last egg, which breaks open from within. A small blue creature stumbles out, it's eyes unable to open and it's scales not yet formed. Tharyn takes pity on the baby. "They're not just creatures, Tharyn. They're life, and deserve a chance. We must warn the nearby towns not to come near these mountains." Tharyn holds the creature in her arms, taking care not to let it open it's eyes. She pulls out her oldest and darkest book, a tome of witchcraft, looking through a set of curses to inflict on the creature. She comes to a page about eye curses, and inflicts a curse so severe that it blinds the creature permenantly.

     Warsch eyes her with curiousity, and then his gaze turns to horror. "Witchcraft?!" He whispers under his breath. "But Tharyn... This is evil! You said that you despised evil, trained in the dark arts in order to best it! Avenge your parents' deaths!"

     Tharyn stops flipping through the book. "Warsch... I-I meant to tell you. All of you, really. I was scared of being smited for my nature... Warsch, I'm not just a necromancer. I'm a witch, and for several years I was part of a large coven led by a single Green Hag."

     Warsch's mouth opens agape. "But... hags! They're evil! The very essence of their magic is grotesque! We slaughtered them! Those... things! They were your people?"

     Tharyn looks down at the ground. "Warsch... I've always hated hags. But you need to know more about me. Because I can't continue our journey if you don't."

     Warsch turns away from her, putting his hand over his temple and running it through his hair. "Tell me everything." He grunts.

     Tharyn tells warsch her entire tale. How she learned necromancy at a young age, despite her parents. They got in the way of her pursuit for knowledge, and she killed them at the age of 16. As their corpses returned from the dead, Tharyn sent them into town, following her. The tale about the dark shade who killed her parents was a lie, for it was she who killed them. After that, she joined a coven of hags and inflicted a number of curses upon those who traversed through the woods. Together, her coven poisoned and killed many victims, trying to summon lesser demons for more power. Eventually, they were hunted down and executed by Witch Hunters, who Warsch is well aware of.

     The blinded basilisk struggles in her grasp, unable to see but it smells food. It slides through her weakened grasp, and begins feasting on the murdered remains of it's siblings. Warsch is unable to look at Tharyn. A dark wizard, a necromancer. "Do you seek immortality, Tharyn?"

     Tharyn is taken back by the question. "Elves live a very long li-"

     "DON'T AVOID THE QUESTION! Yes, you are an elf and will live hundreds of years. But do you seek ways to extend your life through dark magic?"

     Tharyn looks at the ground. "Yes."

     Warsch shakes his head. "I thought you were better than that. The people you will have to kill to achieve that... Do you know how many souls you will have to abuse, to take into yourself as a vessel?"

     Tharyn screams "HUNDREDS! ALRIGHT? I said it! But come on! Only bad people! They'd go to hell or the abyss and just become more demons! Save ourselves the trou-"

     Warsch walks out of the cave, never looking back onto Tharyn. Tharyn sits with her knees on the ground, watching Warsch vanish into the dark of the night. A single tear slips past her eye, but she decides to let go. More follow, and she remains in the cave.

     Stormdrake rubs his brow in anger. "You... are a hexer, Tharyn?"

     Warsch leans forward, expecting trouble. "She's okay, Stormdrake. We eventually came back together, but sacrifices and agreements had to be made. We both had to cross lines we didn't want to."

     Stormdrake grips his spear. "What do you mean by that?"

     Tharyn raises her hands between the two, resting a hand on Warsch's shoulder. "I agree to never pursue Lichdom, and Warsch agreed to let me continue my practices in the dark arts, but never on the souls of the innocent."

     Stormdrake relaxes on his spear. "Those are not the terms I was hoping for... but it'll have to do."

     Crow Lord focuses on his ring of communication. "So what happened after I brought all of you together?" Alethra, Selene, and Blackwing are all unable to hear him, but Tharyn makes sure to repeat the question.

     "After Crow Lord brought both of us together, we immediately hit it off, if I may say so." Warsch begins smiling at this.

     After the two had reunited, they agreed to spend the evening together before Tharyn's petrification took effect. They went out, trying pastries and went throughout the town trying on outfits (something Tharyn never had much taste for, but Warsch's gazes made it worth the while.) After that, the two went out to watch the sun set, picking a perfect spot near the tree where they met the ghost boy, laying out a blanket across the spot where the Green Hag was ambushed.

     "I know this may sound a bit odd, Warsch, but I would like to learn a things about what makes a Paladin. The books I've read... they talk about principles but none of it makes any sense to me. I'd like to use my talents for good, and support you."

     Warsch turns towards her. "I did some thinking, but I could never turn away from my faith. A paladin must always resist the path towards evil. However, I'm not looking for seduction. I want to understand what seperates evil from darkness. Be honest with me: are they the same thing? Can darkness be used for good?"

     Tharyn thinks to herself this question. "Darkness and evil can be opposites, I believe. Before I met you, I considered myself an evil being. Darkness can be cleansed with good, and you were that good for me."

     Warsch turns towards Tharyn. "This is it," he thinks. The libraries of the Silver Chapel in the Imperial City taught him much in the ways of channeling light, and a few books told him of love. "I've sworn an oath, M'Lady. But that oath has no value without you. Please, don't ever leave my side"

     And with that, as the sun sunk deep into the crevace of the Earth, the two leaned towards eachother and fell in love. Or at least, they tried to, but Tharyn transformed into stone and Warsch's first kiss was planted on stone lips.

     The two had built up much of a life before Crow Lord's call to action. They settle together in Dal'Krosh, living in the mansion that the party had earned as a reward. Visitors hardly ever came by, so the two had plenty of privacy. However, Warsch came to his new home with a surprise waiting for him at the front door: a basilisk, which had grown by this point in time to the size of a normal guard dog. Warsch froze instinctively at the creature, but stopped when he saw into it's blinded eyes.

     "Tharyn, you have blinded the poor creature permanently?" Warsch inquires.

     Tharyn nods, shrugging her shoulders. "It quickly adapted. After you left, I spent a good deal of time enjoying it's company, and even magically enhanced it's other senses. It can't see, but it's nose and ears are twice as effective. He has the layout of the place memorized, so I don't recommend moving any of the furniture, love."

     The two picked out a name for the Basilisk: Servilus. As the months continued, so did their research. The two began learning about each other's choices, realizing the differences between them, but also how their different talents can be used for good. Tharyn could never channel light the way a paladin could, but with his hard training, Tharyn became adept at wearing bone-plated heavy armor. In a full suit, Tharyn disguised herself as a skeleton knight, and any who stood before her felt impending fear as her bone blade wrenched out their soul. Although her muscles weren't as developed as her mind, Tharyn's ability to manipulate bone granted her better swordsmanship than any warrior.

     Warsch learned about summoning spirits, however was unable to grasp hexes or any of the dark arts. Tharyn and him spent many nights in graveyards, communing with the spirits who had not been able to move on. Thanks to their combined efforts, the two managed to solve many murders and put several widowers to peace. As his skill with communication increased, Tharyn helped Warsch discover the mighty spirit of a horse who served the templars during darker times: Agro.

     If it weren't for Tharyn, Warsch and Agro would have never bonded.

Story Time is Over

     Warsch and Tharyn confidently hold hands. A slightly warm smile stretches across Selene's face, and the rest of the ship admires Tharyn and Warsch for their development. Stormdrake has a shocked look upon his face.

     "So what you're telling me is that we now have a pet Basilisk running around our mansion?"

     Tharyn nods. "I guarantee that he is well taken care of. Our servants have been instructed with strict orders."

     Stormraises his brow, regretting ever leaving the quirky wizard alone in her dark ways. He shakes his head and looks over at Alethra, who paid no attention to Tharyn's story.

     Alethra remains attentive on herself, trying to focus a spell. She focuses all of her hatred into the palm of her hand, forming a small red orb, but the act tires her out and leaves her mind with a slight numbing sensation. Selene approaches her, seeing the darkness and hatred that lingers within. She peers into her soul, and sees a grisly sight: a gray form tied up in chains.

     "You've tapped into a demon's power, Alethra. Such things are not simple for humans to grasp"

     Alethra looks up at the dark angel. Although not very trusting towards her, Alethra feels more open with her than the rest of the party, who she still feels failed in their duty to protect. Although, such things could apply to her: had she not run off, she could have protected her child.

     Selene places a strong, cold hand on Alethra's shoulder. "No doubt you are tired from channeling your hatred. However, some magics are not finite.

     Warsch has two channels: his angelic Grace, and the Light. As a paladin, he can restore mana from direct contact with sunlight, but that power is only a tenth of the power of what his grace can output.

     Tharyn is a necromancer, so her spells are powered by death and souls. Just the simple act of being in a graveyard is enough to power her for several hours. However, she can also channel power by expending bones. For some necromancers, sacrificing bones or souls to a lord of death grants a quick burst of power.

     Spider, a monk, has but a single source of energy: Ki. Ki is generated by the life of all things, but she has to keep an open mind to be constantlyl restoring it. Instead, monks have developed a breath and focus technique, which grants them a short burst of Ki. Watch her during battle, you'll see her breaths before every move.

     Next, we have Crow Lord, a druid, however his abilities are seemingly endless. Although his natural capacity for magic is limited, his communing with nature grants him a constant intake of natural energy. So long as he is in a natural environment, which is quite often, he can channel his powers.

     Stormdrake channels his power from lightning and storms. However, such things are scarce, but a similar energy can be found in all things. Many are unaware of it, but all life contains subparticles that generate electricity. As matter of fact, that is what Stormdrake draws his power from.

     Alethra turns towards Selene. "And what about you and me?"

     "As an angel, I bask in the light, but my grace has fallen and the light turns to dark energy. No doubt you saw my neck of the woods. The nice thing about the armor I wear is that it naturally converts energy for me - so I can focus on other things."

     Alethra looks at her hands. "But I don't understand how my magic works. Graz'zt only told me so much."

     Selene raises a brow. "Graz'zt? The demon prince of pageantry is your patron? Well, you must first realize what your contract was forged from. What did you feel when you agreed to his terms?"

     Alethra pulls out her gun, thinking about the loss she felt and the anger. "My child died, and I was enraged beyone normal."

     Selene remains still, deep in thought. "Perhaps both emotions trigger your emotions? For me, I'm at my strongest the deeper my rage takes me. I'm going to trigger some of your emotions. Focus on your hands, and channel that emotion between them."

     Selene begins channelling a range of Alethra's emotions, finding the ones that trigger the deepest range of her powers. As Alethra fluctuates from anger to sorrow, the mass of power between her hands changing color and sizes. With anger, a palm sized red energy pulses between her hands, flames flying upwards. As sorrow flows, the orb grows in size and turns green, then drips with green tears.

     Selene pats Alethra on the shoulder

     Alethra opens up the book, which feels oddly light despite it's size. She opens it up, starting at the first page. "The Power does not come from within." Alethra pours over the pages, addicted to every word like a drug. She keeps reading words that speak of something called The Power, and how the warlock does not or is not born with access to The Power. Only through communing with one who does can a Warlock access magic, such as through a fiend or an immortal being.

     Alethra calls out in her mind, asking for guidance. "Graz'zt... can you hear me?"

     A sidious voice fills her head. "Yes? Have you begun your assigned readings yet? Ohhh, yup. I can see it. The look of confusion."

     "What is The Power and the ritual that these pages speak of?" Alethra asks.

     "The Power? It's an exchange of lifeforce, but you have to sacrifice much of yourself to attain it. It's further along in the book, I kinda mentioned it as a bit of a teaser early on. I'll get to that stuff later on when you're ready."

     Alethra grunts, causing everyone on the ship's deck looks over at her. Alethra pours through the pages, until she gets to the first chapter: Pact Magic.

     Alethra becomes very interested in the chapter, learning many things about her new abilities. First off, she reads a few notes left behind by previous Warlocks, who tell her about Graz'zt's three pillars of power: Finery, Pagaentry, and 'Indulging Desires.' The chapter tells her that with her new powers comes a responsibility: Warlocks must fulfill one of their master's pillars in order to restore mana. Alethra learns that she doesn't need to fulfill them: instead, she can be in the presence of a mortal soul indulging in them, however Graz'zt gives her a third option.

     "Or, you could just follow one of my succubi around. They do that stuff on a regular basis: They enchant nobles or common fools, make them spend all their gold on fine clothes & trinkets, go to fancy parties, and then blow their minds. Literally. It's probably the quickest way to recharge, in my opinion."

     Alethra questions him in her mind. "How do these acts give us power?"

     "Each act affects the world in some way, adding energy to the ethereal plane, which runs parallel to the material plane. As my Warlock, you get a taste of that energy everytime someone gives in. Unfortunately for you, you gotta be pretty close for that to happen. But don't worry! As you grow more powerful, the distance will increase! Eventually, a casual stroll through a town will refill your mana!"

     Alethra smiles, and continues reading. However, just as she begins the second chapter, Blackwing's airship lands, and she is forced to end her study.

The Sunstone Forest

     After sailing through the night, The party arrives at a clearing near the Sunstone Forest, which can barely see the Throne of Skoraeus in the horizon, the large skeleton of the city popping up from the ground. Captain Blackwing kaws, getting everyone's attention.

     "Kreee! The sun should rise soon, I'd say. However, as you can see in the lit forest, you won't miss it. I'll remain here, guarding my ship from thieves and animals. I'll see you all soon, Kaw kaw! Make haste!"

     Selene jumps off the side of the ship, her black wings spreading before she lands, carrying her some distance towards the forest. She stops, looking back at the party. "Hurry up! I don't know what horrors await us! Prepare for trouble!"

     Everyone assembles their fastest mode of transportation: Crow Lord transforms into a large crow and flies overhead, carrying Alethra on his back. Warsch and Alethra hop onto Agro, galloping away in a flash. Stormdrake vanishes in a flash, travelling through the wind like a bolt of lightning. Blackwing looks around, trying to figure out where Spider went. "Keke... It's like she vanished into the shadows..."

     The party follows Selene as best as possible, mostly following Crow Lord whose eyes could find a needle in a field of grass. As the sun begins to rise, beams of light fragment through the forest and fill it with the colors of a rainbow. Everyone comes to a complete stop in the heart of the forest, where a large golden crystal rises from the earth. Surrounding the crystal is a large group of druids, mostly Firbolgs. The large, statue-looking giants kneel around the statue, each in meditation. Each has distinct features that define them, similar to humans, however each has braided or styled their hair uniquely. As Crow Lord descends into the clearning, he waits for Alethra to get off his back and reverts back to his human form. The friendliest of the Firbolg approaches them, although that is not saying much. He looks at Crow Lord first, then turns towards the rest of the party.

     "Stay back, wanderers. You are not pilgrims as we are, and we do not wish to be disrupted. If you would, please join the other sight-seers over yonder. They have come just as we asked them to: observation only. The only one of you that I would welcome into our ranks is you, Crow."

     Tharyn wags her finger at the man. "No no no! We are here on a mission to protect that stone, you see. Now either you-"

     Crow Lord puts his hand on top of Tharyn's, lowering it. He shakes his head no, and walks off with the firbolg. Tharyn places her hands on her hips in discontent, sticking her tongue out at him as he heads off with the larger druid.

     "Vile Crow! Some friend you are!"

     Crow Lord joins the firbolg near the stone, but doesn't understand what they hope to accomplish. As he kneels, similar to them, the firbolg kneels beside him. "Firbolg do not typically have names, you see. There is no need, but for your sake you may call me Badger. Is calling you Crow acceptable?"

     Crow Lord nods his head, taking off his mask and hat.

     Badger eyes Crow Lord with great concern. "You have been dealt serious wounds in your few years, Crow. Most druids would have been healed by the natural energies with near perfection, however your wounds show remnants. Would you mind showing me your tale, starting with how you became a priest of nature?"

     Crow Lord tries to speak, however his voice rasps and his croaks whisper upon the air.

     "Ah, so the damage is that serious. I can tell by looking through your aura, Crow, that you have not properly attuned yourself with nature. With your permission, I would like to read your thoughts and learn your story."

     Crow Lord begins flooding his brain with the visions that Selene helped to resurface, such as the reason Crow Lord became a druid: to save his father. More memories, such as the astral vision where Crow Lord met with his spirit, to the one where Grizzwald was murdered. Next comes the vision of Crow Lord travelling back to cure his father, only to find him dead. Crow Lord loses the duel with Cao Cao, and his great wound healed shortly after.

     Badger lets out a deep rumbling groan. "You were not properly attuned to Nature, Crow. Sure, you've seen much and share almost the same pains as I do, but you have no let go of your heritage. You are still too much Daimon Krough, not enough Crow. You never learned to care for nature, as a druid should. To you, Crow, the powers of nature is a means to an end. If you do not value and protect it, then it will not protect you. Perhaps that is why the flames wound you?"

     Badger lifts up his knees, and walks over to the crystal, rubbing his hand on it's surface. "This crystal here is the closes we have ever felt with nature. Life flourishes from it's energies, taking in power from the sun like a plant and dispersing it to life all around it. Can you feel it, Crow? The energy that pulses from it, the stories it has to tell. Walk up, and take it in."

     Crow Lord does as he is told, kneeling towards the stone and placing a single hand on it's surface. He closes his eyes, feeling the energies of nature all around him. Then, darkness, and he finds himself before a woman clad in white, who taps his forhead and reveals to him a dark tale of what lies beneath Kalrosh. Images flutter to his mind, Illithid, Duergar, and Darklings at War, destroying these stones or harvesting them. Their war breaks the ground and fills the dark voids that run underneath with pitiless souls.

     The blood spilt travels downwards, into the belly of something ancient. As the mouth overflows with blood, it crawls upwards, it's red eyes piercing through the darkness, and it's fanged-maw glimmers red with blood. A forked tongue slithers out, licking the air. As it continues moving up through the caverns, bodies wither and decay instantly alll around it. As the creature impulsively crawls through the legions of dead bodies, a root of sunstone breaks through the ceiling, shedding light upon the area and forcing the creature back into it's hole.

     Crow Lord falls backwards, shocked by the tale. Or perhaps, a vision of current events.

     "Do you understand why we must keep this forest strong, Crow? Our mission, what does it mean to you?"

     Crow Lord begins forming signs in druid, showing the monster, which causes Badger to sigh with regret. "Our ritual, which involves us storing energy into that stone, is the only thing which allows the crystal to grow as fast as it has. Every year that we do, the forest grows deeper into the earth, and spreads outwards. In another eon, perhaps, this forest will stretch across the lands, perhaps overtaking the Darkstone Forest."

     Badger shakes his torso of the thought of the fanged beast. "Every year we strengthen these stones, imbuing it with what energies we have accumulated in a year. The power we grant causes light to flood the tunnels underneath, pushing away the ancient evil that lingers. The war underground has no end, and has run since time itself. But the fiend beneath is much older than that. If it weren't for the powerful sunlight of these crystals reaching the subterranean, the surface of this world would be overtaken with darkness."

     Crow Lord kneels back down, careful not to crush any grass beneath his knees. This causes Badger to smile warmly. "Crow, I must assign a task to you..."

     As he says this, several beams of light strike down from the sky, killing a few bystanders and druids. Crow Lord looks over at Selene, who is smile is quite unsettling.

     The party members each rush towards the innocent bystanders, tring to prevent the spears of light from killing anymore. Alethra fires a few warning shots into the sky, which causes a large silver flash. A sudden boom can be heard, however it was not Alethra's doing. Whatever she did caused the wrath of heavens to awaken.

     Several Deva fly down, their golden weapons and armor glimmering in the crystal-light. One of them speaks, his voice sounding like several voices speaking at once.

     "Flee from this place. End your rituals and return to the wilds. The demons are on the way, trying to overtake this land."

     Selene smiles, walking forward. "Demons, eh? You see the bodies lying around? What is worse: A demon who takes to his nature, killing innocents, or the angels who reject to protect and guide mortals? You are not angels anymore, but celestial beings who have no purpose."

     An angel rushes at Selene, swinging it's golden spear down upon her. With a ferocious snarl, Selene parries the blow with her axe, causing the angel's attack to land in the dirt. Before anyone can detect her movements, the angels head is cut clean of, it's body falling to the ground and turning to ash, leaving behind it's golden armor. A small wisp of silver smoke rises from it's pile of ash, floating up towards the sky. Tharyn pulls out a star shaped soul gem, and tries to soul trap the angel's soul, but Selene shatters the approaching chains from grasping it.

     "Tharyn, do not dare to capture an angel's grace. In it's next life, it will learn the folley of it's actions, and perhaps will stay true to the path of good."

     Another angel shouts at her. "You walked off that path when you placed the greatest flame within evil's grasp!"

     The two angels rush at Selene, attacking her from two different sides. Selene looks left, then right, and moves right to block his attack. As her weapons absorb the impact of the first deva's blow, Selene swings out in a frenzied rage at the approaching deva, breaking the deva's arm in half as it tries to block the viscious blow.

     Selene presses forward with her axes, the dark nature of her axes cracking through the angel's shield. As the axes dig into the angel's arm, Selene pulls with great strength, tearing the deva's arm off along with the shield. As the second deva prepares to throw it's weapon at the dark angel, Selene throws the shield and her two weapons into the deva's chest, killing it in a gruesome style as a bright light pours out from it's chest.

     The angel who had her arm ripped off swings at Selene, but the blade connects with her flesh like metal on stone, causing a few sparks to fly into the air. Selene smiles at the wounded deva and kicks her feet out, knocking the deva to the ground. As she tries to crawl away towards safety, Selene walks onto her back, and punches downwards on the deva's head, smashing it into the earth with a sickening crack.

     The party is in both awe and fear at this point. Is Selene a renegade of heaven, or is she some sort of villain?

     To answer that question, a large blast of orange energy fills the area. In the crater of such energy stands a being of pure energy, clad in golden armor with orange tendrils of energy sprouting from it's back like wings. Over it's head is a large halo made of fire. It's eyes burn hotter than hell, but the light from them speaks of holiness. A might spear falls from the sky, landing before the great celestial, who lifts it up from the ground.

     "Selene. I see you have been awoken? Good timing. I was looking for something to kill."

     Selene smiles to herself. "Funny, the last time you tried killing me nothing happened. The years haven't been so kind to you, have they, Vinuriel? Or perhaps I should introduce you to Warsch?"

     Vinuriel turns towards Warsch. "You have grown much, my son. Stay out of the way. This is between the heavens and the transgressor."

     Warsch walks towards Vinuriel. "I will not stay out of the way. You abandoned my mother and I at the hands of the Duergar! You let her die and turned your back on protecting the weak!"

     Vinuriel speaks with grit at Warsch. "Abandoned? Let her die? Her death - her life - were nothing but tools used to make you."

     Warsch goes into his angelic state, his orange flames erupting all around his body. He flies at his father, ready to swing at him with the Tonitrus, but before he can fly halfway, a bolt of light strikes Warsch down from the air into the dirt, his momentum carrying him fowards towards Vinuriel's feet.. Vinuriel moves his right foot forward and kicks upwards, lifting Warsch from the ground. As Warsch hovers in the air for a split second, Vinuriel punches him in the chest, causing Warsch to fly through the air towards a tree of sunstone. Stormdrake leaps out, hoping to catch Warsch, but the force of the blow is so strong that it carries both of them into a tree, cracking it's surface. Warsch is unconscious, and Stormdrake feels several ribs broken.

     Selene smiles at Vinuriel. "Well that's not very good or protective of the Silver Flame's highest Solar. Fatherly love, ah! It reminds me of the first summer."

     Vinuriel lifts his spear towards Selene. "The first summer was nothing but damnation on this cursed world."

     Selene's smile turns to a scowl. "I'll be honest here, I don't remember why I did it. Maybe Eranah remembers. You want an answer? I guess I'll just wake her up and-"

     Vinuriel flies over between Selene and the crystal. "You will die before you even take a step forward, traitor!"

     Selene holds out her hands, beckoning her axes to return. The golden shield that lies on the ground snaps into tiny pieces, and each axe flies into Selene's hands. "Are you ready to die, Vinuriel? You will answer for your crimes!"

     The party watch in horor as the fight is ended in mere seconds. Vinuriel charges forward at Selene, only to be blasted into pieces by Selene, who releases a large shockwave of pure black energy from her maw, screaming with such intensity that the Solar's divine form is scattered in the wind. All that remains of him is half of his torso, his head, right arm, a right leg, and three tendrils of energy. She falls to the ground, out of breath. Vinuriel grunts at her "You.. have not seen the last of me, Selene! Your actions... will be your doom!"

     Vinuriel vanishes in an explosion of golden energy, small driplets of orange energy splattering on the ground in the process.

     Selene looks over at the party. "Used... all power... heh... Can't believe it wasn't ...enough!" She slumps forward, unconscious.

     Badger asks Crow Lord. "Just what exactly is that woman, Crow?"

     Before Crow Lord can answer, Tharyn speaks up, pulling Selene onto her lap and feeling her forehead. "This is Selene, a woman we found trapped in a large crystal root of the Darkstone Forest. We believe a similar woman is trapped in that large stone over there, whose root extends deep beneath ground. We need to overload that crystal with light energy, then blast it with necrotic power. If my theory is correct, as the opposite held true for the darkstones."

     Badger shouts. "No! We will not desecrate the lands. The Underdark must be sanctioned off! It is an abomination to-"

     Crow Lord interrupts Badger, creating druidic words that read "The woman & crystals is not nature, but of heaven. Releasing her is the only true respect for nature."

     Badger's mouth lies agape, and the other firbolgs begin to speak amongst themselves.

     Crow Lord walks back over to the party while they talk, and creates several Goodberries for everyone to eat. Before each can take a bite, Tharyn magically imbues each berry to taste like watermelon, a common fruit in Vle'anos but an oddity in Kalrosh. Everyone takes a bite, feeling completely nourished and well fed. Crow Lord grinds up a berry, pushing its contents into Warsch's and Selene's mouths. Stormdrake heals his ribs, and then begins healing Warsch.

     Crow Lord then uses his magic to detect the presence of the Sundowner blossom, finding a single flow rising from the ground near the great crystal. As he approaches it, Badger stands in his path.

     "If you wish to destroy this crystal, Crow, then you must first pass a test. Defeat me in combat, and we will let you free the woman."

     Tharyn cannot believe what she is hearing. "Seriously? You've got to be kidding me. Let me tell you all about an interesting story, where you somehow beat Crow Lord, complete your ritual, and then everyone just walks away. What is to stop the angels or demons from corrupting this location? With what right do you have to exist with such a thick skull?"

     Badger looks stoic towards Tharyn. "The essence of this forest is life itself, and we will remain here for the rest of our lives preserving it. You mean to harm it, and Nature along with it."

     Spider puts a hand on Tharyn, who is in no position for negotiations. "Tharyn, calm yourself. Badger, as you are called, must learn to realize. These crystals are not nature, but instead sources of life that provide for others. Similar to nature, but not. You need to accept this logic. Secondly, Tharyn is right: demons are coming. We need to act fast."

     Badger goes to speak, but Crow Lord holds his hands up. "Kaw kaw" he says, but everyone understands his intent. Tharyn tilts her head back in annoyance, mouthing "Oh, for the love of Jove..." Crow Lord backs away from Badger, opening up a field of battle against the larger druid. He throws off his hat towards his friends, a sleeping baby crow nestled in a bunch of feathers and twigs inside.

     Badger walks forward, smashing his fists into the ground and transforms into a giant badger, whereas Crow Lord shapes into a large Crow.

     The two charge at eachother, but Badger burrows into the ground. Crow Lord doesn't know where he went, but flies over to the hole. A great flame sprouts in his beak, and Crow Lord breathes red flames down the hole. After a few seconds of firebreath, Badger bursts out of the ground, tackling Crow Lord onto his belly.

     Badger runs forward, chomping into Crow Lord's stomach and pulling off a large chunk of flesh, which is mostly feathers. Crow Lord screeches in pain, and then explodes in flame, searing local plants and grass and scorching the fir off of Badger's face. Crow Lord swings out with a claw, grabbing Badger by the neck and digging his talons deep into Badger's shoulder and neck area. As his talon sears the flesh, Crow Lord begins to fly upwards. After about sixty feet in the air, Crow Lord drops him.

     Badger growls as he falls, then reverts form and polymorphs into a Roc. He flies upwards at Crow Lord, and blasts him with a force of wind, knocking him off-balance and causing him to begin falling.

     Crow Lord spreads his wings out, gaining control, then launches scorching rays at Badger, missing him twice but blasting him once in the chest.

     The two then fly at each other, digging their talons deep into eachother. Crow Lord pecks with his beak, striking Badger in the neck and opening up a vein in his neck. Badger kaws with fury, then pecks out one of Crow Lord's eyes. Despite his flamecoat searing Badger's feathers, Badger remains in the air by some magical willpower.

     The two remain locked in battle, swirling in the air and tearing into each other. Badger begins spinning quickly, and the air around him begins to form into a massive current that forms a small tornado, which pulls Crow Lord off of him and flings him out with great force. Crow Lord takes a deep breath, his chest filling with massive flame. The air from his lungs pump into his throat, and then flies out in a massive ball of fierce fire towards the Tornado.

     The ball of flame erupts in a large area, which disrupts the tornado and sends Badger down to the earth below. Badger falls into the earth, causing a large crevice into the ground. He reverts his form, several of his bones broken, but his body begins to mend itself.

     Crow Lord lands and reverts back to his human form, flames streaking off his cape.

     Badger crawls out of the hole, laying on the ground in defeat. Crow Lord walks up to him, and splits a flame into four flame-blades, which float in the area around him, each pointed at Badger.

     "Wait! Gah... such power. Heh... I agree with you. Free the woman, but I swear... if you kill the forest, we will never stop hunting you down!"

     Crow Lord cancels his spell, and begins healing Badger, fixing his ribs and restoring his broken sprit. "Thank you, Crow. I never expected such power from one who hasn't been properly attuned with nature."

     All of a sudden, the sun is blotted out by more shades of darkness. The sunstone forest begins to glow with white light, and the remaining group can see the twisted forms of the demons swirl around them. From the smoke, a large purple blast strikes into the ground near their feet, and a large minotaur with a blood-soaked mouth and black wings rises from the ground.

Orcus, Prince of The Undying

     "Orcus!" shouts Tharyn.

     Necromancer..." groans Orcus. "You dabble in my domain, but defy me. We should work together; I could show you so much!"

     Alethra whispers into her mind. "Graz'zt, any help here? Paladin and Deva are down. How can we beat him?"

     Graz'zt yawns in her head. "Orcus? Well, he's stronger than I, however he doesn't have much combat effciency. He fights as a summoner, so focus your strikes on him while everyone else deals with the demons and undead."

     Alethra looks around. "Undead?"

     Before Graz'zt can answer her, a bone-hand springs up from the ground and grabs her ankle, trying to pull her down into the dirt. Alethra pulls out her demonic pistol and fires a shot into the ground, the hand opening up and breaking against the wind.

     More undead rise from the ground as Orcus slams the ground with an obsidian staff topped with a human skull. He is humming a sweet song, a disgusting smile spreading across his decayed lips.

     Alethra turns to climb up the grand crystal, but all of a sudden a large beam of light strikes down from the sky upon the stone. Tharyn turns around, her eyes wide with shock. "Light!? How can demons channel light!"

     Orcus stops humming and laughs menacingly. "Corruption! Light can be light, but as it passes through smoke... it darkens! Heheheh..."

     The druids surrounding the stone each begin trying to protect the stone, sprouting large spires of stone over it, however the light is so strong that it breaks through the stones instantly.

     Alethra takes aim through the waves of undead that spawn, and fires a single shot through the weak bone warrios into Orcus, burning his shoulder with the force of the blast. He laughs menacingly. "A demonic pistol... On I? Foolish girl!"

     Orcus raises his staff high above his head, channelling a large dark orb above his head. Before anyone can react, the orb flies through the air at Alethra, who raises her left arm to deflect it. She fires a single blast of eldritch power, which hits the orb of black energy and redirects it upwards. However, Alethra's arm is blasted upwards from the force of her spell, and the orb of darkness blasts through the middle of her forearm, removing it instantly.

     Alethra falls to the ground, the blood in her veins freezing from the necrotic evil of the orb's residue magic. Her veins turn black, numbing her entire arm, which falls limp.

     However, Alethra's blasting of the orb did everyone a service, as the ball flew upwards towards the spire of light descending upon the crystal. The light interacts with orb, detonating it. Everyone in the area is flung forward against trees, including Orcus, who breaks through one of the trees. The large golden crystal turns dark, and then shatters, opening up the ground into a crater and revealing a woman similar to Selene, surrounded by broken shards of yellow glass.

     The light from the demon's corruption ends, and each flutters down to see to their lord. Crow Lord stands up, looking at the demon prince rising from the ground, with shrapnel of light crystal piercing his flesh. With the light of the sun beating down upon the land, Crow Lord weakely summons a beam of light and blasts Orcus.

     Each crystal fills with the immense energy of light, overflowing with power. Each explodes, scattering the lord's bits of flesh around the area. Left with nothing but his head, right arm, and torso, Orcus crawls away from Crow Lord, who begins stumbling towards Orcus.

     "My leg is broken, " thinks Crow Lord. However, he must end Orcus, whose evil and corruption has plagued this land for too long. As he nears the demon prince, Crow Lord falls forward onto his knees and hands, but stands back up with his druidic focus in his hands. Orcus looks backwards, a grisly smile upon his face. As Crow Lord begins focusing on a spell, three deep claws dig into his arm, severing his tendons and forcing the talisman out of his hands. He groans, looking upwards at a shadow demon tearing into his arm.

     The demon throws Crow Lord back towards the clearing. He looks over into the crater, at the woman who was imprisoned for eons. The demons march closer to him, he feels. With his last ounce of energy, and blood flowing from his arm, Crow Lord falls down towards the woman. He places a single hand on her, trying to awake her. Then, claws from the ground stab into his legs and pull him up the walls of the crater, grinding his elbows and knees down to the bones. He groans, agonized, and is thrown into a pile of bodies in the center of the destroyed clearing. His deceased druids lay next to him, along with his dead allies. Perhaps Selene still lives, and can-

     Crow Lord is lifted onto his knees, claws digging onto the sides of his ribs, peeling his skin apart to the bone. His arms are pulled sideways, stretching his arms but not breaking them. Orcus walks forward, his body reformed from shadows and his large obsidian staff sprouting a spectral blade from the skull on top. Orcus rips off Crow Lord's mask, placing the blade of the scythe against his throat. Crow Lord feels the icy cold touch of the spectral blade, and blood dripping from his throat.

     "This... is how I die?" Thinks Crow Lord, regret heavy upon his soul. Memories flood his mind of his murdered father, whose name he cannot remember. Tears flow down his face, his vow to redeem his father never being realized. The vengeance he swore, unfulfilled. Crow Lord looks into the red eyes of Orcus, vowing another useless oath of vengeance upon his damned soul.

     Then, a blast of light sears through Orcus's chest, leaving a large gaping hole through it. Crow Lord is thrown down with his back on the ground, and he tilts his head backwards to see what happened. Behind him floats a woman, basked in bountiful light with angelic wings flowing from her back. She holds out her arms, light crystals flying onto her skin, encasing her in armor isn't as menacing as Selene's. Instead, her armor is serene, the white-yellow glass engraved with symbols that Crow Lord had never seen before, but they make him feel warmth. In one hand, the woman wields a sword forged of the sunstones. Her other arm becomes a shield, forged into a small buckler that is shaped like a large X.

     The demons rush at her, each flying to their doom. The first demon slashes at her head, it's claws shattering against her skin. Before the demon can look at it's broken fingers, the blade of her sword cuts the demon in half. Another flies forward, charging into a full-bodied tackle, but Eranah holds up her buckler and spins it, causing it to spin with such speed that it becomes a grinder, which slices the demon into goop, splattering upon Eranah. Her white eyes cut through the thick, black goop, staring at every demon with such hatred that they feel fear for the first time in their miserable lives.

     She slides her sword into her shield, which locks on and forms some form of mace-axe-thing, Crow Lord sees. He cannot fathom the type of weapon she wields, confused to it's nature. Then, six strings of silver light appear between the pommel of the sword and the buckler. Crow Lord recognizes this: a lute?

     Crow Lord is confused. A lute will find no place in the battle field, just what can she be-

     The angelic woman places the guitar on her belt, balancing it so that she can hold the weapon in her right hand effectively while strumming with her left. She runs her thumb down the strings, causing a large explosion of light to erupt from her, killing four demons in one stroke, scattering them flies. Crow Lord's jaw drops open.

     The woman then begins dashing through the battlefield, her notes flying through the air and banishing each demon like waves from a storm. The demons turn into black dust, scattering away in the wind.

     Orcus lies in the dirt, trying to crawl away from the terrifying angel. She walks next to him, and kicks him onto his back. "Gah... mercy, angel!"

     Eranah places a single foot just below the hole in his chest, pushing black liquor from the wound. Then, She begins strumming onto the guitar with fury, waves of color blasting from her guitar into the demon prince. As Crow Lord begins to lose consciousness, the song of fury ends.

Eranah, The Bringer of Light

     Crow Lord awakens to hear a sweet song of such divine grace. A solemn tone fills his mind, bringing him back from a certain white void, He wakes up alongside the bodies of his fellow druids and heroes, life returning back to their colorless faces. Alethra's wound closes, a bloodied stump with black veins protruding from her arm. She grabs the stump with discomfort.

     Selene wakes up, a warm smile spreading across her lips as she looks upon her sister. The two embrace, hugging each other with a sweet click as their plates and chains smack against each other. Eranah pulls Selene to her feet, the darkness and light standing tall among the mortals.

     As the druids and heroes collect themselves, Eranah speaks. "I pulled you all from the void of death, however thanks are not needed. My name is Eranah, and I am Selene's twin. The demon's who attacked you are not defeated. There is a great evil forming in the abyss, and for every evil we return to it, the stronger it gets. We must defeat this evil by opening a rift to the abyss, which will be impossible until the seven lords are each defeated."

     Tharyn takes in a deep breath. "There is another way, Eranah."

     Eranah looks at Tharyn with a warm smile on her face. "You mean Onatar's gate? I'm afraid it is broken beyond repair. Even if we restored every original stone and reformed the structure, the ley line itself was severed when the gate opened. The energy it absorbed is several hundred times the energy that this entire forest can store in a full year. It'll take at least a hundred years before we can open the closest gate again."

     Tharyn raises her brow. "You say 'the closest gate' like it isn't the only one. There are more?"

     Eranah shakes her head up and down. "There exists three gates that I knew of, however that was eons ago. During my study of each gate, I learned of ways to open each. I recorded each in one of my libraries, along with a map of their locations. I stored each in my library, which I had located at the bottom of the ocean south of here. The sooner we can breach it, the better off we will be."

     Warsch speaks up. "And what of the demon princes? Are we better off leaving them alive on this plane, or should we kill them?"

     Selene answers his question. "There is no way to kill a demon prince outside of the Abyss. If we kill them here, they will return to their thrones and will become one with whatever sits upon it."

     Stormdrake rises up from the ground, using his spear to support him. "We are currently on a quest to end a bandit lord named Prag'tar. If you help us in ridding the world of his existence, then we will help you in anyway that we can. However, we are also on a quest to cure Crow Lord's injuries and restore his lost voice. After Prag'tar, that mission takes priority."

     Selene nods her head. "You have three weeks before the hag's complete the final ingredient. We will have them collected long before then. We will continue forward in this manner: *she plucks up a Sundowner Blossom* Kill the bandits, collect a primordial diamond, find our library, and then restore his voice. From there, we will continue onwards with our quest to open a Gate to the Abyss."

     Everyone agrees, and Crow Lord looks at Badger, who embraces him in form of farewell common among druids to their apprentices. Badger places his large hand softly on the druid's head, patting down his white hair. "Although you have much more power than I, there is more I must show you, Crow. We must remain behind, to restore nature and fix that large hole in the ground. Our ritual was interrupted, and wasn't fulfilled properly. We will keep in touch. Your strength in flames comes from nature. Do not fear it - it can be controlled. Before you leave, take this book. It is our history, and comes with prayers and rituals to strengthen your bond with nature. Accept it as a gift."

     Crow Lord places his hand on the large book, which weighs twice as much as his book. He nods towards Badger, and parts away from him.

     As Selene guides the party back towards Blackwing's ship, Spider sprouts a quick question towards Eranah.

     "Eranah, why did the angels come to this site? The demons planned to corrupt or kill you. What were the Angel's plans?"

     Eranah swallows the knot in her throat. "The demons hoped to snuff out the light from every stone in the forest. Thanks Orcus's Orb of Death, every stone in the forest would have been overloaded with energy and a hole the size of my woods would replace the continent. The angels were hoping to awaken me and wipe my memory, cutting me off from the wisdom of my previous lives."

     "How many lives do you and Selene have?" asks Spider.

     Eranah and Selene smile to eachother. "We only had one life before this one. We were split from that one life, however our memories of that life are scattered, split between us in an uninterpretable way. We cannot make much sense of it."

     Tharyn hums to herself, an idea filling her mind. "When we travel back to Dal'Krosh, I have an invention that might work. I've been developing a stone that can store memories. I've tested it with my dreams, using it to reflect and learn, developing new ideas and such. It's been nearly perfect, reflecting a majority of details. If we can copy these memories from each of you, we might find a way to link it all together."

     Eranah shakes her head. "Somethings are better left the way they are. Our previous life may be too much for your mortal minds to handle. Even Warsch, half mortal, would be overwhelmed."

     Everyone nods their heads in agreement, but the two angel sisters relate their thoughts to each other. Perhaps such a thing is possible, they think.

     The party returns to Blackwing, who is roasting the body of an Owlbear and licking one of it's bones clean. He looks over at the new addition to the party and screeches.

     "Kree! More? How many can this crew hold, yar?"

     Eranah move towards the ship, not paying attention towards the captain. "I will take little space, should you be worried."

     "Kek kek. The captain has no worries! Thar more there be, thar better be my pay!"

     Warsch turns towards Blackwing. "We're not paying you, Blackwing. Take us to Prag'tar, and maybe we can reach some agreement."

     Blackwing smiles to himself. "I be glad to see me crew return, yar. Take your pickings from this beast! Tried to eat my thrusters, he did! The captain collects his dues! Yar har!"

     The party each collect a piece of the strong rubbery meat of the Owlbear. Although touch to chew, the party finds the meal nutritious and well seasoned. Blackwing is quite the cook.

     As the party collect themselves on the deck, Blackwing speaks loud and clear. "It would in our best interests to fly to the eastern coast first, to deal with a minor nuisance of Prag'tar's citadel! It'll take us about an hour to reach there, so spend your times as you see fit!"

     Blackwing turns on the thrusters of the ship, and then sets sail through the midday sun. Eranah and Selene catch up, informing the party to their history:

      Long ago, the two awoke with no memories in a cave, the remnants of a ritual scattered around. They had no names, no memory of each other, but had a great fear in the back of the minds. As the two wandered through the lands, defending the weak and building their talents, they were eventually hunted down by the angels for the same reason that Vinuriel said: stealing a great flame from a celestial mountain and putting it in harm's way.

     As the two succumbed to the angels, their bodies were encased in soul-crystals and the duo were seperated. Eranah was planted into the ground, growing like a tree to produce sunstones, which were effective against fighting demons and evil spirits.

     However, Selene's darkstones were too dangerous and in order to prevent the demon's from getting their hands on her powers, the hosts of heaven tried to take her heaven. However, the demons intervened and stole Selene, and carried her away to be planted into the ground in a similar manner.

     As the eons passed, the two eventually grew into massive forests, however druids and priests spent much of their time promoting the powers of light within Eranah, while Selene was neglected. Instead of being cared for, practitioners of the dark arts would steal power from her or harvest the dark crystals from her.

     Despite the constant abuse, Selene stored a vast amount of energy, however it wasn't enough to completely kill Warsch's father, who had grown much more powerful in the time since their last fight.

     As they finish catching up, Selene notices Alethra's sickening wound. "That is not good. Alethra, how are you feeling?"

     Alethra grunts in pain, the numb sensation in her arm making her sick. "Very woozy. What is happening to me?"

     Selene inspects the wound, rubbing her fingers along the black tendrils in her arm. "You won't like this answer, but necrotic energy still remains in your flesh. The Demon Prince of Undeath bestowed a blood curse upon you."

     Alethra grunts in pain, sweat dripping from her brow. "What does that mean? Am I dying?"

     Selene nods. "Unless, that is, you can divert the power from the remnants of his curse. Remember, you are a Warlock. However unexperienced you are, you are a still a conduit of energy. Redirection is always possible; push it out of you! Remember your sorrow, the loss which drove you to this current state."

     Alethra pules a light green energy through her arm, which fills the deck with the strong smell of mint. However, the magic trembles against the darkness of Orcus's curse. "Damn! I need *grunts* more power! Aha... Everyone! Let me channel your sorrow!"

     Warsch stands up. "Do it! Everyone, search through your history! Remember the loss that set you on our paths!"

     Everyone sifts through their painful pasts. Crow Lord remembers his father's face, crawling towards the throne where his deceased father lay still, blood running across the floor.

     Stormdrake looks at the bodies of his murdered brethren, each wrapped in cloth in individual graves. He mutters a single prayer, sending them all to rest.

     Spider thinks of her family; the uncle who took care of her and was later murdered by the drow. The only person to ever care about her.

     Tharyn recalls the deaths of her witch-sisters, their innards strewn across the clearing by the Witch Hunters. But then, a slim thought crosses her mind: Her father, smiling at her, showing her how to cast a ray of frost. Warmth, something she hadn't felt until the past year...

     Blackwing is a little focused on flying, but remembers the first day he was hatched. Captain Redmaw, a sincere man, who cleaned off the baby bird and taught him everything he knows. The man Blackwing considered to be his true father.

     Selene and Eranah have known much pain in their lives, but the worst was the eons of dread that they felt when their bodies were carried across the lands from each other.

     Alethra is flooded with their sorrows. She recalls the death of her child, watching her tiny body lower into the ground. She grabs onto her arm, and floods her arm with the power of the team's combined sorrows. With nine powerful sorrows coursing through her veins, Alethra channels the energy out of her stump, which drops upon the floor into a small black orb.

     "What is that?" Alethra asks.

     Selene walks forward, trying to touch the orb. However, the moment her hands touch it, a large black spike slices through the center of Selene's hand, causing a small trickle of blood to pour out. "Whatever it is, it doesn't like me very much. Alethra, try touching it."

     Alethra shakes her head. "That thing is a curse. Why would I want anything to do with it?"

     Selene removes the spike from her hand, her wound closing up instantly. "I have a theory. Keep a welcoming emotion in your mind. It's a curse to be sure, however, it is raw energy that has no home, no memories. It's master is defeated and gone from this world. Offer it a home."

     Alethra looks very confused, but does as Selene recommended. "Come here, you big 'ol ball of... evil?"

     The orb turns towards Alethra, then leaps through the air and attaches onto her stump. As Alethra swings her injured arm out in pain, eventually the pain stops and the numb sensation in her arm turns to feeling.

     Alethra looks at her arm, which is encased in a black prosthetic, which behaves to her will. She turns her wrist, opening and closing the black hand. Alethra smiles. "It's... my hand? But... how?"

     Tharyn takes a closer inspection. "Hm... it would appear that when you struck the demon's orb of destruction, you absorbed some that energy into your body. Warlock powers! This arm is now an extension of your own will, Alethra. We should test how strong it is! Warsch, please bash in Alethra's left arm with your mace!"

     "No... no! It's fine! I'm sure I'll figure that out during out next adventure. Look, I got my arm back and am no longer in pain!"

     Tharyn smiles at Alethra. "I'm just kidding! Anyways, I stole this from Orcus. Does anyone know what this is?"

     Eranah's eyes open up wide. "That is the Staff of Orcus... his sceptre!"

     Tharyn waves the thing like a baton, throwing it up in the air and catching it. "Sure doesn't feel special." She pulls out her wand of magic detection, scanning the item. "Yeah, I'm not getting any readings from this thing."

     Eranah stands up from her seat. "It's not a magic wand exactly, Tharyn. It's a symbol of office.Just the simple act of holding it would make any undead obey your command!"

     Tharyn looks into the skull, closing one of her eyes and staring into the hollow cavity of the skull's eye socket. She shakes her head. Then, she pours a substantial amount of her mana into the staff, causing a large purple blade to extend from the staff's head, forming a large scythe with a blade that wraps in front of her from her right hand, all the way to her left shoulder. A spectral wave of energy rises up from the scythe, with echos of lost souls trapped within. However, Tharyn's analyzing eyes are quick to observe, noticing them as not the souls of the damned, but spirits hell bent on destruction. She withdraws her energy from the staff, careful to not unleash it's full potential. Everyone looks at her, but Tharyn can tell by the looks on their faces that they couldn't see the writhing spirits. Can only the user see them?

     After some time, Blackwing lands on the east coast of the Sunstone Forest. Everyone exits from the ship, including Blackwing.

     Warsch looks at him, eyeing him carefully. "You're not going to stay behind and protect the ship?"

     Blackwing shakes his beak. "Lock it down, I will. But first, we must talk out the gig, yar."

     "First, we will wait until nightfall. You see that large fortress over there, hidden among nooks of the coast? Now look to the right. See that tall tower? At night, a bright beam pierces through the darkness, searching for trespassers and buccaneers. We wait until dark, then split into two teams. Team 1 makes a ground assault on the fortress while Team 2 flies to the top of the tower and dismantles the light. After the tower is clear do we make our assault on the citadel. I've flown over this area plenty of times, ye see. So long as Team 1 travels along the coast, they should have no trouble with the light. Team 1 should consist of any who can see naturally in the dark, to prevent falling or any exposing traps. Team 2 will be those who can fly, yar.

     Everyone nods their heads in agreement, then head back onto the ship to get a decent amount of sleep before assaulting Prag'tar, chieften of the Iron Tusks. Stormdrake prays during the entire break, asking for blessings and guidance from both Talos and his priest brethren. Their vengeance will be sated by the blood of those fiends.

Proceed to Chapter III: The Bandit Lord

Check out two new characters: Eranah, The Light Bringer and Blackwing, Captain of the Redmaw