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Out of Reflection, Into Reality Sequel to Dark Mirror

#26 User is offline   Two Jacks 

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Posted 22 September 2012 - 09:05 PM

"There isn't much to tell of I'm afraid." Athes replied to Katerei. It hadn't been long now since Athes' new companions had agreed to accompany him on his 'errand', and as expected, the heroes were not quick to accept the red-skinned stranger as a friend. They're continuous string of thinly veiled questions were proof of that. Athes could not blame them though, these were hardly times of trust. "Time has been the vessel of corruption for my land, as it is for all things," the demon continued, "and now having seen this world for myself, I'm sure of how my home's descent began." The demon's strange double obsidian bladed weapon swung slightly between his shoulders as he lead the group barefoot through the forest.

"Corruption?" Katerei continued, turning to study the demon's face. His most jarring feature she found were his cold, black eyes: free of any comfort or beauty she might find in another creature's. She could not make out any pupils or iris, but occasionally would catch a glint of red in them that made her skin crawl. It seemed his only humanly aspects were the locks of curly hair on his head: which were blue, his pants: singed off around the ankles, and a piece of clothe that he kept in a twisted loop around his head: the fabric white and pure as a mountain cloud, however even that delicacy fell away to the rather unnatural sight of the two gray horns spiraling outward from his scalp. She wondered if all demons were like this one she found herself walking beside.

Athes noticed her stares, but paid them no mind. "Corruption." he spoke as he pointed his claw tipped hand away, then high and low, "Of the trees, of the sky, even the endless ocean, and now.. even the void: a great nothingness that connects us all." He finished on a rather ominous note, leaving the group in silence for a long moment.

The mage, Avatara was the one who finally agreed to help the... man, but he was still unsure of his the decision just as when their trek had begun. While it seemed certain that Athes, the strange name he had given them, knew a great deal of their destination, his motives for were obscured by his vague and odd manner of speech. It seemed as if no amount of questioning would lead to any real answer. And so all they had left to go on was his simple request: "Take me back to my world." That was all, and he would take them to where the portal was. That was the arrangement, provide protection, receive a guide.

It seemed as if there was a threat of danger lurking behind ever corner of the conversation. After all, this demon was not the first other-worlding they had met. Who could forget Sage, and the eerie puppet show he had performed. If that 'chance' meeting was any indication, any secrets this new companion harbored could be a trap waiting to be sprung.

"How wise of you to say." commented Avatara. Rapierian was uncharacteristically quiet, and simply kept pace beside the other three. Avatara continued, "These are troubling times though. Are you like many, and plan to do something about it? For even the wisest observation won't get you very far in that direction."

The demon didn't smile or frown at the question, but instead gave what seemed to be the bastard of a growl and a laugh: a short crescendo of crackling amusement. It was enough to make even the necromancer, Rapierian blush. Athes patted the small, round leather pouch fastened onto his belt and spoke, "Yes. Yes. I have a plan. The only plan. And without this. There can be no plan. And I am the best to do it." He finished his speech with two heavy slaps to his bare red chest.

Rapierian leaned exaggeratedly forward and looked over at the demon's purse. "I take it that's the plan then? Seems awfully small for a such a big man like yourself... Sure it will work?" He said with a pouty smile.

Without even turning to look at the man, Athes answered the question, "As it was said, it is the only way. No room for question exists."

Rapierian gave a shrug and continued his stroll.

The next question was obvious, and the tension from the others brought Katerei to ask it, "This plan you speak of..." she went on, "Would you tell us of it? Your confidence on such a matter is rather, intriguing." The blue warrior finished with a friendly smile.

Frowning as if to signal such information was trivial, the demon Athes began his tale. "Sometime, years ago, my land was broken. The North, the South, the West and the East, disconnected. Broken not in any way we can see, yet we can see it. See it's terribleness: great dragons of mountains, gone cold, the comforting blanket of clouds and wind, torn apart, once unbreakable foundations of earth, loosened to sand, even the mighty stampede of ocean waves, are now running back towards the ends of the world."

The red demon paused his march and turned and looked, unblinking, up to the sun, and studied it a good minute. A moment later he began again.

"And now this place is here, some twisted mirror showing perhaps what could have been. I wonder if it truly exists." He sighed, "No matter. With the key inside this pouch, all will be restored. The first spark in the South, in the dragon's mouth." The demon gave up another unnerving and fiery laugh, "An ember to start the inferno, as he said." The others did not seem to pick up on the humor.

"How exactly?" Avatara prodded, impatient of the demon's round about conversation.

Athes gave the mage a questioning glance, unappreciative of his tone. "The elements." the demon smoked with a quicker pace than before; it showed his weakness in the common tounge, "With their death, the land dies with them. Now they only sleep, soon, they die. Good reason for coming this place. But they can awake. Elements just need spark, like flame, or water." Raising his left arm, Athes pointed South through he trees, "First temple, South."

"Temple?" Katerei questioned, wondering just how much longer they'd be wandering through the forest with such strange company.

"Beacon, temple, it is a hard name to give." He replied. Patting the pouch once more, he finished his explanation, "This seed will give fire back to my land when fed to the dragon's mouth. The dragon.. a great mountain that spat fire long ago."

The heroes continued on, wondering if they were becoming more informed or confused with every step they took.


There were no words any of the heroes could think of to describe the eerie patch of forest they now found themselves in. The wildlife was silent, most likely gone. The fog rolling off the mountains obscured the sun. It was as if the rest of the world had been cut off. They had walked so long and far that they could quite possibly have been in the city of Kosha by now. But they were not. Instead the group approached what appeared to be the makings of some camp, only there wasn't one. A few foot prints here, a sleeping fire pit there. This was the place according to Athes, just... they were expecting more given what they'd been through already.

"This way!" The demon crackled out from ahead. He lead headstrong into the fog, unaffected by the strange look of this place.

Now that the heroes had a moment to themselves, they began to talk. The topic was obvious, and Kateria was first to speak it, "We cannot trust him. This place... It's-"

"I know," Avatara interrupted, "All we must do is keep our guard up until we are through the portal. Then we can part ways with our red friend."

"Yes, commander." Rapierian said with an exaggerated salute.

The fire mage continued down the way with his two companions behind him. As they went, more of the campsite would reveal itself to them. A broken sword here, the tattered remains of what was once a tent there. Rapierian smiled when the first corpse appeared, a sharp contrast to reactions of his other two companions.

The dead men were rugged in their look, but not quite the scum that ruffians often were. Their armor and weapons were of higher quality, occasionally one would even have a piece of jewelry. It was clear these men were once soldiers, and what had taken their lives had done an apt job of it. Sliced throats, missing limbs, even such extremes as a man halved on the ground, his leather chest piece having failed him. Another had skin that looked to be burned from the inside. Only the necromancer could stand to look at the sorry site for more than an instant before having to turn away.

Athes was close enough ahead to see but whether he could hear them was questionable. It did not matter however, because he spoke before any of the others could raise a question. "Yes, a sickening sight indeed." He bellowed with his deep, crackling voice, "But this is the way of my world as of late. The strong live, and the stronger kill them. These ones, were unfit for such a world." Without wanting to add much more, the group simply carried on between the path of the dead.

Soon the camp was behind them, and they were lead into a clearing of flat ground where a deep fissure had cut into the earth. A single old rope had been recently secured to the mouth of the hole.

"Here." The demon said simply and then turned to face the others, "As promised."

"That's it?" Rapierian asked, "A hole in the ground? Where's the light show? And the sound effects? You know, something more worth our accompaniment."

"Not just a hole." Athes replied. He turned his black eyes on the fissure and pointed down, "Look, can you see?"

The others took his instruction and peered into the seemingly endless fissure. Avatara was about to give up trying to make out what they were looking at when suddenly he heard Katerei let out a gasp.

"What is it?" the mage asked, glancing over to Athes first.

"I see... stars." she answered, "I think."

"Stars in the ground, now that is strange." The necromancer mused.

Avatara tried again and looked harder, farther down, and surely enough... he began to make out stars. More and more soft white dots began to appear and eventually it was as if he was looking into the night itself. He did not let his amazement show however. "So then, this is the portal. What now? The rope?"

"If you wish. You will not need it though..." Athes said coldly.

Avatara and the others picked up on his tone and turned to look at him. His demeanor was troubling to say the least. Is this it? Avatara thought, He would attack now after taking us all this way? Avatara placed a hand on his sword.

"It seems our paths share a bond. Continuing together would be in our best interests." The demon suggested, his deep black eyes giving nothing away.

"We accompanied you like you asked, and we thank you for taking us here." Avatara answered, squeezing his hilt, "But I'm afraid our plans are far too different for that to happen."

There was a tense silence before Athes spoke again, and it was only two words. "I see..." Then almost quicker than they could follow, he jumped backwards and flung a mystic arrow from his palm straight at Avatara. The fire mage's sword wasn't quick enough to deflect it, luckily however Katerei's ice magic was.

The demon scoffed, "You must to do better than that."

Without hesitation Avatara charged at the demon, sword readied. He wondered if fire magic would even hurt the beast.

Athes kept his strange blade secured and merely did his best to dodge the steel coming at him, much like he had done before with the late general Lysander.

With the beast distracted, Katerei readied a spell to freeze the demon in his steps, too late however. Athes, taking a cut to his left arm to leave his opponent open, grabbed and shoved the fire mage away from him with a clawed hand. With his brief window of time he slapped his hands together and as they separated a ball of fire grew fierce and hungry.

Seemingly from no where Rapierian appeared smashing a vial of Smith's Friend potion on his blue companions head and moving her out of the way only moments away from the fiery hell that was just unleashed. As a small section of forest began to blaze Avatara continued his assault. This time, the demon released his swallow from it's sling. The double obsidian blades blocked every attempted slash and cut. The blades' wild movement kept Avatara warily at a distance.

The other two had gotten back to their feet now, well enough after nearly being cooked. Athes was cornered and backing away towards the front of the fissure when he spoke again. "Good, good. Now I am sure."

He reached to his side and unstrung the small leather pouch on his belt he had been keeping so close a watch on. He took it in his hand and flung it over to Avatara.

The fire mage did not even glance at it on the ground laying before him, "Is this some trick, Athes? Bringing us here just to kill us? Just what are you after?"

"No. No trick. There is no room for question. So I must be sure." Athes spoke seriously, perhaps even sincerely, "Our paths are as one, you will see. Now take that, you will make more use of it than I, I am sure."

Without another smoking word the demon put his blade to rest and jumped backward into the fissure.

"Damn!" Avatara spoke running up to the mouth's edge. Looking down he could find no trace of him.

Behind him, Rapierian was opening the pouch to see just what was so important. Out fell a small and perfectly rounded glass ball. It was hard to tell if it was red, orange, yellow, it would change color just by turning it round in his fingers. "My, it's pretty, you think it's really a seed?" Rapierian asked, holding in front of his eye.

Avatara snatched it quickly from him, due to a lack of trus of trust for the necromancer. Who knew what this really was, and one such as Rapierian would most likely not use it for the good of others.

After gathering themselves and recovering from the fight, Katerei spoke up. "We should get going." She was right. While going down the fissure wasn't the most comforting idea, who knew what else was waiting, or coming for them here. The sapphire skinned warrior used her magic and extinguished most of the flames before the three set off down the massive hole they had been lead to. Avatara and Katerei took to the rope, but Rapierian seemed to want to follow the demon's lead and jumped with a happy "Woohoo!"

Dangling at the end of the rope with no bottom in sight, Avatara and Katerei spoke to each other in the surface-less star speckled darkness of the fissure.

"Would you think I'm a coward if I said I was scared?" Katerei asked looking down towards the mage.

"Hanging off the edge of the world by a thread and you're scared?" he looked up at here, smiled, and let go of the rope, "I guess that makes two of us!"

#27 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 03 October 2012 - 03:06 PM

The three adventurers were greeted with the sweet stench of rot and ankle-deep mud. The air was filled with the buzzing hum of insects and creepy chirps from creatures lurking in the foliage.

"Great. The spooky red demon tells us a giant fairy tale so we would leap into a swamp." Rapierian muttered.

Avatara spun to face him and spread his arms wide. "Welcome to Cythera!" he exclaimed.

"If this is representative of your Cythera, then it is no wonder you all decided to invade us."

"Oh, like your Cythera doesn't have a swamp," Avatara returned bitterly.

"This place seems more lively than I would have expected," Katerei cut in, silencing the two men. "After all, animals in our world are scarce."

"It must be the cross-over effects from the overlapping worlds. I suspect it will only be temporary, then both worlds will become cold and lifeless." Avatara mused.

"So, what should we do now?" Katerei asked.

"We take the shiny ball thingy and restore the spark of flame to the fire mountain," Rapierian replied matter-of-factly.

"You actually believe that creature after what he-it tried to pull?" Avatara asked incredulously.

"Well, no..." Rapierian admitted. "But, I have my own sources," he said, patting the old book he had been lugging around since they first met.

"Do you have a better idea?" Katerei asked.

Avatara sighed, "Fine, we'll go search for this 'fire mountain' and figure out how to reignite it."

He turned towards the south and started off. His first step sank deep, filling his boot with cold, muddy water.

"Actually, let's first get out of this swamp," Avatara grumbled.
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

#28 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 15 October 2012 - 02:44 AM

As they trudged through the swamp, the smell of rot and decay grew stronger; however, the land about them began to grow more desolate. It seemed that Avatara was correct about the effects of the two worlds overlapping being limited.

Most of the vines and bushes were dead. Those that survived were twisted, misshapen images of their former selves. No asps or alligators were in sight, but, behind the branches and underneath the piles of dead leaves lying about, there was the occasional sound of movement or the glint of eyes, although no hint of any animal was ever clearly seen.

Climbing a rise, Rapierian paused and looked around. To the east and the west, the swamp stretched away, seeming to grow more barren as it receded into the distance. To the south, the sea had receded for almost a mile, and now there was a wide expanse of sand at the end of the swamp. To the north, there were a few patches of green, but most of the trees that he could see outside of the swamp appeared as dead and barren as most of the swamp life. Wide swaths of the formerly green land was simply devoid of any sign of life.

The necromancer turned to look at K and Avatara.

"I love what you have done with this place," he cackled gleefully.


They had covered perhaps half the distance to their objective before they finally decided on a brief halt sometime after midnight. Pulling out the book he had been looking over incessantly the past few days, Rapierian settled himself against a tree and began working on translating the archaic script. Ignoring him, Avatara glanced at K.

"You should get some rest," he told her. "I'll keep watch."

Nodding, K sat down and leaned back against one of the trees. Avatara turned, facing the way they had come. He did not intend to stop long.

Prowling around the camp, Avatara observed K slip into a light doze. Rapierian was occupied with his book.

Quickly, he slipped away from the camp, entering a small clump of trees just out of earshot.

"All right," he said quietly. "You indicated you wanted to talk, so talk."

The shadows about him stirred. Something moved behind him.

Avatara turned and faced Selax.

"I have a proposal for you," the elemental said.

Long Live Cythera! Long Live the Cythera Web Board!

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#29 User is offline   Jehezekel 

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Posted 15 December 2012 - 05:58 PM

The morning after their arrival in Cademia the few adventurers left in Cythera-prime were still undecided about what to do. So Silver went off by himself.

First he flew to Retsy's farm, where Jehezekel was maintaining the sanity of the region.

"Good morning," he greeted Jehezekel, "Alaric is apparently still unconscious, is there anything you could do to help him?"

Jehezekel pondered the question as he continued making his rounds, protecting the borders of the surrounding farms from the twisted essence pervading the land. "Nay, I am already doing all that is in my lot to help Alaric, aid for the land is coming through the looking-glass. Watch carefully, for those lie in wait who would mar the Balance as it is reforged."

"Okay," acknowledged Silver, "Any news of Kosha come through?"

"Kosha lies as still as the tomb when the mourners have gone. Yet it awaits."

Silver flew off, approaching Kosha as evening fell.
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#30 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 26 December 2012 - 02:06 AM

Crawling along the foothills was slow, but better than walking in the dead swamp. The exposed sandbar heralding the southern tip of the mountains loomed larger now and was probably just a few more hours away. The mountains towering above them were now short enough they could have forged a way through, but that was before the oceans had begun to dry. The forested terrain on the other side would not be as friendly as the baked sand, and they would be able to make up for lost time on the flat expanse.

They stopped for a bit on top of one of the low-lying hills to catch their breath. Rapierian wordlessly slipped off into the trees, presumably to take care of some "important business", leaving the two of them alone.

Avatara was rummaging through his pack, looking unsuccessfully for something to eat that didn't smell like swamp rot when Katerei broke the silence. "You've been quiet today." He looked up at her and she amended, "Quieter than usual, I mean. Did something happen?"

He couldn't tell her, not now. For a moment, Avatara had seriously considered the elemental's offer. Surely it had to be a trick. But what if it wasn't?

"It's the swamp," he said, turning back to his pack. He tossed out a hunk of mold-crusted bread that had absorbed practically every drop of reeking swamp mist hovering in the air. "I've never really liked that place."

"Me either," Katerei nodded, taking a bite out of an apple that somehow had survived the journey looking fresh and appetizing. "We'll be far away from it soon."

Yes we will, and then... The thought hung in the air, unspoken. Like everything else between us, Avatara thought grimly.

"You wouldn't happen to have another one of those, would you?" Rapierian grumbled, emerging from the undergrowth, brushing brown leaves off of his shirt.

"Sorry, all out," Katerei said apologetically before taking a very slow and definitely un-apologetic bite out of her fruit, eliciting an inappropriate reply from the necromancer.

"Why are you here?" Avatara abruptly asked Rapierian.

"Because we thought it was better to walk on rocky ground than slimy mucky ground?" Rapierian replied dryly.

"No, I mean, why are you really here? You don't seem like someone who would risk their life out of the goodness of their heart."

"Neither do you," the necromancer shot back unfazed. He had a point there.

"But surely, you must have some reason for coming along," Avatara pressed. "You have to know this is a one-way trip." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Katerei wince ever so slightly, but he kept his attention focused on Rapierian.

"I'll ask you again, why are you here?"
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

#31 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 07 January 2013 - 08:16 PM

"That's the wrong question," Rapierian replied cheerfully. "The correct question is: why not?"

"It's a one-way trip," Avatara repeated, clearly unamused.

"Oh, that. I try never to let small details like that spoil my day."

Avatara eyed the necromancer with growing irritation.

"Answer the question," he growled.

Rapierian shook his head in mock-sadness.

"My, my, it seems none of you people can take a joke. Very well: I'm here for the fun of it."

"Seriously?" K asked in disbelief. "You're risking your life for fun?"

"Certainly," Rapierian answered, looking somewhat confused. "Isn't that what you were doing visiting our world?"

Avatara grabbed him and shoved him against a tree.

"Give me one good reason not to kill you right now."

Rapierian laughed. Reaching into one of the folds of his cloak, he pulled out a worn and tattered book.

"You need me. You see, I have some idea of what we are facing here . . . and I doubt that you do."

"What do you mean?" K asked warily.

"You don't really think that these sites we are supposed to visit are unguarded, do you? Of course, I can't tell you exactly what to expect, but I can give you an idea . . . not that that would help you much from what I've seen."
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Posted 03 February 2013 - 04:22 PM

"Can we just kill him and take the book?" Katerei asked.

"Here!" Rapierian shoved the book at Avatara's chest. When Avatara looked at him in confusion, he smiled. "See if you can read it."

Avatara slowly stepped back out of the necromancer's range before carefully flipping through the worn pages. He could make out some of the words, but most of the text was foreign to him.

"I suppose you can?" Avatara thrust the book back at Rapierian.

"I'm a necromancer. Lost knowledge is my specialty," Raperian replied smugly as he pocketed the tome.

"Anything in there explain what the demon was talking about?" Katerei asked.

For a brief moment, the necromancer's smile faded, but then he quickly recovered. "Perhaps."

Raperian cut off her retort and gestured at the sun overhead, "We should get moving if we wish to rest tonight breathing clean air."
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

#33 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 02 April 2013 - 03:05 AM

Avatara stood in knee-deep water, looking out over the calm ocean. Even here the air was hot and stale, so the warm seawater provided only mild relief.

Katerei knelt a short distance behind him on the shore, using her magic to desalinate the water so she could refill their waterskins. Rapierian was even further up the beach, sitting on a log he had dragged down from the hills and thumbing through the pages of his book.

A wide red band separated the ocean from browning foliage. They had been able to see the newly-uncovered beach from the swamp, but crossing over it was a completely different experience. It took them nearly half an hour to cross the entire expanse of cracked and arid clay. On the bright side, as Rapierian put it rather dryly, they wouldn't have to climb any mountains for a while.

Now with the late afternoon sun approaching the horizon, they reasoned it would be safer to camp out in the open, where anything approaching would be visible long before it reached them. However, the swamp had depleted more of their supplies than Avatara would have liked, and everything he had seen since returning seemed to suggest it would be difficult to find food from hunting or foraging.

Even now, in the midst of the first body of water that didn't smell like rot, he felt uneasy. Avatara hadn’t been to the southern shoreline in years, but the waves he remembered were much larger, not the wimpy ripples now barely lapping at the sand. The receded waters were also quite alarming, but the expanded beach had showed signs that this decline had been happening for quite some time. Yet, if he was disturbed by the large sandbar, Katerei was even more so. She had grown even more quiet and slightly pale as they crossed.

Avatara turned to look back at her. The woman he had encountered at the lake just a few weeks earlier seemed so different from the injured girl that he had rescued from angry poachers years ago. The feisty, often sarcastic Katerei was gone, replaced with a mellower, more mature - yet more distant - adult. Is she just unsure of her place in the world, or is she still running from her past?

Avatara caught himself walking back towards the shore and stopped. The last time he remembered seeing Katerei as her old self was the night Moonshadow was murdered. The night she set Moonshadow up to be murdered. Perhaps she changed because of me? Of what I said? Of what she did to me?

He remembered a dark and cold night in Cademia. Fresh off an unexpectedly close brush with death, Katerei stood alone, apart, and confessed her crime. It hurt to hear her betrayal, but he had a hard time believing it - no, a hard time wanting to believe it. In the end, he had brushed aside her feelings of remorse and drowned all thoughts of the past under a futile quest for vengeance. And for what? Another victim, more people hurt, and the distance between us is greater than ever.

Avatara paused while the ocean rippled gently around him. Should I try to mend things over? Would she want me to? Why is she swaying unsteadily? He frowned. Why was she swaying? Did she-?

He rushed forward and barely managed to catch her before she fell unconscious into the ocean. The waterskin she was holding slipped out of her grasp, spilling its contents into the red sand.

“Kat! Are you all right?” Avatara shook her gently. She was still breathing but not responding to his actions. He felt her forehead, but found no obvious sign of any fever. “Rapierian, I need some water!”

“Look behind you,” Rapierian shot back without looking up from his book.

“I don’t need salt water!”

“Suit yourself,” Rapierian said, stifling a yawn.

Muttering some curses that probably shouldn’t be repeated publicly, Avatara laid Katerei on his lap and fumbled around for one of the filled waterskins. Oddly enough, it looked like Katerei had only managed to refill two, counting the one leaking out all of her work onto the ground. He scooped up the overturned waterskin, brushed off the dirt, and poured some of the cool water onto her forehead.

“Katerei, can you hear me?” Avatara asked, trying to calm his voice the way he remembered Moonshadow did. What else would she have done? I don’t know healing magic!

"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

#34 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 19 May 2013 - 01:00 AM


The sound barely registered in her mind, muffled by the large expanse of water looming between her and a dim circle of white light. K floated alone in the darkness, the cold water pressing against her skin, enveloping her in its embrace.

Down here she could drift in silence. No more running in fear. No more living in shame. No more living in regret. Nobody would count on her making the hard choices, to give up a part of herself for the benefit of others. There was only the stillness, and the growing pain in her chest as memories flowed unbidden into her thoughts.


Her body twitched as another wave rippled across her, through her. More frantic, more urgent, why was it bothering her? The pain in K’s chest intensified, her temples ached, and her limbs felt cold. No heat could penetrate these depths, it was natural to feel cold. The light above grew dimmer.

“Katerei! Please!”

An urgent plea, but it sounded so far away. Who were they calling? Something was wrong. Her chest was burning, but the water was oh so cold. Why was it so hard to move her limbs? More muffled sounds, but she was too far away to hear now. Except, one word stuck out and resonated inside her mind.



K’s eyes opened wide, her body convulsing in a fit of coughing as she gasped for air. Her vision was blurry, bright lights were spinning above her, so she quickly shut her eyes again. Her chest was sore, but the burning sensation lessened with each precious breath. Her head throbbed as blood pounded through her brain. Her breathing slowed, becoming less frantic, less panicked. She was shivering, yet covered in sweat, and her hair and face were dripping wet.

“Katerei, are you all right?” A familiar voice asked softly.

K tried opening her eyes again, this time with more success. A man’s face peered over her against a dull gray backdrop, but she still felt dizzy and lightheaded. She closed her eyes again, her body relaxing as a wave of relief spread through her.

“What happened?” Avatara asked quietly.

Wait, Avatara? She suddenly became acutely aware of his hands holding her, one pressing hotly against her back, the other gently latched onto her side, ensuring she wouldn’t fall off his lap onto the shallow water below. In a panic, she sat up quickly, only to find herself on her back again, sudden pain flashing across her forehead.

“Ouch!” One of Avatara’s hands vanished to rub his jaw.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. The world wasn’t spinning so badly now, but her cheeks were burning and her headache was getting worse.

“What’s wrong?” he asked again.

She paused for a moment, struggling to focus through the pain in her temples, then it all came back to her. “Water,” she said.

Avatara moved to let her drink from the waterskin, but she batted his hand away. “I was...cleansing water. I’ve done that a hundred times before, but this time was different.” K paused to catch her breath. “It was...more difficult.”

She tried to sit up again, but her vision quickly blurred, and she laid back down, panting. “How many?” she asked.

Avatara’s face took on a sheepish look as he glanced around. “” He raised the waterskin in his hand, “And a half.”

K swore to herself quietly before muttering, “I thought I was at it for a while. I should’ve had way more ready by now.”

“You were at it for about an hour,” he replied.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” she said. Was her focus off? Surely she wasn’t out of practice.

“It’s all right,” Avatara said as he brushed her hair away from her face. “Don’t worry. We’ll figure out another way.”
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

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Posted 21 May 2013 - 09:41 PM

In the end, the group had ended up staying at Cademia longer than they had planned. Recovering from their previous ordeal at Land King Hall took time. In addition, Shanadar had convinced them that waiting for news was better than charging in blindly. Quietly, he had begun to gather guards from across the city. Any incursion into Land King Hall would require a diversion, and the Enforcer intended to be ready this time.

The Enforcer, meanwhile, was still having a difficult time of governing the city. A number of nobles, having left Land King Hall shortly before it was attacked, had recently returned. Rattled by the reports, they had agreed to allow Shanadar to remain in charge of the city; however, they had insisted on being allowed to recreate the advisory council. Thus, he now had a populace more accepting of his temporary command…and a bunch of nobles insisting on questioning all of his decisions. He did his best to placate the council while making his real decisions in consultation with the other adventurers.

It was at one of the meetings that the heroes first heard the news of the unsettling events in Odemia and Catamarca. Two runners had arrived from these towns earlier in the day. After passing through Shanadar's rather extensive security, they were both giving their reports.

"Metopes was kidnapped two days ago," the man from Catamarca reported. "We had prepared for some kind of attack, but a small group of men somehow entered the grotto under his house and surprised him in his office. We had guards there, of course, but…"

He paused before continuing.

"Somehow, they completely negated the Judge's magic. I've heard tell of such things but never seen them."

"Kesh crystals," Rapierian interjected. The ranger, due to his extensive of knowledge of the other Cythera, was present in all meetings, unsettling as that was to everyone else. "I don't know if you have encountered them here, but they are fairly common in my world. Mages loyal to Wizard somehow have an ability to use their magic inside the magic-dampening fields generated by the crystals."

"We've seen the crystals before; however, we haven't seen anyone using their powers under their influence," Shanadar replied. He turned to the messenger from Odemia with a sigh. "More bad news, I expect?"

"I'm afraid so, sir," the guard replied nervously. "Judge Sacas was also taken, although not by any armed band." He shuddered. "It was some kind of monster dressed in black. He defeated the guards and smashed through the door into her chambers. She could use her magic, but, from the reports, it did little good. He was gone with her before the guards in the rest of the city could even begin to react."

"Selax," Rapierian said quietly.

"What would he want the Judges and the other mages?" Katerei asked.

"I couldn't say for sure. He may be doing what he did in my world," the ranger responded slowly. "It is said that he is vulnerable to magic. He destroyed Pnyx in great part to neutralize that threat."

"If he is gathering mages, he will most likely target that city again," Shanadar stated. "We should send them another warning, although it might be best if we knew exactly what happened to your Pnyx."

"They were betrayed. Two mages smuggled in several of the crystals. With their magic blocked, they didn't stand a chance." The ranger stood. "I could carry the message. Perhaps, I could be of assistance."

"I doubt they'd trust you," the Enforcer answered. He turned to Katerei. Since the events at Land King Hall, she had been increasingly withdrawn. She needed to do something and this seemed as a good a task as any. "Could you accompany him, Katerei?"
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Posted 05 June 2013 - 11:50 PM

Katerei bit her lip and thought of the last time she was in Pnyx. I doubt they'll trust me either. But it was true; they knew her there, and at least she was of this world.

"I won't be much use if someone manages to block my magic," she hedged, stealing a glance at Rapierian. She barely knew the man. She thought of her previous companions, scattered across worlds like seeds in the wind. Yomu was long gone, and Shanadar was bound to Cademia. The others... it hurt too much to think of them.

"All right," she relented. "I'll go with Rapierian."

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Posted 16 June 2013 - 05:50 PM

Avatara sat staring into the small campfire they had set up at the edge of the forest. Sweat beaded on his forehead from sitting so close to the heat of the flame. The fire danced and waved in his vision, a burning and writhing creature blazing in stark contrast to the darkened night around them. Even the dim gray light of Cythera’s largest moon, hidden behind ever-present hazy clouds, was not enough to illuminate the shadows cast by the flame.

Water sizzled and dripped from the makeshift contraption they had set up to separate out salt from the seawater. Katerei had stubbornly insisted on trying her magic again, without any meaningful success. She lay resting now on a tattered blanket at the edge of the camp light. Katerei had insisted everything was fine, but Avatara suspected she was lying and refused to let her try a third time.

Rapierian had disappeared again, as was his usual habit at night. Perhaps he wanted his privacy, or perhaps he was hiding something disturbing under his cloak. Either way, he’d probably return at dawnbreak again. Most likely.

Which left Avatara alone with his thoughts.

A hiss of steam burst from the pot. I can bring her back, Selax had promised. It was an utterly bizarre and absurd proposal, yet...why was it proving so difficult to ignore? Selax couldn’t be trusted. Although, if there was a way...

Flashes of his past rose unbidden. Moonshadow knelt in their garden, lovingly tending her flowers, her long, silver hair waving in the wind. Moonshadow again, but at night now, as she knelt over the bed, calmly stitching Katerei’s leg closed in the candlelight. Her face, her smile, her corpse...

Avatara snapped back to reality with a shudder. Those days were gone forever. He still looked upon them with longing, but those feelings felt hollow now. She will never come back.

And Selax... Selax cannot be trusted.
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
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Posted 23 June 2013 - 11:38 PM

Focus. Focus. Just focus.

K forced her eyes shut and opened her mind to the world. She could sense the seawater that boiled over the fire, a reddish aura that glowed inside her mind. It was distracting, like trying to spot stars while the sun burned at midday. There was no other water that she could grasp, nothing she could join together into even a drop. Tiny particles drifted through the filter of her magic, dry and useless, grains of sand falling through a fishing net.

And every time her thoughts passed over the salt water, she knew Avatara was sitting near the contraption. She wondered with a sudden horror if he could feel her magic brushing the air around him, and her concentration snapped. She was supposed to be resting.

The sound of his reprimand rung in her ears, after she had insisted on trying to desalinate the water again earlier that day. It must have sounded harsher than he intended, because he had immediately looked apologetic. A knot twisted in her stomach as she remembered waking up at the shoreline, gasping for breath, her dripping hair spilling over his arms onto the ground.

What did they even need her for? Rapierian must have some useful knowledge from that book of his, and she was sure Av knew more about the connection to the other Cythera than he was letting on. He had always known something; that was why Selax approached him in the first place. Why all this had happened. But all that stuff just made her head spin. She liked tangible things – cool water flowing over her palms, the sound of a blade whipping through the air. With no water to provide, no plants to forage, no animals to hunt, she was just dead weight to them.

The creeping worry tugged at the back of her mind again. Would they be better off with her? But the thought of leaving Avatara again made her blood run cold. And she was afraid of leaving him alone here – or as good as alone, because Rapierian could only be trusted to do nothing at best, and provoke Av at worst.

K opened her eyes and turned to look at Av, hoping he wouldn't notice the motion. The light danced across his features, but she couldn't read his expression. He had been… different the last few days. She'd hoped returning to their own Cythera would have improved his mood, but the changed landscape only made things worse. And maybe this place was too full of bad memories.

It was cold, despite the minimal temperature change between day and night. She wanted to move closer to the fire, or at least sit up and wrap herself in the blanket, but she suddenly found herself unable to move. Av probably thought she was asleep, and maybe he needed some time alone to think.

Underwater… It had felt like being in the ocean when she passed out earlier. There was peace underwater, peace in numbness. But could she live a life without fire, without heat, without light?

Her hand clenched the dirt as salt water spilled out of her eyes.

This post has been edited by iKaterei: 23 June 2013 - 11:41 PM

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Posted 30 June 2013 - 12:30 AM

The stench of sulfur wafted out of the dark opening yawning wide before them, mixing unpleasantly with the smell of salt from the ocean behind. The ground underneath their feet was covered in gray ash and blackened obsidian.

Land’s End Volcano.

Once, this mountain had roared with life, belching fire and lava down upon the shoreline below. The heat from the magma pools within would radiate from the vents and tunnels bored into the rock, warding away all but the hardiest of plant life from the nutrient-rich soil.

Now, the volcano lay silent. No fire had stirred within for almost ten years, when the elementals had been destroyed. The pathways that led within were cold and dark, like the one before them now. Yet even now, scarcely any plants grew on the faded mountainside. The only distinguishing feature was the crushed obsidian path they had followed up the slope, led from the nearby foothills.

There was no wide sandbar below them here. Instead, ash-gray rocks jutted out of the earth, running all the way to the quiet surf far below. The air was deathly still, leaving a hot haze from the gray midday sky to bear down upon them.

“Much less impressive than the volcano in my world,” Rapierian said.

Avatara turned to Rapierian and asked, “Does your book say anything about what we are supposed to do here?”

“Perhaps,” he replied nonchalantly.

Avatara narrowed his eyes. “If you know something, it is in your best interest to share it. Unless you’d prefer walking around in the dark all day.”

“There’s a pedestal deep in the mountain. I suggest we go looking for it,” Rapierian smiled slyly.

Avatara glanced back at the lava tube entrance looming silent and oppressive. The light of day hardly penetrated more than a few dozen meters down the tunnel. “We’re going to need to use the torches.”

Katerei knelt to help him retrieve the makeshift torches he had tied to his pack. “Are you sure about this?” she whispered. “He could be leading us into a trap!”

“I’m not sure of anything,” Avatara whispered back, while he concentrated on lighting the first torch. “But I don’t have any other ideas.” He looked up to meet her blue eyes. “Do you?”

She was silent for a moment before she shook her head.

“Then we have no choice.”
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
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#40 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 12 July 2013 - 04:28 PM

Raperian and Katerei did not set out for Cademia until well after dark.

"By now, they know Shanadar has been sending warnings to other cities, so they will be watching the roads," the ranger had explained. "If we can reach the trees or the lower foothills, we should be safe enough until we reach the mountain pass."

They started out north, following the river. The ranger hoped that they might deceive any pursuers into thinking that they were heading for Land King Hall. He planned to follow the river until it forked. They would then follow the west fork until they reached the lower mountain slopes before turning south to the pass. It was a circular route out of their way, but Rapierian did not want to make the journey to the pass without cover.

"They may have spotted us by now," he told her quietly. "They'll probably try to head us off before we reach the mountains. If they fail and figure out our destination, they'll head for the pass. They know they can't track me when I've got sufficient cover to work with."

Katerei nodded but said nothing.

The ranger studied her for a moment. He didn't know much about this world's version of Katerei, but he had noticed she seemed more silent and in some ways more troubled than the one he did know. Worse, her silence only seemed to be increasing.

In a small patch of woods to the west, two men waited. One sat on the stump of a tree, while the other paced impatiently.

Jacob sat quietly, contemplating the situation. Most of the Hand was missing. His attempts at locating them had ended in failure. He felt this keenly. The Hand's safety was one of his responsibilities, and he had failed. Wizard was displeased and was now handling the situation personally. Jacob had been removed from the search and assigned to other tasks.

Kain paced angrily. The mage had been furious when they had been reassigned, although he had known better than to say anything. Right now, he wanted little more than an object upon which he could vent his frustration.

At that moment, one of their sentries cautiously entered the clearing.

"Sir," he said, turning to Jacob. "One of our scouts has reported in. He thought he saw two people slipping north out of Cademia."

"Rapierian," Kain snarled.

"You don't know that," Jacob observed quietly.

"Who else would be dumb enough to leave Cademia?" the mage growled. "Last we heard, he was in the city. He had to try something sooner or later."

"Perhaps," Jacob replied, standing. "At least, we shall have to investigate."

Still further to the west, already among the lower foothills and forests, Beorn stood, going through his exercises. He had taken advantage of his current body's affinity for magic and had managed to heal most of his injuries using knowledge picked up over the ages. Still, he knew that, as long as he remained in such a condition, he would not be able to stop his counterpart directly. He would have to take a chance and rely upon Cythera's adventurers to help him.

Contemplating the current situation, he had determined it was unlikely they would aid him directly, but he had little choice but to make the effort. If all else failed, he knew the individuals in question well enough to guess what their next moves might be. Beorn suspected that he might be able to maneuver events so that there would be a slight chance of survival for Cythera. Unfortunately, given his recent miscalculations and his current opponent, even this attempt might make matters worse.

He would have to proceed cautiously.

Meanwhile, in another Cythera…

Rapierian proceeded down the tunnel, acting quite unconcerned. He carried no torch, but, although he could not see in the dark, it troubled him little. Avatara and Katerei, carrying torches, followed him. As he proceeded down into the depths of the volcano, he pondered his companions. He had been relatively quiet of late, focused on his task and studying his companions…he had also been fuming over the mere existence of his "alternate."

Katerei, he surmised, was suffering from extreme guilt. He couldn't be sure about what, but he figured it had something to do with Avatara. Avatara himself seemed quite bitter about something. Again, the necromancer did not know what about, although he had his ideas. Gleefully, Rapierian figured it was time to start seeing how correct they were.

"I wouldn't have expected it, you know," he said aloud. "Selax always seemed such a boring individual."

Neither of his companions replied, so the necromancer continued.

"He has really done some fantastic remodeling in this world! It must be so disappointing for him that his hard work is so unappreciated." Then, he paused. "Of course, he's probably gotten rid of Shanadar which would remove a lot of potential entertainment…but sometimes those things happen."

Rapierian laughed.
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Posted 13 November 2013 - 02:35 AM

Avatara exchanged glances with Katerei. He didn't trust Rapierian, and he wanted to warn her to be careful around him, but if she stopped now for them to talk, it would only provide the necromancer with more reasons to be annoying. Or worse, it might give Rapierian ideas he didn't really need to have.

When neither of them spoke, Rapierian tried to egg them on further. "You know, I'm a little worried about my Katerei. She seems distracted lately, and unnecessary distractions can get the people around her killed."

"Are you going to talk and announce our presence the entire way, or are you going to pick up the pace so we can get out of here quicker?" Avatara snapped back. He hadn't intended to encourage the necromancer, but he had seen Katerei tense up at the mention of her alternate. If opening himself up to taunting and jeering was the price for stopping that discussion, so be it.

After all, they had a long journey ahead of them.
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*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

#42 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 01 January 2014 - 10:22 PM

Rapierian and Katerei continued to follow the river, moving quietly westward. Katerei noticed that her companion had become increasingly tense, stopping to glance around them several times.

"What is it?" she asked quietly.

"I'm not certain," the ranger replied with a frown. "I have a feeling…like we're being followed. They may have spotted us leaving the city."

Katerei shivered and glanced around them.

"What are you planning to do?"

He was silent for a moment before replying, "I don't think they'll attack us while we follow the river, but, if we're not careful, they could easily ambush us further upriver…" Rapierian broke off abruptly, cocking his head as though listening. Suddenly, he smiled. Turning away from the river, he hurried into the brush.

Reluctantly, Katerei followed. She still didn't really trust the ranger, but she couldn't really see any alternative. She caught up to him on the edge of a clearing. Gesturing at the clearing's occupants, he turned to her with a smile.

"On the other hand, we just might be able to give them the slip."

"I told it you was Rapierian," Kain said with an air of vindictive triumph. He was pointing at fading tracks, dimly lit by the fire he had conjured. "I'd know that track anywhere."

"Perhaps," Jacob muttered, looking about them. The trail was barely visible, often vanishing completely. Were it not for the Hand's extensive experience following Rapierian, he doubted that there would even be enough of a recognizable track to follow…the ranger was very good at leaving no sign of his passing. Still, even they had been fooled by false trails in the past.

"We'll follow," he said at length, "but carefully. If it is Rapierian, it's a safe bet that he'll try something—"

Suddenly, there was a thunderous sound nearby. The noise of a great many animals bellowing and the thudding of multiple heavy feet shook the earth about them.

Jacob and Kain barely had time to orient themselves for combat before the trees around them gave way as several large green animals trampled the vegetation aside in a frenzied stampede.

"What are those?" one of the sentries with them had time to say before being trampled under by the beasts.

"Titans," Kain snarled, raising his hands and shooting flames at the titan bearing down on him. The burning creature bellowed, somehow managing to stay on its feet and stagger onward.

Jacob raised his hands as well. His telekineses wouldn't bring down such a large creature quickly, but he could perhaps divert its course.

For several desperate minutes, he, Kain, and their surviving soldiers attacked or evaded, until finally the stamped ended.

Jacob looked about him. Several of the great animals lay dead around them. Only one of his men was down, but the trail they had been following was obliterated. Worse, the titans had scattered in all directions, wiping out all signs about them for some distance.

Some distance to the west, Rapierian and Katerei rode on top of one of the titans. The ranger had stampeded the rest in the direction he was fairly certain their pursuers were most likely to be. Now, he was cutting directly toward the mountains. It was a risk, but he was fairly certain that there was sufficient concealment to get close enough to disappear.

"How do you know they won't expect this?" she asked.

He shrugged.

"They probably will, but they won't know for certain. They'll have to split their forces to check, and I'm betting they are somewhat short-handed. Hopefully, we can open a sufficient lead before they figure out where we went."

Meanwhile, in another Cythera…

The necromancer sighed in a vaguely pitying manner.

"That was a good effort. Really, it was, but I'm afraid you're just not Shanadar. It's not the same, not the same at all. Still, you really could stand to lighten up. Whatever happened to you can't have been that bad…probably."

He paused and turned to face Avatara and K. Noticing that the man's face had darkened, he smiled again.

"And I wouldn't worry about the noise…whatever is guarding this place, already knows we're here…"

Laughing, Rapierian resumed their journey into the depths of the volcano.
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Posted 15 January 2014 - 09:01 PM

As they rode west, Rapierian considered the situation. The ranger still wished to reach Pnyx if he could, but the pass would certainly be watched. There were other trails over the mountains, but they were slow. Besides, they might not even exist in this version of Cythera.

Behind him, Katerei muttered something. The ranger glanced back at her. She was clearly uncomfortable, clinging tightly to the titan. Reminded of something, he chuckled lightly.

"What is it?" Katerei asked irritably.

"Sorry, I was just reminded of K's first--and only--attempt at riding a titan."

"She tried this?"

"Not happily…and, as I said, only once."

"What happened?" she questioned with obvious curiosity.

Pleased at rousing Katerei from her depressed state, the ranger replied, "Well, about five years ago, shortly before titans went extinct in our world, K ran into me while she was fleeing Cademia. I was busy eluding Wizard's agents as well, and, for a short time, we traveled together. They almost caught us outside the ruins of Pnyx, but we managed to escape. We found a couple of titans, and I suggested using them as mounts to escape. She stubbornly resisted the notion for a while but eventually decided to give it a try."

He stopped, laughing quietly. Katerei was surprised for a moment. The sound was not at all like the mad howling cackle of his counterpart.

"And?" she pressed.

"She got on, and the titan promptly threw her off. She swore off riding any animal after that…"
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Posted 25 May 2014 - 12:30 AM

As they rode on, Rapierian began to steer the titan through more remote terrain, taking increasing care to disguise their trail as best he could. The ranger had decided against a direct approach to the pass. He intended to head north and approach the pass from that direction. Once there, he hoped that he could find some way of slipping through unnoticed.

The conversation between the two riders had dwindled, and they pressed on in silence. Katerei seemed somewhat calmer but still withdrawn enough to concern him. As the hours passed, the mountains drew nearer, and Rapierian began to look for a temporary campsite. He had no intention of approaching the mountains themselves until it quite dark.

Suddenly, he stopped and stared at the ground. Frowning, he slowly got down.

"What is it?" Katerei asked.

"Tracks," he replied. "I'm not certain whose though. They were made by a single person within the last hour." He glanced at her. "Can you smell anything?"

After a moment's hesitation, Katerei leapt off the titan and transformed into a wolf. Carefully, she began examining the ground before quickly changing shape once more.

"Beorn," she said darkly. "And you're right. He's not far. Should we follow?"

The ranger hesitated before replying, "He almost certainly knows something that could help us…but it could be very dangerous even if he agrees to work with us." He sighed. "Still, we need to know what he knows."

Cautiously, the two began to follow the trail. After no more than ten minutes, it led into a small patch of trees, surrounding a small clearing.

Tying the titan to one of the trees, Rapierian circled entering the woods, while Katerei continued along the trail into the opening. A strange rune had been etched into the ground.

And, sitting on the ground in the middle of the rune, was Beorn.

His clothes were somewhat singed, and his hands were bandaged. Katerei could see faint burns along his face.

She shivered. In her previous interactions with Beorn, he had had an air of perpetual confusion, a mask she now realized. Now, his face was completely neutral, bearing no expression at all. He bore an eerie resemblance to Selax.

Rapierian emerged from the woods behind him.

"How did you find us?" the ranger asked glancing at the rune. Clearly, the man had been waiting for someone to pass by.

"I suspected that somebody would be sent to Pnyx and guessed at the most logical route. I thought they might pass along a message to Katerei," Beorn replied.

Calmly, he looked at Katerei.

"I must humbly request your assistance in an urgent matter."

For a moment, she was too incredulous to answer.

Before she could reply, Beorn continued, "I have a plan that might aid in awakening Alaric or, at least, in gaining admittance to Land King Hall."

"Help you?! You've been lying to us from the start!" Rapierian snarled.

"Had my counterpart become aware of my survival, he would have wasted little time in destroying me. I could think of no plan that he would not have anticipated. Thus, I allowed events to proceed and attempted to interfere at a critical juncture."

"So, you are Selax," Katerei said quietly.

"Indeed, as Avatara, no doubt, deduced," he replied. "You do not adequately understand your current situation. My counterpart has had millennia to prepare for this moment--"

"This is your fault somehow, isn't it?" she interrupted him, beginning to become angry. "Avatara guessed that too!"

Beorn paused a moment. He had carefully considered his options before proceeding on this course but had not quite decided what to reveal about recent events. Ordinarily, he would have been more circumspect about what to admit, but Katerei's point had merit.

He had made a number of rather serious mistakes put it rather mildly. It seemed unlikely that a group of mortals would have much useful input, but he was forced to admit that he could no longer completely trust his own judgment. Cythera--and who knew how many others worlds--had little time left.

He had lost perspective and become too confident in himself: he would have to take a risk.

"A series of miscalculations on my part precipitated these events, but they would have occurred soon in any case, most probably within the next millennium," Beorn finally answered.

"Miscalculations?" Rapierian ground out in a rage. "People have died as a result of those 'miscalculations!'"

"You could have told us who you were when you first arrived," Katerei said. "You could have prevented all of this."

"No, I could not have. My counterpart did not assume I was dead: I could not reveal my survival because he would have anticipated my doing so. Thus, I left matters in your hands." He stood. "This is not the place to discuss what occurred. We must leave here at once."

"You're right," the ranger said. "We are going to Pnyx."

"A futile maneuver: if I expected it, he certainly will have done so as well."

"That's why you're coming with us. If you can read Selax so well, I'm certain you'll be of great help."

Beorn ignored him and raised his hands. Suddenly, the rune began to glow, and the ranger jerked back. Beorn addressed Katerei.

"This is a rune of translocation: it links two points using a magic unknown in Cythera. The link is broken after a single transit. I will tell you what transpired when I learned of the existence of the other Cythera but not here. After that it will be up to you whether or not, you wish to help me."

"Why would I help you?" she asked, still surprised he would have the audacity to ask.

"Because I know where he went when he left you."

Katerei froze.


"He said never to trust you."

The rune began to glow more brightly.

"I do not ask for your trust, merely your assistance."

"Katerei! Don't listen to him!" Rapierian yelled.

She hesitated. All of the warnings about Selax that Avatara had given her flashed through her mind...but Avatara had also always said that Selax knew much of what happened in Cythera. If Beorn really did know anything about what had happened to Avatara…

She stepped into the rune.

There was a flare of light and a sensation like she was falling. Somewhere, she heard Rapierian yelling…

Then, she landed on a hard surface. Standing, Katerei glanced about her, seeing nothing but darkness. There was a sudden flare of light.

Beorn stood across from her, holding up a small torch. They were standing in what seemed like a small tunnel.
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#45 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 01 June 2014 - 08:56 PM

While the stench of sulfur wasn't as powerful as it had been at the entrance, it had persisted for the entire journey downards, leaving an ever-present burning in their lungs and the aftertaste of rotten eggs. The walls around them gleaned black in the torchlight, polished obsidian from an eruption long ago, but no warmth radiated from the cold stone now.

Avatara grunted as he gave Katerei a final boost up the sudden ledge that had blocked their path, careful to ensure neither of them got cut on the sharp rocks. Rapierian stood above them, holding the torch, watching their progress with bemused interest. Leaving Rapierian with the torch hadn't been Avatara's first choice, but it was better to put the necromancer in front where he could be seen than to let him follow behind.

The temperature was slightly cooler than outside, but the heavy air was wearing on them, along with who-knew-what noxious gasses they were inhaling. It didn't help that Katerei had been withdrawn and unfocused ever since the incident at the shoreline, stumbling even on flat ground or sometimes staggering towards the wall in a daze before Avatara redirected her, hopefully before the necromancer had noticed. Avatara guessed she had the same headache he did, after what felt like hours of breathing the tainted air. One final scrabble and she managed to lift herself onto the ledge.

"Any idea how much further?" Avatara asked as he looked for a safe outcropping to grab, one that wouldn't cut the palms of his hands. Katerei kneeled and offered her hand. Bracing his left hand against a rough protrusion, he accepted her hand and began climbing up after her.

"No." Rapierian's reply was as short as his assistance. When Avatara had finally joined the two of them, he gave the necromancer a sidelong glance, then took a step forward, and nearly fell into a deep chasm.

"You should have warned me!" Avatara growled.

"That wasn't your question," Rapierian replied.

The three of them looked out across the wide chamber opening up in front of them. A large conical pit dropped below them, deeper than the torch could illuminate. Grooved outcroppings spiraled out of the walls, leading all the way into the darkness above them.

"We can follow this down," Rapierian said, gesturing to their left. The path was narrow, but if they pressed themselves against the wall, they could follow the circumference of the chamber down. Assuming the rocks could hold their weight. Assuming Katerei would have the presence of mind to make it. As if sensing Avatara's trepidation, the necromancer broke out into a sardonic grin. "Unless you're scared?"

It was risky, but what other choice did they have?

"Lead the way," Avatara gestured at Rapierian, hoping this wouldn't all turn out to be a terrible mistake.
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
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Posted 07 June 2014 - 08:08 PM

Before Katerei could say anything, Beorn spoke.

"I have long been aware of the existence of parallel realities--indeed, I have visited a number of them--however, the nature of the barriers surrounding Cythera is such that it should never had a parallel reality."

"Then why does it?" she asked shortly, restraining the impulse to demand whatever he knew about Avatara. Avatara had warned her that information from Selax almost always had a cost...and in the cases where it did not it was generally because the elemental had a plan of some kind.

"I cannot quite say for certain. Cythera is unique. I have long known this, but I did not adequately appreciate the extent of this fact. I suspect its unique characteristics somehow enabled the formation of this other Cythera, as well as, somewhat to my surprise, enabling the creation of my own counterpart."

"You just said you had visited parallel realities before. Why should the existence of a parallel version of yourself surprise you?"

"The fact that I am not native to any of the worlds that I spoke of seems to have prevented the creation of alternate copies myself."

Katerei was relieved. The thought of Selax producing a copy of himself every time he visited a reality was not a comfortable one.

Then, Beorn continued, "I have encountered duplicates of myself before--formed from magic or science--but never one created as an alternated version. Generally, I have been forced to--and have been able to--destroy these creatures promptly, but, in this case, my counterpart had millennia to prepare for our encounter, and I failed to appreciate this fact."

"What happened?" she questioned.

"Sometime ago, before I returned to Cythera, I encountered an old acquaintance of mine. Something that was said (it does not matter exactly what) caused me to reconsider my long assumption regarding Cythera and the existence of alternate Cytheras. One of my intentions upon my return to Cythera was to re-examine the possibility."

He paused.

"I did so and found that another Cythera did exist. At first, my primary interest was how this affected my understanding of the Void and its relation to Cythera; however, as I began to examine the other Cythera, I discovered the existence of my counterpart and became aware of his intentions."

Beorn stopped and looked at her.

"You have spoken with the other Avatara about this, but I suspect he did not quite understand the extent of my counterpart's ambitions."

She hesitated, remembering Avatara's warnings about sharing information with Selax. Finally, she said, "He thought that Selax was trying to get into the Void to dominate other worlds."

"Partially correct, I fear he may have more nihilistic ambitions than that. Given Cythera's importance and his understanding of its nature (far greater than mine), if he escaped into the Void, he might in time--with the correct allies--be able to disrupt the fabric of the multiverse itself."

Katerei was stunned.

"You're saying you think he's going to try and destroy existence?" she managed.

Beorn lifted the torch and began to head down the passageway. Having little alternative, Katerei followed.

"Most probably that is a consideration of his. At least, his knowledge of my allies and methods will result in the deaths of more people than you can comprehend. He was within a millennium of escaping when I discovered him. Given that time was so short, I thought it imperative he be stopped immediately. Although the other Cythera was trapped and cut off from the Void, from this world I was able to create a slight weakness directly between the worlds--" Seeing Katerei's expression over his shoulder, he added, "I took precautions. The opening was keyed to me and admitted only one being at any instant…or so, I had thought. I again failed to recall that Cythera is unique."

"My counterpart had prepared for my coming. He had been monitoring this Cythera even as I examined his. Our initial encounter went very badly, but I was able to escape and flee to the rift I had created. I intended to escape and seal the rift. I feared he might have the knowledge to do more with it than I had believed possible. Somehow, he was able to follow me into the tear. Given that he seemed as surprised by that fact as I was, I doubt that even he fully understands the structure of the barriers around this world--"

"So, your own arrogance blew up in your face and put us all at risk," Katerei interrupted bitterly.

"Yes," he replied. "Unfortunately, when you live as long as I, that mistake tends to occur more often than one would care to admit."

Beorn continued to walk as he spoke. He was not comfortable speaking so much or divulging so much information, but Katerei was correct. He had made a series of catastrophic errors, necessitating a change in his usual tactics.

He intensely disliked having to take such risks…

"Our battle ended badly. The rift was destabilized, creating a more permanent portal between the two Cytheras. My counterpart was ejected back into his world. I suspect this allowed others from that world to find and use the portal before he recovered. As for myself..."

He grimaced, the first time Katerei had seen him make much of an expression since he had started to speak.

"My physical form was destroyed, but my connection to the portal enabled my consciousness to remain and to coalesce into this form. After that, I believe you are familiar with the sequence of events."

Beorn did not think it necessary to add that he was omitting certain information. Namely, that the man whose body he now used had been a wandering vagabond. Said vagabond had seen the portal opening and had approached it out of curiosity. Beorn had been forced to enter the man's mind to avoid complete discorporation. It was something perhaps less than ethical but given the scale of the catastrophe that had loomed...

Katerei stopped, pondering all that she had heard. She thought that he was insane--that she should get as far away from him as possible…but Avatara…

"How do I know you actually know anything about Avatara at all?" she asked.

"He was at your cabin near Catarmarca. He left in the early morning hours without telling you why. You have not seen him since."

Beorn turned to face her.

"As I said, I have a plan to awaken Alaric. I require your assistance. When we succeed, I will tell you what I know about Avatara. You are free to leave at any time, but only when Alaric awakens will I tell you what I know. The choice is yours."

Without another word, he turned his back and headed once more down the passageway.

Katerei wavered.

Then, she slowly followed.
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#47 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 26 June 2014 - 09:19 PM

Rapierian considered the situation as the threesome descended deeper into the chasm. His companions were far more physically fit and agile than he, but the necromancer was now some distance ahead of them. Avatara, clearly worried about Katerei, was moving relatively slowly. Despite her withdrawn state, she had so far managed, but Rapierian idly wondered if she could keep it up much longer.

Impatient with their slow pace, the necromancer had given the torch to Avatara. After all, night vision spells, while not commonly used in Cythera, were not unknown to Rapierian.

Finally, he reached the bottom of the chasm. From here, the way continued on through a crumbling arch…however, there were a couple of other things he wished to examine before entering the heart of the volcano. If he timed everything correctly, the necromancer would have time to complete a side project or two and still be able to rejoin his companions when they reached their destination.

Scouting around, he found a small side passage. Rapierian rummaged through his cloak and found a small piece of paper. Casually, he scrawled a few quick instructions and placed the note on a rock next to him. It (probably) contained enough instructions for his companions to reach their objective without him.

Satisfied, he slipped into the side passage.

Idly, he wondered if he should have left anything about the guardian. The necromancer shrugged. He'd probably be back in time to help them deal with it.

For several minutes, he proceeded down the passage until he found a small chamber. Satisfied that his companions were out of the way for the moment, Rapierian began shuffling through his pockets.

If his reading of his book was correct and if his own assumptions held, there was some chance that Selax had hidden something of great value in this volcano. He had no time to search now and he doubted he could access the device anyway--if it even existed. Still, he might be able to get something useful out of the situation...

Finally, he pulled a small crystal--one of those used for illumination at Pnyx--from his cloak. Rapierian chuckled and quickly began to work.
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#48 User is offline   Selax 

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Posted 26 July 2014 - 06:28 PM

Rapierian stared at the spot where Katerei and Beorn had been. The ranger had scouted around but could now find no sign of either nor of where they had gone. He had lingered longer than was safe.

Sighing, he returned to the titan. He still had to reach Pnyx.

Katerei followed Beorn through a maze of passages. The cave system was fairly extensive, but he seemed to know exactly where he was headed. Finally, he stopped next to a pool and gestured at it.

"The object we require is through there. I require your assistance in reaching it."

She looked at the pool. It seemed to be nothing special, not more than ten feet in diameter, but it was deep, very deep.

"You want me to find something for you?" she asked.

"Not quite, I know where the object I require is located, but, in my current condition, I cannot access it. The pool is merely an access point. I need you help passing through the water."

"Access point to what?" she replied, frowning.

"The true undercity of the Seldane, of which Maayti is only a part and Ayrit is only a remnant," he said, turning toward her. "Some time ago--you would call it a very, very long time ago--the Seldane, creatures of the Earth, dwelt mostly deep within the Earth, miles beneath the ground. In their wars with the Undine, they mostly sealed this region off, trying to deny their enemies access." Glancing back toward the pool, he continued, "The Undine simply forced their way through the ground and eventually mostly destroyed the undercities. This pool is one of the few remaining access points to that region. I believe that you can help me pass through it and reach the undercity. Something I stored there might give us a small chance at success. Can you help me?"

Katerei stared at the water.

Finally, she said, "What exactly did you have in mind?"

"You should be able to create a small air pocket. Using this pocket, we can descend through the Undine's tunnels into the undercity, more than two miles beneath us at this point."

"What? That's--" she started, shocked for a moment. Pausing, she composed herself. "That's pretty high level of control. I'm not certain that--"

"I have studied your race and observed your abilities in particular. I am confident that you are capable of this task."

Katerei shivered at the thought of Beorn analyzing her species then pushed the thought aside. Now was not the time to focus on that.

"Why are we even doing this? What's so important down there?"

Beorn studied her for a moment before pulling something from his cloak.

It was small amulet with a silver chain and a dark crystal inset into it.

Katerei started, recognizing it after a moment.

"That's the Amulet of the Dead," she said.

"Indeed, an artifact ostensibly capable of controlling the undead armies, one which I believe you had some part in trying to retrieve from Tavara. The necromancer Rapierian stole the artifact but found it to be damaged. He later surrendered it to Alaric. I retrieved it before leaving Land King Hall, suspecting that it might be of use."

Katerei looked at the amulet uneasily.

"Of use, how?" she asked. "You can't be planning to unleash the undead on Cythera too! Haven't you done enough already?"

"I have no intention of randomly or recklessly raising the dead, even if I could, but we need assistance if we are to enter Land King Hall or get anywhere near the gateway."

"Why would we need to go near the portal? I thought you were planning to rescue Alaric?" Katerei retorted in momentary exasperation.

Beorn almost looked annoyed for a moment before responding.

"As you know, the elementals in the other Cythera are dead. When the two Cytheras were joined, Alaric and the elementals suddenly found themselves bound to that diseased land. They were sent into a state of shock. They might recover in time on their own, but we cannot wait. We must seal or, at least, weaken the connection between the two worlds if Alaric is to awaken."

"Shouldn't we retrieve Alaric first?" she demanded.

"There is no time," he replied sharply. "The gateway must be weakened before it is too late."

Something in his manner gave her pause. Katerei realized, in a flash of horror, that Beorn was worried, afraid even…

"Too late for what?"

Beorn turned to face her fully.

"The gateway must be weakened. The bonding of the worlds has created an instability between them. This instability grows every moment. If it is not stopped, it will destroy both worlds."

For a moment, there was silence as Katerei processed his statement.

"Why didn't you say that in the first place? Why not warn everybody?"

"There is nothing they can do. It is highly improbable that anyone else in this world has the knowledge needed to close the gateway." He turned toward the water. "The amulet is damaged as Rapierian claimed. I believe, however, that something within the undercity can be used to effect a partial repair. Using this device, I know where we might obtain assistance. If you are still willing to aid me, we should leave at once."

"Wait," Katerei said, holding up a hand. "How do you plan to get back up? Can you even swim?"

"As for the first question, I had hoped that you would be able to aid me in this endeavor as well. If not, I have another idea, although it would be quite hazardous. As to the second question, allow me to worry about that. Now, we must be going."
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#49 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 11 August 2014 - 01:19 AM

“What’s wrong?” Avatara knelt by Katerei. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she was panting heavily.

“It’s nothing,” she said, pointedly looking away.

“It doesn’t look like nothing!” he reached out to touch her shoulder, but she flinched away.

“Everything is fine,” she lied, still not meeting his gaze. Avatara grunted, but he let it drop.

“What are we supposed to do about this?” he asked, turning around. Behind them, an obsidian pillar stood in the center of the chasm, about chest-height and just too big to wrap both arms around. The center platform was wide enough to comfortably pace around the pillar, but the sole pathway leading back to the entrance could only fit two people walking side-by-side unless they wanted to risk a fall to the cracked floor a dozen feet below. Despite the lack of fire, the inner walls of the room were lit by a dull red glow that extended all the way to the entrance of the chamber, some hundred paces away. Beyond lay the spiraling cone they had descended.

“I suppose he did lead us to the right place,” Katerei said, looking at the crumpled note in his fist.

“But he was supposed to also lend us his glorious insight on what to do with this thing.” Avatara kicked his pack, but the fire orb inside let out no audible noise.

“Are there any markings on the pillar?” she asked.

“None that I can read. It’s completely smooth aside from this hole in the back.” He bent down to retrieve the orb from his pack. The ball swirled with color, shifting from red to orange to yellow, and back again in the blink of an eye. Avatara carefully set it down on top of the pillar, as close to the center as he could estimate, but when he removed his hands, the orb promptly rolled onto the floor and he had to scramble to stop it from falling off the platform entirely.

“Will it fit in the hole?”

“Maybe,” Avatara grunted. He knelt behind the pillar and fiddled with the opening. After a moment, there was a small clinking noise. “It’s in.”

“Now what?” she asked.

Avstara shot her a grimace and returned to studying the pillar. Nothing happened. He joined Katerei on the ground several paces away and the two of them stared at the obsidian monolith in silence until the sound of gravel crunching drew their attention.

“I trust I did not keep you waiting too long,” Rapierian said as he walked towards them. “Now, if you’ll let me see the orb, we can activate this thing and be on our way.”

“It’s in the back,” Avatara said, pointing over his shoulder.

“Didn’t seem to do anything,” Katerei chimed in.

“At least you two weren’t foolish enough to – wait, did you say inside?” Rapierian stopped mid-stride.

“Sure did, it fit inside the hole in the back,” Avatara replied.

“Y-You…” the necromancer stammered. Avatara hadn’t realized the man’s eyebrows could rise so high.

Whatever else Rapierian had been about to say was lost in a sudden explosion of steam from one of the vents down below. Before the hiss faded, three more burst out. The cavern began a deep rumble and small pebbles skittered down from the ceiling onto the pathway.

“You fools!” Rapierian spat. “It’s a good thing I found the exit! You’re going to bring the whole place down around us.” As if to accentuate his prediction, two large stalactites crashed into the pathway behind him, shattering into dozens of shards before tumbling over the edge, and taking part of the pathway with them. The steam explosions came rapidly now and a gout of flame appeared from the wall beneath them as some of the fumes combusted.

“Looks like it’s time to go,” Avatara said, shouldering his pack and helping Katerei to her feet. In the devolving chaos, he almost didn’t notice she had willingly accepted his hand this time.

“Past time to be gone,” the necromancer groaned. “This way! Hurry!” Without looking to see if they followed, he dashed towards the exit. More flames burst out down below, raising the temperature notably. Avatara followed, still holding onto Katerei’s hand, but she took three steps and fell in a shriek of pain.

“What happened?” he knelt next to her and immediately started searching for any trace of blood. Her knees were scratched, but it didn’t look like anything had hit her.

“I must’ve twisted my ankle,” her face scrunched up into a grimace of pain. A large boulder crashed onto the platform near the pillar, triggering a jolt that almost knocked them over. Eyes wide, Katerei met his gaze and whispered, “I don’t think I can run like this.”

Without waiting for her permission, Avatara swept one arm under her shoulders and the other under her legs, hoisting her into the air. If he staggered to his feet ungracefully, it was because she was much heavier than he expected. Maybe he was slightly out of shape too, having not needed to do heavy lifting in a long time, but it was probably her weight. At least Rapierian wasn’t watching; he must’ve made it out of the room while they weren’t looking.

With over a hundred pounds in his arms plus the two packs containing the remnants of their supplies, progress was considerably slower. Each step brought them closer to safety, but there were hundreds to go, and the cavern was hot enough that Avatara was openly sweating. Fortunately, Katerei didn’t struggle like he had expected, but instead quietly hooked her arms around his neck and leaned against his chest.

One slow step after another, they made their way forward. The rumbling never abated, instead growing in intensity as the noises beneath them became more frantic and frequent. Halfway to the exit, a bright light lit up the cavern, and a glance over his shoulder showed a beam of liquid fire shooting straight up out of the obelisk. Had the light not taken his attention on the path in front of them, he wouldn’t have also noticed that the cavern floor below them was glowing.

“Uh oh,” Avatara said.

“What’s wrong?” Katerei lifted her head, trying to see around.

“I think the volcano is waking up, and it sounds awfully grumpy.”

At last, sweat running down his face, he managed to stagger through the opening into the dark room beyond. A moment of blinking and he realized the two points of light he saw was Rapierian, holding both torches.

“If you two are done getting comfortable, I’d like to leave now,” the necromancer grumbled.

“I don’t think we can climb out in time,” Avatara said.

“We’re not climbing. This way.” He led them towards one of the side passages.

“This might go faster if the two of us helped carry you,” Avatara suggested quietly. She said nothing in response, but it seemed like she gripped him more tightly.

Down one narrow tunnel after another, he led them. Even Rapierian’s progress was slow, due to the earthquakes that sent them clutching at the walls for balance. The tunnels were much cooler than the pillar room, but it wasn’t long before they too became uncomfortably warm. Finally, one final turn and they stumbled out into daylight.

When they had entered, the volcano stood silently at the edge of the island, a dormant mountain. Now, rivers of lava flowed down from the sizes, marching unhindered into the sea, where great plumes of steam billowed into the sky. Above them, the summit was openly billowing smoke and raining gray flakes of ash all around them.

“This way,” Rapierian said, pointing towards a trail visible on the volcano slope, leading down to the beach. “If you hurry, we can double-back to our campsite before this whole mountainside is covered in fire.”

Just as they started down the trail, a deep voice boomed out, “STOP!”

Avatara turned to see Athes standing on the slope, a dozen paces to their left. “Why?” Avatara snarled. “You knew this was going to happen.”

“If you go that way, you’ll be trapped before you make it down the volcano,” the demon replied, baring his teeth. “You cannot outrun the flows. I know a better way.”

Avatara turned towards Rapierian, hoping the necromancer would chime in with one of his snide remarks, but the white-haired man was thoughtfully looking at the path below. “Rapierian?” he prodded.

“What?” Rapierian looked up. “Oh, yes. He’s probably right.”

Avatara glanced at Katerei but she just shrugged and smiled. “Very well, where do we go?”

“This way,” Athes said, gesturing with one claw. A barely discernable path was cut into the mountainside, winding around the volcano. Upwards. “Come, it is not far.” The demon actually bowed.

Katerei grabbed his shirt neck and Avatara lowered his head to hear her say, “I have something to tell you, if we don’t make it.”

“What is it?” he whispered back.

She blinked and looked away. “I’ll tell you if we don’t make it.”

Avatara sighed. There was nothing to do but follow the demon.

Not one minute after they had trudged uphill, the tunnel behind them spurted lava. The flow ran down the mountainside, sometimes altered by small ravines, sometimes not. Yet, before long, it intersected and covered the original trail they had been intending to wake. Well before they would have passed by.

A particularly violent tremor knocked them all to the ground, an uncomfortable fall given the sharp, rocky terrain. “Sorry,” Avatara whispered to Katerei, seeing the blood running from a gash in her thigh. “I’m not sure I can carry you further.” She nodded, and after a long pause, slid from his grasp. They continued, with him supporting her shoulder over her weak leg.

Long after the shaking stopped, the volcano continued rumbling. “I don’t like the sound of that,” she said.

“It is almost time,” Athes agreed. “Not far now. I advise haste.” Another violent tremor rocked the group, followed by a loud cracking sound. “Hurry!” the demon shouted.

Behind them, it looked like an avalanche of glowing rock rushed down the slope towards them. Katerei clenched her teeth and hobbled faster. They rounded a corner in the slope and found a black stone obelisk resting on a small ledge.

“Quickly! Place your hands on the faces,” Athes commanded.

They spread out, each one placing the palms of their hands on one of the four sides, trying to ignore the rushing wave of rock racing towards them.

“Nothing is happening!” Avatara cried.

“Hmm, that’s strange. He should have made it by now,” Athes mused, stratching his chin with one clawed hand, as if oblivious to the wave of death only seconds away.

Katerei placed one of her hands on Avatara’s and leaned towards him. “Av, I need to tell you.” A burst of light from the obelisk cut her off. Runes suddenly appeared on the surface beneath their hands, lighting up the stone. The wall of superheated rock rose up above them, and vanished in blinding flash.

Avatara blinked, trying to see through the white that filled his vision. His muscles were still sore, so he didn’t think he was dead. Wherever they were, it was much cooler and that was a welcome change from the sweltering heat. It was also easier to breathe too. Sulfur and noxious gases were replaced with an earthy, musty smell.

He rubbed his eyes and slowly figures and shapes began to form. The four of them were still standing near the obelisk, but they were inside a cave. That wasn’t quite right. They were in a chamber that had definitely been sculpted out of the rock, not a naturally formed cave. Scattered across the walls were small clusters of glowing crystal in green, pink, and yellow hues.

Avatara reached out and gently held Katerei’s arm. “What were you going to say?”

She jerked up, startled, and backed away. “Never mind. It’s not important.” Yet, her words came out in a rush. Was something wrong?

“I see you have brought our guests, though they are probably tired after their ordeal. No matter, we have fresh food and drink,” a familiar voice said. Avatara spun around and stared in shock at two familiar faces. Yomu – no, Sage now – stood at the entrance of the room near Athes. He looked much like the last time Avatara had seen him, back in the forest outside Land King Hall. Yet, more alarming was the woman standing at his side, her long black hair tied back into a long braid. She didn’t gaze openly at anyone, not with a red scarf covering her eyes, but Avatara sensed she was able to observe everyone just the same.

“What are you doing here?” Avatara asked, looking back at Sage.

“Why, we came to welcome you to Aryit,” Sage said, spreading his arms wide. “After all, you’re here to help save the world.”
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

#50 User is offline   Avatara 

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Posted 19 August 2014 - 02:56 AM

The "city" of Aryit was actually fairly small for a city, but the dim lighting made it seem much larger than it really was. In the great hall outside the obelisk chamber, a row of columns vanished into the darkness a few dozen paces to their right. The air was damp and heavy, but the earthy smell was a welcome change from the toxic sulfur of the volcano. It was far quieter too. Aside from the breathing of her companion, a faint echo of water dripping was all Katerei could hear as the two of them limped into one of the rooms Sage had set out for them. Well, technically, she was the only one limping, but Avatara didn't seem to be faring much better. His arm supported her shoulder, but his stride was uneven and his unfocused gaze marked his exhaustion. Still, she appreciated the warm hand on her skin, and if she leaned against him a little more than she had to, he didn't complain.

Their room was directly across the hall, but far enough away from the glowing crystals that it was nearly pitch-black. Katerei had to summon a tiny ball of pale blue light to help them see. It was a simple enough spell, but it still took three tries, and if there was one bright point in her struggle, Avatara couldn't see well enough either to notice she even had to try.

The light revealed a small room enclosed by brown stone walls. The rock was more rigid here; not the natural-looking formations in the obelisk room, but deliberately carved angular surfaces. The room was also empty, though considering Sage mentioned some of the rooms near the entrance had caved in, that might be a good sign. At least the air was cool.

Avatara made it halfway to the far side before he sank to the ground and lay against the wall, letting out a deep sigh. Careful of her swollen ankle, Katerei gently lowered herself next to him and sat in silence. Now that they weren't in immediate danger she could try healing the throbbing in her leg, along with the gashes and scrapes on her knees, but surely that could wait just a little while longer. Maybe the wave of dizziness brought back by summoning the light would fade by then. Maybe he would fall asleep and not see her struggle with the magic she had known all her life. Maybe she just didn't feel like moving her shoulder away from his right then. Maybe, she could-

"Katerei," he spoke, interrupting her thoughts. She curled her fingers to hide the embarrassment of having jumped. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, but he was staring straight ahead. He let out another deep sigh. "I need you to be honest with me."

Honest with him? What did he mean? Katerei's mind raced in a panic, trying to figure out what he might want to know, if he knew what she feared he might know. A tiny part of her hoped he did. The rest of her feared what he might do if he knew. Would he send her away again?

"You've been acting strange for a while now," Avatara said. Katerei's chest tightened. He knew! She had tried to keep her feelings hidden, hoping he wouldn't notice. Hoping he wouldn't react like last time and shove her away in a fury.

"I need to know what's wrong," he continued when she didn't speak. He was looking at her now, studying her face.

"Nothing's wrong," she said. Would it be too suspicious if the light suddenly winked out so he couldn't see her face?

"I need to know why you collapsed at the beach. Why you nearly stumbled to your death half-a-dozen times in the volcano. Why have you been so...distracted lately?"

“I… it’s my magic,” she said, casting around for something else to talk about. “Ever since I went into the other Cythera, it felt different, but it’s been getting worse. Even now that we’re back here.”

“It’s not working right?” Avatara asked quietly.

“No. I knew it would go wrong at the beach, but we needed fresh water. I had to try.” Katerei poked the ball of light. It skittered away through the air, flinging light across the walls and leaving them in shadow. “I don’t know what’s wrong. It just drains me all the time, no matter what I’m doing.”

“Me too,” Avatara said. When she looked at him, he continued, “I used to be able to sense the energy buzzing all around me. Ever since we crossed back...I can still feel it there, but it hovers just out of my reach.”

That was news. Avatara hadn’t given any indication that he was having similar trouble. Katerei sighed and looked around at the unfamiliar architecture. “Magic is different for my people than for Cytherans. It’s not some arcane art restricted to scholars or warriors. I learned how to summon water before I even learned how to hunt.” She tapped her palm over her heart. “This is me. This is what I do. And now I can’t… it’s like having a limb cut off.”

She turned to look at him. “Do you feel any different since we set off the fire orb? Like anything went back to normal?”

Avatara thought for a moment. “At first, I did. There was a surge of energy when the beam went off, but I didn’t think to use it. Now though...I feel more empty than I did before.”

“I know that feeling,” she murmured. “I’m starting to wonder if it’ll ever go back to how it used to be. Maybe if we fix all four pillars, but… without that, I’ll have nothing else left.”

A faint sound like the whisper of a breeze caught Katerei’s attention and she looked up to see Scry in the doorway. The blindfolded woman turned to face them and spoke. “Sage wants to see you now.” Without waiting for a reply, she spun around and left as quietly as she had appeared.
"Sometimes I get confused whether I'm posting on ATT or in the War Room. But then I remind myself: If it's moderators acting scatter-brained and foolish, then it's the War Room*.

*Unless it's Avatara, of course."
-- From the memoirs of Sundered Angel

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