Mordulon-Fall of the Crimson Throne

A Letter

Dear Donovan,


I hope I am doing this right… I have never written to anyone before because- well there was no one to ever write to. I never knew my parents and my uncle would never have to time to read “such nonsense.”

I hope you aren’t mad but I found a burned paper on the ground and I read it… It must have fallen out of your journal when I was carrying you. It was a letter to your grandmother… Did you not get the time to send it by carrier? I would try to send it for you but it is too badly damaged to make any heads or tails of it. I bet she misses you..


I miss you..


I wanted to write this to apologize. You rescued me twice and I did nothing but fail you… Just like I failed to save Acoylte.. or failed to stand up and fight for Ares…

I want to be brave like you. I want to never falter and to fight for what’s right. Someday, I hope to strive and be at least part of the hero you were.


I want to make a promise to you.

I promise to always fight for the little guy.

I promise to always do my best.

I promise to never give up because you never gave up.


Thanks for always being a hero. I will never forget you..

Always your friend,




You Win Some...You Lose Some
Is the victory worth the loss?

My memory still hasn't returned.. No flashes. No clues.


Memories of Acolytes arm on the bridge and going into the forest.. Then only fragments remain. I haven’t told the others.


Donovan saved Mustafa and I from a cage.. but how had we gotten there? I couldn't tell you. Large chunks of time are gone and I haven’t been able to grasp the pieces.


Nikoli remains ever cheerful despite the bad around us. I wish I were so young and unburdened as he.




Fur pressed back in the wind, I keep my ears perked up listening for that maniac laughter that will bring us closer to our foe.


“Come and fight us you scoundrels!” Donovan yells, from my back.


My large paws thud softly on the ground as we scrounge the area looking for the Oni. I was terrified of what we might find but Donovan made me feel brave. Even the giant oaf Mustafa, gave me some sort of safe feeling. He was a jerk but he was strong and his ambition for coin kept him motivated to help.


Blood. I smell blood! Rounding the corner, dead bodies littered the ground. We found the Oni.. I let out a howl to alert the others.




“Why do you want to go back to the river?”


“I think there might be a cave or passage under the water..” I say a bit unsure of myself. “I think I might be able to transform into a shark.. I mean..I know I can transform into a shark.”


I tried to sound more confident than I was. I needed to contribute. I needed to prove to or group that I wasn't just dead weight.


“Well let’s go! We can do this!” Donovan grinned excitedly, a spark in his eyes.


I grinned in return. Maybe this wouldn't be such a bad idea.




This was a bad idea. After checking the river. It was a bust.


Ilya, one of the new members that has been hanging around, found a clue and we headed off to the tavern to recollect ourselves and come up with a plan. Our other new recruit, spotted a hooded man in a crowd, and I transformed into cat shape and chased after him. Tail twitching in irritation, I managed to keep up to lose him at the last second. Was it magic or skill to disappear in the crowd? I don't know what happened..


Returning to the tavern, I jumped on the counter and tipped over Nikoli’s glass, to feel better. It worked. I head butted his chin good-naturedly and plopped down on the seat beside him in my gnome form.


“Oh! Its you!” Nikoli exclaimed, dabbing at the mess.


I grinned in return.




“There is no way we should fight that.” Ilya said dryly.


“Lets kill it.” Mustafa said excitedly.


“Lets sleep first and then attack it!”


I listened quietly as the group discussed the fate of the giant metal bull in the small cave ahead. Part of me agreed with the tall dark figure but part of me also agreed with Mustafa. We went back to the edge of the cave to make camp. This was probably best.. This way I could change form twice, if push came to shove, in this battle against the bull. After the fight from earlier… My insides still felt cold from fear left over from the ghosts that ambushed us. I felt like their cold grip of horror they grasped me with, striped time from me… I quickly fell asleep.






A shout awoke me, and startled, I quickly sat up to Ilya and Djorn fighting the metal bull. He came for us! Without even hesitating, hair still sticking up in everyway, I poofed into a dire wolf and jumped into battle immediately. Im sure my fur stuck out in odd angles from sleep, but I hardly noticed, as I jumped into the fray.




Donovan ran behind me he looked bloodied but fire shown in his eyes. He shouted about the bull’s mother, but his words were lost, as I stared into battle preparing my next move. I curved my tail protectively around the small frame of Donovan.




I released my grip, my teeth aching as I sprang again upon the bull. As Mustafa recoiled back from a hit, I took the opportunity to grab ahold of the bull’s horn and used my momentum, to flip over him and drag him down with me. Knocked off balance Mustafa jumped down and brought his literal blood red sword down on the bulls head. Suddenly fire exploded and I got knocked to the ground. Some of my fur was burned in patches.. How did I survive? The bull was dead..


I ran over to the small huddle in the grass. Jogran tossed a limp Donovan to the ground and Nikoli was grasping at a gushing wound to his neck. Blood stained his robes.. I lunged.




I spat Jograns leg onto the ground, Mustafa made the final blow, and ran to Donovan. He wasn't moving.. We needed to get him to the city! A make ship “sled” was fashioned and a crude harness was thrown over me to drag Donovan and a stone Magnus (the knight) to help.




“Here is gold! I don't have much but it is all I have! Take it!” I held out the bag of coin in both hands and begged the man for help. He had previously saved Nikoli and Hugh from death and he could save our friends now!


“He is not Halfling… He is not undead.. I do not understand the magic here. I do not know how he was alive.”


“If you do not know then there is hope! You say you do not have the answers for his condition! Then you know not that you cannot save him!”


“Even if I said yes, I do not have the materials! It would make much diamond dust to perform-“


I ignored the rest of his sentence and ran to Djorn.


“You are a thief, are you not? You have read many books as well. You know many things!”


“I wouldn't say thief… but I AM very skilled-“


“What are our options?” I stared up at Djorn with large expectant eyes. He would have an answer.. He would be the answer to save Donovan.


“I –I could get what is required but I have read nothing of this.. He might come back a monster. He is blackened and burned… From what this man is saying he should not have been alive..”


I left.




Outside, I ran. I ran until I was breathless and my legs shook.. I spotted a blackened piece of parchment and picked up the scrap piece. Few words could be made out, the rest was smudged, black, or missing all together.


“Dear Grandma,”


I squinted and tried to wiped some of the dirt away..


“friendship is deeper than knowing someone by name…I’m friends with Nixie..Djorn is trustworthy…”


The rest of the paper disintegrated to the touch. Flowing out into the breeze, little ashen words never to be read or uttered again.. I clutched the small piece I had remaining and tears spilled over. I could barely see as I made my way back to the tavern. Normally in grief I would go to the forest but I was exhausted. I just wanted to sleep.. Once in the tavern, my pain refused me to rest. I tossed and turned to no avail.


Giving up, I wandered the tavern searching. I soon found what I was looking for.. I went back to my room and sat on the floor… and started a letter…






Chapter 6 & 7: Good and Evil


We still haven't found the killer, and each step forward seems to be two steps back. The murders in the city have stopped, and it seems as though the last murder was done by the pair of Onis we've been dealing with.

The oni tried to get into the city last night, and I figured this time we would get them and I'd lead the charge. The Bronze had us locked in the safe house. There was a commotion outside and it looked like one oni was distracting some of the men, and the other oni was coming for us.

I thought we were strong enough to do it, so I convinced Mustafa and Nixie to help me chase it. Nixie can turn into animals! So she turned into a wolf and I rode her and we chased the oni into the forest. Mustafa wasn't far behind.

Once we were in the woods we lost it, but I was trying to be brave. Nixie was with me and Mustafa was coming. We heard a nearby search party come under attack. I figured we'd show up just in the nick (Nixie?) of time, but when we arrived they were all dead. The smell of blood is one I'll never forget.

Then the oni struck, and the three of us had to deal with it. It was terrible. I was far weaker than I thought. Finally help arrived and we slayed the oni, but the other one had found us. We were all beaten and bruised. I thought I was going to die.

Worse, I thought everyone else would. Since you died I've never really cared for anyone else. Not really. Yohan was my friend, but I'm beginning to realize friendship is deeper than knowing someone by name and having lunch with them. I'm friends with Ares and Nixie. Dorn is trustworthy but he treats me like a child. 

What if I had gotten them killed? What if they came to help me, but they died? Died because of me?

The second battle was hard. I was struck down over and over. The massive looming oni would appear out of thin air and stabbing people. But we killed it. And no one died. Everyone was muttering to themselves about how bad that could have been and all I could think is that it was my fault.

I thought back to the bridge with Ares, and how he said I was pretty heroic. Standing there covered in blood, surrounded by people covered in blood, I couldn't help but feel it was luck. We looked as terrible as the slaughtered men and women around us. The only difference was luck.

I slipped away without anyone noticing. I went to the bridge to calm my nerves. Usually I want to write after a battle. I want to remember it. But all I want is to forget it. I don't want to hear the screams. I don't want to smell the blood. I don't want to feel cold steel bite into my body.

There were people waiting for me on the bridge. They told me to stop investigating the murders and absolve Jogrin of suspicion. They were wearing those accursed masks. My scars hurt looking at them. I wanted to fight, but then they threatened my friends. They threatened Ares.

I'm not strong enough.

Should I have fought? Should I have raised my flag and died upon that bridge? They offered me gold. And I took it.

Good and evil is so much harder than I thought it would be. This is why James is always alone. This is why no story ever had repeating characters. I wonder what he was doing in between stories. Was he abandoning everyone he met and sailing away? Was he running? Was James Highwind a bad guy in the end? Just not as bad as the rest?

Am I a bad guy for thinking about doing the same thing?

I miss you, grandma.


Chapter 5: The Captain and the Oni.


I had a talk with Ares yesterday, and he made me wonder about the stories you told to me.  James Highwind is just a character.  Characters can't die, their story ends until you tell it again.  I don't know if I can be a hero, because I don't know how my story ends.

But Ares makes me feel better.  He told me he thought I was pretty heroic, but I think he's just being nice.  But it makes me smile right before I fall asleep.  He's in my dreams a lot now.

I'm starting to wonder if Captain Tavish is a bad man.  I always saw him as a lawful upstanding captain, and when I found out he was a member of the Bronze I was sure of his stance, but more and more I'm beginning to question him.  He seems angrier now, and his choices and actions are making less and less sense.

Well I suppose I need to tell you about the ogre mage we saw.  There was a bounty on ogres (huge, fat creatures) and we went to go thin their numbers because they are a danger to the city?  I'm not sure, but they hurt and kill people so it can't be too bad.  We didn't see any ogres at first (we fought an owlbear) but then we came across a dead ogre.  Kind of strange, but then Dorn seem to realize all at once what we were dealing with: a magical ogre.  An oni?

Just as he whispered that, it got real cold.  And then we heard an otherworldly shriek.  We opted to run and it gave chase.  I'm too slow because of my short legs.  Nikolai tried to pick me up but he dropped me.  It sounded like it was right behind us- I could feel its icy breath on my neck.  So I ran and hid.  I should have kept running but all I could do was hide.

Suddenly everyone else was hiding and all I could think was that they needed to keep running.  But then Ares was next to me.  I was so scared, grandma, that I was going to get Ares hurt.

Then we saw it.  I was chilled to the bone.  It was blue, grandma.  It had massive, saucer like yellow eyes.  And then it vanished.  I tried to get up to run but Ares stopped me.  It must've still been nearby?  I figured I'd draw its attention while they ran, but Dorn- ever the smart one, distracted it.  It chased after an arrow he fired.  Then we ran.  This time Nikolai successfully picked me up and we ran.

We escaped, and several members of the Bronze were there.  They saw it and I figured, "This is it!  Now we fight."  But we didn't.  And this is why I think Tavish is a bad man now.  The oni came into the city that night and killed an innocent.  Now surely we go hunt it!  But no.  Tavish told us explicitly not to engage it, and we'll deal with it in a couple days.  He wanted to keep us safe because it had found our rooms in the night.  But what can he possibly do against an invisible shapeshifter.  But if we go fight it- we are kicked out.  Why? 

Come to think of it, his Bronze members are always the ones that find us when it comes to the murders and the assassins.  He seems to know about things before they happen, and he responds to them as if he knew it was happening.

I think there is something going on.  But I'll write when I know more.

I love you grandma,


When I Fall Asleep Your Eyes Close

"My grandma used to tell me stories when I was young," Donovan began, pausing in his writing. "Every day before bed. All about the hero James Highwind. He would go on adventures and save pretty maidens. He was tall and strong and brave."

Ares looked down from where he sat on the low wall that ran along the side of the bridge, his feet dangling over the side above the gently flowing river. "He wasn't a halfling?"

"N-no," Donovan stammered. "There aren't many stories about halfling heroes."

"You should write some of your own. You're pretty heroic when you want to be."

"Not like you. You're a real hero. You wield fire and stare down monsters." Donovan sighed. "I'm just a halfling nobody."

Ares shook his head. "Give yourself some credit, Donovan. You fought an assassin one-on-one and lived. An assassin that was after me." He smiled broadly. "Sounds to me like I was saved by a hero."

Donovan blew out a breath and pulled himself up next to Ares on the ledge. "I can't be a real hero until I know what I'm fighting for."

Ares raised an eyebrow at him, but said nothing.

"I thought it would be fun," Donovan continued, "to go on adventures. To fight evil. To save pretty—" he paused, his face turning red, "—maidens. I'm not as brave as I thought."

He stared down at the water, blush still strong on his cheeks. Ares rested his hand on Donovan's. Waiting.

"I was writing a story," Donovan said in a rush. "My grandma told me it once. It was 'James Highwind and the Lost City'. It goes that there was a great war and some coastal towns were being attacked by pirates. In the end there is one last city—the Lost City—and the lord's daughter meets James Highwind and begs him for help.

"James convinces the capital to send help to the city, but the fleet won't arrive for a week. He finds clever ways to stall the pirates and sabotage their ships, but the pirates still arrive one day before the fleet from the capital. That last night, the city is bombarded by cannon fire. James instructs everyone to stand their ground and fight off the pirates because he knows that help is near. The lord had a clifftop castle, so James stood on the highest wall and held a flag aloft through the night. He stood there as the towers collapsed and the port was destroyed, holding the flag emblazoned with the crest of the Lost City. He stood there until dawn when the fleet arrived and defeated the pirates."

Ares still remained silent. He squeezed Donovan's hand, remembering how terrified the halfling had been in the crypt the day before. He glanced back at the river and the run-down cathedral beyond that seemed to hold Donovan's attention more than it should.

"I want to be like that," Donovan said quietly. "I don't think I'll ever be the bravest or the strongest, but I want to hold that flag and bring hope to people. I just don't know what's on my flag."

The visions from Ares's dreams come back to him then. He is always too late to save him, never sees the battle where Donovan faces down his enemies with a determined gaze and shaky hand, always arrives to find the halfling sprawled in the mud of the battlefield with the hilt of his broken sword still clenched in his fist and his green eyes clouded with death mist. And silence. A silence so complete that Ares can see the sound of his own breathing.

This is no place for you, and yet I cannot let you out of my sight.

"Why didn't he fight?"

Donovan jumped. "What?"

"James Highwind. Why didn't he fight with the people in the Lost City? He just stood there as the city was destroyed around him and people died in the streets."

Donovan shifted uncomfortably, moving his hand out from under Ares's.

"Flying your cause on a banner is fine, but if you're not willing to fight and die for it then it's just a picture on a piece of cloth."


Ares smiled suddenly. "Of course, I know that the narrative demands that James survive because there has to be another adventure. But a man who is willing to die for something is far more inspirational than one who stands above the hell of battle to inspire 'hope'.

"That's just what I think. But stories are far different from reality. They have to be."

Donovan grabbed his journal up again and stared at it for a long time. "I don't know what I'd die for," he murmured, his voice hitching. "I don't want to die."

Ares leaned back on his hands, eyes fixed on the horizon. Perhaps he had been too harsh. "No one wants to die, Donovan. I don't, but I would be willing to if it meant fulfilling my purpose."

Donovan's eyes were on him now. "What is your purpose?"

"To keep you safe." Ares answered without hesitation. He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. "To be honest, I was feeling lost before I met you. I didn't know who I was or what I was meant to do. But you've fought at my side even though you were afraid. You bring this sense of wonder to everything you do—"

He inhaled to say more, but breathed a shaky sigh instead, looking at his hands. "I don't want to lose you."

You are weak, Ares Lumen.

"I don't want you to get hurt any more," Donovan said, then paused for a moment, the blush returning to his face. "You make me brave. I can only do these things because you showed me how. I don't want to—lose you either." He twisted his hands in his lap, clearly embarrassed.

Gods, I'm pathetic.

Ares sat up and looped his arm around Donovan's shoulders, resting his forehead on Donovan's temple, lips inches from his ear.

"You're every bit the hero that James Highwind was," he whispered. "You've given me something to fight for, and there is nothing in this world that I won't do to keep you by my side. Remember that."

He pulled away all at once, hoping that Donovan didn't notice his own face turning red, and leaped off the wall in one fluid motion. "I think the others will begin to wonder if we've fallen in the river," he declared, bowing low and offering his hand to Donovan.

Donovan remained frozen in place for a moment more, then grasped Ares's hand and hopped to the ground, turning only to collect his journal.

Chapter 4: Unwitnessed


I got bit by a vampire.  It bit the Djorn, too.  He pushed me out of the way when it tried to surprise us by jumping down.  It grasped onto Djorn, and when he finally broke free I was dumb enough to get grabbed next.  I stabbed it twice and it just glared at me.  

Nikolai says I won't turn into a vampire.  I was relieved.  I had to sit down for a while to rest.  The worst parts of getting into these fights was the beginning and end.  When you know the fight is coming you worry about whats gonna happen, who's gonna get hurt, who might die.  Afterwards you worry that you are alive because of sheer, dumb luck.  But at least I won't turn into a vampire.

It's getting easier though.  The actual fighting comes easier and easier.  You don't really have time to think, you just act.  Djorn is hurt, so we fight to help him.  Nikolai is being surrounded, so we work to free him.  Gesh is under a spell, so we break him out of it.  Its easy.  I can give myself over to the adrenaline.

Everyone is always so level headed.  We just fought against a wave of undead people (and ogres).  And afterwards I just want to sit down, but everyone else is onto the next challenge.  Gesh found a really cool rapier that he gave me, and I had to wonder which one of these dead people that it belonged to.

Ares always checks on me.  I don't want him to feel like he has to watch me like a kid, but I'm still really stupid.  Djorn is a good leader and Gesh is an excellent fighter.  Ares is a magical hero.  And me?  I get massive holes burned in me and fall into pits of burning, green acid.

We cleared the crypt though.  It felt good to reemerge into the sunlight.  James Highwind always had people who saw his heroics, but I don't think thats how the world works.  We stepped out one at a time, and then we just split up to run errands.  The adventurers life for me!

Ares and I are on the bridge where I met all these people.  He is really nice to me and I think he watches over me.  I feel better when he's around.  Sometimes I wish I was magic like Nikolai so that I could help him more.  I tried learning some magic but its hard and I'm not sure its for me.

We need to go meet Lord and Lady Highwater.  Sounds exciting.  Meeting Lords and Ladies is what heroes do.  

I love you grandma,


Where the Sun Beats, and the Dead Tree Gives No Shelter

"A storm is coming."

It is the same line I hear every night, nearly every time I close my eyes for longer than a few seconds. Sometimes my subconscious embellishes the situation: the storm is already here, howling, and all I can see is the outstretched hand of the cloaked figure in front of me. Sometimes it is just the words over and over, a constant chant in darkness.

That day had been wonderfully cool. An eastern wind was blowing, rustling the trees in full autumnal brilliance, and red leaves had fallen like soft rain.

This is different. It is blistering hot, and the trees are blazing like enormous torches against the blackness of the approaching storm clouds. The wind is harsh and filled with ashes and billowing smoke that smells like tar and flesh.

The man still stands a dozen paces away, motionless save for the dark cloak whipping around him.

"I decided to keep you conscious for it this time," he rasps, his voice almost drowned out by the roaring fires. I can hear screaming now. Dark figures run back and forth in a panic, flitting between flaming buildings like shadows.

"You should be proud—"

"What is this?" I cut him off. He pulls his hood back then, revealing something distinctly inhuman. His skin is rust red, one eye like bright amber, the other sunken into his skull and jet black. A grin stretches across his face, and he gestures to the devastation around us.

"This? This is your handiwork. What really happened after I tugged your power out of you. You're welcome for that, by the way." He winks.

"Who are you? Why are you showing me this now?" I think I am going to be sick.

"I have a proposal of sorts," he says, spreading his arms. "And timing is everything with this sort of thing, I've found."

The scene abruptly shifts, and we are standing in the middle of a battlefield. Bodies litter the grass, stained red, and the air is thick with the smell of blood.

"This is probably what your not-too-distant future looks like," the creature continues, and I begin to recognize some of the dead: Nikolai, curled in on himself, clutching his Kitmoor brooch, knuckles white even in death; Donovan, sword broken and eyes wide and unseeing. I find myself on my knees, and I close my eyes to keep from vomiting.

"You are weak, Ares Lumen." The voice is suddenly low, growling, and right in front of me. "And this will be the result of your weakness. But—"

I open my eyes to find him also kneeling in front of me. "But I can grant you power. Power enough to save them." He jerks his head behind him at my companions.

"Who are you?" My voice comes out in a quiet rasp.

He sighs. "I'm called Nichil, although you probably won't ever come across the name in any mortal literature. I hail from the Nine Hells, and fire," he holds his hand up and flames dance across his fingers, "is my speciality."

"You're a demon."

"Devil," he corrects, holding up a finger. "Don't lump me in with those cretins in the Abyss." Another wink. "So, what'll it be, 'mighty hero'?"

My eyes unconsciously find Donovan's lifeless ones, no longer sparkling with that relentless, contagious wonder that drew me in from the beginning and refuses to let go. I swallow, and turn back toward Nichil. "I accept."


I awoke gasping, as if I had been holding in my breath all night. The room was deserted. Nikolai's bed was neatly made and Nixie's looked as though she had not slept in it at all. Pale sunlight filtered in through the thin curtains, bathing the room in a cheerful yellow glow. I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and sat with my face in my hands, waiting for my heart to stop pounding in my ears.


I found the others eating in the greatroom. Nikolai was chatting with Nixie, and Dorn had his nose buried in Master Liam's ciphered journal, as if they had not been lying cold and unmoving on a temple altar not a day before. I sat down across from Donovan, who made a show of pretending that he was not avoiding meeting my eyes. I watched Mustafa take a bite from his plate that looked as though it held every egg available in Kirtholde, then sat back and eyed Donovan again.

"So," I began, and he flinched, "you fought the other assassin and lived to tell the tale, then?"

Donovan grimaced like a child caught. "Well, yes, I suppose I did." He was still not looking at me.

I gave him a smirk. "Seems pretty heroic, if you ask me."

He sighed, shook his head. "This isn't how I thought it would be."

"It never is." Is all I could think to say then.

The stories never talk about pain, never mention the blood, the fear, the long nights lying awake and wondering if this is even worth it. No one wants to hear about it. All they care about is the happy ending, the mighty hero emerging victorious against all odds. They do not want to know how much the hero had to give up, how empty his victory seems after he has sacrificed everything for a cause that he is not even sure he believes in anymore. They do not care. All too keen to celebrate another crisis averted by an intrepid individual who slowly fades into obscurity as their attention drifts back to Why couldn't you have done more?

It is never enough.

I know now my power is not my own. I know now the extent of my insignificance. I know now my place in this world, groveling at the feet of apathetic gods—please help me, please bring them back, please grant me strength, please, please, please.

I cannot shield Donovan from the evils of this world. But I can keep him alive. I can keep all of them alive. I have sacrificed my soul for it, and I will sacrifice my life as well, if the gods will it so.

Chapter 3: Life and Death


I was able to get the gnome and the human out of jail.  The pain was subsiding in my face and shoulder, and I was kind of ashamed to have them see it.  I lost my weapons, my armor was in tatters, my clothes were ruined, and I wasn't able to subdue the assassin.  I figured I'd do ask the Captain to outfit me again.  I think he could help me out, although I have been asking a lot of him.

We were walking there when there was a loud thunderclap.  The sky was clear, and I thought that was strange.  But I just wanted to talk to Captain and go to sleep.  The Captain wasn't home and we headed back to the inn.  There was another thunderclap, which seemed to be centered over the Temple to Ornkai.

I didn't want to go to the church.  Just looking at the building made my cut ache.  But I have to be brave.  As brave as I can be.  I'm still alive aren't I?  We knock on the front door and this old priest answered and said they were busy.  Something was happening inside and he ended up running back.  When I looked inside I could see that the adventurers within.  The young boy and the dwarf were on a table, gasping for breath.  Ares was within as well.

I couldn't breath all of a sudden.  Had they been killed?  Nixie and Mustafa walked inside but I just couldn't do it.  I didn't want him to see me like this.

I sat on the stairs and started reading the stories you had told me about James Highwind.  I wondered why he was never scared.  He was tall and strong and brave.  He went into dark caves and churches to fight the villains and save the maidens.  No one around him died.  His friends weren't murdered.  He was always there when his friends needed him.  He always showed up at the final moment.

What did James have that I didn't?  I think I know the answer.  He's not real.  You always told me that James was a man you met once, but I think even as a kid I knew you were making it all up.  Its real easy to be brave when you aren't real.

All of the adventurers came out.  Nikolai looked upset but relieved.  The dwarf looked tired but determined.  Ares walked out and saw me.  I saw him look relieved and then concerned.  I forgot that my face was a bloody mess, and I lied to Ares about it, but I know that he knew I was lying.

I don't want to die and I don't want any of them to die.  I don't want anyone to die ever again.  I can't stop shaking when I think about it.  But I'll be like James Highwind.  Its real easy to be brave when you don't tell them how scared you are.

I love you grandma,


Chapter 2: Do Not Deny Yourself

Donovan was startled awake early by a man in polished bronze armor.  It was still morning twilight.  The sky out the window was a streaked with clouds, the morning light bleeding across the sky in vivid purples and blues.  The town was coming back to life with the sound of wagons and chatter.  Donovan sat up in the oversized bed, yawned, and then blinked up at the man.

"Captain Tavish needs to see you.  I'm to take you to the castle." the stranger said quietly.

Donovan nodded sleepily.  He muttered his acquiescence as the man stepped out into the hallway.  Donovan dressed in silence and then stepped out of his room.  The stranger was leaning against a wall.  He tossed Donovan a bread roll, who missed the catch- juggled it around before snagging it in a clumsy grasp.

They set off in silence.  Donovan didn't feel awake until the Eyes were staring down on him.  Once he felt as though he was in control of his faculties he began speaking with the guard.

"What does Captain need with me when he has you?" Donovan asked, his eyes absent mindedly scanning the crowd.

"I don't know and I don't care.  He is speaking to city officials though.  You a noble born?"

"Far from it." Donovan replied, thinking about the brass key pinned inside his lapel.  "Although I am a qualified speaker."

The man grunted in response.  They walked in silence again.  The crowds were still thin this early in the morning, but it would be bustling as it neared lunchtime.  Right now men and women were roaming the markets and the docks buying up fresh produce, meat, and fish.  It was strange to think that any of these people could be a killer.  A devil in human clothing.  You get too used to strangers being strangers.  When they are faceless they seem so harmless.  Donovan kept involuntarily scratching his chest where the knife had imbedded itself.  He wondered what Yohan was doing before he was killed.  Was he also just walking through town when he suddenly looked down and saw the shaft and fletching of an arrow sticking out of him?

The armored stranger put a hand on Donovans shoulder.  The halfling looked up and realized they were at the castle.  There was a line of people waiting for entry to the keep.  A man in a gate house was taking down names and grievances.  Donovan couldn't help but grin when the armored man walked Donovan right past the entire line, receiving annoyed and sometimes outraged glances from waiting townsfolk.  

Captain Tavish was waiting across a courtyard just inside the wall.  He was standing outside a modest building attached to the keep at large.  The armored man patted Donovan on the shoulder and walked back the way they came.  Donovan was too excited about being summoned by his old Captain.  His walk turned into a light jog as he approached.

"Donovan, thanks for being here.  I need your help.  A group of adventurers have been falsely accused of the murders happening in town.  They are part of the group that Ares is with."

"We stopped one of the killers just last night.  Ares burned him to death." Donovan said, he reached into his bag and pulled out an obsidian colored mask.  "See?"

"Put that away." Captain Tavish snapped.  He looked around, knelt, and pushed the mask back into Donovan's small pack. "This is what I need you for.  They are going to release part of the group, but two of them are still being held.  Find the evidence needed to free them."

"Where do I start?  Isn't that what everyone is trying to do?"

"You only need to prove their innocence, not solve the mystery.  I have too much to do and I'm far too conspicuous.  You are still mostly outside this whole mess, so you are the one that makes sense.  You can do it."  Captain Tavish said.  "Get going.  If they finally getting around to charging them they might be executed."

Captain Tavish stood up and brushed himself off.  He nodded at Donovan and set off for the nearby gate.  Donovan stood alone for a moment before puffing himself up and stepping into the jail.

The man inside was at attention and seemed to be expecting him.  He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.  Most of the cells were empty but he finally found the two he was looking for.  One man was a gargantuan human.  He seemed quite dour.  There was also a short, beautiful red-headed gnome.

Donovan lost his nerve when he made to speak to the human.  He had a look in his eye like he was contemplating turning Donovan into a chuck roast.  Instead, Donovan spoke to the gnome.

"Hi." Donovan said, suddenly bashful.  "I'm Donovan."

"I know.  When can we leave?"

"That's what I'm here to find out.  They want to keep holding you, but I'll try and get you out quick." Donovan said, crossing his arms.  "Got any leads?"

"That's why we came here.  To find the killer.  Uh."  Nixie seemed to wrack her brain.  "They really like poisons.  Maybe they buy it here in town?  There was poison on the bolt they fired at their own man-"

"They tried to kill their own man?" Donovan asked.  "When?"

"Just the other day.  On the large bridge that crosses the river near the temple.  The assassin tried to kill their man by shooting him from a distant rooftop." Nixie said, getting quieter the longer she spoke.  "Our friend caught the arrow."

Donovan inferred that they meant the metal man named Acolyte.  Still a mystery, that one- but they all thought of the thing as a person.

"I'll start there.  Hopefully I'll get you out before the day is over."

Nixie simply nodded.  The large man was still quiet.

Donovan stood on the bridge.  The breeze was nice.  His hair fluttered delicately, and his coat swayed with each gust.  Donovan had turned in a few circles; regarding the surroundings.  There were three buildings that were tall enough to give them an open vantage of the bridge.

There was a square building that was close but seemed too close for a fast getaway.  If the metal man was as fast as they said the assassin definitely would have been followed.  The building was some sort of a theater as well.  Too many eyes with that performing troupe of actors in Kirtholde.

Another building spanned the river proper.  It was a temple to Joquilic.  Donovan had wandered in there a couple times getting blessings for boats.  The acolytes lived on site.  He wasn't even sure there was access to the roof.  It had so many domed peaks it seemed unlikely the assassin would bother trying to shoot a man, prepare to run, and balance themselves on a sloped roof.

The last was a church tower, but it seemed absurdly far away.  The tower was flat topped and would be upwind from the bridge. That meant the assassin would have been firing with the wind.  It would be a hell of a shot, but not impossible, Donovan supposed.

It was painfully hot.  It looked like the breeze was pulling in clouds; it would be cooling soon.  Donovan glanced around at the milling crowds again.  Normal people doing normal things in a normal routine.  And one of them was a killer.  The killer who might've killed Yohan.  The killer who might have killed the metal man.  

Donovan made his way to the distant church.  As he approached it the clouds had finally overcome the Eyes, but the white hot glare still gloweredd from behind them.  Donovan put his hands in his pockets as he walked up the promenade.  He wasn't a huge fan of church and faith.  His grandma was all he had needed.  It never seemed as though a god had even paid him a glance.

If a god had looked at him, it had been only to take but not to give.  Only devils grant boons, gods administer tests.

The massive front doors were unlocked.  If it was consecrated to a god, Donovan didn't recognize any signs.  He closed the door behind him.  The church was old and made of some rich, dark wood.  There were no torches, making every doorway a dark portal, and every parapet cast deep shadows.  Soft, white light was beaming through the windows, brushing white strokes across the aisle.  A massive, circular stained glassed window played colorful shards of red light across the walls and floor. Dust hung in the air, slowly dancing errant paths to the floor.  

Donovan walked up the aisle.  He called out a couple times, but no one answered.  His footsteps seemed so loud, even with the breeze outside rushing past the walls in a muted, pulsing whisper. 

A soft, sifting of dust was all the warning Donovan got as a human man descending upon him from the rafters.  Donovan lunged forward and tumbled towards the alter as two knives stuck in the ground where he had been standing.  He stood and drew his rapier with a flourish.  

A black cloaked man wearing a mask landed in the aisle, blocking the path to the door.  The stained glass window splayed light all over the room.  Red shards of light drew across the assassin as he slowly made his way towards Donovan.  When he stopped, one red slash was across their face.  The halfling could see the light glittering in the mans eyes behind that mask.

Donovan squared off against the man.  Sometimes Donovan wished he wasn't so small, and this was one of those times.

"I've seen you before." the assassin said.  "You were with that blond man Ares."

"Never heard of him." Donovan lied, tightening his grip on his rapier.  He couldn't help but imagine another dagger sticking out of his chest.  "Sounds like you have taken a fancy to someone, though."

"You are just a small man in a big city.  Time to go home to your mother, halfling." the assassin chided.  He hadn't moved, standing there like a black specter.

"I never knew my mother.  But you can go join her since you have something in common." Donovan responded coolly.  His heart was pounding.  "Neither of you matter, and soon you'll be behind me.  Just another waste of my time."

All at once the man was upon Donovan.  He covered the distance in a blur.  The red lights glinted viciously as he threw two more daggers.  Donovan flourished his rapier, fouling the path of one dagger as the other embedded itself in his shoulder.  He gasped in pain.

Donovan reflexively tumbled forward, attempting to trip the assassin as he made his next attack.  The assassin jumped, landing on the stairs to the alter.  Donovan regained his feet.  As he stood though, the assassin spun around and lashed out, a sharp blade dragging itself across the bridge of his nose and cheek, the slash almost reaching his left ear.  Donovan fell backward, yelling in pain, and worse yet- dropped his rapier.  Hot blood poured down his face and into his mouth, making him cough.

The assassin picked up the rapier and deftly snapped the blade from the hilt.  He tossed both away as he glowered down at the halfling.  Donovan was gasping in pain, one hand wiping blood from his eyes, the other trying to pull the dagger from his shoulder.  

Donovan stood up and started to step back up the aisle.  The assassin stomped down the stairs, springing forward and lashing out with yet another blade.  The knife, however, found no purchase as Donovan threw his hurt shoulder into the path, using the protruding hilt as a guard.  The halfling unsheathed his parrying dagger and sunk it deep into the assassins torso.  Donovan hadn't the strength to pull the dagger back out.  But as the assassin bent forward over Donovan's thrust, he saw another knife sheathed inside the black robe.  Donovan pulled it out and then kicked the man away.

Both men backed away from one another.  A halfling with a knife in his shoulder.  A human with a knife in his torso.  Donovan struggled to watch the assassin as he backed up towards the alter and the rose window.  His form becoming a mere silhouette in the crimson light.  

The assassin stared at Donovan- a hapless halfling bathed in the white light cast by the peaked, wrought iron windows.  He could see the pain in the halflings eyes, but there was something more.  The halfling was smiling to himself.

Donovan watched as the assassin stumbled backwards before finding his stride, and ran from the building towards a back hallway.  He tried to give chase, but the pain in his body was stopping him.  He stumbled down a hallway toward an open door.  A blindingly bright portal to the outside.  The assassin was no where to be seen, but perfectly framed by the opening- Highwater Keep.

Donovan sat down in the quiet hallway.  He leaned against a wall, sweat beading down his forehead.  He gasped when he touched the wound on his face.  The hot blood still spilling down onto his shirt.  He looked at the dagger he had taken- and all at once he knew how to free Nixie and her large partner.

The city guard was bored.  He had been posted at this boring, do nothing counter for cheating at cards.  Like those good for nothings never cheated.  He wished something interesting would happen.

He immediately swallowed his wishes when the halfling from before stumbled in.  He had a grievous cut across his face, and a massive puncture hole in his shoulder.  It leaked blood slowly down his arm.  He was dragging a fine looking red coat behind him.

"Just- just sit down I'll call for a healer!" the guardsman shouted.

But the halfling held up a hand.  He pulled a black dagger from the sheath at his hip.  Down the length of the blade it had runes.  

"Take this to the prisoners and ask them to cut themselves on the blade.  If the runes begin to glow, it means they were targets for assassination." the halfling said quietly.  The guardsman did recognize the the blade.  That blond man was attacked with one.  It was enchanted or something.  Needed specific blood to act as proof of the hit.

"You're hurt.  We need to-"

"I already got something for this at the lower market.  Just take me to the prisoners." the halfling said again, weakly.  He pulled a small vial out of his pocket.  It was filled with a thick, red liquid.  "She said it needed a couple hours to reach full potency."

The guard escorted the halfling back to the cage.  The gnome and the human were still in their cell, looking bored.  The large man always gave you that look that said: I let you keep me here.

"Take this blade and cut your arm with it." he handed it through the bars.  "Its just like the one-"

"Just like the one for Ares." the gnome said.  She took a deep breath and dragged the point down the side of her forearm.  She the smeared the blade in the blood and held it up.  It seemed that several of the runes began to glow.

The big man took it brusquely and repeated the process- perhaps a little impatiently.  More runes began to glow.

"Can they go now?" the halfling said.  

"Uh, yes.  Certainly.  I need to speak with the lieutenant.  What happened to you?"

"Come to the tavern sometime, and I'll tell you a story." he said, smiling inwardly.

Chapter 1: Meeting the Heroes


It's been almost a week since Yohan was murdered.  I don't cry as much anymore, but I still wish I could go have an ale with him sometimes.  I regret not being a closer friend.  We didn't see each other that much, but now that I can't see him anymore I regret not making more time to visit him.

I met some people on the bridge where Yohan's body was found.  It seemed as though another person was killed.  I was relieved to see that the body part was made of metal- another person need not have died at the hands of these killers.

But it seems I was mistaken!  When I expressed my relief about the target being a construct of some form (how mysterious, a man made of metal) it seemed to anger several of these people.  I told them I was looking for the killer, and Tavish recommended I find another group he sent on the trail.  It seems I had met them!

One man named Aries was so mad that he caught on fire.  A magician!  I was terrified that he would kill me on the spot, but I put on a brave face and prepared for a daring fight!

I was invited to join them in a tavern.  The small halfling girl, who I learned later was a gnome, left to go collect herself in the forest.  I asked about the metal arm and its owner.  Seems his name was Acolyte.  Like from a church?  Do metal men have gods?

A bunch of armed guards showed up and took most of the adventurers away.  It seems Aries was targeted for assassination!  How exciting!  He must be really important.  When they all left, it was just me and and the blonde haired man, Aries.

I think Aries might be a long lost prince or something, like from one of James Highwinds stories.  He has blonde hair, a very fancy cloak, carries himself with the pomp and cirumstance of a hero.  This might be it grandma!  I might be on my first real adventure, to free the adventurers and stop the killers!

We went to talk to Captain Tavish and see what he might know about the happenings.  I was flattered that he remembered me, he is always so busy with so many people.  He seemed annoyed that the people were captured and said he'd go to the keep and get them set free.  Oh well, we can do a daring escape another time.  Captain Tavish said we might check the lower markets for clues, so we set off- but not before Captain Tavish made me a member of the hidden organization the Brass Keys!

On our way there we were followed by some dangerous looking men!  We weren't sure who they were, but we laid a trap for them.

I killed two men grandma.  They're dead because of me.  I didn't think it would be so easy, or so mundane.  I looked them in the eyes, and with a thrust I watched their books slam close and their final chapters go unwritten.  Is this what it is to be a hero?

I didn't want to look too shaken in front of Aries so I did my best to stay calm.  When James Highwind killed his villains it was never so- abrupt.  It didn't feel like I thought.

At the lower market I bought some sweet rolls for me and Prince Aries (I think I'm going to write a story about him).  James Highwind and Prince Aries.  James Highwind and the Golden Haired Prince?

The assassins seemed to use poison, but we learned that there are no formal apothecaries in the markets.  We did find this beautiful woman, named Lakel, selling herbal remedies that were delicious!  She was even talented enough to create drafts that could cause wounds to close and injuries to heal!  How amazing!  But she had no faith in herself.  She told me that her grandma had taught her how to do it, and in that moment I knew I had to help her find her confidence!

So Aries and I made her a banner sign, and I told stories about how magnificent her remedies were!  She made so much money that day that she gave us a cut of the profit!  That felt much better than stabbing people.

We learned from some guards that there is a dangerous creature lurking around the docks.  Aries decided we would investigate that later, because we had to meet with a shadowy man named Guile!  Guile sounds exactly like the name a villain would have.  Aries tells me he whole-heartedly believes this will be a trap.  How exciting!  Aries trusts me to watch his back- I didn't want to let down a prince!

We met with him, and Aries took on the alias of a noble.  I pretended to be his bodyguard.  I tried to look tough in front of the armed guards Guile had posted.  Guile doesn't seem like he was part of the murders, but he said he thinks that someone in his caravan is the culprit.  He seems suspicious.

We are given permission to investigate his caravan camp.  We go to a suspicious looking tent.  Aries calls out for whoever is inside.  I'm the body guard, so I do my duty and walk into the tent.  And this time- I had sprung the trap!  I opened the flap, and the next thing I know there is a dagger stuck in my chest.  It became hard to breath, and I couldn't move. 

But then Aries was there.  The anger in his eyes was made manifest.  With a flourish of his arms he cast a magical spell that laid waste to the shadowy assassin.  What seemed like three nigh invisible rays of pure heat, the mans soul seemed burned away.  After a minute I regained myself, the poison seeming to wear off.  The adrenaline was still flowing through my veins.  

A real hero grandma!  I've met a real hero!

We returned to the tavern to sleep.  I didn't sleep well.  I kept thinking about the men I killed, and thinking about Aries.  He seemed to calm about everything.  Hopefully he knew what to do.

In the morning I returned to see Lakel, the apothecary woman!  She was in good spirits.  Then Aries and I ventured out to the east hills to recover some stolen trade goods for guile.  The followed some bugbears and ended up defeating them!  It was pretty easy for heroes such as Aries and myself.  We sat down to rest, but then we saw this massive black cat like creature racing towards us.  I barely had time to shout a warning and get to my feet before it was upon us.

It was a vicious battle.  It wasn't like anything I've scrapped with before.  The creature was fast and powerful.  I tries to protect Aries, and then the last thing I remember was its two barbed tentacles lashing out at me.  

I had a dream then.  I was in a dark place, and I had lost your necklace and the book you gave me.  I was crawling around, looking for it.  I was scared and I was alone.  I started to cry and I curled up on the ground.

But then I woke up.  Aries was cradling my head.  My clothes and armor were torn to shreds.  Aries looked worried and relieved.  I had never really noticed how clear his eyes were.  He was bleeding from several lashes he had taken.  Someone like Aries should never have to face monsters alone.

I stood up then, and charged the massive creature.  I slid between its massive legs and stabbed it in the hindquarters several times.  I was running out of stamina.  But then it slashed at Aries, who fell to the ground.

I was terrified grandma.  This creature was going to kill us.  I'm not as strong as I thought.  I closed my eyes swung my sword with all of my might.  It bit into the creatures hide, and then it rounded on me.  Its two tentacles swung for me, but I ran between its legs and made it to Aries.  I poured a healing potion into his mouth, and watched him gasp back to life.  

The creature seemed exhausted.  We all were.  Each of us bleeding, considering our next move.  I tried to scare it off to little effect, and with a gesture Aries conjured a fire bolt that knocked the beast unconscious.

I walked up and looked at the creature.  Thin, gaunt, in pain, and alone.  I wanted to believe that it could go and live its life in peace, but I looked at Aries who had seemed resigned.  The creature probably wouldn't survive.  I put it out of its suffering.  And then I fell back on the ground and cried again.

Maybe I'm not cut out for this.  Being a hero is so much scarier than I thought.  I thought I had died, grandma.  I didn't want to return to that dark place.  I just wanted to spend my life helping the less fortunate.  

But I'll keep trying.  You believed in me.  You thought I could be just like James Highwind.  Or Aries.

So I'll set sail, to meet new friends, to go on new adventures, and to chase that horizon.

I love you grandma,



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