The sea holds the circle.

The circle holds secrets - dark and powerful secrets.

Clans battle for control of stretches of craggy stone, for glory, or just for the sake of battle itself.

Battle spills blood.

Blood feeds darkness.

Awaken, oh scions of Ancar! Dark Zolos rises!

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Faltering Steps
The coins parted, revealing a face I knew as well as my own. A face I had stared daggers at over countless dinners. A cheek I had coldly kissed just a few months ago.

The absolute twit.

That foolish, jealous, power-hungry bitch.

I hate her, as much as I have hated anyone.

So why... why did seeing her face stay my blade?
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Padhraig Prays...
Storm Lord,

I was only ever taught one prayer to you, just one.

"Not today."

Every sailor knows ever day might be their day, that day when you call them to you. Every sailor prays to you that this day is not their day.

My Magret teaches her flock many prayers, for many things, but sailors know only one because they need only one.

"Not today."

Now, though, I pray another prayer, not one I learned or practiced.

Today can be my day, if that is your wish. Just so long as it is his.

We have him marked and found, and his mad rogue has taken the orb to the Fenstalker, so if you can ever see Emrys on the deck of his Red Spear, now seems the time.

Let this be his day.
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Healing Begins
I had not yet worked up the courage to go talk to either Kaela or Magret when the former approached me. Very gently, but firmly, she asked what was wrong. It was clear she wasn’t going to be easily dismissed, and at any rate I found I didn’t really wish to delay it any further. And so, trying not to think too hard about it, I told her everything.

I described the nightmares which had been plaguing me since I left The Dark. I spoke of being chased by the Cabhan who was not Cabhan, of Zolos’ laughter, of my father standing over my helpless brother, of being too slow and clumsy to stop the inevitable. I admitted that the dreams had gotten worse - more vivid, sapping more and more of my energy - as the days had passed, and that the cold and stress of the winter had pushed me even further from stability.

She asked if I had spoken to Cabhan about my dreams, and I said that I had but that it was hard to face him. Awkwardly, a little blushingly, I explained that we had started a sort of romance (which if she had observed on her own she had not mentioned) but that made it that much worse that it was him chasing me. It was hard to be near him, to separate the real man from the image which tormented me so.

Kaela said that her demon had talked to her about all of us, but that of me it had said that “her spirit was damaged, bleeding her in her dreams, hurting herself, draining her magic.” It was hard to put it more succinctly than that, and I concurred with the assessment. I had woken feeling drained more often than not, and I further admitted to waking with sword in hand even when I was certain I had put it far from my reach before seeking my bed.

Already, opening up about all of it, I felt my spirit lift a little. Kaela suggested that we speak with Magret about my problems, and I agreed (having been split between which of the two to approach in the first place.)

Magret, wonderful listener and healer as she is, lent us her patience and experience and heard my tale. She warned that she would do nothing to simply take it away, to do so would require cutting away a piece of me, but instead suggested a few courses of action to take. She invited me to join her for meditation and over the next several weeks she was often a ready ear to listen to the same story again and again. She seemed to know when to prod me and when to simply listen. I found myself marvelling that she found the time, but she never made me feel as if I was a burden, or that I needed to rush, or that she was judging me in any way.

In addition, she offered to make an herbal tincture for me, and promised a supply to last for a good long time to come. Being able to get a few reasonable nights of sleep helped enormously, and between the medicine and the conversations with her and Kaela I began to see progress. The healing was not necessarily easy, and it was hard not to give into the temptations of either pitying myself or being angry with myself.

Still, after a few weeks, I surprised even me by prying myself out of the fireside chair and insisting that we do something about Stinkhoof and Squick. I’ll admit I worried about camping out, hoped that my dreams would behave when I was back out in the elements (and more critically, not alone), but still it would be better to find out sooner than later.
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Padhraig's Journal
The winter was long and cold. And full of unexpected things. I hoped it would last as long as the nights had become, as I enjoyed the company I could find. It was nice, and more than just nice, to share a fire on a chill winter evening with Magret. Though soon enough impatience with things left undone broke that pleasant quiet.

The others agreed, it was time and past to see Stinkhoof and Squick dealt with, if we could locate them.

We gathered all our resources, scoutings, reports. The wolves had hints, and Greenman Sheppard. Yvor’s class of scouts, and even Maether’s certainty they were not within five miles of the lake, though that only made sense given the Lightbringers were there as well.

But we gathered all reports together, along with the best map of the island we could lay our hands on. And I looked at each item in turn, letting instinct and something deeper even than that guide me to mark places out, focus on others then eliminate those as well. Until but one was left. The black, burned-over peak of a mountain well to the north-side of the island. The Lightbringer’s side.

Dama Kaela convinced her father to draft a letter ordering us to deal with the matter, as it was a settlement matter where ever its roots lay. Sir Jarred was not convinced, but we took the letter and what supplies we needed and, when next the weather seemed clear for more than a day, headed out to the lakeside. There, we saw their palisades oddly gapped and stacked high with ice on the lake side, no doubt the work of one annoyed lake creature smart enough to avoid their retaliation.

The First Son did not welcome us save in careful, polite words with no honesty behind them. He did not trust us, that was clear, and in particular seemed oddly confused by Ailie. But in the end, he surrendered to legal authority, making but one demand. One of his would accompany us, Mitri by name. She seemed sound enough, if just as stiff and scowling as the rest of their order.

Of their matters beyond their defensive problems, they said little. Some problems trading with Cowtown, which made me feel good for the sense of Magret’s cousin there. Reluctance of dwarvish builders to come North and make their settlement permanent, which made me wonder just how long they planned to stay, and again just what it was dwarves could tell of the islands we had no hint of ourselves.

After too long lingering among them for my comfort, given their untrusting eyes and judgmental manner, we left the light and physical warmth of their camp and headed on to the northern mountains.

The black peak was not hard to find, and at its foot we found ruins of uncertain age, climbing well up the slopes as well. And not empty. Poppet gatherings dotted the ruins. Dancers about a maypole. A market of several small stands. Craftsmen’s shops. All woven of sticks and bone, with obvious care.

We rested there, to make further search with dawn, and when the sun came, the poppets had been re-arranged. Two long lines, welcoming a returning hero, with leaves spread out to mimic flower petals and a hollow mockery of a feast beyond. It was more unsettling than the semblance of the day-to-day, since it hinted we were being watched.

But not welcomed. A door lay across a cave entrance, not quite fitted in but clearly intentional, and on it was written “No Come. Stinkhoof House. Go Away.”

We did not choose to take that advice, and I lifted away the door to open the reek of decay from behind it. Something foul’s lair, there could be no doubt.

The cave had been carefully expanded upon by skilled hands, worked into the entrance of some sort of fortification, eith mustering halls and guard posts, mostly long collapsed and filled with rock and rubble. Ailie dealt with traps, mostly alarms or annoyances only, until in a central chamber we found several long-dead figures, armor predating the clans and held in place with ice to hold their long dead joints. They did not move, but the archways from this chamber held magics clearly linked to some effect neither Jokhula nor I could properly identify. Ailie studied the glyphs and did something she was certain would disable it.

And she proved right, as we entered with no further alarm. I gave the figured a closer look, and believe them to be bodies once buried and preserved with honors, but put out here either as trap or warning. From this chamber there were two halls, one to either side, and stairs curling up and down, but only the stairs up showed much sign of use, hoof-prints not only in the dust but in the stone itself. So we were ready to go up when we heard stone scrape above us.

With all haste, we rushed up and spotted a large, demon-fragment infected mountain goat pushing a slab to block the stairs, a small, twisted raccoon figure cowering just behind.

Cabhan was faster than he, but the rest of us were caught outside, at least until Sir Jarred and I put shoulder to the stone and pressed it away.

Inside was a wonderous chamber, walls magically transparent as if of glass, but more, making seeing out and over the island easier than it could be with simple openings or parapets. But we had no time to study this then, as battle was underway.

Stinkhoof fell quickly to Jokhula’s magic, but the raccoon, Squick, hid after turning a bit of the floor to soft, unsupporting flesh, thru which Ailie fell to land stop the bodies below.

But what happened next was rather a surprise. Overcoming the heat of battle, Jokhula found the sense to offer the pitiful creature the chance to surrender. Mitri, being a Lightbringer, thought it foolishness and stormed off, but I fished in the knapsack and found shackles sufficient to keep him from fleeing too easily, and we got the rest of his traps out of him, as well as surrendering two wands, one turning stone to flesh, the other flesh to stone.

He also confessed to assembling the poppets, so as not to be alone with just Stinkhoof who, it seemed, was no sort of company even for another demon-awakened animal.

As we returned the scattered bodies to their graves, found in the halls to either side, Mitri expressed doubt in our giving mercy to Squick, but I made it clear he would face either the Governor or the Dama, law’s justice or the Light’s. And she had no counter to that.

And so that occurred. We returned to Treetown and it pained me to see Magret’s smile fade when I presented her a rather unwelcome new charge.

Magret made ready a sort of trial, from what guidance her books gave her. She determined, though no small amount of questioning under magical ward of honesty, that Squick did understand right from wrong, but had little cause to do anything but whatever kept him safe, avoiding pain and punishment. But he wasn’t impossibly evil, she thought. Just an untaught child, though one with a dangerously mischievous bent that might need some care.

That was enough. She offered him sanctuary in the church, until he proved worth of better or unworthy of all. And so she had another task to fill her days, and another distraction that kept our evening fires shorter than either of us liked.

With Stinkhoof’s influence gone, the island seemed to begin to heal, slowly. But we did not have long to observe it.

The First Son was not so quick to mercy once Mitri returned with her report, and sent a letter demanding his own interview and test. Magret granted it, but My Lamb is clever, so she gave him his interview with her and her ward, but also with all of us as witness. In a fine formal dinner, each of us in our best, which I must confess was my grandmother’s finery.

He got what he demanded, but not what he wanted. Squick somehow bore up under his inquisition, and hardly misbehaved at all. Even if he didn’t quite understand.

All I could tell him was that the Son offered Justice and Magret Mercy. Justice for what he had done, but Mercy for what he might yet do. That did not seem to comfort him much.

Magret set out the last cakes of her dinner and then looked up and said, her voice odd in an all too familiar way, “Three days after the Sea’s Calming, He comes for you.”

Then she offered us tea.

That changed our plans. A war council was called for, as Emrys was no one to face unready. We rejected leaving Treetown unguarded to lure him toward the more defensible cover, or to the dangers of the Gyre. Too many here to risk his taking advantage of our departure.

We wonder if Maether is sea capable, and if we could transport her, but we have no time to put plans to that idea before there is a disturbance at the dock,many voices and clear confusion. We look outside and see the shipbuilding crews looking out to open water and muttering.

Approaching towards the docks came a mounted figure, approaching without care for the winter seas. He rode in on a sea-horse that dissipated into mist as he steped onto the sands.

He starts to speak to a shipbuilder before Jarred speaks up and asks if he comes to see me, though at first I could not guess why.

Tall, armored and armed, he strode up the shore, demanding to see the offered Padhraig.

He drops to a knee and kowtows to the docks when I stepped out. “My prince, I am here to serve. My mistress has decided it was unfit you be without watch. Avalos, first among the Waveriders, Victor of the contest, is at your service.”

The winter was long and cold. And full of unexpected things. But it would end all too soon.
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A Second Winter in Treetown
If secrets were a physical thing, Ser Jarrad would have held me by my ankle until they fell out of my pockets. When he bade us dine and speak with him, that wasn’t what I was expecting, but perhaps I should have.

I told him - them - enough that they stopped their interrogation. But I now worry that there are things which I forgot. Not out of malice, but simply from being overwhelmed. My mind has been elsewhere, my nerves are far past frayed. But now, if I reveal the secrets I forgot - or worse if the others are given evidence of them before I can bring them forward myself - what will they think of me? But they know the worst of it, and - well perhaps I have been unfair to them. Even knowing some of my other allegiances, no one seemed to turn on me, or to be angry at me, really.

Once again, I find that my family has poisoned me, or at least that I have not grown past the lessons they gave me as a child. I have to trust my friends, and they need to be able to trust me. I need to stop keeping things from them, assuming that they will use any crack in my armor against me. We have grown close because they are so different from my parents and their associates; it is ridiculous to treat them as if they are the same.

It is good that no one had any real expectation of my prying myself away from the comfortable chair closest the fire except in the direst of emergencies. I was content to let the others explore, train, follow leads into the wilderness. I was grateful to be left alone, to gather my thoughts, to plan my own attacks.

I readied to wage war on myself - on my nightmares, on my weaknesses, on my insecurities.

It was time, far past time.
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