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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Dragons
The second time we battled the strange tentacle monsters, we managed to be quick enough to rescue the Inevitable. It introduced itself as Pendus, and as we all had the goal of fixing whatever was going on, we moved forward together.

We passed through a string of cavernous chambers and hallways, fighting more creatures along the way. They had a curious ability to manipulate time for themselves, to be able to dodge blows. Still, eventually we were able to bring them down and continue.

We saw ahead a dragon-shaped figure somehow unaffected by the time freeze, but were never able to catch up to it. It (or something else) did some work for us though, opening the doors which led into the treasure vault.

Within the vault, there were two things which gave us pause. First: a black, rotating egg. It was at least eight feet tall, and through it were swirls of sickly purple. Second: a familiar face, our old foe Lieutenant Tightpants. He was being held and controlled, disgustingly, by one of the tentacle creatures, and he held a satchel barely cradling a crystal orb.

The crystal was the Orb of Argent Command - a powerful artifact which we obviously had to rescue.

The egg hatched into a Void Giant, and when we defeated it, it contracted into nothing, and took the poor Lieutenant with it. Kaela later tried to contact him, and the news was strange - he replied "I am lost, but now belong to Nothing. The Naught Queen sought a Dragon War. Rescue is for those who have lost their way." I pity the poor man, surely no one deserves that sort of poor fate.

Fortunately slaying the giant seemed to correct the flow of time. Even better, the Dragons seemed willing to listen to our tale, and believed it. They counted our success as Jokula's trial, and after a brief fete we were sent on our way.
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Midmorning
I'll admit, I was not unintimidated by the idea of accompanying Jokulla on her appearance before the Argent Council. It had been made painfully clear that our behavior would reflect on her, and I was very aware that I carried an object stolen from one of them ages ago.

And, they're Dragons. Even one can be frightful, let alone a whole group of them.

I was a little shocked when Cabhan suggested that we only answer the questions the dragons asked, and to not offer any additional information, but we all quickly agreed. Perhaps some of my caginess is wearing off on him... or perhaps recent events have forced him to lose some of his openness.

But with that plan in mind Jokulla broke the scale given to her by her mentor Kiirahix, and we were surrounded by a vortex of cold and snow. We found ourselves in a granite chamber, only briefly before being escorted into the mountain valley the dragons had made their territory.

She was to be given a day to acclimate. We were told we could explore our verdant surroundings, but warned not to intrude on any of the aeries. We followed both directions, briefly speaking with the Council Head Sintilliax, before retiring for the evening.

The next morning we broke our fast, prepared ourselves, and waited for our summons.

And waited.

And waited.

And then realized that the birds overhead were not moving, nor were the plants waving in a breeze, nor had the dragon by the lake lifted its head. Upon experimentation, we could move freely ourselves, objects we dropped fell normally, there was no feeling of sleepiness or discomfort. But we couldn't put our hands into the water, or push the leaves of the ferns aside.

Padhraig sensed a powerful magic, concentrated at the highest peak. And then Kaela, trying to free the dragon from the effect, cast a spell and somehow we were wound back through time. It was midmorning again, and everything else was still stuck.

Somehow, we had to figure out what was happening here, and we had to try to do it without offending the dragons we were trying to save. And we had to be careful with any spell affecting time or our movement, we had almost finished fighting a strange group of monsters when I used my boots...

And it was midmorning, in the chamber we had been given to rest in...
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To the Monastery
Per Kaela’s wishes, we left the situation with her mother alone. As she said “She made her bed, she will have to lie in it.”

And so we finished our preparations and set out for the monastery. After a long first week of travel through the hills, we started having a harder and harder time keeping track of Cabhan. He was following his memories to lead him back, and we were doing our best to follow him, but it was as if something was trying to seperate us. Even tying ropes to keep us together didn’t work - a loop would come up empty, or the rope itself would be cut.

Yvor had to continually redirect and reorient us over the next couple days. Finally, the effect wore off, but was replaced by a feeling of a low-grade mythic presence. It was, we realized, the environment itself, not a creature or a particular point.

We saw, in the distance, some stone plinths. Cabhan told us that once we got through that marker we would be on the lands of the monastery. Feeling a little silly we decided to chain hands to cross, but we were soon glad we did as a force began to press on us. It cost significant effort and a focus of will to get through, and Avalor was not with us when we reached the other side.

Ahead of us, the monastery sat in a bowl of a small valley. There was a scattering of basic stone buildings, and there were few plants other than the fields. In the center of it all was another depression, a natural amphitheatre perhaps? Within it, several figures seemed to be engaging in training exercises.

We made our way down the hill, Cabhan in the lead and myself just behind him. A small group of the figures detached from their work and approached us. They were surprised to see Cabhan, although one of the six also seemed concerned to see him. Cabhan replied to their challenge that the status of his Quest was between him and the Master, and Ser Jarrad cut the tension of the moment by asking for a traveller’s respite.

Alone again, we quickly and quietly planned. Cabhan would need to make his report, but when I asked he did not think that he necessarily needed to do so alone (although he admitted that was his first instinct). He wryly admitted that they may not have prepared for the possibility of his successful return. I remembered how we had all thought the task he had been set to was perhaps a fool’s errand.

Cabhan explained, while we waited, some of how the monastery was structured. Below Master Garus, who had mastered all four elemental styles, were four Incarna, who each headed one style. Below them, senior students, initiates, and novices. He had remained a Novice because advancement required winning a battle to the death. He never saw the point in killing someone for no reason.

In the morning, we were summoned to speak with Master Garus. The floor of the amphitheatre was warm, and the edges were carved with infernal runes. Padhraig had identified them the evening before as dedications to Asmodeus, and posited that blood spilled within their bounds might feed Him. Most of the monks stood in a circle around us, while ahead stood the four Incarna, and behind them a lone figure, presumably Master Garus himself.

Cabhan, when told to prove he had completed his task, produced the Scales. But he refused to hand them to his Master, even when directly ordered. “You were set a task. You agreed to it, on your word.”

“That is so.” Cabhan replied. “And yet I believe I was misled as to the reason for this task, and I was kept in the dark about the nature of this place.”
“That is not for you to concern yourself with. We took you in. Saved your miserable life. The Mountain would have devoured you.” I rankled at his harsh words, but could not decipher if he was telling the truth or not.
The Earth Incarna broke in, “You swore an oath to your Master.”
Padhraig replied with something in Infernal, which earned him many long looks.
Trying to regain control of the moment, Master Garus continued. “One last time, Novice. Will you obey your oath and surrender the Scales to me?”
“Master, I will not.”
“Very well. Kill them.”

We had been preparing for this moment, and so were ready when the attacks began. It was a fierce battle, and none performed better than Cabhan. In an impressive show of strength and skill he managed to land the final blow on all four of the Incarna, claiming each of their sashes in turn, before turning his attention to his (now former) Master. When all were defeated, and the illusions surrounding Garus gone, Padhraid broke the circle of runes on the amphitheatre.

The moment he did, all of the Initiates of the Order dropped dead. Cabhan snapped the neck of the prone Master and turned to the group of Novices. He declared the Order over, told the assembled that they were free to stay or go, but that what had happened here would never happen again. Finally, it was over. He had perhaps not learned as much as he would have liked, but at least he had faced this part of his past...
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Familial Complications
It happened so fast, I could hardly say how it happened, but I know that Ser Jarrad and I both pressed the attack on the Argent Blade - Aoife - at the same time, and my blade found its mark. She looked at me as if she wanted to speak, but there was only blood.

The Red Spear began to slip into the Realm of Shadows. We had to run, or be trapped. But I couldn’t leave her there. I tread water, clinging to her, as I watched tentacles wrap around the doomed ship. Just before the portal between realms closed, the Aegerian hellfire caught and the ship shattered. It was a long swim back to shore, and as I swam the suit of coins fell away from my sister. By the time I reached safety they were all gone. She looked so fragile. She had always been the pretty, delicate one.

Magret and I carefully arranged her burial. It was necessary to perform a number of rituals, to protect her soul as best we could from the worst of what might happen to it. She had opened herself to the sort of evil that is not stopped by merely dying, and even if I hated her in life, I had no wish to see anything of that sort happen to her.

The journey home was a blur. We managed the four-week journey in less than three, thanks to the cleverness of the crew and some good luck with the winds. Perhaps the Storm Lord himself hastened our journey, as we were told that the orb used by Mad Trista wanted to be returned to the temple in Halvor. I was grateful for the sleeping tincture, I fear my worries of what was to come would have fed my nightmares otherwise.

In Tiranin we scarce made safe landing before I (accompanied by Jokula and Cabhan, and wearing the finery provided by the Fae) made my way to the Silverhill estate.

There was no easy way to break the news, and so I settled for the simple, unembellished truth. Mother was shocked, and it hurt me to see her eyes. Something in her broke. She had hope, for a moment, when I started speaking of Aoife. And it was horrible to shatter that hope. Her smile didn’t change when she slid into a chair, but...

It was easier to speak with Father, although the image of him from my nightmares hung over his real face as we talked. He was not shocked in the same way as Mother, he was almost unsurprised to receive the news. He asked me to tell him how it happened, and I did, as baldly as I could. I tried to emphasize it was her own poor decisions, her own greed and jealousy that led her there. Truthfully, I hoped there was time for him to change his own behavior. He called her foolish, which I could hardly disagree with. He asked what the funeral arrangements were, and on this point I spared him the details, merely summing them up as appropriate.

He eyed my clothing, and surely did not fail to miss either the family crest nor the masculine cut, but did not comment on either. We passed a few other pleasantries, and I was able to ask after Arlan. He said that they had received some letters, but that his duties at the palace kept him busy. I did not wish to extend the interview much longer, and gently suggested that he might check on Mother, and saw myself out.

That duty done, I made my way to the palace to break the news to Arlan. I was pleased that the guards checked my name and description very carefully when they heard my surname before allowing me inside.

Together we wept. I realized later that I had not cried over the loss before that, but it was good to finally let myself grieve for her.

Alice has made him one of her pages. He said he likes the uniform, and the responsibility, and even the lessons. I am glad to see if he is thriving, and if I can do nothing else for my family at least I can say I may have saved him from following my sister’s example. One can hope.

We did not stay in Tiranin much longer than it took for me to check in on my family, and within a week we were in Halvor. A priest from the Storm Temple waited for us (or more accurately, the orb). From here we were going to set out for the Monastery. It fell to me (naturally), to arrange for supplies for the trip.

The work of bartering and haggling was a welcome distraction. I worried over what we would find there, what would happen. Would they insist that Cabhan stay? Would they do something to make him? Or do something to me, if they felt I was in the way of their plans? What if he, despite his promises, decided that he wanted or needed to remain there?

But before we could begin our journey, there was another wrinkle. A trio of ships bearing warriors from the Lotus Realm arrived in the harbor. They spoke to Kaela, and they are seeking justice against her mother...
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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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