Friday, April 30

Fire, Ice, and Spirit… (Original Fiction by Xan)

The morning arrives with the sweet smell of maple and bacon; once again, Zander is up before the rest preparing his sweet salted pork and maple. The giant crouches next to the small cooking fire made from the bottom couple of rungs of the driftwood and rope ladder.
Jenny rolls over and sits up, realizing her tattered clothes had been removed she examines her bare flesh to find not even a small blemish to her milky skin.
“I wondered when you would awaken, my lady.” Zander did not remove his eyes from his pan, giving Jenny time to bundle herself up in his blanket of a robe.
“Did you do this?” She softly spoke as she raised a smooth arm into the firelight showing the unbroken skin that used to be full of festering sores and bruises. “I am impressed by your skill; you seem more apt for destruction than repair.” They both shared a soft laugh.
“Yes, it is true my blood causes more harm than good.” Zander poked the bacon around in the pan with a small knife.
“Did you also do this?” Jenny let the robe fall off her shoulder to reveal the smoothness of her bare skin. She looked to Zander with playful eyes.
“It was to see to your wounds, nothing more.” Zander assured her. “It was after all had gone to sleep, we were alone.” Zander’s face turned a slight hint of red beneath the green skin tone. Jenny stood up, wrapping the robe tightly around her slender frame.
“I’m not embarrassed,” she said as she walked towards him. She slipped her arms into the sleeves of his large robe, whipped the robe open, closed it tightly around her, and tied it tight around her waist. Zander averted his eyes after he accidentally caught a glimpse of her natural form. He blushed again as Jenny continued. “Although I cannot walk out of here in this, no matter how elegant you may think I look.” She lifted her arms out and the sleeves nearly touched the ground and fell past her hands as she placed them on her hips.
“Beasley and I procured you some breeches and a nice shirt. There is also a nice chain shirt and a sword you may be interested in as well.” Zander looked up at her. She looked like a high priestess of Sif. Sif is Othr’s golden haired warrior wife. The priestesses of Sif and the priests of Othr regularly performed rituals together. Often these rituals were ones of fertility and for harvest. Zander’s heart skipped a beat as he gazed upon her form, her beautiful Gaelic red hear cascaded off her right shoulder.
Jenny looked at Zander and smiled. “Where are they?” She folded her arms in front of her, well aware that Zander was staring at her with his mouth open wide. “Or do you want me to stay in your beautiful robe a while longer?”
“They are over on my chest.” Zander pointed with his cooking knife to a large chest with the leather shoulder straps harnessing his large hammer, it still glowed slightly. The breeches and shirt were surprisingly soft, with a small bloodstain on the left shoulder.
“What is this?” Jenny held up the shirt for Zander to inspect.
“Oh, I didn’t think your captors would need it anymore.” Zander smiled and winked at her.
Jenny smiled and tossed her hair back. “Well then, I suppose that these clothes should be put to better use.”
“That is exactly what I say!” Beasley rolls over from his comfortable sleeping corner and sits up reluctantly. “You two need to learn how to be quieter when someone is sleeping.” He scratches his head and rubs his eyes.
“Sorry little one.” Jenny said jokingly as she slipped on her breeches while still wearing the robe, seeming to not care that two sets of male eyes were on her as she did so.
“M’lady, do you think it wise to dress in front of such roguish company?” Zander said as he looked to Beasley with a protective glare. Beasley just sat and stared at the beautiful human woman before him as she turned her back to them both and dropped the robe exposing her athletic build and strong bare back.
“Don’t worry Jenny,” Beasley grabbed his blanket and threw it over Zander’s head. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t see you change.”
Beasley winked at Jenny as she glanced over her shoulder at him and just giggled. “Why thank you Beasley, You are such a gentleman.” She slipped the shirt on and rolled up the sleeves. “Not a great fit, but it may do the job.”
Zander pulled Beasley’s blanket off his head and glared at him. “Jenny, there is also a thin blade and a chain shirt there as well.”
“I hope you don’t mind,” Beasley piped up as he kept his distance from Zander. “But the chain shirt and thin blade look to be Drow made.”
“Oh?” Jenny held up the chain shirt. “Have you ever seen a dark elf wear anything under their armor?” The chain shirt seemed to make a perfect V-shape starting at Jenny’s shoulders and coming to a point just above her knees.
Zander and Beasley just looked at each other and smirked. Zander cracked a smile, winked at Beasley, and cleared his throat. “Actually, I have never even seen a ‘dark elf.’ All I know of them is they are as beautiful as other elves only with black skin and silvery white hair.”
“They are also evil by nature.” The cold voice of Solcloud seemed to nearly thunder through the holding area where they camped. “Zander, your breakfast is burning.” Solcloud pointed to the unattended pan in the fire, the pork now blackened and smoking was burned to the pan.
“DAMN!” Zander cursed as he hit the pan off the fire.
“I guess we are eating rolls and water for breakfast.” Jenny laughed. “Good morning Sir Knight.” Jenny flopped the chain mail over her arm and bowed gracefully.
“Good morning, my lady.” Solcloud did his best to bow in his full armor. “Glad to see you are well, but do you feel it necessary to don that hideous and evil armor?”
“HIDEOUS!?” Jenny nearly jumped across the room for Solcloud making such a remark. “By the looks of those ears you have elven blood in you too.”
“I am not remarking it as hideous because it is elven,” Solcloud retorts in a haughty tone. “I refer to it as hideous because it was made by dark elves, DROW.” He curled up his nose at the mere mention of that black race.
“They still be elves,” Jenny said defensively. “We will see how hideous it looks on the right person.” Jenny just looked to Zander and Beasley, winked, and then returned Solcloud’s disgusted look with one of equal disgust. “You should take pride in the craftsmanship, no matter if it be DARK elf or WOOD elf. WE are all ELF.” And Jenny stormed off down the hall to the trophy room to change.

Friday, April 23

Calming the beast within… (Original Fiction by Xan)

Beasley sat on top of his last kill and wiped the blood from his blades on his scarlet leather clothing. “That is three for me, two for Zander, and how many for you Mr. Nice Guy?”
“It is not about killing my little friend.” Solcloud chided the small thief. “I assisted in your last one, and I slowed their approach into the room. Now what about our raging storm?” Solcloud looked around trying to find Zander.
“I…am…here.” Zander faded into view in the corner of the room. He was slumped into a mound, witting on the ground with his knees drawn up to his chest. “Did you…find…a key… little friend?” Zander observed the small halfling already looting the guards.
“Not yet, my friend.” Beasley barely batted an eye as he looted each body and spoke to Zander simultaneously. “I am still looking, you just rest and relax.”
“Do you really have to pocket everything you see on the bodies?” Solcloud shook his head as he too pulled himself up from his prone position on the floor.
Beasley stopped and looked at the knight with a look of disgust. “You don’t have to benefit from our efforts,” his voice nearly dripped with spite. “Zander and I could keep it all for ourselves.”
“Well, as you said my little pirate,” Solcloud dusted off his armor as he examined his now scratched armor. “We are putting it to better use.”
Beasley just huffed and threw anything of value into a pile as he looked for any clue of keys or anything. A couple precious stones, some polished coins, a shield with a slight red tint in the silvery sheen, and a few bottles filled with a deep red liquid. However, one bottle piqued Beasley’s interest; he stared at the seemingly empty bottle with a cork on it. He popped the top and was blasted in the face with a torrent of fresh air. Beasley’s hood flopped of his head and his hair blew back from his head.
“Must be a magic bottle, meant for breathing underwater or saving you when air is pulled from your lungs.” Solcloud again fascinated by the simple things.
“Or…perhaps…meant for…making your hair stand up.” Zander chuckled as he messed up Beasley’s hair.
“Or something like that.” Beasley tried to press his hair back down. “I found no key, Zander. Shall we try the other room?”
“Yes, let’s…” Zander’s voice faded as he walked through the door at a slightly slower pace. The doorway at the end of the hallway was open. The other guards must have come from this door; a small bell could be heard ringing just inside the door. This room was a bit statelier than the other was. A rack on the wall had a nice chain shirt hanging neatly from it, deep green and royal purple ribbons woven throughout fine links. A glass case with a lock was attached to the wall just under the ornate armor. Within the case lay a fine thin sword; black engravings along the blade and the hilt had a spider motif. Hanging from the handle of the blade was a white tassel. Beasley anxiously scurried into the room and directly to the rack and trophy case.
“Drow made,” he announced. “Too big for me, too small for you and too black for the goody-goody here.” Beasley pointed to Solcloud as he came walking through the door. “Not much for selling them on the surface either. Looks like it isn‘t a full chain shirt anyway. Seems like a lot has been cut out or destroyed.” Beasley didn’t even bother with the lock on the case although his fingers lingered on it, itching to try his hand at even the simplest puzzle of a lock right now.
He walked around the room some more and examined every little nook. He stared at a stone that seemed a bit out of the ordinary in the wall. Beasley took out a small dagger and tapped the stone, it moved slightly. His eyes glimmered and pushed his finger to the stone and it depressed, a series of clicks could be heard echoing through the chamber. Without a word, Zander rushed from the room back towards the cell. Not a moment later, a roar could be heard echoing through the hallway.
“JENNY!” Zander rattled the bars, as they did not even budge. Dust fell from the ceiling but the sturdy iron bars did not move.
Beasley rounded the doorway and saw Zander reaching trough the bars, tears filling his eyes, as his fingers were mere inches from Jenny’s bruised and blackened feet.
“Zander?” Beasley softly touched the heartbroken giants back. “Are they magic bars?”
“Why?” Zander sniffed as he leaned his massive body against the bars.
“Have you tried your ring?” Beasley pointed to the cat ring on Zander’s left hand.
The giants’ eyes glimmered with a sign of hope as he twisted the ring and vanished, a moment later he appeared again inside the cell with Jenny. He reached down and scooped her up in his arms, brushing her dingy red hard from her swollen face. Her eyes and cheeks swollen beyond all recognition, her clothes torn and bloody clung to her back. The bloody welts had long since crusted over and began to seal up, while yet others seemed to be fresh and oozing. As Zander examined her back, she did not even stir as he looked at each infected welt. Zander grimaced at the sight of Jenny’s bruised leg as the tattered sackcloth blanket fell from her body. Her dress shredded revealed many black, blue and red contusions.
Zander tried to cover her near naked body with the sackcloth blanket and turned his ring. Both of them vanished and then reappeared on the other side of the bars. He gently lay her down on the cold floor, wrapping her legs with the blanket. He knelt over her with his hammer in his hand, he mumbled softly and his hammer began to glow with an electric blue light. He touched the hammer to her legs; the welts started to fade. He slowly moved the hammer up her body to her stomach and her ribs, small snaps could be heard as her ribs set and mended themselves. As the last snap occurred, Jenny gasped for breath, coughing blood she began to speak.
“No more, please.” Jenny mumbled as she had so many times the days she had been down in this foul holding area.
“Jenny,” Zander spoke softly. “It’s your colossus.” Zander referred to the term of endearment Jenny had given him back in the bar as they exchanged drinks. The reference shook the cobwebs from Jenny’s mind as the familiarity of the voice and that word ‘colossus’ shook her back to reality.
“I knew you would find me,” Jenny sighed. “Even if you weren’t looking for me.” She slowly reached up to his pale green cheek covered in coarse black stubble. “You need to shave.” She forced a smile on her face as her tear filled eyes looked to the giant cradling her in his arms.
“Rest now, you are safe with us.” Zander held her gingerly in his arms, like a large bundle of eggs and slowly began to slip the large chest off his back. It landed on the ground with a thud and the lid popped open. “Beasley there should be my bedroll and a spare robe of mine, please retrieve them for me.”
Beasley swiftly made it over to the chest that towered in front of him; the opening of the large chest was about eye level to the small burglar. That did not stop him from scampering his way inside the chest. Finding the robe and bedroll, he reached out and handed them into the massive waiting hands of the giant.
“Thank you,” came the quiet tender voice of Zander as he cared for Jenny. He rolled the bedroll and placed it under her head. Zander then unfolded the robe, this one was a more ornate robe meant for special ceremonies. This white quilted robe had designs of rams and mountains quilted onto the back the gold borders were covered in dwarven runes. Zander disregarded the beauty of the cloak and mumbled something about how this covering would not do for Jenny. Beasley gawked at the majesty of the robe and was shocked that Zander didn’t wear it more often.
“Paladin!” Zander shouted as he looked around for Solcloud who was still in the other room. “Damn him and his speed.” Zander cursed in giant.
Solcloud made his way into the room; he gawked at the sight that Jenny now laid on the floor with Zander’s robe over her sleeping softly.
“You got her free?” Solcloud said astonished.
“Is not sloth a sin in your religion too, paladin?” Zander preached angrily.
“Isn’t wrath?” The paladin retorted. “You called for me?”
“Please watch her while the little one and I find some supplies.” Zander gently smoothed Jenny’s hair as he spoke. Jenny nuzzled his large hand and slightly smiled as she slept, like a child nuzzling a teddy bear.
“So we are stopping for the day?” Solcloud sounded a bit upset at the thought of spending the evening in the middle of a prison.
“Yes,” Zander looked up to the knight.
“You want to carry her out?” Beasley looked to Jenny and then to Solcloud. “She will be well in the morning enough to travel. Can you handle that?”
“Yes, and if she needs healing I can help her as well.” Solcloud said as he knelt beside Jenny.
“She will be fine,” Zander said defensively. “Othr will watch over her.” Zander stood up, leaving his glowing hammer on the floor near Jenny’s head for comfort and warmth. He turned to the small halfling who barely came up to his thigh. “Now, did you say something about dark elf gear earlier?”
“In the other room.” Beasley scampered out of the room pointing like a child who wanted to show his parents a discovery they were sure his parents had never seen before. Zander trudged reluctantly out of the room behind the halfling.
Beasley was already anxiously working on the glass case as Zander entered into the room. “I think that these may actually do Jenny some good.” Beasley said between twists of his lock picking tools. “They must be more valuable than I thought because this lock isn’t a simple one.
“My hands are too big to manipulate tools like that, my small friend.” Zander spoke back in halfling as he pulled up the padded chair from the desk close by and watched intently as Beasley worked.
“What’s wrong, friend?” Beasley took the signal of the giant that he wanted to keep this conversation candid.
“I am beginning to think that this torture chamber is only part of a bigger plot.” Zander whispered.
CLICK! “Great Dallah, I knew this lock would have nothing on this old lock pick!” Beasley waved his hands and the picking tools seemed to vanish, but due to the training Beasley gave Zander, she could see the tools slip into Beasley’s sleeves.
“One day you will have to show me how you do that, little teacher.” Zander laughed as he pointed to Beasley’s cuff sleeve.
The small halfling flipped the latch on the glass case, reached in, and pulled out the sword. “Not bad for a Drow weapon.” He tested the weight of the blade and then examined the tassel of silvery white on the handle.
“What is this?” Zander too saw the tassel and began to examine it, but he paid more attention to the small red tips of the tassel rather than its silky white braid. “It looks to be… blood.”
“Not surprising,” Beasley held it up to the torchlight. He then looked closer at the braided tassel on the handle. “Oh my goodness…” Beasley stopped to catch his breath. “This is hair from a Drow Swordmaiden, not exactly easy to obtain, Zander. This must have been her sword and armor, whoever captured this, is an amazing fighter. Swordmaidens don‘t exactly take too well to being captured.” Beasley changed his vocabulary into the human tongue and took a more serious tone. “I’d imagine that blood on the tassel is her own blood and to add insult to injury, I’d wager my share of our treasure that her hair was taken with her own blade.”
“Great Father Othr, we are dealing with someone who shows no mercy. One who takes pleasure in the pain of others?” Zander’s eyes began to pulsate with anger as tears slowly welled up in his eyes. He stood up, took the chain shirt off the rack, and wrapped the sword within it. “This blade and armor would best serve those that would stop the one who removed them from their owner.” Zander looked to Beasley. “Don’t you agree?”
“I do, perhaps Jenny could use them to protect herself?” Beasley replied. “Albeit, barmaids are more adept to their fists than a blade.”
Zander laughed at the comment and began to walk out the door. His voice echoed through the hallway as he made his way towards Jenny. “Most barmaids, yes. But I think you may be surprised by Jenny’s ability with a thin blade like this.”

Friday, April 16

Deeper into evil’s den… (Original Fiction by Xan)

Beasley examined the latch to the trap door. If it had not have been for Solcloud’s prayer and St. Cuthbert’s answer with outlining the hatch, they probably would have never located it. Beasley bent over the latch and slowly picked the release lever, lifted the rusty ring, and waved to Zander to open the doorway. With his massive arms, Zander reached over the small lock pick and flexed his massive muscles. The hatch groaned with its own weight as Zander snarled with the effort as he lifted it open.
Solcloud slowly inserted the torch down the opening, a crude ladder made of ropes and driftwood could be seen swinging gently in the flickering light as a small rat jumped from the bottom rung and scurried into the darker shadows. Zander began down the hanging rope ladder, gingerly stepping on each gnarled driftwood rung. After the giant was about twenty feet down the ladder Beasley followed swiftly and with ease like a spider on a web. The armored Solcloud had as much difficulty as the giant as he started, but Zander held the ladder steadier as the knight made his decent. After reaching the bottom, the trio assessed their new location.
“It looks to be a prison.” Solcloud speaks the obvious, as the others look roll their eyes at him.
“You think?” Said the small halfling already running around examining each cell. The smell of rotting flesh, moldy cloth, and refuse filled their nostrils as they looked around the room. The rooms’ walls had a slight curve; each cell’s door seemed to be within a step or two of one another. The circular room held ten cells set up around the ladder that they had descended down, the ladder seemed to be a constant reminder to the occupants how close to escape they were, but unable to grasp the ladder that dangled just out of arms reach. One heavy wooden door lead out of the room between two rusty iron cells.
“Zand..!” Beasley choked on his own words as he stood by one cell and looked between the bars. His face drained of color and his hand over his mouth in shock. Zander slowly approached the cell. With his keen eyes he blinked to adjust in the darkness and looked into the darkness in the back of the cell, what he saw nearly stole his breath away.
“Jenny?” Zander’s voice quivered as he held the bars in his hands, his arms flexed and knotted as he attempted to break the bars, they didn’t so much as creak under the great strength of the half-ogre. The barmaid lay motionless in the back of the cell huddled up in the dirty rags and refuse of the cell. Her beauty dimmed by signs of abuse and neglect. She was not moving.
“Jenny, are you OK?” The giant struggled to catch his voice as he wrestled to open the door his muscles ached from the strain but these bars were meant to hold beasts stronger than even he was.
“It’s no use.” Solcloud said softly as he tapped sympathetically on the giants bulging shoulder. “We will have to find another way in. I have discovered something; come over here and see.”
Solcloud turned with the torch and held it to the opposite end of the circle of cells. In the dim torchlight, the feathered plume of ‘Betty’ could be seen in the cell. Most of Mayvn’s other personal effects could be seen strewn about the cell as well. The bard was nowhere to be found. Tiny eyes glared in the torchlight under the hat and then a large spider about the size of Beasley’s head skittered out from underneath into a crack on the far side of the cell.
“There is more going on here than a contest of strength and survival.” Solcloud snarled in a vengeful tone. “It seems we have stumbled onto a torture chamber holding area. The slaves on the surface are more than just slaves; they were the survivors of torture.”
“I don’t care much about these empty cells.” Zander spat out a primeval growl from deep inside his soul. “I only care about getting Jenny out of here alive.”
The giant pushed his way through the two other adventurers and through the door. Looking to his left and right he observed a hallway with a door directly across from the holding area, as well as two wooden doors to his left and to his right. A light could be seen flickering underneath the door to the right. Zander wasted no time in taking out his hammer, twisting his cat ring and faded from sight.
A whirlwind of fury, a primeval roar, and a rush of teeth were all the guard could see as Zander burst through the door and clubbed the guard standing next to the door before he could blink crushing his skull. The second guard who had been sitting lazily at a table in the center of the room tried to jump to his feet. As all four feet of the guards chair rattled to the ground a hammer appeared out of nowhere shattering his left shoulder and sent him flying across the room.
“Zander!” Beasley shouted as he rounded the corner. Another guard, who had been standing on the other side of the door, rounded the door and swung his long sword at the small halfling as Beasley tumbled through the door and under the table. The momentum carried him under the table and he slammed into a lever protruding from the ground.
Solcloud followed the two into the fray. “There are more coming!” He looked to the chaos as he entered the room. “An alarm must have been triggered. Hurry, prepare to defend yourselves!” He grabbed the off balance guard who had missed Beasley and threw him to the ground. The guard easily fell with a thud.
Solcloud took a defensive position by the doorway, surprising entering guards with a quick swing of his sword or a slam with his shield. Zander faded in and out of the material plane roaring and whirling with rage. The guard slumped in the corner shook the cobwebs from his head and nursed his shoulder as he stood up limply holding his longsword in his hands.
“There are three of them!” The guard shouted as he spotted Beasley under the table. As the guard dove for the small halfling, Beasley twisted to his left and slashed at the guards’ good arm.
“Ha HA!” Came the gleeful cheer from the small thief as this small sword struck true. The guard dropped his sword and the halfling finished off the guard and dove back into the shadow of the table.
Zander’s hammer and face seemed to fade in and out of view as he whirled and roared like a raging ghost. The whirl of air and the smell of ozone filled their nostrils and it seemed like a thunderstorm were brewing in the room. The knight swung wide with his sword at an entering guard. The guard ducked below the long arch causing Solcloud to slip and fall with a metal crash. The hammer appears in front of the guard and just before impact, it vanishes. The guard blinks and says a small prayer to an unknown god, but to no avail as Beasley leapt from his hiding place under the table and drives his sword right into the heart of the guard.
“Zander, you had better control yourself, or I am going to kill them all myself.” Beasley jokes as he dives again back under the table.
“One more!” Shouts the fallen paladin. Solcloud takes his shield and slams the back of the guards’ knees as he steps through the door. The guard yells in agony as his knees crack. Beasley, like a stalking cat, leapt from under the table and drove both swords into the felled guards back.

Friday, April 9

Grumpy Idealist… (Original Fiction by Xan)

A familiar voice echoes up the corridor followed by the clatter of plate armor. “I am seriously beginning to think those three don’t want me to be around.”
The crash of every step gives away the cantor of someone bumping around without much light. A dim light flows up the cavern in the direction of the two companions. They both twist their rings and vanish into the background, just as the light touches their hiding spots.
“I swear by St. Cuthbert that they really need a good talking to about leaving someone alone in a monster filled cave, especially while they are sleeping.” The soot covered knight dusts some ash off his arm as he stumbles along the dirty path. “Leaving a note and traipsing off like nothing is going to happen to those they leave behind. As though they could just come back and the whole world revolves around them…
A small snicker echoes as if from another plane of existence.
“Who’s there?!” The knight freezes in his footsteps, the torch flickering as he waves it about frantically. “I am a crusader for St. Cuthbert; I am sworn to deliver Justice and Right. Prepare yourselves for battle!”
The laugh turns into two and the echo seems to amplify the sound to two thousand laughs. A rap on the poor knight’s armor makes him turn swiftly; the torch dimmed then flickered back to life.
“I am more than a match for all of you; now show yourselves to Solcloud Genus, deliverer of justice! Evil bewares!” Solcloud sputters out in fear.
“St. Cuthbert, these evil beings will not show themselves to me, reveal them to your servant, Solcloud!” A flash of light bursts from the holy symbol emblazoned on his breastplate. The cavern lights up in an explosion of light and sound. The light dimmed in every direction except for a trapdoor on the ground.
“Solcloud…” Zander’s voice seemingly jumped from corner to corner of the cavern. “Are you still looking for us?”
Solcloud drew his sword and gripped his shield tightly. “SHOW YOURSELF DEMON! I will not be deceived by your trickery, reveal what you have done to my companions.”
The laughter doubles as Beasley melts into sight from a shadow behind a stalactite. Zander steps from his hiding spot as though walking out of the wall. Just as the giant steps from the wall, Solcloud swings his sword at the emerging cleric. “En gardé, monster!”
Zander whipped his shield around just in time to block the large arc of Solcloud’s broadsword. The force of the hit knocked Zander to the ground, his wooden shield vibrating on his arm.
“I knew you had it in you, but you need to be using that kind of energy on your enemies not your allies.” Zander sat on the ground looking up into the enraged paladin’s eyes.
“What do you three think you are doing? This is not a laughing matter. You three left me alone while you ran away to get yourselves into more trouble.” The knight’s face continued to grow redder as he reprimanded his compatriots. “Where is Mayvn?”
Zander looked at his small brother in arms and then up to the paladin standing over him. “I thought he was with you. We left the protective spell over both of you.”
“I even checked the outskirts of the spell,” Beasley confirmed Zander’s story. “You were both covered when we left.”
The two pranksters’ hearts dropped as they looked to one another, feeling the loss of their mistake start to sink in. The paladin sheathed his sword and helped Zander to his feet. The three stood there for a moment assessing their next move. They had left a seemingly helpless poet and writer down here to fend for himself while they went off alone. Thoughts of betrayal, fear, and anxiety leapt into their minds.
“Justice will be done,” mumbled the dimmed knight. “We must find him. He is down here somewhere, and I will bet that he is in the way that St. Cuthbert has laid out for us.” The knight nodded, pointing to the glowing trap door on the ground with his cleft chin. “Evil will always show the way to justice.”

Sunday, April 4

An Unlikely Partnership (Original Fiction by Xan)

“I think the first thing we should do is find fresh water, Captain.” Bad Rum looked to his captain with an air of cruelty in his voice.
“You are right, Rum,” Jenny looked to him with a hint of disgust in her voice. “You always had a thing for self preservation.
“While you were taking a nap I found a natural spring on the rocks just a few hundred paces within the darkness of these coconut trees, Captain.” Bad Rum hissed as he pointed to the North.
“Well then, we should waste no time gathering provisions. Then after we gain our strength we shall look for a way off this rock and gain our precious Duchess back.” Jenny beckoned her crew to follow her as she made her way in the direction of Bad Rum’s footprints on the beach.
The rag tag group of pirates hiked into the trees and they discovered beautiful spring lined with black lava rock. Without skipping a beat Kilzar ran to the water, stripping his tattered clothes and dove in. He vanished in the crystal clear water and bubbles ceased to float on the water where he entered.
“KILZ!” roared Salt.
Jenny started stripping off her coat and sashes to dive in after him when like a shot out of a cannon Kilzar flew out of the water and slammed into a nearby tree. The crew ran to the slumped over dwarf and lifted the broken tree off his limp form.
“WHO DISTURBS MY WATERS?” roared a voice like the sound of a waterfall on boulders.
Jenny stood up with a coconut in her hand ready to defend what remained of her crew. “My name in Captain Jenny Blackbirch of the Dryad Duchess, daughter of the late ‘Red Dog’ Blackbirch, marooned on this island by the foul fish Blackfin. To whom am I addressing? Friend or Foe?”
A roar of laughter softened the roaring waterfall to the sound of a babbling brook. “THE Red Dog,” burbled a softened reply out of what seemed to be the water itself.
“Yes,” Jenny replied. “Who are you stranger? Show yourself!”
Within the water a giant shape formed out of the center and moved towards the pirates. “I am called many things, but I prefer Shu’ei.”
“What are you?” Maccus asked respectfully.
“I am a water elemental,” Shu’ei proudly boasted. He moved closer to the pirates and as he got closer to the edge of the freshwater pond he shrunk to no taller than Piper.
“How do you know my father, Shu’ei?” Jenny asked respectfully.
“He and I spent a lot of time together ages ago, right at this very pond.” Shu’ei mused. “It seems the Blackbirch family is drawn to this island. And I assume your next question will be…”
“How do we get off?” Jenny asked without provocation.
“HA!” Shu’ei wave-like form lashed out a whip of water and slipped back that seemed as if he slapped his knee. “I knew it; you are exactly like your father!” A rush of sound like the rolling of waves on a rocky shore made the sound of a deep rumbling laughter. “You know if your child comes to MY Island I will not have any more boats to get them off the island.”
“You have a ship on this island?” Jenny gasped. “How?”
“You would be surprised what washes up on my shores.” Shu’ei said in a matter of fact tone. “And I didn’t say it was a ship, I said a boat. Follow me.” The water flowed out from the edge of the pond onto the rock and continued deep into the trees.
Jenny looked at her crew; they in turn looked back at her and shrugged. The pirates followed the small wave into the trees to a small river deeper inside the forest and there lay a small rowboat with only one paddle.
“Here is your boat, Captain Blackbirch.” The small wave tittered as if it had just told a joke.
“How are we supposed to navigate that tiny boat in these seas and find our beloved Duchess?” hissed Bad Rum from behind the rest of the party as he emerged in the clearing.
“Perhaps you can turn yourself into a mermaid and push us, Rumsy!” Kilzar roared in laughter at the expense of their changeling crewmember.
“Very funny little man,” Bad Rums face contorted and shifted to that of a feral shifter with long teeth. “How about I just bite out your other eye and be done with you?”
“Enough!” Salt interjected. “You two will someday learn to cooperate, especially in the presence of our captain.” He then turned to the small wave perched at the bow of the small rowboat. “Perhaps you can help us, little elemental.”
“And what would you have me do?” Shu’ei scoffed at the notion of doing more than it had anticipated. “I already am providing you with a boat.”
“As you can see this boat is without propulsion.” Salt began to weave his deal with the elemental. “If you are able to get us back to our ship, you may have your boat back, plus a ship of your own.”
“You plan on giving Shu’ei the helm of Blackfin’s Onyx,” Jenny laughed. “Brilliant!”
“What do you say little elemental?” Salt stated respectfully, “Do we have an accord?”
“Indeed we do!” The small elemental dissipated underneath the small rowboat for a moment then by some unnatural means a roaring water could be heard upstream.
“Everyone in the boat quickly,” barked the bosun.
Just as everyone had boarded the small rowboat a large wave rolled from out of nowhere to sweep the little boat out to sea.

Friday, April 2

Master and student (Original Fiction by Xan)

The two adventurers did not seem to mind the quiet as they prowled the smoky, torch lit caves. Zander was starting to pick up some tricks Beasley tried to show him with hand gestures and facial expressions. They seemed to speak volumes without a noise exchanged between them. Beasley held his hand up with his open palm toward the giant, Zander froze.
The rogue slipped quietly in the shadows and approached a bend in the tunnel. Like a cat stalking a mouse, Beasley crept close to the wall on his hands and knees slowly and steadily pulled out his tools from his belt and began working on something invisible to Zander.
“What are you…?” Zander began to speak in halfling with a very hushed tone.
“Shhh!” Beasley snapped as he continued to work on the invisible wire. “I am working on a tripwire and I need all of my focus on…” Before Beasley could finish his statement there was a whoosh of air and a small needle hit Zander in the neck as he stooped over Beasley.
Zander began to swoon and waver, as his vision seemed to fade to black. With a thud, the giant collapsed on the wire releasing another hail of darts that flew over the little thief and the downed cleric.
After a few worried moments in the darkness, Beasley held a bag of strong smelling herbs to Zander’s nose. The giant jumped back as if a dog had attacked him.
“What happened?” Zander shoot his head and then pulled his knees up to his chest and leaned up against the rough rock walls.
“You failed to see a trap I was working on.” Beasley smiled. “Next time you will have to observe me from a distance. But I am proud of how you are trying to stay in the shadows.” The rogue continued to beam with pride over his large pupil. “But we need to be quiet, I think something is coming. Hide quickly!”