The Chronicles of the Seekers of Faerun - Chapter Fifteen

Adventure Date: November 21, 2009

Last Updated: July 30, 2011


“And so distinguished guests and scholars, without further ado, I will now introduce our famous, some would also say infamous (polite laughter from the audience in the filled to capacity auditorium of the Leaves of Learning) historian and speaker. Here tonight as part of his most successful book reading tour, is the one and the only, Dr. Lord Tornado Noooooooooooh.”

(Applause and whistles from the audience as a formally attired slim, older white haired gentleman enters on stage and strolls to the podium. He is accompanied by two beautiful lasses; one of corn golden hair sun elf ancestry, the other of snow white hair drow ancestry. The applause and whistles increase in intensity as the well endowed lasses enter onto the stage. The dignified gentleman carries a tome under one arm which he then lays on the lectern. The lasses wave and blow kisses to the crowd, turn and kiss the elderly gentleman on his cheeks and waggle off the stage. He nods to all sections of the audience and waits for the applause to die out and begins to speak.)

“Thank you, my friends, thank you. Lovely, aren’t they my two, hum, private assistants? (more loud applause and whistles and a few hoots). It is an honor to stand here in this place of scholarly endeavors and achievements. It is a pleasure to be here in Deepingdale, the birth nation of Swan Morgana Battlestar, the Swan Mother herself.” (Here he gives the Sign of the Swan and the audience again erupts into applause and whistles.)

“Wherever I go, people ask ‘Lord No, Lord No, why do you write history as novels instead of textbooks?’ I answer no one wants to read just dull facts, but everyone likes to read a good story, especially one with high adventure, romance, heroes and heroines ,flesh eating monsters and of course dastardly villains who rape and pillage. What better way to present history? I think the success of my novels is proof of this. (More applause)

My critics say that most of my information is made up, not historically accurate. That it contains too much spurious sex. Spurious sex I ask? Can sex be spurious? (more cheers) I respond by saying that the basic event is true and that I only embellish it to make the facts more entertaining. If heroes behaved more like the common people, then would not more of them identify more with the heroes? My fans like what I do and because of what I do more folks than ever before are literate about history. I have taken history out of the ‘ivory towers of academia’ and given it to the common people. (applause) Thank you

Now at the end of the reading you are all invited to the reception hall for drinks and tidbits. My assistants and I will be on hand to greet you and to help sell copies of my latest ‘textbook historical novel in the ‘History of Religions’ series.

Its entitled ‘Priestess of Loviatar- Pleasure through Pain.’ It explains the history and background of the Loviatar Church through the story of a young novice. A pert young priestess, who through devotion and faith, as well as her expertise with a crop whip, rises up the clerical ranks to become a Senior Dominatrix. The Seeker Kilzadi Litecaster makes an appearance in one of the chapters. It has yet to go on sale publicly and I will autograph each bought copy. Also a portion of the sale will be remitted to the good monks and priests of the Leaves of Learning for upkeep of this wonderful establishment. So be one of the first to own a signed copy and help a good cause at the same time. (Applause)

Finally, I know you are all wondering about the latest rumor which is making its way around this part of Faerun. Will I be collaborating with the Great Sage of History the widely respected Elminister the Younger? While plans and agreements have yet to be finalized, the short answer is ‘Yes!’ (Loud applause and whistles) We will work together on what is now tentatively called ‘Stories and Legends of the Seekers of Faerun’.

Suffice to say that we will endeavor to, pardon the pun, collect and lay bare the myths and legends of the Seekers. Such stories as ‘Neon, the Acrobatic Twins and Their Lessons’, ‘Okul Uses His Scaled Sheathe and the famous ‘Kilzadi Loves the Crop-Whip’ will be historically put right. Further information on this collaboration will be forthcoming.

And now, for the reason we are all here tonight. I have chosen to read an excerpt from my Seekers series, the first volume of Swan- her first crossing into a different plane of existence. I hope you enjoy it. There will be a question and answer period when the reading has ended. (He then opens the tome, removes a pair of small spectacles from his pocket, places them over his eyes and begins to read.)



EXCERPT the last drow chain fighter had fallen dead. The escaping cleric had been incinerated. All was now quiet except for the last cackling of dying fires, the stench of burned flesh and fresh blood. The clash of weapons and the screams of the dying had echoed away.

The Seekers, outnumbered and surrounded had emerged victorious. The blending of their special skills combined with sound battle tactics had won the day. But not without cost. Both Risca and Okul were grievously wounded and had come close to death. Gideon and Kilzadi had also suffered great hurts. Only Neon and Swan had remained unscathed. He because his agility skills allowed him to attack and withdraw with ease and she because the spider slippers allowed her to remain above the fray while showering death upon the enemy. They could now use this interlude to rest, regain their energy and use humor to maintain morale.

Gideon’s first concern was not for himself but for the group. “Swan, heal Okul, then Kilzadi! I’ll take care of Risca. Kilzadi, you rest awhile. Restore your energy. Neon, keep watch! Those undead lizard folk may soon be returning.”

Swan hastened to Okul, removing healing potions from her belt as she did so. “Dear brother, drink” she requested handing them over. Placing her curing wand upon his most serious wounds and slashes she intoned the healing power of her patron deity.

“Solonar, meprego questa perchere…” she began in elvish. The scent of forest pine and mint filled the air, invigorating all who smelled it. Finishing her prayer, Okul’s wounds healed. Blood stopped flowing. Torn skin closed and mended.

“Oh, dear brother, they hurt you so much.” She stroked along his chest and arms, healing as she went. A warm sensation began to manifest along her thighs as she caressed the well muscled chest and arms. Okul felt hard and warm beneath her hands. She particularly enjoyed the beating of his massive heart beneath her palm.

The tall, huge warrior’s diamond sized golden scales sparkled in the shadowy light. He drank deep. “Ah, little sister. Now I understand why the short one prefers your healing. Cool forest green! Gentle hands. Refreshing! Thank you.” He gave a shiver as her hands moved up and down his scales, rubbing and massaging.

“My big brave silly. Thank my deity, not me. Now drink ALL those vials.”

“Yes Mother Swan” he joked, looking down upon her with tender affection.

Then as if on cue, both stopped and locked eyes. Since the incident in Chonis’ Tomb, where Swan had confronted Okul’s wounded pride, their bond of friendship had intensified a hundredfold. But something else had occurred. A different kind of bond threatened to emerge. A bond which at the moment, each for their own reasons, dared not approach. Okul broke the silence with a husky whisper. “Time to check our mage.”

Swan, hands motionless on his scaled arms, gave a cough. “Yes”, she whispered back. Okul watched her as she turned to go.

“She moves so gracefully, he thought, so natural and confident, winsome and proud”. Unforced, an urge came upon him. An urge to lean back his head and scream a certain sound. A sound that would carry far into the night. He did not know then, that the sound he choked back was the call of a gold dragon to its mate.

Risca, seemed to be on fire. Kossuth’s healing flames traveled all around him. As Gideon prayed, the dwarf complained. “Argh! It feels like red hot pepper juice in the eye. I’s wants me gurl! Swan is MY cleric. You’re killing me, not healing me!”

Gideon was hurt and tired. This he did not need. He snapped out. “Ungrateful wretch! Stop proclaiming your ignorance. You were not so particular in the heat of battle. You welcomed Kossuth’s blessing then. Be thankful He still favors you. Now be silent and hold still.”

Kilzadi was leaning against a wall. He was physically and mentally exhausted. He had cast spell after spell. They were one of the main reasons the Seekers had prevailed. He needed to recharge his magical energy. As well he needed to recover from his wounds. Watching Risca and Gideon he remarked,

“Notice how Risca’s speech pattern has improved. This has occurred ever since Neon began the colossally difficult task of teaching him to read and write. More importantly, people can now understand his speech. But oh, think how painful those lessons must be. For both of them.”

This brought a chuckle from Neon, who practically invisible in the dark shadows of the room, kept watch down the dimly lit corridors. Risca, tongues of flame dancing around his head, only glared the promise of pain to the mage.

Kilzadi’s next words were left unspoken as instead he turned to appreciate Swan’s graceful approach. Her natural swaying hips produced a catlike movement. Her firm, upright breasts straining against the mithral shirt and vest, caused his eyes to narrow lustfully. He had a weakness for ‘chicks in chain mail’. Actually his lust was universal but chain mail increased his ardor. She also happened to be beautiful.

Swan’s longish golden-brown hair was double braided in wood elf style. A gold chain link circlet wrapped itself around her forehead. Darkish camouflage stripes swirled around her cheeks and green eyes, lending her an even more feline look. A grey cloak, patterned with energy glyphs was pinned at her throat with a safe wing emblem, a porcelain pin, featuring a tiny green stone from which a pair of outstretched white wings emerged.. Her arms were protected by hard leather dastanas, reinforced with rings of steel. Form fitting, but not skin tight, leather combat trousers emphasized the curvature of her hips and thighs as well as the firmness and roundness of her buttocks. Spider motif silken-hide half boots completed the ensemble. A haversack was strapped to her back. A quiver of arrows bordered one side of the sack, granpar’s bow the other. A potion belt held Gutripper’s sheathe on one curvy hip and a silvered stiletto on the other.

Swan had transformed in the time since becoming a member of the Seekers. She was no longer the shy little archer girl who, in the presence of people, continually stared at the ground. Instead her improved combat powers and her resurrection had instilled a type of fearlessness. Her time with the Daughters of Chauntea had taught her to be proud of and display her femininity. Still somewhat bashful, she had altered into a self assured warrior. A young woman entering into her prime. Her sinewy musculature had developed and hardened, emphasizing her curves and contours. Her decision to give her virginity to Inialos had infused self-confidence, a more self assuredness to rule herself, a sense of independence, a disdain for having to ‘follow the pack’. As well as introduce her to the pleasures of the flesh, something she found that she seemed to have a natural liking, a certain amount of wantonness All this manifested in the elegance of her carriage, her movement and in her ability to easily banter with her friends.

It was this vision of loveliness that Kilzadi had stopped to ogle. “Ah, Swan-lay those lovely hands all over me. I hurt and ache everywhere. I am in deep need of your gentle ministrations, your loving stokes. Especially my genitals. They are in a pain that only your soothing healing massages can relieve.”

“Your words tell me that you cannot be in that much pain” replied the scout as she applied her healing wand to Kilzadi’s most obvious hurts. “As for your genitals, well, I will need to find them before I can heal them. For that I will have to borrow Neon’s magic magnifying lens. He claims that it can make visible even the minutest of objects. This would make a good test of that claim.”

These words brought forth an even louder, longer lasting chuckle from the shadows hiding Neon. The other Seekers snorted in appreciation. Even Risca stopped his complaining to remark with parental pride “Me gurl! She is good. Oh yes, she is good!”

Appreciating the banter even Kilzadi grinned. But then Neon’s words delivered in a no nonsense tone interrupted his retort.

“Seekers! Assemble! Our undead friends are back!”

The Seekers galvanized into battle action. Neon moved deeper into the shadows becoming invisible. Risca and Okul raced to the doorway. Gideon stood a little ways behind them, and began a prayer. Kilzadi made moved to join them. Swan pushed him back. “No, not finished with you yet” she hissed at him. She knew that the best way to help the Seekers now was to fully heal the mage.

Four pairs of glowing red eyes easily were visible in the dark recesses of the hallway leading to the doorway. The outline of tall and large humanoids could be discerned. As they approached the doorway the outlines could be seen for what they were, green scaled lizard folk. Long fork tongues lolled from fanged jaws. Mindless, controlled by darkness, they advanced towards the Seekers. They had no plan, no strategy, just the compulsion to destroy.

The Shadowscales reached the range of Okul’s spear. A quick jab, powered by his enormous strength skewered the nearest one. It gave a scream as a reddish dark vapor emerged from its eyes and dissipated into the air. The body of the lizard man turned into a black glob substance.

Not to be undone, Risca charged with a shout of ‘Crull!’ Blocking a blow with his shield, he thrust Black Blade into the gut of the lizard man and sliced up to disembowel. Even as it changed to a glob he spun sideways for more torque and stabbed into the belly of the next Shadowscale, again disemboweling.

By now Gideon had finished his prayer. Kossuth’s holy fire blazed around him as he raised his holy symbol and commanded ‘unclean spirits; flee before the eternal flames of Kossuth!”

The last Shadowscale shrieked out in pain and turned to retreat. It did not get far. A rapier emerged from the shadows passing cleanly through its skull. As it died, Neon stepped out. “Yuck, he exclaimed, examining his now soiled rapier. “They die messily, don’t they?”

“Anyone hurt?” demanded Gideon. “Anyone need hea…argh.” His last word ended in surprise.

“You do dear friend” stated Swan into his ear as she came up behind him. She had placed her healing wand upon his cuts and burns. The scent of pine and mint burst forth anew.” You always think of us before yourself but now it is your turn.

As his wounds healed and the burned skin renewed itself he felt energy returning, his tiredness retreating. He expressed his appreciation in a prayer. “Ah, invigorating and refreshing. Please accept my gratitude to you, Solonar and to your priestess.”

“Not fair! Not fair!” suddenly exclaimed Risca, hopping up and down. “Even the priest of Kossuth does not use Kossuth’s hot pepper healing. No! Even HE uses MY cleric! Everyone uses MY cleric except me. I demand that my next healing be done by Swan.” So saying, he crossed his arms while stamping his foot.

This sight brought quaffs and snorts from the Seekers.

Kilzadi spoke up. “I think it was better when no one could understand him. At least then we had an excuse to ignore him.” This brought more quaffs and chuckles.

Swan moved up to Risca. She wrapped her arms around his head and hugged him hard to her bosom. “I promise that unless there is a more ‘pressing’ need, I will be the one to heal you next time.” she vowed with a laugh and a kiss on a battle scarred cheek.

“No, I said healing, not squeezing. Gurl stop with the squeezing. No squeezing!” he protested red-faced. Risca’s words belied the contentment, pride and joy on his face as Swan reaffirmed her deep affection for him. Finally disentangling himself, he gruffed “Fine then. Let’s go kill us more drow.”

“The drow will have to wait” Neon’s voice sounded from the double doors of the other corridor. “You may all thank me later for having the sense to keep watch, because ‘She’s Baccckk”.

She being Ketsarra the undead half-dragon, daughter of the black dragon Despayr and a lizard folk. The Seekers only realized she was undead when she was repulsed earlier by the holy fire of Kossuth. The Seekers galvanized towards the doorway.

There rushing towards them was the half-dragon. She passed through the long waving shadowy tendrils that the heroes had noticed during their battle. They as yet had no idea what these giant octopi-like tendrils could be. Ketsarra passed through them seemly unaffected as had the now dead drow sorcerer.

She was tall and powerful. Shiny black scales, plate sized, covered her body. Long clawed hands held a great spear. Her head and face held the most draconic features. Miniaturized black dragon crest and horns topped her head. A snarling dragon-like muzzle exposed a jaw filled with sharp teeth. Her eyes were red slits of rage and hate. Long well muscled legs, well balanced by a scaled dragon tail, hurried her along the corridor.

Ketsarra seemed unconcerned that she was alone in facing the Seekers. She shrieked as she approached “Intruders, defilers, my Dark Mistress will destroy you! Prepare to die!”

“Well, we’ll see about that” muttered Swan as she loaded her bow.

Risca began to move out to confront Ketsarra. Gideon grabbed his arm. “Wait” he ordered. He pulled out a scroll. “This will protect you from her acid breath. He proceeded to read the prayer, using Kossuth’s favor to instill its magic upon the dwarf.

Neon and Okul regarded each other. “They seem eager” the half-elf observed. Perhaps we should allow them first contact? The large fighter, though eager himself to re-engage the half-dragon, shrugged his approval.

By now Swan had released her arrow. It struck true, sinking shaft deep into the undead heart. So powerful was the strike that the charging Ketsarra was knocked back several feet. Clawed toes gouged the stone floor in an attempt to keep her balance.

Then laughing she pulled out the arrow, leaving a gaping hole. She did not bleed. While one hand snapped the arrow, the other pointed her spear at Swan. “You, she growled, “I will devour you personally. First your ovaries, then your breasts, then your heart and liver.”

Swan was a cleric of war. Threats did not faze her. She re-slung her bow. One hand unsheathed Gutripper, as the other beckoned Ketsarra forward. “Talk is easy, dragon BITCH! BRING IT ON, BITCH!” she screamed out her challenge.

With a snarl, Ketsarra charged forward again. Before Swan could react, Risca rushed pass in a counter charge.

With a ‘Risca Smash’ he collided with Ketsarra. His shield caught the incoming spear and deflected it to the away side. At the same time, he thrust Black Blade deep into the belly of the half-dragon. He attempted a disembowelment, but miscalculated Ketsarra’s speed and strength.

She grabbed his wrist to prevent his disembowelment movement. Then before he could shield smash, her tail whipped around with enough force to knock him down. Placing a clawed foot on his chest she lifted her spear. “You die first dwarf!” she growled.

Then she screamed out in agony. A bolt of fire had struck her in the snout knocking her off Risca. Her face started to burn and the flames quickly spread. She soon was leaping haphazardly and screeching as her undead body burned with the speed of dry wood. She was quickly consumed. A charred, scorched body fell lifeless, now truly dead. The repulsive stink of crisped meat filled the area.

Swan was helping Risca up as the Seekers gathered round. “Risca, how are…?”

“I’m fine me gurl, fine. Just disgusted at meself.”

Swan then walked to Ketsarra’s corpse. She kicked the head, none too gently. Chunks of charcoalized horns broke off. In a curt voice she whispered, “Despayr’s bastard bitch, you get nothing of mine! NOTHING!” She kicked the head again.

They all stared at Kilzadi. The sorcerer spread out his arms. “Children, children. if you can’t arrow them or blade them, then just burn them. It’s simple. Want to thank me?” He looked at Swan and made kissing sounds with pursed lips. The sight changed Swan’s mood. With a giggle she winked at the dwarf. “I kissed him last time, Risca. Your turn now.”

Risca grinned and winked back. “All right Kill-Zeddi. Bend your head down here so I’s can tongue ye.”

A large shudder of dread visibly shook the sorcerer. “Ah, no. Not necessary. I accept your thanks.”

“Too bad, piped in Neon, laughing. I would really have liked to have seen that, perhaps compose a song about it.” Laughter all around.

Gideon then spoke up. “As much as I would like for this joviality to continue, we are still in the midst of an enemy keep, with we do not know how many enemies are still around wishing us sudden death. So what do we do next? Head for the tower or search the rest of the grounds first?”

Kilzaldi answered. “Let us wait a few more minutes. If no more enemies appear, I suggest we strip the corpses of any useful items. Then we continue our exploration to locate the prisoners.”

“I concur” replied Neon. “But only long enough to bundle up the useful stuff.” He still wanted to find his mentor, Osier, as quickly as feasible.

Gideon sighed. “Yes those two would want to collect treasure”; he thought He looked to the others. Swan stood between Okul and Risca. They were watching him, awaiting his decision. He knew that Swan would unquestioning go along with whatever he decided. That was how much faith she had in him and his leadership. It was both a blessing and a curse. It meant he had to make the right decisions. “Kossuth and Solonar, many, many thanks for making Swan a Seeker. Please, please, give me the wisdom and the strength to live up to her faith in me”, he prayed. He knew that Risca would side with his ‘gurl’. The connection between those two was unbreakable. Okul, well…suddenly his eyes widened at the insight that came upon him. He noticed that the tall warrior had taken a protective stance beside Swan- as if ready to defend her in an instant. He noticed the slight furtive glances the dragon blooded would occasionally cast her way. More complications in the group. “I truly do not need this” he thought. “Kossuth, I beseech you, ease the weight of this mantle of leadership.” He sighed again and came to his decision.

“We will do as Kilzadi suggests but we will not take the time now to identify. We will pile all the useful items together to collect upon our return here and continue our search.”

Soon the Seekers had collected all kinds of items; weapons, armor shields as well as vials of all sorts, cloaks, wands bracers and medallions. They hid the pile in a dark corner.

Kilzadi approached Swan. He held out a parchment to her. “Here. I found this on that drow sorcerer. The one you so deftly sent to the Abyss. It’s written in elvish. It is easier to let you read it than to spend more of my magic.”

As she took the letter, she asked sarcastically,” Why me? Why not bring it to your ‘good friend’ Neon?”

He gave her an innocent smile. “I’d rather watch your lips move as you read. They produce a much more erotic imagery than his ever would.”

She answered with a laugh in her voice. “You, oh mighty mage of magic, are incorrigible.”

He answered while smacking his lips. “I try, my tasty Swan. I try. I will always be incorrigible for you.

As she read, her face turned ashen. Kilzadi, noticing this, lost his levity.

“Trouble?” he inquired in a serious tone.

“I think so. Let’s find Gideon and the rest.”

In a short time the Seekers were gathered round as Swan read the letter.

Kith Thieraven,

My Mistress welcomes you and your house to her dark embrace. Soon our ranks will swell and we can all step out of the shadows. Your people will blossom and be the first of her houses here on the surface of Faerun.
As always She grants you access to the Shadow Weave, and I offer more training in its use. We urge you to convince more of your people to accept this gift. You have already seen its benefit, and in the coming days of eternal night, your people will come to know its power well.

Esvele Graycastle

There is a quiet pause, in which each Seeker ponders the meaning of the letter.

Finally, Risca breaks the short silence. “What’s it all mean? In plain words. Who is this Mistress? What’s this Shadow Weave?”

Kilzadi answered. “It means, Risca that great trouble is brewing Just as the Weave is the source of magic, so too is the Shadow Weave. The Shadow Weave is best suited for dark magic that drains life or muddles the mind and the senses, but less suited for magic that manipulate energy or matter. It is also superior for fueling spells that create darkness and shadow. Of course, this is the kind of magic we have been encountering lately.”

Gideon, looking worried, continued the discussion. “Only the goddess Shar, the so-called Mistress of the Night, allows access to the Shadow Weave and then only to her worshipers. It seems that the Sharites are attempting to woo the drow into an alliance. An alliance whose desire is to conquer the surface world; to bring eternal darkness. It would explain why the Sharites are attacking the followers of Mystra. It may be an attempt to control the Weave itself. Worse, it appears that the drow are being trained in the way of the Shadow Weave.”

“That’s the part that puzzles me the most” broke in Swan. Gideon, you know more about these celestial affairs than I, but in the time spent with the Daughters of Chauntea, learning matters clerical, Aleena taught me…” here her voice broke off and she looked pointing at Neon. The half-elf returned her stare for a moment and finally looked away as if lost in his thoughts.

Swan continued. “I had the impression that Lolth would not be the type of deity to allow her followers to even listen to another goddess, let alone worship one. Lolth is an unforgiving, possessive and jealous goddess. Any of her drow that began the worship of another deity would soon feel her wrath. Her son Vhaeraun is of the same ilk. Under what conditions would the drow gods, especially Lolth, allow the worship of Shar?” She looked expectantly at Gideon.

The priest of Kossuth rubbed thoughtfully at his chin. “Lolth would not, ever. Even if the two goddesses allied, Lolth would keep control of her dark elves. No, for the drow to begin the worship of Shar, Lolth would have to be held helpless to prevent it. Shar would not dare to encroach on Lolth’s domains unless she knew there would be or could be no retaliation. Thus, somehow, for some reason, Lolth is unable to interfere. Thus, Lolth is unable to answer the prayers of her clerics. Thus, the drow are without divine magic and Shar is volunteering to fill that void. But apparently the condition is to help in the conquest of Faerun and the reward is that in the darkness the drow may return to the surface.”

At this point, Okul added his knowledge. Leaning on his great spear, the giant warrior spoke softly. “This alliance is, apparently, not yet finalized. In the temples of Tempus, warriors learn the way of the drow. Knowing the ways of your enemy, aids in defeating them. The evil drow are arranged in Houses. These Houses vie with each other for dominance. Lolth is fond of this chaotic arrangement. The strong survive and lead, the weak follow or are eliminated. The drow race becomes stronger and wiser. If there is no drow magic, then the first House to obtain magic, even if from the Shadow Weave, will have an immense advantage. The other Houses will have to follow suit. Then Shar will have her way. But the drow, being good fighters, are no fools. They will seek and test to see if such an alliance is to their benefit. The enticement will have to be attractive enough for them to commit. Even then, they will be seeking ways to turn the alliance to their favor. Besides, millennia of worship to Lolth will make them cautious. For all they know, this may be Lolth’s test of House loyalty. Lolth is purposely not interfering to weed out her loyalists. This uncertainty will force them to proceed with caution. This caution works to our advantage as it gives us more time.”

The other Seekers, left a bit speechless, just stared at Okul,

“Well” responded Kilzadi, “never would I have guessed…”

Gideon nodded “Good points, Okul, good points.”

Swan’s eyes sparkled. “Oh my brother! My good, good brother.”

Risca sounded out. “Well, since we have more time, then the solution is obvious.”

“Yes” retorted Kilzadi. “The world is indeed changing. Risca knows the words ‘solution’ and ‘obvious’. Those reading lessons are working wonders.”

Risca grinned evilly at the sorcerer, while rubbing Guifoon’s shaft “I’s was only going to castrate one of your testes, magic mage. See, I’s know the words castrate and testes. But now Guifoon says he wants to do one as well. And since you only have two, well, I’s guess that’s all of them, then. How’s them camels, eh?”

Regardless of their situation, this interchange brought smiles to all the Seekers. Even Neon’s lips creased into a smile while staring out into space.

Risca continued on. “Wees want to stop this alliance? Easy then. Wees just slay all the drow and Shar-ite tees wees come across and that’s it! Wees go find them and then wees kill them. Nothing easier. Let’s start with the major Shar-ite tees temples.”

Before anyone could respond to Risca’s logic, Kilzadi addressed the Seeker rogue. “Neon, you have been unusually quiet. Anything to add or comment?”

The rogue, who had been pensive, seemly lost in thought, jerked his head up. “Uh, what? Yes I do. Time is passing. The contents of the letter do not change the present situation. It is time to move on. We have prisoners to locate. We still do not know the meaning of those black tendrils, which still happen to be waving around. While you decide our next course of action, I will be checking out those statues. There is something intriguing about them.” He walked into the shadows towards the nearest statue, leaving behind stunned Seekers.

Gideon recovered first. “He’s right. There is not much to be done now except continue with our mission. We have to test out those tendrils. Suggestions anyone?”

Swan wasn’t listening. Something was troubling Neon. She had seen the change that came over him at the mention of Aleena. Silently, without disturbing the others, she stepped back into the shadows and followed after Neon. She caught up to him as he was bending over, examining some faded and eroded inscription at the base of the statue. The statue itself was old and corroded. But the visage of a cruel sneering man dressed in noble attire common a century ago in the Dalelands was evident.

He straightened up and spoke without turning. “Swan, your steps are quiet but louder since you made me a gift of these elven boots.”

She approached him, wrapped both arms around his waist and drew him back into her. She spoke softly into his ear, “Ninniach, what troubles you? Share with me. Let me help you. Please! She could feel him relaxing into her, as if a tension was being assuaged. Still his response took her completely by surprise.

“Swan, what do you know about Sessendale?”

“Uh, Sessendale? What? Uh just what any Dalelander would know. About a hundred years ago, the Lord of Sessendale attempted a war of conquest of the Dalelands. He was defeated by an allied army of the rest of the Dales, led by Archendale. After his defeat, Sessendale ceased to exist as such. He was never found. Legends say he fled to remote regions of the north-east.”

“Yes” Neon continued for her. “To a place called ‘The Lost Refuge’. When I was a child and mother was preparing me for wizard school,” here he sighed, “she insisted I learn the complete history of the Dalelands. I recognize these statues, Swan. They are of the Dusk Lord of Sessendale. This is the Lost Refuge. It was later found by a segment of the Daleland Allied army and overrun. The Dusk Lord fled. It is said into the Shadow Plane. This Lost Refuge is now rotting away and sinking into the swamp.”

“And so..?”

“And so, Swan, there must be a connection between this place and the Shadow Plane. This connection is what eventually led to my dear Aleena’s demise.” His voice chocked a bit. “This connection is what I must follow in order to fulfill my vow to fully avenge her death. I was reminded of this when you mentioned her.”

He turned around. Swan could now see the sorrow in his red-rimmed eyes. Her heart melted. She hugged him to her and began to kiss all over his face.

“Oh, Ninniach, love. I miss her as well. And she is in a good place. This I know. We have avenged her. We…”

“No- not Bareris. He was just the tool. I blame the brain that controls the hand that wields the weapon. Aleena’s revenge will not be complete until I bring down whomever or whatever was responsible for Bareris’ actions. I realize that now. All the way!”

More kisses. “All right! Together we will track down…

“Yes! We will. No! Stop that. Listen to me Swan!” He pushed her back and held her at arm’s length. The chances of us dying have just increased a thousand fold. We cannot continue like this. We cannot be lovers now. As I told you back in Harrowdale, when we stood together watching the moonrise, it is the wrong time and not fair to Inialos or to Jhaer.”

“But I thought… if we are to die, I want no regrets”, she used Aleena’s own words. She felt her eyes beginning to tear.

“No, Swan. This is not the time. We must stay focused. I gave you my reasons. Respect them.” He did not reveal the true reason. Not there. Not then. “Come, let’s join the others.”

“You go, I’ll be by in a moment’ she managed to stifle a sob.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, yes. Just go!” She waved him to be gone.

“All right.” He stepped away.

As his footsteps receded, Swan took a deep breath, wiped at her eyes and began to regain her composure. “Fine then!” she thought. “I revealed my feelings. I have my pride. He seems determined to keep our relationship professional and friendly. So be it. Damned if I go begging!”

“A female just has to wag her tail at him and he trips over his tongue trying to bed her, but me, oh, no, I get the “we can die any time Swan, so we better not become lovers, besides what about Inialos’ speech. Twice now. As if I don’t know Inialos’ heart and mind. As if I will stop caring for Inialos. Or he for me. The Abyss take you, Neon Wilde. I’m a Deepingdale girl. I rule myself!”

She felt a great bitterness then, but at the same time, she felt a large ache in her heart. She took another deep breath. Just then she heard Okul call out.

“Swan? Sister? Is all well?”

Turning, the sight was so incredulous that all bitterness and pain fled. Involuntarily she barked a laugh.

Okul stood facing her. One hand rested on his great spear, the other held onto the ankle of a dead drow. He had been dragging the corpse behind him.

“Okul, brother dear, what are you doing?” she asked laughing.

“Conducting a test. Come see what we found. The others are asking for you.”

“All right.” Stepping up to him, she wrapped her arms around his waist in a tight hug.

“And thank you, brother dear. Thank you for being my rock.” She became aware of his warm, earthy odor. It was the smell of fresh loam. A smell reminiscent of spring growth, warmth and good health. Of tranquility and peace. Of love, hearth and family. Chauntea’s domain. Her mind not being aware of the cause, she responded to the odor.

“Uhm, good ” she sighed. Her body relaxed, losing its tension, both physical and mental. She sighed and pressed herself closer against him. Like a cat seeking attention, she began to rub against him. Had she the ability, she would have purred then. She felt safe, comforted and content.

Okul, as all the Seekers, had changed since the first days. No longer did he roam the face of Faerun, hiring himself as a mercenary. Vengeance was no longer his sole driving force. Since the slaughter of the Scything Claw tribe in the Haptooth Hill keep, his thirst for revenge had been slaked somewhat. His most pressing desire now was to confront his father. The Seekers had become his new family, his brothers, and his comrades-in-arms. Their goals were his goals. Swan was more special to him. Not just because she was a girl, but because she had been the first to accept him as he was. The first not to be taken aback by his appearance. Actually, she seemed to be quite fond of his appearance and of his scales.

Okul was changing in other way as well. His skin was taking on a bit more golden hue. The gold specks in his eyes were intensifying. His golden scales shimmered more. But these were the overt exterior changes. There were also interior covert changes that none of them were aware of. How could they be? They had no reference point. Dragon born tend to mature slower. Okul was just now entering the first stage of puberty. A human adolescent equivalence of voice cracking and beginnings of pubic hair. His hormonal balance was in a state of chaos. This explained his recent strange behavior; his need to prove himself, at times lashing out at his companions, other times full of elation. It also explained his new distraction and attraction towards Swan. Like a school boy in love with his woman teacher he was unwittingly viewing her as a potential bonded mate. Thus, his need to be near her, to impress her with his prowess and skill as a warrior -one capable of protecting the nest. One able to easily defend his mate and children. And so his distractions in battle when she was nearby. His urge to roar out, challenging any potential rivals. But he had no guidance in how to go about attracting a mate. There was no one to instruct him or socialize him. Hence his confusion.

Okul’s changing physiology was secreting pheromones. These chemicals signified to perspective mates that he would soon be able to sire children. They affected only females who had some affinity to him. Normally, only responsive female dragons would be aware of this. But Okul was half human. Thus, they could also affect human biology. Mix in Swan’s lack of mental resistance, due to her ignorance, her close friendship, and her deepening bond with her warrior brother, as well as her own body needs then the recipe was ripe for physical intimacy.

Okul looked down. The motion and feel of Swan’s body against his initiated a primeval answering response. An instinctive involuntary response.

The dead drow’s leg struck the floor with a thud as it was released. The now free arm encircled Swan’s waist. It pulled her in closer, flattening her breasts against Okul’s chest. Her thighs and crotch were being pressed into his. Placing his mouth against her ear, he began a low deep special growl. The Growl of Preparation.

Swan felt herself uncoiling. All her frustrations and tensions were being siphoned out. Okul felt huge, hot and hard between her legs. The growls were causing waves of anticipation to move through her, cresting between her legs. She wanted to envelope him. She lifted her mouth to his and kissed him opened-lipped.

He returned it, growling into her mouth. This had the effect of increasing her lubrication, her desire.

As she pressed herself even closer against him, even as his growls increased in frequency, part of her mind, the part that was resilient to enchantment and charm, questioned her actions.

“Are you sure this is what you want right now? What exactly is happening here? Is this the proper time? The proper place? In the middle of an enemy keep? The Seekers are waiting for you.

She stopped and began to pull back from him. “No, Okul. No. Stop. Something is amiss.” For an instant she thought she might have to struggle, as he attempted to pull her in again. But then, his growls diminished as the light in his eyes lost their ferocity and became more normal.

“Oh, Swan”, he cried pitifully. “Oh sister. I am so sorry. So sorry. I do not know what happened. I had no control. I am so ashamed. I wanted to…wanted to…What have I done? Forgive me. How can you ever forgive me? Oh, the embarrassment.”

“It’s all right Okul, my brother. It’s all right” she replied stroking his face. Relaxing and comforting him. She took several deep breaths. She also needed to regain her own control. “There is nothing to forgive. We will work out what happened. Hush now. All is well.

“But I tried to…” He looked away. “I did not know I could do those things.”

She continued to soothe him.” It’s fine. Fine. Calm down. She grinned up at him. “In a way, I am flattered”

“For an instant he grinned back. Then he became all serious again.

“Until we determine what is occurring, I think we should not be alone together, the two of us. Should it occur again, I may not have the self control.” He stared down at her. “You’re friendship is too precious to me. I do not want to destroy our bond.”

Swan stared back. “You too are dear to me. It may be that next time; I may not want you to hold back.” Two pair of eyes bore into each other.

Finally Swan cleared her throat. “Yes, I agree. Until this is all figured out, it is best we were not alone. Now what were you planning with that drow?” It was time to think of other matters.

“Let us join the others and I will show you” Okul responded, once again picking up the dead drow’s ankle.

In silence, the two headed off to the others, each engaged in their private thoughts.

Okul was thinking that he would have to consult with Gideon. He hoped the wise priest could help find out what the matter was. Why Swan affected him so lately. Where these urges came from. His desire to crush her to him. His need to penetrate her. How right she had felt against him He hoped that she could forgive him “Please Tempus, do not let her turn away from me. I want to be around her. Do not allow our bond to break.”

Swan’s thoughts concerned how matters were becoming too far too hectic and strange. All so sudden. “First Ninniach, now Okul.” It was becoming too complicated. Okul had made his feelings clear. But he seemed confused as to why this was happening. What to do? Her new feelings for Okul were strong. He seemed so fragile at the moment. She had to tread softly with him. But what did she want? What kind of relationship did she want? She remembered how her grandmother had predicted that she would have to make choices. Meaningful choices. She needed time to sort all this out. “Perhaps a period of detachment is required. So that none of this affects the workings of the Seekers.”

After a few short steps, Swan could finally see the entire room. She gasped at its immensity and at its contents. A full 50’x50’, it was shrouded in dimness. To the west were the double doors from which the enemies had made their appearance. Centered on the north was a door. On either side were alcoves, inside which she could barely discern a statue of the Dusk Lord. Two more alcoves, each with their own statues were centered on the west wall. The north-east corner also contained a statue, but oddly enough no alcove.

Rubble littered parts of the room. But the obvious detail of the room was at its center. It appeared to be a hole ripped out of reality, leaving behind a circular sphere that absorbed all light. A sphere of perfect blackness. A void from the Negative Plane? The tear had not been smooth either; jagged tendrils, made of the same void-matter as the hole, snaked around the room. These were the dark tendrils that the Seekers had first noticed. The Seekers were gathered around, studying the strange phenomenon.

“What is that thing, dear Okul?” Swan inquired.

Okul shrugged, relived and happy that she did not seem upset. “Kilzadi thinks it is a portal. We are to test it. That’s why I have this dead body. Do not let the tendrils touch you. We do not know what they are.”

“Well finally, we are all together. What took so long?” Gideon’s voice rang out. “Now perhaps we can get on with what we are here for.” Gideon’s voice had an urgency about it and he stared at Swan while he spoke. It was what Swan feared the most. Her personal situation interfering with the job of the Seekers. Yet if Swan knew the true reason for Gideon’s instance, she would have felt less guilty.

Secrets, secrets, It seemed all the Seekers had their secrets.

“Let’s get on with it” ordered Gideon. “Valuable time is passing.”

With no hesitation, Okul tossed the body so that it passed through one of the ‘tentacles. Passing through, it landed with a thud. There were no noticeable effects.

“Well we know that the drow and the Ketsarra both passed through these tentacles with no apparent ill effects. Perhaps they are harmless” suggested Kilzadi. “Let’s try the sphere.

Wordlessly, Okul walked to the corpse, lifted it and taking a few steps towards the sphere, hurled the cadaver. It struck the sphere and seemed to fall into a hole. It disappeared!

“Well. Now we know. It does something” remarked Kilzadi. He looked to Gideon. “Our next move, oh brother of the flame?”

Gideon glanced around. “We search a little, then through the north door. The sphere we leave till the last. Let’s do it Seekers!” “Good” thought Swan. “Something concrete to do. Something to take all our minds off the past little while.”

In a short time Neon called out. “Seekers- here! Found something interesting”. He and Risca had been investigating the statues. They were at the non-alcove one when Neon had called out.

The Seekers gathered round. Neon continued. “There is a secret door here behind this statue. It isn’t locked. Get ready, I’m going to open it.”

It opened into what could only be described as an empty closet. Neon entered and searched around. “Found what appears to be a control switch. It appears not to be trapped. Oh. I think there is some kind of revolving mechanism that it controls. Also looks well oiled and well kept, like it has been used a lot. Swan, can you add anything?”

Swan had been scouting the area in and around the secret doorway. Her first words would have been, ‘well oiled, well kept and well used? I hope you are not talking about a personal part of mine.’ Then she would have waited for the usual hilarious banter. Instead she bit her tongue and answered, “The floor has been well tracked. It leads me to think that there has been more than usual traffic here, at least more than in the other parts of this keep. So, yes, I would say, this mechanism has seen a lot of usage. “You want a professional relationship, well then you got it, Mr. Neon Wilde!”

Gideon then gave his instructions. “Neon, take Risca. Both of you will fit in there right? O.K. then. See where it takes you. But don’t spend a lot of time. Look and see and come back. Got it? Good.”

“Risca gave a huge grin as he stepped in beside Neon. “Let’s go get ‘em, red elf. We’re a good team. You stab from the back; I’ll slice from the front.”

Neon twisted the control lever and the closet began to rotate. Even as Swan whispered a prayer “Great Archer, watch over them”, they were gone from sight. Another closet, empty, now replaced them.

The seconds clicked by. The Seekers waited with increasing tension. Especially Swan. Two of her loved ones were gone into danger. The ‘Swan Mother’ was getting anxious. Finally, the closet rotated again. Risca re-appeared with the huge grin still on his face. “Come see what we found.”

The Seekers, relieved that all was well, did as bidden. The rotating secret door deposited them into a 20’x20’ area. There were two doors. One in the north wall, one in the north-west wall.

Neon was in conversation with Gideon. “Nothing can be heard from the north door. I heard faint rustling and scurrying noises from the other.”

Gideon nodded. “The silent door first. Seekers assemble! Door open process number 3.”

The Seekers followed procedure. Neon searched out the door and signaled, no traps, unlocked. The he stepped to one side to open it. Swan readied her bow in line with the door . Should anything rush out, she was distant enough to unleash an arrow and move out.

Risca stood in front, braced for a charge, big grin still in place. He was happy that combat might soon be imminent.

Kilzadi liked process 3. It meant he got to stand back, beside Swan, spell ready. He liked to watch how her focus was completely taken up with her bow shot. How she ensured the draft situation, the height and the distance to the door. He particularly liked to watch her breasts jiggle as she armed and set her bow. “My but she is a savory bit. I definitely, definitely have to see about Gwenect. As soon as this part is complete. Since she is in Deepingdale, perhaps Swannie will come along. Then the three of us can do things together.” The thought made him smile. Then he noticed Okul, set behind Risca, watching him watch Swan. Okul’s eyes held a fierce look. “Now what is that all about?”

Gideon took his place beside Neon and signaled start. Neon swung open the door.

Nothing rushed out. The doorway led into a shadowy lit small room, 10’long, and 5’ wide. The north wall was entirely taken up by what appeared to be a grey-stone altar. Neon entered with caution. He searched around. In a short time he signaled the all-clear and the Seekers entered.

It was definitely an altar. More importantly, a large black disc, with a deep purple border, the symbol of Shar, hung above it. The room, thick with shadows, was bathed in grayish light emanating from a hung lantern in the center of the ceiling. There appeared to be a sheet of paper on the altar.

Fearlessly, Risca approached the altar and picked up the parchment.

“Heys, a letter.” He began to read, slowly, very slowly. “Des… pair… the lad dee of…” Neon gently took it out of his hands.

“Risca, my friend, as much as your reading skills have improved, I think to save time, I should read it. O.K?”

“Yes, please” whispered Kilzadi. “I wish to be gone from this room before next spring.” Risca glared at him. “There will be an accounting, Kill-Zeddi.”

With a smile Neon began to read.


The Lady of Loss has seen your devotion and will reward it.
I send you Thieraven, who brought you this letter. He carries the means to open the Dusk Lord’s Passage once again, and thereby provide you with a glorious new home and the means to our mutual ends.
When you have passed through the passage, you will find yourself in a reflection of the keep. From there, another of my servants will lead you to the Monastery of the Ebon Dome. I eagerly await you there; we have much to discuss.
Keep your secrets safe. Their weight will one day bring the Mysteries to an end.

Esvele Graycastle

Neon and Kilzadi spoke simultaneously.

“I was right. There is a link between here and the Shadow Plane.

“So the black dragon is gone from here.”

“So the drow were here to recruit the dragon. And this Esvele Graycastle seems to be the Sharite in charge” added Swan an instant later.

Gideon then spoke. “Fine then. The drow were here to bring the dragon out. Interesting. I suspect that the black sphere is connected to the link. Seekers one last look around and then we go to the other door.”

Swan walked along a wall. She spotted a small open leather bag hidden by shadows in the corner. Peering in, she made out many flasks. Searching, as her father had taught her, she could find nothing dangerous. She took out a flask. It seemed filled with a grayish oily liquid. She had never seen the like before.

“Kilzadi, come check this out” she called. The sorcerer approached and took it from her. “Well, he said examining it, dark light oil. Not surprised to find it here now.”

Swan looked at him inquisitively He continued. “It burns like regular oil to produce grey light. Grey light produces normal illumination in places like the Shadow Plane, where normal light is reduced. Where did you find it?”

“Here. There’s a whole bag of them.” She led him to the bag. Both then crouched down to further inspect the contents. As they bent down, a slight movement in the shadowy air caught Swan’s eye. She narrowed her eyes, staring. Yes, there it was. She put her hand on Kilzadi’s. The mage looked up at her.

“Don’t turn around”, she hissed. “There is something in here with us. It’s spherical, about the size of my fist. It seems to be hovering above Gideon and following him around. Kilzadi nodded and began a low voice incantation. Then his eyes widened.

“It’s some kind of scrying device.” Someone or something is watching us”, he whispered back.

Swan slowly arose as if nothing was the matter. But as she got up, she covertly removed an arrow from her quiver. Then in a flash, she fitted the arrow onto her bowstring, pulled back and released. The arrow whistled straight through the object and struck the ceiling with a thud. The object retreated into the darkness of the ceiling, out of sight.

Her actions surprised everyone. “Swan, what…” She ignored them. Unsheathing Gutripper, she shouted ‘Cover me’ and ran up the wall to the ceiling. Once there, she hastened to the ceiling light.

“Do as she says” added Kilzadi, already loading his crossbow. Swan took the lantern out of its socket and using its light searched out through the shadowy ceiling. There was no sign of the object.

“Amazing, just amazing”, commented Neon staring up, watching Swan walk effortlessly along the ceiling and walls.

“Yes they are” responded Kilzadi. “Even when she is upside down, they don’t sag. And also notice …ouch! Hey, watch it” This last comment was directed at Okul whose spear butt end had struck Kilzadi’s elbow.

“No! You watch what you say” glared the warrior.

Kilzadi arched his eyebrows and wisely did not speak further. “Am going to have to speak to Gideon about dragon-boy here. Ever since the Tomb, he has been acting weirder and weirder. He’s starting to lose it. Need to keep an eye on him.”

“By Kossuth’s purging flames, will someone please explain what is going on!” demanded Gideon. Kilzadi and Swan both explain about the scrying.

“Well, there’s not much we can do about it except be on the lookout. Take those darklight oils and the lantern. Let’s move out.”

In a room far, far away, the two scryers watched as the Seekers moved out of the temple room to the other door. They watched as the red-haired half-elf unlocked the door. They watched as the scout raced in first, the others close behind.

“Sharp eyes, that Deepingdale girl”. But even she cannot detect invisible objects.”

“True. Just remember to keep replenishing the invisibility on the scry eye.” They settled in to watch the ensuing melee.

The door had opened into a large 45’x40’ octagonal shaped room. Three doors were present, in the middle of the south and west walls and in the center of the south-west wall. Large amounts of rubble littered the floor. All along the north-east wall, were huge amounts of rubble, blocking a doorway leading to the outside. In the center of the room was a large spiral staircase leading up to the next level.

Swan unconsciously took all this in as she ran into the room. But what she was most aware of were the occupants of the room. Two lizard men were descending down the stairs. Beside the stairs stood a huge coal black mastiff. Shadowy vapors seemed to trail off from its body, disappearing into the dark air. Its eyes shone with an eerie red glow. It began to give off hellish sounding growls. Two drow warriors were also present right and left of the stairway.

Swan veered left towards the hound and a drow. She hopped over rubble without slackening her speed. “CRULL!” she bellowed out. The canine stood its ground, waiting and snarling. The drow lifted its hand crossbow and fired. It would have hit her except for one thing. Swan moved in a way he had not expected. She went up the wall. The bolt passed through where she would have been otherwise to slam harmlessly against the wall. By now Swan was 10’ up and released her own arrow. A head shot! The drow was dead even before it hit the floor. “CRUSH FOR CRULL!” she screamed again.

Neon was only a few steps behind the scout. As Swan veered left, so he veered right. As always in a battle, his thoughts were detached from the action. It was as if his body did things reflexively leaving his mind to make commentary.

He heard Swan’s bloodthirsty war cries. “sort of makes one feel almost sorry for the poor doomed blokes that have to go against her.” He ran towards the second drow. He wanted to test his dueling skills against that of a drow’s. As he ran, he passed close to the stairs He was in range of the first Shadowscale spear. It lunged at him. Without breaking stride, he leaped over the spear, somersaulted in the air, landed on his feet and continued on. “Why is it that when Swan does that maneuver everyone oohs and ahs, but no one seems to notice when I do it?”

The drow was almost in reach. Suddenly flames burst all around it. It screamed in intense pain as it attempted to move out of the fire. Ah Kilzadi, why couldn’t you let me have a clean solo kill?” Neon moved up to the drow. “Hello. I bring you Aleena’s regards.” A lunge passed the rapier blade through the drow’s eye and out the back of its skull. It only had time for one convulsion before death came. “Good-bye.” He then turned to help take on the Shadowscales.

Gideon stood in the doorway. Kilzadi had just caused a fiery burst and entered deeper into the room. Swan was on a wall, reloading. Neon had just finished taking out a drow. Risca was about to take on the hound thing, while Okul was just at the stairs ready to battle the lizard folk. He raised his arms. “Mighty Kossuth, Lord of Fire. I beseech you. Bless the Seekers with your strength. Enable them to stand steadfast and smite our enemies.” The god answered. The priest could feel divine energy moving out to touch each of the heroes making them stronger.

Okul reached the stairs. He needed some battle action. If just to take his mind off the strange feelings he had been experiencing. This was something he knew how to do well. The Shadowscale screeched and lunged. With a cry of ‘Tempussss’, he countered and attacked. Pushing aside the lizard’s spear, he slid his own down along the shaft. The broad slid pushed its way through the Shadowscale’s chest. Even as it collapsed, he had climbed a few steps to engage the second lizard man. With the same results. He felt good. Fighting allowed him to release his pent-up energies.

Risca, only a step behind Swan, watched as she climbed the wall. He headed straight for the canine creature. Somehow, he recognized this creature as an outsider. An evil one at that. He sensed he had to combat this creature alone. He rushed at it with his own cry of “CRULL!” .

The hound lunged, huge fangs dripping. Risca’s shield smashed into its jaws, snapping up the head, while continuing his charge. Black Blade then followed through driving into the now exposed neck. Shadowy ichors jetted out. The hound first howled in pain and then began to howl the sounds of the damned souls. A noise was torturous to all who heard it. Waves of fear filled the chamber.

Risca, in his personal frenzy of battle, barely heard it and continued to attack.

Swan gritted her teeth as fear began to mount inside her. “I am a war cleric. I do not fear.” The steadfastness of her profession suppressed and then extinguished the growing fear. Then she spotted Neon.

Okul laughed wild laughter as the fear sounds washed over him. He was a soldier of the warrior god, Tempus. Fear had no meaning for him. Then he saw Swan running.

Gideon’s faith was a pillar of stone. And as a rock standing immobile as ocean waves crash about it, so too did the fear reflect from him. Then he spied Kilzadi racing towards him, more exactly racing to the doorway.

The mage had an insane look as he drooled. “Out! Out! Must get out!” Spittle flew everywhere as he screamed in a terror filled voice. He tried to push Gideon out of the way. The priest threw his arms around Kilzadi and literally let himself fall on top of the mage. Kilzadi was trapped. He lacked the strength to lift off the priest in his plate mail and his flailing away at the armor was totally ineffective. He was literally pinned. Gideon just held him in place and waited, trusting in the others.

Fear and terror filled Neon. He had to escape, to leave this place. He ran to the west door. “Good. We reach the door, we open it and we continue to run. Let’s go legs.” He vaguely heard Swan calling his name.

“Ninniach” she called out She ran after him. As fast as Neon ran, Swan ran faster. She reached him just as he was about to lift the latch. She could not let him out into the unknown. In his fear crazed state, he could not defend himself. Be a simple target, killed easily or drown in the marsh. She grappled him. She used all her tricks and ability to pin him down.

But Neon too, knew those tricks. For every move Swan made, he would countermove. And he was as agile as she. As they struggled, Swan imploring him to stop, Neon silent, but repelling her, he managed to trip her and land on top of her. “Why is she trying to prevent me from leaving? Does she not realize it is imperative that I get out? But this is Cygni. Does she not feel wonderful with her body pressed against yours? Yes she does, but getting out is more important now. Let’s see, if I keep pressing my arm against her throat, like this, then soon, she will weaken and then I can open the door and leave.”

Swan tried and tried. But no matter what she did, she could not dislodge Neon. The crazed look in his eyes frightened her, in a way that the hound baying could not. He kept pressing into her throat, choking her, clouding her vision. As much as she hated to do it, her hand reached to draw her stiletto.

Suddenly his weight was gone. The pressure on her throat relieved. She could breathe again. She heard a voice of concern, a snarl of intense searing anger: “GET! OFF! HERRR! NOW!” She could see again! She saw Okul literally lift Neon with one hand and hurl him against the wall. As the rogue rebounded off the wall, Okul two-handed slammed the shaft of his spear into the rogue’s chest. Neon had all the air knocked out of him. Fear crazed or not, no one can run without air in their lungs. The half-elf laid writhing and gasping on the floor. Gentle arms lifted her and held her close as a mother would her babe. “Swan? He implored. She gazed into Okul’s worrying, loving face.

“I am fine dear brother. Just give me a minute. How is Neon?”

“If you are well, then he will also be well. Should you be hurt, then he will be hurt”, promised the half-dragon.

The hound kept baying and biting. Risca kept stabbing. The creature reared up to smash down on the dwarf. Risca saw his chance. The Black Blade bit deep into the monster’s heart. With a final howl, it collapsed dead as its liquids flowed out. Risca felt energized, as if he had been recharged with holy energy. The fear waves stopped.

Sanity suddenly returned to Kilzadi. He stopped struggling against Gideon. “I’m fine now. You can let me up.” Gideon did not budge. “Please?” Oh, and thanks for taking care of me. Now, please get off before the others get the wrong idea about us.” It was this last part that ensured for the priest, that Kilzadi had lost his irrationality. Gideon slowly, got himself up.

“I seem to remember, you did the same for me back in the swamp” retorted the priest. Just returning the favor. Let’s check on the others.”

In a short time, the Seekers were gathered by the west door. All ascertained that there were no grievous injuries. Neon was slowly catching his breath. “Let’s not waste time. While Neon recovers, we can check out these doors. Swan, if you please?” ordered Gideon.

The scout searched out the doors. All were unlocked. After ensuring that there were no unpleasant surprises on the doors, they opened them, one at a time. The west door led out of the tower into the keep grounds. Nothing could be discerned in the now dark evening. All was quiet other than the croaking of frogs.

The south-west door opened into a supply room. Here were found casks of wine, as well as dry goods and non-perishables. The south door was actually the north door of the black sphere room. By now Neon had recovered but there was no time for discussion. Only giving glances of gratitude to both Swan and Okul, he resumed his Seeker role.

“That’s it then. Everyone, up the stairs. Order Neon”, commanded Gideon. The stairs looked, worn and crumbly. Order Neon meant the rogue would lead, followed by Okul and Kilzadi. Risca, Gideon and finally Swan would follow. The way up as slow as each step was carefully checked.

Neon reached the top. “Chauntea’s holy breast milk, what is THAT? Seekers, enemy contact! He was heard to exclaim. This was followed by the twang of his bow. A huge roar then ensued. Okul then responded with a ‘Tempuss’. Another huge roar followed. Kilzadi was heard to begin an incantation.

“Hurry, hurry! urged Gideon to the remaining Seekers. They charged up the stairs to the next level.

It was an octagonal room identical to the one below, except there were no doors. Five emaciated, beaten, and starving lizard folk hung in chains. Their arms stretched cruelly. Two on the north-west wall, two on the west wall and one on the south-west wall. Standing behind the stairway, in easy reach of all of them was a monster.

The creature resembled an alligator that had been stood upright, increased to giant size and magnified in strength and sheer power. Its eyes were bloodshot red, its claws and fangs, long and sharp. A shadowy glow seemed to fluctuate all around it. They could see where Neon’s arrow had struck and stuck, as well as where Okul’s spear had laid open a great gash. Shadowy stuff leaked out of that gash. The beast was roaring.

Just as the others arrived, Neon released his second arrow, Okul’s spear stabbed again and Kilzadi finished his spell casting. Nothing resulted. The shadowy glow intensified. Neon’s arrow passed through as if through air. Okul’s spear sliced through air and Kilzadi’s fiery burst fizzled out.

Being battle seasoned, they spread out to flank the creature. Neon around one side of the stairway, drawing his rapier as he went. Okul around the other, charging with his spear. Kilzadi began another spell chant.

Swan reached the top, turned and fired her own arrow. Risca, gave his battle cry and charged. Then several things happened at once. Neon stabbed in with his rapier. The shadow aura seemed to shiver and the monster snapped at the rogue. The rapier passed through harmlessly. Neon then pirouetted and jumped back, avoiding the snapping jaws. Swan’s arrow passed through with no apparent effect. Okul was not so lucky. The creature’s giant tail snapped around at lightning speed, smashing hard into his chest. Okul was knocked flying as the crack of breaking ribs was clearly audible. He landed against the wall, where he lay momentarily stunned.

Kilzadi’s firebolt struck at the creature’s snout. It bellowed out in agony as the smell of seared flesh filled the air. “One spell left”, he called out. Then, with no warning, the creature stretched its neck, impossibly long. Its gaping jaws seized Risca. Huge, incredibly sharp teeth bit down. Risca let out an anguished howl. Blood squirted as the jaws clamped down and began to grind away at him.

“No!” Swan screamed out as she reloaded. Okul was groggy but managed to gulp down a healing potion. Neon leaped in and stabbed again. And again, the aura flickered causing his rapier to strike at air. Then he sidestepped the slashing tail as it lashed out at him. Swan’s arrow again passed harmlessly through. Gideon quickly taking in the situation, called upon Kossuth’s favor and ensorcelled himself to produce a divine sanctuary. Then he ran towards Risca and the monster.

Risca was in terrible torment. The monster kept chewing on him and shaking him as a terrier does a rat. Only his hardened dwarf physiology and his determined crullness had saved him. His rage helped sustain him. Time seemed to slow. He became an observer to as the hurts done to his body. He recalled the discussion he and Swan had after she had been ensnared by Bareris’ tentacle spell. “Just ignore the pain and keep drinking the heal potions”, she had said. “Sooner or later, it will end, one way or another. There is not much else you can do.” He reached for a potion, found it, and drank as much as he was able. The pain receded for a very brief time. Too brief. Then it returned with a vengeance.

Neon attacked once more. Risca needed help. Soon. Neon rushed and lunged. The aura flickered but his lunge was a feint. As the aura ceased its flicker, he stabbed quickly. The rapier sunk up to its hilt into flesh. “Aha! Got you now!” The monster screamed. Neon back flipped out of the way of the swinging tail.

Okul had recovered. Undaunted he charged again just as Neon withdrew. “Tempuss” he shouted as the great spear powered by his great strength, now blessed by Kossuth, stabbed deep into the monster’s chest. Shadowy blood spewed out. The monster screamed again as large teeth ground up Risca.

Gideon reached the monster. It glared and screamed at him but otherwise ignored him. Fearlessly, the priest reached up and laid hands on the bleeding, broken body of the dwarf. “Mighty Kossuth”, he prayed, “I beseech you. Once again, heal my friend. His heart is good.” The healing flames of Kossuth burst all around Risca.

Swan was becoming more frantic. Her dearest friend was close to death. The monster had to die soon. She watched as Neon and Okul did serious harm to it. She watched as Gideon delayed the inevitable, buying them more time. Time she needed to use wisely. She saw Kilzadi draw out the Claw and incant over it. The scimitar pulsed redder than ever before. Kilzadi dashed at the alligator humanoid. The creature’s aura flickered even as he struck. But Crimdrac’s Claw struck without fail. The scimitar plunged hilt long into the monster’s flesh. It pulsed red all the while. It burned as it stabbed. “Oh yes! Yes!” shouted the mage. The creature convulsed. Its jaws opened as it shrieked out its anguish. Risca fell out.

Even as the Claw struck, Swan was drawing her bowstring. She had to kill the thing. She had to ensure a true strike. As she aimed, she reached into her store of divine energy. “Keen-Eyed” she prayed, “guide my aim.” She focused the energy into her bow and into the arrow. As had happened before, the target suddenly loomed large in her vision. All other sights and sounds faded away. There were no distractions. She drew back to the limits of her strength and released the arrow. It seemed to find its’ own way to the target. It penetrated the skull of the creature, sunk in to the feathers as it emerged on the other side, erupting shadowy brain bits as it did so. A death dealing head shot! Sights and sounds returned as the monster fell dead. She sped to Risca.

The potion wore off. As the pain returned to Risca, his body floated. It seemed as if his body and mind were no longer connected. Frightening and disturbing images winked in and out of existence. Unimagined horrors and scenes played out sporadically. Since his body was mostly unresponsive, it left him only with his thoughts.

The cold claw of fear had gripped his heart momentarily. Angrily, he brushed it aside, embarrassed with himself. But he couldn’t fully shake the feeling. Images of a giant, shadowy creature gripping him in its jaws, tearing at his flesh flashed before his mind’s eye. The feeling of his body being crushed, blood pouring out of his mouth, being completely helpless before its awesome might, made his stomach churn. Rage burned in his heart, the same as when he had been in combat with the hound. His fury had helped to sustain his body, but even with that, it would not have been enough.

Then his mouth filled with the taste of red hot pepper. The pain eased somewhat. He smiled in his mind. “Thank you Kossuth, god of Gideon, for this small blessing.”

Suddenly, a point of light appeared in front of Risca. He couldn’t tell how far away it was, but something seemed to emerge from it and move towards him. Risca tried to draw Guifoon, but he could not find his hands. As the being approached, Risca could start to see more detail. It was a humanoid, not much bigger than him. In fact, it appeared to be... a dwarf? And he looked familiar.

His voice was the rustle of leaves. “Risca Foraker. You enter the bear’s den.”

Risca’s mental eyes widened. “Marthammor Duin!”

“Do you have a better understanding of what you will be facing?” Horrific images seemed to collect themselves around Risca. With a wave of his hand, Marthammor Duin banished them. “Evil stalks the realm. You have helped to slow its spread, but you need to do better than that - you need to crush it.” A nimbus flared about Marthammor Duin’s body.

“You have tasted the evil taint of those who seek to corrupt your realm and it has made you stronger. Your anger, your righteous fury, has granted you strength you previously did not realize you had.” The holy energy surrounding Marthammor Duin’s body seemed to draw out a similar radiance from Risca. Risca’s soul filled with a holy and righteous fury, ready to be unleashed upon his enemies. “This near death has unlocked your potential. Good. You will need it to fulfill the purpose you have set out for yourself - driving back the evil.”

Marthammor Duin strode around Risca, pride painted clearly on his face. “Use your new powers to strike at your enemies in the name of justice.” Marthammor Duin’s next words burned themselves into Risca’s heart.

“In war, victory. In peace, vigilance. In death, sacrifice. This shall be your dictum. Remember the words. Remember the meaning.”

Marthammor Duin began to walk away. Without turning, he said, “Remember, you can not win this alone.” An image of otherworldly jaws closing on his torso flashed through Risca’s mind again. “Remember this as a small sample of how your friends can aid you. Without your companions, all is lost. Forces will try to sunder the bond that holds you together. You must all stand together, or you will fall together.” With that, Marthammor Duin simply vanished.

Pain began to return. But with the pain came the scent of pine and mint. As the scent grew stronger, the pain grew smaller. He felt himself lying on a floor.

Opening his eyes, he stared into the lifeless eyes of the creature that had taken him. What drew his attention was the arrow embedded in its head. He recognized the fletching. “Yep. His gurl always did favor those head shots. Theys killed it then.” A sense of regret that he had not taken part in the slaying washed over him. The smell of fresh forest intensified. It soothed and eased him. He turned his head to look up.

He saw the beautiful face of his gurl, now all red-eyed and puffy with concern. She seemed to be praying and sobbing at the same time, but he could not make out any words. His hearing seemed defective. He smiled at her and inhaled deeply of the pine and mint.

His movement caused her face to brighten. Her arms engulfed his head in a tight embrace as she laid kisses and tears all over his face, cheeks and forehead.

“Yep. That’s another thing. She’s always wanting to ‘squeeze’ him. He always pretended not to like it, although he was so gratified and proud when she demonstrated her daughterly affections.

He suddenly realized that she had been healing him. His cleric gurl was healing him! About time it was his turn. With that realization and as the healing reached to his ears, sound burst all around him.

“Risca, oh my precious Risca” he heard Swan sob. He moved his arm to pat her on the back.

“I’ll be fine, me gurl. Just fine.” He managed to croak an answer. “Just give me more of that mint pine, that green healing.” Then he heard Gideon. “Here drink this.”

He turned to the sound of the voice. There was Gideon, kneeling beside him, flask in one hand, the other lifting his head in order to drink more easily. Before drinking, Risca spoke. “Gideon, I thanked Kossuth for the hot peppers and then the god of me fathers came to visit.”

Gideon had no idea what Risca was talking about. He gave a quick glance to Swan. The looked inquired about the dwarf’s mental state. Swan just shrugged through her now, happy tears.

“Quiet now Risca. Just drink this.” Risca drank deep. The healing potion repaired and regenerated his internal injuries, broken bones and organs, just as Swan’s healing ministrations was repairing his ripped and chewed flesh.

His physical health improving continuously, Risca talked on. “Yes, he said we must all work together to have any hope of overcoming the ‘darkness rising’. None of us can do it alone. He also gave me a creed. One I intend to live by. So should we all, I think.” His eyes then focused on Okul and Neon who had been standing close, watching the two clerics at work.

“Hey red elf. Hey dragon’s son. Well met.”

“Well met, Risca. Always knew you were too tough to be chewed on” responded Neon, relief in his voice. “Welcome back good friend”.

“Had to come back. You still owe me more reading lessons.”

Neon burst out a laugh. “You’ll get them. Well, I better go give Kilzadi a hand with the manacles. He seems to be having a lot of difficulty freeing the prisoners. Catch you later.”

At this point, Gideon interrupted. “One more, Risca.” He held another healing potion. “Swan, take over here. I’ll check out the prisoners. Some may also need of healing.” He left with Neon.

“Glad you are well” Okul spoke simply and with feeling.

“Me too. ‘Sides, if I was gone, who would be left to pest you?” joked Risca between sips.

Okul smiled at this. “Your god is a warrior god. He gave you a creed, you said?”

“Yes. It is now etched into my mind. ‘In War, Victory. In Peace, Vigilance, In Death, Sacrifice.”

Okul thought and nodded. “A good creed. A true warrior’s creed. One a true warrior can live by. May I use it as well?”

“I think Marthammor Duin meant for all of us to use it.”

Okul bowed his head. “Then I thank the god of your fathers. I go to keep watch now.” He took his leave.

This only left Swan “Here, sit up a bit. You’ll be more comfortable.” She helped him lean against the wall. Then she took his hand in hers. She held it tight, as if afraid to lose him. “So Marthammor Duin came to visit you?” He nodded. “Well then, tell me about it.” She continued to channel divine healing energy into him.

Neon unlocked the last shackles. The lizard man slumped to the floor to join the rest of the prisoners. Gideon was healing the wounds on the most hurt. Mainly they were suffering from lack of food as well as beatings.

“Kilzadi, get as much information as possible. Who they are, how they got here, where there are other prisoners, anything” he instructed the sorcerer.

Kilzadi nodded and began to talk to the lizard folk in draconic. The female seemed to do all the talking. He translated her responses.

“Her name is Ashalla. She is the mate of Kessesek. She’s the one we said we would be on the lookout for. The large male is the warrior chieftain, Gathar. The other three are tribal warriors, Kurush, Gress and Scthen. They were all captured in a raid and brought here. Apparently to be turned into undead shadow scales. They were waiting their turn for transformation. They were being guarded by that khumat, she calls it That monster we killed. They were being tortured to break down their will to resist.

Some other tribe members also captured were taken through the shadow hydra. I think she is referring to the black sphere in the grand hall. Wait there’s more. She says hairy ones, also prisoners, were taken through there. Yes Neon, she says one of them was short like a child, but not a child. Wait. Yes, she just described a gnome. It could be Osier. As far as they know, there is nothing else here.”

Gideon responded. “Tell them that we are going to leave here for, hum. Let me see…that place near where we entered, high up in the ramparts. We can close the portcullis. It is easily defendable and we have a good view of both the outside and the inside. It would be difficult for anything to sneak up on us. Also tell them, we can rest there for the night and that we’ll get food there. Yes, Neon, I know. Time is of the essence, but we have all had a long and tiring day. We do ourselves and the prisoners no good, should we rush after them now. We need to replenish our spells. For that we need to spend the night. Believe me, friend, I am more anxious than you. I too wish to finish this undertaking as soon as possible. But right now, we all need our rest more, especially if we want ensure success.”

And so the Seekers and their new allies retraced their steps. After collecting the stored items that they had hidden, they quickly reached and secured their safety area. They unloaded their burdens and prepared to spend the night.

Kilzadi was left in charge of the lizard folk. He began to rummage through the captured items. Gideon began a prayer to ask Kossuth for food and drink for the party. Swan took a wash basin; one she had pilfered from a supply room and went to a secluded area. Neon went in search of Okul.

Neon found the half-dragon warrior at the rampart staring out over the Great Swamp. Okul had appointed himself to take watch, at least until the others had settled down. The night was cool, full moon rising. Stars were making their appearance, the sound of frogs, the flashing of fireflies, accompanied their twinkling.

Neon spoke first.

“Okul, friend, I want to thank you for helping to restrain me earlier. For aiding Swan.”

The big fighter had been standing quiet as if deep in thought. Both hands gripped on his upon his spear as he leaned against it. At the sound of these words, he slowly turned to face the half-elf. His look was intense.

“Friend Neon, you are a fine warrior. You are one of the few that I would have beside me in battle, to watch my back. A true comrade in arms. So, I must tell you. Please, for all our sakes, do not, ever, do anything that would hurt Swan. Because, in that event, I warn you now, you will have to answer to me.”

Neon was taken aback. “I know not what you mean. I would never hurt Swan. I do not know if I am capable of hurting Swan. And if for some reason, I attempt to do so, as just happened, then realize that I am not in control of myself.”

Okul’s look grew less intense. Turning his face away, he answered. “I do realize that. But it does not matter. I will not be able to stop myself. Whoever or whatever hurts her, will feel my wrath. I seem to be powerless to alter this. And so, I am trying to keep my distance from her, to lessen the impact. And, since I am aware of your feelings for her, and because today you were close to hurting her, I give you this information.”

Okul’s dragon nature was expressing itself as his hormones raged. A gold dragon was ruthless and relentless in pursuit of anything that hurt or injured its mate. This nature and his inability to understand and contain it were causing him much distress.

Neon was well experienced at recognizing emotions and attitudes and reading body language. This ability had served him very well in many situations, especially when applied to matters of the heart and to the ‘wooing of the ladies’. What he garnered now truly surprised him. His eyes widened at the realization. “By Tymora’s sweet labia of luck, he is in a state of love, yet afraid to indulge it. Oh Cupid, what mischief are you up to now? This protective feeling is his way of expressing his love from a distance. He is pining away. He’s afraid to get too close. He is afraid that he may lose control and unleash a maelstrom of emotion that will drive her away. He fears that. Does Swan know about this? This must be handled carefully. In case she unwittingly bruises his ego. This explains much regarding his strange actions lately. Another rival for Swan’s affections? Unlike Kilzadi, one who is serious.”

“Friend Okul, I thank you for the information. I will help you in any way that I can. Just ask.”

Okul nodded without turning around. Neon left him alone in the night and went to seek out Swan.

Kilzadi dared not believe his good fortune, lest a mistake had been made. So he carefully cast the spell one more time on the captured items, to help him identify any magical purpose. The result was the same. The cloak! The cloak! It was what he needed for the Ritual. Gods be praised. There were other magical items, useless for the Seekers, other than for their monetary value. They could be used as the, hopefully, appropriate acceptable trade items. It was imperative that he explain this to Gideon. He could chance the Ritual of the Dragon Force tonight!

Swan was exhausted. Physically, mentally and emotionally. She had been in combat most of the day Then had come the revelations with Neon and with Okul. Followed by the near death of Risca. It had been all too draining. She was looking forward to a period of rest and non-action. Time to deliberate all these events and plan out her next actions.

But first a little clean-up. She always felt better after she could wash away the blood, sweat and tears. She would have wrestled an ancient dragon, two out of three falls, for a hot, lingering bubble bath. The way she felt right now, the dragon wouldn’t have a chance. Instead she made do with what she had. Into the large bowl she put in a vial of powered water -basic militia issue. All she needed now was a single drop of water. She spit into the powder. The effect was almost immediate. The alchemical properties of the powder formed liters of clear, fresh, clean water. The basin overflowed.

She unclasped her cloak and the then unbuttoned her vest. Next she removed her pull over mithral chain shirt. This left her silk undershirt. “Silk her mother had taught her. Use silk as an undershirt. It twists up when attempted to be slashed or pierced lessening and blunting the blow. She unbuckled her belt and loosened the drawstring of her combat trousers. They now hung loose on her hips Loose enough that she could now sip her hands inside them and her silken underpants.

Taking out her bar of soap, she lathered up her hands. Then she slipped them inside her underpants and commenced to wash between her legs. As the fingers stroked the vaginal lips, she issued a sigh of contentment. She needed this. Especially considering what had happened earlier with Okul. How good and hard he had felt Oh, how she wanted to be touched there then! More than just be touched! It had taken her entire will power to break off. Even then it had been a near thing; he had awakened her dormant desires. Actually, they were ready to burst out. He had just accelerated the process. Without conscious effort, the fingers of hand slipped inside her to continue their stroking. The fingers of her other hand began to rotate her woman’s button. The soapy water help make squishy sounds. She gave out a throaty moan as her thighs squeezed her fingers.

“Gods, I’m feeling so sluttish. I long to have a hard male inside me. Oh, Inialos, I miss your touches and caresses. Too much time has passed since last I felt them. Oh Ninniach, why do you reject me? I want you there, your maleness and your tongue. No Swan! Get a grip, girl! Just wash up and join the others. Yearning will not help matters. Stay aloof, remember? Act professional! Ha!”

She slowly and reluctantly withdrew her hands. A hand towel was used to rinse and dry herself. After adjusting and tightening her trousers, she removed her silk shirt. Now topless, she proceeded to wash her, face and torso. She had just finished drying when she heard Neon’s footsteps behind her. Though he was making no attempt to move quietly, it was only her keen sense of hearing that allowed him to be heard.

“Swan, I need to talk to you. Whenever you are ready.”

She turned to face him, making no attempt to cover herself. She could see his eyes take aim at her breasts. “We can talk now. I’ll just finish my ablution as we converse. After all, what we go through together, it is silly to be body shy with each other. Now what did you wish to say?” “Let him look. Both the Sisters and Inialos said I should be proud of them. Let him see what he is missing!”

“Oh, Pan’s Perfect Penis! I knew it! I knew it! They are sublime and flawless. More incredible than I imagined. Inialos, how I envy you, you, being the first. Impeccably round and ideally sized. Straining forward but without sag. Pink-wine areolas in proportion to the upward tilting nipples. Optimum design for suckling babes and lovers. Gods, I want to touch and taste them so much, as well as the rest of her. My Cygni, dear one- you do not realize why I am keeping you at arm’s length? It is because I am a coward and can only deal with one heart ache at a time.”

He cleared his throat. “Two things Swan. First I want to thank you for restraining me when I was fear crazed- who knows ….”

“No, no. There is no need. I did what I would have done for any Seeker, for any comrade in arms. There is no need for thanks. It is a …professional…thing.” At the last word, she inhaled sharply, causing her breasts to surge forward and out. “Take a good look. These could have been yours to coddle.

Neon understood then what she was attempting. To show him what he what he was passing over by keeping her at arm’s length. She was lashing out at his rejection. He gave out a sigh. “All right. As you wish. Thank you anyway. The second concerns Okul. He…”

At the mention of Okul’s name, Swan tensed. “What about him?”

“Just be careful what you do or say to him. He is apparently in a love struck state with you. Very fragile, sensitive to any misdeed or word. He does not know the cause nor wish to …”

“Oh, that. Yes, I am well aware of the situation. Okul and I have discussed it and we are going to rectify it. Now, if that is all, allow me to finish up here.” Those words dismissed him.

Neon gave her a long stare and opened his mouth as if to say speak. He stopped and shrugged. “As you wish.” Turning, he softly left.

Swan, watching him depart, fought an impulse to call him back. She began to dress.

No sooner had Neon left than Risca appeared. He had a chunk of bread inside a bowl of hot stew, thick with broth, meat and vegetables. His other hand carried a flagon of dark ale. “Hey, gurl this is for you. Thought you’d be hungry, so I saved ye some.” he stated handing them to her.

“Oh, Risca, many thanks. Uhm, this is delicious, hot and spicy.”

“Yep. Stick to the ribs good. Gideon conjured it up. Supper for all of us, complements of Kossuth. His hot pepper healing may not be great shakes, but the Fire Lord sure knows how to feed his troops. Say, what would your elfie god provide. Let me guess. Elf food…a nut and berry salad most likely. Food for elves and their pet rabbits.”

Swan giggled. Risca had a way to take her thoughts off more serious matters. To ease her mind. It was one of his endearing qualities. She bantered back.

“Oh, nuts and berries for sure, but most likely in a pie. For salads, a mixture of many greens and vegetables. Since it would all be forest bounty, let me see, how about roast venison, wild boar chops, smoked rabbit, quail eggs along with quail, duck and dove. For seafood lovers, we have all kinds of fish, crayfish and shellfish. For the hearty appetites we have wood bison, wild goat and mountain sheep. For the exotic taste, bear, turtle and freshwater eel. Of course, all of these may be prepared up in so many ways, all flavored with common and rare herbs and spices, never mind the extraordinary mushrooms. One need only ask in prayer. For beverage, wines made from our local wild grapes, beers and ales from our grains, spirits from our herbs and grains, and sweet liqueurs from our fruits. Oh, I almost forgot the pickled frogs’ legs. But hey, you’re right; no one likes elf food, except maybe rabbits. Too leafy!”

Risca croaked out a laugh and placed his hand over his heart. “Oh, me gurl, When will I learn not to try and best you? I stand corrected.” Then he grew more serious. “Here, I want you to have this.” He drew out a finger sized diamond shaped clear, colorless crystal and held it out to her.

Swan’s eyes opened wide. “But Risca, that is your fiend slayer crystal! Why are you giving it to me? It is most useful for you…”

Risca interrupted with a tone more sincere than she had heard before. “I need it no longer. Marthammor Duin, glory to the god of me fathers, infused my soul with the same power. I need it not. So, I pass it on to you. Place on your granpar`s bow. Make it more deadly against evil.”

“Oh, Risca. Thank you.” She reached for him. He backed away.

“No, no! No grabbing. No squeezing! Now, methinks you were too harsh with him. He truly cares for you. Your words and actions hurt him deep. He is a good person, a loyal friend. Go talk with him. There is a good reason for all he does. Do not let your pride get in the way of your heart.”

“You’re talking about Neon, aren’t you? Did you overhear us? Yes? Well then you know he just wants us to be comrades in arms and nothing else. Well, I’m doing just that.”

“Ah, gurl. Think! He is lisserling. So why would he want just that? Think of your past interactions with him. Besides, being a comrade in arms does not mean being cold and aloof with him. Go talk with him. Just be a friend if nothing else. Be yourself. He is in pain. Help him.”

With that Risca turned and left, leaving Swan alone with her thoughts. She mulled over his words while staring at the night sky. The moon, Selune was full. Her Tears, sparkling points, trailed behind. Facing the white orb, she prayed. “Great Archer, bless me with your divine energy. Grant me the wisdom to do the proper things in matters of the heart. She sat for awhile staring at the moon. Then reaching a decision, she set off to find Neon.

Gideon sat on his bedroll, back to wall and wrapped in a warm blanket. He observed all that was occurring around him. Everyone had eaten. Okul had gone back to his self- imposed sentry duty. “Have to watch him. He has been so moody lately. Must speak to Swan. find out what she knows. There she is now. Heading towards Neon.” Risca was finishing the last of the stew and ale. “Thank you Mighty Kossuth for your benediction of food and drink.” The freed prisoners had been attended to. They were now gathered around Kilzadi. They were going to help with the Ritual of The Dragon Force. They seemed to be in awe of the sorcerer’s ritual

When Kilzadi had first approached him about performing the Ritual, Gideon had been uncertain. With so much else happening, this idea did not sound appropriate. But the mage had been insistent. He recalled Kilzadi’s words.

“This opportunity may not occur again for a long time. This charismatic cloak is the item I need. There are all these magical items that are not useful to us, but can be used as the offering. The lizard folk know of the Ritual. They will act as my seconds for as long as necessary. Besides, now we have the time. We have a whole night ahead of us. All the ingredients are in place.”

In the end, Gideon had concurred. His brother of the Flame was most anxious and he could not find fault with the arguments. And soon, the ritual would commence. Kilzadi, wearing only the hooded cloak would sit beside the items to be consumed in the offering. The lizard people would sit in a circle around him to do their chanting and it would begin.

He wished it would go as planned. His was the ultimate responsibility. He felt this heavily on his shoulders. Somehow he had become the de facto leader of the Seekers. Mostly because no one else wanted to assume that burden. Their safety was his responsibility.

He remembered well the day Jarrod Rold had asked him for help against the drow raiders. “I need another group, other than my Riders, Gideon. Go into a tavern, recruit some adventurers. You will be doing both Ashabenford and me a service.”

How could he have refused? Both Ashabenford and Jarrod had been good to him. His wandering had stopped there. He found a home, his little stone cottage. He was left to his own pursuits. He had settled her there. He hoped all was well with her at the moment. He missed her. He had been gone too long, much longer than he first thought. And it was still not over. He was apprehensive about her welfare. He had a precognition that major events were about to take place in Ashabenford. That some danger threatened her. No one knew about her, not even the Seekers. It was his secret. Yet he could not shake the feeling. The feeling that both she and he were being watched. Harmful outside forces were gathering.

“Mighty Kossuth, watch over her. Watch over all of us. Give me the strength to continue.” With that thought, Gideon settled down and cleared his thoughts in order to commune with his god.

Entering the common area, Swan spotted Neon sitting in a corner, intently watching the ritual preparations. She made her way to him. “Paci Ninniach. Posse assere tecon?”

He looked up with an expression both wary and hopeful. “Paci Cygni. Sure. Pull up a floor. Make yourself comfortable.”

Smiling, she copied Gideon by sitting on her bedroll and wrapping her blanket to keep out the chill. They sat side by side, arms touching, both staring at the mage. She spoke in a low voice without facing him “I want to apologize for my behavior earlier. A wise dwarf once told me that being professional does not mean being cold and sarcastic. Especially not to a comrade in arms. You are correct. This is an awkward time.”

Neon answered without facing her. “No need to apologize. I hurt you, not you me. I want you to remain a good friend. A wise dwarf, eh? He smiled. Anyone I know?”

Unbidden, their hands touched and then clasped. At then point they turned to face each other; their looks promising affirmation of their mutual feelings.

Oh, Ninniach. I so want you. You are right. How well you read your women. I do want to determine how different you are from Inialos. I need to know how men can be different. But I also want you for yourself. I have no shame? I don’t care.

“Swan- my lovely Cygni! I sense your wantonness, your desire for me. We would be exquisite together. But I cannot now. By Loviatar’s leathern thongs, I feel too much for you, as I did and still do for Alenna. Oh, the irony of it all.”

Swan was the first to look away. Their hands remained clasped. “What is he doing?”

“Ah, you missed all that. Preparing for some kind of ritual that will make him more powerful, better able to command the arcane energies.”

“Oh. Well good luck to him then. I truly hope he succeeds. He takes awhile to understand. Slow to make friends, but once he does, he remains true to them. Ruthless in his methods to achieve his goals. Stays in love only as long it takes for the next pretty girl to walk by. A true lecher, but loyal; funny, not treacherous.” They continued to watch.

Kilzadi was prepared to undergo a second transformation. The first had occurred in the time he had joined the Seekers. Originally joining for quick profits to use to enhance his magic, he soon realized he had found a group of stalwart companions. Initially, none had trusted him, nor he them. They could not understand the way of a sorcerer, especially an ambitious one. But as time passed, they meshed more smoothly. The turning point was the incident with Swan, being accused of treachery. Once she had accepted him, the others did so more easily and he them.

He did this for them as for himself. What better way to advance their goal and protect them at the same time then to become more powerful. The Seekers needed his magic, the more the better. The gods had taken a hand, How else to explain all the ingredients coming together at the same time? The cloak, the magic offer items, the draconic chorus? Now was the time!

Kilzadi sat down near the fire to get warm. “The battles were great today but we were almost defeated, we have become quite strong in a relatively short period of time. Will it be sufficient for the challenges ahead of us? What happens when I am in a situation where firepower is not required? I need to be more versatile, I need to be able to protect myself and protect my fellow party members. Without me, they would be lost, they would fail. They need me to be stronger!”

“Yes, this is the answer, this is what I must do to survive and be successful in our quest, it must be done”. Taking his time, he prepared the items that would be needed for “The Ritual”, making sure everything was clean and of good quality. He sat comfortably, clearing his mind in meditation. Beads of sweat appeared on his brow.

What he had not fully explained to Gideon was the inherent danger. Once began, it must go to the end. No interruptions! He would survive as a more powerful mage or he would die. But he had faith in his determination.

Wearing only the cloak, he had painted a design on his cheeks that appeared as if he was facing from the inside a dragon’s mouth. He arranged the offering items beside him in a pile. They consisted mostly of magical armor and shields. Pulling over the hood, his head was hidden in darkness. All was quiet. He signaled to the lizard folk, who began their draconic chant. He took a deep breath and incanted the draconic power words. He quickly reached an unconscious state. His spirit left. His body remained behind.

Kilzadi walked naked across the burning desert sand. Wind whipped up hot sand dust into his lungs. He coughed and struggled forward. His feet burned. The hot blood red sun in the white sky beat down, scorching hot. Sand got into his eyes, making them water. He was rapidly losing that precious liquid. He was surrounded by sand. Sand dunes were everywhere forcing him to walk uphill and downhill, uphill and downhill. This further drained his energy. His thirst was becoming more and more unbearable.

He grit his teeth and kept walking. As the sand flayed his skin, he kept walking. He walked until he was past exhaustion and then walked more. Suddenly the sand shifted beneath his feet. He fell into the ground, the sand so fine, it was fluid. He sank He sank for what seemed an eternity. Finally he reached the bottom. Unknowingly, his fortitude was enough to allow him to pass the Test of Endurance.

As the sand settled around him, he found himself in a tunnel. It was dark and cold. He began to walk. He weakened quickly. He was parched and hungry. As he walked, the tunnel seemed to transform into a long, dark hallway of a large mansion. There were closed doors on either side. Sounds of merrymaking, groans of pleasure could be heard through the doors as he passed by. Worse were the enticing aromas of roasted meats and baked breads.

Suddenly a door burst open. The odor of food that leaked out into the corridor was overwhelming. He saw a room, full of tables. Each table laden with all manners of food and drink. All of it enticing. He readily took a step towards the doorway. A small voice, his own, sounded in his head. “Think, Kilzadi, think! Think why you are here! Should you enter, can you return? The food is enticing, but is it safe? Think!” With great reluctance he turned away. The door closed behind him. More time passed, more corridor was walked.

Another door opened beside him. The sense of great magic was staggering. Looking in, he viewed shelves full of tomes of magic, all manners of magical devices and clothing. They could be all his. He would become the most powerful mage in history, in all of world. He took a step towards the room. Again that irritating voice.

“Think! Can magical power be so easily to obtain? All gathered in one room just for you? Of course not! It must be a trick.” Again, he turned himself away and continued the walk. The door closed behind him.

He walked for a long time, passing many doors that he felt he could open, enter and find some kind of fulfillment. He could just make out a turn in the corridor when the last door opened.

He heard a familiar voice. ”Kilzadi, my tireless male, my mighty mage of magic.” His mouth gaped as he turned to look. Standing in the doorway, radiant and beautiful was Gwenect Moondark. The drowess wore a sheer translucent scarlet blouse. Opened at the front, her conical breasts, tipped dark red, easily spilled out. Her eyes and lips were the same color .It complemented her flawless ebony skin. In contrast, her waist long, pure white mane of hair hung loose down her back

Around her waist, a string, scarlet leather tong barely covered her pubes. Heeled scarlet red leather boots were laced knee high. One hand held a black leather paddle. The other hand beckoned him.

“Kilzadi, my sweet male. It has been too long. I have missed you. Come. Enter. See the surprise gift I have for you.” She stepped back from the doorway. The room was candle lit, the light dim and reddish. He took two steps towards the door and gasped at what he beheld; a room from a pasha’s pleasure palace.

Velvet tapestries of Dionysian styled erotic images covered the walls. The floor was layered in luxurious rugs, thick enough to sleep on comfortably. A large circular bed, room enough for six dominated the room. A wide side table, held plates of fancy tidbits, bottles of rare wines and spirits. But the sight that held his attention was …Swan!

Beside the bed, extending floor to ceiling were two metal posts. Manacled wrist and ankle, to the posts forming an ‘X’ was Swan. High enough so that her feet were suspended off the floor, she was blindfolded and gagged by scarlet leather straps

Naked, her body was covered in a perspiration sheen; her hair loose and sweat stuck. Her neck bent forward such that her head rested on her shoulder. Red marks crisscrossed her body, breasts and inner thighs, many overlapping, as if she had been struck hard many times with a leather paddle.

“You like my surprise, do you not? My personal present for you. To show my true affection, my stallion.” Gwenect’s words drew his gaze away from the helpless Swan.

She flowed lithely to stand beside the chained girl. She reached out. One jet hand squeezed hard on the scout’s nipple. The other reached in and groped cruelly at the young girl’s furred mound. Swan gave out a sound through the gag, a sound, half groan of pain, half moan of pleasure.

Gwenect stared at Kilzadi wearing a wicked grin. In a sultry, promising voice, she spoke again. “Come, my magnificent male. Fulfill your desires. She has no will of her own now. She belongs to us; every part of her. She can service us both, as we pleasure ourselves, in ways you always wished and more.”

The sorcerer’s lecherous nature seethed and erupted. Forgotten were the hunger, thirst and pain. The need to completely satisfy his carnal urges dominated his actions. He moved to enter the room. As he lifted his foot, that thrice damned voice spoke again. “Think, fool, THINK!! Use your brains, not your gonads. How can they be here now? Why did Gwenect not step out to greet you? Why did she not rush to embrace her ‘stallion’?” He stopped. His body jerked as he suppressed the lecherous urges. Gwenect kept playing with Swan’s body, forcing out moans and groans and beckoning him in. Instead of crossing the threshold, he made one of the most difficult decisions he had ever done. He turned away and walked around the corner. He heard the door close behind him. He had enough intellect and wisdom to pass the Trial of Temptation.

He kept walking as the dark corridor slowly changed back into a cold tunnel.

Neon was growing bored and tired. He still held on to Swan’s hand as he watched the preparations of the Ritual. He watched as Kilzadi set himself. For a long time all was still except for the chanting. Swan had stopped conversing. Suddenly he saw Kilzadi’s body jerk. “Well, something just happened.”

“Hey Swan, did you notice?” he asked softly? Receiving no response he turned to look. Succumbing to her tiredness, she was asleep. Her head lolled on her shoulder. A sense of tenderness filled him. He adjusted both their positions so that she could sleep more comfortably leaning against him. He wrapped the blankets around both of them and held her in his arms as he pulled her in close. She sighed sleepily as she snuggled in against him, head on his chest.

He inhaled her clean, fresh scent, soap and pine as his lips brushed across her hair. “It’s not you, Cygni. It’s me. I cannot bear the pain again and again. Aleena’s death is still a hole in my heart. And then, when you died it was like I was ripped apart. Now after your miracle, you may easily die again. We all may. I am too weak suffer that much pain again. I dare not get close. So I do my best to keep you away, hoping that will mitigate any pain. Ironic, isn’t it. My now distancing you from me, when only a short time ago, it was reversed.” He sighed deeply.

Something had changed with Neon. Oh, he was still lisserling. His most recent adventures with the identical acrobatic twins, Bambi and Thumper were proof enough of that. The games they played together after practice! He particularly enjoyed the one where in total complete blackness, the three naked together in bed, using only touch, smell and taste, he would have to tell them apart If successful, they would be his to command. If not, he was at their mercy. Win or lose, really wasn’t all that important, though he won more often than not.

But gone were the carefree days, when all he had to worry about were enraged husbands, jealous lovers, protective fathers, and law enforcers. He had left home to escape his mother. He sighed again. He knew in his heart that she meant well. That she cared for him and loved him. She wanted to ensure his protection that he could survive on his own. Raising him alone, along with her police chief duties must have been difficult. Her duty between her son and the citizens of her town both demanded too much time.

She knew he needed a father figure, a masculine influence. And so the selection of Osier as a mentor. As much as there was friction between him and his mother, there was a family bond between him and Osier. Hence the reason that he was most concerned and anxious. Osier was a teacher, a friend, as well as a mentor and instructor. He learned many things from Osier, who was somewhat of a rogue himself. Neon always suspected that the gnome knew more about his estranged father, Rasco Wilde, than he let on. He always suspected there was a deeper connection between his wizard/fighter mother, his rogue father and the rogue/illusionist gnome than had ever been told to him. Of course his mother was always reluctant to discuss his estranged father. It was one of their frequent disagreements and one reason he had left home abruptly.

His free and easy going life working on the river boats, changed in Ashabenford. He had been in the Velvet Veil when Aleena and her sister priestesses entered. He was immediately taken in by not only her most attractive looks, but by her heart-felt laughter and joie de vivre. It seemed that all the servers and clients knew her. Many were the cries of ‘Aleena, here. Join us. Free drinks and alms for the church. No, us, join us, more for you and the church.’ He recalled how she laughed and laughed. “Some of me for all of you’ she had replied. Chauntea will bless you and the orphans will thank you. And I can be most gracious as will my sisters. She referred to the other priestesses who were going from table to table soliciting donations joking and chatting up the customers.

He remembered watching her as she approached his table. Midnight hair, long and loose, striking contrast against her white clerical tunic. Eyes sparking, big smile she spoke those immortal words to him: “Hey sailor, new in town?”

That was the beginning of their relationship. She had woken up in his bed the next day. As time went on, he found himself caring more and more. She truly understood him and his lisserling ways.

The time they had gone dining and Jhaer had come on stage to play and sing. He had been taken with the enchanting moon elf. He could not keep his eyes off her. Attempting to apologize to Aleena, she had just grinned at him. When the last set was over, the priestess had risen to go talk to the bard. In a short time they both returned.

“So, Aleena tells me you are a songwriter and composer. What have you written?

They started to discuss his works, ideas and songs. Sometime during the discussion, Aleena had left. He had not noticed. That morning he had awaken in Jhaer`s bed. It had started a whole new relationship. Aleena had been pleased that he and Jhaer had become lovers.

“What? You are not jealous?” he had asked.

“No, my exotic one. I know you love me. The women who love you, you love back. It is part of your lisserling nature.” Then she had become very serious. “Take care you do not overstretch yourself, my love. The pain may become too intense.” Then she had become playful again.

“Besides, sharing you with Jhaer gives me more personal and private time. Also I have what I want from you” she had cryptically replied. He was puzzled by her remark but endeared by her attitude.

Then there was the time she had cautioned him about Swan. It occurred during an afternoon of lovemaking. Swan had been staying briefly with the Sisters then.

“Do not push at her so. Yes, her virginity and new freshness attract you. But she is not naïve. She has become a good friend. She is infatuated with her moon elf ranger. There is no doubt he will be her first. But she is definitely attracted to you. Give her time. I sense a streak of independence in her, as well as a sense of exploration. Allow her to become more comfortable and confident. Be available and in time she will approach you. Now enough talk about our little scout. Love me again. Make me scream as I cream. Are you good enough for that?” He was.

It had unfolded as Aleena had described. What he had not realized at the time was the depth of his love. Her death had devastated him. Even Jhaer and Swan’s comforting could not totally assuage the pain. Then Swan had died. More pain to bear. He felt crushed. Again he failed to realize the depth of his feelings. Then the miracle of her resurrection and he realized he may have to go through that terrible agony once again. He could not bear it. And so, in Harrowdale, after meeting his mother, he had come to a decision. He would avenge Aleena even if it meant rising to the Celestial Planes or sinking below the Abyss. To facilitate this, he would be free of any emotional entanglement, and hence the resolve to keep Cygni at more than arm’s length; to relate to her as to any other Seeker.

Yet here he was, holding her in his arms; the warmth and smoothness of her, inhaling her essence. “Right, keep her at arm’s length. Ha!”

Suddenly Swan began to squirm in her sleep. She muttered but he was unable to make out coherent words. Her squirming increased and suddenly her body shuddered in a spasm. Neon was versed enough to know that she had just had an orgasm. As her body relaxed, there was more incoherent muttering. He managed to catch one word…grammar. Was she dreaming about her grandmother? He waited but she seemed to be in a relaxed sleep He did not wake her. Time passed without change. Only the constant droning of the lizard folk could be heard. Trusting to the watchfulness of Okul and Risca, he allowed himself to fall into slumber.

Kilzadi was exhausted. Yet he knew to rest was to die. The cold corridor seemed endless. Just as he was about to give in, rest and damn the consequences, the corridor opened into a large sand filled cavern. Mixed in with the fine sand were bones; skulls, thigh bones, arms, hands feet and leg bones; of all shapes and sizes. Some sets of bones were not easily recognizable as to their origin.

There was no where else to go and so he entered trotting on sand and bone bits. Then a wind blew. It was cold and rose up the sand. A form composed of sand and bone bits began to take shape. Looming over him a huge shape, vaguely draconic in form materialized. It spoke to him.

“So, mage of the desert, you have passed the first two tests. Few are those who reach this point. Of those that do, many leave their bones here. They fail the next two tests. Will you fail mage of the desert? Will your bones join these others? We shall see. What did you bring for me in return for Draconic Force abilities?”

Even as the last word was spoken, the items that Kilzadi had collected as a sacrifice appeared between them; the shields and armors.

“What? You dare to appease me with these trinkets? Are my powers worth so little? The ‘thing’ became aggressive. It reared above him as to fall and crush him. Surges of cold beat down upon him. He knew it was the end. His offering had been rejected. But he refused to flinch in the face of death. Battered and weary, he calmly waited, eyes shut. His one regret was not choosing to die in the Gwenect-Swan room. At least it would have been an enjoyable death. The cold stopped. He opened his eyes. The draconic sand thing had shrunk down to his size. The offering items were gone. It spoke again.

“You are brave. You pass again. Now there is only one test left.”

It lifted one clawed leg. I will mark you with the tattoos of the Ritual. The pain will be intense. Should you draw back, you will fail. Understood?”


“Then, we start…now!” It touched his cheek with a sand claw and tiny sand particles blasted out, cutting through the skin. The pain was intense. But he forced himself to bear it.

For Swan, the day’s revealing events and the susceptibility to her physical needs produced an eroticism even in her dreams.

She and Inialos had had been rangering together. The day had been hot. Arriving at a cool glade with a small stream, they refreshed themselves with a naked swim. In the warm water, they teased each other, touching and stroking. Happy and tired, Swan had emerged to lie panting on the cool grass. Inialos soon joined her, laughing as he purposely sprinkled water on her. For awhile they just lay beside each other.

Unspoken he began to stroke her. His hands moved down her taut flat belly, to search and probe between her thighs. Then up to rub and pull at her breasts and nipples. This pattern repeated. Her breathing got heavier. He leaned over to take a breast into his mouth. Licking and nibbling, he caught the nipple between his teeth, imparting little bites.

Swan gave muted little cries, moved her legs farther apart to allow his fingers more open and deeper access. She reached down to fondle his manhood. She liked the feel of it. She liked the ease she could lengthen and harden it. She enjoyed squeezing it.

“Do me Inialos! Do me good! Do me hard!” she whispered caught up in her excitement.

“Swan, my sweet” he gasped huskily. His pleasure made it difficult to speak. He rolled on top. She lifted her legs and guided him in.

“Ahhh, Cygni-so wet! So tight!” he managed to groan as he pushed himself fully into her.

“No talking. Just do me. The way I like.” She clasped her ankles around his back, using her strong legs to push him in.

He began with long slow trusts, gradually increasing the frequency as the pleasurable sensations intensified. She wrapped her arms around him as well, moving her hips counterpoint to his lunges. Their tongues intertwined as they played the ‘two-backed beast’.

Swan lost herself in the blissful sensations. A little grunt would escape from her throat every time he thrust. She truly enjoyed making love with Inialos. She felt the moon elf give one last deep push and swell inside her. She pulled him closer in as he arched his back and jetted. He sang out a note of satisfaction as he lowered himself exhausted upon her.

Swan rolled him over. With expert hands and tongue, she caressed and licked him back to his full, rigid size. Then straddling him, she lowered herself until he was totally engulfed inside her. He grabbed onto her breasts as she rode him, up and down. Now it was his turn to give little grunts.

The pleasure continued for a time. Then something strange. Under her, Inialos`form began to blur and change. It shimmered and re-focused into…Neon! Instead of being frightening, it seemed the proper change. Swan gave a gurgle of satisfaction.

“Yes, oh yes! Ninniach! Finally! Finally we are making love. I feel you in me. So big! It is wonderful!”

“Cygni, my Cygni” he gasped out. His hands roamed all over her body, stroking and rubbing as he moved his hips in rhythm to her hers. “I knew it! Exquisite beyond belief. I don’t want to hold back. Take it! Take all of it! Now!” So saying, he bucked up and spilled into her.

They both called out their delight.

Then she felt strong arms reaching around her back, lifting her away with ease. At the same time, Neon began to fade away.

“Noooooh” she began as she felt herself being held up effortlessly, backed pressed against an enormous chest. She was helpless. Those arms pushed apart her thighs to their extreme. She felt hot breath on her neck. She felt warm scales against her back, on the arms holding her apart. She knew who held her. A massive member began to push its way inside her. So long and so wide! It’s sheathe was coated in tiny golden hued scales. She was being stretched to her limit. Never had she felt so filled, bottom to top. Extended so much, she began to ache. Then the hefty organ began to pump in and out. It felt as a giant piston inside her.

The ribbed effect of the scales caused an incredibly intense euphoric sensation; almost ecstatic. A hot wet tongue played along her cheek and neck as a growl of preparation sounded in her ear. She became wetter, facilitating the gliding movement of the large appendage. The pleasure was overwhelming.

“Oh, Okul! I had no idea. I never knew! Oh, fill me, fill me!” She screamed out as she could no longer contain her climax. The draconic organ throbbed and pulsed as it spewed copious amounts of fluid. Behind her, holding her up, Okul let out a roar of triumph.

Eyes closed, Swan was lying naked on the grass, the seeds of three males inside her. She felt a shadow fall across her. She opened her eyes. “Hello Granmar”

“Hello child” her grandmother responded, settling down beside her to rub Swan’s forehead. “Have you made your choice? Remember, any choice you make will have its own consequences.”

“Oh Granmar, must I? Each is different and worthy. I want them all”

The grandmother smiled. “Greedy, greedy, little girl. Remember, that too is a choice and it too will have consequences.” Ponder wisely, ponder carefully. Sleep now. Rest is needed.” With that she began to fade away and Swan fell into slumber.

A hand shook her awake. The aroma of hot tea filled her nostrils. Opening her eyes, she gazed upon Neon crouching beside her. She was lying on her bedroll, with Neon’s as a pillow. Warm blankets covered her.

“Wakey, wakey Swan. Breakfast time. Gideon wants an early start. Here, some tea.”

Yawning she sat up, taking the cup. “Thanks, what is for breakfast?” Looking around, she noticed the Seekers and the lizard folk all gathered around Kilzadi. The mage was in earnest conversation with Gideon. “I can’t believe I’m the last one up. What’s going on there?” Then she remembered her dream. “Oh, my.” She stared at Neon who all this time hadn’t moved but had been watching her intently.

His eyebrows arched. “You have the look of an embarrassment on your face. Must have been interesting. Perhaps one day, you will tell me about the dream orgasm. Swan, you’re still unjaded enough to blush. So endearing.”

“Anyway, to answer your questions, breakfast is field rations. Don’t make a face. I told you our fearless leader wants an early start. Yesterday really exhausted you, so it was decided to let you sleep as long as possible. Don’t make a face. You are not getting special treatment. We need our scout to be alert. And finally, everyone is admiring our Desert Fox’s new facial tattoos. Oh, one final piece of news. That lizardman warrior, their war chief, Gathar his name is, well he will be joining us. Some kind of tribal honor vengeance thing. I can relate to that. Gideon OKed it. They’re selecting weapons and armor for him. The others will be returning back to their village to store the equipment we will not take.”

“So, drink up, eat up, wash up and load up. Then join us for Gideon’s debriefing.” He gave her a knowing grin.

“What?” she asked.

“Oh, just so much happened yesterday. Now, I know. You are my favorite type, a moaner-grunter exhibitionist.” Chuckling, he left her blushing, again.

She had just finished her morning preparations, when she felt him approach.

“Swan, sister, did you sleep well?

Seeing him she could not resist. “Yes thank you. And you?” she responded, going up to him and brushing her hand along the scales on his neck side. They felt just as in her dream. She wondered about his manhood scales, if indeed he had any, but was too shy to ask. Besides what reason could she possibly have for her inquiry?

She viewed him in a new mind set. Not as a brother but as a female views a male. She already had a strong affection for him. She liked what she saw. Physically, perhaps, not as handsome as Inialos or Neon, but easy on the eyes and full of character and devotion. Yes, a woman could easily be attached to Okul.

Well so much for keeping her distance. Before he could respond, she entwined her arm around his, “Let’s join the others.” She felt tension released from his arms as he fell in step with her.

As they arrived, the others were packing up. “Morn, gurl” Risca saluted her. We’s going hunting for Shar-ite-tees. Teach ‘em respect for their betters. With luck, we’ll get us a few drow along the way.”

“Morning Risca. Morning all.” Then she spotted Kilzadi’s new facial tattoos. “My, oh my. Blue, red and green swirls cris-crossed making his visage more draconic. Stepping closer she traced the pattern with her fingers. “They even glow a little. They give you a more dangerous look. Very appealing actually.”

“After what I had to endure, that should be the least they do” replied the sorcerer. “The physical pain was straightforward to bear. It was the last temptation that was the hardest to overcome. You were there” Smiling, he leered and winked at her.

Okul glared at the sorcerer. Neon’s touch on the warrior’s arm prevented any further development. The rogue sighed to himself. “For all our sakes, must teach Okul to distinguish between playful banter and that which is not.”

Gideon intervened. Good. We are all set now? The lizard folk, led by Ashalla, are taking our designated items back to their village for safe keeping. We and Gathar will be entering the ‘shadow hydra’ as Ashalla calls it; that black sphere. We must assume it leads to the Shadow Plane. We armed Gathar with enchanted leather armor and spear. Any Questions? No? Good! Let’s do it Seekers!”

And so they did. After escorting the returning lizard folk to the gates and watching them set off into the Great Swamp, they returned to the room of the black sphere.

The Seekers gathered round the sphere, staring. There was a long moment of awkwardness. No one spoke until finally Risca broke the silence.

“Ah, ya pansies! If you want to know what’s on the other side, the only way to find that out is to step through!” With that, Risca strode up to the portal and stepped into it. Just as yesterday’s dead drow, he seemed to fall into a hole and disappear.

“Risca! Wait up!” Swan shouted and leaped in. Immediately, wordlessly, Okul jumped in after.

“Well, someone has to keep them out of trouble. For Aleena. Hang on Osier!” Neon was next into the sphere.

“My brother of the flame, time to test out my new powers. Meet you on the other side.” Speaking to Gideon, Kilzadi signaled Gathar top go next and then followed.

“Kossuth, watch over us.” With those words the priest stepped through.

All was quiet as the sun’s rays began to light up the Great Swamp. The black sphere remained changeless. Nothing was to be heard or seen. Then without warning, the spy eye materialized above the sphere. It hovered for a bit and then dissipated. Silence reigned.

“Thank you ladies and gentlemen. That concludes tonight’s reading (Loud applause) thank you, thank you. Now before we break, I will take a few questions. Yes, you sir. How accurate were the details in Swan’s dream? Well, we know for a fact from her letters that she had an erotic dream at that point in time. What exactly it contained, no one is sure. So, I filled them in based on the events that were going on with her men at that time. It is just as valid as anything else. Did you enjoy that passage? Yes? Well so have thousands of other readers.”

“Next question. You young miss, in the aisle seat. Kilzadi’s Ritual? How authentic is the description? Well again, no one is sure. Kilzadi’s memoirs only indicate the tests and temptations, not the details. So, I put in what I thought they would be given Kilzadi’s nature and character. You liked the idea of the scarlet leather. Uhmm, please see me later at the reception. We can discuss this topic further.”

“Next, you there sir. Yes you. The Growl of Preparation? All fictional? Not at all. The growl is real. Several years ago, I personally interviewed a gold dragon. I suggest you read my book ‘Magical Matings of Creatures Fantastic’. It is well described there. Okul, being half gold dragon would certainly have used it in his mating foreplay.”

“One more. You there. Will I read more? (loud shouts of more! more! accompanied by foot stomping).All right, all right. A little more (loud cheering). I’ll just continue. The next segments just deals with the Seeker’s first encounters in the Shadow Plane, their battles in the Shadowscale village and how the first meetings with the Shar monks makes Swan realize the shortcomings of a one shot bow and her solution.” He opens the tome and begins to read….

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