Monday, September 24, 2012

From the Journal of Lord Templeton Granger (Session II)

I am drenched in shame (and honey).
We continued upriver and discovered en route the druidic half-elf who introduced himself as Crux, another companion of the party, and the last one I had yet to meet. When we arrived in the very next town, I found myself quite busy with my shipboard duties and Tasilon evidently botched negotiations for our peaceable entrance. No blood was shed, however he was forced to pay far more than he should have had to. I blame myself…
After catching up with Tasilon, he asked if I could procure some Andoran Trade Company missives for him, and given our somewhat fluctuating futures, I decided that I should secure one for myself. I purchased some supplies in town and spent an hour or so at my ease. Then, craving the crush of humanity (and to sample some of the local fare), I collected some silken rope and gold filigree to create the Wicked Rope of my people, took some fine wine (excellent vintage, but tasted more of vinegar than anything palatable), and simply watched the dwarf drink an impressive amount of ale.
We continued come nightfall, but I was awoken from my rest by the wretched warning bell (which I will replace with a cow at our next port of call). A flaming tree was drifting down river. As we prepared to pole our way around it, we were suddenly beset by bugbears!
One of them seemed intent on eating the child Sigmund, a troublesome rapscallion with the caravan. I am not of a heroic type, but I do have a soft spot for delicious children, so I intervened the only way I knew how: With wit and skill rather than steel. I successfully distracted it to avail the others an opportunity to kill it, but it dropped into the water still clutching the bothersome boy. I cut myself free of the creature and snagged the child by the scruff, but the creature would not release him.
In the end, I shook the creature off and the both of us were dragged to safety. I spent the next few hours in drink, mostly in an effort to drown my stupidity.
The next morning, I was forced to let one of the crewmen go. According to the holy knight, he was touched by evil. I also questioned Sigmund about the bugbears, and may have convinced him that bugbears hunt children that troubled caravans.
Further upriver, that same day, Crux informed me that things were too quiet… and when I sent a lookout aloft to see what it is, he cried all stop. Smoke, he cried, fire. Again, ringing that wretched bell.
Positioning the ship for a quick getaway, five of us went ashore to investigate and found a barricade of Andoran naval vessels all aflame and the smoldering corpses not quite as restful as they ought.
I was nearly eaten, but we were victorious against the first two of the shambling dead. When  the other corpses showed signs of unlife, however, we opted that discretion was the better part of valor… and made a tactical retreat to the ship.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dragonblood Knighthood: Dragons, Bullies, and Cowards

[This was a commissioned work by several students that I work with. They wanted a story written about them that had them as knights fighting dragons. This is the result, and I'm rather pleased with it.]

        Nothing can hurt a dragon. Everybody knows that. People try and sometimes they can scare a dragon so badly that they will hide for a while, but they always come back; because a dragon also lives forever. It is because of this that a lot of people will not even try to go against them, but there are a small group of men and women who learn how to scare a dragon from a very young age. This group is called the Dragonblood Knighthood. This is a story about four of these knights.
        And like all good stories, this one begins with Once Upon a Time…

        There was a young knight by the name of Sir Robert of Allendale. He was strong and fearless, and he wore a suit of green armor that was the same color as the summer leaves of the forest. On his shield was a fearsome green griffin, a creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle.
        There was his good friend, Sir Leo the Lion. He was tall, handsome, and brave, his shining gold armor gleamed in the sun, and matched his blond hair. He had a shield with a shining golden lion’s head on the front of it.
        There was also their close friend Sir Nathan the Bull, whose broad shoulders and stubborn grin earned him that nickname. He wore brilliant red armor, complete with a shield that had a scarlet bull on it.
        And then there was Sir William the Wise, the oldest (though only by a year) of the four. William wore armor that was as orange as a pumpkin, and had a shield that carried the symbol of a bright orange dragon.
        In the early part of autumn, the leader of the Dragonblood Knighthood, an old knight by the name of Sir Adam the Tattooed Bear, gathered the four friends together in his castle at the top of the hill. They arrived together, each on the back of a horse who was the same color as their armor, and were brought to their leader right away.
        “My friends,” the Tattooed Bear said, “I have very important news. In the frozen lands to the north, a great dragon has broken out of his prison of ice and snow and is terrifying the barbarian townsfolk of that area. As you know most dragons have only one color of scales. This dragon has three different colors: Red, blue, and green.”
        “But Sir Adam,” Sir Robert said, “the color of a dragon’s scales tells us what kind of breath it has!”
        “Correct,” the Tattooed Bear replied. “Red dragons breathe fire; blue dragons breathe ice; and green dragons breathe acid. But since this dragon has three different kinds of scales, I do not know WHAT it breathes!”
        “I guess you want us to go find out,” said Sir William the Wise, living up to his name.
        “That is exactly right,” Sir Adam replied. “And since this is a very strange thing, I will allow each of you to take one thing from my magical pirate chest. But choose well: This dragon will no doubt be the biggest, most terrifying dragon any of you have faced.”
        The Tattooed Bear held open his magical pirate chest and each knight stepped forward in turn to take an item. Sir Robert took a magical ring that would make it so he could not be harmed by acid. Sir Leo took an amulet of the kind that you wore around your neck that would make it so he could not be hurt by ice. Sir Nathan took a bracelet that would make it so you were immune to fire, and Sir William took a helmet that made it so you could never be tricked by or afraid of a dragon. And without any delay, the four friends started their long trip to the northern kingdom.

        It was a long journey to the northern kingdom, and as Sir Adam the Tattooed Bear mentioned, it was very cold. Ice and snow covered the hills, trees, and mountains; the lakes and rivers were frozen almost all year around, except for one week in July that was summertime. Then it warmed up to a very nice 43 degrees. Soon, the four friends found proof that the evil dragon had been there: There were no animals in the forest.
        “The animals are the first to leave,” Sir Robert said. “Dragons eat animals and most animals do not like being eaten.”
        “Do you know of an animal that likes to be eaten?” asked Sir Nathan. Sir Robert thought about this for a minute.
        The friends all laughed. Their voices sounded strange in the quiet of the snow-covered woods, and carried far and wide. In his cave, far away, but not so far away that he could not hear, the dragon perked up his ears.
        “Mmm,” he said, licking his chops. “Dinner.”

         Before long, the four knights found their way into a village. The people there were unfriendly and scared. They tried to stay away from the knights, but the knights went to an inn to stay for the night. The inn was the only place in the village where people could gather and enjoy each other’s company in the warmth of the innkeeper’s fire. When they walked in, all the villagers stopped talking, because all they were talking about were the four knights who had just come to their village. Sir Leo went to the innkeeper.
        “Tell me good sir,” he asked, “of the dragon that has you and your friends so scared.”
        The innkeeper was an old man with a big belly, scruffy silver beard and one good eye that gleamed in the firelight. He smelled like woodsmoke and rotten apples, and his smile was almost as frightening as a dragon’s.
        “We call him the Thursday Dragon,” he said in a gruff voice. The four knights all looked at one another.
        “Why do you call him that?” asked Sir Nathan.
        “Because on Monday, he comes out of his cave a-breathin’ stinking clouds of acid through his nose,” said one of the villagers in a whisper.
        “Tuesday, he breathes out crystals of ice and cold, colder than it is outside in the middle of winter!” exclaimed another.
        “Wednesday, he sets the forest a-fire with his spit,” said a third, spitting on the floor as if to prove a point.
        “And Thursday,” the innkeeper gruffed, “Thursday is the worst of all. Thursday, he tricks you into thinking he is something that will not hurt you, like a bunny or a squirrel… and then, when you least expect it… BOO!”
        All the villagers jumped when the innkeeper yelled. The four knights did not. “He becomes a terrifying dragon and scares the living daylights right out of your eyes!” The innkeeper pointed to his bad eye, covered with a black eyepatch like a pirate. “What do you think happened to me eye, laddies?” He laughed, but it did not sound like a good laugh.
        “That’s why we call him the Thursday Dragon,” whispered the first villager. The four knights looked at each other.
        “Tomorrow is Monday,” said Sir William. The other three nodded.
        “I will go out and face him tomorrow!” Sir Robert exclaimed. His three friends thumped their chests with their armored fists, but all the villagers stayed quiet.
        “Do not go, laddie!” the innkeeper said with a sly smile. “The dragon will stew you in his acid and then gobble you up!”
        Sir Robert just smiled. “Four rooms for my friends and I!” he said. “My friends will have dinner, but I must go to rest. I have a busy day tomorrow.”
        The innkeeper did as he was told, but did not do so happily.

        The next morning (which was also the first day of summer as well as Monday), Sir Robert put on his green armor, strapped on his shield with the green griffin, ate a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs (one should never go dragon hunting without first eating breakfast) and ventured out into the forest. He did not wander through the snowy trees long before the dragon, looking quite terrifying with its green, blue, and red scales and with one large eye in the middle of his forehead, appeared out of the blowing snow like a ghost from a grave.
        “You silly little knight!” the dragon roared. “With your four friends, you might have had a chance, but all alone you are mine to stew and eat at my ease!”
        Sir Robert was curious. “Do you always have to stew your food before you eat it?” he asked.
        “Only on Mondays!” the dragon exclaimed.
        “So if you cannot stew me, you cannot eat me. Is that right?” Sir Robert continued.
        “Yech! Who would want to eat non-stewed food on a Monday?”
        “All right,” Sir Robert nodded. “Go ahead and stew me.”
        The dragon exhaled the stinky acid cloud from his nose, and the cloud surrounded Sir Robert completely. The dragon waited eagerly for the cloud to blow away so he could eat freshly stewed knight, but when the cloud did blow away in the gentle breeze, Sir Robert was sitting on his shield on the forest floor.
        “I do not understand!” the dragon exclaimed. Sir Robert got up and brushed the snow from his armor.
        “Would you like to try again?” he asked.
        The dragon did not answer. He only responded by breathing more acid out of his nose. But, when minutes passed and the cloud went away, Sir Robert was still there. The dragon roared in anger, but could not eat a raw knight without the proper stewing.
        “Go back to your village and send me one of your friends tomorrow!” the dragon snarled.
        “As you wish,” Sir Robert replied, picked up his shield and walked back to the village. Once he had returned to the inn, he told his three friends everything that had happened. He held up the ring that protected him against the dragon’s acid and smiled.
        “Tomorrow is Tuesday,” Sir Leo said. “I will go out and face him in the morning!”
        While the others ate their dinner, Sir Leo headed upstairs. He had a big day ahead of him! As he walked upstairs, the innkeeper gave him a mean look with his good eye.
        “Do not go, laddie,” he grumbled. “The dragon will freeze you with his icy breath and gobble you up!”
        Sir Leo went to bed.

        The next morning (which was also the second day of summer as well as Tuesday), Sir Leo put on his gold armor, strapped on his shield with the yellow lion, ate a huge breakfast of pancakes and syrup (one should never go dragon hunting without first eating breakfast) and ventured out into the forest. He did not wander through the snowy trees long before the dragon, looking quite terrifying with its blue, red, and green scales and with one large eye in the middle of his forehead, appeared from behind a large oak tree like a giant from a story about a beanstalk.
        “You silly little knight!” the dragon roared. “With your four friends, you might have had a chance, but all alone you are mine to freeze and eat at my convenience!”
        Sir Leo never blinked. “Do you always have to freeze your food before you eat it?” he asked.
        “Only on Tuesdays!” the dragon exclaimed.
        “So if you cannot freeze me, you cannot eat me. Is that right?” Sir Leo continued.
        “Yech! Who would want to eat non-frozen food on a Tuesday?”
        “All right,” Sir Leo said. “Go ahead and freeze me.”
        The dragon breathed out frigid cold between his lips, a frosty cloud that covered Sir Leo from head to toe. The dragon waited eagerly for Sir Leo to freeze, but after a few minutes, Sir Leo simply brushed the ice crystals off of his armor, completely unhurt.
        “I do not understand!” the dragon exclaimed.
        “Would you like to try again?” Sir Leo asked.
        “Yes!” the dragon cried, and did so. It still did not work. The dragon roared in anger, but could not eat a raw knight without the proper freezing.
        “Go back to your village and send me one of your friends tomorrow!” the dragon snarled.
        “As you wish,” Sir Leo replied, picked up his shield and walked back to the village. Once he had returned to the inn, he told his three friends everything that had happened. He held up the amulet that protected him against the dragon’s freezing breath and grinned.
        “Tomorrow is Wednesday,” Sir Nathan said. “I will go out and face him in the morning!”
        While the others ate their dinner, Sir Nathan headed upstairs. He had a big day ahead of him! As he walked upstairs, the innkeeper gave him an angry look with his good eye.
        “Do not go, laddie!” he growled. “The dragon will cook you with his fiery spit and gobble you up!”
        Sir Nathan went to bed.

        The next morning (which was also the third day of summer as well as Wednesday), Sir Nathan put on his red armor, strapped on his shield with the scarlet bull, ate a huge breakfast of biscuits and gravy (one should never go dragon hunting without first eating breakfast) and ventured out into the forest. He did not wander through the snowy trees long before the dragon, looking quite terrifying with its red, green, and blue scales and with one large eye in the middle of his forehead, flew from the sky like a vampire bat.
        “You silly little knight!” the dragon roared. “With your four friends, you might have had a chance, but all alone you are mine to cook and eat at my leisure!”
        Sir Nathan had heard this twice before. “Do you always have to cook your food before you eat it?” he asked.
        “Only on Wednesdays!” the dragon exclaimed.
        “So if you cannot cook me, you cannot eat me. Is that right?” Sir Nathan continued.
        “Yech! Who would want to eat non-cooked food on a Wednesday?”
        “All right,” Sir Nathan said. “Go ahead and cook me.”
        The dragon breathed back all of his snot from his great long nose and spat out a flaming wad of phlegm at Sir Nathan. As soon as it touched him, the boogers burst into flame, but after they burned down, Sir Nathan was disgusted, but otherwise unhurt.
        “I do not understand!” the dragon exclaimed.
        “Would you like to try again?” Sir Nathan asked.
        Again, the dragon breathed back its snot, drawing boogers from all the way down to its toes up to its brain. The dragon unleashed a torrential lugie that covered Sir Nathan from helmet to plated boots and burst instantly into flame, but it was no use. The dragon roared in anger, but could not eat a raw knight without the proper cooking.
        “Go back to your village and send me one of your friends tomorrow!” the dragon snarled.
        “As you wish,” Sir Nathan replied, picked up his shield and walked back to the village. Once he had returned to the inn, he told his three friends everything that had happened. He held up the bracelet that protected him against the dragon’s fiery spit and laughed.
        By this time, the innkeeper had caught on that they had protection from the dragon’s powers, and his one good eye looked over Sir William.
        “And what of you, laddie?” he asked. “Tomorrow is Thursday: The dragon will not try to stew, freeze, or cook you, but scare you to death. What protection do you have?”
        Sir William picked up the helmet he had taken from Sir Adam’s pirate chest and placed it in front of the innkeeper. “Take this. I will not need it.”
        And he went upstairs to sleep while his friends ate their dinner. He had a busy day ahead of him!

        Morning arrived, but Sir William never came out of his room. He did not come out for lunch either. By this time, his three friends were getting worried. They sent Sir Nathan up to check on him. Sir Nathan knocked on his door, but there was no answer. Sir Nathan tried the handle and found the door to be unlocked, but when he opened the door, Sir William was gone. He ran downstairs to ask the innkeeper if he had seen Sir William leave, but the innkeeper was gone too.

         Sir William had stayed at the inn all three days his friends had each on their own gone into the woods to face the dragon. And on all three days, he had seen that the innkeeper would leave not long after. On the first day, he had asked one of the villagers where he might be going to, and the man said the innkeeper might be going to the well deep in the woods to get more water.
        On the second day after Sir Leo and the innkeeper had both left, Sir William had walked into the woods to find the well. He did find the well easily enough, but did not find the innkeeper there.
        On the third day when Sir Nathan returned and told his story, so similar to the other two stories but just different enough to keep things interesting, Sir William paid attention to all of the small details. One thing in particular… the dragon was a cyclops, which meant it only had one eye. So when it was his turn to face the dragon, he knew exactly what he must do.
        He gave the innkeeper his helmet and went up to bed, but immediately took off the rest of his armor and climbed out the room’s one window. He climbed down the drainpipe and watched through the window as his friends finished their dinners and went to bed. Then he watched the innkeeper until the innkeeper said goodnight to the last villager and locked the doors. The innkeeper cleaned up the common room a little before blowing out the candles that served as light and going up to his bedroom on the second floor at the back of the inn.
        Sir William walked around to the back and stood under the window that was the innkeeper’s bedroom. A few moments later, the window opened silently and out flew something very big. Sir William had seen exactly what he knew he would see. He went to the stables and curled up in the hay with his horse, burying himself deep so that the stable boy would not see him when he came to feed the animals in the morning.
        When morning came, he woke up early and walked across the street, hiding from sight of the front door. Not long after he would have left for his turn to face the dragon, the innkeeper left the inn, his arms empty. Sir William followed him.
        He followed him out of the village and into the woods, deeper and deeper until the innkeeper stopped at the mouth of a large cave. He stretched, but when a person stretches their arms stop extending at a certain point. The innkeeper’s did not. He kept on going, and grew and grew until Sir William saw the dragon standing where the innkeeper had been. Sir William had seen enough.
        He stepped out of his hiding place and walked toward the dragon. The dragon saw him immediately with his huge eye. His scales were still all three colors, but somehow more faded than Sir William had imagined based on his friend’s descriptions. Perhaps because it was Thursday, and not Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday.
        “You silly little knight!” exclaimed the dragon, but Sir William stopped him by holding up his hand.
        “You can stop now. I know everything. You are no dragon,” Sir William paused. “You are nothing but a bully and a coward.”
        The dragon slumped over. “What makes you say that?” it asked.
        “I paid attention to the details,” Sir William said in reply. “And your details do not add up to dragon: They add up to wizard.”
        The dragon shrank back down to innkeeper size, but not innkeeper shape. Standing in front of Sir William was another old man, but this one was skinny as a stick, wore faded blue robes and a silly pointed hat that wizards are partial to. He had a long white beard that was braided in places, and long white hair that was snarled and messy. He leaned very heavily on a staff made out of wood and some kind of metal that Sir William did not know.
        “How did you know?” asked the wizard again, his voice less dragon-y and now a little bit whiny.
        “I knew you were not telling the truth,” Sir William said. “But I did not think you were the dragon until last night when you left the inn. And then I did not think that you were NOT the dragon until just now: A dragon that can turn into a man is not as crazy an idea as you might think, but a man that can turn into a dragon is far more likely. If you had been a real dragon, you would have brought the helmet I left with you. A dragon always has a hoard, and a neat magical item like that would be just the thing for a true dragon.”
        The wizard frowned. “What are you going to do to me?” he asked. Sir William thought about this.
        “That depends,” he said. “Have you been killing and eating people?”
        The wizard made a face. “Yech! No, of course not. I have just been scaring people into dropping their valuables and running away.”
        “But you meant to kill my friends and I,” Sir William continued. The wizard shrugged.
        “But I did not,” he said. It was Sir William’s turn to frown.
        “You could not,” Sir William informed him. “There is a difference. I am going to arrest you and take you back to the Dragonblood Knighthood. Sir Adam the Tattooed Bear can deal with you as he feels like.”
        “What if I had been a dragon?” the wizard asked as Sir William put him in shackles and began marching him back to the village. “What if I had brought the helmet to add to my hoard and you were alone out here with me without protection?”
        Sir William smiled. “Dragons, bullies, and cowards all have one thing in common, Mr. Wizard.”
        The wizard looked puzzled. “What is that?” he asked.
        “They are all afraid of things that are not afraid of them.” Sir William leaned close for the last part. “And I am not afraid of you.”

        He brought the wizard back to the village and the four friends brought him back to the Dragonblood Knighthood where he was put on trial for his crimes. He was found guilty on many counts of scaring the living daylights out of peoples’ eyes and was locked away in a tower for the rest of his life.

The End

Sunday, September 9, 2012

From the Journal of Lord Templeton Granger (Session I)

I arrived at the Isle of Arway as planned, having followed the paper trail of the illegal operations to a logging camp not far north, but here my travels came to an unexpected halt. Some kind of disruption further north (further yet than where my interests lie) have caused the native militia to fear for the health and safety of their citizens. They keep claiming that there is nothing awry, and yet they keep their populace trapped within the city and are searching for a disease the same way a hound searches for his game.
I had come no closer to disrupting the camp payroll than when I had arrived until I learned that an old friend was leading a caravan and was in much the same situation that I was in. I made up my mind to speak to old Osimus and see if he might know some fine folk that might be able to assist in my endeavors.
Good old Osimus came through: He had hired on some mercenaries to assist in the caravan’s protection and their spokesman was just the sort of man I like to work with, a man of avarice and excess. We struck a bargain and began our plans.
Tasilon negotiated the use of a river barge, which we used to transport his caravan upriver to a convenient ambush point. We off-loaded the caravan and blocked the river to northbound traffic.
When the payroll barge arrived, we negotiated like civilized men. In exchange for the payroll and goods the captain of the barge was carrying, I offered him falsified papers ending the illegal logging, and a letter of marque from a certain Varisian lord, giving them free reign to plunder their weasely black guts out. Then, we traveled to the logging camp and sold the loggers their own supplies at a significant markup… failing to mention, of course, that their logging days were numbered. All in all, I accomplished my goal of ending the illegal logging operation, and turned a tidy profit all in the name of Varisia.
I agreed to join their merry band of mercenaries for a simple truth: Tasilon had as much a nose for finance as I have, and in spite of the dangers we would face, we would make a great deal of profit along the way.
All in the name of the family, of course…

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Production Issues...

So the school year has started again and my schedule has become... wonky. I will continue to work on my serial story, however I will not be able to produce at a rate of one posting a day. I suspect it will be closer to one posting a week. I will shoot to put out a new entry every Sunday afternoon, but we shall see. I've not worked with that kind of deadline in a while.

Please bear with me and remain patient!



Monday, September 3, 2012

The Boneguard: At the Gates (Part VI)

by Adam Gottfried
© August 2012

[Please forgive the re-posting of this entry: There was some critical editing that needed to take place. It has been dealt with and the entry has been updated appropriately.]

The Tomb’s Entrance
        The five Boneguard stood at the entrance to the tomb in a crescent around their barely clothed human charge. They all six of them saw the sea of undead faces that stood on the field before them, even if the undead could not see them. The army was made up of all kinds, flaming skeletons, shamblers, flesh-eaters, blood-drinkers, and others even less pleasant to name. At their head, two or three dozen feet away from the actual entrance, stood their short, stocky commander. He too bore the unmistakable signs of undeath, but he was wrapped in a nearly visible cloak of malevolence, which set him well apart from the others.
        What was more disturbing was the fact that each of the undead, even those who traditionally lacked a will of their own, had a wicked intelligence that burned in sockets, glinted in milky eyes, and smoldered in solid black irises. The commander was pacing before a large divot in the mound that housed the Tomb, not really near the entrance, and looking quite morose.
        “He thinks that is the entrance but cannot figure out how to open it,” Seven said without really needing to. Most of them had already worked that out for themselves.
        “They can’t see or hear us?” Hope asked softly, but Seven shook his head.
        “The Tomb is protected. Whoever they are, they clearly do not understand the protections placed on this place.”
        “My question is, how is they have come to even be here?” Nine queried. “Not once have we had outsiders visit us here, and now suddenly that we have resurrected Hope, we have an army at the gates.”
        “Seven was followed,” said Ten in his own particular idiom. Seven nodded.
        “The lands to the north were overtaken by Warrick Wane,” Seven stated. “Or rather what Warrick Wane became. I spent a considerable amount of time searching through his lands, looking for the Fort of All Saints. It was my duty to destroy Sir Wane’s creations wherever I found them. I must have gained some notice.”
        Twelve gave Seven a quizzical look.
        “Why were you looking for the Fort of All Saints?” she asked.
        “Because I asked him to,” Hope replied softly. “Before all of this.”

1000 years previous…
        “Seven,” Hope said softly. “It’s time.”
        The tall Boneguard turned to face her. She was small compared to him, barely coming up to his chest, and less than half as wide at the shoulder. He glanced back at his charges who were still engrossed in the procession moving toward the Tomb that would be their home for untold centuries to come. Then, he looked back at her.
        “I am uncertain as to the wisdom of this course of action, my lady,” he murmured, moving forward. She smiled gently. Seven did not understand beauty as humans did, but if he had to guess, he would say that she was very much so. She had a round face with wide blue eyes framed with soft brown hair. Her form was slender and proportionate. Her left eye was very slightly higher than her left, but otherwise her features were more or less symmetrical. She did not have the unearthly grace or beauty possessed by Charris, but Seven guessed that she was just as beautiful in her own way.
        “It is the only way,” she replied. “I fear Charris made a grave miscalculation in the figuring of her machinations. That or…”
        Seven raised a hand. “It is not ours to question,” he said quietly. “We Boneguard were created to obey.” This was not strictly a lie – the Boneguard WERE created to obey. That Seven was given the option to disobey was not relevant.
        “In that case, she made a mistake. A rather large one at that.”
        “If it is so large, why would not Lady Isravaela have seen it?” Seven replied. “I do not mean to criticize, but Lady Isravaela is somewhat more intelligent that Lady Charris…”
        “Or me,” Hope nodded, finishing his thought. “But both Charris and Isravaela are ignorant when it comes to the magic granted by the gods. That is my realm, and I am telling you, they do not know what they have done.”
        Seven shook his head. “I have some powers granted to me by the grace of Zoratzu, but nothing as powerful as what they could bring to bear.”
        “I know my friend,” Hope smiled again. “But you were created to be a warrior. A protector. Not a divine conduit.”
        “You are correct,” he replied. “That is Twelve’s function. If I recall correctly, Lady Charris used ten fingerbones from several different saints in her creation: A divine conduit if there ever was one.”
        “Yes,” Hope agreed again. “Twelve’s construction brings her closer to the will of the gods, but until her understanding matches her raw ability, she will not fully comprehend what it is to be the servant of Zoratzu.”
        “By that logic, neither will I,” Seven’s voice was almost amused. Hope smiled sadly.
        “It is true,” she murmured. “Because you were created to believe in the life-giving power of Zoratzu. And for that, you will never truly be His servant…”
        Seven’s faceplate was implacable as always, but his amber eyes flickered slightly. Not in anger, not at all, but in pain. Whatever emotions he had, she had just now damaged them. But Hope did not see that. She could not, she did not know the whole truth.
        “The fact remains,” she continued. “That you cannot entreat Zoratzu or Naenia to restore life to a person whose time has come. We only get one life to live and when that life ends as all lives should, we cannot return to this mortal realm.”
        “It is different if you are cut down by magic or mace?” he asked, already knowing her answer.
        “It is. It is a small miracle that Svalbaird or Dexterost did not die by the blade, but all the same, they did not. And as such, they cannot be resurrected in Zoratzu’s light.”
        “It seems cruel, considering the only thing they wish to return to do is save existence,” Seven said softly and felt a slight tug on his conscience. He believed in Zoratzu’s teachings, he believed with all his metaphorical heart. And his statement went counter to those beliefs. But then, so too was what Hope was asking of him. He wanted to ask her, to beg her to find another way, but he knew there was none. They had already explored all the alternatives.
        She smiled and stopped, just out of view from both procession and the five youngest Boneguard. “I have placed the spell in a scroll case bearing my seal, and hidden it in my hometown, just a short way south of the Fort of All Saints,” she informed him. “When the time comes, travel there and find it. Then follow the instructions I have included in the case. It must be Twelve that reads the ritual, or Zoratzu may not grant his blessing.”
        Seven nodded. “I understand. Are you ready, my lady?” He drew his longsword.
        “I think,” she said with a bemused smile. “As you are my murderer, that you may call me Hope.”

The Present…
        “Boneguard!” the commander called. “Boneguard, I know you are within the Tomb! Send out a representative to speak for you!”
        The younger Boneguard all glanced at each other and then at Seven. Seven, not at all surprised, started to move forward, but Hope’s hand on his chest-plate stopped him.
        “I should go,” she murmured. “I am the most recent living resident of the Tomb, after all.”
        “No!” Eight called, at the same time his sibling cried out: “Yes, let her go!” Meanwhile Ten crossed his arms over his chest-plate with his usual unflappability and Twelve shook her head, saying nothing.
        Seven raised a hand and the Boneguard fell silent.
        “Once again I find myself reminding you of the wisdom of a particular course of action, Hope,” he murmured. She smiled, the memory, much fresher in her mind than in his, still resonating.
        “Your concern is noted and appreciated, old friend,” she replied. “But I must do this. They must know I am here and that I will stop them.”
        “They will kill you.”
        “Not without direct orders from their masters,” she waved him off. “I am not giving you a choice, Seven. I have made up my mind, and you will obey me.”
        The four younger Boneguard bowed their heads but Seven’s amber eyes flared. “I will not let you go alone.”
        She reached up and touched his face, smiling sadly. “I am the last living thing in this world. I am now and will ever be alone. Stay here, Seven. I will not be harmed.”
        It was a direct order. The kind of order that all Boneguard must follow, especially from one of the Seven Lost Heroes.  All Boneguard save for one.
        She stepped out of the mouth of the Tomb, still wrapped in her tapestry, and moved lightly out of the Tombs glamers and wards. The horde of undead creatures stirred at the sight of her and parted in her path. They started to close in her wake, but Boneguard Seven stepped out after her, causing them to hesitate. Sensing something amiss, she turned. She raised a brow as he moved up next to her.
        “I have guarded your bones for a thousand years. I have traveled the width and breadth of this world to bring you back. And I have defied my mandate and denied my faith to keep you safe. I will not stop now, no matter what orders you may give me.”
        She only smiled at this, and continued to move forward, the large metal-plated, decorated in a familiar skeletal motif, at her side. The commander, now aware of her presence (and a little chagrinned that he had not, in fact, chosen the correct entrance), marched over to them, but stopped short. If he registered that Hope was there, he showed no sign of it.
        “Boneguard Seven, I am Commander Porth of the 17th Division of His Majesty the Implacable Warrick Wane’s infantry.” His voice sounded gravelly and forced. “You are under arrest for a multitude of crimes against His Majesty.”
        Hope lofted a perfect brow. “‘His Majesty?’ Does Sir Wane fancy himself a king now?”
        “Nay,” Seven replied. “Self-proclaimed emperor.”
        Commander Porth appeared scandalized. “Arrest him!” he exclaimed, and the undead horde, moving as one, pointed their weapons at Boneguard Seven. Hope raised a hand.
        “You will not harm him. He is my protector and is therefore under my protection.
        Porth ignored her. “Advance! Take him!”
        “I’m a little surprised by their tenacity,” Hope admitted.
        “I did try to warn you,” Seven replied. Neither sounded particularly concerned.
        Suddenly, the veil under which Nine has cast the remaining Boneguard dropped, and Boneguards Eight, Nine, Ten, and Twelve appeared immediately adjacent to Hope and Seven. Almost simultaneously with the two of them, Twelve called upon the power of their God.
        “Let there be light!”
        “Dawnmaker’s kiss upon your brow!”
        “Ignite the dead!”
        And like that, a wave of divine energy flowed through all three of them, channeled through their bodies, tempered by their faith, and exploding forth from them in all directions, destroying the creatures immediately surrounding them as well as many more as the explosive circle expanded. Finally, it waned, clearing a swath thirty feet in every direction. Only Commander Porth still stood there, and his desiccated form looked blasted and torn, yellowed bone poking through sallow flesh.
        Power rippled from the hands of Boneguards Eight and Nine, each colored the same as their eyespark, and Ten hefted a mighty hammer that crackled with blue flame. Seven had drawn his sword and Twelve held aloft a simple wooden sigil of the sun, the holy symbol of Zoratzu. Hope smiled at Porth.
        “Return to your master and tell him that this world will be free of his rule once and for all. Tell him that Hope has returned to the people of this world!”
        Porth was glancing around him. There was nothing left of the undead that had been standing there, no trace that they had ever been there at all. Every part of his own body that was not protected by armor was blasted clean of the withered flesh that had covered it, scorching his bones. In the end, he thought better of a direct confrontation.
        “Fall back!” he ordered. The remainder of the undead army moved away from the Tomb to the north. Twelve and Hope turned to Seven. Seven was staring at his hands, his amber eyespark flickering not at all.
        “You invoked Zoratzu’s power!” Twelve exclaimed.
        “Your power has returned to you,” Hope said softly. “As I said it would after you righted your wrong.”
        “It has been so long…” whispered Seven. “I thought… I thought…”
        “Zoratzu never abandons his faithful,” Hope said quietly. “He only leaves them alone so that they may sort things out.”
        “This is a lovely moment,” Nine said, “truly. But Porth is no fool. He will contact Sir Wane the moment he is out of our sight and who knows what Warrick Wane is now capable of.”
        “Of course,” Hope said. “Back into the Tomb. We will need supplies. And I expect I will need something to wear more than a tapestry.”
        “Why?” Eight asked as the group moved toward the Tomb’s entrance.
        “I’m going to put a stop to this,” Hope replied. “The Lost Heroes have made a mockery of the world they helped to shape. And I am going to put it right.”
        “How?” Nine sounded dubious.
        Hope stopped and turned, her eyes burning with purpose and passion.
        “By putting this world to rest once and for all. If I am the last, let me be the last.” And she strode into the Tomb.