Gathering of An Army

Heading Home
Session 24

From the journal of Barregen Cromwell

Sleeping in a bag on a stone floor isn’t exactly what I’d call comfort, but at least it’s better than the ground or a boat. These haven’t been the best several days of my life, but then again… they haven’t been the worst, either. They’ve given us a place to sleep, food, and drinks. Oh hell have they given us drinks.

I’ll tell you what: I’ll never look at a toad the same way again, that’s for damned sure. And it was enough that Shai woke up curled up with a kobold in her bed. Their children will be disgusting.

I’ve been spending the last few days crafting a new firearm; a musket. And while I spent time in the forge working on my own gear, the rest of the weirdos had commissioned the kobolds to make them some new gear. Harman managed to get some new armor that his weak bones can actually handle. Marian got a set of vembraces that he asked “could protect from goblins” because he apparently hates them that much. This turned out to be an idea that the smiths were interested in though, so they went with it.

Falltu really made out in the deal though. They crafted her an entire set of new armor, complete with this demon dragon lizard head helmet thing. She’s pretty crazy looking in it, to be honest. But, her simple mind was pleased with the results.

After we got set up with new equipment – packs, rope, rations, kits – and we got another day of rest behind us, it was time for the rest of the group to head back home. Me? It’s just another place to make some money.

In the meantime, we’re sitting about 100 paces away from the giant rotting corpse of a pincushion. Some place I figured that we’d…. I’d never thought that I’d return. But, I never try to say never.

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Invasion of the Caverns - Part 2
Session 23

We had the kobolds carry Rodash’s body to someplace safe. Harman did his best to try and communicate to them that we needed a place where we could rest up and make sure that the big guy was okay. Apparently Shai couldn’t muster up any more glowing-hands mumbo-jumbo to make him better, so this was our best bet.

They lead us down a bunch of tunnels until we finally came to a room, but safe it definitely wasn’t. Falltu and Rusk Marian started yelling that they were being shot at and ran off, one towards the room and the other back down the hallway. I kept my eye on Marian running down the tunnel, but Harman told Shai to keep near me, so I figured that I would stay close. Meanwhile, Harman and Falltu ran into the room to smash some shit up. And man, did they. All I heard was metal and wood being tossed everywhere.

I managed to get one decent shot at the goblin that Marian ran after, but apparently he got away. It looked like the kobolds lead us to their armory that had been completely raided. This place definitely wasn’t safe, so Harman asked the lizards to take us to the All-Watcher instead. They got the gist and started leading us down another tunnel.

Fat ton of good that was. When we reached the All-Watcher, there were voices up ahead that definitely weren’t kobold. I scoped ahead and realized that there was a bunch of lizard guys tied up with goblins watching over them. Me and Harman came up with a plan: Falltu and kobolds would make their way to the hostages, Marian would go around to the other side while me and Harman would provide cover fire for them.

The plan worked well enough, and soon we were able to free a bunch of the kobolds. Falltu went berzerk and bashed the heads of a couple of goblins, while Harman and Marian did a pretty decent job of cleaning up the other side and made their way to the top of the platform. Harman called out that there was someone, or something on the other side and Marian just went jumping off at it. Sounded like it went pretty well, considering that I heard some loud grunts, slams of metal and Marian groaning a lot. Great.

And holy crap was this guy ugly. This rough warty skin that was obviously not moisturized, messed up teeth, a metal lion’s head for one hand, which had apparently been relocated to the other arm since his right side had two hands from the elbow. But those two hands held a giant sword.

I got a couple good shots in though, and soon enough big ugly went running to his momma. Only problem? Apparently she was on the other side of Shai and Rodash. Harman yelled out to warn her, and the rest of us went chasing after him. But, when we got there, all that was left was a barbecued hunk of shit.

We took Rodash and dragged him into the room, then went to check on the All-Watcher. Yeah… he was just a pile of mush at that point. Looks like the big guy had taken care of him in a bad way.

A bunch of the kobolds gathered around and one of them started taking the cloak and staff from the All-Watcher’s corpse. He disappeared behind a hidden door and we all pretty much passed out after that.

The next morning… maybe morning, who knows… a few of us woke up with Rodash and had a little chat. Basically, shit is messed up and we need to figure out what we’re doing here and why. Looks like Harman doesn’t even really understand why they’re still here. When the new All-Watcher came out of his little hidden chamber, Rodash translated some stuff for us and, long story short, we can stay here as long as we want until we have to leave. Also, looks like these goblins are their enemies or something and they fight all of the time. A heads up would have been nice.

Armies. Monks trying to kill me. Rock things in a mountain. Orcs, ogres and trolls. A field of statues. Fucking skeletons coming out of the ground and a… something disappearing into a cloud of smoke. Gates in the side of a mountain. Kobolds fighting goblins. This is all just way too much.

I can’t wait until I can sleep in a bed again.

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Invasion of the Caverns - Part 1
Session 22

Barregen Cromwell’s Personal Journal…

We returned from the mines successful with arms full of ore, and there’s black smoke billowing from the mouth of the lizard’s hut? Great.

When we followed Rodash towards his home, there wasn’t a need for torches or lanterns, since the entire front gate was burnt to a crisp. The big guy went rushing in, followed by Rusk and Harman rolling through the fire. Falltu decided to try and take a shortcut by smashing down the remaining wall pieces. Apparently, on the other side were three creepy-ass looking hairless dog things that were a pain, but easy enough to manage. After Falltu made us a new door, we followed after Rodash who went running down the hallway.

_As an aside: Looks like Marian is back. I’m honestly not sure if I’m going to miss Rusk or not. He’s kind of a whiny prick and he gave away the armor that I fixed for him. Looks like Marian’s learned a few new tricks in his off-time, too.

We ran from room to room, swerving down those tiny tunnels and finally coming out to a room that opened up. In there were a handful of kobolds, and we finally found out what caused the door’s current debilitating condition – they were getting the crap kicked out of them by a group of goblins.

We helped clean up the green little bastards in time to have a couple of them start loosing fire arrows at us. Getting up close and personal, Harman was able to take one of them hostage and get some info from it. Apparently they’re following this leader Gnaw Back or something, but it had no real idea where this ass was. Rodash went running off again and Falltu followed him, so we finished up and followed them down the tunnel. At least we thought we did.

The goblin lead us to where he thought Gnaw Back was, and we ended up at the forge where there was a huge melee going on. Kobold blood was spilled all over the place, but a lot of them were still fighting. We jumped right into the fray.

Me and Marian started making our way through a bunch of goblins, blowing their shit apart. Harman spotted Falltu and Rodash on the bridge in the middle of the forge: apparently they looped around and came in on the other side. The two of them started fighting this big fucker with an axe who had just cut down a couple of kobolds, while me, Marian and Harman regrouped. Shai must’ve hidden in the tunnel entrance the entire time. Or did that invisible thing that she can apparently do.

As we were trying to make our way to Falltu and Rodash…. man, it was brutal. Rodash was doing this weird lean-back standing thing, but it didn’t do a thing to help him against the goblin’s axe. It just buried right in his chest and blood went everywhere. But as he was swinging, I saw Harman out of the corner of my eye step up and he just started yelling at Rodash. It was…. inspiring.

Rodash hit the ground with a thud, and Falltu freaked out. She dropped her shield and just started wailing on this guy. After he dropped and we took out the last goblin in the forge, we counted the kobold’s that we had saved – four in total – and decided that we badly need a place to take care of Rodash.

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It Is a Mine
Session 21

Barregen Cromwell’s Personal Journal…

We finally made it to the mine, and apparently the lizard king forgot to inform us that this was their off season for work. The entire thing is empty, but luckily Roedash worked here occasionally, so at least he knows his way around this place. Falltu, Harman and myself grabbed some picks and shovels while Rusk and Shai followed Roedash down the tunnels to light the way.

Damn, these tunnels are deep. But, at least we’re out of the cold.

Hours later, we finally start to see signs where mining was still happening before their winter break. These deposits aren’t nearly as pure as I need them though, so we continued down. Looks like we weren’t the only ones enjoying the warmer air down here though. A shit-ton of bats began to swarm when our lanterns invaded their nesting spot. Fucking Rusk and Falltu decided to start swinging about instead of just letting them pass, and we got into a really long and bothersome fight. Ever try to hit one bat, let alone fifty? Yeah, that’s how fun that was.

After Harman bagged up a bunch of them and Falltu smashed the shit (literally) out of them, we moved on.

After a rest, we finally found a sizable deposit of carbonized iron, perfect for smelting down into steel. Mining out as much as we could carry, we made the long trip back to the surface and decided to rest once more before heading back to the lizard caves.

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Other Side of the Door
Session 20

Barregen Cromwell’s Personal Journal…

Hell, I need a drink. At least I got my hands on some new ink though.

This place is dark, and hot, and small, and dark. These lizard things walked us for too long of a time down pitch black tunnels when they left us in what Rusk told us was a small room. Finally something cast some light. This lizard with a staff and some robes who apparently has learned to speak our language somehow. He calls himself the All Watcher and says that he’s their leader. Harman takes the lead and explains our situation. Apparently they’re on some type of quest or mission or some shit that they didn’t bother actually telling me about. They yapped away for a bit and apparently we’re on their good side now, since they took us to a room and gave us food.

When we went back to get the big stone guy, he was gone and had taken the weapons that we’d had to drop with him. Looks like he took Francesco as a snack, too.

Harman went and talked with the Watcher guy again and apparently worked his tongue magic, since we’re getting new weapons to replace what the asshole took with him. They took us down to this hot as balls forgery where they dumped a bunch of weapons for us to sift through. Think I’m going to take this time and try to make myself a new musket while the others have the smiths craft them some new weapons and armor that’s more size appropriate.

Looks like their materials aren’t up to the quality that I am used to. No matter what I do, the iron won’t bend the way I need it to. The forge master told us that there is a mine with veins of iron that could be good enough for what I need though. In the morning, we’ll be taking a little trip.

They gave us cloaks for the cold weather and new fur-lined bedrolls for our travel. The forge master’s apprentice, this big ugly bastard who takes a beating from the kobold but takes it in stride, is going to be our guide to the mine. Mother Nature has laid down about 5 inches of snow in the four days that we’ve been stuck underground. Falltu is freaking the fuck out. Shai is doing her best travelling without her lizard ride.

As we were setting up for camp, the pack of wolves that had been trailing us practically since we left made their move. Almost a dozen of them swarmed on us, with this big black beast as their leader. He was the only one to make it out alive, with Harman planting an arrow in his ass as he ran away. For his sake, he better stay away since I’m probably going to need a new coat soon.

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Following the Trail
Session 19

They walk.

And walk.

And walk.

This group covers plenty of ground in the frigid air encompassing these new lands. Though they still have not grasped the true effect that such weather has upon their bodies, as they continue to march without protection or thought of the icy winds. They continue along the path that the Oracle has laid out for them: West towards a clearing of some sort.

By the next day, they reach this clearing. It is nothing more than felled trees that show no more signs of life. However, apparently there is a path leading south through the woods. Horse tracks? Interesting. This might suggest life within these lands after all.

The cold apparently keeps most of the wilds at bay, though within a few days they once again find that the lands hold many surprises. Rusk’s keen eyes have nearly paid off, as he is able to warn Falltu of the large beast that is in front of her just before she meets it face to face herself. A manticore has apparently stumbled upon their camping grounds in search of food.

I was not aware that such a beast still thrived within this world. An interesting development that may require more research.

The group does rouse from their slumbers and rally somewhat quickly, almost working together with the onset of possible death looming over them. Soon enough, they have scared off the beast as it takes flight, disappearing into the dark and clouded skies.

For the next couple of days they travel. Their exploits are becoming more and more tiresome, quite nearly a waste of my efforts. Within time, they reach the mountains once again, though at this location is the birth of a waterfall, several hundred feet tall from appearances. As they survey the surrounding area, it appears that the horse tracks are mixed alongside kobolds. Oh, this certainly should be a delight. Harman sends Rusk beneath the waterfall to follow the tracks, and the scout comes back with rather interesting sightings.

A wall of wood built within a tunnel found behind the water. Thick wood with a large door in the middle. No windows or slits to be seen. Oh… They are approaching the door with hopes of diplomacy and peace? They hope to find friends and allies with the kobolds? Their lack of knowledge of these crude lizards is most beneficial indeed. Apparently I will not need his services, after all.

These bundles of flesh have served their purpose, and now have worn out their interest. Their lives will be ended far away from their families and without purpose being found. Tis an unfortunate ending for such an enticing group, however they have given all they can and found wanting in the end. I shall turn myself again to more pressing matters, now with their failures at hand and new stories shall unveil, I am sure.

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A New and Troubling Land
Session 18

Their spirits battered, yet they still carry on.

Their bodies broken, yet they still carry on.

Their minds torn asunder and devoid of focus, yet they still carry on.

I wonder what is in them that allows their continued destruction yet ever surging persistence. They rest their bodies at the foot of the mountainside for the night, now with their supposed freedom in their hands they begin to drift apart once more. The stone one wanders about, lost in this new world. The magic one attempts to cope with an existence without purpose. The warrior stares gawk-eyed at her new surroundings. The wanderer thirsts for the taste of sour berries. The Oracle retreats into herself at the frightful appearance of the wilderness. The only one to hold himself together is their leader… Possibly an important figure at the end of this all.

Harman struggles to keep the group in line and on task, as they all begin to drift down their own paths. The stone one pushes him to take the reins of their companions, stating that someone has to and in all possibility there are no others up to the task at current. He is not wrong in this. With the brain of Harman and braun of the Melog, they turn to the group and begin to steer them to safety, announcing that they will be turning their faces into the sun in the morning, heading to the river they had spotted at the mountain’s exit. At dinner, they set camp and prepare for their travels, and at night they sleep. Waking in the morning, they begin heading to the east.

A handful of days travel finds them at the shores of the river. Frozen waters welcome them, though Falltu gazes upon them in wonder. Never seeing such vast amounts of water in her lifetime, she dives headlong into the chilled waters. Also never feeling such cold upon her skin, she jumps from the river and forces the group to camp at the shores for fear that she might catch her death. The one thing they will not be catching is any fish this day, so their food supplies begin to dwindle.

The night brings Ruskenporah scouting about and in the hunting grounds of a dangerous foe. He finds himself wandering about the spindles of a wolf spider – a deadly ambush hunter whose trap the soldier has found himself caught within. The creature springs from his burrow and latches onto the prey, ever slowly pulling him closer to death. He cries out, yet I fear that the party is too far off to hear his pleas.

They beckon to his cries and manage to fell the beast with only mild injuries. However, it appears that their personalities and strategies are in just as much disarray as they always have been. I do not see these containers keeping hold of their souls for too much longer.

Pity.

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End of Travel, Beginning of a Journey
Epilogue

Apparently these inexperienced and inefficient travelers are more competent that I had originally perceived. During my absence, it appears that they have picked up another adventurer who carries some sort of magical weaponry from far off. Barregen they call him. Somehow, the name sounds familiar. It also seems that they have taken on the assistance of a stone elemental, though how he got to this plane is beyond my understanding. I had thought that their pathway into this realm was blocked, but perhaps this is something that I must study once again. In the meantime, perhaps I shall follow this lot in the slight chance that they do manage to find their way through this maze of tunnels and valleys. While they are out of sight while in the tunnels, I have a clear view of them within the valley of the savages. Though their time within this valley is coming to an end. I will have to wait to see if they manage to find their way back into the open spaces on the other side of the mountains.

And it appears that I have yet again underestimated their value, as they seem to have made their way past many of the trials and tribulations that the Hidden Pass provides weary travelers, and that their journey as a whole has provided.

They have made it past Argus and his beasts. They have trekked along the mountainsides and to the edge of the plains. Bandits and basilisks only seemed to periodically slow them. Even the gholdako could not entirely stop them However it did manage to dispatch of one of their kind. Escape from a hydra seemed all too easy, and the silver-tongued devil Harman too deftly talked his way into the graces of Barderox, gathering the services of Ripnugget and his remaining tribe. They rescued their lost friend and successfully located the temple in the mountains. Destroying most of the monks within the temple, they once more evaded the killing blade of Argus. And now, they have made it into the mountains and possibly even found their way out.

And now, there is nothing standing in their way between them and freedom from the confines of this earthly prison, except for an ancient iron gate. I believe that this is something that will have to be corrected….

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The Time is Now
Session 17

Barregen Cromwell’s Personal Journal

The outside air, my god, I never thought I would be so happy to see open space… We are tired, we are sore. I write this journal entry briefly, as mustering the strength to do much more is hindering.

It was truly apparent that this manifestation, whom calls itself the Dark Prince, meant every word of his threat. I had never encountered anything like this before, only heard about them in legends and night time stories to scare the children and women. This vile creatures figure faded into a mist then faded into the black before our very eyes.

In the distance a chain sways from the ceiling, no doubt the pulley system to the large gates at the end of the cavern. As I went to take a step a digging sound arose in various locations around us. I knew this was not going to fair well. From the dirt and rubble, shambling figures immerged. Former men, now just husks of decayed flesh, rags and clamoring bones. I would fancy a guess of a parting gift from The Dark Prince. The warrior Falltu, fast footed moved right toward these abominations, readying her strike. I fired off a shot and the one that my shot hit crumbled and collapsed to the ground. Everyone had a horror to engage, we were surrounded. Falltu smashing them to bits, Harman firing bolts, Melog swinging wildly. Marion-Rusk had thrown his weapon missing his target, as he ran by to retrieve it I noticed Fransisco without Shai. I looked back, and the mount was trying to back step. In an instant this skeletal creature tore at her beloved lizard. The animal was wounded, but I had other things to deal with. I turned away to dispatch another creature with my sword, with a quick glance back I had seen one of the shamblers collapse to the ground in a heap of burnt bone. A strike from something out of my peripheral it seemed to be.

Then the realization, more of these things were spilling forth. We were all in the fight. This was truly it, the fight for our very survival. I could tell how tired we were; tired of this hell we had wandered around in for what seemed like ten eternities. Yet, we were not beaten. We all wanted out, none of us wanted to die here, maybe sometime down the road, but not here not today. Shot after shot, swing after swing, fist after fist we could see the numbers of these undead dwindle. My spirits lifted… then.

Something landed between us and the door, a giant something… a giant ugly something. Even the skeletal creatures backed away from it, I couldn’t blame them. This thing looked like it was conceived in an orgy of the damned in the blackest pit of hell… and we must have been standing in its cradle.

The hulking creature threw large rocks, hitting us. Falltu tried to go toe to toe with this ogre-ish beast. It had grabbed her and had a firm grasp. Marion-Rusk went to her aid, but the creature used her body as a weapon knocking, Rusk down. This beast was not going to go down easy. It was going to take everything we had to kill this thing. Rusk was knocked unconscious with the last blow. The big man Melog was soon to follow. With nobody within his reach, the beast flung Falltu with ease directly at me. Getting to her feet, she ran back in to battle with the tunnels guard, though she was soon knocked to the ground as well. In a last ditch effort, and with my last throws of hope, I let a bullet fly. Blood sprayed from the ugly bastard’s neck as what little color in its cheeks flushed and it dropped to the ground.

When all was said and done, the beast was dead, and we were all exhausted. Somehow we managed to gather or wits and strength. Shai came back from her hiding place and brought Rusk, Melog, and Falltu back from the brink of death. However, the now felled beast had left us with a hole in the ceiling and a broken chain. Rusk and Harman fashioned a rope to the chain while Melog, Falltu and I dragged the ogre-beast with the rope tied to it, using it as a way to hoist the gate. Rusk was pushing rocks underneath the gate, just enough for us all to get out. As a group we rushed out into the open, down a ways to see a forest, and the sky, the first breaths of crisp, fresh air in a long time. We really didn’t say much, but I felt that we were all happy to be alive. I also think, we may have been a bit happy we all were alive. I must admit, I was. They may be a rag-tag mismatch of sorts, but… we got out alive. Together.

The outside air, my god, I never thought I would be so happy to see open space… We are tired, we are sore. Some rest will do us some good.

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Forced Reflection

From the mind of Marian-Rusk

I can feel my body swaying side to side as if I am walking a great distance but can see nothing of my surroundings. I can usually see well in the dark, even with no light at all, but this is different; every direction is pure blackness. I don’t know if my vision is gone, or there is just nothing to see. The darkness, however, is nothing compared to the silence. Almost tangible, it wraps around me, cutting me off from even the sound of my own breathe, my own heartbeat. My body walks for what feels like days, but could be seconds, there is no way to know in this horrible void, this lack of sensation. The swaying finally stops. Am I now resting? The darkness seems to dim slightly, but after a time I start to think my mind imagined it. Then the images appear in the air around me, causing my eyes to blink away the sudden attack. Sounds assault ears that have been strained by silence for so long.

Once the shock is over, I realize I know these scenes. They are the sights and sounds of my childhood! But not seen through my eyes. I see them now as a cloud or bird would, looking down on my younger self and my family in our yard in Hylley. There is Tyler, with that red handled axe he is so proud of, standing shoulder to shoulder with Iosua. They are steadily and slowly spreading out to surround me. As Iosua moves to the left, I look past him and see Eoghan and Siobahn similarly engaged in a practice battle. Before my two younger brothers can completely surround me, I watch myself start a simple three move attack routine. I know this moment in time! As I see myself finishing the move I scream out to mind where I place my feet, but it is to no avail. No voice came from between my lips, for there is no sound where I am. There is only sound in the memory, or dream, or whatever this is playing out in front of me. My younger self stumbles into the hole and, just as they did 6 years ago, my brothers waste no time on taking advantage of my error. Iosua knocks into me to knock me further off balance, while Tyler uses the back of his axe to knock my sword from my hand.

The event that changed everything is coming up and I try to turn away from the pain, but it doesn’t work. The image simply swings in the air to always stay directly in my field of vision. I can’t help but see Tyler’s axe swinging back in to finish the second half of the horizontal move or to see my younger self form a spike of blue light in my right hand to block the oncoming axe. Everything freezes, but one figure. My father walks over to have our talk. The one where he tells me that I am adopted and that my life for the past 13 years has been a lie. But this time is different. The story is exactly as I heard it then; the ending is still the same. But this time I notice the details my younger, angrier self could not. I see the pain, no not pain, the relief in my father’s eyes as he tells me the truth that he has kept from me all these years. As he tells his son, because that is what I now realize I have always been, that he was not his flesh and blood, but that he was indeed still his son. I hear him tell my 13 year old self “Collect your thoughts like I’ve always taught you. Your mother and I will still be here when you are ready.” and this time I actually listened to the words. I finally understand that the first 13 years of my life weren’t a lie. I was still a McKeon. No, I am still a McKeon. I watch as my father walked away to give me space and, as he did, the image faded and I was once again left in darkness and silence, but with a new understanding of the past to think on and pass the time.

The void had not been back for too long before the swaying begins again. I don’t know what this means, but I think possibly I am unconscious, knocked out during the ogre battle, and am being carried by my companions. It would explain the swaying and the visions. I sit there for some time, contemplating what the rest of the group must be going through. With what happened over the past few days, I am amazed that they are even bothering to carry me along. I would have figured Cromwell would have just left me for the animals, not even bothering to put me out of my misery. Misery. I was no stranger to that. But did I bring it on myself? As I start to think back on some of the people I had lost, the swaying stops. They must be stopping to rest for the night. I hope everyone else is alright. I would hate to lose anyone else. There have been far too many lost already. And then the images start to appear again. I am almost expecting it this time so my eyes and ears are a little more prepared but my mind is not ready for this particular set of images.

It starts simple enough. Once again I am staring down at myself from above, but this time my younger self was walking through the woods. I am a few years older, dressed in leather armor and forest garb with a shortsword hanging from my hip. I watch as my now 18 year old self comes to a clearing and begins to walk around the edge. If sound existed in the void, I would have let out a low moan. This is where my platoon was wiped out. That exact clearing. That exact day. I watch as the images continued to follow me walking through the woods, then the sounds of steel on steel and the quick cries of the wounded as steel connects with flesh. I watch in horror as my younger self sprints back to help out and comes upon the pitched battle that is my entire platoon against a larger force of goblins, hobgoblins and orcs. They fight valiantly, and I fight right alongside them.

As the last orc battles against my platoon leader, I strike down the last of the goblins, my shortsword shattering in the process. We are the only two left, my commander and I, and even before the goblin’s body finishes its downward decent, I am already sprinting across the clearing, mindblade forming as I run. I scream at the orc to fight me instead, but as he turns to face me, I see my commander slump to the ground, a bloody gash across his entire torso. I scream again and fling the mindblade as hard as I can, slaying the last of the killers of my platoon, my friends. I watch as my younger self races over to the body of my commander to check for a pulse, but know it is hopeless. As I know the frantic checking of the rest of the platoon would be hopeless as well.

From this vantage point, however, I can see the total scope of the battle. My platoon wasn’t just outnumbered, but grossly outnumbered. There are at least 4 times as many goblins, hobgoblins and orcs as there are soldiers. It was a miracle I survived at all. They had been lying in wait for us. It wasn’t my fault they died. Well not entirely. There was no way for me to know they were there, and no way to change how it happened. I did the only thing I could in the circumstance, I killed the things responsible for all that carnage. I avenged my platoon. My eyes snap back to the images at that moment, just in time to see my younger self bend to pick up a tiny lizard. The name “Cara” reverberates through my head as the images begin to whirl.

The images become a whirling cyclone of colors for several seconds and then, just as abruptly, stop. This new image is confusing at first. I simply see myself leaning over a pack. Then, as I see myself bring forth a small bloody figure, it all becomes clear. This is when I lost Cara and truly became the last remaining creature to walk away from that battle. I do feel some pain upon seeing her again, but it is blunted by time and now I can truly appreciate the river funeral I am now watching.

The images quickly swirl around me and I hear a deep pounding, like a giant heart. Thump. Thump. Thump. The whirling stops and I see a one eyed giant bearing down on our small band. Siobahn, my only sister, stands with her hammer at the ready, begging the huge brute to get close enough to hit. As I watch, he moves close to within striking distance, knocks Kal aside like just an annoying fly, and then heads straight for Siobahn. She strikes a mighty blow with her hammer, but it is not enough and he brings his giant fist down on the top of her head. With a sickening crunch, her body crumples to the ground. As a pool of blood quickly forms under her broken body, the giant is finally taken down. Her death had bought the others the time they had needed. Although tears now rim my eyes, I have finally come to realize that she died doing what she did best, protecting those she cared for. She would not have wished it any other way. I can barely make out, through my tear filled eyes, the images as they start to blur and whirl away once more.

When the images finally stop, I am staring up at a high stone cliff face. I shudder knowing what is coming next. I see myself from just a few days ago; watching in terror as my childhood friend, one of the only people left alive that meant something to me, plummet to his death on the ground in front of me. It hurts, but like the rest, I have to face this. I have to stop hiding from everything that hurts. Yes, I lost Kal. I lost Cara. I lost Siobahn. I lost Eoghan. I lost my platoon. But I realize now that I never lost my family. My parents will be waiting for me when I get home and if I never wake up and get on with my life and this mission, then I will never make it back to them. They will never know what happened to their only daughter or oldest son.

Suddenly a rapidly spinning object appears in front of me. It seems to be changing shapes and colors as it spins; a large red hammer one second, a small green sword the next, then a small orange axe, then a blue starknife. It starts to spin faster and faster, becoming more weapons than I can count. I begin to get dizzy watching it and feel myself falling over. No, I growl, not this time. I reach up and grasp the handle of the now shapeless mass of energy the shifting weapon had become and start to push it with my mind. I feel like I am 15 again, just learning how to control my mindblade. I exert my will on it and force it to take the shape I want, instead of the other way around. It slowly rounds to a solid handle that sits comfortably in my hand. After that I concentrate on the upper half and form it into a short sharp blade. The spinning colors are the last part. I focus on those and they slowly stop spinning and then slowly a dark green color starts growing from the handle to envelop the entire blade. When I am done, I hold in my right hand a perfectly formed dark green version of the short sword my father gave me to carry all those years ago. With the ghosts of the past behind me, I can now look to the future.

I spend the next couple of hours practicing to regain the skill of reforming the mindblade into different forms and different colors. I am enjoying a nice mental break when suddenly the floor shifts out from underneath me and I tumble down into the abyss. I bounce down for untold minutes and suddenly hit a hard bottom. I open my eyes and find that color and sound have returned to the world. I am in a cave. Shai stands over me. For the first time in a long time, I am truly awake.

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