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Friday, September 29, 2017

The Invitation

The group finally reached the shadows cast by the stone fortress. Azereus called to a halt and everyone gathered to see what he had in mind. “I think we should make camp here for the night. This way we can study the layout and figure out the best way to enter the fortress. I have this weird feeling that we shouldn’t just walk through the front gate. What do you guys think?”

Both Bo and Zirede studied the looming fortress. Zirede was the first to speak. “I wish Nilla was here, she has a knack for finding the most unlikely ways into places. I must agree we need to go in some other way. The stories of this place have the missing parties always entering the front gate. I am all for not disappearing over this thing.” Both he and Azereus looked to Bo for his opinion.

As much as Bo hated to look over the place, he knew from experience the front gate was not the way to go. Hell, he doubted any way they chose would save them but he kept that to himself. “I can say for certain I watched my father and then the party sent to find him, walk through that gate and never saw any of them again. So, if we can find an alternative I am all for it.”

The younger group of males sauntered toward their elders. “What do you think they are discussing now?” Dominic asked.

“Probably the best way to avoid going into that big old fortress. You know Bo has bad memories of this place. I think we ought to go explore the area and not tell them what we are doing.” Neko said as he turned to walk backward and gaze up at the gray walls.

Diewen studied the powerfully built Felis, his senses still yelling at him that he was standing in the presence of a Pantheri. He couldn’t prevent the question from escaping, “Are you a Pantheri, and if you are, how are you here?”

This stopped the twin’s dead in their tracks. They both exchanged glances before looking at Neko who had apparently not heard the question or was pondering his response. Either way, he bumped into Donny as he turned to face the little Rex. The look on his face gave witness that he had indeed heard the question.

Neko thought about how to answer Diewen. He felt exposed and that wasn’t a good feeling. What if he said yes, and the little guy decided to use it in some way against him. Yet here they were getting ready to trust the strangers in finding the Triad. He wished CeCe or Bo were beside him so they could advise him on his answer. He ended up not having to say anything though as the little Rex answered his own question.

“I knew it. Don’t try to deny it the answer is written all over not only your face but theirs too.” He pointed at the twins who both wore identical looks of surprise and wariness. “You don’t have to worry, my prince. And don’t deny you are a prince because your bearing speaks of your royal blood. Not to mention the rumors that the prince was hidden away when his family was slain. I can’t believe we found not one member of royalty but two. No wonder Amerak wants you guys dead.”

Neko’s head came up at this statement. “How can he want us dead if he has no idea we are alive. My sister tells me he is the one responsible for the destruction of Mithral, I grew up never knowing who or what I was until we started this quest.” He had turned to watch CeCe and the other females build the camp. “She kept the truth from me to protect me and I am glad she did. Goddess knows how big my head would have grown with that information…”

“And he has a big enough head without it,” quipped Dominic as he bumped into Neko. “It doesn’t matter. We are going to find this Triad thingy and Amerak is gonna lose. Simple as that.” He continued.

The closer to the walled fortress they got the more silent the group became. Just as they were before the main gate Donny stopped dead in his tracks, a look of bewilderment on his face. The others watched as he leaned the Specter’s Staff towards the time-worn rusted gate. The others stopped close behind him waiting for him to tell them what was happening.

“I hear whispers. It is many voices all garbled together as if they all are trying to tell me something at the same time. It’s weird. As garbled as they sound I know what they are saying. They are inviting us inside. They want us here.” He cast a glance back towards the others. “I think we should take them up on their invite. What do you guys think?”

The looks that he received were comical in the way they mirrored each other perfectly. Shock and revulsion mixed in with disbelief that he would ask such a stupid question. He couldn’t help what he did next the staff took over and the ancient spirits dwelling within it pulled him forward. He willingly followed leaving the trio behind to watch in bewilderment as he headed towards a gate that just by chance was opening.

Bo had just turned to start walking the perimeter when he noticed the group of young Felis’ heading towards the opening gate. He took a second glance, and yes indeed the gate was opening as Donny led by the staff calmly walked through it.

“What in the seven hells is he doing? Has he lost all the sense I taught him to have?” He waved his hand to alert the others around him to what was happening. “Donny! Stop!!” he shouted at his brother. He began running towards the fool. He stopped dead in his tracks as he watched the others all running as he was towards the young male.

As he approached the group in which the other young males were gathered he asked, “What is he doing? And please tell me why you haven’t done anything to stop him.”

“The staff is telling him to go in, I for one think we ought to see what happens before trying to go against a cursed staff, don’t you agree, big brother?” Dominic spoke to Bo as he was literally strangling the wood of his bow in his angst over what his twin was doing.

Soon all the group had gathered with Bo and the young males. They all felt this odd sense of relief and panic at what would happen when Donny entered the grounds of the fortress of Black Barrow.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Destiny Awaits

Nilla had just taken the last bite of her sandwich when Amerak startled her by coming up behind her chair and grabbing her shoulders. She hadn’t thought he could move that fast. He had just risen and began to pace around while he waited for her to slack her hunger. The last bite lodged in her throat and she began to choke. “The time for stalling is over little thief”, was growled into her ear as the wizard loomed over her.

“I think you have played on my patience long enough. Tell me what you have found in your search, or that meal will be your last.” To emphasize his point, Amerak squeezed her shoulders painfully. Nilla couldn’t stop the whimper of pain as his claws extended, digging deeper into her flesh. “Now tell me, have you found the Guardians? Or did you and your inept band fail me once more?”

Swallowing the tasteless sandwich, Nilla longed to take a sip of water to help it go down but feared in his present mood that Amerak would take offense of it. “When you summoned me, my band and I were closing in on the whereabouts of the Guardians. We had intel tell us they were traveling with a guide towards Coracre, we immediately set off in pursuit. As we speak my band should be encountering them. If we are finished I would like to join in the battle.”

Nilla tried to remain nonchalant as the lie left her lips. She worried that Amerak would see through it and all would be lost. She didn’t have long to wait to find out if he believed her or not. He quickly released her and moved to stand in front of her. Her heart felt like it dropped to her feet when she saw him signal his guards. The look on his face spoke volumes of his displeasure at catching her in a lie.

“Amazing, I almost believed you. How easy you lie to your lord and master. Now tell me again where they are located? Was it Coracre? Hmm… now according to my spies, it seems the Guardians may have gone a bit out of their way to get there. They say they were heading in the totally opposite direction.” Amerak motioned towards a small figure that until now Nilla hadn’t noticed. “Where was it that your friend Max said he was heading again? I am fairly certain you said somewhere other than Coracre.”

The small wiry fella looked more rodent than Felis, his sharply pointed ears, and whip thin tail just a few of his attributes. His tiny black eyes never seemed to stop in their perusal of all around. You could feel his nervous energy from across the room. Even his voice was squeaky as he spoke. “It weren’t no Coracre that’s fer sure, my liege. It was that old haunted place, you be knowing the one. Black Barrow be its name.” His little nose twitched a bit as he continued.

“Old Max, he was all in a hurry to be gone. Said the ones who hired him were looking for something. Last, I knew there weren’t nothing up that way ‘ceptin’ ghosts. I warns him of it but he still took them up there.” Amerak held out his hand and in it was a pouch of what Nilla could only surmise to be the fool’s payment. She had a feeling he wouldn’t get far with it though. Amerak didn’t like to pay for anything. “Thank ya much, my liege, I can go, right?” He reached out and quickly snatched the pouch from Amerak’s hand.

Amerak waved him off and returned his eyes to where Nilla sat now perched on the edge of her seat. “So, do you have anything new to add? Like the true whereabouts of your crew and the Guardians.”

Nilla tried to think of a way out of her predicament but for once her brain refused to come up with anything. She refused to say anything of Black Barrow. “I have no idea what he is talking about. When we found a trace of them it was up in the mountains, a severe storm was raging and we had taken refuge in a cave. I have never heard of this place he speaks of. When you summoned me, we were just packing up to try and regain their trail. From what Zi said it looked like they were headed in the direction of Coracre.”

Nilla watched Amerak’s hands and flinched when he gave a signal. The guard grabbed her and forced her to stand. His buddy came to stand beside her and took hold of her arm. “What? I told you all I know.” She pleaded but Amerak just walked toward the door, signaling the guards to bring her along. “Where are you taking me?” she cried. She tried to fight from the hold but the guards were too strong.

As Bumbles portal opened the sound of bird song filtered into the cave. As did a flurry of snow, “hurry now. I can only hold this open for so long and we have a large group to pass through.” He was already beginning to feel the strain of holding the portal and he knew that Bo would only be able to concentrate so long on the location. “Time is of the essence, go now!”

Bo fought his repugnance at remembering the hated place. He had never realized how hard it was to stay concentrated on one thing as he did now. Little thoughts kept trying to creep in and he pushed them away as he fought to hold the picture in his mind. Perspiration began beading on his brow and he fought the urge to wipe it away.

At last, he heard the magician tell him to hold on and felt his arm taken hold of. “Keep holding the scene and I will guide you through the portal with me.” He heard Bumbles say as he was urged to walk. “when we are through the portal, I will squeeze your arm. At that moment, it will be safe to let the scene go.” Bo shook his head to indicate he understood and then began to walk.

Neko stumbled from the portal and quickly shielded his eyes from the blazing sun. He had not been expecting to go from the dimly lit cave into a world bathed in light reflected off the ice crusted snow. He felt someone bump into him from behind and turned to find the twins arm in arm as they stumbled out into the clearing next.

“Watch your step, the light is blinding.” He warned just as he watched Dominic grimace from the glare. “You would think Bo would think of a shady spot, but no. Let’s send us smack dab into an open field.” He remarked sarcastically. Next through the portal was CeCe. She had thought ahead obviously because she had her hood pulled forward to shield her face.

“Stop your growling and move out of people’s way” she groused from beneath her hood. She moved to the side of the portal to allow the rest of the group to exit. “Hurry the portal is weakening.”

One by one the others came through the portal, the last being Bumbles as he pushed Bo ahead of himself. The moment Bumble’s tail cleared the portal it collapsed on itself and winked out of existence. Bo stopped short causing the Bumbles to run into him. He stopped and looked up towards the austere fortress looming ahead of them. In his mind, it had always been this huge eerie place. Now it still held the gloomy aspect but didn’t seem quite as huge. Funny how the mind of a kit worked, but then again, he was no longer a kit but a full-grown warrior.

Black Barrow sat on the edge of a cliff. It’s weathered gray walls stood stark against the blue of the sky. Clouds of the same gray drifted among the parapets. He had always thought it had a sad look to it. As if it stood alone in the world. What a fitting place for something as deadly as the Triad to dwell. “Well, we are within reach of our goal. Shall we proceed?” He asked the silent group.

With the silent sentinel of Black Barrow looming over them, the group headed towards it. “You weren’t kidding when you said this place was haunted, I mean does anyone else feel like we are being watched? I am feeling this weird energy. Oh! I can’t explain exactly what I’m feeling but you guys feel it too, right?” Neko rambled on as his sense of unease increased.

“Yeah, we get you, dude. This is not a good place for sure.” Dominic said as he moved closer to his brother. “It’s weird. I feel like running away from it but at the same time I feel drawn to it.” He looked at Donny, “what do you think, twin?”

Donny took a moment to consider the fortress. “There are secrets here begging to be discovered. I hear this strange whispering through my connection to the staff. It feels like it is being pulled toward something. I think we have really found the Triad, it is the only explanation I can come up with.” He picked up his step, “the sooner we get there the sooner we will know. Come on, let’s hurry up.”

Diewen had joined Dominic and Neko and he as he watched Donny picked up his pace. “What did he mean connection to the staff? What is up with that?” He noticed Dom and Neko exchanging a glance and stopped. “What is up with you guys? What aren’t you saying? Is there something my friends and I need to know about you guys?” He narrowed his eyes and blocked them from moving forward. “I want some answers.”

Neko studied the small Felis and considered what he should say. He wished he could consult with Bo and the others before telling this stranger anything about them. He felt they needed to know more, just to prepare them but he didn’t feel he should say anything. He got lucky as Bo’s voice sounded behind him making him jump. “You could say as Guardians we have some unusual tricks up our sleeves. It seems we were chosen to find the Triad and to protect it and the Goddess gave us some unique abilities to do our job.”

Diewen considered what he had witnessed so far in the encounters they had previously with the gang and now it all began to make sense. “You mean like the princess’ healing power and what you did in the clearing the last time we battled? Those are your gifts?” He raised his fingers to make quotes when he said gifts. “What other gifts do you possess?”

Bo raised an eyebrow at the little guy. “We can tell you more once we make camp. For now, let’s get walking. I want to be set up before nightfall. If you think this place is scary now, wait until the sun goes down. Then it becomes terrifying.” With those cryptic words, he went to rejoin CeCe and Azereus.