The Dawn Patrol


“Baldred.” Cerlissa called out calmly, confidently. They weren’t exactly alone, but well enough that no one was likely to hear them from the other side of the wagon being pulled by Redshirt and Kenny. Baldred rode on Rachni, a tall, leggy horse that couldn’t figure out if it was black or brown. Cerlissa, riding her great white Tauntaun, trotted up next to him.

“Cerlissa,” Baldred smiled a little when he saw her. It didn’t touch his lips, but his eyes took on a bit of the light that it used to, before he was injured and saddle-bound. “What can I do for you?”

Suddenly hesitant, Cerlissa stared at him a moment. She wasn’t expecting to see him smile at her like that. Even if it was vague. Baldred was staring levelly at her now, though, expecting her to say something. His rage and resentment boiling through again.


Baldred turned away from her and looked forward, evidently content not to humor her lack of vocal skills. He grew more bitter every day now, and seemed to care less and less. Cerlissa knew that feeling, and it was his gift that had helped her return from that bog of self-recrimination.

“Baldred,” Cerlissa called again, less sure this time, “Please, I want to ask you something.”

He didn’t look at her, only made a wordless sound of relent.

“I was wondering what your plans were,” Cerlissa felt very silly asking him, having so much anxiety about his answer, “You know, after… this…”

He turned again toward her with a look that was equal parts resentment and suspicion.

Cerlissa’s mind reeled with the effort of trying to understand how he could give her a glimmer of a smile and a deadly glare all before even beginning the conversation. Her heart started to pound a little in a flavor of fear she hadn’t felt since before she’d left for Blackfeather. A very personal, paralyzing fear of rejection.

Finally, Baldred shrugged and said, “I liked Tuari.”

“Oh!” Cerlissa said, trying to make it sound like she was okay with it, but it came across as a little too loud. “Um…” She didn’t know how to ask him anymore, the conversation wasn’t quite going as she’d had imagined it. A thousand times.

“Not like I’m much use to the Dawn Patrol, like this.”

Cerlissa rocked back into her saddle. Tauntaun sidestepped a little. On a smaller horse, it would have been to keep its balance. With Tauntaun it seemed more like he had forgotten he was carrying anything. This was not part of her imagined conversation.

“Baldred, I…”

Without waiting to hear her finish, Baldred clucked Rachni into a trot and began to move away from her.

Cerlissa panicked.

“Come with me to New Turath, Baldred!” Face flaming and eyes wide, her hands twitched like they wanted to make that nervous flapping motion she was training herself to stop. The one that Baldred had noticed and told her about.

Rachni wheeled around and showed her Baldred’s face. He looked like he was in physical pain as he took in a breath to say something. Something angry. Something he’d been wanted to lash out with for days. Weeks.

Cerlissa didn’t let him.

“Come home with me and help me win the rest of this war.” The rest of the patrol started to notice the exchange, and Cerlissa felt as though her heart would seize and make her fall off her horse in the most embarrassing show of girlish stupidity ever witnessed. “I need…” She closed her mouth around the word with an audible click and started over. “I want you to…” There were supposed to be words after that. A definition of what, exactly, she wanted him to do in New Turath, but she lost it.

She broke eye contact with Baldred, whose anger seemed to have drained from him and he only looked shocked. Cerlissa felt as thought if she didn’t get this into the open now, she’d never forgive herself, even if she’d misread everything he’d said and done with her for the last several months. Twirling Tauntaun’s mane in her fingers, radiating self-consciousness, she took a breath to continue, and promptly forgot what she was going to say. In the absence of new ideas, she repeated herself.

“I want you to.”

Baldred wasn’t ever a man of many words. He mostly got his point across with his actions and expressions. He often led by example and simply scowled and refused to participate in the things he disagreed with. Because of this, Cerlissa wasn’t surprised that he hadn’t said anything. She knew that his answer to her offer was written plainly on his face, but she couldn’t bring herself to look at him to find out. She just fidgeted and stared hard at her hands, still fiddling with Tauntaun’s mane.

She could hear Rachni begin to walk back toward her, and she cringed. She didn’t know when everyone had stopped, but the racket of movement that she had counted on to hide her quiet conversation had grown silent, and she could feel the stares of her companions as she tried to become very small while sitting atop the largest mount in the land. It was silent for so long that she even thought that she might even begin to cry. Rachni’s hooves moved steadily toward her until the horses were nearly touching eachother, side by side, head to flank.

Baldred’s unwounded knee touched Cerlissa’s, and he reached out to take her hand from Tauntaun’s mane.

Cerlissa looked up to see Baldred’s eyes filled with the same shocked, watery fear as she was feeling. He moved her hand around his side and pulled her into a warm, delightfully familiar hug.

“I would like nothing better than to return with you to New Turath.” he said quietly, so that only she could hear.

They stayed like that for a few moments, hiding their embarrassment in eachother. It wasn’t a long hug, but it carried with it all the acceptance that they both needed so badly ever since the Battle of Thrones. As they pulled apart and situated themselves in their own saddles again, being awkward and suddenly very aware, again, of the entire patrol and all the auxiliaries staring at the exchanged.

Grakkus, wordless for only a moment, took in a breath and pointed at them, only to be cut off with a firm, ‘friendly’ punch in the face from Vicorin.

“Move it, lizard.” Vicorin grumbled over his other hand, holding a flask of unknown alcohol to his mouth.

Grakkus motioned to say something else, only to be shoved forward and glared at, prompting the rest of the patrol to follow suit with long, significant looks at eachother.

Baldred’s smile, though still faint, lit up his whole face as they rode to meet the Norscans.

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Dear Kitty 8

Dear Kitty,

I’m not sure where to start. I’m not sure if I even need to write it down. How could I possibly forget this? Redhammer is dead, and his death only marked the beginning. This was merely the prologue.

Baphomet is chapter one.

And Uncle Shadir is the surprise twist.

I can understand Baphomet. She used my eagerness to break my ties with her against me, but had I thought for two seconds before acting, it never would have happened. All my training tells me that hesitation kills, but…

A little hesitation would have saved… who knows? Thousands of lives. My patrol has, understandably, lost faith in me and my ability to make sound decisions. It’s a strange new place to be. I’d always been the deciding factor when the group was torn. I’d always made a decision when they couldn’t. Now all that gets me is scorn, and I must learn to be patient and follow. They may not be able to trust me, but I can still trust them. It’s simply the way of things.

Uncle Shadir is no better than I. He could have stopped this just as I could have. I can forgive him failing to kill me once. That first time. Now that I look back at all the reasons that I’d been in the Spine, I can’t bring myself to forgive him so easily. He threw his own life away to save us all from me, and he failed in killing me over and over. Half a dozen times, he had the opportunity. He broke all our hearts for this and he failed.
He wasn’t even the only one. He’s just the one that hurt the worst.

And every single one of them felt it necessary to keep this information from me. Not one of them trusted that I’d make the right decision. Any of a handful of right decisions. Have I failed so utterly in proving myself worthy of this? Have I made so many mistakes?
In the end, this doesn’t only fall on me. Neither the blame, nor the responsibility in killing this thing.

And I will kill her.

For Thorian.


Vicorin growled as he attempted to make matter appear from nowhere. If it wasn’t for the hellfire outside and the small stone of creation in his pocket, even Dumbir would’ve been hard pressed to consider learning magic. Let alone creation magic.

“Alright, this isn’t working as planned,” Dumbir sighed, “give me your shield.”

Vicorin reluctantly crossed the room to retrieve his shield. After handing to the massive iron construct, Dumbir examined it thoroughly. One he seemed satisfied with his examination, he let the shield fall into the palm of his hand.

“Very well made piece of equipment, make it yourself?” Dumbir asked, looking down at Vicorin. Not a second after nodding in response, the Iron Lord clenched his hand and let the twisted metal fall to the table.

“Fix it.”

Vicorin glared up at Dumbir. If you weren’t made completely of Iron, I would deconstruct you, Vicorin thought as he prepared himself. Vicorin summoned the creation stone and let it fall gently into his hand. Vicorin stated at the crumpled metal of his closest companion as he took a deep breath in.

“Renovo,” Vicorin said, prompted by the stone. Instantly the shield started to reshape itself back into the study shield Vicorin had crafted. Vicorin felt the magic tear at his being, such a simple magical task wasn’t for the mortal of Vulcanica. While no skin or bones had been broken, Vicorin felted drained, mentally and physically.

“Very good,” the Iron Lord remarked, “now you know how the magic drains the user.”

Dumbir grabbed an empty glass from a nearby table and placed in front of Vicorin.

“You look parched, fill it up”

Vicorin glared at Dumbir as he turned to the transparent glass on the table and started to concentrate on filling it.

“Trinkan,” Vicorin mumbled. Once again, at his word, the magic manifested. A dark liquid filled the glass. Vicorin picked the glass up.

Confused, Dumbir stated, “Very good, but I was expecting you to fill it with water."

“Nostrovia,”* Vicorin replied as he took a drink of the ale he had summoned.

(*Nostrovia is a bastardization of the russian word for cheers)


To the ground he fell. Unable to die, and unable to live. It was his fate. It was his punishment. It was the sentence he’d been given, and he was powerless to alter it. So on the ground he remained.

For 400 years, he’d been invincible. Kings, Emperors and Tyrants had all submitted to his majesty like beggars to a monarch. Dragons died to him, mortals ran in fear of him, and even Demons bent their knees to him. He’d bested death a thousand times, and had taken in stride countless trials that would strike dead lesser men. Lesser men, but not him.

He’d left the land and the money of the world to the weaker minds. He’d always known that magic was the secret to true power. He’d begun learning early, mere days after The Fall, and wasted no time becoming the master he was. Learning the secrets to immortality were daunting then, but child’s play compared to the tasks he’d undertaken since then. More than once, the fate of the world had changed as a direct result of his actions. The moon and the stars would fall from the sky if he willed it.

Even the “noblest” of mortal concerns had been simple for him. It was true that he’d known deep and lasting love, and also true that he’d had it taken from him before he was satisfied. He knew pain, and he knew loss, and he knew them both well. But, as with all things, he had found strength anew in his magic, and he survived even those hardships—as he always did.

He did not fear when the beast Endymion came for his Stone. He had taken all he could from the trinket, and it no longer offered him anything. Other, weaker mortals had questioned the decision (as if they could even begin to understand the world like he did), and called him a coward for letting a dangerous beast gain control of such a powerful tool. They didn’t understand—they couldn’t understand—how easy that insect Endymion would be to squash if he stepped out of line. They didn’t want to believe in his power.

For two months, the knowledge that he would soon be proven right was enough to keep him silent, and content.

But as he felt Endymion’s hammer connect with his skull, Zumeli realized that the mortals may have been right to question him. As he felt his cranium fracture and split, he realized that he may have acted in arrogance and callousness. And as he felt his blood and brains spill out onto the cold, white marble, he realized that this world was not his plaything, to treat and do with as he pleased. Too little, too late. Now, he accepted, was the time to learn what death was actually like.

But it never came. Agony coursed through his head and neck, and his veins screamed in protest as his heart slowly came to a stop, but the release never came. How could this happen? The Dragon Stone had been destroyed—he’d watched it turn to dust before him. Without his magic, he’d be as mortal and easy to kill as they come. So why wasn’t he dying?

His answer came as Endymion hit the ground. Through dead, unmoving eyes, he watched the Dragonkin warrior reach into his pocket, hold aloft a small, azure stone, and vanish it away. The magic had returned after all. The same magic that had given Zumeli strength all his life. The same magic that had never once failed him when he needed it. It had returned to him, and, ever his loyal companion, it refused to let him die.

But he was broken. His body had been damaged too much, and too quickly, for him to retain control of the magic. It kept him alive, but he couldn’t tell it what to do. He’d lost the ability to return to life, but he would never be able to die.

He yelled in his head as his dead eyes watched the Dawn Patrol, broken and battered, drag themselves from the room. He thrashed and raged and begged and screamed and wept with every bit of strength he had, but his body remained silent and motionless.

Unable to live, unable to die. His fate, and his punishment. Forever trapped in a prison of agony and impotence, forced to remain as the world passed him by. So, on the ground he remained.


“Okay, go ahead.” Grakkus told his little brother. They were standing just outside camp in a clearing, opposite eachother.

Rikkus’ muscles began to bunch up as he began to empower himself. Grakkus stared hard at him in concentration, clearing his head and taking a deep breath. He imagined the air in his lungs changing, becoming something poisonous, something poisonous to magic.

“You really suck at this.” Rikkus was smirking at him, “Ironclaw was able to do it right away.”

“Shut up, lizard boy,” Grakkus growled at him, trying to stay calm, “give me some time.”

Rikkus just laughed, and Grakkus blew all the air out of his lungs in exasperation.

“Did it work?” Grakkus asked.

“You were doing something? I thought you were just squeezing out a fart.” Rikkus continued to chuckle at him.

“Alright, let’s go again, then.” Grakkus mumbled begrudgingly. Rikkus took in a breath and flexed again, empowering his muscles and bones. They’d been going at it for hours, Rikkus taunting ‘The Dragon’ the entire time.

Grakkus repeated the process, breathing deep and empowering his breath. A shroud of poison. A magic eating haze.

“Ponydicks, Grakkus. Should we get one of the Tabai over here? I feel like we could teach a kitten dragon magic and it would learn this faster than you.” Rikkus had his most gleeful shit-eating grin on his face, like he just had the greatest idea in the world. “Then the kitty-Tabai can teach YOU and we can get this over with!”

Grakkus didn’t immediately say anything. He just stood there, motionless for a moment. Still as stone. His empowered breath seeped from him like a rolling fog, slow and controlled.

Then he took a step forward and punched his brother in the face. It was very cinematic… whatever that means. But it definitely wasn’t going to miss.

Grakkus decided he didn’t need to empower to beat the bullshit out of Rikkus. So he didn’t, and he knew Rikkus would know the difference. Rikkus would know that the cuts and bruises and possible broken bones would have been delivered to his empowered body by his vastly superior, unempowered brother. This was the thought that made Grakkus smile as he followed his brother to the ground and delivered the kind of beating only family can give.

The Lady Phoenix took a casual glance out the window-flap of the recovery tent and mumbled, mostly to herself, “What on earth is that commotion?”

Cerlissa looked up from a soldier’s leg, where she had been concentrating on stitching up an Elf from Dren who had gotten his shield arm flayed. It was a relatively simple fix, if time consuming, which is why The Lady had assigned her to it. Cerlissa seemed to be remarkably awful at undoing damage. She tilted her head to one side, listening to what sounded like an incoming attack, though no one had raised any kind of alarm. Then she shrugged and looked down once more at her stitching. The Elf was scowling at her, but didn’t raise any kind of complaint.

None of her patients complained, as a matter of fact.

Cerlissa liked it that way.

“Whatever it is, it’s disturbing the rest of our wounded.” Lady Phoenix flicked the window flap closed and scowled over the rows of cots set up in the tent, each with a menagerie of wounded soldiers laying on them. Norscans lay beside Dragonkin, who chatted amiably with a nearby Cambion. Tabai, Dwarves, Elves and Humans were glared at equally by Orcs. If nothing else, this battle had brought the empire’s various races together in a way that only a common enemy could do. “When you’re done with that, could you find out what it is and let them know the trouble they’re causing?”

“All done.” Cerlissa cut the last of the thread and hopped up, proud of her work, “I’ll be right back then.”

Slipping past the flaps of cloth that served as the tent’s entrance, Cerlissa was thankful for the brief respite from the endless work she seemed to have. Every authority in the camp seemed to have teamed up to keep her busy. The minute she had nearly finished up one task, someone else desperately required her help in some new task that she was usually terrible at.

Her suddenly suspicious train of thought was interrupted by a loud clang and a furious string of curses in language she didn’t know. She didn’t need to know the words to know that they were curses. She brought her casual walk up to a lazy lope that ate up the few hundred feet to the woods at the edge of the camp in just a few minutes.

When she got there, all she heard was grunts, growls, and the occasional meaty thwap. She stepped out of the woods into a clearing to find two giant Dragonkin exchanging blows and attempting to grapple each other.

Cerlissa immediately recognized Grakkus, as he bellowed and flopped onto the other Dragonkin, whom she assumed was Rikkus. At first they were kicking up so much dust that only the occasional limb could be seen, but after Rikkus pinned and chomped down on Grakkus’ wing, Grakkus hopped up and shook him off in the same motion and they stood there panting at eachother.

“Hey guys.” Cerlissa called in the relative quiet.

Neither Dragon paid her any mind. Both decided to go for a right hook, and both connected

With a solid thunk, followed immediately by Grakkus sitting down, knocking the air out of his lungs, and Rikkus’ face hitting the dirt.

“Grakkus!” Cerlissa yelled, louder, “Shut the hell up!”

That time she got a grunt in reply, before he went after his brother again.

Cerlissa had a lot to do, and decided that she didn’t have time for this. She’d been practicing all day at not turning every flame into a firestorm, and now seemed like a good time to practice a little more. Focusing on the ground at the Dragonkin’s feet, Cerlissa moved to hurl a gob of fire at the dirt to get their attention, and was met with a bright flash of blue light and a startlingly lazy wisp of blue fire curled from her ring finger and died uselessly only a moment later.

“What the hell?” Cerlissa stared at her hand, bewildered.

Grakkus had just slammed Rikkus, who had jumped on his back and grabbed his neck, to the ground, and they were both staring at Cerlissa in shock, as if they had only just noticed her presence.

Cerlissa reached for the beacon of power within her again, and as she tapped it she knew that it was still there. Still strong. But when she extended her hand again to burn the air, there was more bright flashes of light, but no fire.

“YES!” Grakkus stood up and pumped both fists in the air as he walked in a triumphant circle. “I AM THE GREATEST DRAGON THE WORLD HAS EVER— wait, what?” Grakkus turned suddenly to glare incredulously at his little brother, who sat grinning in the dirt.

“I haven’t been able to empower in two hours, bro.” Rikkus shrugged and started to get up.

Grakkus punched his brother in the face.

Cerlissa threw a rock at Grakkus’ head.

Tree Leaves and Bark

The dirt feels so cold sometimes… Did you know that?… Your pages are surly made from the sweet trees of the Heartlands. You aren’t from my woods though, but I forgive you for that.

Anyways, Tree Leaves and Bark, you will be a good book for me. Just opening you up and smelling the sweet scent of the forest calms my nerves.

I got sent away today, guess I did something that made the army not want me anymore. Not really sure what it was. Gingorgon said I was being “promoted”, but this place doesn’t look like a promotion to me. When I got here, I heard someone call it “Fort Black Feather” and welcomed me as a “recruit”. Guess I’m into something else now. Miss my family back in Utica, they were good people, even after the raid. I guess saving their lives, even with the mess I made, didn’t stop them from caring for me. The General even used to check on me from time to time. He came to say good bye, before I left Utica, he brought the whole family, goodness how his girls are growing. But enough with that, I’m not going to cry in front of these people.

I heard about Fort Black Feather from time to time when I was in the army, the Emberguard and how they were closer to the Emperor, his own personal army. I didn’t care to find out much more back then. I was protecting the Emperor and Utica in the army, what more could I have asked for? Well I guess I have to get up early to start some training tomorrow.

Good Night Tree Leaves and Bark,

Got in a fight today, Tree Leaves, with a Cambian demon mage. Her fault. She threatened the old tree here on the grounds. The teachers didn’t approve much though… And would you have guessed it, the assholes decided to make us ‘partners’, “wives” I suppose is what we are supposed to call each other. I’d rather make the water freeze when she’s bathing than call her that. She goes by some stupid, high and mighty Cambian name like “Cersa” or “Lessa”… oh what was it… Oh, right, Cerlissa. Something about her did seem oddly familiar though…

Doesn’t matter, Bark, I don’t like her, she threatens nature too much with her ways. Oh, and she thinks demon magic fire is so much better than nature earth and water.


Rained on my ‘wife’ today… got in a bit of trouble for that… Stuck me in the armory. Like I am going to be any good in there.

Got some interesting talk with a Half-Orc today, went by the name of Vicorin. I liked him, he was kind of funny, though I don’t think he was trying to be at all. He got stuck in there just as me, though he seems to know his way around Iron. I think I’m going to convince him to teach me a thing or two.

Good night, Tree

Been watching Vicorin work while we’ve been stuck on armory duty, managed to convince him to teach me a little, though it was difficult, the Dirt Face was being stubborn.

I think I may have freaked out everyone today… Learned something new though and I’m rather proud. With the things Vicorin’s been teaching me I discovered something I could do with my Nature magic. Love it. Metal Magic, how cool is that Leaves?


She’s growing on me, my Wife, she’s not as bad as when we first interacted. I think I’m growing on her too. I smiled at her today and she actually looked like she smiled back. Guess things are getting better here, I’m starting to feel at home.


I was given something today, a little baby Falcon to raise and care for as my own. She’ s beautiful, Leaves. She’s so little and doesn’t have a name, but I asked the Water for what to call her and the Water answered. Her name is Shaye.

Gwind and Shaye

3 Years later
The Clarion called, and it called for seven. Cerlissa was promoted at my side, we never expected to end up in the same patrol. We’re on our way to Utica to find out what patrol right now. We are an strange group though, all of us are so different in race, I’m not sure the Emberguard has ever had such a vast team. And you’ll never guess who else is here with us, Vicorin, the Half-Orc. Still grumpy as ever, which I can’t help but smile at. There’s…

…Sorry for leaving you hanging Tree, the train was on fire… By Suli Minerva… We don’t know what happened. Ended up in Crossing, with all the people from the train, though they dispersed soon after we arrived, thankfully. I prefer just having my team with me. I got to get some rest, we plan on leaving early, I hope.


Just… wow… The Dawn Patrol, Leaves, that is who we are replacing, the entire Dawn Patrol, that’s one of the Emperor’s main patrols. I can’t believe it. Cerlissa and I are going to go out on a walk to take this all in, I’ll tell you more in a little while.
The Emperor just punched Red Hammer, we were in the garden and we hid when they came in. The Emperor accused Red Hammer of sending the old Dawn Patrol to their deaths in something called the Tagliari Pass. We don’t know what’s going on but we told the boys and they informed us that someone calling themselves “Uncle” said the train was sabotaged to kill us. My rocks are cold, Bark, something bad is going to happen, I just feel it.


Betrayal…. I don’t even know what to say….Red Hammer… He killed the Emperor’s oldest son and exiled the Emeror. With so many Emberguard letting him. Not us, not my team. We stood with the Emperor. Cerlissa convinced the stable hand to give us enough horses to flee with. We fled to Cliffport. Oh, Suli Minerva, what has happened? Everything has gone wrong. So very wrong.


We are not safe here, we have to move on. We’ve got a ship to take us to Safeport. Grakkas had an old friend named Blockade who owns this ship. Something was up with him though. He called Cerlissa to speak with him alone. When she came back she was on edge, and she wouldn’t talk with me. That’s not like her at all. Maybe she’ll speak with me tomorrow.

Good Night Tree Leaves and Bark,

Oh Suli Minerva I want to be back on land and out of this cabin. I don’t think there is any fresh air in here except for what comes out of my hair! And Shaye is going crazy!


Valiraura is so close to us now, it’s always so close and it’s always calling me… no not just it… He… He was calling, I remember that voice. The one that called my name as I fled, I fled so far but not far enough, why am I back here? What do they want from me? I’m scared, Tree Leaves, Shaye knows it and Cerlissa knows it. She was asking me questions, so many questions that I just couldn’t answer…
…I’m frightened…

WANTED! We were found. We nearly died. The Emperor saved Arya, she would have been dead if he hadn’t. Then the Ambassador wanted to talk to us and she gave us a lead to the Drin Plantation. That’s where we’re headed next…
…They are not letting us in until morning… Well.. I have missed sleeping in the dirt, and there is a love fjord right here too. Cerlissa and I went fishing in it. Guess we will see what happens when the morning comes.

Good Night my Friend,


Elias was having trouble lifting his sword, but the memory of his son—now clear as day—had given him strength. His memories were clouded, as though in a dream, but seeing his reflection in a pool of blood had woken him up. He wasn’t the noble guardian, defending his city from the wicked invaders. He wasn’t the fearless patriot, defiantly protecting his loved ones from harm. He was the demon. He was the nightmare. The foul magic that Redhammer had used to seduce the people of this great city… oh, by the Martyrs. What had he done?

Elias was having trouble lifting his sword, but his pain made it clear that there was no other option. The sound of mail on cobblestone drew his attention, and his gaze fell upon a small pack of soldiers, rounding a nearby corner. One of them carried a standard that Elias felt he might have once recognized, but could no longer. Before they could even fully acknowledge his presence, another, larger group of soldiers burst out of a burning building at the opposite end of the street. These soldiers flew no banners, and their bloodstained armor and twisted, rusted weapons told Elias that they were like him. Nightmares.

Elias was having trouble lifting his sword, but he didn’t care any more. The worn leather grip—now slick with his blood—groaned softly as he tightened his grasp and held the blade aloft. He knew what he had to do, and he knew he would be forgiven for it. When they realized what they’d become, they would thank him. He didn’t waste his time looking back at those he would die trying to save. He didn’t waste his energy trying to explain himself or his actions. He didn’t waste his breath on an apology. He simply turned, and charged.

He had been lost in the darkness for too long. He would not die a monster.

Like a shadow in the night, Nalale darted unseen across the rooftops. Not that it was hard; the battle in the streets below was so pitched, she could probably cartwheel around while banging a drum and still pass unnoticed. Like the other Tabai, she’d been sent into the city on support duty, to make sure the soldiers on the ground didn’t get overwhelmed or trapped. It was easy work, and it was—relatively speaking—safe work. Not that she minded, either way. She always enjoyed the thrill of battle.

Noticing a Marauder with a crossbow on one of the rooftops, Nalale notched and loosed a spiral-fletched arrow with one swift motion, and it struck him in the thigh. It wasn’t enough to kill him, but it stopped him long enough for Nalale to take more careful aim and strike him in the throat. He plummeted from his perch, and Nalale dug another clawmark into her bow, just below the grip.

And then, without warning, Nalale was thrown on her back, an incredible pain in her chest. She managed to get a look at the thick bolt in her chest before her vision faded, and she immediately knew she wouldn’t be making it back. So many had died just like this because of her, and Nalale realized that—finally—she knew what it was like.


Iri heard the captain’s shout over the din of steel on iron, and it was like music to her ears. Second Shield-dwarf of the Grayoath Clan, it was her honor to carry the clan’s standard into battle today. She could feel the Ironforge’s blessing upon her as her arms held the heavy banner aloft, and though she did tire, she did not grow weary. Her company had already performed gloriously today, and her heart swelled with pride to be among them. They were responsible for holding a crucial road in the middle of Utica (that would allow the other forces to move throughout the city with impunity), and they’d not only taken it a whole hour faster than anyone expected, but they hadn’t lost a single dwarf yet. Truly, the Ironforge was with them today.

Eosur let out a cry of pain from behind her, and Iri turned to see him on his back, struggling to hold up his shield as one of the mounted Marauders bore down on him. She charged his position, and, using the standard as a pike, rang the rider’s helmet and toppled the horse. She planted the standard and called for a close in the line as she kicked the rider’s helmet once again, to make sure he would stay stunned a little longer. Three Shield-dwarves rushed to fill Eosur’s gap while she dragged him behind the line. His legs were badly beaten, but didn’t look broken. His hammer arm, however, wasn’t quite so intact. Eosur demanded that she put him back on the line, but Iri simply told him that he would be staying with her. “Watch my back,” she insisted.

She fetched up her standard in time to hear a series of gruff howls from the northern flank. She wasted no time in falling in with them, but it didn’t take her long to realize it was too little, too late. Iri volunteered to cover their retreat, and the rest fell back as Iri hefted up her shield-sister’s hammer, having traded off the standard for it. The Marauders were piled nearly to chest-height before Iri’s fatigue finally caught up with her. She died knowing that she had bought her brothers and sisters all the time they would need to recover, and she went to meet her ancestors knowing that she had earned her place at their side. And that was good enough for her.

Leaon’s arm was gone. He was having a hard time dealing with that.

He’d signed up for the warband after he’d heard what happened to Fearon. He wanted to see justice. A lot of men did, and a lot of men had signed up with him. The Dawn Patrol had proven themselves to be honorable, and if anyone was going to help the Drens get the respect they deserved, a lot of people knew it was them. No-one regretted signing up to help them with their quest. At least, they didn’t while they were still alive.

The council had assigned the Dren war party to the southern advance. Based on the scout reports from the night before, there was expected to be a lot of fighting there. But, the Duke had brought more soldiers than anyone else, and no-one doubted that he’d get the job done. When Leaon’s warband got separated from the main war party, everyone expected they’d meet up around the next corner. Roadblock after roadblock after roadblock, however, seemed to be arguing that such was not the case. They ultimately got surrounded and stuck in with a particularly large pack of Marauders. Leaon figured there had to be a few survivors, but he was in no condition to go looking for them. One of his legs was broken beyond use, the other was pinned under a fallen horse. Oh, and his arm was gone. That too.

A nearby crunch made him thankful that he hadn’t lost his sword arm, and he snatched up the blade as he searched frantically for the sound. The rush of activity made him profoundly aware of how much blood he’d lost. Through blurred vision and a pounding headache, he managed to focus on three soldiers, walking towards him. It took him a moment to realize that they were Marauders. Leaon tightened his grip on his sword, and struggled to hold it aloft. As they approached, he whispered an oath that he would fight them until his last breath.

If the Marauders understood him, they didn’t respond. But, they did help him fulfill his oath.

Torgyr smiled as the demon’s blood splashed across his face. He had always enjoyed killing demons, but there were so few of them in Haven. Seshik had told him it was because he was so good at killing them, that they ran in fear of Torgyr. They were right to do so, Torgyr had thought, because he would kill them all if they came around. He did like killing them so much.

Torgyr smelled his brothers and sisters calling on their Dragon blood for strength. He’d never been very good at doing that, but Seshik had told him it was okay. “The Ironfangs have never been the strongest,” Seshik told him, “but we’re still in charge, aren’t we?” Torgyr liked that too. His little brother was clever like that. Torgyr was having fun today, because they combined killing demons and protecting his brother: Torgyr’s two favorite things.

With a mighty swing, Torgyr split another demon in half, and then another again. He was so good at killing the demons! He liked splitting their soft, pink skin with his axe, and he liked the way they cried out when he killed them. Dragons never did that when he killed them. He noticed his axe was red with demon blood, and he thought it looked silly because it reminded him of paint. Who would paint their axe? He laughed at the idea. But he laughed too hard, because he almost missed a sneaky demon that was trying to get to Seshik. He killed that demon too, but then his back started to hurt.

He tried to reach the spot on his back where it hurt, but he couldn’t, and that made him mad. It started to hurt worse, and he kept getting more and more angry! He was so mad, and it hurt so much, that he didn’t realize he’d dropped his axe. But it hurt so bad! Torgyr didn’t notice the other sneaky demon. This one was really fast, and Torgyr was hurting too much to keep up. His knee hit the ground really hard, and suddenly, Torgyr was hurting in a lot of places.

Torgyr didn’t want to close his eyes, though. He hurt so much, and he was starting to get so sleepy, but he didn’t want to close his eyes. He didn’t want to stop killing the demons, and he didn’t want his little brother to leave him behind… and even though his eyes were getting heavy, he didn’t want to close them.

But he had to. So he did.

Vicorin's Manuscript
No, It's not a diary.

Dear… Not diary, diaries are for yuppies and scholars. This book needs a better name. Only have this damned blank book because Pop thinks it’ll make me “less aggressive.” That’s just his way of saying he doesn’t want me to more start fights. Going off to Fort Blackfeather in a few days, apparently that stunt I pulled at the defense of Ironreach against a rather bad pirate raid caught the attention of the Embergaurd that showed up to clean up and earned me a recommendation.

Nevertheless, Pop and Ma have never been so proud. Ma forged me a good strong shield to take with me for training. Told me to take good care of it and it’ll take good care of me. Needless to say, it’s not leaving my vision for some time now.

By Dunbir’s beard, I have it! The perfect name for this book. It shall be my Manuscript. Sounds a hell of a lot less sissy sounding than diary and it’ll be the perfect alibi if anyone asks. Don’t want no one finding out that Tuari Orc keeps a diary-like book, never hear the end of it.

Until Fort Blackfeather,

Dear Manuscript,

Been at Fort Blackfeather for a few days now. Finding time to writing in this Martyrs-forsaken book has been a challenge, but I promised Pop that I’d make an effort to write in it. Between all the Emberguard theory and combat drills, we hardly have time to even sleep or eat. Gets easier, in theory, according to some of the veteran students. Not terribly worried about it, not many places where you’re told to beat up comrades for ‘training purposes.’ Thanks to all that Battle-Ghar training, I can best most of my fellow neophytes in hand-to-hand, except them dragonkin. Those giant lizards are born with good amount of fight though. Don’t see too many around, prolly due to Haven and the Arcosians being so fussy about Cinderfell rule, but still gotta respect them. Hard to find a race more built for fightin’ than Orc or Dwarf.

Also, apparently breaking bones of your fellow recruits is frowned upon here. How else you gonna learn to counter an angry ibixian from tearing you a new one if you don’t know what pain you’re actually avoiding? Whatever, the Emberguard are the most feared military asset of the Emperor for a reason. I’ll play by the rules.

Iron guide me,

Dear Manuscript,

Whelp, headbutted an instructor today.


Dear Manuscript,

Alright, finally given some time of my own. Between the punishment for headbutting that asshole mage and normal training exercises, I hardly have enough time to sleep. So about the mage. We were all gathered for some cross-discipline training and I was assigned to some snobby Cambian mage. Don’t care enough to remember his name. Anyway, we were all standing at attention while he started jabbering on about how magic was stronger and more powerful than any steel or iron known.

Apparently, I may have scoffed louder than I had meant to because next I knew he was in my face, looking rather full of himself. We stared at each other, eye to eye, for a good few seconds before he spoke. Said something along the lines of “is there a problem recruit?” or something like that. Hell of I know. I didn’t like the tone of it. So I headbutted him.

Man, you should’ve seen his face as he ordered me out of his sight. It didn’t take long for me to receive my punishment. On the bright side, I don’t have to attend his boring lectures anymore. Rather watch iron rust than spend another minute learning about “magic.” On the less than bright side, I have extra kitchen duty for the next few weeks.

Was worth it,

Dear Manuscript,

So apparently I have “too much fun” with kitchen duty. The kitchen staff normally assigns me to mashing potatoes or tenderizing meat, nothing terribly taxing. Good stress reliever, beating up food. Nevertheless, Captain Magicpants McAssface stopped in and noted my lack of suffering and has requested my transfer to Armory for equipment maintenance. Good thing he he didn’t bother to check in my background. I’ll just have to act miserable when I catch wind of him checking up on his “favorite” recruits.

It’ll be good to return to iron,

(Three years later)

Dear Manuscript,

The Clarion called today. I was one of the lucky few who have been called to answer it. About time, ready to get out of this damn fort. As we all gathered in General Alfray’s Office, two things became clear. First, there were seven of us which means that somewhere, something wiped out a whole patrol. Second, we were the most unique bunch of plebs you could’ve made. There was a Dragonkin, a Vulcani, a Tabai, a Nubian, a Kalaharian, a Cambian, and myself, the Half-Orc. I dare anyone to make a more varied bunch of soldiers. I’ve trained with all of them before, as per Blackfeather tradition. All good fighters from what I’ve experiences, even if some of them use magic. Nevertheless, it looks like we’re gonna have some big boots to fill.

Continuing on with tradition, we got to witness our funerals. Not quite what I expected, not enough drinking. Plenty of time to rectify that, we leave for Utica via Lightning Rail in a few hours. All my things, especially my shield, with the exception of this book, are pack.

Hopefully, bearing good news on the next entry,

A Note to Blockade

Red/Black-Ribbon Hawk to Safeport (Urgent/Secret)
Return Red/Black PAID: Trieste


I’d track you down in person, but you said you’d try to kill me the next time we met, and I need you alive.
Baphomet, a demon from the Thirteen, has been replaced. Now she/it is loose in Cinderfell. She needs to be dead, and soon.

Cerlissa Grav-Norsca,
Demon of the Dawn

Shen Kamaat: The Eternal Soul Beetle

Scarlet droplets welled quickly on the surface of her skin and Cerlissa watched as it dribbled down her thigh and stained the hay she sat on. It was a quiet time, after the Battle of Thrones had finished its course and only the wounds were left. The soldiers started calling it the Battle of Thrones shortly after Cerlissa made it up and claimed that she’d heard it called so by Vicorin. All the soldiers seemed to like Vicorin, for some reason. Any time one of them came back from a “conversation” with him with a shiny new bruise or busted small-bone, the other soldiers gathered and asked just how awesome it was. Cerissa continued to muse over the ways of soldiers as she let the knife bite a little deeper than her usual scars. She idly wondered what the strong tendon that ran down her inner thigh to her knee looked like, and if she could possibly catch a glimpse of it without maiming herself in the process.

She was lost in that field of white, digging up red clay and watching how it moved, when she heard a basso voice from just outside the roomy stall. “We didn’t lose today, Cerlissa.”

Cerlissa flinched, her spine stiffening and her head snapping upward to attention. Tauntaun was stretching his nose out to someone in the hallway, and after a moment she recognized Baldred’s voice and relaxed a bit. She moved to grab the green wool blanket she had nearby to cover her legs when she felt an unexpected pain. Eyes widening, she suddenly feared the worst and checked to make sure she hadn’t accidentally injured herself seriously. With Baldred just a few feet away, the notion of intentionally breaking your own skin seemed ludicrous and illogical. She looked down and saw that the wound in her leg was deeper than she had intended… or was it? What was she thinking? She grabbed at the blanket and looked up again to see Baldred’s face regarding her cooly from the stall door.

“Ummm…” Cerlissa looked under her blanket at her thigh again and back at Baldred. “I think I need stitches.”

Baldred didn’t move, just looked at her sternly a moment and said, “Is Tauntaun abusing you? Because if he is, you can tell us you know. You shouldn’t be out here alone with abusive horses, you might end up needing stitches.” Baldred gave Tauntaun a firm punch in the neck and a squint-eyed glare as he opened the stall door and slipped inside, the crutch under his left arm expertly handled. Tauntaun didn’t seem to notice. “Let me see.”
Cerlissa squirmed under his scrutiny and said, “Would you believe me if I said I got it in the castle?”

“Yes.” Baldred motioned for her to remove the blanket and expose her legs. Had it been anyone but a fellow patrolman, she might be shy about wearing only shorts. Fortunately, the last several months had gotten the Dawn Patrol fairly accustomed to each other’s bodies, and Cerlissa only blushed from embarrassment of the deep gash she’d accidentally inflicted on herself. “Except that we both know that for all the blood on your armor, not a drop of it is yours.”

Cerlissa’s hand met her face, and Baldred chuckled. He looked at her flushed cheeks and continued, “We all know that this is a thing that you do when you think that you have failed us, Cerlissa. We simply let you have your strange comforts. The same way we let Grakkus and Vicorin become witless in their strong drinks. Arya was too nervous to approach you here. She is also convinced that Rachni dislikes her. Strange creature.”
Scowling now, Cerlissa asked quietly, “Do you have thread on on you?”

“No, but I do have it here in my pocket.”

“Ha. And you like to think you’re more serious than the other boys.”

“Just let me do it, okay? I have something to say to you that I wanted you to sit still for, anyway.”

At that, Cerlissa gave Baldred a curious look and leaned her back against the wall. Baldred shuffled around and took a seat beside her and promptly pulled out a small first aid kit. Her scowl deepened when she saw that it was Grakkus’ kit, rather than Baldred’s, whose case was more suited for treating burns, while Grakkus’ was geared toward closing torn flesh. Cerlissa continued to glare at Baldred until he took a breath to speak.

“You have always had… mmm… less compassion than I’ve ever been completely comfortable with…” Cerlissa took in a breath to interrupt him, but Baldred cut her off with a gesture,

“But that is who you are, and I’m not faulting you on it. What I am attempting to say is that the minute we walked through the wall of Utica, you took a turn for the worse and I am not entirely sure that you realize it.”

Cerlissa flinched as Baldred added another stitch, and after a moment she asked, “What do you mean?”

“I mean that the anger that fueled you to kill Redhammer is beginning to poison you, and you have a more personal… well, demon, to contend with that you will need more anger to defeat. It is in the interest of all of Cinderfell that you do not allow your anger to poison you further.” Baldred motioned toward her armor, which lay dismantled for cleaning and repairs at a work table down the hall, “Your bone armor was made from the beasts you once owned, correct? Now, you intend to make it from trophies.”

“Well, Baldred, up until now anyone who got close enough to me to break my armor had to kill my horse first.” She gestured toward the big white beast that stood in front of them, to indicate that he was clearly unharmed.

Baldred grunted in reply and began to put away Grakkus’ first aid kit. “Cerlissa, you are deflecting the point I am trying to make. When we killed Red Hammer, your personal cares outweighed your conscience, and now that I point it out to you, I know that you feel it too.”
Cerlissa couldn’t counter his argument. She knew something had changed, though it was when she felt the power that the demon stone gave her, more than when Redhammer died. Instead of saying anything in her irritation, she watched Baldred as he reached into his bag and pulled out a small container.

“I want you to have this.” Baldred said, staring at the little box he held in his hands. It looked like the kind of box a piece of jewelry would come in. “I do not give it lightly. I give it to you because you will need it, as I once did.”

Cerlissa was instantly interested in whatever trinket was in the box, and Baldred had all her attention as he cautiously opened it.

The thing she saw surprised her. It was the most beautiful, brightest shade of blue she had ever seen. It wasn’t quite a joyous, electric blue, but more like the color of someone’s face who had recently drowned, but a hundred times brighter. It was about the size of her thumb nail, and seemed to shine as if illuminated by an internal light source. Upon closer inspection, she realized that there were specks of red on it, as if it were stained with blood. She began to reached for it, but snatched her hand back when the jewel began to move. Against the darkness of the box, she hadn’t noticed the long, thin, barbed legs and powerful jaws. She only saw the glittering carapace of the blood-covered beetle.

“What the hell?”

Baldred carefully reached into the little box and picked the beetle up with two fingers. “This is the Shen Kamaat. It is a parasitic beetle from my homeland. The most devout of Nubians wear red ones as others might wear rubies, all about their necks, so as to prove their vigilance. They are not common, and can only be found after a long journey into the sands. Sometimes others wear them as well, for other reasons. To remember something, or as penance. This particular kind on Shen Kamaat has never been seen.”

“So what aren’t you telling me?”

He paused for breath and smiled,“To wear a Shen Kamaat is to feel. It does not hurt, exactly, but you will forever feel it. And I mean forever. The Shen Kamaat is immortal.” Baldred hesitated a moment, as if reliving a painful memory, “And to remove the Shen Kamaat is to feel agony. It must be dug from the flesh that it holds.”

Cerlissa’s eyebrows knitted together, and she stared at the beetle. She wasn’t sure that she needed any reminding to be a good person, but she knew that she had hate, and without the Dawn Patrol she would likely not be the same person at all. These people were basically good, and remained that way, for the most part. Baldred was the best of them, never wavering from his damned high horse.

“Damn your high horse.”

Baldred’s face froze in what looked like surprise. He had taken a breath to continue explaining the beetle, but instead drawled uncertainly, “So…”

“Yes, I’ll do it. I’m fallible and and I’m consorting with Demons so what do I do?” She held her hand out to take the beetle, but he didn’t give it to her.

“There’s one more thing. The carapace of the Shen Kamaat is very tough, and even if it is broken, the beetle is very, very difficult to kill. However, if it is killed, it has the ability to force its host into a sort of blood frenzy. Very difficult to control. You must be very careful.”

“Like Vicorin?” She asked.

“Not quite, but good enough.”

“Anything else?”

Baldred shifted uneasily, “I admit, this seems easier than it should be. Most Nubians will deliberate for weeks before accepting a Shen Kamaat… or fight it tooth and nail.”
“Baldred,” Cerlissa admonished, “You’re going to talk me out of it if you keep talking like this. You say I need it, and I know that while you’re here I don’t, but I’m basically a demon now.” She looked down at her hands, her fingernails still had blood in their creases. “I wish I could say that we’d always be fighting together, but from the looks of it I’m going to outlive you, and look at what happened to Zumeli after he lived for too long.”

He didn’t answer at first, but after a moment he simply asked, “Where?”

“My back, opposite this scar.” She put her right hand over her chest, indicating the spiral-shaped scar directly above her heart, “As if the arrow had gone straight through.”

Baldred cocked his head and asked, “Mind if I ask why? It seems strange choice.”

“Because I can’t reach it there.” Cerlissa let him figure out the meaning of it from there. While no one ever mentioned her cutting habits, they all knew. She was liable to pick and dig at it if it were somewhere easily accessible to her, and she could handle quite a lot of pain if she inflicted it herself. After a moment she asked, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.” Baldred gestured for her to turn and lift her shirt.

“Why did you take it? What did you need to remember?”

“I…” He sighed, and Cerlissa turned away from him, her back exposed, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t need it anymore. I think the scar is a good enough reminder.”

With that, he placed the beetle gingerly on her back, just left of her spine.

Cerlissa gasped and arched as she felt the Shen Kamaat bite her skin, then clawed at her side and shoulder when its long, thin legs burrowed deep, between two ribs, the barbs tearing and hooking into her muscles. Within moments, it was over, and though she didn’t remember how she got there, Baldred was holding her firmly to his chest. A sob bubbled out from her throat and she choked on it. When she came back to her senses, Baldred was rocking her and humming a slow tune that she didn’t recognize, but sounded like a lullaby.

“I should have taken you outside, I think.” Baldred mused. Cerlissa was still breathing heavily as the pain subsided to a strange sensation. It wasn’t quite prickly, and it didn’t quite sting. It didn’t feel good by any means but it didn’t really feel bad. Like there was a pressure there. Like a dent in her armor but it never began to wear at her skin. He released her after she had relaxed and when she looked at him she stared in horror.

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to—” She began to cast about in panic, “Did I start a fire in the stable?”

No fires were found in the immediate area, but Baldred sported a few new burns about his upper body, and one on his chin that looked like it might scar. Tauntaun reached around and nudged Cerlissa with his massive head, throwing her back at Baldred and forcing him to catch her again.

“Holy crap, Baldred, you could have warned me!”

Baldred ignored her, “Make another fire, Cerlissa.”

“You’re crazy! This is a stable! Lamps aren’t even allowed in here! Apparently I shouldn’t be allowed in here!”

“Then do it out the window, but do it again!” Baldred seemed excited for some reason, focused on her hands.

Absolutely perplexed, Cerlissa asked, “Why?”

“Do it!”

Giving Baldred a suspicious look, Cerlissa moved to the window. It had been raining the past two or three hours, and the shutters were damp to the touch as she opened them. With all the control she could muster, she called the smallest possible flame into her protectively cupped hands, no bigger than a match flame. When she saw what Baldred was so excited about, the tiny flame grew a little larger.

It was blue. The same glittering, drowning blue as the Shen Kamaat now whispering its presence on her back. The flattish, thumbnail sized bug had changed something, and now the dirty, soot orange flames once granted her by Baphomet were all her own, and they were blue.

“I have to show Gwind!” Cerlissa breathed, then got up, looked around, grabbed her Dawn Patrol jacket and decided to just hop out the window. “Thank you for the stitches, Baldred!”
She called back as she disappeared into the night in search of her Vulcani ‘wife’.

Baldred was left with Tauntaun, his expression utterly baffled at her sudden excitement and lack of concern for the tremendous pain she had just endured. He had nothing else to do but grab his bag and his crutch and shuffle his way back to his room.

A loop of rope that has no beginning and no end, it symbolized eternity. The sun disk is often depicted in the center of it. The shen also seems to be a symbol of protection. It is often seen being clutched by deities in bird form, Horus the falcon, Mut the vulture. Hovering over Pharaohs head with their wings outstretched in a gesture of protection. The word shen comes from the word “shenu” which means “encircle,” and in its elongated form became the cartouche which surrounded the king’s name.

The ka is usually translated as “soul” or “spirit” The ka came into existence when an individual was born. It was believed that the ram-headed god Khnum crafted the ka on his potter’s wheel at a persons birth. It was thought that when someone died they “met their ka”. A persons ka would live on after their body had died. Some tombs included model houses as the ka needed a place to live. Offerings of food and drink would be left at the tomb entrance so the ka could eat and drink.

Represents truth, justice, morality and balance. Deities are often seen standing on this symbol, as if standing on a foundation of Maat.


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