• Another wave of pain hit her sharply on the left side of the chest. She should ask the town healers about it, but she didn't want Nafets to know she was feeling weak, once again. Not after everything Beleth had revealed to her a few nights before. Not when Mirith was going through its hardest year. "Now you are burdened with secrets" Beleth had said. She still had to find a way to deal with them. A way to assimilate the horror of the new information with the cold blood necessary to save Mirith. It was the worst timing possible to fall ill.

    She leant back, and tried to breathe slowly. On her knees, rested open the book of fairy tales offered by the Royal Mage. Some of it were new versions of old stories, with beautiful illustrations drawn by an anonymous artist. One half of the book, however, was nothing but empty pages. She had been entertaining the idea of filling those pages herself, diving in the world of fiction for a change. Maybe she would do that, when things were over. Maybe she should start it now, as a distraction to keep her going. She turned the pages looking for the tale on Nita. The Mhara would be enough to distract her from her physical discomfort.

    A message from Varto interrupted her plans. She had completely forgotten It was the day appointed for an expedition to the Descent of Crausaar. The first one in many moons, something she had been looking forward to for so long. Varto wanted to ask her about last minute details, as probably other people gathered at the bank would too. She could not face them yet. She would have to gather all her energy to be able to walk to the cave, a prospective that all of a sudden felt like the heaviest duty. She should have asked Beleth about the papers on the Black Dragons, she should have asked Charonia if anything else had been found about the eggs. In short, she should have organised the expedition with time and care. Fortunately, Lou Bene and Octar had came to aid a few days before. A quick note sent to the bank and everyone would already know what else had to be done. She had to stop by the hall and gather her spare rings - she would meet them at the entrance.

    Once she had collected everything from the chests, she made her way to the cave. So strange, how they still knew so little about the place, how they had never found any record about that citadel of men built in the depths of the earth. Or maybe the earth had moved, the lava had raised in levels, and they were simply following the wrong clues, looking at the wrong corners.

    She was welcomed by an impressive group, and the grinning faces of several friends. She could not help to lament the absence of rangers, and to blame herself for not having put all her efforts into the expedition this time. Hopefully, they would still manage. The grinning faces and the cries of war showed the thumos of the fighters, ready to be released against the first guardians of the place.

    She jumped through the narrow entrance last, with the blood of a whole family of bats already soaking the ground. The smell of blood, so similar to iron, the echoes of the fight against the rocky walls, the relative softness of the earth under her feet, filled her with a renewed strength. As strange as it would sound, she was happy in there. She could still feel the thrill of venturing as far as they could, never losing hope to see the black beasts that had once destroyed the ancient world. The thrill that could only come out of a morbid curiosity, that would only exist while a very clear notion would last in their heads:

    One day we won't be able to get out of here


    Entry added by Cassandra to the book of records kept at the library of Mirith:
    On the 8th trip to Crausaar's Descent, on the 226th day of the Harvest Moon, 438, the expedition made as far as the citadel, falling in the same place as the groups before. It was still a feat, given the fact that many had never been there before. The adventurers were all able to make it back to our temples, in higher spirits than after previous expeditions. New strategies are already being discussed for an eventual attempt during the Fighting Moon.

    Present were: Varto, Bronte, Radek, Mustafaa, Skagzz, Mikomi, Kotori, Crom, Lou Bene, Rosina, Euchra, Hayate, Lym, Cassandra, Octar, Laricen, Charonia, Nicodemus, Gorden, and Redman, who kindly accepted to lead the troops.

  • BelethCurio

    The candle was almost out when she finished writing. "I smell death on you". The words stuck in her head. If only Trader Ren knew what she had just been through. They kept beating their own records, gathering more, richer, better equipped armies to fight the Descent. Every time they would tell each tore they would make it. The moon was favourable, the time was right. Every time they would mask their morbid attraction to the lair of the dragons with the conviction of a victory. They would repeat, one by one, the same mistakes, the same attempts at coordination. They would try to come up with new tactics, and forget them after the first few levels of darkness. Perhaps it was that the addictive power of the place laid in that specific point, underneath the new world, between the walls of the old city. Perhaps, deep down, each of them dreaded the moment of walking past the pools of magma, into the ruined building. They all knew what awaited them there.

    For Cassandra, it was the numbness taking over her body at once. The eyes going blank, the ears not able to tell the screams of pain from the instructions of their leader. From the first moments, there was something that kept drawing her closer, calling her deeper. She would describe it as a sort of voice, soft and low at the entrance, higher and higher as they made their way through the golems and dragon younglings, until it shouted loudly from the centre of the old civilisation, annihilating all other information from the senses. She knew, in the back of her mind, that the only way to win would be to fight that sensation. Not to abandon oneself to the sedative effect of chaos, but to push forward instead, and to keep their wits about them. One day One day they would be strong enough.

    "I smell death on you". Ren, now sitting at the table in the middle of the hall, a guest of the guard If only he knew what they had just been through. However, not all had been lost that day. Crawling in pain, just before collapsing into the grey world, she had managed to reach her pocket. With a last effort, she grabbed the rune and placed it firmly on the ground, aided by the weight of her body. "Let us hope we reached far enough for Beleth".


    ((The ninth trip to Crausaar's Descent was fought bravely by Charonia, Dracilus, Crom, Amere, Razan, Octar, Stryker, Cassandra, Majara, Karad, Euchra, Varto, Dharma, Alys, Rosina, Crhodan, Rropi, Danery, Boric, Jozlyn, Laricen, Gorden, Delimew. Lead, as usual, by the most patient Redman.))

  • The old tapestry had lost most of its colour. It had been a gift to the Mirith Vanguard by a local tailor, to commemorate one anniversary or another of the reign of Galandir. The object was, in itself, an unconscious portrait of a generation; a generation for which Mirith and "the world" were interchangeable synonyms, and then there was "the rest". In the centre, woven with special attention to the tones of blue, gold, and green, the artisan had depicted scenes from the glorious past of Mirith, with Zexe and Zara, Galandir and his treacherous sister Tirana, Beleth and Araine, the assemblies of Centaurs, and the first formation of the Vanguard, led by the ranger Asliendor.
    In the upper left corner, the shades were gradually more purple, underlined with thick grey strokes. It represented Marali. To the right, the tones of orange and earthly brown left no doubts that it was Lerilin, with a special place for Brigobaen in the transition to the lower right extremity. There, in shades of red and white, was Andris and its sandy beaches. Finally, in the remaining corner, there were lizards sewn in yellow, one of them on his knees, with a fallen crown on the floor.
    The tapestry was a product of Mirith and of Mirithian arrogance. With the exception of Lerilin, an exception probably due to the religious devotion of the tailor or to the fear of losing his head in case he would remind the people of the flames that once had devoured Brigobaen's library, all the other regions were represented in their moments of uttermost distress, yet with some diplomatic dignity regarding the representatives of their governments. To avoid conflict with other cities, the tailor had chosen to underline the role of Mirith helping the rest of the world through its worst times, rather than to humiliate them. So Marali was shown surrounded by trolls and giants, yet the Commanders Kang and Adams were seen fighting bravely, side by side with Nafets and the royal vanguard. Andris, too, was shown under occupation. Against Lancaster, one could see Zexe and Evers, while Morgans and Galandir were depicted in the back, negotiating. The old traitors had already turned into heroes, and Tuck was in the frontline of the fight, in a poetic licence easy to forgive. The absence of others, such as Birek McCalla, was perhaps the result of the tailor's doubts about their real place in history or the current political evaluation of their role in the eyes of the king.

    "Who will ever do the same for N'eroth when he dies? Or for Vaup, Tigg, Pernell, Anderson, Ellychas, and all the rest?" though the wizard, turning away from the large wall where the tapestry had been hanging for decades. She had heard the reports of what had happened while she had been away. It seemed, more and more, like a long list of faces she would never see again, lost in one battle or another, against a major enemy or a small thug that got lucky. She had heard the news of the Void and of the Burning Fighters (though not of Darkstar, which worried her), of the new rifts and of creatures craving blood. She had heard worrying tales of spirals and portals to a different dimension. On the other hand, in the surface where humans live, there seemed to be no government left, in any of the cities. All dead or missing. No working structure. Only the Vanguards had still one or two members around, walking fossils of a distant time. Yet, things seemed to be relatively quiet. Anarchy did not work so badly, after all, and she had always hated hierarchies anyway. Few structures were needed for small numbers of people, and nature dictated that there would always be alpha specimens to lead of even the smallest group. It seemed paradoxical: the world she knew did not exist anymore or was waning, however, everything remained the same. The population was dwindling but not thanks to any victory of a crazy black mage or a natural catastrophe. She had seen it before. It would be just a matter of time until new adventurers would fill the bank steps again, and old companions would return.

    She had been absent for a long time, herself. She decided to leave shortly after they succeeded going to the bottom of Crausaar's Descent. After the day they had faced the Black Dragons and the world had not ended. It was only a matter of numbers, after all. It had always been only a matter of numbers. Could the Black Plague have been stopped if people had gathered against it? Was the power of the Dragons not that tremendous, after all? Or had it been taken away from them by some new spell of Marthonis or another old mage? Was there more to it than they had seen? She could still remember her stupefaction watching the most fearsome beasts of Oberin falling, one after another, to the blades of the fighters. She could feel in her body an emptiness left where fear used to be. And, oh, the fear of the unknown had a special taste. She could remember well the attraction that that place had over her and so many of her friends. They would not sleep, they would spend a great part of their days drawing maps, thinking of strategies, saving materials for the next attempt, fearing that it would be the last one.

    Something was wrong there. Something ought to be wrong. It was not possible that the forces that had once destroyed Oberin were, after all, so easy to curb. There had to be something else. So she decided to follow Beleth's advise, and to step aside to learn. She left her history books behind, her projects on the grammar of the Centaurs and her studies in common magic, she bid her farewells to her closest friends, and went away. She traveled, traveled some more, she studied philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence, and even theology, with ardent zeal, the books common and illegal, the seasons and the moon. She forgot all she had ever known, and she grew more and more certain that she would return one day no wiser, with more questions than she had when she left, dumber, shyer, older, slower. Yet, one thing she had learnt for sure: sometimes, to understand something about the world, one must be as far from it as possible.

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