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RP:The Stars Are Fire

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Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc


Part of the What Dreams May Come Arc


Summary: The long-gestating expedition into the Shadow Plane begins at last. Lionel, Leone, Celaeno, Eleanor, Kreekitaka, Gilwen, Krice, Hudson, Uma, Joanie, Blut, Revion, and the restless spirit of Valrae embark on a perilous mission into the dangerous and wild realm in search of Kahran's rumored fortress headquarters, Sarenoth. The team reaches the ruins of a place of unimaginably tall spires called the City of Sorrows, where only ghosts are left to wander and a device called the Rising Star resides within an elegant temple. The mages and witches are compelled to interface with the Rising Star, risking life and limb to activate its powers. Time is of the essence: a massive battle erupts outside the temple walls. Kahran warps Lionel to the top of a far-up spire and makes ready to murder him, but is unable to control his blade, Hellfire, and the hero and warlord duel.

Hudson, Kreekitaka, and Blut engage the harrowing masses of the enemy's battalion, surviving the initial onslaught thanks to a series of charms devised by Celaeno. Krice, meanwhile, reaches the archer-general Agathon, killing the man in one-on-one combat. Lionel's duel with Kahran continues, but he suffers a terrible poisoned wound to his right arm. Realizing he will probably soon die, Lionel seizes the opportunity to impale Kahran through his torso, hoping to end the menace even if it costs him his life. Kahran, grievously injured, teleports away but believes he has eliminated the Alliance's leader.

Thanks to Leone, Gilwen, Celaeno, Eleanor, Revion, Uma and Joanie, Kahran's dominion over the Shadow Plane's portals -- which he has been using for months to launch ambush after ambush and carry thousands of troops across Lithrydel unabated -- weakens considerably. The network fizzles and ignites in a hauntingly beautiful aerial display. Leone, on the brink of death, successfully throws an escape portal up for her allies to track through. Lionel, hopelessly far away due to Kahran's devilish tricks, is rescued by Valrae. The spirit has materialized within this alien realm, and enlisted the help of the City of Sorrows' own ghosts to bring the Hero of Hellfire home alive. There, the injured but victorious expedition party sets course for home; Lionel's sister Khitti, acting on pure premonition, gets him to safety so that he -- like the rest of the heroic suicide squadron -- can live to fight another day.

PHASE 1: DESERTED VALLEY

Leone is leading a contingent of people through the desert to the appointed meeting spot. The smith has first collected this rag-tag train of followers at the road in Kelay. The team includes porters, summoned here to shlep stuff, but will not be entering the shadow plane. Each of the parade members has been handed a lightweight cloak in a speckled, ecru and umber. It nearly matches the sands. Once the troupe have made their way through lightning, sandstorms, and various irate wildlife, the smith leads them to a pair of stone pillars, and gives the signal to halt. "Here we are," the trademark grit-and-gloss timbre bleeds out through a thin, gauzy scarf wrapped around her mouth and nose to ward against the sand.


Celaeno wore one of those sand colored cloaks, sitting on the edge of a cart. Underneath the cloak and her robe, her base clothes stuck to her, slick with sweat from the journey there. Between the humidity from the lightning storms and the dry desert winds, she was missing Frostmaw’s harsh climate. She took to hiding her nose under her shirt collar. As her conveyance jerked to a top with the party, she took a deep breath, heart hammering as she patted the rather large pouch she kept at her hip, hooked to her belt. They had arrived. “You..” A cough. “..were not exaggerating about the countryside.”


Blut arrived with his black assassins garbs but with a rather unconventunal method. Blut appeared to appear rideing on a large wave of sand at rapid speeds. The creature Blut was rideing on to rose to reveal the sand wyrm he was rideing on it let out a roar raising it's head as Blut jumped down. It lowered it's head for the assassin as he pet it affectionatly before it turned and burrowed under the sand. Blut has been spending alot of time within this desert for personal reasons but all this time here has given him a intimate knowledge of it and it's dangers. Blut walked forward to his "allies".


Krice arrived a little later than was customary for him, entering low atop the saddled spine of his triangular-headed wyvern. Unlike times before, he came alone, not in the company of the High Priestess, Leone. Given her home of Frostmaw, Gylworliath the wyvern complained with a quiet squawk about the heat of the desert as she landed, snow spitting outward from her spread talons. Several metres west of the others, his words of encouragement and gratitude to the wyvern would not be heard, nor his reprimand for her insistence to come with him. Once he had dismounted, the warrior gave Gylworliath's flank a pat and sent her home, which she happily obliged. Dressed in light khaki robes that billowed around his hips and harboured a black inner layer, held to his torso by the strapping of his two back-mounted katanas, and lighter greys and whites beneath to lessen heat retention, Krice walked onward to meet his allies. ​Gold-streaked eyes swept his surroundings, scanning the horizon for sign of danger, or anything else that might impede his team's success. Blut's arrival was met with indifference, but the roar of his sand wyrm drew a guarded scowl from the warrior. So loud. Perhaps Kahran's lackeys wouldn't hear it on the other side. The silver-haired enigma moved onward, those strands held back by a tightly wound cord, and maneuvered to line up with Leone's general location. To Lionel he offered a respectful nod, a gaze that lingered briefly, and to the others he nodded more simply. With Leone herself he shared a knowing glance, one she would alone be able to decipher, before he turned his focus outward to await the mission's start.


Lionel is lightly-dressed in his customary scarlet silks. For him, speed will always triumph over sturdiness. He’s regretted this outlook before, and doubtless he’ll come to regret it again. Knowing the odds, he won’t be surprised to find himself regretting it today. The trip across the desert is fraught with heat, but neither suffocating sun nor frigid cold affects him the way it affects most. A small measure of supernatural blessing from the Ishaarite spirit living within his sword. But the sun still distorts his vision and blurs the way ahead. The Alliance could not have arranged this mission if not for Leone -- not only for her magic, but for her choice of starting location and insurance that they’ll arrive as planned. She, like so many others, has proven her abilities in spades. Lionel knows the Alliance is built on need, not any one person’s charisma, but he’s nevertheless thankful to have amassed a crew so capable. He’s thinking this right as Blut rips through the sands to reach the stone pillars. Blut, for all the abrasion he’s demonstrated on occasion, is one irreplaceable soldier among the rest of them. Still… “I hope you aren’t thinking of bringing your new friend over yonder,” he twirls his fingers into the air, meaningfully and smirks. He’ll nod in affirmation to Krice thereafter, and to Celaeno and Leone and all the rest of them. One by one they gather; the promised hour approaches. What awaits them on the other side? The uncertainty could grip them like vipers, but it doesn’t. That, to him, is the hallmark of this war. Lithrydel is hurting and Lithrydel is fighting back.


PHASE 2: WASTELAND OF SUFFERING

Lionel | For all the talent the members of this crew have previously demonstrated, all the finely-honed skill, luck will always factor. The future of Lithrydel rests on their shoulders, and if luck is not on their side that future will be grim. Luck has determined the clear blue skies overhead as they trek across the Nameless Desert. It’s given them favorable trails through the sand. It’s helped keep the enemy’s scouts from ranging this far into the tan expanse. If the rough Gualonese thunderstorms came down harder than they already did, buffeting them and blanketing the trails, or if Kahran’s avian scouts espied them before they reached their destination, it could all have been for naught. But luck has been on the Alliance’s side today, and Lionel O’Connor, squinting against the harshness of the sun as he peers ahead to the ancient stone formation Leone has chosen for its magical vibrancy, is thankful. Will their luck hold? Has luck ever truly held? He hops nimbly off his horse once they’ve reached the pentagonal stones, trying to ignore the unspoken question hanging like sweat in the stiff hot air. Once his companions have gathered around him -- including Esche, who is sporting looser-fitting soft green robes than usual -- the leader of the Alliance clasps his hands together and meanders between them. He gives them each a meaningful glance, aware of the importance of something -- anything -- being said before they step through Leone’s portal and into darkness.


Lionel | “Whether it was mankind wondering what lurked past their shores and building boats to go boldly, or dwarves looking up from their tunnels with wonder and choosing to dig skyward, every race, every people, has always found some measure of fascination with what lies beyond the bounds. The Shadow Plane lies beyond our bounds. Our every step may echo like a rippling wave, so we must tread quietly and carefully. Our every sight may deceive us, so we must stay close and work as a team. It can be a wondrous place. But for every wonder, there’s unequivocal danger. I believe in you. You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. But Kahran doesn’t give a rat’s ass whether or not I believe in you, and neither should you. This is about each of us seeing the undeniable constant across the realm: Kahran is a plague, a cancer, a scourge, upon our home. To save it, he needs to die. So keep your eyes open, but don’t let the bounds distract you. Today, we are not explorers -- we’re saboteurs. We’ll find the bastard’s home and we’ll come back in one piece and figure out how to do to it what he’s been doing to ours. If we fail, it’s back to the drawing board as Lithrydel burns. No matter how it goes, let’s send a message. But let’s do it smartly. No self-sacrificial heroics.” An ironic thing, coming from him. “I’ll see you on the other side. And we -will- see each other again on this one.”


Lionel | Never ask anyone to do what you aren’t willing to do yourself. Once Leone’s portal is cast, Lionel is the first to step through. A dizzying spiral of blue-black envelops him, leaves him feeling damp and numb, and then spits him out in a rolling motion onto the coordinate representation of the Nameless Desert within the otherworldly Shadow Plane. The ground, devoid of sand, is a solid black sheet of obsidian which stretches off in every direction. It is punctuated by twisted olive-green stalks which have sprouted like snakes and lone trees with alluring red blossoms. The trees have been placed at exacting locations, giving them an artificial feel. The air is very cold and wet and the skies above threaten rain. It is, in some ways, as if the luck of the Nameless Desert has immediately worn out and laughed at them. There are no signs of fauna as yet. As his teammates filter in beside him, Lionel will again take charge. With no discernible reason to travel in any particular direction, he is at an impasse, but Esche regards the group with a bow and speaks. “The only magic I sense for leagues in any direction is due north. Fellow mages, do you not sense it, too?” Indeed, they will, if sensing magic is within their purview. “North, then,” Lionel confirms, turning north into the endless black.


Leone is insistent. She will not be disuaded. As each team memeber arrives, the farrier hands them a small pendant, a tiny metal rune upon a leather strap that can be twisted anywhere; an arm, the neck, or even an ankle are all suitable locations for the trinket. Every single charm is then activiated, a fingertip coated in blue and white light pressed into the sigil, causing it to flare to life for several seconds, and then gradually fade back into the dull, unpolished metal finish. A pile of prepared provisions sits nested between two dunes, covered with a waxed canvas tarp and a healthy heap of sand. The smith's hired hands dig through the pile, diving up equipment: rope, a pick axe, a waterskin, a bar of soap, a tinderbox, and some iron nails all make an appearance in each of the assembled packs. The smith slings a pack, her overlaying sand-colored cloak discarded for one that is pure midnight in hue, along with the rest of her clothing. It comes with a cowl that is promptly shoved over her sterling-and-onyx hair. The smith's hands flex, one drawing into rigid, straight palm, the fingers all arow and perfectly perpendicular to the ground. She lifts it, drawing a line through the air with the still-luminously cerulean fingertips. The gesture leaves a trace through the heated air, a shimmering line of blue that suddenly and (seemingly) spontaneously expands. The color of the real world drains away in the area immediately surrounding the newly opened portal. Like the water at the edge of a sinkhole, the world and all of its hues seem to drain toward the dark abyss frame in azure magic. There's a rush of cool air before the stagnation pools in again, and the magical hand is turned over, palm up and swept toward the newly created doorway. She steps through only after the rest of the party has safely made it across the threshold, thereafter following the party near the rear.


Celaeno takes her own leather strap and ties it tight just underneath her left gauntlet where the straps were already strapped on hard enough to chaff. She whips a small metal stylus out from that pouch at her hip and scribbles a small set of runes upon the bottom corner of the metal character. It activated the odd strand of black fur--one might recognize it belonging to those Shadowplane felines Lionel and his lot rode around on, Tikiflees. The miniscule runes make her entire body flare with a dark aura as her part of the enchantment activates, capturing teh essence of that fur. She goes around to each other of the mission in turn, muttering a quick, “Excuse me,” to them before going to engrave the same quick inscription on their charms as well. If someone complained or refused...well then she would just have to offer an explanation and be stubborn, wouldn’t she? To any making a fuss, she would follow the priestess of Aramoth’s lead. “It is important too. Do hold still, please.” Adding to Cela's explanation for anyone who fusses: "It will protect us from detection, make us seem as one of the fauna of the realm. No one should take note of a pack of native felines, should they?" She sheds her cloak with the rest of the sand-colored garb, tucking it under the tarp where provisions had been stored. Seeing as the one she strode in after had garbed herself in black, the half-elf lifts the hood of her cloak and tucks the glowing runes all over her gauntlets inside her sleeves to conceal their light. She found she nearly lost her companions in the dank, dull colored new atmosphere, pulling her robe closer for the sudden cool that permeated the fabric. A deep breath brings her burdgeoning sense for dark magic to life, the dark aura about her chest pulsing as the realm’s effect takes hold. Yes, she did sense the magic, even from that far. She pats that pouch once more with her trembling armor and it jingled in reply. Plenty of vials in there for the journey ahead...she hoped. The sword she wore tucked away deeper under her robes was there for an emergency, just in case. She follows their stalwart leader’s lead, though, daring not to utter a sound lest she trip some odd new sort of trap in that foreboding place.


Blut tood the metal rune and placed it in his pocket before takeing the soap and tinderbox. Blut had no real need for provisions, the man walked through the portal allowing the world to overtake his senses once again as he looked around. This world always took his breath away dispite haveing been here before it was still beautiful to look at. Hearing Esche's proposition and haveing Celaeno mark his strap he will take his wraps off his face as he looked around to see if there was any overflowing mana that can be identified. If he could identify them Blut would walk over to that source not really careing for what plan the team might make. It would never work with him so he will do what he does best. Work alone besides they will need to split up one time or another refuseing to actually fight here. There was no garentee that they will come back alive so Blut would rather not have to waste ammo or resources.


Gilwen had originally intended to set out from Sage on horseback with two of her best archers. However, a family emergency called one back; they would be celebrating the birth of a child once this mission had concluded, if all went well. Down a man, she recruited Revion to the mission, and briefed him with the necessities: this was a stealth mission, and the plants and fauna would be difficult, or down-right impossible to command. She and a fellow female elf with a bright blonde pixie cut had been dressed not for battle, but for mobility; leathers and loose, black cotton. Slung over Gilwen’s shoulder was a recurve bow, and a quiver of colorful arrows; the other woman was equipped with a crossbow, and a matching quiver full of ammo. Upon arrival, the mounts were hobbled loose enough, that should they be threatened, they could easily run for safety, and Gilwen joined the crew. When Leone began passing out the pendants, they were eyed warily, and it wasn’t until after Celaeno explained their use that Gilwen allowed them to be placed. A brief glance a Blut, and a muttered, “Someone gave us similar things to blow us up,”was given as an explanation; she purposefully left off the fact that Blut’s rosaries were designed to explode post-mortem. When at last the group began to file through the portal, the fiery headed elf stuck close to her companions, and together with her fellow archer, who Gilwen named with a murmured, “Aelia, look,” as she gestured to the landscape and strangely placed trees. The woman merely grunted in answer and shucked off her crossbow to find a more ready hold on it.


Valrae winds through the Alliance. She moves as a delicate curl of smoke. The spirit travels with them and before them.. Passing ever restlessly as she soaked in the nerves and anxiousness of the party. The spirit would go unnoticed, leaving nothing behind as she passed. The air would not chill or smell of smoke.. Not even for the man who spoke bravely to those gathered. They stood ready to plunge themselves into another world and Valrae could almost feel the power that came with that truth like the charge of a storm hanging in the air. She used it, drew it within herself and held onto it greedily. She felt as if her whole being were a raw, exposed nerve ending. To be among the living was to know the fearful question of death. To be among the dead was to have fear crouch over you and whisper promises of something worse. The black. Would attempting to step through this portal send her straight to the endless nothing? The witch had no answer, only a stubborn willingness to find out. Without hesitation she followed Lionel into the portal… And felt the cold. It swept across her cheeks and pushed long curls of gold away from her flushed face. Where once her spirit stood unseen, beside Lionel was now a witch cloaked in scarlet.


Kreekitaka would have eventually, after a bit of arguing, finally accepted the pendant to be placed on one of his paddles. It rattled uncomfortably and he didn’t like it but at least it was vaguely out of the way, there. Lionel’s speech struck fairly close to home, as well—he himself was, after all, an explorer. He had gone beyond the sea and invaded the land—and, if he had anything to say about it, he would go beyond the land to invade the sky. And beyond the sky, and beyond whatever was out there! This, here? This was another beyond, and it was an opportunity he wasn’t going to pass up, even if the mission was a bit more limited in focus. He’d been here once before, when Kahran had tried to make him an offer. He’d seen things. Very strange things. And he wanted answers about them while he was here. To that end, since he was allowed to bring a couple of guests, he hadn’t brought warriors, like he usually did. To his left, a white uyeer caster who went by the name Rik’kska, a specialist in life magic, not quite as tell as Kree and certainly not quite as broad. To his right, an abyssal uyeer materials scientist who went by the name Crush. Crush towered head and shoulders over even Kree, had shown something of a tendency to be unhurried about everything he did, and didn’t speak or understand a word of common when the journey had first began. Kree had had to feed him a potion of understanding in order to get him to learn the language. In addition to the supplies distributed by Leone—Crush had the ability to perform double duty as both materials scientist and pack mule—the pair of his aides carried equipment of their own. Small vials, various herbs and magical reagents, tools for taking samples of the terrain.


Kreekitaka was the first of his group to step through the portal, and was immediately struck by how… regular the terrain looked. He took a few steps towards one of the tree things, then examined the ground in more detail—it was hard and smooth, like glass. Not at all like sand. “How -fascina’in’-,” said Crush, his bass voice rolling out and carrying, even more difficult to keep quiet than Kree. He stooped low and punched a small crater in the floor, scooping up some of the black stuff into a vial for examining later. Rik’kska prepared a spell, something to cast on the nearest vinetreething, perhaps to examine it—but the reaction between his reagents fizzled away into nothingness, uselessly. Kree made an annoyed sound and walked over to one of those trees himself, tapping on it with a claw to see whether it collapsed into ash like the creatures. Regardless, they wouldn’t have much time here—Esche quickly located a direction for them, and so they started to move. “Try TAH!oo keep quieTAH!,” ordered Kree to his entourage. “ITAH! is yike he says, we are preTAH!enDAH!ing noTAH! TAH!oo be here.”


Krice took a trinket from Leone and bowed his head in respectful thanks, though Celaeno's arrival to inscribe it - after inscribing a few others - drew a cool stare. He didn't know this woman, and had no reason to trust her - apart from the fact that she was here in this group. But there were other untrustworthy people present, as it was. With some small measure of gratitude in his eyes, he accepted Celaeno's intervention and looked toward Leone for confirmation that things were fine, before concealing the item somewhere beneath his shirt. Standing back, he awaited the priestess' opened portal and watched as others ventured in ahead of them. Undoubtedly sharing a look with Leone as to who would enter last, the man ultimately opted for venturing in ahead of his divine companion. , the warrior cleared his throat quietly and stood, shrugging his shoulders as if to dispel the sensation caused by jumping through a doorway of crackling energy. He would likely never get used to portals. After an acknowledging glance sent to the doormaker, the warrior looked outward to take in the surroundings of the Shadow Plane. Noting its vast differences from the desert, he shifted to flip over his robes from khaki to black, his twin katanas strapped between his shoulder blades -beneath- the flowing garment. Consequently a little less conspicuous against the darkened terrain underfoot, he moved silently alongside his allies, bringing up the rear to ensure that they were not ambushed from behind. Lionel's words flowed through his mind but did not interrupt his thoughts or focus. What -did- draw his attention was the sudden materialization of a witch once thought to be dead. He stared at Valrae though not for long, taking in the sight of her alongside the mission leader. Stepping forward, Krice lingered near Leone at the rear but kept his eyes on a swivel, distantly interpreting the crabman's words while outwardly locking his focus on their surrounds. The cold of this place seemed not to affect him, perhaps warded off by the black robes that assisted his stealth.


Revion stands by Gilwen, acting as a sort of silent guardian amid this gathering of heroes. Tall, even by elven standards, the druid’s presence here is a sort of last minute ordeal as one of the rangers called upon by the elder could not make the journey. And so, garbed in simple leathers, with an earth-toned cloak draped over his shoulders, the battle-druid dismounts his horse as one by one those gathered enter the unknown. Lionel’s speech was something, but this elf has a personal mission, to ensure the safety of Gilwen, and that one of the pillars of leadership for the wood elf people makes it back home. Hood still drawn over his visage, the elf grabs his bladed staff from the mare’s saddle bag before he inhales deep of the fresh air of this realm. His connection to nature still runs deep, even this far out into the expanse of the Nameless Desert. His bare feet, course and rugged, dig into the sand a bit as he readies his mind for what is to come. Having battled the monstrosities of this foul overlord once before, Revion expects that he shall see, and feel, unnatural occurrences aplenty during this daring mission into the Shadow Realm. What the elf did not expect was the trinkets offered by the priestess and magic user in the group. Having never dabbled in the arcane, or worshipped anything other than nature, such wards were almost foreign to the druid. As Leona hands him her offering, the elf can feel a strange sensation ever so slightly radiate off the charm. Ever the silent one, he offers a simple nod of the head before going to store it within his cloak just as the other woman comes forth to etch her rune upon the charm as well. Again, it is not that he believes himself to be above such things, it is simply strange. He watches silently as she places her markings upon the trinket before she walks off to repeat the process for everyone else. Looking to Gilwen for a moment, if she was looking back, he’d offer a simple shrug of his shoulders before he’d go back to making sure his own gear was fully prepared as ready. The bladed-staff is his go to. Made of stout-oak, the blades are carved bone reinforced by stone. Metal is a substance most druids care little to use, and Revion is one such person. Twin daggers rest upon each hip, while three separate pouches carry salves, berries and a few other useful items in case the need arises. As Gilwen moves with Aelia towards the entrance to the Shadow Realm, Revion sticks close. He’d ensure they all got back to the birth of a new elf no matter what. And with that in mind, the druid takes lead for his small group into this unknown land. Passing through the veil was something, as his connection to the natural world was cut almost instantly, leaving him with a sensation of feeling naked as a babe. As soon as his feet touched the ground, he knew this place was an abhorrent insult to everything he held dear and loved. It almost angers him that such a place should exist, but knowledge of what they face (the little he had) made him come to understand the importance of his demise that much more. He knows now, too, that Gilwen’s words were true. Druidic magic would be of very little use for him here, not for one as untrained as the elder at least. His connection so severely weakened, if not cut off, makes him a bit uneasy. But comfort comes in the knowledge that he is not without a means of defense, as every elf spends years of their childhood learning the basics of melee combat. Some, such as he, train even more in the ancient martial forms of their ancestors. While only a few druids rise to lead their people, such as Gilwen has, many others who follow that path become the protectors of these leaders. Learning more of combat and druidic forms of empowerment, versus the vast knowledge of the near limitless power nature can offer. Either way, as keen eyes scan about, Revion prepares himself for the mission at hand, and awaits Gilwen’s lead in this expedition.


Eleanor arrived in silence, as the spell-rogue was wont to do. Leathers of varying shades of black and gray covered up most of her skin, a network of fresh azure-inked tattoos underneath. The bit of her skin that was exposed along her throat and face was also marked with color, but not from arcane runes stained to her skin - instead, there was a type of war paint plastered diagonally across the woman’s otherwise sunbrushed visage, streaks of inky black slicing across her shielded celadon stare. A simple-seeming black cloak hung about her shoulders, its cowl puddled around her neck. The woman’s flax-and-wheat waves had been twisted back into herringbone braids on either side of her head before the rest of her hair joined in a twisted bun of plaits and rune-inscribed copper beads. Continuing in her stoic manner, the painted woman accepted the token with nothing past a brusque nod of gratitude, but rather than wrap the strap around her wrist, she tucked it, for now, just inside her belt after it was inscribed and activated. She felt its magic rush over her, foreign but welcome, stirring to life the pentagonal turquoise gem implanted in the center of her brow. There was no iron diadem this time to keep its power contained, only that finger-smeared ebony intimidation obscuring her forehead. The spell-rogue paused in her approach of the portal as it unfurled before them, feeling her heart begin to race with a kind of giddy anticipation, but she knew that beneath the drapes of her cloak were her chakram and wand - the latter, a newer addition to her retinue, and unpredictable at best, but she would not leave it behind no matter the risk. Its inscrutable black stone tip was spared a quick glance down along her body toward her left hip, reminding herself of the darkness within it, before she found herself glancing toward Lionel, and soon his retreating form as he dipped into the portal itself.


Eleanor | Picking up what provisions were available, she secured her belt and weapons one last time, before glancing toward the portal again. Another and another followed, their group growing smaller in the desert as more and more were sucked into the shadowy void. Gods be condemned, she staid herself against any remaining jitters, and drawing in a deep breath, stepped toward the portal. All at once she felt a storm within and without her, raging around her for only the span of a heartbeat or two, and suddenly she was stumbling forward, quickly regaining her step but her stomach was twisting on its own. El took a half-step to the side and stumbled, but a deliberate shake of her head cleared any mental debris from the transition. In her head, that gem was dark, partly concealed behind the war paint, but despite the weirdness of the shadow plane as she came to catch her bearings, she felt its familiar vibration in her skull. She, too, could feel the magic, magnetic pull to the north, drawing her in with an intoxicating allure. The spell-rogue had to steady herself with few deep breaths, another, slower shake of her head, and she grit her teeth a moment. She was ready. Calming herself and quieting her steps, the rogue fell into a comfortable position behind but near the group, her muscles tense and alert as she began to trail after them, her body further masked by the runed metal given them. The black-draped rogue waited for Leone to step through, then loitered just beyond her in formation and as she began to move forward, she could feel the fine misting of moisture on her painted cheeks, leaving miniscule rivulets in the design. Some ways behind her, a blue crow dipped down, descending into the portal seconds after Eleanor did; its vibrant feathers faded to a thick, murky black as it followed them into the Shadow Plane, settling into a low zig-zagging glide just above the ground in front of the group, only the occasional, nearly imperceptible flap of its shadow-black wings disturbing the elegant silence with which it took flight.


Hudson had flown to meet the group, and then ridden with the group, on Cleo, with Joanie and Uma on their broomsticks on either side of him. The trio accept the pendants, and the women, without being asked, assist Leone's people in handing out provisions for the journey. For his part, Hudson politely avoids interactions with Krice and waters and sweet talks his horse, as she has developed a middle school grade rivalry with Lionel's horse for no apparent reason. At length, Joanie pulls him away and wordlessly hands him a potion, which he drinks - albeit whilst making a grim face - during Lionel's speech. The trio also let Celaeno mark them, though Uma make the rounds of her own with her wand and delivers basic speed, agility, and magic resistance blessings to those who don't turn her down. It's on the other side of the portal that Hudson has started to look mildly cagey. He whispers with Joanie, who by the way is wearing Lithrydel's answer to old lady comfort sneakers. "Just do it now," she is telling him, but he is staring at the red-cloaked woman who has manifested beside Lionel. "Hudson," Joanie hisses his name in a certain tone, and he, still looking at the red cloaked woman, pulls off his coat and sweater to shift into an oversized wolf with russet fur. Joanie bends down collects the rest of his clothes, thereafter performing a basic spell that stores them in some hoarders r us witch plane. "I agree, north," she pipes up to support Esche's suggestion, and the trio from Cenril press forward with the group. Joanie mounts her broom to get a good look ahead, her wand at the ready. Uma strides forward to walk ranks with Lionel and Valrae. "Merry meet," she says, quietly. Hudson won't follow, he ends up somewhere in the middle, closer to Krice, who has now been downgraded from 'person to be avoided' to 'this is fine.'


Lionel is torn between relief and terror when Valrae appears clear as day beside him. Here in the Shadow Plane, where so little is known and none of it truly understood, might she be just as susceptible to whatever madness they’ll encounter? Settling on relief, Lionel throws caution to the wind and takes the woman’s hand in his, squeezing affirmatively.. “We almost forgot one of our most important soldiers,” he speaks, looking into her eyes and nodding. The journey continues. | The spires far ahead are impossibly tall, piercing the heavens. The team sees no other points of interest and moves closer, seeking the meaning of the ruined city that will slowly come into view. Obsidian structures tower into the ever-starry sky in winding, far-stretching streets. Some have collapsed into one-another, some have fallen across roads, some are impossibly slanted. Yet others still stand proudly. Looking up at the spires will mean dizziness for all; there’s no fathoming those fathomless heights. A dark haze envelops the area, and a beautiful, partially-wrecked temple pulses nearby with pure magic. Visible to all, ghosts blink in and out of reality as they float between spires. Pale white and mournful, they don’t seem to have noticed the Alliance. Or if they have, they sure don’t seem to care. They move along their way, whispering in alien tongues. Only another ghost could ever hope to understand them at all. On their approach through the City of Sorrows, the team’s more magically-attuned members will sense the opal-studded nearby temple radiating an enchanted rhythm, a shining beacon in the night. Its intact side is held up by ornate arches and surrounded by stunning stone statues of an unfamiliar people going about their lives in harmony. “We should investigate,” Esche suggests, holding out his oaken staff. A pearl at the end of his staff glows faintly through the haze. Lionel cringes at the temple. For all its splendor, there’s no guarantee it will have a thing to do with locating Kahran’s fortress, and it almost feels like bait for something so serene to exist somewhere so bleak. But by the same token, it could be exactly what they seek. “High alert, everyone. Valrae, Kreekitaka, Krice, Blut, Hudson, let’s keep an eye on things outside. The rest of you, stay safe in there. Maybe we’ll find answers.”


PHASE 3: CITY OF SORROWS

Lionel | Dominating the pristine gilded marble of what is left inside this once-glorious temple is a six-pointed mechanical contraption of exceptional size rotating its copper and silver and steel arms in different directions constantly. It shimmers iridescently. The magic cascading off of it is intense and moves in swirls around the arms. Mages and witches of any sort will be overcome with a sense for what this is, for its archaic lore throbs like a still-beating heart and enters minds without provocation. “Greetings, wayfarers,” a voice booms through their brains. “My builders labeled me the Rising Star. Here in this City of Sorrows, our greatest accomplishments have been laid raw and bare to time. Our civilization’s name is no longer relevant. Our leaders are but dust. Our downfall is not of your concern. Know only this: I am a relic, a machine that still functions, albeit barely. I have detected the intruders to this realm. I have detected the evil things that they have done. Until your arrival, I have been powerless.” The voice seems genuinely sad. “But no longer,” it continues, with gusto. “I am a conduit on which the intruders’ traversal across the Shadow Portals between your plane of existence and ours has been permitted.” Esche takes a step toward the metal arms, searching them with his emerald eyes. “By intruders, you must mean Kahran and his ilk?” The voice hesitates. “Yes,” it confirms, unaccustomed to offering identity to bipeds. “If you wish to slow their free traversal through the system -- if you wish to prevent them from entering your plane en masse -- your magic must be concentrated upon my chassis. It will take considerable expenditure from each of you that can cast. Do not hesitate; do not fear my breaking. A shell exists, a magical shell, which must be severed. Strike me like a gong with as diverse a cast as possible. And do not deliberate overlong. The intruders are coming.” Esche frowns and looks to the others. “This is not what we came for. But it may prove ever more crucial. I am prepared to trust this entity. I did not sense enmity save for a pained malice toward Kahran.” He pauses, remorsefully turning back to the Rising Star. “I believe it has been injured by his dominion.”


Leone glances ahead in a moment, and marks a presence she'd not seen before. The miniature metallurgist's brow knits, and she frowns toward the appearance of the red-cloaked figure. Who was this? The thought is soon shelved, and the diminutive holy woman is quick to put distance between herself and the overly loud Uyeer in the party. She smiles sidelong as Eleanor, and also at Krice, as the pair end up on either side of her during marching order. Though once the troupe reaches the rundown temple, the petite plover is less than thrilled about being ordered into the temple. She gives it the stinkeye - the heavy stinkeye. This place belching magic and malevolence does not seem like a place to take shelter, yet she doesn't question Lionel. There's a long stare, and the teeming, limpid pools of viridian and lemon move over the Catalian's face. Her lips purse just before the smith heads through one of the arches, set to hunker down until otherwise needed. Her resignation does not last long. The smith stares at the six-pointed star, now speaking to the party. The smith begins to slowly circle the apparatus, strafing in a foot-over foot walk, all while staring at the pulsating, illuminated -thing- talking to them. She completes a half-circle before her head whips to the side, the full brunt of her attention pulled from the Rising Star to Esche. The smith mouths the elf's reply, and then speaks aloud, herself. "Yes," the smith reiterates. Her answer is even further supported by her action. The runes along the farrier's wrists flare to brilliant and blinding life, two ropes of magic twining around arms and palms. The hammer appears, the sacred smith's magical focus, emblazoned with Aramoth's seal, suddenly materalizes in her hand. It absorbs the power leaking out of her skin, soon humming with blessed energy. Promptly, the holy relic is swung at the metal arms and their magical aura.


Celaeno hadn’t been offered too much resistance by those gathered, only having to offer a few explanations--the uyeer being a tad more difficult than others. A good thing overall, she thought, as she slipped her stylus back into her pouch of healing potions. Part of her wishes Khitti could have come, considering she knew the treacherous place they traveled, but with a gulp she proceeds forward, forcing her trust in those strangers and allies surrounding her. They could do this, she could do this. The sample gathering and commentary about the otherness of the scenery had her attention wandering. Since she hadn’t brought a notebook of which to sketch her own observations, she would have to store as much visual information as possible so as not to lose all of it. It does give her a flash of the man transforming to a wolf, and the fine hairs on her arms stand on end as her gauntlets flex--the closest they can come to flexing--as that old phobia kicks in. Why a canine? Better than a domestic dog, but still… Why not a cat or a reptile of some kind? Her first mission, first time in another realm entirely, first werewolf fright, a very busy day. She glanced ahead toward Lionel, making sure she still followed the right direction as everyone else, but a red-cloaked figure appeared that she knew she had not glimpsed before. Oblivious to the pinnacle of the problems with Larket, her hand emerges, a small ball of equally scarlet flame bursting forth from it. It makes her cough into her forearm, a few drops of blood landing on the crook of her elbow. Still, were they the first of a line of enemies? A scout that had stumbled upon their whereabouts? It never hurt to be prepared. When Lionel grasps her hands though, declaring her one of their own, she merely wrinkles her nose and snuffs out the shadowflame she had summoned--right at home in the realm in question. She reaches for a potion, but hesitates. It wouldn’t do to go through them too hastily. Better to save them for when she might actually need one...like say in that city with its dizzying spires they were headed toward. The ghosts draw her gaze first, before the enchanting structures. Their hypnotic language confounded her own pricked ears under that hood, but a closely held spirit sharing her body seemed to still at the mutterings as if they seemed to call out to it. She rubs her chest, hoping that would calm her inner companion.


Celaeno’s jaw slackens as the odd opaline temple comes into view, awe in those wide, stormy eyes. The epicenter of the magical presence she sensed, amplified. The announcement that they would be breaking off struck her from that trance, heart beating faster for the loss of part of their group. Traversing in smaller numbers would be good, perhaps, wouldn’t it? She keeps those doubts to herself as she follows Esche, Gilwen and her woodland entourage, the mysteriously painted woman with a crow whose name she still did not know, and Leone into the structure. Further away from the wolf, on the plus side, despite that he was an ally. She forgot how to breath a moment, staring upon the spelled, sentient seeming configuration swirling above them with its many metallic arms. Oh but she did have questions about who built it and their downfall...so many she might stay there for ages to ask them. The aspiring academic’s desires are not quite dashed as it lays out its purpose, the way by which their enemy rended his havoc uncaught. Attack it? Truely? Could they even trust what it was saying, despite Esche’s assurances? Suddenly Leone walked up to the star, accepting that order, beginning her own onslaught. Celaeno takes a deep breath as she takes out a handfull of those healing potions within her left gauntlet, only a fraction of what the handless woman had brought. That red shadowflame comes alight in her right palm once more, growing larger as she prepares to follow suit. The priestess meant to assail the relic with holy power. The necromancy student’s purpose there was certainly to provide the opposite as she positions herself so the black-tinged, blood colored flames would plume out toward the star all the same, so if they struck they would miss the companions about her. All the while, she grits her teeth, the likewise necrotic taint upon her lungs and stomach cutting at her organs in retaliation. Blood dribbled from her nose and spilled from her mouth as she restrained the urges to cough and heave. She could go a bit longer, she had to. Trouble was on its way.


Blut had his eyes wide and open he may not have been able to see the area itself but he was able to see the mana of each individual each and every person in the area. Blut looked over to the small skermish between Celaeno and Valrae able to identify Valrae actually being there for her execution and able to identify her through her mana alone. He could see the magic that cascaded the device and exactly where it leads. If there was a individual in the area Invisible or otherwise he will be able to identify if a trick is in place. Blut listened to the relic as he stepped forward putting his wraps back on his eyes to actually see as well as compare the differences between what is covered with mana and what he could see. Blut didn't like what he was hearing. a lack of enmity was not a premise for trust for fear can infulence action far more than hate or despair. Blut followed Lionel outside walking up to the man to voice his concerns "I don't trust it remember what happened to the oroborus tribe, what we face is corruption so deep that not even the victims are aware of it. A lack of enmity does not warren trust. If anything we should dispose of it so Kharan doesn't gain access to a new weapon. Blut suggested looking at the structure. "After all if this remains untouched then it means two things Kharans already been here and already played around or we are in a area of the realm that Kharan did not explore yet meaning we are miles away from his base of operation." Blut hypothisised.


Gilwen had rankled under the constant watch and protection she had been saddled with since the day Kahran attacked Larket. The council had decided two to one that an entourage was to accompany the elven leaders should they venture outside of Sage, and Gilwen, being the one struck with a mild touch of wanderlust, was forced to endure the constant companionship. Despite the necessity found in the protection that she brought with her from the community in the forest, a quick glance to Aelia told the woman all she needed to know, and a small dip of the blonde elf’s chin sent Gilwen ahead of her small group to fall in step with Esche; the need for permission for space left her with a sour taste in her mouth, but she appreciated it regardless. Whatever she intended to say Esche had been promptly forgotten, however, due to the sudden appearance of Valrae. Gilwen’s mouth gaped, and she blinked, uncharacteristically at the woman. She had watched her die though. Was she so powerful a witch that she hadn’t actually died, but came to exist in this strange world instead? Disbelief and envy flooded Gilwen, and she constantly side-eyed the woman. When Lionel delegated entering the temple to half the group, Aelia was instructed to remain behind due only to the commissioned ammunition they had been given.


Gilwen | Inside the temple, Gilwen lingered toward the back of the party, which she’d later be thankful for due to the fright the sudden voice delivered unto her; in a fluid motion, her bow was before her, and a randomly chosen arrow knocked as she whipped her gaze around the room to locate the source of the sound. The unnaturalness of it all left her on edge, but she relaxed, mildly, when the instructions were provided. Following Leone and Celaeno’s lead, she approached the mechanical arms, storing her bow and ammo once again, but hadn’t yet attacked. Despite the vine-like vegetation that scaled the walls, Gilwen seemed to be doing absolutely nothing. Magic was a fickle thing; she hadn’t needed to work so hard to call it to her in Lithrydel on a normal day, and while she had known that the plant-life here in the Shadow Realm differed vastly from home, it hadn’t been too hard to manipulate the foliage Esche had recovered. But now, she had to focus on drawing on the energy of the climbing ivy in a way she had never done before. Those sensitive enough might feel Gilwen’s mana pulse from her, fanning out in wasteful waves. A sheen of sweat glistened over her brow, and she grunted with the effort of drawing on the life from vegetation. Eventually, the plant detached from the wall, each tendril slowly reaching for the mechanical arms that the others were attacking. Once in place, the plant began to wither, its life and spirit funneling into the mechanics before them, allowing Gilwen to grab onto the shell with her own magic, and wrench at it with all the energy she had remaining.


Valrae || For a moment time stops as Lionel takes Valrae by the hand and squeezes… Instead of making the motion and passing through her. Her smile is sudden and bright, out of place in the dark land that surrounds them. It passes her by in a daze, the novelty of new realms paled to the newness of touch. She felt Krice’s lingering gaze but could not remove her own from the man who walked beside her. She doesn’t see the unfamiliar woman,Celaeno, tense at her sudden presence. Uma’s familiar voice pulls her away finally, though not without difficulty. Her smile is genuine but filled with sadness. “Merry meet,” She replies, allowing her eyes move back and land on Hudson for a heartbeat. On returning to Uma she catches Gilwen’s side eye and her own look lingers for a moment. “It’s good to see you, Uma.” She finally says, eyes forward again. As the City of Sorrows swells up around them, moving with strange light her pace slows. A chill passes through the spirit as the Whispering Walkers move around them. They were uncaring of the Alliance’s presence and without rest. Sorrow called and Valrae’s soul answered. It yawned before her like a dark, endless chasm and threatened to pull her down. Her mind was filled with the other spirit’s whispering, the foreign words slowly unraveling themselves to the familiar. Though she moved as if part of the living now her being was steeped in death and recognition rippled through them. She had been moving through the city near enough to Lionel and Uma but fell away gradually. It happened slowly, the white and ever changing forms of the other spirits blinking to her coyly before moving away again until they had surrounded her in white and curious light. They spoke in tongues she had never known but her heart shuddered with understanding. She doesn’t hear the group splitting, the call of her name to stay. They spoke at once, tumbling over each other like water over rocks, sometimes in unison, sometimes fading and catching where the other stumbled off. The ghost of the witch looked around her in melancholic wonder as she listened.“They cannot rest,” She whispers to Lionel, suddenly beside him again though there was no movement to proceed this. Esche and the others would have already moved into the temple. They would be hearing a similar tale. “Kahran was the architect of this destruction. The City of Sorrows. They knew only peace here before… And power. He came with darkness and blood. They fell apart.” Her eyes were wide and filled with the sorrow of the people who died screaming. “They were slaughtered. He’s using what remains now… A rising star?” Confusion colors her tone.


Lionel | Renne, short-haired and sturdily-built, attaches the last of her full plate silvery armor with a twist of her wrist. The gauntlet is spiked, lest her considerable claymore not finish the job. She rolls her eyes at Agathon, the dark and slender archer who also serves as general within the armies. He failed to eliminate high-profile targets that night, when Josleen’s Larketian support made a mockery of his ambush on Alliance forces. He is a failure in Renne’s view, and seeing him jest with his fellow archers is almost enough for the impulsive woman to strangle him and deal with whatever consequences she must endure. But displeasing Kahran is a fatal move. And Renne very much intends to live in the new world that Kahran is creating. She tilts her head wayward of the irritating Agathon, surveying the ranks. They’ve entered the City of Sorrows from its far northwest passage on swift orders from their master. Motion magic traps inlaid within the walls of the temple have alerted Kahran to the arrival of an Alliance expedition into the Shadow Plane and it’s up to Renne to ensure that none survive. The dracoliches and Orra’s Schezerade avians soar overhead in the black sky, scouting. The wraiths and Worms That Walk stand at the vanguard of a slobbering, baleful host of human and elven abominations. Renne curls her lips in disgust. Even she has a difficult time seeing the kidnapped villagers and city-dwellers of Lithrydel transformed into husks. Better to give them clean deaths and rely on the orcs, trolls, slaadi and drow instead. But she’s seen what happens when orders are questioned. “We move in ten minutes,” Renne attempts to assert herself over Agathon. He’s barely listening. ‘Would that I were born a man,’ she ponders sullenly. She draws her sword halfway; that gets his attention. “I said,” she begins, but then Kahran appears out of nowhere, spontaneously generating next to her. The warlord’s sneer is unmatchable. His face is perfect -- too perfect -- and pale. His wicked blade, serrated and slightly curved, is already out all the way. “Dispatch your troops, generals,” he whispers with notable excitement. “They should not have come here. -He- should not have come here. For this transgression, I shall assume direct control.”


Kreekitaka had been surprised to see the new soldier—and something did look familiar, hadn’t she died? Well, people had faked their deaths before, and come back—he himself was a similar story, after all. He gazed up at those spires with wonder—they reminded him of the steel that had crossed the sky back when Kahran had spoken with him, and they were just as necessary to sketch. That pen and drawing paper came out again with a snap, and he was drawing hurriedly. Rik’kska looked up to see the ghosts, and heard the incomprehensible whispering, and stroked one of his facial crushers in idle thought. Crush, of course, started immediately taking samples of the architecture as they approached—using his tools to chip away at the stone, or the sealing material which held them together. During the wait, Kree couldn’t help but climb the steps to peek inside the temple, continuing to make drawings of everything he could see. Rik’kska attempted another spell, with another abject failure. Crush rumbled internally as he watched the result. “I fink you may be making somefing wrong,” he said, his easy, unhurried manner as present in his tone of voice as it was in the speed at which he moved. Rik’kska made a violent head motion accompanied with an obscene paddle-gesture and stomped off a little distance from the group, muttering something about how something must have been blocking him. He started casting again—a vision spell this time, something basic, just to be certain that he was still a good caster. Kree happened to look over right as the uyeer let out a bizarre, maddened shriek, whirling about in terror, and hurried over to restrain his wizard from crushing his own head with his claws. “I see I see I see I see I see I see I see I see,” came the strangled gasps of the caster, trying in vain to cover his eyes. Valrae speaking of what the ghosts were saying—something about how they couldn’t rest because of Kahran—was interesting, but he’d have to sort it out later before his wizard went completely insane.


Krice walked adjacent to Leone and apparently Eleanor, the latter's effectedness drawing his attention. Once the rogue stilled her mind and focused herself, he diverted that crimson stare elsewhere, noting Hudson nearby. Purely by coincidental timing, their eyes did not meet, but he potentially caught the glance of Uma as he regarded her as well. Whatever he thought of their involvement, he didn't express it. Pressing onward, the man in camouflaging black robes maintained his position in the group, protecting their backs as Lionel and others led them onward. Eleanor's crow drew his eye briefly, but its natural stealth in both sight and sound negated any concern that they would be identified because of the animal. The silver-haired enigma seemed unconcerned with Hudson's - and therefore, Uma's - nearness, ever attentive to the job at hand. Beneath his billowing robes sat a belt around his hips, in which several throwing knives had been slotted, easily accessible and ready for use. Against the outer ring of that 'Leone/Celaeno' trinket, he could feel the pressure of magical energy, nudging at the edges, threatening to break through. The arcana was strong and fathomable, unlike the heights of the spires that came into view as they ventured further inland. Upon arriving near the pulsating temple, the man halted and waited, listening to his allies to remain aware of their intentions. The group heading -into- the temple drew a sharp stare from the warrior, namely Leone, but he didn't voice any objections. Everyone here had roles to fulfill, and jobs they -needed- to complete. Close friends - and rivals - not excepted. The man took a few steps away from -his- sub-group and glanced to the northwest. Reaching over his left shoulder, he took hold of one katana's hilt but did not draw it, merely preparing for the potential of battle. After a moment or two, something about the magic-exuding temple drew Krice's stare back in its generation and he squinted, scrutinizing the structure. Surely Hudson would be able to smell the blood, too? Intermittently his vision was disturbed by transient ghosts, but ultimately it was Ricky's (easier to write >.>) outburst that drew his focus. What the hell? Stepping forward, the enigmatic swordsman sought Kreekitaka's attention and scowled. " What's wrong with him?" He muttered, hurriedly. The more noise they made, the easier they were to detect - if they hadn't already been detected.


Revion watches as events unfold all around them with a solidarity he does his best to muster. He knows not many of these people, save a few by name only, and he does not know everything as he would if this were his people. Trust is earned though, and Gilwen’s presence in this Alliance is proof enough she trusts them, and thus he follows her lead. But calling them rag-tag is an understatement. Given the nature of this mission, a full army would play against them. But at least having them on standby should things go south would have been advised. But the situation is getting dire, even the druid knows that. Something -must- be done, or this vile Overlord may very well sweep the land and raze it before they can stop him. The thought of Sage burning brings up repressed memories of the banishment. Of how powerless he felt, as the entire wood elf people felt. New leadership cannot erase the past, but Gilwen and the others try, and thus they have his support. But this place is vile. Not just because it’s the shadow realm, but because its wholly unnatural to its very being. It would be like taking a mage to some place magic is twisted, corrupt and almost nonexistent. But this temple? This building? That voice that leads them into the chamber of the construct with numerous arms? The ghosts, the landscape, the sky and just everything else pales in comparison to how -wrong- this speaking construct is to the Druid. And before they can even talk as a group, the priestess unleashes a holy attack upon the thing? Others join in, and the elf watches as even Gilwen lends aid in the assault? There was no stopping it now, even with too many unanswered questions remaining, Revion must act. Seeing as the other ranger stays outside, the druid makes his way in as he sees Gilwen try her best to use her magic in this vile upside down. Seeing the elder struggle only cements the thought that he previously had. He’d be of no real use himself with druidic magic. But an idea strikes the elf. His focus falls upon Gilwen, a deep breath is taken to clear his mind and drown out everything else. The connection he has to the plants, to this alternate earth, is minute indeed but still there. Its that single strand that he uses to focus his own druidic energy into Gilwen herself. This sharing is meant to empower the elder, to deepen her own connection so that she may use her powers in a greater capability. The process is draining, it’s not a thing one does often either so there is no real way to prepare one’s body for such a strenuous task, but the elf endures without showing a single outward sign of the strain. Gilwen’s experience and power far exceeds his own, she will be the one they need. Even without temporary use of his druidic abilities, Revion is still a damn capable fighter in his own right. Gilwen, if not having noticed him already, would feel the increase in her own powers like on would a gentle breeze flowing over you. How this will manifest is unknown, even to Revion, but if this task of attacking the construct is to work, the druid would rather Gilwen have the strength to see it through -and- defend herself in case things goes sideways. And, despite everything, Revion always knows there is great possibility things very well may go sideways. Especially when a few acts without consulting the whole.


Eleanor continued in silence, Eun far ahead of the group still acting as a smooth, low scout before eventually rounding the group in a wide semi-circle to come up behind El, perching on her left shoulder. It was then that the spell-rogue lifted both hands to pull her hood low over her head, and her blue-turned-black crow practically blended into her figure as she moved surreptitiously with the group toward the temple. She had nodded in a pursed-lip assent to Lionel as she was not chosen to guard the perimeter, and diving into the darkness of the temple itself, Eleanor blended in with the shadows it afforded them. The Rising Star came into view, its voice reverberating in her furrowed brow, and a distrusting scowl pulled at the painted woman’s full lips. She knew she wasn’t the only one sensitive to its arcane resonance, its voice floating toward them with benign intent, nor was she the only one who wondered just how deep that overt benevolence extended. In the end, when hammer came down to meet that mechanical relic to unleash a hasty demise, El slinked back into the corners of the temple, drawing her wand in a defensive maneuver as she stood watch. El elected not to obstruct their cause, instead diving into role of guardian in the interior, their other casters vulnerable as their attention was wholly fixed on their task.


Eleanor | Blending into the shadows, she caught sight of the vines moving out of the corner of her eye, celadon twins narrowing as she watched Gilwen’s efforts join those in their assault against The Rising Star. But as her keen senses probed their surroundings for even the subtlest change in perceptible sensations, something just felt too easy about this endeavor, and she could feel the fine hairs at the back of her neck rising, a cool sweat adding to the moisture dotting her ebon-streaked brow. Her nostrils flared with a tense exhale, something nagging at her gut as her gaze darted around the opulent temple. Something was definitely not sitting right with the spell-blade, and she looked toward the relic, or what remained of it, calling out in a low, terse warning, “Ah hae a bad feelin' abit thes, we need tae coorie up.” It was probably the first time she’d spoken since joining the group that day, impressing upon them the urgency with which she encouraged them. Her hand flexed around her wand, while her hand hand moved to toy with the shadowbeast disguise with its metal bit still tucked into her belt.


Eleanor | Although Eleanor was disinclined to put forth her own arcane efforts to destroy the artifact, a resigned sigh later and she was angling the wand toward it with a malevolent streak of midnight-black and cerulean bolts arcing from its obsidian tip. Alerted to something outside, Eun took off from El’s shoulders, swooping through the corridor to the exterior before swinging higher to perch on the temple’s roof and blending in with its shadows next. From its new vantage point, Eun was able to shift his beady eyes between those outside the temple, as well as an aerial view of their surroundings. Unless it spotted something worth betraying its position over, it would remain inconspicuous in its perch. However the brewing ado beneath Eun was likely to agitate the discreet bird if not quelled soon. Meanwhile, El’s wild magic mixed with the conduit of darkness her wand provided crashed into the relic with a resounding squeal of dying mechanical sentience, gears whirled at last at the behest of the group in a stuttering decrescendo of death. A heavy breath fell fast from the spell-rogue’s lungs, and she reached out with her other, empty hand toward Leone’s shoulder, drawing the priestess’s attention toward herself should her unerring determination last a beat longer than necessary.


Hudson | Uma has many things that she wants to talk about with Valrae, but upon observing the other witch with Lionel is making the educated guess that Valrae's been briefed somewhat about the ongoings in Cenril. It's not a time to be chatty, anyway, they have to be careful as they move. Joanie, for her part, waits to greet Valrae by the time their groups are separating. She says nothing but embraces the red witch, clasping her against her like a mother to a daughter. Uma waits for Joanie after that, and the two disappear inside the temple. The two witches take their places by Leone and, wands out, join the ranks of the other casters in channeling magic into steel-armed machine. For his part, Hudson, because of Joanie's potion, has been able to assert himself better than he ordinarily can with the wolf part of himself. Now he has the benefit of the wolf's amplified senses, but he hadn't counted on the emotional stress that comes with Valrae being here. As they'd walked through the city, he'd watched her and Lionel and hung close alongside Krice and crew, grateful that he presently doesn't have the burden of making small talk. Now, guarding the temple with her and Krice and a few others, he looks at her, his wolf eyebrows lifting expressively, before lying down at her feet. He listens, he smells. His ears stay up, twitching in different directions to mark sounds and other phantom developments of plausible note to a glorified magic dog. It's one of these that unsettles the psychic doggo radar within him. He seizes to his feet, making the gruff dog noise that commonly sounds like, 'aroo?' This puppyish confusion lasts a half second before it transforms into menace. He steps forward, and his body stretches and grows into a hulking, bipedal creature that's half-man, half-wolf. He swings his oversized head around, his gaze connecting with those behind him, and looses a sustained, low growl.


Lionel | The City of Sorrows, as Valrae describes to Lionel, seems to have earned its namesake. The Whispering Walkers, those restlessly sad, strange ghosts she’s mentioned, maneuver through the spires aimlessly. The thick haze doesn't part where they wade, but their gloomy pallid presence still brightens the grim streets in odd, surrealist ways. “Everywhere we go, Kahran has spread his apocalypse loudly,” he answers Valrae with a sigh. “Catal. The Shadow Plane. The Lithrydelian countryside. Soon, it will be Lithrydel in full.” The City of Sorrows is the ghost of things to come. “We won’t let -this- happen.” He points to their surroundings. “We won’t, Valrae. I promise.”. Blut runs up to him with his trepidation, prompting the Catalian to perk a brow, confused. “What’s going on in there…?” Is it the ‘Rising Star’ of which Valrae speaks? Already, Lionel has one hand on his hip, and one upon Hellfire’s hilt. Experience has taught him, as it has no doubt taught several of his peers, that these spare moments of disquieting silence is when anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It's almost a relief, then, when the dark skies are sundered by the first wave of telltale green streaks. Shadow Portals, in all their tendrils and thunder, light up the black like auroras. Lionel unsheathes his blade and wills it to billow a faint sapphire flame, his stature loosening in combat readiness.


PHASE 4: BLOOD AND CHROME

Lionel | It's only when the second wave cracks into the atmosphere, and then the third, and then the fourth and the fifth and the sixth and the seventh and the eighth, that warrior instinct caves in favor of visceral emotion. After all, the Alliance has squared off against these legions before. But it has never seen a thing like this. The green tendrils zigzag down into the streets, blasting ghosts into who-knows-where if they're unlucky enough to be in the blast radius. Rather than hundreds of orcs, it's thousands of charred vaguely humanoid corpses, shambling forward in all directions at unreal speeds. Their palms are infernos desperate to touch and sear. Their eyes glow in the night. They make ready to leap, to pounce, to feast with grotesque yellow fangs. Some have pointed ears. Some do not. Kreekitaka will have seen and battled a prototype of these foul creatures in the Southern Sage, but never so many. On every road, in every alley, they blitz. The saving grace -- the trick that keeps the Alliance from being routed and slain immediately -- is that Celaeno’s charms are confusing the opposition. There is dissent in their ranks; the scent of Tikifhlees, courtesy of the young necromancer’s charms is forcing the abominations to sniff and search for their prey rather than go straight for it. Above them, amidst the gateways from whence they've arrived, skeletal dragons flap skeletal wings and bring blue flames down around the temple like torpedoes. Avians fire hails of arrows between rounds. Hideous anorexic creatures with maggots wriggling across the last of their meat twirl cruel black sabers behind the zombified humans and elves, spurring them coldly to kill the tiny team quickly and decisively. Wraiths with crueler scythes screech beside the saber-twirling Worms That Walk, filling the whole horde with ear-splitting telepathic commands. Shadow Portals open up atop the roofs of high-rise obsidian spires, where Agathon and a host of his finest shoot crossbow bolts into the fray, targeting Krice and Blut. Renne forcefully shoves the undead, drawing her longsword as she exits the pack. She takes a heavy swing for Kreekitaka, smiling at the challenge he will afford her. Lionel dashes the distance to stand neck-and-paddle with his friend, cleaving for the face of this nefarious woman with all his might. “Don't underestimate her,” he warns Kree. “We’ll take her togeth…” Lionel is gone.


Lionel | “So good of you to come,” Catal’s Last Prince hears ringing in his ears like a virus. He feels as light as a feather, but for a terrible chokehold around his neck, suffocating him. He opens his eyes and sees his death: he's suspended in midair over the edge of a sky-piercing spire, dangling like a hooked fish in Kahran’s freakish vice grip. He tries to speak but only stifled chokes escape his lips. The bastard who destroyed Catal, the monster who would destroy Lithrydel, the man he has not seen since Cenril, is about to kill him and be done with it. He wants to scream, to exclaim, to burn this tyrant to a crisp. He cannot ever remember wanting anything else. But he's helpless, hanging by a thread and losing his breath for it fast. “Look at you,” Kahran says. His scholarly eyes sparkle enthusiastically. “You cannot save your weak adoptive realm. You couldn't save your real one. You can't even save yourself.” Kahran isn't holding his serrated sword. He's holding Hellfire, still burning blue. He's going to kill Lionel with his own weapon. In another life, he'd almost have to give the frakker props. Instead, he feels like thanking him. “You don't,” Lionel barely manages to wheeze out. “I don't?” Kahran asks, mockingly. “I don't what, hero? Whatever it is, I think I do.” Somehow, Lionel succeeds in shaking his head. Through sheer stubbornness, he forces his now-colorless mouth into a challenging smirk. “You don't know how… to use that.” Kahran blinks. Just as he motions to impale his would-be victim through the chest -- just as he shoves the bladed edge for a sickening pierce -- Hellfire twists in his grasp and its blue flames catch on the man’s robe and combust. Lionel is dropped, but Lionel is ready. He grabs the ledge with both hands, almost losing the perilous action for the air that assails his harrowed lungs. As Kahran tosses his burning robe and roars in anger, yanking his own sword in a razor-quick catch and striking, Lionel pulls himself up and lets his nimble acrobatics carry him out of harm’s way. He leaps and reclaims Hellfire, clashing with Kahran’s sword once and then twice and then again and again and again. Somewhere upon a tower far above the split mission party, Lionel fights for his life and everybody else’s.


Leone is taking swing after swing at the mechanical, whirring arms and magical momentum that keep the portal-wonder working. Eleanor's hand upon her shoulder alerts her to the rogue's presence - and her silent ready signal. The raven-haired woman is soaked in sweat, hair drenched and matted to her forehead. Both hands continue to grip the hammer, blood beginning to bead along the leather wrappings that pad the handle. The holy magic pouring off of the farrier flickers, like so many candles in a hurricane. There's a buzz that peals through the air, rising above the constant clanging of hammer head meeting metal arm. Some of the surrounding participants might find their hair beginning to stand on end. There air has turned into sound and frisson around the blacksmith. Ignorant as to the forces that Lionel and the outside party have been set upon by, the farrier continues to struggle against the magically repressive atmosphere, spooling out the last dregs of her energy into the air impotently. There's enough of a charge, enough holy embument, left in the hammer for a few more hits against the mechanical arms as the screech and squeal to halt. And then she's finished. The farrier crumples to the floor, first sinking to her knees, and then rocking backward to rest upon her haunches. The metallurgist has a firm grip on Eleanor's wrist, and may perhaps drag the magic-eating spell-rogue down with her. She pants, a maniacal drawing in and pushing out of breath in staggered rhythm. It affords her the opportunity to glance outside and view the encroaching undead. A brief look is thrown toward the nearby Uma and Joanie. How she adored those witches. Then the smith uses the spent hammer to struggle to her feet, pushing, unfolding, unfurling inch by inch like a fern frond in the morning light until she is once again upright. Along the way, the petite plover frees herself of her jacket, stripping the leather garment away to reveal the thin-strapped shirt beneath. The encompassing cloak is released, as well, and spills into a puddle of black canvas onto the ground at her feet. The cleric inhales - and then looses an animalistic roar. Tendrils of light suddenly expand from the holy woman, each etched inch of her back suddenly and violently aglow. The luminance is hot, searing, and ooze holy power. It whips forward like the arms of an aberrant kraken, a monster of mythological repute, reaching out toward the shambling, charred zombies that threaten to make their way into the dilapidated temple. It will thrash and flail, piercing through the invading force before ricocheting around inside the animated corpses, rattingly around ribcages and pelvises alike, before finally disintegrating them like so much parchment tossed in a hearth.


Celaeno’s stamina was draining fast, despite the amplified quality of the dark fire spewing forth from her hand, pouring over the shell encasing the star. It came at a greater cost, just as she was warned by the one who taught her that very technique. She couldn’t go much longer, even as Gilwen’s exhaustive effort--especially bolstered by Revion as it was--washed over her awareness, nearly drowning out Leone’s efforts--that felt actively repulsive, despite their distance. Uma’s and Joanie’s wands should have made a difference. The half-elf had to go longer. Just short while until something happened. She finds enough strength to go on from the group’s combined power. So many casters at once. She would have been rightly impressed and warmed by the sight, if she were not distracted by struggling to breath so much. Then Eleanor’s impressive efforts added into the mix, dark in their own right. Did they do it?


Celaeno | The onslaught reaches her limits and the funnel of shadowfire dissipates as she grabs her stomach and heaves across the floor on which she stood, her bile thick with blood. She had tried, and could only hope the tainted spill won’t draw attackers. It’s then her slightly pointed ears prick to the rumbling commotion outside. Oh no. Enemies. Her heart hammers in her chest as she hacks and fumbles with the stoppers on the vials in her left hand. One, gulp. Two. gulp. Seconds pass, the pain in her chest eases as the magic achingly slowly takes hold. No, she needed more potency. A third down the hatch. Her roiling stomach eases some. She feels her health returning, her strength creeping back infinitesimally. But the weariness sets on, making her eyes burn where adrenaline refuses to let them rest. She turns back to the star. She still sensed something, weakened, thinner. But still in tact. “Fiddlesticks…” She had to keep going. The enchanter turned necromancer begins a different sort of onslaught with her renewed strength. Another small streak of shadowflame comes to life with a snap of her gauntlet, centering at the tip of her pointer finger. She already panted as she drew out one of her favorite runic strings in the air, her gears working faster than her hand could keep up as she finishes the string and pushes it toward the last of the ubiquitous shell, and that blasted relic. And that’s precisely what the shadowflame script does on contact, blast. The runic properties harness the fire to amplify it instead, making a small explosion as her weaker powers of enchantment are paired with the far more potent basic Black Tides she wields at the moment. Another of the same sentence, a battery of those explosive shocks sent at the barrier. They weren’t as tightly controlled, more wild, but with more raw energy and more wisely using the precious stores of energy depleting much quicker than when she was fresh. Already her nose began to bleed from both nostrils, already red teeth gritting in a macabre sneer. Just a little more time..


Blut thrust his hand forward the moment he saw the crossbow bolts fly towards him as etherial blades appeared before him. They were in the shape of long swords each blade as durable as a real one able to deflect the crossbow bolts aimed at him and krice. 4 Blades rotated around the assassins body the best he could create at this point in time. Being a original techinique he had a hard time maintaining more than 4 constructs at this size and moveing at this speed. This prevented him from createing more mana constructs but the blades could move without him needing to actually swing the blades himself allowing him to weild his daggers to combat these hordes of undead. This allowed him to cut through these mobs almost effortlessly for as deadly they were they weren't exactly smart to counter the danceing blades stabing and slashing at various unconventinal angles. Blut looked back at Krice and yelled "get everyone out of here" as he dashed forward to assist Kreekitaka. The man recognised the woman as one of Kharans generals sending forth his blades in a manner that it would be hidden from the womans sight before emerging behind Kree for a surprise attack. Blut would aid the crab man vs the general not takeing his eyes off Renne pointing one of his etherial blades at her the other three rotateing around his body defensively. "Fall back and get out of here I'll hold them off" Blut ordered looking at Renne expecting her to remember him.


Gilwen ’s exhaustive efforts to help crack the shell of this mechanical contraption had nearly depleted her store of energy; she could feel the strain of her legs to hold up her slight weight, and her body shook under the stress of the magic she exerted to keep up with the efforts of those around her. She was lost into herself, focused on maintaining a constant onslaught of power- but the sudden boost gifted by Revion helped keep her legs beneath her, and bolstered her magical attack. Still, though, she was lost to the happenings around her. Outside, Aelia fought of the oncoming horde, using the commissioned arrows provided by Celaeno. Each arrow was tested for its effectiveness against this new enemy, and when none seemed to take a hearty effect on the zombie like creatures, the elf unsheathed her blade to hack through the army that bore down upon them.


Valrae || Felt emotion rising in her throat as Joanie embraced her. With both Joanie and Uma, her eyes gave way to the millions of words they had no time to speak. Valrae turns back to Lionel and she nods. “The Scourge of Worlds.” She repeats the Whispering Walkers sadly. As Hudson, in his wolf form, rests at her feet she kneels and runs a hand over his ears quickly, giving him a conspirators wink. The history was tangled but her loyalty ran deep. A friend in the Shadow Plane was a friend indeed. “We won’t.” She repeats, her eyes returning to Lionel as his hand finds Hellfire… And all of hell breaks loose. The sky belches darkness and screaming evil vomits from the wounds ripped into it by Kahran’s dark influence. The Whispering Walkers movements slow, they float through the blurred motion of battle like lazy dustmotes in a beam of slanting afternoon light. Some of them are ripped from even the life of inbetween and they fade from existence with mournful cries.The moment only lasts a heartbeat before they surge into movement again. Screams echo in her mind.The shapeless, faceless spirits fly screaming from destruction as they repeat the last moments of their lives. The towers that have already fallen crumble again. The witch is ripped away from the present with the spirits lost to Kahran’s scourge and she watches through their mournful eyes as they topple again. Valrae, though more corporeal now than she had ever been since her death, could truly only watch with helplessness gripping her with cold hands. The others have moved into battle. Panic rushes into the ghost as the overwhelming scene spirals out of control. A twisted abomination of a human lunges for her visible form and no longer just passes through. Pain blooms through her as she is knocked to the ground. Her hands move to cover her face as a scream rips through her throat. Before the horror can do more damage, a powerful claw is swiping him away from her with alarming power. The witch rolls, pushes herself up to her feet and springs away from the struggle. Gratitude and adrenaline have ripped her from her dissociation with enough force to send her head spinning. She stumbles away from Hudson and looks around her in desperation. “Please,” Valrae moves. She reaches out to the other spirits. Though she doesn’t scream, her voice shatters the repeating scene. Even as the battle rages around them they listen. They still again, this time eerily without motion, as if they were holding their breath. “Please help. This doesn’t have to happen again,” Skeletal dragons rain fire from the sky and she rips her gaze away from the Whispering Walkers, her emerald eyes moving upward. The fear that washes over her to see Lionel dangling over a tower would have stopped her heart if she still had one beating in her chest. She had no time to be stunned into immobility for a second time. The power she had soaked in greedily is used now. She forces herself to thin and lose form again, curling into pale white smoke that rises with unlikely speed away from the battle that takes place down below the war. As she rises, the other spirits have begun to fight back. They help others. The pour inside the temple, where they lend the last of their strength to those that struggle with the power that rages there before burning out of existence. They use what little means they have left to distract the dark enemy outside of the temple walls, to buy the heartbeat of time it takes to turn the tide of a violent struggle. They wail and scream at the wraiths and they use all the might of the restless dead. Their whispers are now deafening screams.


Kreekitaka had his jawblade out in an instant, though he kept a claw on Rik’kska, just to be sure. But as the hordes started pouring out, Kree couldn’t hang onto him forever and started swinging his jawblade to build up charge. In desperation, to get the wizard to snap out of it, he ripped one of his potions from his tank’s dispenser and smashed the bottle over Ricky’s head. The potion in particular was an awareness potion, a comprehension enhancer, much like the kind he’d given Crush to help learn the language. Crush, for his part, was a bit slow to react to the whole sea of monsters—as per usual—but was no less eager than one might expect an uyeer to be to fight. Kreekitaka just had time to trigger the rest of his potions to dump into his tank before he was slammed into by this woman, whose increased strength was considerable—but matched his own. He jerked his jawblade downwards with a twist to try and catch the hilt of her blade with its teeth, and then brought his other claw up in a lightning-fast move to slam her face with a vicious boxer’s jab. If you can punch your opponent in the face, you can disorient them. Blut’s appearance was responded to by reaching out, attempting to grab the man by the collar or even an arm, and fling him away, into the hordes. Nobody tells the King not to fight, and especially not an opponent who was actually promising! Crush was armed with his own jawblade, and the gigantic weapon was a sight to behold, but his speed was easily outpaced by the hordes and the undead began to swarm over him, and with Kree locked in combat there was nobody to defend him…


Kreekitaka || Ricky had fled, when Kree released him, but the comprehension was starting to kick in. He was starting to understand. To really, properly, see. He turned around, and beheld the thousands upon thousands of warriors. He saw the explosion of power which dented, but did not really even mark, the whole of the ocean of soldiers that poured down upon their defense force. Leone’s magic had given them a moment, but it would not be enough to save them. Rik’kska, however, was a life mage. He actively worked with the element of Might, the power within all living things to make a difference. It was his life’s work—and now, he was going to make it his Life’s work. To make a difference. To save this group, and all the realm from the horrors he was incapable of not beholding in excruciating detail. He began to cast. He made a paste upon the ground and smeared it in his claws. He crushed small glowing fungus and mixed it in. He drew the sigils, and danced the magic dance—and glorious NOISE exploded from his claws. A sound like every living thing in creation rising up at once and screaming in defiance at Kahran’s deeds. Flashes of multicolored light, flickers of lightning swirled around his body as he sought to amplify his life force, drawing in the power from the nearest people to him, heroes and villains alike, and applying feedback loops to his own body as his essence built up and built up and built up within him. For a fleeting instant, he felt more Alive, more Mighty than he ever had before—and then with a second, even louder shriek of triumph, he released every bit of it to his allies, both inside and outside the temple. Their life force, their strength, their ability to heal, their concentration, their quirks and flaws and virtues and memories. Everything that made them Alive was amplified five, ten, a dozen times over and beyond, augmented as well by the stolen strength of Kahran’s armies, and this hurricane of sound surrounded them and bolstered them, drowning out fear, cheering victory in a thousand fictitious languages. It was, therefore, perhaps very hard to hear the spent carapace of Rik’kska collapse to the ground with a very small, very hollow, *thump*.


Kreekitaka || Crush exploded from the ground with an animalistic roar of triumph, the ashes of undead destroyed by Leone’s spell flying in all directions. With the strength of his friends supporting him, he was much faster—and much stronger—and ten thousand percent deadlier. He charged Kahran’s lines like a freight train, his titanic claws obliterating any which got in his way. Kreekitaka, as well, suddenly found that he had enough strength to fully charge his jawblade with every swing, and began setting off shockwaves at an unprecedented pace, likely knocking back the woman and certainly clearing a path through the hordes. It was possible, for just this moment, that Kahran might become a bit nervous, perhaps.


Krice had little time to focus on Kreekitaka, or his troubled ally. The energies from within the temple were crackling and spilling forth, pressing on the air around him, alerting him to the crescendo of Leone's power. He knew her divine signature well. Even so, he could not enter to assist her team, for the sky at once became alight with foes traveling through apparent interplanar portals to descend upon the ruined city - and the allies who had attempted to sneak through. The warrior twisted his wrist, released his katana, and held it beside him as his other hand procured one of the black-bladed knives from his weapons belt. With an effortless thrust, he loosed one toward an avian flying overhead, preparing descent. Sidestepping its crash-landing, maneuvering through the fast-approaching hoard, the enigma attempted to single out the enemies -not- confused by Celaeno's trinkets, attacking his -team-, not themselves. The unwitting traitors could take care of each other. Blood struck his senses, fresh and new and from more than one person, and an explosion of light erupted somewhere behind him. His head whipped around, glared at the temple, and then eyes widened with concern. Leone had reached her limits. Assaulted by an array of enemies, he was unable to assist the priestess or her team. This fueled his focus, his resolve, his strength, and with two katanas in hand, the warrior sliced his way through the hoard of zombie-humanoids whose heads fly clean from their rotted shoulders. Blue flames descend upon him from a dragon high above, but rather than burn the coiled warrior, they spilled over him harmlessly. Curious.


Krice looked up with a huff, watched the dragon soar overhead - and then tracked the progress of crossbow bolts flying past his face. One metal projectile superficially scratched the skin of his left cheek but he avoided the others, partially assisted by Blut's quick thinking. The warrior maneuvered through the onslaught of ground-based enemies, his steps swift and concise, his speed supernatural in its own right, dodging in and out of view. Blut's order to evacuate everyone was spoken to a space now occupied by enemies. Agathon watched overhead, continuing to send volleys upon the allies - and sometimes into his own army, though he cared none. Krice ascended a leaning spire and hooked his booted feet into the relative niches and ledges that protruded from it, silently advancing on Agathon from the battle's flanks. Why would anyone look his way? As he neared, some of the archer's allies noticed him and sent their crossbow bolts at the warrior, who dispersed the projectiles with a calculated swipe of one katana, and then the other. An occasional bolt grazed him but he moved on uninhibited, eager to end the battle as quickly as possible. Agathon turned and sliced at Krice with a melee blade of his own, right as the warrior had dispatched another rotted enemy. Steel clashed amid a cacophony of ghostly screams and Lythridelian cries of self-defence and fury. The two men, one for Lythridel, the other for Kahran, danced and stepped through a warring tango of fast attacks and equally on-point defensive blows, deflecting each other's steel and just as often wounding each other. This otherworldly archer was a more seasoned opponent than anyone Krice had faced of late. The battle lasted minutes before the silver-haired enigma got the upper hand. Out of sight from the ground-based fighters and defenders, he overcame Agathon's onslaught and felled him, but the archer managed a deathblow that saw both warriors tumbling from the top of the leaning spire, straight for the ground below. Through blue fire mist and mana bleeding from the various spells tossed into the fray, they twisted and turned, colliding with passing dragons and avians on their way down - Krice's katanas cleaving heads as he went.


Krice | Skulls split around the sharpened edge of his left-wielded katana and, through the bony remnants, he caught sight of Lionel dangling from another spire. Before he could reach, he and Agathon were stopped by the hard, black earth with a loud CRUNCH that split the terrain in all directions around them, sending up a ploom of shadow dust. He coughed from the impact but rose above a defeated Agathon, mostly protected by the crumbled mess now beneath him. Covered in blood and odd death-dust, the enigmatic warrior huffed a breath and walked out of the impact indentation to glance up at the spire from whence Lionel once hung. He saw nothing. The light of spells and magical weaponry collided with the gold in his eyes and distracted him briefly but then he was pressing onward, a slight limp marring every second or third step. Katanas were swung, elbows thrown, knees brought up to dispatch what he could of the ground-based assault on his way to the temple. Kreekitaka and his other allies were capable fighters, and right now, they were still on their feet. If Leone was exploding with light, it meant that she was down and almost gone, which lent itself to the prospect of other allies falling. He moved as swiftly as his moderately damaged body would allow, to render aid to those inside.


Revion was almost lost in his own self as he tries to empower Gilwen’s efforts. But the roar of battle echoes through the fog of his mind to rattle him enough back into the current situation. The connection would be severed a bit abruptly, but for damn good reason as the battle unfolds all about them as this horde of darkness descends upon them all. A valiant effort is brought to bare as this wave of evil crashes down, but instead of running into the fray the druid simply goes into a defensive stance around Gilwen, readying his bladed-staff to fend off any foul creature that would attempt to hinder the ancient in her task. His stamina drained from his sharing of power, but he has enough to mount a retaliation if need be. As the others battle off the horde it almost seems as if action from him will not be needed just yet, so the battle-druid simply maintains his vigil over Gilwen for now.


Eleanor felt the din of their assault fade away from her, leaving only a dull hum as the vibrations of twisted magic resounded around her. Like layers peeling away in a contingent of mechanical parts, the troupe managed to continue their resolute endeavor to destroy the artifact to the best of their abilities, but it didn’t take someone keen to magic as she was to realize the toll their combined expenditures was having on their casters. Weary eyes were taking quick stock of her spellcasting counterparts still within the temple, and although at one point she was pulled down by Leone, the spell-rogue didn’t spend long crouched down beside her before experience told her to keep moving. Wild arcane energy rolled through her as she struggled to send what power she could into the relic without having to drain the magic from any of the fresh tattoos still inked beneath the layers of leather shrouding them; arcing out from that smooth volcanic glass-tipped wand, she flung what she could of her compartmentalized reserves into destroying the Rising Star. A beat later though she cut off the arcing blast of her wand, shifting backward into a corner until she was enveloped in shadows once again; the familiar clangs of battle outside their temple walls accompanied by the shrill caw of Eun meant that tides were turning, and not necessarily in their favor. A doubtful glance askew and her apparent companions and a second caw of that blue-turned-black crow from outside had schemes brewing in the spell-rogue’s mind: a plan of action, or an escape route? In any second now, that artifact was sure to meet its wretched demise at the hands of the alliance, but even before that did or did not become a sure thing, Eleanor was trying to determine the value of this mission, or rather, its current outcome. Wherever Leone had moved to, that’s now where the face-painted woman hastily moved, providing the familiar plover with a knowing shoulder on which to lean; if anything, the priestess’s health needed to remain intact if they were to get home. She’d fought alongside Leone enough times by now to recognize her worth, and so it was at her side she thus remained. “Ye hae enaw fur a body lest leap, loove?” she said to the priestess as though they were old friends as she holstered her wand and offered up what support she could. Away from the streets they would stumble, back into the temple if they could, holy priestess and criminal surrendered into the shadowy maw of the structure.


Hudson | The wolf may be raring to fight and slavering at the mouth about Kahran's army, but Hudson, father of two, watches his life flash before his eyes. He thinks about his last interaction with his daughters today: before letting the nanny take them to school, he'd drank Luna's cereal milk (because fatherhood means being a human garbage pail) and looked at yesterday's Cenril Cubbies spring training scores with Harper. What had he said to Alvina before he'd left the house? He's pretty sure it had been 'I love you, babe,' and possibly also 'Get hype, shadow plane cannoli!' No time to get emotional, Hudson throws himself at the encroaching masses. He moves swiftly in erratic leaps, his claws raking his enemies. He goes for the soft, belly parts, but sometimes, he tears out their throats with his teeth. He sees Valrae go down and, without thinking, wrenches out the spine of the humanoid creature that's on her, sweeping it aside after. Hudson kills with brutal efficacy and doesn't stay in any one place for long, but there are too many here, and it's clear that they will soon be overrun, they will die here. He has got blood marring his fur, and he knows that some of it is his. Werewolves are easiest killed with silver, but tearing them apart or burning them to cinders works pretty well too. Hudson isn't the only one to think he'll die here: Joanie and Uma see their deaths too, even as they try to feed their magic to the ancient relic. Uma, like Hudson, is thinking about her child, Marco, who will be an orphan, and she feels a profound anger root inside of her. Leone, beside her, has become suffused with light - holy magic, Uma knows - and Uma's wand-wielding hand pivots to lend her own magic stream to the other woman. "Don't move her!" she cries to Eleanor. The Cenril mayor's face must be severe with concentration because Joanie sees it, and joins her magic stream to Leone too. Suddenly the spirits have joined the battle. Perhaps the tide will turn, but if they're going to die, let them decimate Kahran's army as much as they are able.


Lionel | The cacophony of open war reaches the curved ears of Veili Nilak, First Ranger in the Greydusk scouting party. Thirty of his fellows follow his lead, their skin varying in shade from deep purple to midnight black, their hair braided or shaven to suit the customs of each of their tribes and the reflections of their deeds. The Greydusk, only myths in rarest texts back in Lithrydel, are tall and gangly but delicate like elves. In fact, there is something distinctly elven about their movements and collective countenance. There is something almost drow, but not quite; were Encara not convinced to remain behind for the Alliance’s expedition, it may even have occurred to the androgynous drow with unknown ties binding her to this alien landscape that these Greydusk could hold answers to her questions of identity and origin. Alas, Veili Nilak would not have time for her even if she did. The Greydusk scouts see the incredible acts of violence across the City of Sorrows and raise their bows and spears and magical palms in appraisal. “This is too much for us to handle,” one of Nilak’s subordinates speaks in a beautiful, lyrical accent. “You are not mistaken, Eros,” Nilak gently rebukes, “but that does not mean we do not aid from afar. These foul otherworldly transgressors have taken much and more from us. Anyone they seek to kill must be protected to our fullest, bravest extent.” The Greydusk gain a glint of courage and nod. “I do not know from where these people hail, my tsan’kr’eal sisters and brothers. But I know what our aran’greal elders have always taught us. Here in our realm, the enemy of our enemy is our friend. To arms.” And just like that, more allies join the ranks. Kreekitaka’s uyeer stratagem, Valrae’s spiritual connection, Krice’s general-slaying operation, Hudson’s pure strength and mauling, Uma and Joanie’s selfless courage, Blut’s tactical appraisal: even the best-laid plans cannot account for the diversity on which the Alliance risks it all. Kahran’s ranks find a hole torn through them where the outdoors fighters can press and do more than survive: they might, if only for a few moments, thrive. As the Greydusk fire their arrows to eliminate foes, not making contact with the Alliance but standing off in the distance to render aid, and as the ghosts of this City of Sorrows retaliate for the fates they suffered, a respite reaches the Lithrydelians. Even so, if things don’t conclude inside the temple soon, they may still be beaten...


PHASE 5: THE STARS ARE FIRE

Lionel | Leone. Eleanor. Gilwen. Celaeno. Revion. Uma. Joanie. They’ve fought their own battle inside a hallowed holy place, and as the effort takes its toll upon the casters, inching terribly close to their own energy’s depletion, it’s do-or-die to determine if it has all been for naught. The answer, as if from the gods that may or may not even roam the Shadow Plane, is resounding. The magical field pops like an exploding chorus and the metal arms of the Rising Star flick into unison pointing up through the half-cracked ceiling of the temple. “You have done your part,” the device acknowledges. Is that gratitude in its mechanical voice? “Now allow me to do mine. This will not end your war, but it may allow you the chance to one day end it yourselves. Thank you for freeing me from these shackles. Goodbye.” The arms burst and the entire device goes up in collaborative magical damage. Each type of mana spent by each of the Alliance mages mixes into one harmonious blend, the distinct spells buzzing in and out amongst their ethereal kin. Then, at once, it breaks through the open air, corkscrewing from the shards of the Rising Star, pushed higher and higher into the cloudless night sky, coming apart in a thousand directions, slamming into the Shadow Portals one and all. Surges of enchantment and witchcraft and black magic and wizardry assault Kahran’s green portals with amazing force, and they go up in green inferno and light the atmosphere like dynamite. Where the allies’ magic doesn’t do the job alone, the white stars above go red with fire, and that fire drips down like mascara running down from the heavens. The green tendrils coil and heave, even shifting locale to evade, but the stars and the spells catch them all, rendering them all into oblivion, snapping Kahran’s rapid en masse cross-realm transportation apart at its seams. The dracoliches and avians do not escape the wrath of the Rising Star. As the device crumbles into dust, it wills the mages’ spells to chase them, too, magnifying their power a hundredfold. Everything in the sky is killed in the maelstrom, dealing a major blow to their master’s aerial supremacy. In the lightshow high in the sky, the wraiths momentarily lose control of their abominations, and their scythes are turned inward to deal with the sudden swarms of undead working harder to kill them than to kill their enemies. Even teleporting away in a flurry doesn’t save every wraith; some are trampled, some are ripped to pieces. In cooperation with the Alliance, the Shadow Plane itself has fought back today, and in thanks to this tremendous accomplishment, the abominations are finding their own deadly brand of revenge for the grievous things done to make them. But with such a lightshow comes the inevitability that Leone, despite her pains, must get her team back home or risk the whole city coming down on them...


Lionel | Hellfire swings high, then low, then Lionel feints a third swing and leaps gracefully past his foe. But Kahran warps behind him and swings down hard, his serrated sword cutting a gash into Lionel’s right arm that sprays red gushes all over the spire. He shouts in agony, letting Kahran’s sword tear off skin and take bits of flesh in order to get away. His arm, a bloody mess, gets shoved behind his back. He can’t stop shouting; something feels -wrong- about Lionel’s right arm, and he can only think of one damning truth. “They’ll never reach you,” Kahran says with a smile, showing his teeth. “Fight all you want, but they will never reach you. If I do not behead you, you’ll be as good as dead to the poison I just gave you.” Lionel clenches his lips together to stop his screaming, his eyes burning as the toxin spreads. Kahran is right: there is no way down from here. Did he lie to Meri and Encara when he vowed to return? Did he lie to Khitti and Brand when he promised to survive this war? It seems he did. There’s only one thing left to do, then: make that lie count. He twists his left leg and charges, Hellfire bursting with multicolored flame, but mid-charge he lets himself drift far to the right. The poison seethes within his arm in protest to the blur of motion, but he ignores it. Kahran raises his black blade milliseconds too late and Lionel sends his flames to surround the illusionist war criminal. As anticipated, Kahran fades out of reality to escape the flames, but Lionel is already slashing behind himself. The look on Kahran’s face is priceless when the Catalian’s sword carves through his torso. “So you do bleed,” Lionel says, as his own skin starts to turn ghostly white. Kahran’s does, too. “This changes nothing,” Kahran spews, vitae pulsing from his lips. “I can leave here. I can be healed. You cannot. I continue. You end here. I win.” Lionel shrugs with forced ease as he collapses in front of the gruesomely-impaled villain. “Still feels good, man.” Kahran swallows his own blood as the mages’ Rising Star spellcast turns the stars above him to fire. He stares in horror as his aerial army falls to the ground far below. He hears the screeches of his wraiths down on the surface. “Feels really damned good,” Lionel chuckles as his body starts to shake, turning to witness Kahran’s theater of defeat. He laughs louder when Kahran, his chest a sea of vital fluid, vanishes to find aid.


Leone knows that, in spite of the magic users successfully disabling the portal mechanism, things are about to go seriously sideways. The city is ready to come down atop them. It's time to get out. Toppled from the grievous expenditure of power and force, the farrier lays on the ground for moments. Moments that seem to span a lifetime. Perhaps it will - hers. But then, Eleanor is at her side, pulling her up, and pushing her onto her feet. Teetering, and only upright thanks to the rouge-woman's efforts, the diminutive priestess produces a tiny knife from the waistband of her trousers. The blade is obsidian, and sings out in a clear, bright tone upon being unsheathed. A suffusion of warmth seeps through the clergywoman, the embument from both Uma and Joanie washing across the High Priestess to bring her steadiness and strength. The hail of friendly arrows almost goes unnoticed - almost. The bantam blacksmith's ears prick to the sound of new flight, a zippier, more honed flight of arrows through the air, much different from the orc-drawn ones. But there's no time to investigate, and the farrier initiates her failsafe. A vein is opened up, the translucent black blade slid along the inside of her arm until it begins to weep crimson. Next, her pendant, the ones made especially for this trip by Celaeno and herself, is dipped into the freshly drawn blood. The smith's own sparks like flint on steel, and hums a low tone. All of the other talismans will respond by gently but continuously tugging in the holy woman's direction.


Leone | They are a sort of compass, guiding the group toward what will soon become the exit. Exhausted from her magical expendature and practically boiling in her own skin, the blacksmith does not have the wearwithall to semantically open another portal. She's short of breath and only just now clinging to consciousness thanks to the witches at her side. The War God's seal sculpted into the head of the hammer is the next thing to receive a liberal coating of the cleric's blood - and then Ricky's life force spell tramples over the battlefield. The farrier pulls the tool of her trade high over her head and brings it down with screaming force into the ground. A cloud of dust billows up in a circular pattern around where the blow lands. The dust hovers in the air, neither drifting nor falling, but instead perfectly suspended where force initially propelled it. Like the rending of fabric, the area inside the circle begins to rip away, peeling and tearing until the whole of the void has fallen through, and once more the Nameless Desert's sands are visible on the other side. The fall from Shadow Plane floor to dunes below is short....sort of. The smith is the first through - though not intentionally. She simply tumbles down once the portal is open, and lands with a solid whump on the ground below.


Celaeno managed perhaps four more of those explosive runic strings with the shadowflame letters before her knees gave out and she fell to them, retching up crimson, watery nothing where her stomach had just emptied itself. The cluster of noises, the cries, the screams, the shrill clashing of blades and clacking of claws assaulted her senses. After Leone’s earlier brilliant flash, blinding in its radiance as it trailed out to the flooding of enemies outside, she squinted to assess what was going on. The flow of Gilwen’s magic seemed to be holding, yet to see the elf still upright with her loyal guard and his bone-bladed staff...inspiring really. Eleanor’s shift to Leone’s side as he continued to lend her talents. The duo of other wand wielders lending their power to the priestess… It was all profound in some way, but spelling something dire. The subtle magic that powered her gauntlets began to flicker, the fingers falling limp and failing her as she dropped the healing potions she needed to stop losing more blood as the world began to blur and haze. Then something...strange, a pulse of new, raw energy coursed through her, so much the runes on her gauntlets flared to new, radiant life. This wasn’t the enemy’s power, no, just the opposite. Vigor renewed, she still guzzles down another three of those potions. Overkill? Not when their effectiveness seemed so slowed by the Shadowplane’s natural environment.


Celaeno | Then the star truly rises, its voice reverberating through her chest. She may not witness the havoc it distributes outside those temple walls, but her senses feel every bit of it. The black, the holy, the nature, the arcane, crackling together in a thousand fold harmony. Replenished enough to afford the luxury of pause, she takes the moment, only for the sudden burst of holy energy behind her to break the admiration. Leone. The portal. As much as her nerves numbed in the heat of their eruption upon the mechanism, her priorities shifted back to the prime directive that spurred her portion of the mission to begin with: survive. The student dashes for the portal on wobbling legs, revitalized but weak for the need fo a bed and a decade-long nap. The Nameless Desert’s heat radiated through the closer she came, yet she skids to a sudden halt as her gaze trails over her shoulder. Should someone not bother to throw the young woman in, she would check for Gilwen and Revion. Eleanor, Uma, and Joanie would also be sought out. They had to be as weakened as she was, if not worse. With them accounted for and portal-bound, though, Celaeno jumps through the portal and rolls across the sand, the grains sticking to her from every angle. Better than arrows or knives, at least.


Blut was taken aback when Kree threw him into the hords of enemies. Each one couldn't wait to rip into him teeth gnashing and tearing at his armour whilst their scolding hands burned his body to no end. Due to being practically buried in their ranks the attacks aimed at their enemies was aimed at him as well. The mans armour was torn up his sword snappers practically melted from the extream heat. Blut's cloak was torn and burning and arrows stuck into him. Enough was enough as his etheral blades manafested once more resulting in a crimson spiral around the man. His wraps were off revealing his eyes as they glew red in the midst of the battle. Teeth marks can be seen all along his body a burn mark covering his right eye very likely to scar. His right arm was limp big chunks were bitten off leaveing only his magic blades and his left arm was left to defend him. Blut slashed vividly before collapseing on his knees his legs takeing brutal damage even a arrow stuck in his left one. However something odd happened to the man he was seeing better everything seemed slower and his blades seemed many times faster than previously. Blut's body emmited a vile blade sand that poured from his wounds rather than blood if anyone looked at him he was practically dead already. He would not be able to leave from this spot for a while atleast not until he patched himself up but the enemies would not stop comeing. If the flood of enemies did stop or one of Kharans generals got to him he would simply collapse from exhaustion. Blut wondered to himself if this is where he dies or if this is where it ends. Blut fights for as long as he remains concious even if there are no enemies infront of him all he can do is swing. All he done for this world and this is how it repaid him. Giveing vital information and even a vile of dragon blood to the allies and to be betrayed. .


Gilwen moved on auto-pilot; the intrinsic need for self preservation and sheer, stubborn determination fueled her actions. It was for that alone that she saw to it the destruction of the mechanical contraption, with the understanding being that its ruination dealt a hard blow to Kahran. How she remained on her feet when her limbs felt rubbery was a mystery, and how she had the mental fortitude left to move toward Leone when she felt as dead as Valrae was even more so enigmatic. But she approached the priestess in time to tumble through the portal and onto the sands below. Aelia was right behind her, having broken through the army and into the temple thanks to the life-blasting ability of Ricky. Significantly less exhausted than the fiery headed elf who refused to move beneath the yawning mouth of Leone’s portal, Aelia drug her unceremoniously away to relative safety, so she could avoid being landed on.


Valrae || Her descent was maddeningly slow. As the tower rushed by and the ground slipped further away Valrae felt only fear and indescribable, gut wrenching desperation. The sounds of bloodletting roared around her but fell away to the panic that gripped her mind as she moved. She could sense, more than see, when Lionel broke his own fall and disappeared to the top of the tower. But she couldn’t slow. With the destruction of the Rising Star, a shockwave of power rippled into her and threatened to knock her from the sky. The stars dripped around them like burning honey and the world seemed to fall apart. It only served as background noise to the spirit as she started to rise again. She curled over the edge just as Lionel cleaved Hellfire into Kahran’s torso. She materializes as the wounded villain disappears and feels the dark power he leaves in his wake brush against her soul. The Hero of Hellfire’s manic laugh bounces around in her panicked, racing mind as she crosses the space between them. Her hair and cloak billow behind her like scarlet smoke and the golden tail of a comet. “Lionel,” She hears herself call to him, a voice so eaten with fear it was unrecognizable as her own. Her arms reach out to him, careful of the bloody and poisoned mess his arm has become. “Lionel, we have to leave. Now.” She’s pulling him, forceful and insistent. Whispering Walkers call to her, urging her to plunge them both from the tower. To what end? She hesitates, holding onto Lionel perhaps a little too tightly as destruction exploded around them. She moves again, urging him onward toward the edge of the spire. She turns then, her hands moving to wrap around him with her back to the wind and the fall. “Trust me?” As she embraces him, she closes her eyes and pulls them both down. They free fall together, spinning head first at stomach turning speed. To what end? Valrae’s mind screams the question to the Whispering Walkers and as the pair hurdle toward the ground. They answer with action. Something akin to fingers, claws, and labouring hands pull the very air asunder. With the final force of their combined will the spirits have ripped open another portal. Lionel and Valrae slam through it moments before the ground rises to meet them. Lionel would land, wounded and bleeding, not far from Leone’s escape route and the similarly retreating party. Passing through the portal was another death for the spirit. She was ripped away from her Shadow Plane form painfully, her screams silent as the grave she could find no resting peace within. The portal closes like a thunder clap.


Kreekitaka was having the time of his life. He was in the center of a hurricane of sound and violence, his limbs flooded with an energy he’d never quite experienced before. The surge of power he’d received when fused to Vindicator was similar, but even it hadn’t been quite so -pure-. This was raw, unfiltered JOY and MIGHT being thrown into his every movement—every step was an earthquake, and every strike was thunder. For this moment, standing here in the rapidly-accumulating pile of bodies below his feet, Kreekitaka was a god of war, and the battlefield was his temple, and the shrieking hordes were as minnows before a thresher shark. He was invincible, unbreakable—and with the hordes breaking into chaos, it seemed that they had finally gotten the memo as to who had ascended into godhood finally. Then, ever so faintly, and then with more urgency... the pendant began to move. It tugged on him, telling him to go, to leave them, to return home to his realm. He tried to fight it. He picked up an undead and threw it into the horizon, just to see how far he could make it go. But they weren’t fighting -him- anymore. This wasn’t battle, this was just a massacre. Crush could feel the change too, and the uyeer exchanged a glance across the battlefield—two titans who could sense that the moment was passing, and that their time to leave was approaching. They turned to leave, and it was Crush who spotted the carapace of their fallen friend. Sprinting over, the abyssal scooped up the empty shell and slung it over his back, and the pair raced for the portal, tumbling out of it with a roar of victory—Kahran was defeated today, Kree was sure of it.


Krice sheathed his katanas only once the thick of the hoard had been dealt with, after he had cut himself a path to the temple. He was unaware at present that the lessening of enemy numbers had been partially due to the effects of the Rising Star, but its explosive attack -was- hard to miss. He continued onward, green and white tendrils shooting all around him, magical remnants curving off him like the dragon flames before it, leaving him unharmed. Sticky with blood but fueled by adrenaline, the warrior heard Lionel's scream somewhere in the distance but he -had- to press on, to help the people less-capable (even if only presently due to their exhaustion) of defending themselves. He rushed into the temple, awash with compressed air from the numerous magical spells thrown across the battlefield, from the shockwave of Rising Star's sacrificial explosion, from Leone's divinity. He saw her as the portal opened up to drop her out of the Shadow Plane and he ran for it, his injured leg renewed by continued adrenaline. The warrior moved with the efficiency of purpose from one wounded ally to another, ensuring that all who could not move on their own were helped into the portal, dropped in such a way as to not impact the fallen Priestess on the desert sands below. Celaeno was in. Kreekitaka and his crab-friends were in. Gilwen, the elves, Eleanor - all in. Once everyone who -was- in the temple found their way through the -portal-, the warrior ran out to check for Lionel and Valrae, in time to see the Steward and Valrae's figure plummet through another. Relatively convinced that they would be fine--did ghosts get hurt?--Krice ventured back inside and jumped into Leone's doorway, landing over her, down on one knee, with his arms angled across her body to ensure that no debris from the world above crashed down on her damaged body. Through dust and windswept hair he gazed down at the priestess, panting quietly from the effort exuded during so chaotic a battle. He gauged her condition and then looked around, scanning the faces and figures of his returned allies - to see Lionel nearby, fallen but at still alive. Grunting, the warrior maneuvered to gently lift Leone from the ground with a tenderness rarely expressed in front of others, designating her his utmost priority. Other less-injured allies could help those unable to move. With his robes in tatters and sprayed with bloods both his own and that of his enemies, the swordsman moved across the sands, seeking the fasted, most direct route back to Frostmaw. With any luck, his wyvern was lingering somewhere in Gualon, ready to take them home.


Revion watches in awe as the events transpire all around him. The collective force gathered by the heroes demolishes the construct, which in turn unleashes hell upon the hordes of Kahran. All in all this day seems a success. But while others look about to ensure the ones they know are safe, the druid starts to move towards the portal the moment Gilwen does. If he saw anyone in direct need, he'd stay and help, but as of so far things seems to be under enough control that his own assistance isn't needed, and he has his own mission on ensuring Gilwen's safety to consider. As the ranger helps Gilwen through the portal, Revion stops just quickly enough to collect what little plant life he could to better study back in their own realm. After witnessing the might the enemy could muster forth, if by chance this war against the darkness ever brought the elf back here he'd want to be prepared. Having seen the strain using her magic placed upon Gilwen, Revion knows he has a long way to go, as do many others back home is Sage. Stepping through the veil between worlds one more, the naturalist feels the welcoming embrace of Nature greet him the moment his feet touch the sands of the desert once again. It was like having new life flow through him, reminding him of the symbiotic relationship between plant life and the sun. But just as quickly as he is back to their own realm, does the druid set about ensuring Gilwen is fine. Without a word he'd go about using druidic magic to revitalize the elder, who used a majority of her own power to destroy the Rising Star. His hands find the woman, whom he knows not so secretly hates this extra attention to her very core, and he sets about sending waves of natural energy back into the firey haired woman, hoping she allows him to continue so she has the energy for the trek back to Sage.


Eleanor had done what she had set out to do, bolstering up the spent plover at her side. Everything following that was a blur to the spell-rogue, her head suddenly swimming, a veritable swarm of bees buzzing around between her temples. Eun’s caws pierced through the apocalyptic ambiance, and soon the strange bird was settled on her shoulder again. Its shrieks became more and more incessant just aside her left ear, and giving Leone the room she needed to conduct one last blast of power to open the portal with the help of the witches in their company, Eleanor stumbled back a half-step before letting herself topple forward. Gravity, or something resembling it, pulled her down through the portal, her body folding inward into a tense-muscled somersault, resulting in her tumbling to safety amidst the dunes after being spit back out. Her head felt strangely clear for the span of a few ragged breaths as the spell-rogue took a moment to reacquaint herself with the desert, her soft-soled boots sinking into the scorching sands as she unfurled her limbs, the edges of her cloak dragging around her feet. Of course the hum soon came back to her head, and Eun took off from her shoulder to circle overhead like a vulture. Eleanor knew that peace never lasted very long, not when there was magic still kept inside her, pushing at her boundaries, swirling within that hidden, azure ink. What she had expended today was probably more than she should have, but thankfully not all that she had, and so for another day, the double-edged sword of her burden continued like a throbbing in her skull.


Eleanor | The spell-rogue crouched low against the dunes as the Alliance did what it could to stumble free of the Shadow Plane, one hand against the incline, her other aiming her wand back toward the portal, ready to defend it necessary. Her chest was still tight as she gulped down shallow breaths of desert air, but at least it was a dry heat, which she had to truly appreciate now after being in the dank oppression of other planes. Once the threat had been dealt with and their comrades were more or less alive, the woman sagged against the baked earth, a shaking hand returning the wand to its holster at her hip, before she smoothed her palm along a thigh, trying to still those adrenaline-strained digits. It was like a stormy headache that still gripped the war paint-smeared rogue, and she furrowed her brow, scowling to herself before she pushed herself up to her feet again. If she was to be any further use to these people she had inexplicably allied herself with, she would need to draw on what strength she had remaining to get herself someplace she could rest and rejuvenate; a certain subterranean hideout called to her, but at that time it seemed so far away. Where was the closest door in a place like this? A quick, exhausted glance toward an inked palm, and she was shaking her head. On foot it was, each unsteady but stubborn step carrying her closer to home.


Hudson becomes aware that the tide has improbably turned in their favor. The skies are burning. Kahran's people are trying to flee, now, and Hudson looses a chilling howl before springing upon them with great enthusiasm to kill them even in their retreat. This delightful pasttime is interrupted by the signal. A distant part of him - for despite the potion, Hudson has somehow STILL receded into the wolf - knows that he must do something, but not what. But fortunately for him, Uma and Joanie have not gone through Leone's portal yet. They go running outside of the temple to summon everyone else. Let no one be left behind. Joanie finds Blut, grievously injured, and shouts to Uma, "Help me!" Assuming he doesn't resist, the two witches hoist him up together and literally carry him to the portal. They're about to go through themselves after when Uma shouts over the din of receding battle, "Where's Hudson?" He's still just killing fools off by himself, man. He got the memo but has reading comprehension issues right now. Joanie, in her grandma comfort sneakers, goes tearing out to find him, cashing in on her sharpshooter reputation when she hits him from quite a ways away with her wand. The beast rounds on her, murder in his eyes, but her magic's caught up with him. He comes running, shifting as he does, into the russet wolf. And so they too depart by Leone's portal before it vanishes. When Hudson shifts into a man on the other side, he is covered in blood. He is shaken up. But he is mostly fine.


PHASE 6: HOME

Khitti :: Sitting around idly on the Tranquility while her brother Lionel and dear friend Celaeno went off to the Shadow Plane without her was rather much a bit like torture. Brand had gone off to the ship's situation room with Dozla, his first mate, to sort out the next week's plans for cargo-hauling. Khitti tried so hard to busy herself with reading, and when that didn't work, she turned to stress baking. Five strawberry cheesecakes, three cakelogs, and one hundred and forty-four cupcakes later (this is why magic ovens are nice, okay?), the heavily pregnant redhead would go to Brand and air her grievances and concerns. This was a bad idea. Lionel's probably walking into another trap. Yes, she knew she can't actually go over there because of Facilier--then -she'd- be walking into another trap. No, she's not stupid enough to go over there alone. No, she doesn't want the baby to be taken by Facilier. Shut up and listen, Brand. Lionel can't always handle himself, don't you see what's happened to him since he'd gotten that skull? He's distracted. These witches, for better or for worse, have gotten into his head. She has to go -now- if she wants to see them off at least. Take Lennier? Why? Just in case? Brand, seriously? She wasn't going to give birth in the damned desert. She was fiiiine (Khitti was, in fact, not fine, but this had nothing to do with the baby). Okay! Fine. Ugh. Lennier! Get your things. Let's gooooo.


Khitti :: And so they went. The eight foot tall, charcoal grey Tikifhlee that Khitti called her own stampeded through the streets of Cenril with her and the elf healer, Lennier, on its back. It kept to the shadows, as any big cat of the Shadow Plane would, its form melding into the darkness, helping to protect its riders from those that might keep them from their task. They left Cenril, headed across the bridge, past the place where Khitti fell (quite literally -and- died), and continued on south into the desert. She had to make it. She -had- to. What if something happened? What if she didn't get to say goodbye? That wasn't going to happen again. The trek into the desert was harsh on the Tikifhlee, so unused to the scorching sun and awful heat of the desert, but it pressed on, determined to carry Khitti to her destination. And they do arrive, but it's just as everyone pass through the portal, leaving Lithrydel behind. Khitti was too late. "Should we return to the ship, ma'am?" the bald elven male asked of Khitti, though he already knew the answer. "No. We wait. We wait until they come back... or until there's a sign that they're not coming back. Seika--" Khitti's attention shifted to the sword, Tenbatsu Kaji, on her back, "--can you help us?" The sprite in the sword spoke to Khitti as it always did and Khitti did as instructed.


Khitti :: When those that would return from the Shadow Plane did so, they'd find a bright light coming not far from where their portal had opened. Tenbatsu Kaji floated just above the sand and projected from it a small barrier to help keep Khitti, Lennier, and the Tikifhlee protected from the elements. But likewise, it acted as a beacon of holy energy. 'A light for those in dark places, when all other lights go out', Seika had said--and the Shadow Plane was truly the darkest place of all. Leone's portal opened up, the small portion of alliance that had gone with the Hero of Hellfire fell, and Khitti's brother was returned to her. The redhead, with Tenbatsu Kaji in hand, would make her way to Lionel's side with Lennier following behind with his healer's kit; there would be no pleasantries, because this was not a pleasant sight to behold. "You idiot..." The bit of name-calling was reminiscent of the days when they first met. This time it wasn't out of anger or spite however, but worry. There might even be tears in those olive-green eyes. "Lennier, get him to the cat please. We need to get him home immediately so you can tend to him. That arm doesn't look good." Lennier dipped his head to Khitti and led Lionel back to the Tikifhlee. "Cel! You too! Time to go home!" Khitti was like a mother bear, herding up all of her children to keep them safe. As the rest of the party tended to themselves, Khitti lingered briefly, eyeing the spot where they'd all fallen from. The next time the alliance happened to find Kahran, she and Tenbatsu Kaji would be there. Khitti von Schreier would not be deterred from breaking the invisible chains that Kahran had put on everyone.


Celaeno was wrapped in warmth, however grainy and creeping into places it didn’t belong. Mucking up the joints of her gauntlets for one and it would make bathing very necessary later. But that was later. As the adrenaline fades and the boost from the unknown uyeer’s sacrifice dims, her eyelids grow heavier. Still, her pointed ears prick at a familiar, welcome voice. She manages a limp wave, her gauntlet dim and darkening with her nearing loss of consciousness. “Here, Khitti!” she groans. No miss this time. She really wasn’t feeling herself. However Khitti found her, the girl certainly was a gruesome sight, like a vampire that had gone a sloppy blood binge before getting drunk and throwing it all back up. Only, the blood was all hers and she quite possibly smelled worse. She would manage to sit up for Khitti, even walk leaning against her. Staying conscious much longer beyond the ride to the nearest bed was not a guarantee, though.


Gilwen was grateful for the assistance of both Aelia and Revion, but it was the latter who earned her ire. His touch was allowed to linger just long enough to reinvigorate her enough to stand before she smacked his hands away, and, pride be her down fall, climb onto her mount who still held about its eyes a look of fright from the sudden appearance of the portals. She wouldn't wait for either Aelia or Revion before turning for home.


Revion expected as much from what he has been told, so when the smack came he wasn't offended or angry. She was upon her horse and off before anything needed to be said. With the closing of various portals in the aftermath of the Rising Star's demise, the druid felt safe in the hope no surprise attacks would occur before the elder made it back to the boundaries of Sage. So, for now the druid will linger and offer assistance in healing if need be.


Blut regained conciousness slowly as the desert air waffed in his face. Blut groaned as he looked over to his none working arm reaching up with his left and letting off a shrill whistle. A large wave of sand would approach the group as Blut pushed off his saviors as his Wyrm came for him. Grabbing it's hair with his good hand as the wyrm set off Blut knew he needed medical help and soon so he set of to the closest villiage without so much as a word of thanks.


Lionel’s very essence seems to be leaving him now. Kahran vanishes and the whole world starts to fade. But it’s a pretty world, isn’t it? The stars are fire. The blur becomes one great blistering distortion. All things considered, a spot like this is front row seats for the most stunning panorama he has ever seen. His infected arm loses circulation, and then he can feel his lungs pounding, and then his heart seems to seize. His azure eyes begin to close. He’ll die proud. Isn’t that what counts? No, it isn’t. He made a promise to come back home. His eyes shoot open at the silent revelation that he will never see his family again, and that the last promise he ever made was broken. He stings and hisses with whatever he’s got left, and the pain of his poison amplifies like needles because he’s no longer trying to ignore it, he’s facing it head-on in anger. The anger subsides. A woman is asking him to trust her; a woman is holding him, taking over for his body that can no longer oblige his racing mind; a woman is guiding him, with a touch that traces memory. For all the pretty sights above, nothing seems to matter anymore but for the color of his shirt, red like the passion that Valrae reawakened in him through her death. His blood leaves a trail in his wake. Lionel is dying. Yet the woman who helped to restore his very soul, the woman who burned so that he would remember his ideals, is now -- in death -- saving his life. “I trust you,” is all he can sputter. Keeping his eyes open any longer seems impossible, but he does it anyway, because as the City of Sorrows explodes all around them, Valrae is there. As they leap, falling meter after meter in deathly invitation, he isn’t afraid. He -trusts- her. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll see home again after all.


Lionel | There is a ringing in Renne's only ear. The woman is dazed and sprawled upon a blood-soaked city street when she comes to, trying in vain to comprehend the gorgeously terrifying explosions in the sky far above her. To say nothing of her horde of abominations and the death rattles of nearby wraith. Barely aware of the complexities of her surroundings, she reaches out to cover her ear and slams her gauntleted fist sidelong into her face. Too much movement and too soon. She groans and rises, slowly. Spitting and cursing the gods for denying her the battle -- for the ludicrous antics of that uyeer, who she is beginning to remember must surely have knocked her down -- she looks around for Kahran but cannot find him. What has happened? An elven abomination dives head-on for her and in a flash Renne's steel is out and the fell thing's head is cleaved clean off. Two more, both of human stock, try to leap on her. She twists her big body wayward, puts pressure on her left foot, and slashes them both across the chest. More are on their way, and the telltale green tendrils of Shadow Portal activity are crashing into the ground far too violently, killing more of the horde with every stroke. This entire city has gone sideways, and wherever he is, Kahran has just suffered his first major defeat of the war. The only solace Renne finds, fighting through the deficient ranks, is the corpse of Agathon. Despite her circumstances, she smiles fiendishly to see his mangled corpse.


Lionel | “Valrae,” Lionel begs. The world has changed around him and he can only surmise, even in his toxic shock, that it’s because they lived. It doesn’t faze him; it doesn’t surprise him at all. A mortal wound? A leap from a tower? She saved him. And now his sister is saving him, too. He can’t see her but he senses Khitti von Schreier beside him. He has to let her know that Valrae is there, too. There isn’t a damned thing that Khitti can do about that, but he has to let her know, anyway. “Valrae,” he repeats, shivering. Lionel never feels the heat or cold… but he feels it now, with his every fiber. Hellfire can’t protect him against attacks on his bloodstream any more than a castle can protect a man from his enemies within. With the dying embers of his left arm’s strength, he pops the cork on a vial gifted to him by an ally. He sips thirstily of it and sighs. There will be no more voluntary movement from Catal’s Last Prince today, but his life has been spared. “She’s with us,” he says, smiling. “Valrae is with us.” He has to believe that. Moreover, he believes he can feel it, too. And he believes that he will see another day, because a witch saw fit to leap with him and a sister had better foresight than he ever could.


Revion can see things are in capable hands, and so the druid goes to his horse and readies his things for the long ride back to the forest. The collected sample of plant life from the shadow realm is tucked away securely in a pouch within his cloak, before the elf is off, riding hard towards home.


Valrae | She had prefered the fire. Even though the moments between the climbing flame and her last breath had spanned around her as lifetimes filled with anguish, she preferred the flame. Her spirit was ripped so suddenly, so violently from her body that for a moment the black surrounded her and she thought she might fall away forever. Would that be a satisfying end? Would her spirit find peace having gotten Lionel through the portal and nearer to home? Could she finally close her eyes? Through the portal, the hands that had gripped Lionel suddenly became useless. They moved through him as he fell into the sandy floor of the Nameless Desert. He spoke her name and the answer burned through her, hotter than the fires that had taken her to death the first time. No. She could not rest. Valrae floated above Lionel, weak and thin. She was too close to blinking out, the flame of a candle at the end of it’s wick. There was no visible form to take, no power to pull it from… But she could not leave.


Valrae | Her spirit clung to him with a desperation that was echoed in the way he spoke her name. Even as his sister took him, she was there. Weary, without rest or comfort. The world fell away. Khitti, the sword, the journey Lionel’s sister made to save him… All moved to the background as the ghost of the witch counted heartbeat. She caressed around his beaten body and hoped to offer comfort, even as she longed to join him in sleep. The fragile, tattered remains of her soul floated above him ever watchful…She uttered prayers to whatever could hear her in the endlessly lonely place of the lingering dead and all the while felt the sands of her hourglass falling. How much time did she have left?


Khitti would help Celaeno back to the Tikifhlee. She would help and she would listen as Lionel went on and on about Valrae. Her mind goes back to not long ago in her bakery, when Meri tells her of Valrae's own warning about the skulls. The ghost warned Meri, and yet she still remained, her soul attached to Lionel's because of that damned skull. A darkness crept across Khitti's features, one that's not been seen since before her death. Khitti's line of sight on Lionel was a grim one. The things she wanted to say... 'Let the dead stay dead, Lionel. Worry about the living around you. This ghost has just as much of a hold on you as Kahran. You're tumbling down yet another rabbit hole and I'm not sure I can pull you out of this one.' Just as Khitti opened her mouth to say these very things, to scold the Alice that just tumbled in from Wonderland half dead, Tenbatsu Kaji glowed red. [This is not the time or the place and you know that.] Khitti would receive her own chiding instead from Seika, the silent voice ringing in the pregnant woman's head. She pressed her lips together once more and said nothing for the moment, instead readying the Tikifhlee to leave with now four passengers instead of two. "Let's go home." It's all she could manage to say.