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Balthasar: Interlude
How many days did Balthasar wander the broken temple district? Oblivious to pats on the back and congratulatory cheers; he was lost. "I failed. I believed my destiny was to kill Rathamon. He is dead, but so is Reylos. In my pride, I failed."

Every time he slept, when he bothered to do so, he saw those he killed. "Was it my decision to kill Titus’ father? Why did I care? Was I protecting someone when the guards attacked me in Ashwood? I cannot remember."

The cold was always a comfort to Balthasar. He counted his years by the winters he'd passed, but this winter was different. The icy arthritic pain shot through his fingers. The chill winds shortened his breath. The long nights seemed never to give away to dawn.

"I am without the sword, free of the curse, yet I feel more bound to it than before. I can barely hold a spoon, let alone fight. I am a danger to the ones I swore to protect. Reiah, what happened?"

Slowly he stands and begins walking. At first Balthasar intends on returning to the keep. But as he passes the gate he cannot bring himself to enter; it all hurts too much. Then he plans on drinking the pain away at the Vulgar Unicorn. As he approaches, he remembers the last time he was there, the last time she was there, and cannot enter the door. Finally, he means to climb the gatehouse and gaze out into the night, but finding the gate open to travelers, he just keeps walking toward it. His mind running at speeds he can only dream of; his feet stumbling as he tries to keep up. At the gate, the guard asks his reason for leaving so late in the evening, Balthasar only mumbles a response, "The worth of a man's life is not in how many people he kills, or whom they are, but in how many people they can save. I can't save anyone..." The guard merely stares in silence as the dark shadow of Balthasar departs Sanctuary.

"I do not know what is in front of me, but I know what I am leaving behind. And I do not intend to return to it."

Without food, clothing, or a direction of intent, Balthasar wanders through the cold. Whispers of death surround him. The guilt of murder, the shame of failure, and the pain of loss fills his heart. Hours become days, yet Balthasar continues on.

Eventually, Balthasar stopped. How long he walked, he could not be sure. His legs had no more strength, and his will was giving out. Stumbling into a small village, he made for the inn and the warmth of a fire. As he approached the inn he could hear shouts from inside. The door burst open and a young girl was thrown into the snow. “Kill the witch! Burn her! She’s one o’dem snake peoples!”

Why did he care what happens to a peasant? Whatever the reason, Balthasar firmly planted himself between the mob and the girl. The fight was brutal, yet Balthasar succeeded. As he lay on the ground, bloody and bruised, the mob dispersed. Although he did not win the fight, he did shift their attention to himself.

The girl moved to her hero, the broken man on the ground. “You have a darkness about you that makes even death jealous. How plentiful the trail of dead that follows.” Turning to her, Balthasar saw a beautiful young Rankan woman, with black pupil less eyes! Even in the dark, it was clear she was blind.

Realizing neither would have any welcome here; they stole away into the night. Her name was Lyari. When asked how she seemed to know the impossible, Lyari told her tale. “I was born of death. My father was a practitioner of the old religion. He was performing the birthing rites as his goddess demanded, and was attacked by priests of Pelor. They murdered my father and mother during labor. I was born of death, lying in their blood. The priests saw my black eyes and foretold a bad omen. When they tried to kill me, all were struck dead. I remember it all.

A kind man found me and took me to his cabin. He raised me as his daughter. When I told of a local priest’s involvement with the dark god Zehir, he named me a witch and ordered me killed. My father stood and protected me as long as he could. I escaped by hearing the ravens crow in the forest. My blindness did not shield me from the pain, because in my gift of sight I watched my father burn.

I wandered, much like you, for a time. I heard whispers that guided me east. There is a place of solitude in the Greatwall mountains. I am headed there, though I could use a guide.”

The unlikely coupling traveled east toward the Greatwall Mountains. The climb was horrendous for a blind woman and a crippled man. Their journey ended atop a cliff with a small temple built into the rock. Featureless, save for an ebony raven carved upon the door.

The place was untouched, as if it never saw use. Lyari found a kitchen and made a warm stew. With nowhere else to go, they settled into the temple, finding rooms to sleep in. Balthasar continued to suffer in sleep with nightmares and in wake with pain.

While trying to regain his strength, Lyari stated with a calm coldness, “Your strength fails you not because of your guilt, but your pride. You took on the task of destroying the Beysib out of a gladiator’s hubris. When you found success, you did not thank the mistress who provided it. Thusly, you will not find success without accepting the truth.”
“What is the truth?”
“Your success was not a measure of your will, but of The Raven Queen’s will upon you.”

With that, Lyari left the room. Balthasar sat in the chamber for hours. His hands still felt cold, despite the warm food and comfortable housing. The whispers of murder returned to his ears, Although, this time they were more like cries or pleadings. Not to spare someone, but to continue. Continue what?

The caw of a raven startled him out of his trance. This black beast was larger than those he saw previously, and the elevation was too high, as well. “You’re my mistress, eh?” Balthasar chuckled. The bird flapped its wings and flew directly at him! Before he could dodge, it slammed into his chest, knocking the burly man back against the wall.

You are a servant! Lay down your pride and follow your duty. The Beysib continue to rape my world. They believe in their power above mine! None are immune to the ravages of time. You walk as if you are dead, yet you breathe the air of life. Stand and be my herald. Finish the quest once started long ago. Destroy the anathema that plagues this land and cleanse it. I so mark thee, Balthasar Krayth, Herald of The Raven Queen.

Shaken to consciousness by Lyari, Balthasar is changed. The raven is perched upon a peculiar instrument in the center of the room. As Balthasar moves closer, the warmth of life returns to his limbs. The strength of his frame fortifies his body. The devotion of his will moves him forward. There, in the center of the room is the source of the whispers. The Xiphoid floats in limbo, though it is different. No longer a blade of metal and cord, it was now black as the void. It calls to Balthasar, though not like before. Gone are the commands of death, replaced with the whispers of servitude. In ages past, none had the will to deny the blade, and so none gained its respect. The raven nodded all too intelligently and Balthasar grabbed the blade.

His strength returned as the bird moved to his shoulder. He could see through its eyes as if they were his own. He was different now. No longer just Balthasar, he was now her herald.

“It is time,” Lyari said.
“Time for what?”
“It is time for us to go, if we are to reunite with your companions.”

(Special thanks to D. for helping me write this up.)
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Balthasar: End of Book One

I failed, and it cost the most courageous man I have ever known his life. In my hubris I believed myself to walk the on the same plane as Rathamon, that I had the power to avenge those I had lost, but, in the end, I failed my mother, my father, my love, and my friend. To pour vinegar into the open wound, I'm not even sure how much of me is actually me and how much was Xiphoid. Already I feel the cold tendrils of doubt assail my mind and my memories.

Paralyzed by the pain.

How long have I sat here, at the final resting place of my friend? Days? Weeks? I can't really remember. I don't want to. I hear people going about life. They are rebuilding their lives here in Sanctuary. But what of those who are gone?

Sometimes people talk at me. "You did everything you could. He did it for us all. It was his sacrifice that saved Sanctuary. We won." Did we win? As I stare up into the dark clouds, the rain quickly soaks through my ragged cloak. Or is it the tears? I don't know.

State of mind.

Slowly I stand up and start walking, at first I mean to go into the keep and get my bag, but as I pass the gate I can't bring myself to enter; it all hurts too much. Then I plan on drinking the pain away at the Vulgar Unicorn, but as I approach I remember the last time I was there. The last time we, were there, and I can't enter the door. Finally, I mean to climb the gatehouse and gaze out into the night, but finding the gate open to travelers, I just keep walking towards it. My mind running at speeds I can only dream of my feet being able to keep up with. As the gate guard asks my reason for leaving so late in the evening I can only mumble a response, "The worth of a man's life is not in how many people he slays, or who they are, but in how many people they can save. I can't save anyone..." He stares at me as I walk around him and out the gate.

I do not know what is in front of me, but I know what I am leaving behind. And I do not intend to return to it.
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Balthasar: The Pact to Redemption
When one is willing to sacrifice their life to protect others, they are not doing it for the express purpose of earning trust, or gratitude, but one would think that given the chance it would be expressed. I all but gave up my life trying to help the people of this miserable little dot on the map and yet I received no warmer welcome then the plague. I guess the phrase, "but what have you done for me recently?" comes into play here. Meh, what do I care? We seems to have resolved things to the satisfaction of the others, or at least well enough to convince them to get back to our true goal: Byssib.

Reylos seems to be even more imposing then ever, and Gaylen appears to be a useful guide. The others seems to be healing their own wounds well, even if I can not be sure of their actual resolve. I can only hope that they will pull themselves together as we travel towards the capitol and crawl once more into the viper pit.

Reiah, if your lonely, I am about to send you lots of company.
Rathamon, I hope to see you real soon.
This will truly be an offering fit for the Raven Queen!
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Balthasar: Summon The Naga
One could say, that through out my short time in this world, my only true companion has been death. No matter where I was or what I was doing my friend was never far away. There have been times when we have grown apart, but they are few and far between. During the events of the last few years we have been neigh inseparable from each other. I have never actually liked this companion of mine, but he has been nothing but persistent in his pursuit of me.

Now, again, I find myself visiting his home to reminisce about old times. Most people would probably find the act of seeing their whole life speed by before their eyes enrapturing, but for me it is like watching droplets of water fall time and time again in a dank cell; I’ve seen it a million times before, but for lack of something better to do, my eyes are drawn to each drop as it takes its final plunge. Given this unique perspective on one’s life might inspire a man to change his ways – to find a new path that would lead him to a happiness not attained in the time preceding. For me, however, that path has already been taken, and like the back allies of the low-town, they have all lead me back to the same place.

I have treaded many paths in my time. I have lived only for myself; I have lived with the hope of making someone proud. I have lived by killing those who have shown me kindness, and I have lived by killing those who have not. I have killed in the name of survival, sport, the gods, and defense of the innocent. None of this has brought me happiness. I have tried to run away from the crimson life I lead, only to have it thrust upon me time and again. I would like to imagine if one weighed the worth of the lives I have saved against the lives of those I have taken that it would be found to be even, but I do not believe that if that were possible, one would find it so. After the death of Rythok at my hands, I attempted to live a life of peace, but after what has transpired since the first time I left Sanctuary, I must conclude that my destiny is that of death. If I had died but a year ago I might have found my peace, but that was not to be.

Finding myself confronted with individuals such as Garr and Raylos I was at first disgusted. They were everything that I did not want to be: murderers, berserkers, hate-filled, and seekers of revenge and death. I stood on my parapet made of skulls and looked down on them as a noble might the night soil on the street. I have now come to the point were I can see that it was not they who were the fools, but I. Together they have more bravery, pride, strength, and lust for life then I can ever hope to attain.

And then there is Titus. Of all the people I know, he is second only to death in companions I have known. I remember clashing with him in the streets and allies of Sanctuary as fondly as I remember breaking bread with him in the palace. What ever he truly thinks of me, he is the one who saw fit to give me another chance at life. I hope that in some small way I have been of use to him in these months we have worked together. Assuming that the Prince still lives, I can now call my vow to help him save the prince complete. Despite knowing that our kind tend to lead short, violent lives, I find myself hoping that he will beat the odds and live a long, happy life.

Finally, there is Reiah. Again a prime example of what I did not want to be, but then again, so much more. On our first meeting I not only let her escape, but covered for her; yet another act of treason to add to my crimes. Was it because I really thought she would give me the antidote for the prince or was it because for the first time I had met someone who had lived a life similar to mine, one who could truly understand me? Whatever the case, my heart sang upon meeting her again, and I must confess that I did enjoy her company. Did I love her? I do not know; and now I will never know. She was willing to die to re-shape the world into a better place, and she died fighting for us, against her own people. The only way I can honor a sacrifice like that is to repay it in kind. I must go forward and re-shape this world.

No longer am I worthy to fight in the name of strength and prowess to please Kord; no longer am I able to show Bane my power. From this day forth I fight for revenge; I fight to bring death to those who deserve it. I fight in the name of the forgotten one; I fight in the name of the Raven Queen!

Yes – I will strike down every Beysib snake that rears its head.

No - I will not entertain thoughts of pardon or mercy.

I now throw away all notions and dreams of finding peace for myself and finally embrace death as my true path. Let the Beysib celebrate their victory for soon they will be repaid many times over. I will suffer neither the snakes nor those who side with them or stand in my way. From this moment forth, revenge shall be my name and death my path.

Rathamon be warned.

Beysib be warned.

I am Balthasar and you are my enemy.
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An Interlude
Lesyeux sleeps fitfully. She tosses and turns, hair fanning out over the pillow, one knuckle of a finger clenched between her front teeth. Her face is lined with worry, her body tense even in repose.

I sweep out one long, hairy leg and press it to her skull. Her body relaxes, but her mind screams as I pull her into my home.

Voire is here, child. Your audience is granted.

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