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Posted in The Night Below
A Lesson Learned
Perhaps it is best to never read poetry scrawled on a cave wall.

For one, it will most likely attract attention, such as the stinky men who dwelled inside of the cave. Another, it's generally very,very bad. I probably will not sleep tonight due to images that can no longer be unseen dancing amok.

I asked one of the stinky men before they attacked if one of them wrote it, in hopes they would exacerbate further on what they may even be talking about. I did not get a response. I kind of hope so, as to feel good about getting revenge against wasting our time like that.

Maybe I'll ask the halfling we captured when he wakes. I doubt it though. I'd rather not think about that filth again.
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Trid News Channel 3478
Anchor #1: In a breaking news bulletin, just minutes ago in Renton's Knight Park a group of recreational soccer players found a severed head in the bathroom, sitting in a urinal. Lone Star descended upon the scene, but had no comment.
Anchor #2: Thanks to some creative social engineering, our source on the scene was able to get the victims name - Arturo Braddock, an Operations Control Commissioner for Lone Star. The source was also able to get a look at the head, stating that "His fuckin' tongue was cut out."
Anchor #1: Just a terrible, terrible tragedy. We'll keep you updated periodically.
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A note from Hush to his mom
Dear Mum,
Yeah, thanks for the foodstuffs; your soyproduct tastes like no other. Life is blah, but all is ok-ish, considering i'm still a cripple.
i don't mean to be down, just i got robbed yesterday. nothing much was taken, just a little cyberware i never dreamed of using, and something that i was holding for a friend. i know he should be really upset about this item being taken, but he seemed nonplussed.
i swear to sod, if that pixie is beind this...nevermind.
i could use a visit mums. stop by if you're in the area.

much luv,
your shortikins

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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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