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McIan

Adventurer
"Yeah, she's the one," the slovenly man's grimy finger pointed toward an elf woman bedecked in royal purple. "She struts around here like'n she owns tha' place. Seen her comin' in an' out o' Heartwood a lot, but methinks she lives somewheres nearbouts Luna, in Malas." The Elven woman walked past after exiting the Heartwood portal, not noticing them.

"I know where Luna is," Torak sighed. Between the man's mongbat intelligence level and the wilting two-pronged assault of his breath and body odor, he didn't know if he could stand this much longer. "What is her name?"

The greasy man shrugged. "I dunno. She's pretty fancy so I'm sure she has a lot of money," he added.

"No doubt. Here, take these," Torak said, offering the man a handful of gold coins which he snapped up greedily. "Buy yourself a bath and something for your breath, before you go traipsing after her asking a lot of nosey questions for me, all right?"

"Sure! Sure! Anything you ask for, friend. I didn't get your name?"

"Let's leave it at that. You know what I look like. I will check back here in a few days. Have some information for me, will you? Try to be discreet. A good report will earn you a lot more than this. Just don't let me down."

The man shook his head for emphasis. "No way that'll happen! A few days is all it will take. I will be here waiting for ye."

Torak turned and walked away, shaking his head. It wasn't easy finding good help these days. Too many do-gooders in the world and hordes of insignificant unsightly weasels. Feeling as if he needed to bathe, he returned to his domicile to do just that.
 

McIan

Adventurer
DECEPTION AND RECEPTION

"Don't fret my love, I won't abandon you," Torak consoled, gently running his fingers through her raven black hair. "I have many enemies and that Chanticleer fellow is chief among them. He hates me and lies about me everywhere he goes," he calmly assured her.

Mahal wiped her eyes and nodded. "He embarrassed me in front of all those people! I had to get away. My sister was little help; she hates you too. She thinks you are deceiving me. Are you?" she inquired, looking into his eyes.

Torak closed his eyes and shook his head. "They are both jealous of the kind of love we have. That paladin fellow knows nothing of love and your sister, well, she is wise in worldly ways for sure, but she has nothing like what we have. Put it all out of your beautiful head."

Not fully convinced she nevertheless smiled slightly but did not let her doubts hinder a kiss.

* * *​

"Well, what do you have for me?" Torak asked his Yew henchman, who had, remarkably, cleaned up. They met near the Heartwood gate as before, standing far away from any building or bystanders.

The man smiled. "I got all ye asked fer and more! Come and see!" he waved his arm as he hurried away. Torak, confused but intrigued, followed.

The mercenary led him to a small house on the outskirts of town and motioned him inside. "See! I did even better than you wanted! She's all yours for the takin' my friend," he stated confidently.

Torak's jaw dropped as he looked upon the female Elf, gagged and bound to a wooden chair in a corner of the room. The elf glared at him. His mind raced - did anyone see it happen? Was the man followed? Was this house being watched? "I told you to get information, nothing else! How do you know you weren't seen?" He went to a window and looked out, scanning the area. Satisfied nothing was out of place, he nevertheless sighed.

"It was easy boss sir. She was trying to leave the town and I caught her in the middle of casting a spell. Nobody was around. Elves are lighter to carry than most but she fought like a panther! How much is she worth to you?"

Torak smiled, accepting what fate had laid on him. "A lot. Thank you for your services. We cannot stay here, however. Come, and bring her along as she is," he ordered. Then he began casting a Gate Travel spell...

When they exited the gate the towering walls of a three-story dark edifice reared far about them; its blackened, glistening, stone walls and narrow open windows provided a sense of dread and foreboding. "Ah, home sweet home," Torak mused. "Bring her in. I will pay you when we get inside," he promised.

The henchman hesitated. "Wh.. what is this place?" he asked, his tone betraying his fearfulness. "It don't look safe to me!"

Walking toward the long, steep stairs toward the front doors, Torak replied, "Welcome to the Schloss von Blut," as he waved him to follow.

"The what?"

"The Castle of Blood. Spooky name but quite cozy really. And quite safe I might add."
 
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McIan

Adventurer
UNDERMINED

"But I need her, m'lord Scaramandine. It is essential that I make a trade with the Drow for what I need," Torak pleaded as he stood before the lich who reposed on his throne in the bowels of Schloss von Blut. "They can get me back to her, and I must get back."

The lich's red eyes flared briefly. "Are ye arguing with me, Torak?" His voice echoed in the chamber like water gurgling in a brook.

Torak flinched. "Of course not, m'lord. I am only saying that it will be very difficult to find another. The Yew soldiery will be on guard and hunting for me, to speak nothing of any Elven detectives," he replied.

"Then look elsewhere if ye must, but if you had rather, I can help thee instead."

A puzzled look crossed Torak's face. "You? Help me? How?"

The lich laughed hideously. "Do ye think only Drow know how to use Conveyance? It is an old art, ancient. How do ye think we, the Necromari, came here and summoned minions at will? I thought ye wise, Torak, but I see ye have yet a lot to learn."

"I... I didn't know m'lord. Why did you not tell me before?" he timidly inquired.

"Why should I? It amused me to see ye scurrying about with the Drow in tow, thinking that they were thy salvation. Sooner or later ye would have run afoul of them and it would have been thy end," came the chilling reply.

Torak swallowed hard. He knew the lich was right. Drow were, by and large, even at best of times murderous cutthroats and betrayers who delighted in the misery of others. He knew they were back of the Mad Piper's doings, to some extent at least, from the way they spoke to him last time they met. "Then, will you help me this time?"

"For a price, of course."

There was always a price. "What payment do you seek sire?"

"I will take the elf woman and the man who came with ye. I have need of them. Bring the woman on the other side back here with thee when ye return. I would see her for myself," the lich replied, coldly.

"But I... she... is safer there, out of... harm and rescue, m'lord!"

The lich leaned forward. "Yes, ye argue with me," he said. With a raised hand he sent a powerful Pain Spike into the man who reeled back clutching his chest, crying out so loudly the chamber echoed. He fell to his knees breathing heavily, gasping for air. The lich leaned back. "Do not do so again," he warned. "Bring her across. I will give thee Conveyance there and back again. In fact," he added, "I shall hex thee so that ye must return."

"Hex me?"

Muttering a spell totally foreign to Torak, the lich waved his hands in the air and pointed to him. Torak felt a warm, pleasing, sensation fill his body starting from his head down to his feet. That wasn't so bad he mused.

"What did you do to me, sire?"

"Ye have five days to return here once I send thee. At the end of that time, ye shall become a living corpse unless I remove the hex. Doubt not what I say. Do as I say or it shall come to pass."

The words shook him to the core. Could it be? Did he dare find out? Torak briefly considered running out now for his life but knew he would not get to the doors at the far end of the hall from where he now stood. At least with the Drow one had a chance. He took a deep breath. "I hear and obey m'lord Scaramandine. I am ready to depart whenever you wish. I will return with the woman."

"There are particulars to be observed in this Spell and I must make the preparations. I don't know if the Drow told thee but had they made even one error, or decided to renege on their bargain, ye would have ceased to exist. We don't want that to happen now, do we?" The lich grinned. "Go and rest. I shall call thee when all is ready," he commanded.

Torak bowed low and left the chamber. There was no getting out of this and he knew it.

What had he done?
 
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Deminatza

Visitor
CHOOSE

There was a stillness in the air today. What day is it? How long has he been gone this time? A sense of foreboding washed over the bard which told her he’s coming.

Whenever Torak came near her, he had a presence about him that was so strong, she could scarcely breathe. Today was no different. He wanted her to choose him, yet he found it fair play to impose his will upon her to help facilitate the choice. He made promises that the three of them, Chasity, Torak and her, would live happily as a family. He would be able to keep them safe, nothing would be able to hurt them. They would want for nothing. These promises were so seductive. All she wanted was to live a happy life with her child, Chasity, and her love.

"Give name to your love," a voice often commanded yet there was tenderness there.
"Tor..."

A visage of a man of olive skin intruded her thoughts. His black hair long and straight. There is something vaguely familiar. There is a sense of masculinity that cannot be denied nor ignored. His slim chiseled face, with high cheekbones, was adorned with a black goatee. She yearned to reach out to caress his cheek. Then she noticed his eyes, his icy blue eyes. As his gaze held hers, he smiled, and his face softened.

"Scar," Deminatza proclaimed softly, voice rich with love.

A deafening roar fills the room followed by the feeling of flight, then a sudden loss of breath accompanied with a sharp pain with the beauty of the sparkling stars before her eyes.

"Why?! Why do you not choose me? Why him?!", Torak roared with fury.

Deminatza, feeling the sense of hopelessness, pain, and loss, wept. She tried to be strong, but she was so tired now.

Torak was at her side, voice full of regret yet anger still ever present. He spoke softly to her, "Caromia, I am so sorry." He reached out to tend to her injuries, but she flinched in fear, sobbing inconsolably.

"In Zu," he whispered almost imperceptivity and Deminatza's weeping ceased as her body went slack. He caught her, lifted her off the floor and gently laid her on her bed.

After tending to her wounds, he decided to gather herbs for her. He paused as he got to the door. He turned and to look at her sleeping form.

"You must choose me," he spoke, voice thick with emotion as a look of sincere concern in his eyes. "This is the only way I can keep you safe...from...him."
 
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McIan

Adventurer
NOT QUITE RIGHT

"I don't want to go in there, Torak. I have seen too many people go in and not come out," Mahal argued looking out the window to the dark castle less than a quarter league distant to the northwest. "Why would you want to take me in there anyway?" she inquired, turning back to face him as he sat in a chair beside a small table in one of the Oasis' rooms.

"Kitten," Torak whispered condescendingly, rising from his seat to move next to her, "it is not as bad as it looks. They wanted it to look that way to discourage nosey inquisitors."

"It's working," she replied, crossing her arms and stepping away from him. "Something is telling me not to go. I like to follow my feelings."

"Do you really think I would expose you to any harm? I love you! All you have to do is play a small part and we're done."

"Small part you say? Like in acting? Who might I be?"

Torak sat back down. "A woman named Deminatza. You see, the man who lives there had his dear friend disappear suddenly. He is so distraught that he is contemplating suicide; she was the only real friend he ever had. He described her to me. You look a lot like her. It would do him good to see you and tell him you are her. He would be relieved and then we can go our way."

"That story is ridiculous! What do you care what he thinks? What hold does he have over you?"

"He has no hold over me," Torak smiled. "He is an old and dear friend, my mentor, Thane, if you will. He has saved my life countless times. I owe him some good news. If you just pretend to be her, he will be glad and since he is so rich, he would shower you with all kinds of gifts."

"Gifts? What sort of gifts?"

"He is rich beyond estimation! He has gold, gems, jewelry, relics, artifacts - you name it. He would hold back nothing you ever wanted if he believed you were she. He is so old his eyesight is bad. All you will have to do is tell him who you are and that you are all right."

"What name was that?"

"Deminatza. Demi for short. You are married to a man named Scar and have a daughter, Chasity. I am your friend. You only wish to visit and then see your husband again as you both have been parted for a long time. It's that simple."

"Just that simple?"

"Yes, trust me. Would I lie to you?"
 

McIan

Adventurer
THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS

With much reluctance Mahal, the tavern girl and sister to Alderia, the matron of the Oasis she owned, accompanied Torak to the entrance of the dark citadel that she had so often seen from afar. Before going inside, Torak offered her a draught to calm her down. "This will help steel your nerves and help you seem less fearful to him. If he detects any kind of pretense on your part he will be most unhappy with me. I promise you, if you go through this you will never have any want - he will bestow such riches upon you that you shall live like a queen for the rest of your life," he swore, handing her a small flask containing a purple liquid.

She took it from him but gazed into his eyes. "Treasure is it? For me, or for you?"

He appeared truly hurt by the accusation. "My love, all for you. I want nothing more out of life than your happiness. With the gold and jewels he gives you, you will be able to buy your own place. No longer will you have to live with that, well, domineering sister who hates me."

Mahal thought for a moment, turning her eyes to the bubbling liquid which smelled like fresh lavender and honey. She tasted it first and waited. Nothing happened.

"It takes a bit of time to work, but when it does you will have all the confidence you need," he promised.

She drank the rest of it down in one gulp. It was quite pleasant, with hints of grape juice and black currant. The glow she soon felt made her head swim a bit but not to the point of intoxication. He motioned her forward, leading her up the long flight of stairs toward the tall gleaming doors of the castle. By the time she had got to the top, she felt a calming sensation take hold and she laughed a bit, enjoying it.

Once inside she felt no apprehension at all, at either the guards dressed in crimson bone armor nor the green-black tiles of the floor or the black stone glistening walls. She even gazed nonchalantly at the tarnished bronze statue of a mage, hands outstretched toward the doors, as if casting a spell upon all who entered. Her escort led her to a teleporter and soon she was standing with him in the presence of a man sitting on a throne made entirely of yellowing bones. Even that, to her, was amusing. They stopped before him and Torak bowed low to the hooded man in the black robe. "She is here, m'lord," he said. "I have done as you bade me."

The man leaned forward slightly. "Bring her closer that I may see her more clearly," he commanded. She wanted to laugh at the sound of his gurgling voice but Torak shook his head at seeing the smile cross her lips and she held it back. Still, she obeyed the gestures of her escort, taking a few steps closer to the stranger... until she could see his eyes, pinpoints of crimson fire and his mouth, filled with long teeth as if plucked from a skull. She had the urge to run, but it was quelled as if she were in a dream state, so she only stared at him.

Scaramandine, the Elder, sat back in his throne. "Who is this?" he asked.

Torak stepped toward her. "Let her tell you, sire," he responded.

"I am Deminatza," she said. "I am your friend. I heard you were concerned about me so I came to comfort you." The voice was hers but the words were not.

"Torak. Ye disappoint me. Greatly. This is not Deminatza. Why have ye sought to deceive me?" The lich's eyes flared. "Take ye me for a fool?"

"Not at all sire! It is she! I swear it on my life! I did as you asked. I brought her for you to see her. Now that you have, please remove the curse from me, and let us go in peace," he pleaded, bowing low.

"She is not Deminatza," the Elder rebutted. "I can see that for myself. My Deminatza would have aged somewhat, but her beauty was far beyond that of this poor drugged soul," he explained.

"But look, sire, she wears the blue cloth. Ask her about her husband and their child. She knows!"

Mahal nodded as if on queue. "I have a husband, Scar and a child named Chasity," she added.

"Thou poor fool," the Elder told her, shaking his head. "This maggot has drugged thee. He has brought thee here to die, that he may escape and return to his true love in another realm."

Mahal regained a small measure of her senses upon hearing his words. She turned her head slowly to stare at Torak. Her jaw dropped a little.

Torak ignored her, instead focusing on the Elder, raising his arms to emphasize his compliance and fealty. "No, m'lord! I swear it is she!"

"Do ye still swear upon thy life? I know whom I seek for we have met oft before!"

Torak hesitated, and then knew he was lost. He had no idea that the Elder knew the real Deminatza from sometime in the past.

Looking to the girl the Elder waved her away with a skeletal, rotting, hand. "Go! Live a while longer. This... cur... is unworthy of thee. Forget him. Go now, before I reconsider and smother what small charity and mercy I still possess."

Mahal, still under the effects of the drug, complied, running swiftly from the room. She did not look back until she entered the Oasis tavern, weeping and trembling with horror and fear.

Torak watched her leave and turned back to face the angry lich. His legs wanted to move but they could not. Fear seized him and froze him where he stood. "My lord... please... understand... I could not bring her to you. I am in love with her. If she will only confess her love to me, then we would be one. Love makes men do crazy things and I..."

"Enough of thy blathering. I should kill thee for this perfidy. Yet," the lich leaned forward again, "I find thy courage stimulating and thy intelligence appealing. Ye have an inventive mind, far greater than most of thy kind. I shall allow thee to live," he adjudicated.

Torak breathed a sigh of relief and fell to his knees, hands clenched to beg. "It will not happen again m'lord! Please, please, let me return to her. I swear I will bring her over. Please!!"

The Elder Scaramandine extended his arm and pointed a bony finger toward the doorway. "Do so and soon."

Getting to his feet, Torak bowed and turned to leave.

"Torak!"

The man so called turned around.

A flash of green light erupted from the lich's finger and streaked toward him, hitting him square in the face. The Strangle spell went to work immediately. Torak's knees wobbled as he clutched his throat. His face reddened as he fought for air. His head swam and he fell chest first onto the cold stone floor gasping. In a few moments, just before he believed he would expire, it lifted.

The Elder sat back in his throne. "A reminder. There will be no other. Fail in thy word and thy fate will be sealed," he warned.

Weakened from the lack of oxygen, Torak crawled away on all fours until he reached the doorway.

"Worm," uttered the lich.
 

Deminatza

Visitor
UNBROKEN BOND

She felt the lightest caress on her arm, leaving a tingling sensation in its wake as it made its journey down to her fingertips.

“Good morning my love,” a husky voice whispered in her ear, as the familiar scent of her betrothed filled her nostrils, stirring the flames of desire. Slowly, she rolled onto her back and saw the look that spoke volumes in their silence.

“Let your lips finish what your fingers have started,” she cooed as she lifted her head to meet his lips. She felt his mischievous smile against her lips.

“This I cannot do m’lady” he said throatily as his fingers continuing its exploration. Before she could protest, her eyes flew open as a gasp escaped her lips.

Scar seemed to assess the situation a moment then grins wickedly. “On second thought, this I can do m’lady.”

The scenery changed and she was standing in a beautiful meadow bursting with green spaces, lush forests and towering mountains. The fog appeared to be descending from the mountains to rest on the grass at her feet. Then it seemed to swirl upwards to form a portal of some sort. Then an image appeared within its center.

It appeared to be a rustic town. Walls are wooden palisades. Buildings are a blend of Papuan bamboo, brown stone and thatched roof. One of the buildings appeared to be a bank and was surrounded by a few small buildings. To the north, a fort sat on a hill overlooking the town. Is this Delucia? Demi thought to herself. The scenery within the portal shifted and rested on what appeared to be a brawl.

The image blurred as it seemed to direct her gaze to a specific area until it settled on a building, a tower. And as before, the image blurred, pushing its way intrusively through the walls until it settled on an image of a man. Though his back was to her, she would recognize him no matter what.

“Scar” she called out, her heart in her throat. She involuntarily took a step forward but was denied by an invisible barrier. Frustratedly, she banged her fist against the foe impotently.

“Scar, I am here! Turn around! I am here my love. Feel that I am here,” she pleaded. “I am never far away, I will always be here. Feel me, my love. I am here!”

The vision of Scar was pulling away from her.

“SCAR”, she screamed and sat up in bed. Burying her head in her hands, she prayed, “Scar, please. Do not despair. I am here with you always. Trust in our bond.”
 
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Deminatza

Visitor
REMINDER

After a few minutes, Deminatza threw back the covers and walked over to the water basin in an attempt to wash away the remnants of the frightening vision. It was only a dream, nothing more. She stared into the mirror and took note of her sad reflection. Seeing her hair in disarray, she gazed into her own eyes and within them a memory.
Scar had come home from doing business in Papua. She had wanted to at least start dinner, but she was determined to finish the gardening. The would be gardener muttered apologies about losing track of time and muttering something about looking such a fright as she rushed into their bedroom to clean up. Scar was behind her in two strides, wrapping his arms around her waist, nuzzling her neck and whispered “Found you!”

Her vision suddenly came into sharp focus and within the mirror was the Elder reaching for her as the world went dark.

Scaramandine felt Torak needed a little motivation to keep his word. And if he was being honest, he enjoyed watching the little tyke squirm.

The necromancer looked into the water basin to his left and in his mind focused on Deminatza’s image. Within moments, he saw her looking at him, that for a brief moment, startled him. What were the odds she was looking at a reflective surface, how fortunate for him, he thought, his lips curling into a smirk.
“Found you,” he whispered triumphantly and reached into the water basin to retrieve her soul. He was just borrowing it for a good cause and his smirk grew broader. He focused her soul to take shape and positioned her to sit on his lap.

“Worm,” uttered the lich, almost lazily. Torak turned and paled.

“I want to be sure ye understand who it is I commanding ye to bring to me so there is no doubt. This is Deminatza. This is whom I want brought here. Do ye understand?” his voice dripping with condescension. He gestured to the woman on his lap, who sat unresponsive. Her eyes unfocused and uncomprehending. Dumbfounded, Torak was unable to speak.

“I said,” the lich rose from his throne, wrapped his fingers around the back of Demi’s neck and moved to the edge of the top step so the insolent fool can get a good look. She looked like a ragdoll with her limbs swaying slightly as he held her suspended in the air. “Do ye understand?”

“Ye..yes m’lord. I promise I will bring her to you. I shall not fail you,” Torak proclaimed and implored beseechingly his hands outstretched.

Seemingly satisfied, the Elder murmured words of power, and the ragdoll appeared to collapse on itself and vanish. “I am so pleased we had this talk. Now go,” he waved a hand dismissively, “Do as you are told.”

The Elder sat back down on his throne and watched with mild amusement Torak continue his crawl to the exit.
 
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