At the bridge (Talia, p. 104)

The long stone hall stretched before her.  The tiles dull with age, crumbling in places from neglect.  Her soft boots stepped carefully over the litter and debris.  Behind her, a woman and a man followed, a few paces back.  They whispered quietly to one another as she picked the path and led them on.  There was little light to see by, only a soft glow, but it was enough.  The hall opened up into a large chamber before her.  The floor dropped away on either side leaving a wide stone bridge in its place.  She took a deep breath and stepped forward.  The bridge was as she remembered.  It ended abruptly in the center of the chamber, a wide gap before her where a section had fallen away.  As she walked to the edge she felt the silence as much as heard it.  The echoing footsteps behind her had ceased.  She turned.  The woman and man had stopped by the wall, their uneasiness apparent on their faces.

“Come. It is here.”  She smiled, beckoning with an outstretched hand.  The woman shook her head and the man frowned.  “Come forward, see for yourself.”

“No.  It is not safe.  It is not right.”  The woman took a step backwards and the man waited, on his guard.

She took a few easy steps towards the couple, hand still outstretched.  “This is what you had asked to see.  You cannot come this far and turn back now.”  As she stepped forward, the woman stepped away, maintaining the distance between them.  The man waited, ready, and in a moment she was standing beside him.  “You cannot go back, there is only forward.”  She let her hand drop to her side.

The woman paused as she did so and spoke.  “I’ll not be part of this.”  The woman turned away and strode purposefully down the hall, back the way they had come.

Seven steps.  Seven steps and seven again did the woman cross before the air changed.  Its thickness could be felt even from this distance.  Three figures in green robes stepped from the shadows before the woman.  Three figures locked hands and raised their arms high.  The woman froze a moment, turned to face her, eyes wide.  Fear played over the woman’s face.  Fear and determination.  The choice was made.  The woman faced the figures again and taking a deep breath, stepped in their direction.  Their raised arms dropped and the shadows leapt from the walls, filling the hall, quenching the soft light and muffling the woman’s screams.  In a heartbeat it was over.  The shadows settled and the hall was empty, woman and figures nowhere to be seen.

“There is only forward.”  She said, and nodded to the man.  She turned and walked towards the bridge.

Another party (Talia, p. 103)

The three arrived together, boots crunching on the frozen grass.  An unlikely group; Human, Elf, and Half-orc . They paused at the edge of the forest and surveyed the village.  There was no movement.  The rundown buildings appeared to be abandoned their windows and doors boarded up.

“You’re sure the trail leads here?”  The Orc spoke with a quiet gruffness.  The Elf only nodded.  “Then we might as well go in.”

They walked forward, coming in behind the buildings and keeping a watchful eye on the area around them.  They circled around, noting a toppled wheelbarrow stuck in a clump of tall dead grass.  Across the clearing from the buildings was another stretch of forest and between them the smooth, snow dusted surface of a frozen stream.  They moved from building to building, each seemingly securely shut.

A Halfling stepped from the shadows, startling them as he spoke.  “It’s no use; he’s not in any of them.  They’re all locked up tight.”

“But you’re sure he came this way?”  The Elf raised an eyebrow; her voice was soft as velvet.

“Of course I am.  Just as I’m sure he didn’t stay.”

“He must have crossed to the other side then.”

They took a step forward and paused.  The tree line ahead was dark and much thicker than the forest they had come through.

“Are you really sure you want to be going that way?”  Two more Halflings stepped from behind a stack of crates.  “There’s no telling what you might find over there.”

The Orc and Elf turned to face them.  “It doesn’t look as if we have much choice.”  He said.

“Oh, there’s always a choice.”  The new one smiled and the second nodded.

As the others discussed their options, the Human broke away.  He walked quietly down the frozen bank kicking at loose stones until he stopped with a smile.  This was what he was looking for.  At his feet was a stone, too small to be called a boulder, but easily twice the size as his own head.  He hefted it up onto his shoulder; it was nearly half his weight as well.  Yes, this would do nicely.  He took a few quick steps toward the stream and heaved, launching the stone out onto the ice.  The talking group jumped as the stone crashed through the ice, leaving a gapping hole to the dark waters below.

“What the hells are you doing?”  The Orc roared.

The Human smiled as he walked back to the group.  “The ice appears thick enough to cross, even for you.”  He nodded to the Orc.  “Just be careful how you step.”  The Human patted the Orc’s shoulder and turned back towards the stream.

A Halfling pulled at the Orc’s sleeve.  “We could always seek a better vantage on the situation.”  He pointed up to the balcony of the only two-story building in the village.

“Well?”  Asked the Elf.  “What do you think of it?”

The Orc stood in thought.  He had dreaded these moments.  He had never understood why the Halflings insisted on deferring to him when they obviously were capable of deciding for themselves.  To have the Elf start in as well left him even more puzzled.

“If you just stand there all day,” the Human called from the middle of the frozen stream, “then I’ll not be there to help you with your tent tonight.”  He ended on a chuckle, turning back to his slow but steady pace across the ice.

The Orc turned towards the Human, his usual frown quickly replaced by a look of surprise.  “Look out!”  A hand axe whizzed by.  On the far side of the stream several dark clad figures had emerged from the tree line and outcroppings.  Fire crackled in the hands of another and a ball of flame surged towards the Human.  “Move!” he yelled, and everything seemed to happen at once.

The Human dodged to the side, tumbled and regained his footing on the ice.  Surging forward, he gained a surprising momentum and headed straight towards two of the waiting figures.  At the last moment he pushed off the ice, springing over the heads of the figures and knocking each with his staff before he touched the ground.

Two of the Halflings dove for cover, one behind the Orc, and the third ran towards the ice gaining enough speed to reach the far side at the same time as the Human.  The Elf sought cover as well, and called out to the Orc.  “What now?”

The Orc glanced at the Halfling behind him and growled.  “We charge!”

He was next onto the ice but the Elf and Halflings sprung forward passing him.  There was no cover out here and what at first seemed a short distance stretched out before him.  He dodged to the side as he moved.  The assault increasing, an axe caught his shoulder making him stumble to one knee. There was a biting pain and his hand came away from his armor dripping blood.  He had only a moment to reflect on how he would pay back the owner of that axe before he noticed a dark shadow moving below the ice.

“Guys?”  was his warning call, but it lacked in urgency.

Ahead of the Orc, in his path to the shore, the ice exploded.  From the dark waters crawled a hideous figure.  Its skin was blue and bloated, the eyeless face contorted in an expression of pain.  The sense of death radiated from it, sending chills over his body.

“Guys!  We have a problem!”

The thing lumbered forward and he stood ready, axe in hand.  He swung, his blade bursting with fire.  A second creature broke through, but moved towards the shore and the others.  A dark clad man was closest to it and fell with a surprised shriek.  The things were turning on any living flesh.  Two more crashed through the ice and the Orc shifted in an attempt to avoid them.  It was a mistake.  The ice below him, already fractured, gave way and he slid into the frigid waters.  He found his footing only waist deep, but already the ache in his legs was growing numb.

On the shore the battle was chaos.  The creatures attacked whatever was nearest.  The dark clad figures, once intent on the group were besieged from both sides.  There was another scream as one of the Halflings fell.  The figure that had summoned fire called out to the others,  “Retreat!” only moments before a dagger took him in the throat.  A creature roared, its prize taken and turned on another.

The battle faded into darkness, the crash of weapons and screams of the dead and dying echoing on until finally she woke, tangled in blankets soaked with sweat.  The window had blown open, letting the icy night air into the room.  She pulled the blankets close in the darkness and did not move for some time.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I woke troubled this morning, for the dream was not my own.  I fear the other powers at work.  I fear what this dream might mean.  But more so, I fear the presence I sense, that still lingers even after I wake.  There must be someone who would understand, who might be able to help me to understand, and to prepare for what is inevitable.

A messenger (Talia, p. 102)

The air was cold, crisp and silent.  The night did not stir and the moon hung full in the sky bearing witness to the world below.  She stood beneath the trees and waited.  No one passed by.  The cobblestones of the market were wet from a recent rain and reflected the moonlight.  She waited.  The moon shifted across the sky and she waited.  Was she wrong to have come here?  She stretched.  It was time to leave.

As she turned, she saw it.  Creeping low over the stones was a pale white fog.  It moved from the far edge swirling and snaking as if alive.  It moved with purpose, towards the center of the market.  She took a hesitant step forward and the fog changed.  It bulged, pulsing, a blackness now visible at its core.  It pulsed again and then rose up to be of a height with her.  Wisps of white fog peeled away, drifting to the ground and dissipating, leaving a dark figure standing faint and intangible in front of her.

She stood firm before the figure.  “Why have you come here?”

Its response was a bare whisper, a hiss of air, almost snakelike.  “Hhhhheee is disappointed with your progressssss.  Whhhhy do you not join the otherssss?”

“The others he has sent to me have disappeared.  If I cannot reach…”

“You waste your time ssssssearching where you should not.”

“I will do what I must.  What I see as best.”

“What is besssssst?  It is bessssst you do not forget your baaaargin.  He will not waaaaait forever.”  And with that, the shadow faded completely, leaving her standing alone beneath the tree.

Talia, p. 101

The shadows are moving again.  There was a breach and they attacked.  I don’t think any fell to them, but I was more concerned with stopping them.  They’ve become bold again.  I must find Jhavier.  He was given the warning but we did not recognize it for what it was.  It could have been much worse.  I feel they were only testing us.  The next assault will not be so easy to repel.  I must speak to her.  I will try tonight.